Lake County Ohio GenWeb

Pioneer Women of Perry
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.

"Although of great things we approve, 'Tis oft the smaller things we love."

Perry, the smallest township in the Western Reserve, lies between Painesville on the west, Madison on the east, Grand River on the south, and the old Lake Erie on the north. It is a thriving village in the midst of a farming district, an intelligent, industrious and prosperous community. The people, many of whom are descendants of the early settlers and who remember the town in its early days, are justly proud of the modern Perry.

The occupations of the people are varied and the god of success seems to crown their efforts in almost every walk and way of life. Many of the sons and daughters of Perry who have left their native heath and ventured into the broader world to cope with fate are winning distinction in their several callings. We feel that the blood of their forefathers, coursing through the veins of this younger generation, must have something retained of that elder day when "the ax was the medium that cleared the way and the woman's hand kept the wolf at bay."

In the long ago, when the Western Reserve was a howling wilderness, beautiful in song and story, but dreary enough, no doubt, in the stern reality, and only a few handfuls of men and women were scattered at rare intervals between Cleveland and Youngstown, Painesville, and the remote southwest, the first settlement was made in Perry. This was prior to 1810, when several families took their abode within the established boundaries of the town, and although it is not positively known who was the first to build his home that distinction has been given to Ezra Beebe and wife, whose farm was at the extreme southern end of the town, near the river.

Very little is known of Ezra Beebe or his family, except that his death, occurring in 1813, was the first adult death in the township, and that his body was laid to rest in the place then chosen for the pioneer cemetery, now a desolate and deserted spot on the farm now owned by the heirs of Leonidas Axtel.

Several other families purchased land and settled in Perry in 1810 and 1812, but their descendants have either removed to other towns and States or become so entangled with other families that the names of Simonds, Hanks, Bates, Allen and Ellis have nearly vanished from the minds of our people. About this time Thomas Wright, coming from the State of New York, located in Perry. His dwelling house on the south ridge, now occupied by Francis Woodhead, was built about 1820, and was built about 1820, and was used by him as a tavern, being one of the first in the township. Here he reared his fourteen children, the descendants of whom are widely scattered over the United States.

The year of 1815, however, seems to have been one of great importance to the new town, for in the spring, several families with their children on horseback, and household goods in stout old wagons, came pushing through the wilderness from the greater East to try the untried and conquer the foes that beset them. In the summer of that year Adolphus Wilson taught the first term of school in the annals of Perry's history. His pupils numbered about one dozen, some of whom walked several miles to receive their daily instruction; and his school house was a tiny log structure, on the South Ridge, near the present home of Alonzo Wheeler. The first neighborhood prayer meetings were held that same year, the settlers meetings were held that same year, the settlers meeting from house to house, or at the little school for religious worship, enjoying the privilege that had not been theirs since they left their more cultured homes in New York and New England.

Among these wild and healthful scenes, where the stealthy wild cat and stealthier red man were natives of the forests and plains about them, men and women lived closer to nature and their own convictions of right and wrong than they do today. That man whose life ambition was to lay out a home in the wilderness for himself and his posterity, to teach his children to battle with sin and to so live that he might enter into eternal rest, must have been a much nobler production than the biped of today.

In those days men were men in the truest sense of the word and women were nearly perfection, we are told, and indeed the pioneer women of our own town are very dear to our hearts. Of the year 1815 we know little. The first settlers brought their wives and children but their names, like their deeds, have passed from our memories. Mrs. Ezra Beebe became in 1814 a convert to the Methodist faith, the first religious convert, perhaps, in the new town. Mrs. Thomas L Wright, in 1811, became the mother of a son, Charles, the pioneer baby of Perry. Mrs. Wright was a genial, hospitable woman, wellfitted for the position she occupied as hostess of the South Ridge Tavern, where the stages were stopped to allow the passengers to sip of hot coffee, perhaps.

Lydia, wife of Rufus Call, came with her husband, seven sons and one daughter from Vermont to Perry in 1814. In spite of many trials and much early privation she reared her family wisely, and today not only her children, but her children's children rise up and bless her memory. Hannah Parmly Burridge became a pioneer of Perry in 1814, and she and her husband were joined two years later by her father and mother, Eleazer and Hannah Spear Parmly, with several sons and daughters. Betsey, one of these daughters, was married in Vermont to Moses Hurlburt and settled in Perry about the year 1817. Thus we have the first family of Hurlburts and at one time it is represented by a half dozen families.

Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Vessey came to Perry in 1816. Eunice Lamb Vesey was the mother of several sons and five daughters, four of whom, Abigail (French), Rebecca (Butler), Vashtia (Graham), and Rowena (Colwell), were unmarried at the time they settled here. The eldest sister, Mrs. Betsey Ford, came west with her husband two years later. Sarah Bond Haskell and her daughters, Lucy, Ann and Sarah, arrived from Massachusetts in 1822. These ladies were members of a large and very worthy family whose descendants were among the most respectable of Perry's citizens of this generation and are represented by the families of Eli Harrison and Herbert Haskell, Hemon Manchester and G.M. Salkeid.

Joseph and Greenleaf Sinclair, father and son, came with their wives and children to settle in Perry about 1828. Joseph settled on the North Ridge, and after a few years built a large frame house which was added to and used as a tavern by his son for nearly forty years. His daughter, Olive, a beautiful and accomplished young woman, was married to Amherst Call in 1833, thus uniting two of Perry's good old families. Besides these few families, many others left the now well-settled Eastern States and came West, settling in Perry, but as many of them have removed, and those who remain are not very communicative, it has been difficult to find the dates of their settlement.

It is very hard for the younger generation to comprehend the changes that have taken place in the last half century, but it is a fact that where the village of Perry now stands, depot, stores, school house, churches, and dwellings, all was a dark, wet, musty swamp as late as 1840. The present Main Street was not laid out at all, the only connection between the South Ridge and the Narrows road being the street now known as Maple avenue, and this was made of small tree trunks lying close together in the water, over which the wagon wheels would bump, bump, bump, as the settlers jogged merrily on to church or paring bee. The children on their way to and from school must spring from log to log, and woe to the little foot that chanced to slip between!

The first clearing on the corner now owned by the L. Green & Son Company was made by Eli Haskell, Sr., who built his log house there early in the thirties. He had no road out to the settlement save one he made by felling the giants of the forest that grew in the dry parts of his road, and using the trunks and branches to fill in the swampy portions, and it is said that Mrs. Haskell, as she went about her household tasks, could see no light or sunshine except by looking up. But these swamps proved valuable when, a few years later, it was discovered that some portions of them were rich in bog ore, and many tons were digged and hauled to Geauga Furnace, in Painesville.

There were at one time three distilleries in Perry, and a thriving business was carried on. The whiskey was made from corn and rye and was exchanged at the stores for calico, tea and spices. It is said that a bushel of corn would buy for the thirsty farmer six quarts of "good" whiskey, and that it was consumed rather more freely than today. The distilleries were abandoned about 1840 because of the rise in the price of grain, and there is now no township in the Western Reserve that is freer from liquor dispensers and consumers than Perry.

In the early days of the township Elder Jesse Hartwell proposed to raise a frame building without the use of whiskey. The neighbors predicted a signal failure and laughed the reformer to scorn, but when they arrived on the scene of action and beheld the tempting array of edibles the good wife had prepared in lieu of the customary "little brown jug" it is said they changed their minds, and the frame went up at the "yo heave ho" as correctly as though the men had been half intoxicated with liquor.

There is supposed to have been some place in the township where goods could be brought as early as 1825, but the first store building was erected in 1831 near the present home of L.V. Axtel. This was a model country store of fifty years ago, where a little calico, cotton cloth, thread, tea, coffee, and spices could be exchanged for dried corn and fruit, but rarely for that circulating medium known as money.

Butter and eggs were not taken at the country stores until several years later, and the farmers wives considered it a gala day when they might drive away with the accumulated butter of several months to one of the larger towns. All sorts of dry goods were very high at that time, calico costing as much as flannel does today, and silk dresses being a luxury almost unheard of.

Mr. Hickok in 1829 purchased a calico dress at Unionville as a present for his daughter, and considered it reasonable at fifty cents per yard. The cloth was of English make, and was probably firmer than the five-cent calico our daughters delight to wear.

Very little sugar was sold at the store in the pioneer days, and that little was of brown color and was known as New Orleans sugar. Most of the farmers owned a few maple trees and were possessed of enough New England thrift to manufacture their own sugar supply. The old-fashioned sugar season was a season of delight to the children and young people, and the clearing in the camp was often the scene of great revelry and merrymaking. All the boiling was done in large iron kettles suspended from a pole which rested on two crotched posts, and the sugaring was done in the same kettles. The women and girls did the greater part of the stirring and molding into cakes, and not infrequently a tiny sugar heart was made a suitable valentine for some bashful rustic lover. Mr. Thorp, who owned the Tyler place on the South Ridge, was the largest producer, as he tapped from five to six hundred trees and made many pounds of sugar each year.

Paring and husking bees were the social events that oftenest called our ancestors together in the pioneer days. The time of meeting was usually about half-past six on the cool autumn evenings, and in the case of the paring bees the boys and girls sat in a row around the big kitchen and pared the peaches and rosy apples, quartering and coring them neatly, and dropping them into platters. Others of the party, with needles and stout twine string, made these quarters into long lines, which they festooned about the walls to dry. After the fruit was pared and strung a bounteous supper was served, the guests eating from the picturesque blue plates we sometimes see on the mantelpieces, and using a polished steel knife and fork. The supper over, the rooms were cleared of surplus furniture (of which there was often very little to remove) and the dancing or games were begun. The fiddler sat on some old family chest or inverted barrel, and the hearts of the boys and girls were as light as though they had been beating under broadcloth vests and satin bodices.

Weddings, too, were celebrated with a great deal of merry-making, though with enchanting simplicity. The local preacher or a justice performed the ceremony, and the guests were usually the neighbors, both old and young. There were no bridesmaids, no costly trousseau, no wedding journey, and generally no valuable presents, but for all that, the knot was as firmly tied as now, and was seldom broken, except by death. One marriage, that of John Salkeld and Louisa Crosby, which was celebrated, at Perry, in 1833, has been described as an example of early weddings. Susan Sinclair, who was wedded to John Harper, Sr., about 1840, was pronounced a wife standing in her working dress, with her hand upon her spinning wheel.

These pioneers seemed to have known each other well; much better than people of a later generation, and have many pleasant reminiscences to relate, which though not historical, are characteristic of the time of which they write. Sarah Loudnes Pleasants, a widow, living in Richmond, Va, left the home of her youth, and taking her half-grown children, moved to Augusta Ga., about 1820. Not being satisfied there she again removed, this time locating in Perry, O., in 1828. We cannot learn how the journey was made, but we know there were no palace cars or cushioned coupes of that date, and we can judge of the trials she endured in her long journey.

Sarah Ann Dorsey, wife of Omstead Baker, came from Kentucky with her husband and little baby, a part of the journey being made on a canalboat, and the rest on horseback, over the unsettled and ragged roads. They began housekeeping in a log house on the farm where her husband lived for sixty-two years.

Mrs. Orion Harper, who now resides on the Middle Ridge, where she settled forty-four years ago, has an amusing story to tell of her first experience with a railroad train. She had never seen the cars until she came to Perry, and one day she went with some friends to the depot to await the coming of the train. It was not long before someone shouted, "It is coming," and Mrs. Harper, not knowing exactly what to expect from the iron monster, ran off the platform, and into the woods to avoid it. She does not relate whether or not her fears permitted her to return and view the passing train.

All new improvements and inventions have been kindly received and readily adopted by Perry's people, through the three generations of its life, as is shown by the number of bicycles owned here at the present time, and it is remarkable what strides have been taken in locomotion.

Mrs. Samuel Wire - Mary Ann Sinclair - remembers her first ride in a covered carriage, the vehicle being the property of the young gentleman who afterwards became her husband. This was the first single "top buggy" seen in Perry and is still in existence. It is owned by a gentleman living near Lane Station, and it is awkward enough in comparison with the lighter and more modern conveyances, being high and wide and deep like the "wonderful one-hoss shay."

That the new woman is now altogether new is proved by the fact that Mrs. Blue, once Sibyl Hayes, after the death of her husband about 1840 successfully ran a store near the old red mill for many years. Mrs. Blue was quite a remarkable woman in her way, an earnest, devoted Christian and a self-reliant business woman. She was a brilliant speaker and took an active part in church meetings, which was rather an uncommon thing in those days, for a woman to do. Captain T.B. Wire has many pleasant remembrances of his mother, Abigail, wife of Samuel Wire, Sr., who resided in Perry some ten years prior to 1850. This woman reared eleven children, all except one of whom lived to reach the age of twenty-one years, and with the aid of her elder daughter she spun and wove the cloth for the many garments they required.

At that time money was not as plenty as it is now, and each family was obliged to do its own work except in rare cases. Whenever there was an occasion to hire a girl to do housework she was paid in such articles as the family happened to possess in abundance - woven cloth, raw material, and even grains and potatoes. Of course, there were "hired men" in those days and not a few of the older men of Perry relate how they began life as hired boys on some pioneers' half-cleared farm and worked their way up gradually to their chosen standard.

Many an early mother took into her already large family some poor, friendless orphan boy or girl and gave him a home and a share of her bounteous mother love.

Since the building of the Lake Shore Railroad in 1852 there has been little of the pioneer element about Perry. It is a town of the times, awake and enthusiastic, and it is to be hoped will ever be so. The spirit of this day and ever be so. The spirit of this day and age is progression, never faltering, never failing, but working steadily onward toward the end. Although we honor our ancestors and revere the grand good work they must have done, we could not wish to return to the past, for we feel that ours is the better day. The past was but a stepping stone to another step onward toward the unknown future - the future that will reveal so many things that are hidden from us. The woman of the past was brave, earnest, and loyal; she tried to do her duty and we feel that she was, in part, successful.

Her life, her work, and her influence behold in the woman of today, and in the woman of the future prepare to see reflected the ambitions, the desires and the achievements you leave her for her heritage.

Helen Hewitt Green, Chairman and Historian
Perry Committee - Miss Laura Ashley, Miss Grace Salkeld, Miss Agnes Shepherd, Miss May Sinclair, Mrs. Libbie Watts, Mrs. Agnes Hurlburt, Mrs. McLeod

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