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Source: NMHS Newsletter Aug 1993

A Sense of Place

Ladoska Z. Bunker, M. D. Ret.

The first time I heard this expression was in one of the humanities programs several years ago. A young man from Logan, West Virginia, told of his inability to identify with his community and of his feeling that it was a deadend place and particularly that nothing had ever happened there. It was not until he had gradated from high school and gone to the State University at Morgantown that he had a feeling that he was in an area where something had occurred, even if some time ago, and that more things could happen and he could be a part of them. Later he returned to Logan and learned that it was the site of much West Virginia history and that his father had grown up with one of the actors in the local historical drama, The Feudist, Anse Hatfield.

We need to look at our backgrounds objectively to search in our recent and more remote past, to recall the tales of our grandfathers and old neighbors, and to secure for ourselves a sense of place. It used to be said, "scratch a Hoosier and you will find a Buckeye" on the basis that almost everyone's ancestors in the Northern half of Indiana had come, if not originally, at least later, from Ohio. As I searched for the background of my great-grandmother, Rosanna Groomes, I found her family in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, where she had come as a bride from Somerville, New York. Her mother, also as a young woman, had come to Somerville from maritime New England. Here there was continual movement, from England to New England, to western New York, to Ohio, and in the case of my grandmother to Indiana, all in 200 years.

These migrant people carried their remembrance of the homeland with them as they traveled; few material things survived the rugged moves, but old country speech and customs and place names survived and gave continuity and meaning to their lives.

Westward Migrations from New England
Migration from New England and Pennsylvania was foreordained from the country's beginning. The settlements of six New England colonies, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine, comprised 66,608 square miles, less than twice the size of the state of Indiana, 36,291 square miles. With the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the mountains and woods of Canada to the north, movement to the west-southwest was inevitable.

One hundred fifty years after Plymouth Rock, the seaboard cities were over-crowded, and much of the available farm land was being exhausted by the poor farm practices of the time. Ancient customs of land caused much confusion and hardships as heirs sought to continue agricultural operations. The law of primogeniture, which we associate with nobility, was actually not law but custom extending into all social classes. It gave all of the decedent's land to the oldest son. This was a prevailing practice among the colonists.
Borough English was another of these ancient ways in which all of the property was given to the youngest son.
The custom of gavel kind, dating back to the Normans (1066), divided all a deceased parent's land equally among all his sons. Since this custom continued as late as 1925 in Kent, England, one can see its effect in some colonial settlements. These divisions reduced farms and left some heirs landless. If a man died without sons, his daughters were superseded by his brothers or nephews, leaving generations of dependent widows or often, for lack of a dowry, old maid daughters.

Large holdings descended to one heir, or under gavel kind, were divided among many. Since families were large, there were numerous landless members. If they wished to continue as farmers or stockmen, they were forced to seek new land in new territory. As early as 1754 the government of Connecticut bought a large tract of land in Pennsylvania for persons wishing to expand their farming operations. Connecticut migrants in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania were victims of the most savage Indian attack and massacres in American history. This area filled up rather rapidly and was ceded to the State of Pennsylvania in 1784.

After 1786 the Western Reserve was available in the next 40 years' migration and extended to western New York and the Ohio lakeshore. This later extended to the "Firelands," 500,000 acres granted to the New England "sufferers" of the British Navy's bombardment of the east coast during the Revolution. There was also some early migration to Vermont, but this was a land of rock mountains and rugged terrain, largely unsuitable for any farm operations except dairying.

As an evidence of the movement of the population, the Connecticut census of 1820 was 370,792 and in 1840 was 309,978. It is estimated that three million people migrated from east to midwest, most of this movement being first in the filling up of the middle states beyond New England, that is, western New York, western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and lower Michigan. Then the great surge westward after gold was discovered in California in 1849. This was followed by the later migrations after the Civil War when the western lands were opened up. The railroad extended across the country, and the Indians were pacified.

Emigration to the westward part of Massachusetts began about the time of the Revolution and, contrary to the thrifty practices of the times, was promoted by bank loans, mortgages, leases, and other real estate maneuvers. By 1786 the exploited settlers, entangled in taxes, high interest, poor crops, and bank mortgages, staged Shay's Rebellion with 4,000 or more insurgents storming U. S. armories. This was put down by Federal troops and Shay, the leader, fled to Vermont. The protestors were granted amnesty for laying down their arms, but many were uneasy after their martial exploit and left the area for Vermont or neighboring New York State.

All migrants were not happy in their new locations. Migrants to Brattleboro, Vermont, who had settled there in 1724, were so displeased by the Revolutionary War that after its conclusion they petitioned to rejoin the British Crown. It was not until 1791 that this heresy was put aside and Vermont joined the United States.

Some migrants settled as squatters and had no claim to their land. Hence they were often dispossessed, sometimes after they had cleared the land and built a cabin. Others hung on for many years in the backward area, never having a real claim to their property until they received "squatter's rights," based on the assumption that possession is nine parts of the law.

Rhode Island, given to manufacturing of hardware, cutlery, and cloth, contributed little to the western migrations, her population in 1820 being 83,059 and 132,146 in 1840.

The state of Maine, with 3,200 square miles of lakes and 2,486 miles of waterline, was a land of rivers, marshes, and mountains. Piney growth covered most of the state, and the growing season was too short for peaches. There was some migration within New England to this northern wilderness as shown by the 1820 census, 298,269, and in 1840 there were 501,793. A good part of this population was concentrated along Maine's Atlantic Seaboard.

New Hampshire was settled early and its land was worn out by long use. It is an area of mountains and lakes, glacial drifts, and stone outcropping and boulders the size of houses. Great numbers of New Hampshire citizens sought new land in the movements after 1800. The 1820 population was 244,022. The 1840 census was 284,574.

Many thousands of acres of land were given to Revolutionary soldiers, militiamen, veterans of the War of 1812, and other public servants. Land could also be purchased from the government in newly opened areas, such as the Indian lands available after the Treaty of Greenville, 1795, and Paradise Springs, 1826, to name a couple. Much of this could be purchased for $1.00 or $1.25 per acre and had no restrictions as to use or occupancy as the later "homestead" lands did. The attraction of this low-priced land was tremendous, and younger sons, poor farmers, along with various enterprisers, hastened westward.

The distribution of the tribes from the Indian lands is interesting. After the Shawnees made peace after being defeated by General Wayne in 1795, they were removed from their home on the Scioto in Ohio and taken to the reservation in Missouri which was purchased from Spain, since this was before the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1829 the Hurons-Wyandots were so decimated by wars and disease that only 600 of this great tribe remained. They had settled in Oklahoma. The expansion of New England into mid-America was no wild west pageant but an orderly and controlled march of civilization. The newcomers brought with them a stable government with its town meeting, churches, schools, and colleges. Only the farthest outposts had forts, and these were abandoned as the Indians were removed and as the country built up.

The New Englanders were fine mechanics, millwrights, and builders, and soon neat white painted towns, often with the center green of New England, covered the land. The beautiful Greek Revival houses and public buildings, some of which still remain, show us their capabilities. Many towns carried the names of the settlers' early homes in New England. Amherst, Andover, Bedford, Boston, Cambridge, Clinton, Groton, Goshen, Kingston, Medford, Manchester, Norwalk, Milford, Lisbon, Rockland, and Troy, among others in Massachusetts then appeared in Ohio and later in Iowa. The genealogists can often find a forebear's early home in a New England town of the same name as the home farther west.

In addition to our New England heritage there was a great infusion of Teutonic blood coming from the settlements and migration of Germans into Pennsylvania. This area was opened up by William Penn, an English Quaker, in 1682. He purchased the land from the Indians, although he had received an English grant for it from Charles II. Immediately he designated it for a religious refuge for the persecuted sects of all nations. As early as 1683 a large number of Germans of the Pentecostal faiths had arrived, along with Quakers, and by the early 18th century, many Scotch and Irish. Everyone was welcome.

During the Revolutionary War the British brought over 22,000 mercenary soldiers, mostly from Hesse-Cassel, Germany. The war was unpopular among many migrants. They fraternized with the military, and many Hessians deserted the British ranks and remained in Pennsylvania after the war, being assimilated into the German population. Since the soldiers were mercenaries and fighting for pay rather than their homeland, no special fault was attached to desertion. These names, Schamburg, Homburg, Keller, Reinhardt, Hanauer, Marburg(er), Shafer, Isenbarg(er), and Dietz, are those of some assimilated Hessians. A Hessian ancestor is not an uncommon find today.

Is there anyone here who doesn't have a Pennsylvania Dutch or German ancestor? This prolific race spread over mid-America and to this day our cooking and domestic practices bear the stamp of their customs. Think of all the things that you do like your ancestors. The ports of Philadelphia and Baltimore vied with New York as a gateway to America. The political upheavals in the German states contributed many capable citizens to our country. Some of these made their way to the western lands soon after their arrival. Also many Pennsylvanians joined the trek west. There is the story of the families from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, traveling down the National Road to Centerville, Indiana, and then through the forest to Wabash County. It took them as long to go from Centerville to Wabash County as it had to reach there from Pennsylvania via the National Road.

I well remember my grandmother, a young girl in the 1850's telling of the hordes of "movers" who arrived from the east every spring, traveling in covered wagons on their way west. Those going to western Ohio, Indiana, and eastern Illinois had herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and swine, all driven overland by the herdsmen. This ragtag army would descend on neat Ohio towns, tramping down the roadway, breaking down palings, and creating total confusion. Often they would camp in meadows outside the towns. If there were ill or injured among them, help would be asked of the townspeople, and this was often grudgingly given. No one recognized these dusty wanderers as the "heroic pioneers" of future novels, movies and television serials.

When we remember that Ohio had fewer than 4,000 inhabitants in 1790, and a population of 581,295 in the census of 1820, we can be aware of the tremendous effect of internal migration in the eastern part of our country. The Ohio census for 1840 was 1,519,467 and for 1860 was 2,339,511.

One of the considerable factors in interstate emigration was the series of canals built in the early part of the 19th century. The Erie Canal, the Ohio and Western Canals, and the Wabash and Erie Canal in our own area, greatly contributed to the expansion of this country and provided an outlet for agricultural products, the source of income for the early settler. The first canal boat reached Lagro, nine miles south of here, July 4, 1837. For 20 years the canal was a link to the outside world. It was then superseded by the railroad.
By the time of the Civil War (1861) the major migrations east of the Mississippi River had been completed, and home was where one lived and not someplace in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or New England. A new stability appeared, and a sense of place once more prevailed.
I hope with these remarks that I can interest you in some of the sense of the in-depth history and feelings of our country and to dig beneath the surface of legend, which someone has said is the "prettiest part of the truth."