Westrall Willoughby Gunn
Westral Willoughby Gunn b. 25 Feb 1808 Herkimer, New York; d. 1876 LaPorte, Indiana
Elizabeth “Betsey” Sharp b. 1812 Rensselaer, New York; d. 1884 Vermontville, Michigan
Solomon Salisbury Gunn b. 1 Jan 1829 Wayne, Ohio; d. 2 Nov 1897 Greene, Ohio
Mary Ann Gunn b. 1830 Wayne, Ohio; d. before 1862 Greene, Ohio
Chauncey Gunn b. 9 Dec 1831 Wayne, Ohio; d. 12 May 1888 Charlotte, Michigan
Comfort Orin Gunn b. 22 Aug 1833 Wayne, Ohio; d. 10 Oct 1907 Battle Creek, Michigan
Robert Gunn b. 3 May 1835 Wayne, Ohio; d. 4 Feb 1911 Nashville, Michigan
Perry Gunn b. 5 June 1837 Wayne, Ohio; d. 21 Jul 1890 Vermontville, Michigan
Samantha Gunn b. 1840 Wayne, Ohio
Olive Rhoda Gunn b. 28 Mar 1843 Wayne, Ohio; d. 15 Mar 1892 Vermontville, Michigan
Sarah Jane Gunn b. 28 Jun 1844 Wayne, Ohio
Caroline Gunn b. 29 Jul 1845 Wayne, Ohio; d. 1921 LaPorte, Indiana
Christopher Gunn b. 1 Feb 1848 Wayne, Ohio; d. 2 Aug 1922 Watervliet, Michigan
Hector Gunn b. about 1849 Wayne, Ohio
Norman Gunn b. Dec 1851 Wayne, Ohio; before 1920
Arminta Gunn b. 9 Apr 1854 Green, Ohio; d. 8 Oct 1928 Lafayette, Indiana
Westrall Willoughby Gunn, born February 25, 1808 in Herkimer County, New York, the son of Noble Gunn and Lucy Gleason, was a graduate in Law at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut.
Yale Law School traces its origins to the earliest days of the 19th century, when law was learned by clerking as an apprentice in a lawyer’s office. The first law schools, including the one that became Yale, developed out of this apprenticeship system and grew up inside law offices. The future Yale Law School formed in the office of New Haven lawyer Seth Staples, who owned an exceptional library (an attraction for students at a time when law books were scarce) and began training apprentices in the early 1800s.
By the 1810s, his law office had a full-fledged law school. Samuel Hitchcock, one of Staples’ former students, became a partner at the office and later, the proprietor of the New Haven Law School. The New Haven Law School affiliated gradually with Yale from the mid-1820s to the mid-1840s. Law students did not began receiving Yale degrees until 1843.
The fact Westrall was educated at Yale is not a big surprise; his parents were from Connecticut and had settled in the Connecticut (or Western) Reserve among many others from that state. So he probably felt comfortable traveling back to that state for his education. And by that time he would also have had a relatively comfortable trip, down the newly-completed Erie Canal (officially opened in 1825) and the Hudson River, then up the coast of Long Island Sound to the port of New Haven.
After finishing his studies and apprenticeship, he practiced law in Lockport, New York, which by 1825 had become an established village at the western end of the Erie Canal.
(One source, probably mistakenly, says he practiced law in Lockport, Pennsylvania.)
Westrall was married soon after finishing his studies to Betsey Sharp, the daughter of Andrew (Andrus) Sharp and Jane Bennett, originally of Rensselaer County, New York. In 1828 they left Lockport and settled a few miles farther west in Ashtabula County, Ohio, where Betsey’s family had been living and where she and Westrall were married. He continued in the legal business and also engaged somewhat in farming in connection with droving, being one of the oldest cattle dealers in Ohio. He drove cattle to Buffalo until 1867, in which year he moved to Eaton County, Michigan, a move that would have been facilitated by the ease of boat travel from Ashtabula to Detroit along the south shore of Lake Erie and then north by train to Eaton County.
Nor is the fact he dealt in cattle a big surprise. The cattle industry was well developed along the frontier north of the Ohio River. As early as 1805 a herd of cattle was driven from Ohio to Baltimore and sold for a large profit. Cattle drives to the East continued each year thereafter. By 1840 farmers in Ohio were fattening their own cattle and these cattle were then driven eastward, until the growth of the railroads in the 1850s brought an end to the cattle drives.1
Westrall and Betsey Elizabeth Sharp were married in the town of Sheffield in Ashtabula County on September 30, 1827. At that time he was 19 years old and Betsey was only 15. The first of their 14 children, Solomon Salisbury, was born in Ashtabula a year and a half later on January 1, 1829. There is some uncertainty about the parentage of one of their children, Comfort O. Gunn. He doesn’t appear as he should on the census records for 1850, but he is listed as a “laborer” in the household of a Wayne County neighbor (Sylvester Ward). In the 1840 census 7 children are listed, which is correct if Comfort is included. It appears Comfort is indeed a child of Westrall and Betsey.
With the Erie Canal and the advent of the railroads, travel between the East Coast and the Mississippi became much faster and more secure. At various times we see Westrall in Connecticut, New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. In 1850 it was stated in a document that Westrall and his brother William Orrin were about to depart for Wisconsin, and indeed William took his family there in 1850 or 51 and died there in 1870. Westrall’s son, Perry, was living there with his uncle in 1860 and at the start of the Civil War he enlisted in Company H of the 18th Wisconsin Infantry on January 1, 1862 in Ripon, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. We don’t know if Westrall actually went to Wisconsin, but he and the rest of his family were in Wayne, Ashtabula County, Ohio at the time of the 1860 census.
Westrall moved on to Eaton County, Michigan, in 1867. Betsey died there in 1884, eight years after Westrall died in La Porte, Indiana while visiting his daughter (Caroline was living in La Porte and Arminta was nearby in Lafayette): “When on a visit to his daughter in La Porte, Ind., in 1876, he was taken sick and died, aged 68 years.”2
At least seven of the children also moved on to Michigan: Hector marries in Vermontville in Eaton County in 1872, Christopher marries in Kalamazoo in 1877, Sara Jane is in Vermontville (where her first husband dies), Olive and her husband are both buried in the Vermontville Cemetery, Robert is living in Eaton County at the time of every census from 1870 to 1910, Comfort purchased land in Kalamazoo as early as 1857 and appears in the 1870 and 1880 census in Kalamazoo and the 1900 census in Battle Creek, Chauncey is in the 1870 and 1880 census in Vermontville (Eaton County). So, many members of the family are in Eaton or Kalamazoo Counties by the second half of the 1800s.