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Diary details struggle of early Chardon settlers
Diary details struggle of early Chardon settlers
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Those who call Chardon home today generally think nothing of heading to the store for groceries or taking a 20-minute drive to shop in Mentor.
But, for those who first settled the area, life in Chardon was, at times, a life-and-death struggle.
Fred Wilder, of Chardon Township, and his sister Marilou Smith, of Chardon city, hold a window into the world of those first settlers.
They possess a diary of Ariel Benton, one of Chardon's first settlers, who describes his trip from Connecticut to Chardon and his starting out with nothing, attempting to build a better life here. The book is titled, "Life and Times of Ariel Benton."
Mr. Wilder and Mrs. Smith are direct descendants of Elihu Benton, one of five Benton brothers who would come to Chardon in the early 1800s. The original diary is held by the Tolland Historical Society in Connecticut, where the Benton family settled in 1719. The diary was published by Ariel Benton's nephew, Ira, on Mr. Benton's 90th birthday and was distributed to family members, Mr. Wilder said.
Ariel Benton was born Feb. 13, 1792 in Tolland. As he grew into a man, he worked for monthly wages on other people's farms, but had little to show for his labors, he wrote.
At the age of 22, Mr. Benton came to the realization he needed to make a life elsewhere. "I began to think it was a hard life to work by the month, and I started to see if I could find a home in a new country," he wrote.
Initially, he settled on land in Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna River. In June 1815, his family wrote that they had traded their Connecticut property for land in Ohio and if he wanted to go with them he had to return home.
During a month-long trek to his new home, Mr. Benton wrote, he spent his nights sleeping in a covered wagon while his travel companions spent the night in "taverns." "They were all glad to have me sleep in the wagon for fear of thieves," Mr. Benton wrote.
The group followed a path along the shores of lakes Ontario and Erie.
Arriving in Buffalo, Mr. Benton described a town that had been decimated during the War of 1812 by British troops and their American Indian allies. Only a newly built tavern was standing, Mr. Benton reported, as the rest of the town had been burned to the ground.
Leaving Buffalo, the travelers came on the "four mile woods," a notorious stretch, full of potholes that caused the wagon to break down as the group repeatedly swerved to avoid them. The group had to take time out from their travels to bury "Uncle Day," who succumbed to dysentery on the trip.
The group would arrive in Chardon and meet with Capt. Edward Paine, the founder of Painesville, who would show them their land. "I took the old farm that Shaw now lives on, nearly one mile north of Chardon square," he wrote.
Mr. Wilder said the land was located between where St. Mary's Catholic Church and Chardon United Methodist Church now stand. He said Polly Benton, the wife of Ariel's brother, Zadock, is considered the founder of Chardon's Methodist Church. She traveled to Pennsylvania to recruit a minister, who told her he would come if she had at least seven members in the congregation. Mr. Wilder said a social group, the Polly Benton Circle, still operates in the church.
Soon after closing the deal for the land, Mr. Benton wrote of seeing a bear. "We started but we have not gone far before we heard a terrible scratching on a cucumber tree," he wrote. "We looked up and saw a large bear near the top of the tree."
Mr. Benton wrote of going on foot in November to visit friends in Windsor and returning through Burton in December. He said 8 inches of snow lay on top of mud and he asked for directions back to Chardon. He was told to follow the tracks of a wagon that had gone through earlier. Those tracks led him to Chillicothe Road in Chester, about 9 miles off his actual destination.
He returned to Connecticut in 1816, where he married Lucinda Dimock and returned with his brother Zadock and his wife, Polly. At one of the taverns on the trip back to Chardon, two men discouraged them from coming to Chardon. "They said if we went there we would starve to death, for they said, there is nothing there that you can get to eat," he wrote. However, Capt. Paine was sitting nearby and told them there is no need to starve if they were willing to work.
Mr. Benson wrote that provisions were scarce because of the War of 1812, but a man in Painesville provided enough food for them to make the trip to Chardon. They also bought a barrel of pork for $30, he wrote, and had to search before being able to find a barrel of flour for $16. "We now concluded that we should not starve with our flour and pig pork," Mr. Benson wrote.
The family would clear the land and build two log houses, stools and beds, using elm bark for cords to hold a mattress.
A cow they had brought with them on the trip ran off into the woods. The family butchered the cow that had gone dry, but it had a strong taste of leeks, Mr. Benson wrote.
Mr. Benson wrote of attempting to go to Windsor to visit friends and find butter, but soon was overcome by nightfall just as he entered woods east of the state road in Hambden. He wrote that wolves were thick in the woods and he drummed on his pail to ward them off.
On another trip, Mr. Benson wrote, that the wives, who rode horses had their bonnets knocked off repeatedly by low-hanging branches along the paths.
The wives, Mr. Benson wrote, helped the brothers establish an apple orchard on their property. Although they had no money to buy the number of trees they wanted, Mr. Benson wrote, "Our women asked him (the seller) if he would take tow cloth for his trees and he said yes." The women spun and wove the cloth to get 160 trees, he wrote.
Sickness was always present from Mr. Benson's earliest days. He wrote he lost a 2-year-old brother and a 14-year-old sister in 1807. Sickness would follow them to Chardon as well. "Out of the whole 13 of us there were but two that were not more or less sick," he wrote one year. "Orrin and Zadock (brothers) were a great deal the sickest of any of us. Dr. Harman said there were several times when he left he did not think he should find Orrin alive when he came back the next day and Zadock was nearly as sick."
Yet, Chardon life must have served him well. Ira Benton, who published the diary, wrote that Ariel Benton was 90 years old and still living in Chardon. "I, his nephew, have published his life and times, unbeknownst to him, intending it as a birthday surprise," he wrote.
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