Lake County Ohio GenWeb


The following article is from Painesville Telegraph - Jan. 12 and 19, 1860 and reprinted in "LakeLines" Sept and Dec 1982, the newsletter of the Lake County Genealogical Society. It was retranscribed here by Casi Dosky, teen volunteer, and submitted by Sally Malone.


The first settler at Chagrin (now Willoughby), DAVID ABBOT, the subject of this sketch, was born at Brookfield, Worcester County, Mass., in 1765. His boyhood was spent in that first of all employments in usefulness, healthfulness and respectability - the vocation of the farmer - receiving the ordinary common school education only during that period. At about the age of twenty years he went to work to acquire the art of making Shoes - in other words, to become a Shoemaker. His first experience was had in his native town. After making himself master of this trade, he went to Lynn, now the great center of the shoe manufacture, and was employed as a journeyman in that business.

While at Lynn he conceived the project (now that he had acquired the skill of a handicraft) of adding to his mental organization the graces of a classical education. While at Lynn making shoes, ABBOT had been studying during his spare hours, and had prepared himself to enter College at the commencement of the Sophomore years, which he did at Yale. Here he prosecuted his studies until he could pass examination, and not regarding the parchment endorsement of that institution as any especial advantage, he left College before Commencement, and began the study of the Law with a Mr. UPHAM in Brookfield, but completed it with THOMAS R. GOLD, at Whitsburg, N.Y., was admitted to the bar, and opened an office for the practice in his new profession at Rome. Here POLLY, daughter of MATTHEW BROWN, became his wife.

But the practice of Law not suiting his taste, he exchanged it for the Mercantile business. In this losses and embarrassments befell him, and he resolved upon another change, if not in the business, at least in the plan and manner of doing it.

The reader will see that we have a subject ready for any and all enterprises that may engage his attention and strike his fancy. Up to this time he had evinced the energy and steadfastness of purpose to obtain the end sought before he relaxed his efforts, or relinquished his design. He is now ready for something new.

Stories of great profits derived from a trade with the Indians in this Western world fired him with a new ardor, and prepared his mind for a new enterprise. Doubtless the journey to these (then) wilds was sweetened by the thoughts of the novely (sic) of the thing, and relish given to it be the certain concomitant of adventure. But, peradventure, while he was contemplating the trip, long, uncertain and perilous as it must have appeared, it was gilded and rendered desirable by golden dreams of rich rewards for all the toils, privations, and dangers of the undertaking.

He built (or caused to be built) a boat, which was completed about the middle of May, 1797, packed his goods on board and set sail for Detroit as his ultimate destination. His course lay by Wood creek, Oneida creek, and Oswego river into Lake Ontario - up Ontarion to Niagara river, and carrying his boat and goods around the Falls, set sail again on Lake Erie, coasting along its South shore. He reached the mouth of Chagrin river in June. Here he landed and had quite a trade with the Indians, and formed a liking to the place. But his stay was short, and he set sail for Detroit, resolving upon his return to visit Chagrin river again. At Detroit he succeeded in exchanging his goods, mostly for furs, with but little delay, and started on his return, landing as contemplated, at the Chagrin river, to spend a little time in examining the country with reference to making it his future headquarters. He was taken sick here, and his illness increasing his men built a cabin, and abandoning their tent took up their quarters in it. But time past on, and the season becoming so far advances that it was necessary to ship his furs and effects, of else they could not be got to market before another came; he, therefore, concluded to send by a party of Surveyors under the direction of a Mr. TINKER, and if he recovered he would return by land. Accordingly, he packed his money inside of the packs of fur - money and furs amounting to nearly $1,000 - and all put on board of the boat, and giving them the needed instructions, bid the party farewell, who left for the abodes of civilization with glad hearts.

But imagine his own feelings. His all, in the way of property, was entrusted to strangers, and poor sailors at that; whilst he was enfeebled by disease, hundreds of miles from home or white men, hardly expecting to recover - and unless he recovered soon, would be left entirely alone in that howling wilderness. Whatever lightness of heart he had, was the result of reflections upon the fact that he had sent property sufficient to pay his debts and leave a nice balance for the enjoyment of his family. But, alas! for human hopes and expectations, the second night of the voyaging surveyors they encountered a squall of wind, their boat capsized, and all lost save one man, who was alone left to tell the tale.

Whiskey, he afterwards learned, had something to so with their being caught in the storm.

Recovering finally himself, he wended his way down to Erie; from there he crossed over the Pittsburgh, where by purchasing a horse, he was enabled to reach his home and recruit his impaired health.

But mishaps nor sufferings discourage the pioneer. Being offered employment as a Surveyor in the same wilderness which had been the scene of his past sufferings, in the Spring, against the remonstrances of his best friends, he embarked again, and reached Chagrin river in due time. Here he found that his cabin had been burnt, and what few goods, of one or another character, were gone. He rebuilt his cabin and made it his rendezvous. The purposes of this last trip enabled him to view the country thoroughly; and near the close of the season he determined to make his headquarters on the bottoms immediately below the bridge on the West side of the river at Willoughby. The Summer's work inclined him to make his home in the West. Returning home in the Fall for the purpose of procuring provisions, teams, cattle, etc. (for be it understood Mr. ABBOT had resolved to make his home in the West) Mr. EBENEZER MERRY and Mr. PETER FRENCH accompanied him. But in this trip delays consumed their provisions, and the consequence was a short allowance before they reached a settlement where more could be procured. ABBOT and MERRY left FRENCH at Genesee, the latter agreeing to return with ABBOT whenever he should get ready. In carrying out his plans, ABBOT reached Genesee with his ox team in time to get FRENCH, (who had bought a cow, which was tied to lead behind the sled of ABBOT's) and still arrive at Buffalo by the 1st of March and taking the ice on the Lake, reached Chagrin river the 22nd of March, 1799.

The next business in order with ABBOT, was to get ready and put in some crops, build him a house - and in short, make all possible arrangements and preparations to move his family on during the following Spring.

In 1800 the State of Connecticut ceded the New Connecticut to the Northwestern Territory, and was organized into a County under the Territorial Government, and DAVID ABBOT was appointed Sheriff. His Court business did not amount to much, but what there was was attended with difficulties that rendered the position unpleasant. The County was large, as has been already inferred, doubtless, by the reader, and there were no roads or facilities for travel. At this time the collection of taxes was a duty devolving upon the Sheriff, and this was the most onerous of all. He had to collect them, and pay them in to the Treasurer's office located at Cincinnati.

During this year (1800) several families became residents of the County. Among these were EBENEZER MERRY, who settled at the Marsh, in Mentor; JAROD WARD, and CHARLES PARKER. (A future sketch will show that Mr. PARKER was in the West as early as 1796, but on the present occasion we follow authority) Provisions were still scarce, and those who were desirous of becoming settlers were obliged to come on in advance of their families, plant a little corn, potatoes, etc. As to meat, the hunter could procure a plenty of elk, deer, bear, raccoon, turkeys, etc.

In the Spring of 1801, Mr. ABBOT's wife and son, the latter being about four years old, came on - which, with himself constituted his family. They left (the wife and son) Rome with a Mr. HAMILTON, who was moving on to Cleveland. At Auburn they joined Judge F. AUSTIN, of Austinsburgh, and came to Buffalo. At the last place they met Judge WALWORTH, then of Grand River. They took passage in his boat for the last named place, and had pleasant voyage until the last day, when in making the mouth of the river they ran the risk of losing their lives, but happily, they all landed in safety.

Mrs. ABBOT is said to have been the first female white inhabitant on Chagrin river, and her first experiences in the wilderness were sad ones. Her husband was absent from home much of the time, and her hours were lonely, and the thoughts of her home in the East among friends and acquaintances, rendered her lonely lot exceedingly unhappy. Her only places of resort, outside of her own cabin, were the rude wigwams of the untrained and untutored red man.

Mr. ABBOT completed the collection of the taxes in July of 1801, and started for Cincinnati by the only route to be traveled, and which was to be accomplished on horseback. The taxes had been collected in specie, as that then was about the only currency, and it was quite a load for his saddle bags. His route lay through the wilderness from one settlement to another, and some of these intervals were days of travel. During this journey it is said that ABBOT met with perhaps the most distrustful, and therefore, the most annoying incident of his life. Whilst traveling alone one day through the woods, two men came up to him with rifles, and their manner was such as to arouse his suspicion. They asked him all kinds of questions, to which he gave such answers as caution and prudence dictated. They all stayed over night in the wilderness together, but it was night of mutual vigilance. The two strangers at night had looked to their guns to be sure that they would not miss fire, and did many other things that roused the suspicion of ABBOT. The next day following his wakeful night the two strangers counseled moderate travel, saying that it would be impossible to reach the settlement, and fell back behind ABBOT, conversing in low tones most of the time. Finally, taking advantage of their tardiness, by which he got a little out of sight of his unwelcome companions, he put whip to his horse and reached the next settlement about sundown, and never saw them again. He is said to have been a man of great courage, and scarcely ever to have been sensible of fear or apprehension; but he ever afterwards referred to his travel with these two suspicious men for a part of two days, and the encamping with them one night, as the most dangerous incident of his life. Soon after this he reached this destination.

After paying over his money at Cincinnati, he started to return by the way of the head waters of Scioto and Sandusky rivers. In endeavoring to make a direct route from Sandusky river to the Lake, he was lost, and suffered extremely from hunger and thirst. At length, meeting with an encampment of Indians, he obtained food and was put upon his course again and after reaching the Lake he coursed down its shore home.

In the same Fall following an occurrence took place which filled the folks at home with apprehension and alarm. Detroit was the nearest point where the wants of the settler would be supplied. Accordingly, he, in company with a man by the name of DAVID BARRITT, set sail in an open boat for that place, to obtain some fruit trees, etc. They reached Detroit with prosperous winds, loaded up with trees, some fruit, a pair of geese, and ditto of ducks, etc. and started on their return home. The return passage had been favorable until the night before they expected to reach home. The weather being fine, they endeavored to gain as mush as possible by steering from one point to another, and had reached a point below Black river, when a heavy squall of wind struck them from off land. They endeavored to gain the shore, but all in vain. They were driven there from in spite of their best efforts to gain it. At length they concluded to put before the wind, making sail efforts to keep their craft steady; they came on sight of land, the Canadian shore, and taking the leeward side of a point of land, anchored in safety on a sandy beach, about four o' clock the next day; here they unloaded and remained until the following day. The wind having then abated, they set sail down the shore to Long Point, and from there crossed the Lake to Erie - thence up the Lake to Chagrin river, arriving there some three weeks after the time they would have arrived if they had been driven across to the Canadian Shore, and as much to the surprise of the people at home as if they had risen to life from watery graves. They had been given up as lost.

The trees brought by this eventful voyage constituted on the bottoms of what is now known as the "Wick farm," the first and the largest orchard of all this region of country. As long ago as the memory of the writer of this goes back, the trees of that orchard were larger, doubtless, than any now growing in Lake county. But nearly all of that large orchard was felled years ago by the sturdy strokes of the woodman's axe, the soil being thought to be worth more for tilling than for fruit growing. A few trees, however, remain in sight of the wayfarer who crosses the bridge at Willoughby, to connect that early day with its perilous voyage by DAVID ABBOT and DAVID BARRITT, with the events of the day. A solitary pear tree still remains close by the river bank to the north of the bridge, rearing its top aloft as the largest and most graceful formed trees of its kind in Lake county, and yielding to its possessor a most bounteous crop, as often as bearing season comes round.

In 1802 the Convention was held to form a Constitution for Ohio, preparatory to her admission into the Union. Mr. ABBOT was chosen a member that Convention, which met in the Fall in Chillicothe. He was afterwards chosen to sit in the Legislature of the State, in one House, or the other, until 1810.

In 1802 ABBOT commenced building his mills: the dam was completed and the saw mill was nearly ready for business, when a freshet swept out the dam, and for awhile threatened to carry away the mill also. It is said that the latter was chained to a stump, which prevented is from sharing the fate of the dam. The season after the dam was rebuilt, and a grist mill added to the saw mill. One of the greatest difficulties encountered in building these mills was to procure what iron was needed. This had to be brought from Pittsburgh, and was transported on the backs of horses. The mill stones were wrought out of boulders in the neighborhood. These mills were visited by people as far off as Hudson and Cleveland.

Just after this mail route was established, beginning at Warren and making a circle, visiting the settlements and coming round to the place of beginning - passing through Harpersfield, Austinburgh, Painesville, Chagrin, Cleveland, Hudson, Ravenna, and to Warren again. Mr. ABBOT at first had the contract. The mail was usually carried on horseback, sometimes afoot; but the mail-carrier was generally a kind retailer of goods, and the goods were conveyed on horseback.

In 1804 he built at the cove at the mouth of the Chagrin river, a small vessel of about 35 tons burden. The name of the vessel has not come down to the present. In this enterprise ABBOT was his own master builder. The rigging was made at his own house, and the sails were mostly spun and woven there. He sailed it but a short time, when he let a man by the name of BLINN have it to make a trip to Buffalo; but before he reached that place he beached it, and although help was offered by citizens of Buffalo to get it off again, he dismantled it and left it. Afterwards BLINN sold it to a Mr. CHAPIN, who got her off, rerigged her, and sailed her until 1812, when she was chartered by Gen. Hull to transport the baggage of the Army from Monroe to Detroit. In cruising up the usual channel of Detroit river she was captured by the forces stationed at Malden, which was the first notice to those on board that war had been declared.

AARON OLMSTED, the proprietor of the lands about Chagrin, died about this period, and willed them to his heirs, who, being minors, could not sell them - and thus the settlement of the county was to be blocked for an indefinite time - and ABBOT, from this fact, offered his farm for sale, and in 1809 found a purchaser in SAMUEL WIRT, and in 1810 he moved his family on a tract of land known as the fire lands, in Avery township, near Milan. Taking advantage of the Indian clearings on the interval lands, he sowed about 30 acres to wheat the same season, put up a hewed log house, and thus became a pioneer again. The next season, after he built the first frame barn in that region, the lumber for which he brought from the mills at Chagrin.

When the region of the fire lands was organized into a county, the Commissioners appointed for purpose located the county seat at ABBOT's settlement. It was years afterwards, re-located at Norwalk.

The settlement of the country round about Mr. A. seemed to be going on in a very satisfactory manner until the year 1812, when the war commenced, and this, for a time, put a check upon immigration. When the news of the surrender of Hull, at Detroit, reached the frontier settlements, consternation seemed to spread broadcast among the people through these wilds. Many of the inhabitants abandoned their homes and fled into the woods; but the settlers in ABBOT's vicinity resolved upon self defense, and banded themselves together for that purpose. Rumors reached them of the landing of the British and Indians at Sandusky, which gave great alarm to this settlement; but neither the British or the Indians ever came to it.

The readers of this sketch will have concluded before this that DAVID ABBOT was a man for the time. He was a prominent actor in all those thrilling scenes and transactions that attended the early settlement of the Western Reserve. He proved himself equal to every demand - enough for every emergency. Rarely does the world find one persevering to attain his aims under such discouragements, and one succeeding almost invariably against such untoward circumstances. His aims were always fixed high, the times and circumstances considered, and his energies never yielded to the obstacles that stood in the way of reaching the object of his efforts.

But DAVID ABBOT has been dead for many years. It may be said that he passed away with the scenes, the trials, and triumphs of those times that he was fitted to encounter. How old he was when he died, of when, are facts not contained in the authorities from which this article was compiled. That he acted well his part none will deny, and for which his memory should be embalmed in the hearts of the grateful people.

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