Lake County Ohio GenWeb

Pioneer Women of Willoughby
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.

Willoughby is a beautiful suburban town, eighteen miles east of Cleveland. The first title applied to it was Charlton. This was changed prior to the organization of the township taking the name of the river on which it is situated, which, tradition says, was so called on account of the chagrin of the surveyors when they discovered they had run their lines to the Chagrin River instead of the Cuyahoga. It retained this name until 1834, when it was given its present title in honor of Professor Willoughby, of Herkimer county, N.Y., who was a professor in the Willoughby Medical College.

John and Catherine Miller were among the first settlers, coming here as early as 1801. Samuel Miller, their son, was the first white child born in the settlement, and the pale-faced papoose was a wonder along the southern shore of Lake Erie. In 1802 John Miller was killed at a barn raising, leaving the young mother to care for the babe, who proved herself equal to the emergencies of pioneer life. Corn was the crop raised for the sole dependence. One fall the raccoons were so numerous that the whole crop was in danger. Vigorous trapping was resorted to. Mrs. Miller salted the hindquarters for winter use. The corn was pounded, or cracked for mush and bread, which, with the raccoon meat, made sumptuous fare for that winter.

One day, hearing a noise in the pig pen, she went out and found a bear. Returning with an ax, she went back and Bruin was quickly dispatched, so bear meat was added to the larder.

Time passed, and young Samuel was large enough to take charge of many things out of doors. One bright day, when about ten years old, he started to go to mill at Euclid Creek, riding on a bag of corn thrown across the horse and following a trail of blazed trees through the forest. As he neared the ravine just south of the village he heard a crunching sound, and on stopping to investigate he saw a bear up in a beech tree eating nuts. It is only a few years since the beech tree was cut down, being well known as the tree where Uncle Sam” saw the bear.

Mrs. Miller married a man named Goodspeed, and lived to be over one hundred years old. Granny Goodspeed is well remembered by elderly people of today. Her son Samuel married Maria Storm, and only survived his mother a few years. Aunty” Miller, his wife, lived to be eighty-seven years old, dying in 1894.

In 1812 George Hall and his wife, Hannah Waldo, and four small children settled in Chagrin (Willoughby), then a dense forest with howling wolves and bears, and prowling Indians. Blazed trees marked the curdoroy roads, and bridges formed the passageway over the swamps. The house was built of logs, and the furniture primitive. The cooking utensils consisted of three pieces, a long-handled fryingpan, a bake kettle or Dutch oven, and an iron pot The teakettle was lost on the journey.

Mrs. Hall boiled the water for the tea in the iron pot, placed it in a tin teapot, where it would keep hot, and then boiled her potatoes. The table at first was made by boring holes in the logs and inserting short poles on which boards were placed.

Judge Card, a member of Mrs. Hall’s family, seeing the inconvenience of such a table, proposed to make another table. It is said that both the judge and Mr. Hall were sadly deficient” as mechanical geniuses. The table was finished, but in one respect,” says Mrs. Mary Bliss, a daughter, it resembled a jumping jack, for while two legs were on the floor, the other two were high and dry above it.”

The judge said, Well George, you sit on one end, and I will sit on the other, while Hannah puts the dishes on.” Some time after they found a table on the beach of the lake minus the leaves. Mrs. Hall was often heard to say she never had a pice of furniture that she was so much pleased with as that little pine table.

The woods abounded with game, and the river with fish. Bear and deer meat were considered luxuries, while wild turkeys were so plenty that they ceased to be a rarity, large flocks often coming quite near.

Wild strawberries grew abundantly where there was a clearing. Mrs. Bliss says her mother made the first strawberry shortcake ever made in Willoughby; perhaps the first one ever made. Necessity certainly assisted Mrs. Hall in formulating the shortcake at that early date.

The Dutch oven could back but one thing at a time, and so she used that for bread. She baked the shortcake in the long handled frying pan, before the fire in the wide fireplace, opened it and spread it with cream, and strawberries. So pleased was she with her invention that she wrote to New York that she had a new way to use strawberries far superior to all others.

Mrs. Omar Bliss (Mary Hall), in speaking of her early life, says: I was born in Willoughby, in 1822, and have lived to see the desert wild bud and blossom like Eden’s garden. It seems hardly credible in retrospecting the past seventy-three years of my life, that man could so change th e face of nature and bring from chaos so many helps and so much beauty. The woodman’s ax has felled the forest, and the beautiful church and elegant mansion now occupy their place. The log cabin and Indians wigwam have vanished, and the schoolhouse stands where once they stood. Electric lights, with their dazzling brilliancy supply the place of the tallow dip; the expansive fireplace, with its crane, trammels and hooks has passed into oblivion, succeeded by ranges, furnaces and gas. The tinder box and flint are things of the past. The old stage coach is seen no more, but lightning speed carries news from shore to shore.”

Olive Tenney, born in Hollister, Mass., 1763, was married, 1783, to Seth Sprague, who died in 1812, leaving a family of seven children. Mrs. Sprague soon after her husband’s death moved with a part of her family to Penn Yann, N.Y., and there engaged in the vocation of weaving to support her family. The older children soon became able to care for themselves. Her son David, and two daughters, Olive and Bethiah, coming to Ohio. David purchased a farm in Chagrin, and in 1819 sent his team to Penn Yann for his mother and young sister, Minerva.

Mrs. Sprague was one of the brave and courageous pioneer women, ever ready to help the sick and needy, and a true and faithful mother.

Minerva married in 1820 a young man from Steuben, N.Y., ___ Fuller, who had purchased a farm adjoining Mr. Sprague’s and built a neat log house for his bride and her mother and here Mrs. Fuller, with the help of her mother, performed all the work of a farmer’s wife; also spun and wove all the cloth for their clothing and for the bed and table use. Mrs. Fuller was the mother of three children - two boys and one girl. The tenth year after their marriage they built a substantial house in which they lived the remainder of their lives, Mr. Fuller dying in 1861 and Mrs. Fuller in 1866, both having spent useful and honorable lives, Mr. Fuller filling some public office to within three years of his death. He served seven years as judge, four as State Representative, and two as State Senator.

Louisa Fuller, the only daughter of Judge and Mrs. Fuller, was born in 1827, received the usual advantages of a common school education of pioneer times, and instead of piano and language lessons, learned the mysteries of broom and spinning wheel with the art of housekeeping; was married at the age of twenty years to David Law, of Mayfield, where he took his bride to his farm, occupying the pioneer log house with very plain furnishings, the only carpet being one that during the winter previous to her marriage she had spun and woven, and for several years thereafter spinning the yard that her winter dresses and her husband’s clothes were made of.

Mrs. Law is the mother of five children, three sons and two daughters, one son dying in infancy and the two daughters dying in their early womanhood. Mr. and Mrs. Law sold their farm in Mayfield in 1851 and came to Willoughby to care for her father and mother in their declining years, where they still reside, surrounded by all the comforts of our modern homes.

Lucy Ann Carroll, born in 1817, lived nearly the whole of her life, seventy-eight years, in Willoughby. She attended select school in the village when about ten years old, boarding with Dr. Henderson, her uncle. She often saw deer coming to drink at the stream east of the corporation, and well remembered how the wolves killed nearly all of their sheep in one night, the sheep being in a lot near the house.

The pioneer families were very cordial and helpful to each other. The practice of signing notes for others was common, and sometimes caused great trouble, as the law allowed everything to be taken for debt. Her father had every one of his live stock, every bed, and nearly all of their household effects sold for the debt of a neighbor. At the age of eighteen she married Allen Ward and moved to a farm on the east side of the Chagrin River. She was a good manager in her home, and attended to every duty; was president of the Soldiers’ Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church during the war, and of the women’s aid society during the building of the college and the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Away back in the forties, just as Mrs. Ward was getting up the dinner, there came a cry, Joe’s in the well!” All ran towards the moss covered bucket” just in time to see the little two-year old son rising to the surface of the water. Without hesitation, she climbed over the curb and down the slippery and mossy stones. The well had a bucket and sweep for drawing water. Steadying herself by the pole, she descended just in time to grasp the child as he rose to the surface. How she ever got out, holding the child with one hand and climbing up with the other, she never knew; but just as the men came running up the dripping boy was raised high enough for them to grasp him and steady the mother until she could be lifted out also. She said, in relating the incident, that it all happened so quickly that she was not frightened until it was all over. It may truly be said that all the men were heroes and surely all the women were heroines.

Some time during the year 1817, several families left Old Haddem, Conn., coming to Willoughby. Among them was the family of Mrs. William Jones (Clarissa Clark Dickinson). The journey was made in wagons, six weeks elapsing ere the journey ended, and the log house in the forest received the hopeful emigrants. The location was a few miles west of the village, and only two or three log houses broke the loneliness of the road to the village. A few years of hard toil and a well cleared farm and a substantial house lent comfort to life. On the same farm where she toiled surrounded by the cheerless forest, the luxuries of a well earned home served to ease her declining years.

On 1817, Charles and Emma Williams removed from Middletown, Conn., to Willoughby. They endured many hardships in their journey, he at that time but twenty-two and she but nineteen, with two babies to care for. Their conveyance was a one-horse wagon. On reaching Buffalo, finding that a sailing vessel was about to leave, they took passage in it, and were drifted about for days, finally landing at Fairport, where they were met by the wagon and soon reached their destination. It was almost impossible to secure help, and they were driven to many expedients.

It is said that Mrs. Williams’ wedding gown was worn by her help” to balls, she not daring to refuse. One was as good as another in this new country, where the necessities of life were paramount to every other consideration. The babies, Sarah and Emma, were born in Connecticut; Martha Cornell and Charlotte Amelia in Willoughby in 1819 and 1824.

Thomas Card, with his family of five boys and two girls, emigrated to the village prior to this time. The girls became Mrs. Levi Hall and Mrs. Orrin Holmes. The oldest son died at quite an early period, leaving two daughters, afterwards Mrs. St. John and Mrs. Judge Potter. Mrs. Nancy Card Hall’s husband died in 1835, leaving her with three children. Her friends urged her to sell the farm, but, being a woman of courage, she decided to keep it, and with the help of her son William, only thirteen years old, paid the indebtedness of the estate, built the house which is now on the place, and educated her children. Her home was a social center, open to anyone in need, and her ministrations among the sick, and even in surgical cases were quite noted. She often spoke of the injustice of the laws to women at the time, and felt the effect in many ways in her business life, welcoming all the good that come to women saying, Let them agitate; they will never get anything too good for woman.” In 1818 Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Wilson (Mrs. Sarah Murry McMurphy), of Middlefield, N.Y., commenced housekeeping in Kirtland, removing to Willoughby in 1820. Mrs. Wilson was the mother of three children, one son and two daughters. Mrs. Wilson was capable, enterprising, and well adapted to compete with the trials consequent upon a residence in a new country; a bright example of the mothers who gave character and stability to society.

Later on came the Austins from Norwich, Conn., and there were the Vials, the Humphreys, the Tuttles, the Carrels, and many others whose names are familiar as household words. These were all here prior to 1830, before the name of Chagrin had been changed to that of Willoughby.

Early in 1822, Rev. Elijah Ward and his son-in-law, Hiram Brown, with their families came from Massachusetts, by the slow but sure conveyance, the ox-cart, to Willoughby. Mrs. Ward was an ideal wife for a minister, meek and gentle, holding the maxim, If you can’t say anything good of a person don’t say anything,” equal with the commandments. Their daughters, Hannah and Sally, were soon recognized as fine acquisitions to the rural society. Hannah was noted for her great size, being tall and exceedingly fleshy, with a bright, merry disposition, and with ever a ready, witty answer. She married against the wishes of her family, a widower, Cyrus Ingersoll, and moved west of Cleveland. While visiting her parents a few months later, her husband packed up all her household goods, and moved into another and more remote town, taking the hired, domestic help with him. The morals of the pioneers were good and the shock to the community was shown in sympathy for the forsaken girl.

Sally married Ariel Hanson, remaining with her parents, active in church work, and making the home a pleasant stopping place for the traveling preachers.

Harriet Elizabeth Stewart, of Middle Haddam, Conn., married Asaph Doan Clark, July, 1826, and came directly to Willoughby, where Mr. Clark owned a factory for carding wool and preparing homespun woolen cloth for men’s wear, and dyeing and pressing flannel for women’s gowns. They lived in the rooms over the working rooms of the facotry, or mill” as it was then called, while building their home they occupied during their lives, Mr. Clark dying in 1833.

Mrs. Clark knew nothing of hardship until after her husband’s death; her two oldest daughters died a little more than a year previous to Mr. Clark’s death, and a younger daughter seven years after. Anna, the youngest being born after her father’s death; the factory was carried off by a flood two or three years after. Mrs. Clark not being able to rebuild and carry on the business, it was a total loss.

Thus early in her womanhood was she deprived of a husband, property and three daughters. Her youngest daughter, Anna, who has been principal of the high school of Grand Rapids for several years, was spared to be a comfort and support to her declining years, Mrs. Clark living to be eight-two years.

When asked to give a few recollections, her daughter writes, Mother never talked much about her married life, it was too sad a subject. As I remember, she lived quietly within herself, never taking any part in social gatherings, always hospitable, as her scanty means would permit, and doing for the poor and needy within stint. She was called on from far and near, by friends, acquaintances and strangers to administer to the sick, suffering and dying. I remember so many times of strangers coming to the house, saying there was sickness in the family, and there was no one to help, and that some one had suggested that Mrs. Clark was always ready and would be so kind as to come. My mother never refused the call of mercy, though she must necessarily sit up all night to finish some promised work to obtain money for her daily wants. Truly, mother had her reward in the love and respect of the poor.

Mrs. Clark was one of the brave pioneer women, quiet and dignified in manner, loved and honored by friends and neighbors.

Mrs. Samuel Smart, nee Mary Welch, was born in 1798, at Bath, England. Her early life was spent amid the comforts and luxuries of home, without care or trouble; educated under the strict principles of an old English boarding school. While she received her instructions at the dawn of the nineteenth century, she expressed a hope that a more liberal training would be enjoyed by her children. She was married in 1823, living seven years in London and vicinity. She came with her husband and four children to America, landing in New York, July, 1830, after a rough and perilous passage of nine weeks in a sailing vessel. Nothing can tell the story of her anxiety better than her abundant brown hair, one and a quarter yards in length, had turned white the length of one inch on the head, but the white lace cap worn by all young matrons of that day covered all. In 1836, they settled in Willoughby. Mrs. Smart was the mother of eight children, two born here. She was ever ready to assist others, and nobly endured the trials and privations of pioneer life. A little over sixty years ago, the Willoughby Medical College was inaugurated and lived for a period of eleven years, when the professors and the whole outfit removed to Columbus.

Here were the vacant buildings and franchises adapted to educational purposes and no other. So after earnest consideration the citizens and a new board of trustees decided to establish a female seminary.

In the fall of 1847 Miss Rosena Tenney was made the first principal of the Willoughby Seminary. At the close of the first year four young ladies graduated, and the school numbered over one hundred pupils. The school went on gaining in popularity and enlarging its classes until its future usefulness seemed assured beyond a doubt, when, one March morning a destructive fire consumed the fine building, and the Willoughby Seminary vanished in smoke and ashes, arising three years later in Painesville, and taking a new name, The Lake Erie Seminary, which has among its treasures the key of the building that was burned, the draft of the articles of incorporation, the seal of the Willoughby Seminary, and a few letters relating to its early history.

Martha H Elwell, Chairman and Historian
Willoughby Committee - Mrs. Mary Bliss, Miss Louisa Law, Mrs. Sarah E. Clark, Mrs. Sarah Crobaugh, Miss Helen Humphrey, Mrs. Jane B Durban.

Back to the History Page

Back to Lake OHGenWeb

Please note:

If you have other Lake County resources or corrections please contact the webmaster at CynthiaGenWeb@juno.com

Last updated 5 Apr 2002

© 2002 Lake County, Ohio GenWeb