Brownhelm Township Ohio Early Settlement

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, in the fall of 1816 Henry Brown traveled with William Alverson and several young men from Massachusetts to northeast Ohio where Brown selected a tract of land, about a mile square, in the northeast corner near the lake shore. Brown and Alverson were accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. The men helped to erect a cabin for Brown and began improvement of the land, as did Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley. 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. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter. Alverson, Lincoln, Pease and Whittlesey remained.

Originally a part of Black River, in 1818 the area was separated into a township. The western part of the township was traversed by the crooked Vermillion, whose broad valley and high, steep banks give a pleasing diversity to the generally level surface. There were several other small streams not designated by name on the county map. The soil was more or less clay, modified along the ridges by gravel and sand, and, in small areas in the northern part of the town, by a deep, black muck of great fertility.

Early in the following year, Levi Shepard and Sylvester Barnum and their families, and two daughters of Stephen James, who came with Mr. Shepard, left Stockbridge for this township, where they arrived, after a protracted and tedious journey, in the after noon of July 4, 1817. Mr. James with his two sons (his wife having died previously) started from Stockbridge about the same time as Deacon Shepard and his associates, but taking the boat at Buffalo for Black River, reached the place about a week in advance of them. Mr Shepard and family are the conceded first settlers. “Mr. Shepard and his wife, without indicating their purpose to their fellow travelers, were careful to lead the way as they approached the selected territory, so as to be first on the ground. They crossed the line between Black River and Brownhelm some rods in advance of their associates, and thus they properly have the honor of being the first settlers.”
Some of the young men who came with Colonel Brown had returned east, but four of them remained and were on the ground when the three families arrived. These were Peter P. Pease, William Alverson, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. They were then single, but they subsequently married and settled in the town.

The first work of the assembled group was to prepare an independence dinner in honor of the occasion. This is believed to have been the first meal ever spread in the township by white women. Some of the young men, looking on while the women prepared the meal, were moved to tears. It was the first sight of anything like home that had met their eyes for many months. The material for the dinner was not over-abundant or varied, embracing the bread and pork which the young men contributed, and the relics of the provisions with which the travelers had been furnished for the journey. But the seasoning of appetite, novelty and hope made it a dinner long to be remembered, such as one enjoys but once in a life time. The party consisted of sixteen persons who shared in the meal.

Shepard, Barnum, and James took up their abode on the lake shore, jointly occupying, for a time, the log house of Colonel Brown.

Barnum, in a few days, vacated, his family living in a lumber wagon, on his purchase, for a short time, until the completion of his house. He remained but a few years in the township. Most of his family died of a malignant disease called “milk sickness,” or “ sick stomach,” which prevailed so fatally in the town in an early day, and he returned to Massachusetts, where he subsequently died.

Shepard and James continued their occupancy of the Brown house, until the erection, by the former, of a cabin on his purchase on lot six, when the two families took up their abode there. Mr. James and family occupied a part of the house for about a year, when he erected a cabin on his farm, west of Colonel Brown.

Alverson took up residence on the ridge. He then returned to Stockbridge, Massachusetts to marry Harriet Fairchild, sister of Grandison Fairchild. Together they returned to Brownhelm, Ohio with an oxteam; on the way six weeks.

Before the close of the year in which the families previously mentioned arrived, those of Solomon Whit tlesey, Alva Curtis, Ebenezer Scott and Benjamin Bacon moved in.

Mr. Whittlesey located on the farm later occupied by his son Cyrus. Mr. Whittlesey was a great hunter in his pioneer days. His death occurred in 1871, aged eighty-five.

Deacon Curtis settled near the Vermillion, on the spot later occupied by Fred. Bacon. He opened here, in his house, the first hotel in the town. He had no descendants living in Brownhelm, and we have but little information concerning him. He died in 1846, his wife subsequently.

Mr. Bacon was the first justice of the peace in the place. Mr. Bacon was qualified by nature to be a leader, and was probably a man of as much influence and extended acquaintance as any other in the settlement. This weight of character was used on the side of order, education and sound morality.

The next year the settlement was increased by the arrival of a dozen families. One of the first was that of Anson Cooper, who moved in from Euclid, Cuyahoga county. Mr. Cooper died in 1846. He was the first town clerk in Brownhelm.

The families of Colonel Brown, Grandison Fairchild, Alfred Avery, Enos Cooley, Elisha Peck, George Bacon, John Graham, Orrin Sage, Chester Seymour, Thomas Ely and Dr. Brown moved in soon after. Colonel Brown took up his abode in the house on the lake shore already prepared for him.

The privilege of naming the place was yielded by the citizens, at a meeting called for the purpose, at Mr. Barnum's, to Colonel Brown. He gave it the name "Brownhelm," which caused some displeasure among some of the people, as implying that Colonel Brown was to steer the ship, a thought which was probably not in his mind in connection with the name. He doubtless sought only for an agreeable termination of the name, and found it in the old Saxon word ham or hem, softened for euphony to helm, and signifying ‘home,’ or dwelling place, and thus the name means “Brown’s home.” To some of the early inhabitants, it sounded like Brown at the helm, and a petition was at one time circulated to have the name changed to Freedom, but Brownhelm is the name that held steadfast.
Brownhelm Historical Association
Preserving the Rich History of Brownhelm, Ohio

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