Josephine Park Cranston Writes About the Cranston Adventure of Coming to Ohio in 1815 and the Years That Followed

The Cranston Adventure of Moving from Rhode Island to Woodstock, Ohio in 1815 as told (I think) by Josephine Park Cranston sometime in the 1880’s from  her memory of stories and records that she kept. The original documents in her own handwriting are below.

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Early in the fall of 1815, John Cranston and his daughter, Phebe Ann; sons, Stephen, John Bradford, Ephraim, Christopher, and Edward in company with a number of other families started from Rice City, RI to make a home in the then Far West.

The little band numbered twenty-four souls in all, natives of Connecticut and Rhode Island, who gathered at this place as a rallying and starting point. They were just six weeks on the road and experienced the usual vicissitudes of emigrants. The roads over the mountains were in places almost impassable and, in descending them, they had at times to chain the wheels of their wagons and let them slide along for quite a distance. One among the not least discouraging of their numerous difficulties was met and overcome in the following manner, at what was then called Big Belly Creak near Columbus, Ohio.

On reaching this stream it was too much swollen to admit of fording, and they at length enlisted the services of a man with a canoe, who first ferried over the people and then their goods. They then sam the horses across, unpacked the bed-cords, tied them to the wagon tongue on the opposite side of the creek, hitched the horses to the cord and then drew them over. Stopping awhile at Worthington acquaintances were made with Col. Kilbourn’s family that were cherished through life, and even yet, the descendants of the Cranstons hold friendly relations.

Columbus was a small place and the surrounding country not sufficiently attractive to induce this band of immigrants to remain and grow up with the present capitol of the state of Ohio, and they journeyed on ‘til reaching the riches and vital lands of Darby Plains.

Stopping awhile near the confluence of Proctor and Teacle Creeks, they called their little settlement Rice City, John Cranston buying a rich tract of land, long known as the Taylor Tract in Union County. In time, the title proving defective, rather than have a litigation, he compromised with Gen. Lytle for another and larger body of land in Rush Township, Champaign County where he settled with his daughter and sones, one mile northwest of Woodstock and further from N. Lewisburg, two villages since started and named, the former by settlers from Vermont.

With brave hearts and stalwart arms the conditions of this new country were nobly battled with, until in the language of another, “Glances of introspections running back once the long distance of eighty years bring back to the retentive memory of man the names of Cranston and others – who endured all the privations and hardships incident to pioneer life and to whom their descendants are under as great a dept of gratitude as ware we to the heroes of 1776, who gave us liberty and rights; and the old pioneers – God Bless Them! – gave us homes in which to enjoy these great blessings.

Could our forefathers, weary by their tiresome journey from the far-off fields of the classic East and New England’s rock-bound coast have viewed the tract of land now comprising the township of Rush in its present state, we can readily see with what emphasis would be exclaimed, “Eureka,” for it is surely one of the most beautiful and fertile districts of the West.

 Its general surface can almost be turned a perfect plain, for the greater position of the entire township is so level that were a dispute to arise, its settlement would call into question the spirit level. The surface in the north might properly be classed as slightly undulating and hilly, but with this exception. The township is the level plain above described. In the early history of this country, the southern part was covered by a dense growth of prairie grass, interspersed here and there with swamps covered with a profusion of rush. These swamps in later days have been filled and drained, and now form some of the richest farms in the township. The character of the soil is of that rich, black quality generally found in our bottom lands, saving that in the north on the slightly hilly and undulating portions where it is of a sandy and clay nature. In fertility, it is second to none. The land is well timbered, there yet remaining probably one fourth of its acreage in forests, and those being pretty equally distributed over the township. The timber of the northern part consists of a variety such as beech, hickory, oak, maple, linden, ash, elm, sugar, black and white walnut, etc., etc.; while that of the southern portion is mostly oak, with here and there a shell-bark hickory.

The district is well watered; Big Darby, probably indebted for its name to the Indians, is the largest, flowing across the north-east corner; Pheasant Run, passing from west to east through almost the center, forming the dividing line between North Lewisburg and Woodstock precincts. Spain’s, Proctor and Teacle Creeks with other tributaries of Little and Big Darby add their waters to this fertile region. The N.Y.P & O. [New York, Pennsylvania & Ohio] railroad passes through it. Lewisburg and the Pan Handle through Woodstock furnishing the people with excellent and ample facilities for marketing their products. And this country is now traversed in almost every direction, but good pikes and they are all free.

The name of Rush may have been derived from the swamps covered with rush, but John B. Cranston was impressed with the idea that the name came from Benjamin Rush, member of the Continental Congress and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Among the early reminiscences of frontier life, as related by Mr. Cranston, we quote the following: “It seems that at some place between Mechanicsburg and Springield, there was a small settlement of people, who either cam from Virginia or Pennsylvania, and who winced a decided horror of Yankees, as they termed all those who came from the New England States. One day, John B. went with his father to the settlement spoken of above, for the purpose of paying for and bringing back with them some cattle which his father had bargained for some days previous. On arriving at their destination, the old gentleman found the cattle as represented, and proceeded to count out the money; but, by some mischance during the operation, disclosed the fact that he was one of the terrible sect called Yankees. Upon hearing this, the man of whom they had purchased the cattle declined to have any dealings with Yankees and absolutely refused to let them have the cattle under any circumstances, and they were obliged to return without them.

Speaking in regard to the roads that ran through the settlement at any early date, Mr. Cranston said that he once started to Cincinnati in a two-horse wagon with a small load of cheese for market. The roads were very bad and the end of the first day’s journey found him at the small lake just north of Mechanicsburg, only about ten miles from starting point. Taking the horses from the wagon, he returned home that evening and went back next morning with a yoke of oxen in addition to his horses; and in this manner made the trip, consuming just two-weeks time in the journey and sleeping most of the time in his wagon.

Darying became a prominent business in connection with agricultural products, the natural grazing facilities favoring it when the cans of milk sickness could be overcome. Thus dwelt these early pioneers amidst the wilds of nature, aroused occasionally by the howl of the wolf that visited and devoured their flocks by night, the screech of the panthers, the rapid flight of the timid deer or the whoop of the red man as he prowled about his former hunting grounds. Riding through the tall grass on horseback, it could tied over one’s head, and when turning, a bear has been seen following in the path. But the blue smoke from the hospitable cabins, the ax resounding through the forst, the scythe laying the swaths of grass and the sycle gathering in the sheaves of grain all gave evidence that civilization had secured a foothold and the work of transformation was going on.

The log-rolling, the house-raising, and mutual exchanges of labor were necessary passtimes; and school houses soon claimed the children and spelling school debates brought out the older ones for neighborhood association and advancement. The preacher and exhorter were not lacking in their midst.

John Cranston gave a division of land to each son who married, thus settling them near him, and at the age of seventy years when he died, Stephen, John Bradford and Ephraim were living on adjoining farms. Christopher and Edwards were with him and shared in the original home until Edwards married where they bought another farm which he occupied.

Phebe Ann had previously married Andrew Savage and gone away, living awhile in Cincinnati, when Christopher was with her attending the Woodward High School and assisting in the store. In time he returned and Miss Savage went to Cuba, whence her husband had preceded her. She there had yellow fever and preparations were made for her funeral which she was wholly cognizant of but for a time powerless to resist; But she survived and often spoke of her joyful convalescence and other pleasant incidents of her life there.

Leaving her husband, she returned to the home of her father, occupied by the two younger brothers, engaging with them in their farm life, until receiving money equivalent to the property given the sons as willed to her by her father; she went to Columbus and engaged in mercantile millinery and fancy goods business. She afterward married Thomas Johnson with a family of sons and daughters; who were in time, severally established on southern plantations by their father. One being pro-slavery, the other anti-slavery in sentiment, through the evolution of events a gradual alienation finally separated them; he remaining much with his children and she with her relatives; an interesting, intelligent, executive woman with many excellent traits of character, who had known many vicissitudes in life.

Finally, during residence in Woodstock, she departed, March 10, 1871, aged 78 years 8 months and 18 days; and her remains were placed beside those of her father in the Cranston burying ground one mile north of Woodstock, where she had placed a monument to the memory of her father and mother and sister Margaret, one side being reserved for her own inscription. They graves are now all covered with evergeen myrtle.

The house, which they occupied in Columbus on High screet, immediately opposite the State House, was burned in April 1841 and many of the records lost; hence, the lack of explicit dates. But old letters recently reviewed give evidence of interesting, friendly correspondence between her and relatives, Freelove, Arnold, Scituate; Irene G and Barzillas Cranston, Providence, RI. The letters were folded to make their own envelope, sealed with wax or wafers, and 25 cents postage marked on them.

2 thoughts on “Josephine Park Cranston Writes About the Cranston Adventure of Coming to Ohio in 1815 and the Years That Followed

  1. Jennifer L Wickman

    How interesting! I often wonder how my line of Cranston’s broke off a bit to the north in Michigan. It seems we all come from Governor John Cranston in Providence.

    1. Charles C. Jett

      Yes, Jennifer! Looks like we’re cousins of sorts! Hope you like the Cranston site – I’ll be publishing writeups of more of Josephine Park Cranston’s essays about her visits to Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville, etc. What a woman!! My kind of gal! (She was a century before her time!) ~ CC

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