Descendants of the original founders of the New Haven Colony, in 1799 Joel, Sarah and their young children set out to begin a new life out west. They were among the earliest pioneers in what would eventually become the city of Cleveland, Ohio. This is their story, gleaned from the numerous accounts that have been written of their adventures.
History of the Western Reserve
Life in the Wilderness
The Move to Cleveland
The End of the Dream
Aftermath: the Children Move On
Joel Thorpe was born abt. 1771 in North Haven, Connecticut. His ancestors had been the earliest settlers of the New Haven Colony five generations earlier. Joel grew up during the Revolutionary War. By the time he was twenty years old, he was living in a brand new country where opportunities were abundant.
About 1792 he married Sarah Dayton. Sarah was the daughter of Jonathan Dayton and Mary Yale, and like Joel, she was the sixth generation of her family in Connecticut. Sarah's ancestors were also connected with the building of Yale College.
Joel and Sarah started out like most other couples. Their first daughter, Julia, was born about 1793. Son Bezaleel,(named for one of Sarah's brothers) was born about two years later. On 19 March 1798, their third child, Lewis Thorpe (our great-great-great-grandfather) was born.
The young family was living a fairly comfortable life in a town founded by their ancestors 160 years earlier. But due to some actions taken by the new US government and the young state of Connecticut, their lives were about to change forever.
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In its 1662 English royal charter, Connecticut's boundaries were established as extending ``from sea-to-sea'' across North America. Royal grants also had created New York and Pennsylvania, and consequently their boundaries overlapped. One of the areas in question was the "Wyoming lands" claimed by both Connecticut and Pennsylvania. In 1782, a federal court at Trenton, New Jersey set up to settle this kind of dispute determined that the Wyoming lands belonged to Pennsylvania. Connecticut still held claim to the territory west of Pennsylvania.
Congress at that time was encouraging the states to relinquish their claims on their western lands so it could regulate its sale and governance. On 17 September 1786, Connecticut ceded all her lands, reserving approximately 3 million acres in what is now northeastern Ohio. Known as the Western Reserve, it is bounded on the north by Lake Erie, on the east by Pennsylvania, on the south at 41 degrees north latitude, and it extends 120 miles to the west.
Indian title to the lands east of the Cuyahoga River was extinguished in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. That same year, the state of Connecticut sold most of the reserved lands to the Connecticut Land Co., and established a school fund with the proceeds from the sale.
Connecticut had exempted from this sale the area known as the "Firelands", some 500,000 acres in the western part of the Reserve. This land was used to compensate its citizenry. While many states used their bounty lands to compensate their citizens or military service, Connecticut only awarded bounty to citizens whose homes, outbuildings, and businesses had been destroyed by the British during the Revolutionary War.
Taking advantage of this opportunity to build a new life in the Western Reserve, Joel and Sarah packed their belongings and their 3 young children into an ox cart and travelled the 600 miles from North Haven to Ohio. It was 1799 and there were few roads. One record of their journey describes it as "long and slow".
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Joel and Sarah Thorpe were some of the earliest settlers in Ashtabula County. Their only neighbors for twenty miles were the Indians. They cleared the land and lived in a log cabin that Joel built himself. They were so isolated that when their supplies ran low, Joel would embark on a journey of weeks to replenish them. Without roads, Joel relied upon a pocket compass to find his way to the nearest settlement in Pennsylvania.
In June 1801, while on of his trips, heavy rains swelled the many streams that he had to cross, making the return trip impossible. Sarah and the children ran out of food. At first they dug up roots. Five year old Bezaleel recalled that he had seen some kernels of corn in a crack in one of the logs of their cabin, and spent several hours searching for them. Desperate for something to feed her children, Sarah opened up the straw bed ticks, looking for the few grains of wheat there might be still stuck to the straw. She boiled these and fed them to the children.
Still Joel did not appear and Sarah feared that they would all starve before he could return. Then, unexpectedly, while looking out the doorway of the cabin, Sarah spotted a wild turkey flying nearby. She got down her husband's rifle, and discovered they were almost out of ammunition. There was just enough powder left for a small charge. She carefully cleaned the barrel, so that none of the powder would stick to its sides. She loaded the gun and set off in pursuit of the turkey, knowing that the lives of her children depended upon her success.
In her excitement, she came close to failure by frightening the turkey so that it flew a short distance and landed in a potato patch. She returned to the house and waited until the bird had begun to wallow in the loose earth. On her second approach she acted with caution, creeping on her hands and knees, from log to log, until she had reached the last obstruction between herself and the turkey. A crowd of emotions passed through her mind as she lifted the rifle to eye level. She aimed and fired, and with that one shot, ensured her family's survival.
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Possibly, it was this event and others like it that helped Joel and Sarah decide it was time to move. In 1801, they moved to Cleveland, which was just a village at that time, and lived in a log house on Lake Street. Sarah gave birth to their fourth child, Warren Alpheus Thorpe in 1802. Joel was a house builder and it is said that he built the first house in Cleveland. A tavern that he built for Lorenzo Carter was burned to the ground (by some boys playing with fire) before it was completed. He also built Judge Kingsbury's house on Woodhill Road, and several mills. During the early years of the settlement of the Western Reserve, slow land sales forced the management company to offer settlers moderate rates and free bonus land for running grist and sawmills.
In 1804, Joel and Sarah moved again to the village of Newburg. Sarah had three more children: Diantha Thorpe, born about 1804, Dayton Thorpe, born about 1805, and finally their seventh and last child, Ferris Thorpe, born 12 May 1808. Joel continued working as a builder. In 1808, a Major Carter built the first ship in the Cleveland area, the "Zephyr". The second ship to be built in Cleveland was Joel Thorpe's "Sally", a 250 ton schooner that he named after his wife. Shortly thereafter, Joel got a contract to build houses in Buffalo. Once again, the family packed up all their belongings and moved north, probably traveling across Lake Erie on the "Sally". Ten years after their arrival in Ohio, it seems Joel and Sarah had built a successful life in the
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The success was to be shortlived. When the War of 1812 began, Joel put down his tools and joined the U. S. Army as a private in the Artillery Corps. Sarah and the seven children remained in Buffalo until December 1813, when the British burned the village to the ground. Sarah and the children escaped, destitute except for the silver set that she concealed in the bosom of her dress.
Somehow, they were able to make their way back to Newburg to wait for Joel's return at the end of the war.
On 25 July 1814, the American and British forces engaged in what became the fiercest and bloodiest battle of the War, in a small pioneer cemetery on the busiest street in Niagara Falls. The battle started at 6pm and lasted for just 5 hours. When it was over, neither side would declare victory. 878 British and 860 Americans lost their lives. One of the Americans who died that day in the Battle of Lundy's Lane was the 43 year old, Joel Thorpe.
News of the death of Joel Thorpe was devastating for the family. Some of the younger children were taken care of by neighbors. Son Warren lived with Judge Kingsbury, going to school in the winters and working for his board, and clearing land for Israel Hubbard. The older children were on their own.
Sarah remarried a few years later to a man named Peter Gardiner. There is some mystery surrounding his sudden death, including a rumor that he was murdered. After her husband's death, Sarah lived with her youngest son, Ferris. She and Ferris were among the first members of the newly organized Methodist Episcopal Church in Orange Center in 1839. She died 01 November 1846.
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Julia Thorpe, b. Abt. 1793; m. Jason Ticknor.
Julia never returned permanently to Ohio; she and her husband lived in Buffalo.
Bezaleel Thorpe, b. Abt. 1795, Connecticut; married (1) Mary Brown, 1823; (2) Ruth ----- (Thorpe).
Bezaleel Thorpe joined a militia organized in 1804 to fight Indians, and he is one of the eighteen signers of a report protesting the appointment of the leaders. He served the Captain Harvey Murray's Company and remained in the militia until the end of the War of 1812 (1815). For awhile he lived on he brother Warren's land in a cabin that they built. After 1820, Bezaleel and his brothers moved to Warrensville Township. Bezaleel served as a trustee in 1834-1835. Warren held the same position in 1838-1839. In 1850, he purchased 120 acres of land in Michigan.
In 1823 he married Mary Brown and settled in Warrensville Township, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and they had at least three children. Caroline, b. abt. 1824, married Orville T. Palmer; Mary Adeline, b. abt. 1830, married Thomas C. Bleasdale; Milon Thorpe, b. 23 Feb 1823, married (1) Cornelia LaRue, (2) Myra Grant. In 1882, he travelled to Perry County, Missouri, to visit the family of his uncle, Lewis Thorpe.
Lewis Thorpe, b. March 19, 1798, New Haven, Connecticut; d. May 01, 1859, Perry County, Missouri; married (1) Ann Preston, 1822; (2) Elveretta Phillips, September 23, 1847, Perry County, Missouri.
Lewis became a sailor on Lake Erie and later worked on a flatboat that was used to ship produce down the Mississippi. In 1819, he settled in Perry County, Missouri permanently.
Warren Alpheus Thorpe, b. April 12, 1802, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; d. April 03, 1888; married Hannah Burnside, December 15, 1825, Orange Township, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
Warren cleared land on the old farm and for three years before his marriage lived there as a bachelor. In 1825, Warren married Hannah Burnside at the tavern of Serenus Burnett of Burnett's Corners, Orange Township. Soon after that they moved by ox team to the little log cabin on the farm. There was no glass in the windows nor a door hung. When the arrived in the evening, Warren repaired a table so they could eat, then built a bedstead, the first in the house. For the first several nights, they were serenaded by wolves. Warren and Hannah Thorpe had seven children. They were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Warrensville. Warren Thorpe, Sr. died in 1888 in Warrensville. He was almost 87 years old.
Their son, Warren Alpheus Thorpe, Jr., lived on the family farm until he was twenty. In 1852 he made a journey to San Francisco, travelling first to New York and going across the isthmus of Panama. There he stayed for three years engaged in mining, then returned to Ohio. He returned to the old homestead (again by water) and stayed there until his marriage in 1859. His wife, Laura Warner, died a short time after the birth of their infant daughter, Nellie.
In 1860, after the death of his first wife, Warren headed back to California, this time by horse and wagon. His brother, Joseph P., also made the five month trip to Oregon where he was engaged in gardening, ranching, and running a trading post. Warren returned in 1863 again to the old farm in Warrensville. In 1868, he married Syntha Barber, and they had five children: Warren III, Lewis J., Frank W., Effie M., and Hattie J. They were also members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Warren was active in local politics and was a member of the Board of Education as well as other offices. He was a trustee from 1868-1869, as were his father and uncle, Bezaleel. In 1893, he was the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives, but he lost to his Republican opponent.
Dayton Thorpe, b. Abt. 1805, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; married (1) Catherine Countryside, October 12, 1825, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; (2) Melinda ----- (Thorpe), Abt. 1839.
Dayton Thorpe bought 40 acres of land in Cass County, Michigan in 1840. At the time he was married to his second wife, Melinda. In 1850, the family consisted of the parents and eight children and Dayton's occupation was listed as farmer in the federal census.
Diantha Thorpe, b. November 18, 1804, Ohio; d. March 2, 1876; married (1) Isaac Lafler, March 19, 1820, Warrensville, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; (2) John Felt.
Diantha married Isaac Lafler in 1820 and moved to Detroit. They had at least three children. Diantha and Isaac separated with Isaac taking Harvey, and Diantha keeping daughter Julia with her. Diantha then married John Felt. She died in 1876 and a simple stone reading "Diantha Felt" marks her grave.
Julia Lafler, born Abt. 1830,married William Grant on December 12, 1850 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. They had two sons, Charles Thomas and Joel Wesley Grant. Warren T. Lafler, born 1821 in Ohio,
married Margaret Ann Hurd on April 06, 1843 in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. They had one daughter and five sons, two of whom were named Ferris and Warren. Harvey Lafler, born August 25, 1825 in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; died August 14, 1870 in Augusta, Hancock County, Illinois. He married Sarah Leach in 1850. They had 5 children, including a daughter named Julia and a son named Louis.
Ferris Thorpe, b. May 12, 1808, Newburg township, Cuyahoga, Ohio; d. January 10, 1896, Rives township, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; m. Mary Bell, September 06, 1831, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
Youngest son, Ferris remained in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. After the death of her last husband, his mother, Sarah Dayton, lived with him until her death. Ferris Thorpe was married for 57 years to Mary Bell. She died in 1888. Ferris and Mary Thorpe had thirteen children, including a son named Warren. They were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
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Col. James Kingsbury
Nathaniel, Moses, and Joel Thorpe, Sr.
History of the Thorpe Family in America
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Rankin Family History Project
Sonoma County, California
Updated March 16, 2002
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