Canal Town

Amelia took a variety of travel modes to go from Boston to Mansfield in 1831. (Submitted Photo)

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles by author Paul Lintern. It is set in 1831 and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of a young girl.

Coming to Ohio, this summer of 1831, had been Amelia’s father’s idea.

He and Uncle Jacob had been boyhood friends, growing up together in Grandfather Pendergast’s house, back in the 1770s and 80s, about the time of the War for American Independence. Jacob’s father worked for Amelia’s grandfather, as what her father called an indentured servant.

Amelia remembered her father explaining that Jacob’s parents had come to America a few years before Jacob was born, their fare paid by Amelia’s grandfather.

In return, Jacob’s father had to work seven years for Mr. Pendergast, in his home, then in his shipping business. After seven years were up, Jacob’s father stayed at the business, working his way up until he became head bookkeeper, a most trusted employee. When Jacob grew up, he moved to Ohio, to start a farm, then an inn.

The two boyhood friends had not seen each other in almost 30 years, but had written letters back and forth throughout the years, and when her father spoke of him, Amelia heard only words of praise for Jacob. According to Amelia’s mother, her father thought it would do her good to come to the frontier.

That is how, accompanied by Charles, she took a five-day boat ride around Connecticut and up the Hudson River, a four-day canal boat ride from the Hudson to Lake Erie, a three-day boat ride to Sandusky, then a two-day wagon ride straight south to Richland County, all to learn about the people who were settling the new lands.

Even though Ohio had been a state for more than 25 years, parts of it were still hardly settled. This was one of those parts.

Charles had been a servant in the Pendergast household since before Amelia was born. It seemed the farther she traveled in her journey, the more primitive the surroundings became.

The ship that took them up the Hudson was a beautiful new schooner, although she had hoped to ride one of Robert Fulton’s steam boats that she had seen in the New York harbor.

The ride on the canal boat was fun the first day, horse-drawn along calm straight paths, stopping every so often to go through a lock. That required letting water in or out, depending on whether the boat was going upstream or down. It was exciting the first few times, but downright dull after that, especially on the third day, when it rained and they had to sit cooped up in the hull of the boat.

Amelia also noticed the language of the canal workers was different than anything she had ever heard her father or Charles say. Charles simply dismissed it as “colloquialisms,” local phrases, then suggested she never use those words in her conversation.

Traveling on another ship across Lake Erie was interesting to her because of the size of the lake, and because it was one of the five Great Lakes. They passed by the very spot where Commodore Perry, a hero from her father’s stories, had defeated a British fleet about 20 years earlier, in the War of 1812.

She remembered telling her teacher it was an inaccurate name, since the war lasted until 1815. She recalled her teacher was not amused.

When her ship landed in Sandusky, she was impressed with the activity on the docks. It wasn’t big, like Boston, but because it was at the mouth of a river and on the big lake, she wondered if it might grow. Some day, Sandusky might be as big as New York, she thought.

The ride south to Mansfield was slow and uncomfortable. The stagecoach was no match for the bumpy corduroy road, a carpet of trees cut down and placed across the path. There was no being comfortable on the ride and Amelia suspected that the long journey had taken its toll on Charles, too. He never was very talkative, but at the end, he was just plain silent.

They had arrived in nearby Mansfield, and while it was the Richland County seat, only a few hundred people lived there. The first people that greeted them pointed with pride at their new courthouse building, which Amelia thought was a rather plain and homely looking brick building.

Charles and Amelia were dropped off at Mr. Wiler’s new two-story brick hotel, which had beautiful furnishings including a large brass chandelier. Mr. Wiler himself greeted them and offered a room. When Charles said he was delivering Amelia to the Oakland Inn, Mr. Wiler seemed disappointed, and wondered aloud why they would travel another four miles for that housing, when they could have this.

How rude, she thought at the time. Later, when she saw the Oakland Inn, she at least understood why he said it. Charles arranged a ride out to the Inn and while they were waiting, Amelia got to visit Mr. Arnold’s “Cheap New Goods” Store, which had licorice and marbles, the most familiar things she had seen since arriving in Ohio.

As they were riding a carriage to the Inn, Amelia was remembering the conversation between her father and mother about her journey.

“Ohio is so far away,” her mother said. “But the frontier will only be going farther and farther away,” her father said. “There already are two states west of Ohio, and territories forming west of the Mississippi. This will show her how our country is growing, and the people that are building it on the inside.”

“But she is so young, and small,” Mother said.

“Jacob and his wife will look after her. I know you have never met Jacob, but you knew his father, and my father said there was no one he trusted more. Jacob comes from good stock,” he said. “Growing up, I trusted him with my life; I will trust him with my daughter.”

Just then, the carriage pulled in, and Amelia caught her first glimpse of the Oakland Inn.

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