Pioneer Days: A First-person Account by Fanny Ackerman Peters

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, George W. Wilkinson, the editor of the North Baltimore Beacon, encouraged elderly local residents to write about their experiences in the settling of Henry Township and the founding of North Baltimore, Ohio. He then published their letters in a series of articles which he titled “Interesting Pioneer Sketches.”

The following article was written by Fanny Ackerman Peters (born Oct 7, 1832 – died May 1, 1912) and describes the difficulties her family faced in helping turn the Black Swamp wilderness into a settled community in the 1830s and 40s. Fanny was the wife of B. L. Peters, the founder of North Baltimore. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of January 10, 1902. It is the first in a series of Beacon pioneer letters which the North Baltimore Historical Society plans to publish.

Fanny Ackerman Peters

Mrs. Fanny Ackerman Peters, circa 1900. Photograph furnished by David Bushey, great grandson of Fanny Peters.

Interesting Pioneer Sketches.

Prepared by the North Baltimore Beacon by Old Residents of this Vicinity, Friday January 10, 1902, One of the founders of our city writes a highly interesting letter.

Nearly perished on a steamboat-spelling and singing schools-Wolf tries to steal our meat after bed time.

ED. Beacon: Being a resident of Henry Township, Wood County, Ohio since 1838, I will try to add my experience of frontier life to the many interesting accounts that I have read in the columns of your paper.

I was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg, and lived there two years after which father and mother, David Ackerman and Catherine Ackerman moved to Stark County where we lived for four years and then moved to Wood County.

We embarked on a steamer in Cleveland bound for Perrysburg and one morning that dreaded cry FIRE was heard throughout the steamer and for some time it looked like that demon would get beyond all control and we would either be burned to death or drowned. My mother taking a featherbed and my brother Jacob in her arms was ready to jump in the water as were the rest of the passengers, when by the united effort of all the men on board the fire was gotten under control and we landed at Perrysburg in the first week of May 1838.

Here father employed a man with a team of oxen to take us to our new home, the land which father had entered in Henry Township. It took us two days to come to William Mercer’s, about one mile south of Portageville, when the team gave out and father employed Mr. Mercer’s ox team to take us to McCroy’s, west of where Cygnet now stands and from there we walked the remaining two miles. We were four days making the trip from Perrysburg.

Father then began the erection of a cabin which was composed of small logs such as could be easily handled, the floor being made of logs split in two and hewed down and the door of split pieces. Although it was very hastily constructed it was also substantial and we lived in it a number of years. After the cabin was complete father and mother cleared a small piece of land and planted it to corn and then fall sowed it to wheat.

The first year we had no school as there had been no district organized. The first school I went to was in a log dwelling (or had been) standing on the south-east corner of the William Hough farm near the Smith boiler shop. I was eleven years old and boarded with the Otena family who lived on the farm now owned by Bishop Witten. We had no roads to travel on in going, but followed trails through the woods. Mark Thompson was our teacher until the house burned that winter with all the books which was a great loss to us. Our seats were benches made from split logs, our pens were goose quills, our ink from maple bark ooze, our dinner baskets filled with corn bread, meat, and hominy, and our clothes home spun and home woven and we were also hearty and happy.

Game was plentiful and deer would come within sight of our house frequently. One day father was helping Samuel McCroy butcher and he purchased a large piece of beef of him. It was quite late when he started for home carrying the meat on his back. The wolves followed him but he arrived home and laid the meat on a large chest inside the cabin. After we had gone to bed a wolf crowded through the side of the door after the meat but mother heard him and succeeded in scaring him out. Another time father was boiling sugar water and there were several packs of wolves howling around and seemingly answering each other. Mother made a torch and went to the camp, they both returned then for fear of being attacked as the wolves seemed unusually bold.

Father entered eighty acres and grandfather entered eighty acres of land where Hammansburg is now. Father cleared his land as fast as was possible and he and mother harvested the wheat with the cycle and threshed it in the winter with the flail. We ground the corn and buckwheat on a hand mill for our bread at first and the neighbors would come and grind and also get bread, Father started with an ox team and one cow. Our hogs would run wild in the woods and fatten on nuts, making their own living in the winter time if the snow was not too deep.

After a few years the country became more settled but everybody was friendly and sociable. It was ten or twelve years before we had any religious services and this was a Methodist meeting held at McClinticks’s school house and the Grant’s school house. Spelling schools were of great importance as one school would try to spell the other down and the young people would go from one district to another to see who could beat spelling. In winter time the young folks would organize singing school where they would have good social times as well as also to sing. We used buckwheat notes but later the patent ones. We would drive a long distance to a singing. The neighborhood I lived in was called Germany and which place could boast of no roads but you were compelled to walk on logs and fallen trees. From Germany to the ridge it was awful wet and the men chopped down trees to walk on so we could reach our neighbors.

When I was twenty-one years old I married B. L. Peters and we commenced housekeeping in a log cabin 14×14 feet that was situated on the north-west part of what is now the Franks farm. Here we lived here until August and then moved on the farm now owned by Joseph White. Here we lived for five years when we purchased 100 acres of land where we now live and moved in the woods and commenced to clear it. After a few years the B&O railroad was surveyed through our land which made a wonderful change. We then laid out New Baltimore, later North Baltimore, and now we have the B&O on the south, C.H.&D. on the east and the electric line on the west.

I have seen this country change from its wildest, wettest, and most discouraging state to its now fine farming land and richest oil field in Ohio; from a country where the people expected to have fever and ague every year to a healthful country; a country flooded by water, now ditched and prosperous. Where I at one time had to walk on logs to keep out of the mud and water I can now ride on cushioned seats on the railroad or electric line. What a wonderful change in sixty years.

And now we have a village of near 5000 inhabitants on the ground where my children formerly played and helped to clear out the woods. Two churches now stand on the land we owned and cleared with four others near. I have been a member of the U. B. Church 42 years and a teacher in the Sunday school for the last 35 years and always enjoy teaching the primary classes. There are not many of my young associates that are living. I am the oldest of my father’s family now which there are four brothers and three sisters still living. Of my own family I have three sons and two daughters living and comfortably situated which is a comfort to me in my declining years.

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