Source: News-Journal, February 8, 1940


The second marriage in Chester township, and the first genuine romance of Chester township residents was that of Nancy Barrett and George Abbott, later the famous Rev. George Abbott of Civil War days. They were married in 1838 instead of 1839 as most historians record it. Their marriage license was issued at Wabash by Col. William Steele August 18, 1838. Oddly enough the marriage return made by Justice John W. Stephens gives the date of marriage July 22, 1838, 27 days before the license was issued. That is undoubtedly an error, and the marriage likely occurred on August 22, 1838. Stephens was the first justice of the peace in Chester township.

Nancy was the stepdaughter of Col. Richard Helvey. She was born in Kentucky June 5, 1817. Her father was James Barret, and he died when she was a young girl. Her mother later married Col. Richard Helvy, the first permanent settler in Chester township. They lived for a short time at Indianapolis and then about 1830 or 1831 Richard decided to come to Wabash county where his brothers, Joel and Champion, already were established. Helvy located in the brick building in Lagro that the government had built for old Chief LaGros, and operated a small trading post with the Indians, who retained the land south of the Wabash river.

Nancy was one of the first agriculturists in Wabash county. in later years she told how she hoed corn on a plat of ground cleared by her step father and this ground is now a part of the town of Lagro. She said she tilled the corn during the summers of 1831, 1832 and 1833.

One well may wonder what were the thoughts of Nancy as she trudged up and down the corn rows, scraping a little loose dirt around the young corn, dodging the stumps, and striking the hidden roots with her hoe. Did she wonder about a "Prince Charming" and from whence he would come? For girls thought of marriage at a young age in those days and the greatest disgrace for a girl was to be an "old maid." There were so few eligible young men in the county at that time that she may have regretted leaving Indianapolis, the new state capital.

Helvey saw an opportunity to establish a trading post along Eel River and trade with the Pottawatomie Indians, there being a village on what is now the Manchester College football field. Accordingly March 1, 1834 he entered a 50 acre tract, known as the northwest fractional of Section 33, township 30, range 7 East, this being a part of the farm now owned by Harvey Cook, immediately north of the College football field. June 10, 1835 he entered 63.20 acres, the west part of the northeast quarter, and on October 13, 1835, he obtained a 57 acre tract known as fractional lot 3. There near the site of the old Indian cemetery, he built his cabin. More of Col. Helvy will be told in another story....

Source: W.E. Billings, TALES OF THE OLD DAYS (1926), p. 7.

In March of 1834 Richard Helvy came to this locality from Lagro, looked upon the hill at the turn in Eel river northeast of where North Manchester is now, found the place looked good, even if it was occupied by an Indian cemetery, and straightway set to work to erect a cabin, his settlement gradually crowding away the live Indians and ultimately hiding all trace of the dead ones. His cabin stood where the Harvey Cook house stands today, on the bank of the river, possibly half a mile northeast of Manchester college, and he was the first permanent settler in Chester township.

Richard Helvey was a brother of Joel and Champion Helvey who settled near Lagro in 1827, and it seems that he followed them into this part of Indiana, staying with them for a time at Lagro, but that place soon became too thickly populated to suit him and he hied himself farther into what was then the wilderness. When one takes a look from the hill on which Richard Helvy located his cabin it is not hard to see why he picked that place in preference to all others, or for that matter why the Indians before him had picked it for a village and for their burying ground. It is a beautiful little hill, easily above any part of North Manchester, with a pretty little wooded gen on the river bank, and in the glen until recently was an ever flowing spring of fresh and sparkling water, but a modern drainage district dried the spring never to run again. The Indians, dead and living, got along well with Mr. Helvy, and they lived together in peace. Helvy was not long in finding the Indian weakness for fire water, and spring water was not the only drink for which that glen was famous. An old legend says, that Helvy's little moonshine still, home made but effective, may have been and probably was in operation long before Judge Comstock started his pretentious distillery, and it turned out a product that if available in this year six of the great drought would attract thirsty souls from even as far away as Peru. But Helvy knew the characteristics of that liquor, and would not let the Indians have any of it until they had safely deposited with him all of their tomahawks, guns, knives and weapons, and then he would trade them liquor for trinkets, and many a wild time was had. Sometimes the Indians would get into trouble among themselves, and would come to Helvy begging their guns or knives to fight each other with, but he kept his head and likewise their fighting tools until the spree was over. That is why the Indians came to say that Helvy spoke true, and would do just as he said he would.

But Helvy did not stay long on the farm by the river. Some time in the later thirties or early forties he disposed of the farm. Asa Beauchamp at that time owned the American hotel in North Manchester and some sort of a three cornered trade seems to have been made by which Helvy got the hotel and Martin Wicks the farm. Wicks moved to the place, and it was of Wicks that Thomas Cook, father of the late Thomas Cook, bought the farm in 1844. He with his family of wife and six children, Thomas, a lad of eight, being the oldest came to Liberty Mills to prospect. He had sold his farm of forty acres in Ohio for $1700, and wanted more land. After a short stay in Liberty Mills he bought the Helvy place, and his family has lived there since. Helvy soon tired of hotel life. He went to Logansport for a short time, then returned and bought the farm southwest of town. There he died of lung fever about 1850, and the bodies of himself, wife and two children are lying in the extreme north side of the old cemetery in this city. Two others of the older settlers, and related to the Helvy family, Mahlon Frame and John Sheets, died about the same time of the same disease as did Richard Helvy, they having attempted to nurse each other during their sickness, including the two step children there were eleven children in the Helvy family, but only two, Mrs. Abbott and Robert Helvy remained about here. Champion S. Helvy of east of Liberty Mills, Miss Leora Helvy of this city and Ben Helvy of Roann are children of Robert. Champion seemed to be a favorite name in the Helvy family, for the present day Champion had an uncle and a great uncle by that name.

Source: W.E. Billings, TALES OF THE OLD DAYS (1926), p. 14.

...Col. Richard Helvy, who with his family had first located at Lagro some time in 1832. He came there from near Indianapolis, and to that place from Virginia. As the Erie and Wabash canal was being constructed in 1832 it seemed to him that the Lagro country was getting too thickly settled, and he moved north, locating in Chester township, along the banks of Eel river and about a mile northeast of North Manchester in March of 1834.

Helvy lived without neighbors until in September of 1834, when James Abbott moved to a farm he had entered a short distance northeast of Liberty Mills. Even if there were no Henry Fords, or even horses and buggies in those days, the distance seemed short, and the two families were soon on the most friendly basis. It was this propinquity...that soon had George Abbott singing, "Just One Girl," or words to that effect....Tradition says that one evening just as the shades of night were falling fast, Abbott came down through the woods from his side of the river, humming aloud his favorite tune. The only way to get to the Helvy household was by boat. The boat was on Abbott's side of the river, but as he neared the stream he saw Helvy was nearer to it than he was. A foot race resulted in Helvy reached the boat first, and he shoved off into the river, intending to leave the lovelorn young man on the far side from the truly just one girl. It seems that Helvy had no particular objections to Abbott, but Nancy Barrett was a good worker, and Helvy wanted her to stay in his household. But the same spirit that took Abbott through the funeral sermon helped him in this emergency. Running at full speed as he reached the river he made a long leap and landed in the boat, so there was nothing for Helvy to do but to take him across the river to his sweetheart, but tradition does not say what Helvy said on the way across.

Source: W.E. Billings, TALES OF THE OLD DAYS (1926), p. 16.

...Col. Richard Helvy, the first settler in Chester township was not afraid of either live or dead Indians, this statement being based upon the fact that he located his cabin right by an Indian cemetery. But from a story told by members of his family his courage appears to have been rated too high. It is related that once upon a time he went out after the cows in the dusk of the evening, locating them up somewhere near what is now the gravel pit on the road to Liberty Mills. Just as he found the cows he saw sitting in a sort of a pen the most horrible looking dead Indian he had ever seen, the head propped up with a forked stick and the flesh falling from his bones. It was "Home, Sweet Home," for Helvy, and any way to get there as quick as possible. It is related that in three jumps he caught up with the cows, and grabbing one of them by the tail, let loose a yell that sent the cow homeward, Helvy clinging tight to its tail. It seems the Indian had been a criminal of some sort, and as a punishment his body had been stuck out in the woods as a warning to other Indians not to do likewise. It is not recorded whether he had been executed, but it is probably that he had, for the Indians are known to have had their crude courts of justice, and to have inflicted penalties with even more precision than our courts today. Suspended sentences had not been invented then, and a guilty man was expected to take his medicine without a whimper.