Move to the West

In the mid 1780s Noble had returned home and married a daughter of Ariel Gleason and Lucy Green of Canaan, in Litchfield County, Connecticut, a few miles south of Sheffield. We don’t know the name of that woman, but we know she died shortly after their marriage. Noble then married a sister of his deceased wife in 1786. Her name is Lucy, and she was only 15 years old. Curiously, though they were residents of Canaan at the time of their marriage, they went to New York State, to a little town called Millerton just over the line from Connecticut, to have their marriage performed. Both parents of Lucy were living at the time of her marriage; perhaps they did not support the idea. In any case, Noble and Lucy remained near Canaan and the first 7 of their 10 children were born there. But by the early 1800s they were being attracted by new opportunities opening up in the west.

During the revolution, four of the Iroquois nations fought on the side of the British, with the exceptions of the Oneida and the Tuscarora. In 1779, Major General John Sullivan was sent to defeat the Iroquois. The Sullivan Expedition moved northward through the Finger Lakes and Genesee Country region of New York, burning all the Iroquois communities and destroying their crops and orchards. This was a successful campaign, at least in so far as pushing the Iroquois out of that territory; many of them eventually sought refuge in Canada. Sullivan’s men returned from the campaign to spread word of the enormous natural wealth of this newly opened territory. Many veterans were given land grants there in gratitude for their service in the Revolution. And from 1786 through 1797 several groups of wealthy land speculators obtained title to vast tracts of land in western New York for as little as 12 cents an acre and then resold the land to farmers. Central and western New York was opening up to what would soon become a flood of settlers from New England and Europe.

We know from the census of 1810 that the sons of Daniel Gunn Jr. (Daniel, Moses, Hezekiah and Noble) had all moved on from Sheffield to Onondaga County in north central New York, though not directly. Moses and Hezekiah may have gone first to Vermont along with cousin Charles and sister Rhoda. The latter married in Bennington, Vermont and stayed. The others, including Noble and Charles, the son of their uncle Captain Stephen Gunn, were soon also residing in New York. This is a pattern we’ve seen before; the men, brothers and cousins, and their families, all move together

Noble and his family had remained near Canaan in Litchfield County, Connecticut, for 10 years or more. But their 8th child, Westrall, was born on the 25th of February in Herkimer, a county northwest of Albany, New York, through which the Mohawk River runs. The family might well have used the river system as their primary means of moving westward. Roads of the era were poor and often muddy, rutted, and narrow. There was no organized roadway maintenance. Moreover, roads crossed private lands and the landowners sometimes charged tolls. Cargo capacity in those days was limited to what a small wagon could carry, and daily progress was measured in a few miles per day. Ships, which were typically faster, could easily navigate up the Hudson River to Albany, but no further. The Mohawk River provided a route to the central part of the state, but due to rapids and falls along its course, was suitable only for canoes and small bateaux (which could be portaged around the obstacles). From 1807 there was much talk of building a canal system.

However they managed it, the Gunns all settled, at least for a time, in or close to Marcellus, about 20 miles west of Syracuse. It’s unknown why they made this move, but there were many veterans of the Revolution in the area. Maybe they were Shayites and were pushed out of Massachusetts, maybe the hard economic times following the War left them without property, but most likely they simply took advantage of the fact that with American independence they were no longer blocked from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains on vacant land that had belonged to the King but was now within the domains of the American states. Indeed, the states did much to encourage settlement of that land, surveying and laying out townships and counties, and making the land available to farmers at modest prices. Besides, the rich flat land on the plains west of the Appalachian Mountains was much better for farming than the thin, hilly and rocky soil of the Atlantic coast and the foothills of the Berkshires, which run along the Massachusetts/New York border.

Marcellus was close to the original route of the Erie Canal. Even before the canal was completed in 1825 one could have traveled largely by boat from Connecticut—going up the Hudson to Albany and following the Mohawk River west into central New York to Lake Oneida. Perhaps the family had something to do with the building of the canal. It would have been a good opportunity, even as farmers to supply food for the workers. In 1817 the first portion of a canal was begun, with the intention of connecting the Hudson River with Lake Erie and from there with the rest of the Great Lakes. The easy part was built first, a series of bypasses of rapids on the Mohawk River. Later sections were cut through the wilderness, often with Irish immigrant labor.

With the completion of the Erie Canal settlers poured from New England, Eastern New York and Europe into the central and western part of the state. Others went on to Ohio and Michigan. The Canal was the first serious route for settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. Now upstate farms and industries could easily ship their products to the large and growing market of New York City and beyond. The canal shortened the trip across the state of New York from weeks to days. The cost of shipping cargo dropped precipitously as well. The Gunns had moved into the area early and were in a good position to take advantage of the opportunities.

Unfortunately, the rush to central New York and beyond along with a lack of accurate and detailed paperwork, has left the family lines blurred. The Jasper and Thomas lines cross and new Gunn lines appear for the first time with the many immigrants who are coming into the country from England, Ireland and Scotland. We have a lot of information and firm evidence in the case of Noble, but we have less on other members of the family in the early 1800s—and much of that evidence is circumstantial.

A Daniel Gunn appears in the 1810 census in Brutus Township, Cayuga County (just west of Onondaga). He would have been 56 years of age then. In the household there were two males under 10 years old, one male 10-16 years, (possibly one male 26-45, the record is nearly illegible), and one male over 45 years; there were two females under 10 years, two females 10-16 years, and one female 16-26 years old. It’s not known what the relationships were among these people, but Daniel was the head of the household. In Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (p. 1458) Daniel Gunn applies for a pension on 16 April 1818 (S44886, MA Line). At the time he was living in Cayuga County. In the census of 1820 Daniel Gunn was aged 67 with a wife named Patty, aged 43, and three children: Volney, aged 19, Sophia, aged 14, and Maria, aged 12. According to the Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots (Vol.2, p. –Serial: 10572; Volume: 12) Daniel Gunn is buried in Soule Cemetery (plot 41), Auburn, NY. This may be our Daniel, but there are others.

For example, there is a Daniel Gunn who was born 4 July 1753 and died 4 March 1833. He was married to a Martha, born 26 June 1775. They have at least one daughter, Maria (b. 8 Oct 1806), who married Uriah Phelps (b. 27 May 1803). Uriah and Maria lived in Cayuga County, New York.

A Hezekiah is listed in the Onondaga County census for 1810 (p 46), in Camillus Township of Onondaga in the 1820 census (p 139), and in Elbridge Township, Onondaga, in 1850 (p 381). In the 1810 census the household is composed of two males under 10 years of age, one male 26-45, and one female 26-45. However, the Hezekiah who is Daniel’s brother would have been in his 50s in 1810, so this may be the son of Hezekiah and Catherine, who was born about 1785.

There are two Hezekiah Gunns listed for the War of 1812. One is a Corporal, who served in Capt. Peterson’s Company of the New York Militia. The other is a Private in Stone’s 14th Regiment of the New York Militia. Are they our Hezekiah and his son?

Moses Gunn appears in the 1790 Federal Census for Berkshire County, West Stockbridge Township. We can be confident this is our Moses. He appears next in the census records for Onondaga County, New York, in 1810, 1820 and 1830. In these latter cases, only the circumstance of name and location link him to Noble and the others.

The family of Noble King Gunn was living in Lichfield County, Connecticut, at the time of the 1790 and 1800 census; by 1808 they were in central New York—in Herkimer, Madison, and finally Onondaga counties. Noble is in the 1820 federal census, living in Marcellus in Onondaga County, but at some point in 1820 the family moved to a final new home in Lenox Township, Ashtabula County, Ohio. This area was called the Western Reserve, part of “New Connecticut”, and many of the first settlers were indeed from Connecticut. It seems likely that Noble’s and Lucy’s long association with people in that state influenced them to move along to this promising new frontier. Other members of the family went too.

Noble is listed as one of about 33 Revolutionary soldiers living in the Towns of Marcellus and Skaneateles who applied for pensions: “Served in Col. Samuel Brewer’s regiment, under General Patterson, three years. Was fifty-eight years old in 1820, had property worth $44, and debts of $50. He said: ‘I am a miller and have been lame ever since the war, in consequence of having had my knee broken in the service of the Revolution, and am not able to labor much.” He had four sons and one daughter.'” [In fact, he had four sons and six daughters]

“He [Noble] was allowed pension on his application executed April 7, 1818, at which time he was aged fifty-six years and resided in Preble, Onondaga County, New York. In June, 1820, he had moved to Ashtabula County, Ohio, in September, 1820, he had returned to Onondaga County, New York, and was residing in Marcellus, that county; in 1821, he had again returned to Ashtabula County, Ohio.” 1

Noble is listed in the Federal Census of 1830 in Lenox, Ashtabula County, Ohio. He died on 24 November of that year at the age of 70.

The following was taken from the Revolutionary War Pension Application microfilm and transcribed by Matthew Lipsey, 10 May 1998:

State of Ohio, Ashtabula County, Court of Common Pleas, June Term AD 1820 – On the 21st day of June AD 1820 –
Personally appeared in open court being a court of record for the county aforesaid Noble Gunn resident of said county aged fifty eight years who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his oath declare that he served in the revolutionary war as follows-to whit, three years in the company commanded by Capt. Jenkins in the regiment commanded by Colonel Samuel Brewer in the Massachusetts line on the continental establishment. That he first applied for a pension under the act of congress passed the 18th day of March 1818 on the seventh day of April 1818 and received a pension certificate numbered -6362. And I do solemnly swear that I was a resident of The United States on the 18th day of March 1818 and that I have no since that time by gift or sale or in any other name disposed of my estate or in any part thereof with intent thereby so to diminish it so as to ring myself within the provision of an act of congress instilled an act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the revolutionary war passed on the 18th of March 1818 and that I have not nor has any person in trust for me any property or security, contracts or debts due to me nor have I any income other than what is contained in the schedule hereto annexed and by me subscribed.
Schedule:
1 cow
1 pair of two year old sturs [steers ?]
2 bowls
6 chairs
1 table
1 push tub
1 small looking glass
3 wooden bowls
6 knives + forks
1 dozen plates
1 A [?]
1 kettle
6 iron spoons
5 earthen bowls
1 earthen teapot
3 tin pans
3 tin basons [sic]
1 canteen
Noble Gunn [signed]

And the said Noble Gunn on his oath aforesaid further saith that he is by occupation a Miller that through the infirmities of age he is able to labor but little being still afflicted by wounds received in the revolutionary service–that his family consists of six persons including himself, to wit, Lucy my wife aged forty eight years, who is sick and unable to [Labour – crossed out] work being afflicted with a very large swelling on her side for five or six years-a boy named Burrill aged fifteen years, [???] bodied and at times unable to labour, Westrill aged 12 years, weakly although now enjoying tour able [sic] health–Martha aged ten years-healthy–Orin aged six years healthy–and the said Noble on his oath aforesaid further saith that he is indebted to-

Nathan Munroe ________________$28.00
Nathaniel Chapman ____________$17.00
John Wright___________________$10.00

Sworn to and declared this 21st day of June AD 1820 before Timothy R. Hawley Clerk C P [signed]

In his statement, Hawley certifies that in the “opinion of the said court …. the amount and value of the property exhibited in the aforesaid schedule is sixty dollars.”2

The family stays close together. Noble’s nephew Comfort, the son of Hezekiah, is listed in the 1820 census as a resident of Lenox and in the 1830 census as a resident of Ashtabula county. Comfort’s brother, Hezekiah Jr., is listed in the 1840 census in Lenox.

There is one other member of the family whose presence is recorded in the 1810 Onondaga census (p 85). That’s second cousin Charles Gunn, the son of Captain Stephen Gunn of Sheffield. In 1810 that household had one male 26-45 years, one female under 10, and one female 26-45. Charles appears again in the 1820 census living in Marcellus Township, Onondaga, when in the household there were two males under 10 years old, one male 26-45 years, one male over 45 years, three females under 10 years, one female 16-26 years, one female 26-45 years, and two persons engaged in agriculture.

Why did Noble Gunn move on to Ashtabula in the Western Reserve? Perhaps for no better reason than that it was newly opened and good farming land offering new opportunities. He would have been 60 years old at the time of the move, rather old to be taking on such a challenge, but it couldn’t have been more difficult for him than it had been for Thomas, his great great-grandfather to move to Westfield when he was already an old man. Or maybe it was his wife, Lucy Gleason, who urged him to move. We know that Lucy’s brother Elijah settled in Ashtabula County, and her brother Enoch settled in nearby Cuyahoga County.

There is another intriguing possibility. One of the original surveyors of the Western Reserve was Elijah Gunn. He has been claimed by the unrelated Jasper Gunn line, but the evidence is not entirely clear cut.3 He could have been another second cousin from the Thomas Gunn line, perhaps a son of Mercy Stiles and Reuben Gunn, a son of Thomas (b. 1680), and a great great grandson of the first Thomas (b. ca 1614). If so, Noble may have been attracted to the Western Reserve by his relative. According to the “History of Ashtabula”,

On the 4th of July, 1796, the first surveying party of the Western Reserve landed at the mouth of Conneaut creek. … The whole party numbered on this occasion, fifty-two persons, of whom two were females (Mrs. Stiles and Mrs. Gunn, and a child). … As these individuals were the advance of afterward millions of population, their names become worthy of record and are therefore given, viz.:… Elijah Gunn, wife and child … Job V. Stiles and wife (Job could have been related to Elijah, as noted above). 4

There are several interesting histories and accounts of pioneer life on the Western Reserve. We know from one account of a man who grew up on the Reserve that the only tool necessary for the construction of a house was an ax. The typical size of the inside of a pioneer house in the Reserve was 16 or 18 feet wide by 22 or 24 long. The front door was in the middle of the building and sometimes there was a back door on the opposite side. At one end seven or eight feet of the logs were cut out about six feet high and the opening filled with a stone wall. On this wall at each end was laid a timber sufficiently large to support the chimney to the fire chamber floor beam, about four feet from the end of the house and some two feet higher than the wall. On these timbers and wall the chimney was built with flat sticks, some two or three inches wide, laid up in clay mortar and plastered both on the outside and inside. The chimney narrowed as it went up out of the peak of the roof, from six by four to three by two, giving a good light from above to the fireplace below, where it was very much needed.

A wooden crane stood at one end of the fireplace, with an arm sufficiently long to reach to the other end of the fireplace. A trammel or other device was used to hang the pot or kettle, and to raise or lower it as occasion required. In the fireplace was a large back log, five or six feet long, and smaller wood could be piled on to warm the whole house. Cooking utensils consisted of a five-pail brass kettle, an eight-quart brass kettle, a one-pail iron pot, and iron tea-kettle and a frying-pan with an iron handle three or four feet long. Bread was baked in a Dutch oven out of doors. For light there were greased-paper windows by the side of the door and light from the chimney above. For a pantry a few shelves in a corner by the fireplace. The opposite corner was occupied by a ladder or stairs for access to the chamber or loft above. A trap door in the floor served as a cellar, consisting of a hole dug in the ground for storing a few vegetables to keep them from freezing.

Furniture and tableware was scant. Because of breakage on the rough trip to the Reserve, china plates were rare. Some pioneers made do with five or six pewter plates, which, because they were of soft metal and could not be cut on, it became the duty of the cook to cut the meat in small pieces and dish it out to the family with a spoon. There were also wooden bowls and plates called trenchers that were made by local carpenters on a lathe.

The spaces between the logs of the houses were chinked on the inside with pieces of wood and plaster and on the outside with clay mortar. The building was carried up to some four or five feet above the loft floor, then each side log drawn in about three feet as it went up to the peak. These logs were the rafters on which to lay the shingles, or shakes as they were called. The shingles were about four feet long, and generally split out of white oak, the wider and thinner the better. These, if laid on about three thicknesses, and weighted down with heavy poles to keep them in place, made a good roof. The loft was all one room, and was used for storage of corn, spinning wheels, animal traps, barrels and household goods that were not in daily use. It also served as bedroom for the young folks.

The hearth, some six feet by eight, was of clay, pounded down hard and made smooth. It was constructed five or six inches lower than the floor so that flat quarry stones could be laid on the clay, bringing the hearth up even with the floor. The women folks appreciated this improvement since it made for a cleaner hearth that could be swept without raising a cloud of dust. The brooms were all home-made splint brooms. The back end of the room was partitioned off into one or two bedrooms, sometimes by simply hanging blankets up around the bed. There would be a rack overhead with numerous poles for drying pumpkins and numerous pegs driven in the logs all around the room for hanging up clothing, seed corn, red peppers, dried beef, and other articles.

The lack of light was a big problem. Though the two greased-paper windows gave a bit of poor light on sunny days, on dark and cloudy days they were almost worthless. Those who had the where-with-all bought window glass made in Pittsburg and shipped it in by wagons. But it was poor quality glass and much of it was lost by breakage on the road. The price was very high, and much of the time it could not be obtained at any price. At night one resource for light was the tallow dip candle, which would give a bit of light—“enough to make darkness visible.” But one had to be very prudent in their use, as there were not beef cattle enough slaughtered to supply the inhabitants with all the candles they needed. When the tallow candles gave out, one might tie a cotton rag around a button, letting it stick up a half inch or more, set it in a saucer and fill the saucer with lard. Two or three lamps of this kind might be placed around the room. An important resource for light was hickory bark. Folks kept a supply on hand, and by occasionally feeding the fire with this bark a light was made that was better than the tallow candle.5

Certainly life must have been harder for the early pioneers of the Western Reserve than it had become for those Yankees who had stayed back in New England. But these people were accustomed to a hard life; that’s why we refer to them as being ‘hardy’ folk. The Gunns would stay here in Ashtabula for a generation before moving on once again.

  1. Letter dated 26 April, 1931, from E.W. Morgan, Acting Commissioner, to Dr. Norman N. Gunn, Palace Theater Building, Ashland, OH.
  2. History of Ashtabula: webstite.
  3. There is an Elijah Gunn, Revolutionary War soldier, buried in the family farm cemetery near Napoleon, Ohio. See “Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots”, Vol.2, p. —Serial: 10572; Volume: 12.
  4. Historical Collections of Ohio, By Henry Howe, LL.D, 1898.
  5. Information taken from Christopher Gore Crary, Frontier Living Conditions in Ohio’s Western Reserve, edited by Harry F. Lupold and Gladys Haddad, pp 71-72.

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