Pioneer Days: A First-person Account by Samuel Slaughterbeck, Part 1

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 is Part I of an article written by Samuel Slaughterbeck (born 1831 – died 1910) and describes the settlement in the 1830s and 40s of Henry Township east of Rocky Ford Creek (then called the Portage River). This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of October 4, 1901. Because of its length, the Beacon editor broke the letter into two parts.

This is the second in the series of Beacon pioneer letters researched by members of the North Baltimore Historical Society. The first article in the series by Mrs. B. L. Peters described the settlement of the northern portion of Henry Township and the beginnings of North Baltimore in the 1840s.

Henry Township map

As shown on this 1858 map, Henry Township was still sparsely settled twenty-two years after the events described in Samuel Slaughterbeck’s pioneer letter.

A LENGTHY DESCRIPTION

Of the Trip to This County in the Early Days

Stayed Over Night in Rome Just Before Entering the Wilderness–Joined Forces with another Family–Stuck in the Muck

SAMUEL SLAUGHTERBECK

BY T. O. COPUS

EDITOR BEACON: During the fall of 1835 my father made a trip on foot from Westmoreland County, Pa., to Perry Township near the present site of West Milgrove. When he reached that section of Ohio he found it a vast forest, although it being in the fall was dry and to him seemed a very suitable place to make a home for a large family. He spent about a month trying to locate a good farm, finally purchasing one from on George Swaim. The farm contained but one building which was a new log cabin, built during the summer season. He returned home late in the winter and prepared for immediate departure for the new home in the Ohio wilderness.

We started about the middle of March 1836, driving four heavy draft horses hitched to a large high wheeled wagon which contained all the necessities for house-keeping at this early date. I was but five years old at this time and father gave me the tiresome job of driving the horses. This was pleasant for a short time only. Every boy knows just how it is to handle a whip for a few hours, but it soon becomes a task which even the older ones dread. Late in the afternoon of the first day’s travel we met a family of Germans by the name of Weaver, who were wandering travelers: that is they were journeying “to no one knew where.” My father told them of the farm he purchased in Wood County and gave them a description as best he could of the country. He finally persuaded them to accompany him here.

We journeyed on day after day through rugged wood land, small and rolling prairies, large swamps and wild thickets, arriving in a small place called Rome, now the thriving and industrious town of Fostoria. There were only two buildings in the town then, one a small grocery store run by Charley Foster and the other a rude inn of which Joel Hales was proprietor. Here we went to spend the night, but there being two large families of us it was impossible to get hotel accommodations. The landlord told our parents if they would furnish the bedding he would furnish the room. We were shown a large room without carpet on the floor and neither pictures nor wall papers were on the wall. In this we placed our bedding and spent a comfortable night. The next morning bright and early we were out. Our breakfast consisted of corn cakes meat and coffee which the good Mrs. Hale had prepared.

It was but seven miles from here to our new home and we started early in the morning much refreshed and filled with new vigor knowing our destination was not far off. We had gone but a mile or two when we ran into a swamp—a real swamp too it was. There was water as far as you could see and heavy horses were unable to pull their burden through this mud and muck. We were in great peril, as one would know, being in a strange country almost lost from the world, not a road to travel nor even a dry piece of wood to build a fire. Mr. Hales was informed of our perilous situation and came to our assistance bringing a yoke of strong oxen. We were pulled out of the swamp and taken back to Rome to remain a second night. The next day was a gloomy one. The drizzling April rain drenched our clothing and chilled through and through. Our road had to be cleared thus making very slow traveling.

We pulled into our new home late in the evening, and, friend of Wood County, it was a dismal sight. Water around the house to a depth of two feet, not a bit of earth visible, nothing could be heard, scarcely, but the howling of the wolves, which filled the forests at this time. When my mother saw the new home she wept most bitterly and begged my father to return to Westmoreland County. But as he had spent his small fortune in coming, it was next to impossible to return. Now my good readers this ends a very long and lonesome journey and I will now try and tell you in a few words something of pioneer life such as I and other were accustomed to.

After my father had become permanently settled, he and John Swinehart drove through to Sandusky. Here they purchased an old hand-mill with which to grind corn for domestic use. The mill consisted of two large millstones, a shaft and crank, and was fastened to the ceiling, usually joists, of a building. In feeding the mill you could put in but two or three grains of corn at a time; more than this would choke the machine and it would not work. Corn was bought in Lima. Father would go to the Maumee, get a load of fish and from there drive to Lima, peddling along the way. It took him at least a week to make the trip there and return. Sometimes some of the neighbors would send with him for corn and many times I frequently remember of them coming to our house inquiring of mother if Uncle John had returned from Egypt with their corn yet.

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