Lake County Ohio GenWeb

Pioneer Women of Mentor
Lake County, 1800-1850

Taken from Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve, published under the auspices of The Women's Department of the Cleveland Centennial Commission, edited by Mrs. Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham, 1896

Transcribed and submitted by Becky Falin, 1996.

Mentor, according to the historians, was the first settlement on the Western Reserve, and Mentor women come in for their share of honor, for the patience and bravery with which they endured the privations of that early time.

Mentor is located east of Cleveland on the Lake Shore and Nickel Plate railroad, and is one of the most beautiful resident towns in Ohio, unsurpassed for natural advantages, as it has pure air, excellent water, good roads, and everything essential to the comfort and happiness of those living within her border. The lake beach is inviting on its northern boundary for summer resorts, where once the Indian paddled his canoe and the deer, moose and elk quenched their thirst in the waters of old Erie. The fisherman can here revel with his hook and line, and the huntsman can find plenty of game in the marshland, which is home of the wild goose and duck.

The Little Mountain on the south line of the township, is another romantic spot, well known by all pleasure seekers of Northern Ohio. Nature has done her best to furnish us with lake and mountain resorts, such as few towns possess, and those so fortunate as to make their first choice of a homestead here, have never regretted it. God's handiwork was over all, and the pioneers with ax and plow soon made the wilderness to bud and blossom like the rose. The township was first surveyed by John Milton Holly in 1796.

In 1798 occurred the first marriage in Mentor. James Hamilton traveled fifty miles on horseback, from Newburg to Harpersfield, leading another horse, hoping to persuade the young widow, Mrs. Mingus, to return with him as his wife. He was successful, and they started homeward, Mr. Hamilton carrying the widow's child in his lap, and the widow herself seated on her feather bed, in lieu of a side saddle. When they reached Mentor they sought the cabin of Mr. Moses Parks, who had at one time been a Baptist preacher, and although he had abandoned his calling and given up to a great degree his Christian character, it was thought that in the present emergency he would answer. Upon arriving at the preacher's door, and making their errand known, he stoutly refused, but was finally persuaded and proceeded reluctantly to tie the knot, when they went on their way rejoicing.

In 1798 two families had settled in what was known as the Marsh settlement near the lake. In the spring of 1800 there were within its borders the following families: Jared Ward, Moses Parks, Hosmer and Ebenezer Merry. As the Merry families were among the first settlers, many Merry families have continued to live among us down to the present time.

We learn that Ebenzer Merry came to the Reserve in 1798, and kept bachelor's hall in Mentor. He had brought with him only one pair of shoes, and to make them last, had given them a good coat of grease and set them outside the cabin door to dry. They were soon missing, and thinking some neighbor had taken them for a joke he said nothing about it, but went about his chopping bare-footed. In his rounds through the woods he found one of the shoes; they having been stolen by a wolf and eaten for the grease on them. In the meantime, however, his feet had become so hardened, that he could stamp chestnuts out of the burrs without feeling any pain. He was unable to buy any more shoes until he sold his fall crops, when he left Mentor barefooted for the Genesee country to find him a wife. At Erie he was able to purchase another pair and continued on his journey.

In Avon, NY, he became acquainted with Miss Charlotte Adams, and made up his mind that she was the one to accompany him back to Ohio to his log cabin in Mentor. On the 5th of May, 1800, they were married and started on horseback to their new home. Think of this bridal tour, women of the Reserve. The road, just an Indian trail, the streams were bridged by fallen trees, and forded or waded through, sometimes in an Indian canoe while their horses swam the waters. One stream was bridged by a fallen tree that scarcely reached across. Mrs. Merry got over shoetops in the water trying to reach the other side. One night they passed an Indian camp, and another alone in the woods; but usually found shelter in the settler's cabins along the way. This romantic journey lasted twelve days, arriving in Mentor in May.

Six children were born to Mrs. Merry in Mentor, among them four girls: Sarah, Julia, Mary and Lucy. It is said of Mrs. Charlotte Merry that she died at the age of ninety-nine, loved by everybody that knew her, and the oldest pioneer woman on the Western Reserve.

Captain Parker came to Mentor in 1802. He commanded a company at the battle of Fort Meigs, and was married to Perry Jordan in 1803. "Aunt Peggy," as she was called, was always a quaint figure in early times. She used to lay her web of cloth on the floor, and then lay her offspring down on it, and cut out the garments by the child in a highly original manner.

Phoebe Skinner Blish came with her husband, Benjamin Blish, to Mentor, in 1805, first stopping at the home of Ebenezer Merry, and remaining with them until their own log house was finished. This couple had seven daughters, Phoebe, Nancy, Sophia, Clarissa, Melicent, Hannah and Philena. These girls all married and settled in different parts of the Reserve. Their cheerful dispositions and frugal habits were conductive to long lives, for the average age of the family was seventy-five years. Coming from Massachusetts they were a religious family, and did much to shape the character of the society of their day.

Phoebe Blish Clapp came with her husband in 1806. It took many weeks to make the trip across the mountains, for they came in a wagon, she riding all the way on a straight-backed chair, her youngest baby in her lap. That same "baby" was well known in Northern Ohio as Thomas Clapp, and during the troublesome times his home was one of the stations on the "underground railroad." Their next child, Matthew, enjoyed the distinction of being the first Mentor baby. Mrs. Clapp had a large family, among them three daughters, Julia, Phoebe and Harriet. It may be of interest to note that four of her grandsons were ministers, which is rather remarkable.

Elizabeth Pettingill Corning came to Mentor with her husband Warren Corning, from New Hampshire, in 1810. Their first house was a fifteen foot log house, with oiled paper windows, puncheon floors, a chimney built of sticks, built up cob-house fashion, and plastered over with mud. Just above the jamb a pole was fitted in, upon which a crotched stick was hung, having pins driven through the ends to hang the kettle on. The roof was covered with long shingles, called shakes, which had been riven from oak logs.

These were fastened by long poles, kept in place by pin and brace, guiltless of hammer and nails. The first improvements upon the land were made by cutting away small trees, and girdling large ones to enable them to hack in a little corn and wheat among the roots and stumps. In this way, with what game they killed, which was plentiful, and with nuts and berries, they managed to live the first year or two.

Mrs. Corning had five boys in her family and four girls. The boys wore out their clothes faster than she could make them, and so deer skins were tanned for breeches. When these were wet from rain it made them very stiff and the boys had to sit upon the grindstone while the others turned the crank. This process had the effect of softening the leather, although it helped very seriously to wear out the garment.

One day when going to the spring for water, Mrs. Corning found a huge rattlesnake in her path. Thinking of the rudeness of her own home in comparison to the one they left in New England, she became very discontented and began to cry. Her husband said to her: "My good woman, you are homesick! We will move over the creek, nearer to neighbors."

In 1814 they built the first two-story frame home in Mentor. Mrs. Corning was a woman of fine presence and handsome face, and one whose influence was great in the church and in society.

The first school was kept in 1811. The first teacher was Kate Smith, hired for six shillings per week. She took a little spinning wheel into the school room, and when not otherwise engaged spent the her time in spinning flax. The school house was built of logs, near the center of town. The seats were made of split logs, with the slivers hewn from the flat side, and the pegs driven in for legs on the round side. There was no light except what came in through the oiled paper window, and down the wide chimney.

The singing school was also held in this house evenings, the singing master reading from the one book the songs and hymns to be memorized and to be sung with him in concert. The familiar hymn, "Blow ye the trumpet, blow," was always given out the last one before breaking up.

There was one young man always ready for fun, so he crawled up on the top of the low school house, and with a big tin horn waited for the last piece, when he blew a full blast from his dinner horn down the chimney and scared the children half out of their wits. They ran screaming out of the school house, thinking Gabriel had surely come with his last trump.

In 1811 Rhoda Tolls Sawyer came to Mentor with her husband and family. Wolves were still numerous in this woods and the Indians were encamped close by, but proved friendly, and the red boys played with the white boys in the most friendly manner. One day she went down cellar (which was simply a hole in the ground), and turning to come up the log stairs, saw a big rattlesnake had coiled himself up in her path. As she had nothing to kill it with, she shouted to one of her children to run to the nearest neighbor and get him to come and kill the snake, which he did, while she stayed there a prisoner, feeling that the moments were hours.

All the pioneer women were good nurses and doctors from necessity, and every season gathered their stock of herbs, which were tired in bunches when in bloom, and tied to the rafter, where they were left to dry until needed. The stock usually consisted of sage, peppermint, pennyroyal, hops, throughwort, smartweed, Solomon's seal, tansy, sassafras, ginseng, and a variety of roots and barks. The woman used to go uninvited to spent the day with each other, and there herbs were exchanged, together with much very valuable information concerning their uses.

Mindwell Corning Randall, oldest daughter of Warren and Elizabeth Corning, was born in New Hampshire in 1801, coming to Mentor when nine years of age. When sweet sixteen she was married to Elias Randall, and lived here until 1854, when she moved to Peoria, Ill. Mrs. Randall was an ardent admirer of flowers, and her garden contained at one time thirty different kinds of roses, which she was always ready to give, even to any of the school children that asked for them. She died at the age of eight-four, having lived a long, useful and beautiful life.

Experience Dewey was married to Jonathan Root in 1813. They settled on a farm in Mentor township which Mr. Root had partly cleared before, and lived there until Mr. Root died, in 1833. They were among the first Disciples in this township, and people of sterling worth.

Rhoda Prouty Corning Holmes was born in New York, and came with her father's family to Mentor in 1817. She was married to Warren Corning, Jr., in 1822, and was the mother of five beautiful daughters and one son, all of whom reached maturity. She was a woman that looked well to the ways of her household, and her children loved her fondly. In 1834 she was left a widow, and in 1839 was married to Harry Holmes. At the age of seventy-nine she passed to the better land, there to enjoy her well deserved reward, and rest from life's work well done.

Candace Spencer Munson was born in Winchester, Litchfield county, Connecticut, in 1776, was married to Ashel Munson in 1798. They left Connecticut in June, 1821, with two yoke of oxen hitched to a wagon, for New Connecticut. Their daughter, Mrs. C.C. Bronson, writes about this trip: "We rested by the way, doing our cooking and washing. We had a one-horse wagon in which five of us rode, and another horse saddled with side-saddle and pillions, upon which two more rode. We had a cow, which furnished us with milk, and my mother dried a bushel of rye rusks, which we pulverized and ate in milk. If there was any milk left from our meals, it was hung in a pail in the top of the wagon, and churned itself into butter for us. At Albany, there was a ferry a mile wide, which we crossed. The Erie Canal was just being built then at Buffalo, and the Dutchmen were mad enough at having the meadows torn up for "that ditch." As we came through Buffalo we counted the houses, my sister counting one side and I counting the other, of the main street, and found seventy-three and seventy-five.

"We felt very homesick at the prospect until we arrived in Mentor, in 1821, which looked to us like the garden of Eden, with its fine soil and good roads. The next summer we went to school in a log school house, the first Sabbath school also being held in the same building, and when I was sixteen I was given a class. The men who worked out got twenty-five cents a day for their work. Wheat brought thirty-five cents a bushel, calico fifty cents a yard, girls were paid $1 a week for housework, and seventy-five cents for sewing."

Phoebe Wilson Corning was born in Pittstown, NY, on Christmas day, in 1809, and came to Mentor with her parents in 1814, and was married to Nathan Corning in 1828. Mrs. Corning was a remarkable woman for her ready and active sympathy with those in affliction, and often sacrificed her strength and comfort to administer the necessities of others, irrespective of their conditions in life. She was often called on to act as doctor, midwife, and nurse, and she laughingly remarked in after years that her only pay was a gingham apron. She had a remarkable memory for events, and was often appealed to to settle disputes on dates relating to the history of township affairs. Mrs. Corning had six children, four of them being daughters.

Mrs. Delia Bradley, wife of Dr. Bradley, was born in Champlain, N.Y., in 1806. Possessed of great literary tastes, she wrote for publication at a very early age, and assisted her husband in editing The Christian Bower.

Among those who came westward in 1815 was Nathan Mann, accompanied by his wife, Eunice Johnson Mann, and their two daughters, Mary and Eunice, with two span of horses and a saddle horse. They journeyed in the month of September from Chester, Mass., to Mentor, bringing with them many of the conveniences for their new home. They were thirty days in making the trip, which was pleasant in most ways. They bought a partly cleared farm and a dwelling house, which they used for a few years until a larger and more substantial one could be built.

Mrs. Mann was of English parentage, and born near Boston. She often told of her great fright when a young girl as she heard the booming of guns during the Revolutionary War. Mrs. Mann was a person who was very firm in her adherence to the right, and kept up her literary pursuits as long as she lived.

Rachel Corning Dickey was born in Mentor in 1814. She was the daughter of Warren and Elizabeth Corning, and was married to George M. Dickey in 1833, but died at the age of thirty-seven years, having been in poor health from early girlhood.

Harriet M. Corning, youngest daughter of Warren and Elizabeth Corning, was born in 1817, and married to James Dickey in 1834. Mr. Dickey came here from New Hampshire in 1833, and taught school for several winters, his wife being one of his pupils. She was left a widow when thirty-eight years of age, and afterwards sold to General Garfield, in 1876, the farm upon which she and her husband had toiled. Mrs. Dickey died in 1889, believing firmly in the fatherhood of God, and beloved and mourned by all who knew her.

Mrs. Sophia Cower Munson was a daughter of Captain Andrew Cower, was born in Hambden in 1810, and married to Edward Spencer Munson on New Years' day in 1837. She died at the age of seventy-nine years at her home here in Mentor.

Mrs. Isaac Sawyer, nee Rachel Terry, came to Mentor in 1829 from Allegheny county, New York, coming from Buffalo by boat. Mrs. Sawyer taught school in the firm farm school house in the township, when the Indians used to come and stick their heads in at the windows and give their war whoops just to scare her, but fortunately she was not easily frightened.

Mrs. Sarah Smith Sawyer was born in Hampton, NY, and came to Mentor in 1835, where she was married to Joseph Sawyer in 1843, and is one of the elderly women of the township at present date.

Mrs. Calvin Ingersoll, whose name was Lydia Barlow, came from Lee, Mass., in 1816, she died in Mentor in 1831, having been the mother of thirteen children.

Mrs. Margaret Kerr Parmelee was born in Mentor in 1813 and married Erastus Parmelee in 1841. She became a member of the Methodist church when a young girl, and as long as she lived was a leading spirit in the church and in the temperance work. She was a most exemplary woman and full of good cheer and good will towards everybody. When she died, at her Mentor home, in 1894, the casket was covered with flowers, and people said, "No one can ever take Aunt Margaret's place."

Eunice Kerr Parmelee, wife of Abner Parmelee, though born in an adjoining town, lived most of her life in Mentor, where she died in 1893.

Sarah Munson Hart came from Connecticut in 1827 and settled in Mentor that same year.

Laura Manley Hart came from the East at an early date, and was married to Daniel B. Hart in 1836. She was a woman of great industry, quiet disposition, and well beloved by her neighbors and friends.

It is with deep regreat that we find our allotted space is filled, for there were many grant and noble dames, no record of whom could be obtained; indeed, we have had to omit all who came after 1836.

Life's birth - by God through nature's plan,
Life's breath - the gift of God to man -
Life's length - the course of nature's span;
Life's end - exhausted nature in the man.

Mrs. Helen P Blish, Chairman and Historian,
Mentor Committee - Miss Nettie King, Mrs. Mary Hart Frost, Miss Irene Sawyer, Mrs. M.M. Fitzpatrick, Mrs. Y.D. Cassol, Mrs. Emma R. Tyler.

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