Early Brownhelm History
Long before Ohio became a state in 1803, the northeast corner of Ohio belonged to the State of Connecticut. Back in 1662, King Charles II had granted Connecticut a strip of land from their home state westward. Connecticut called this territory their "Western Reserve”. This strip included the northern edge of what would eventually become Ohio, from Lake Erie to a line slightly below present day Akron.
In order to settle their Revolutionary War debts, Connecticut sold off all but their Ohio holdings shortly after the war. They retained title to more than three million acres from the Pennsylvania line to what are now Huron and Erie Counties. The property, however, became somewhat of a "white elephant," and in 1796, Connecticut transferred the land to the “Connecticut Land Company.” This land was then offered for sale.
In May of 1816 began an event that has been referred to as the “Year without Summer” in New England. Frost had killed off most of the crops that had been planted; soon most of New England was gripped by the cold front. There was widespread loss of crops with the result of regional malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic.
Most likely spurred on by this natural disaster, Colonel Henry Brown of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, traveled to Ohio to this area of the Western Reserve to look for land to purchase. He chose a large parcel of land along the Lake Erie shore, returned east and entered into a contract with the Connecticut Land Company for this township which was known then only as “Number Six in Range Nineteen.”
In the fall and winter of 1816-17, he traveled with several young men and selected for himself a tract of land about a mile square, in the northeast corner of the town near the lake shore. He was accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey, William Alverson and William Lincoln, who assisted Colonel Brown in building his house, as did Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter. Alverson, Lincoln, Pease and Whittlesey remained.
The men helped to erect a cabin for him and to begin improvement of the land. Col. Brown, as he was formerly called, returned to Massachusetts, leaving his men to make preparations for other families moving out to the township the following year.
Under his lead many of his old neighbors in Stockbridge removed to his western purchase and settled. On July 4, 1817, after a long and tedious journey, the families of Levi Shepard, Sylvester Barnum, and Stephen James arrived in Brownhelm. They lived at the log home of Colonel Brown for a short time until the completion of their own homes.
Before the close of the year, the families of Solomon Whittlesey, Alva Curtis, and Benjamin Bacon arrived, and soon followed the families of Grandison Fairchild, Elisha Peck, Enos Cooley, George Wells, Abishai Morse, Ezekiel Goodrich, and many others.
TOWNSHIP CREATED AND ORGANIZED
From February 1817 until October 1818, the town was a part of Black River. At the latter date, on the petition of the inhabitants to the commissioners of Huron County, No. 6, in the nineteenth range, together with surplus lands adjoining west, all lands lying west of Beaver Creek, in No. 7, eighteenth range (Black River), were organized into a separate township by the name of Brownhelm.
Colonel Brown had the honor to select the name. The privilege of naming the new place was given to Col. Brown by the citizens. He gave it the name "Brownhelm," which caused some displeasure among some of the people. The Saxon word "hem" or "helm," meaning "home" or "dwelling place," translated the name to mean "Brown's home". Some thought it sounded like "Brown at the helm", implying that he was to steer the ship. At one time a petition was circulated to change the name to Freedom, but Brownhelm is the name that held steadfast, and fittingly honored the founding pioneer, Col. Henry Brown.
Township officers were chosen at the spring election in 1819, held at the home of George Bacon. Calvin Leonard, Levi Shepard and Alva Curtis were elected trustees; Anson Cooper, township clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Benjamin Bacon and Levi Shepard, justices of the peace. This perfected the township organization.
The early days in Brownhelm are filled with stories of strength, determination, and fortitude. Life in this new wilderness land was difficult. Leaving the established towns out east and coming to a primitive life was very hard. Most of the travelers came in family or neighborhood groups, with an ox cart for the baggage, and a horse or two. Often there was not enough room for all to ride in the cart or on horseback so they had to take turns. Often a woman would ride, carrying a baby and utensils for cooking, while the husband would walk, leading another horse on which was piled the baggage. Many a pioneer woman, when she reached the new land, saw the wild country, and remembered her place back home, gave into despair, but soon turned her attention to her duty and establishing her household. These women were courageous and helped to transform the wilderness to a home.
The land was covered with a thick forest that had to be cleared, and wild animals posed a constant threat. Lands needed cleared before logs were available to build homes with. These homes were without windows, had dirt floors, and crude homemade furniture. Goods were sometimes shipped from the East, which took weeks and months at a high cost. As more of the settlers worked at the trades they knew, a new community began to form. Abishai Morse and George Hinckley built the first sawmill in the hollow on the Vermilion River, which helped to provide lumber for homes. Col. Brown constructed a grist mill in Swift’s Hollow to grind flour; Abishai Morse eventually purchased the mill and moved it next to his sawmill in the hollow. Benjamin Bacon established a grist mill in Mill Hollow.
Many died in the early years of the milk sickness, which prevailed so fatally and affected many families. Milk sickness is poisoning by milk from cows that have eaten white snakeroot. The illness was most common in dry years when cows wandered from poor pastures to the woods in search of food and ate the toxic plant.
WHERE THEY SETTLED
James Fairchild, in his history of Brownhelm Township written in 1867, locates generally the early settlers as follows: there were originally five lines of settlement in town, the lake shore and the four ridges parallel to it.
On the lake shore there were Brown, Seymour, James, Shepard, Weed, Dr. Brown, Goodrich, Hart, Sly, Wells, Graham and Sheldon Johnson; and at a later day, Hawley Lathrop and Leach.
Between the shore and the first ridge: Cooley, Barnum, Scott; and later, Perley Moulton and Rankin.
Along the first ridge: Whittlesey, Alverson, Peter P. Pease. Cooper, Orrin Sage, Moulton, Joseph Scott and Ketchum; and later, Baker, Ewing, Lyon, Culver, Hiram Pease, Hamilton Perry, Parkhnrst, Hastings, Bartlett, Hosford, Dimmock, Graves, Blodgott, Hemmingway, James Newbury and Job Smith.
On the principal ridge, known as the North Ridge: Andrews, Avery, Baldwin, Lincoln, Fail-child, Betts. Daniel Perry, and afterward his sons; the Bacons, three families, Curtis at the mill, Hinkley and Waters Bette; and beyond the river, Abishai Morse, Bradley, Hewett, Booth, Davis and his distillery, and Saunders. At a later day, along the same ridge we have Belden, Samuel Curtis, Rodney Andrews, Henry Sage, Samuel Bacon, Leavenworth, Dr. Willard, Bailey, Kent Hawley, Edward Morse, Stephen Goodrich, Stephen Brown, John Newbury, Fancher, and many others still later.
Along the middle ridge or near it, on one side or the other, Peck, George James, Seth Morse, Wallace, Jones; and at a later day, Harris, Locke, Van Dusen, Ira Rugg, Cable, Frisbie, Chapin, Bushrod Perry, S. G. Morse, Parsons and Ira Wood; and further southJoseph Swift. On the south ridge road, the earliest families were Powers, Leonard, Durand, Andrews, Hancock, Denison, Holcomb, Abbott and Fuller. This road was soon set off to Henrietta.
Almost all of these families came from the east, most from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, some from Connecticut, and a few from other parts. There were a few, discouraged by sickness and by the hardships of the new country, returned east. It was not a rare thing for young men to walk the entire distance from Massachusetts to Ohio, carrying a few indispensable articles upon their backs, in a white canvas knapsack.