Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rufus Ferris - a Medina Pioneer

Log cabin similar to the ones erected by early Medina pioneers.

Rufus was one of the earliest settlers in Medina Village. He was the land agent for Elijah Boardman, a wealthy land speculator in Connecticut (CT).  Here are the basic facts of Rufus' life:
  • Born 21 March 1780, New Milford, Litchfield County, CT, son of Zachariah Ferris & Phebe Gaylord.
  • 1790-1800 census - He is probably enumerated with his father, Zachariah in CT.
  • Married Hannah Platt on 7 May 1801 in Vermont (VT). 
  • 1810 listed in Ferrisburg, Addison County, VT. 
  • Children: (all born in VT.)
    • Harriet Ada – 1802
    • Hiram Platt – 1805
    • Cornelia M. – 1807
    • Daniel A. – 1810
    • Rufus B.D – 1813
  • 1817 had first frame barn built in Medina.
  • Original Member of St. Paul’s Parish in Medina, He was the clerk and a vestryman.
  • Was voted “overseer” of the poor along with Lathrop Seymour. Also was Fence Viewer.
  • 1818 he become Medina's first postmaster. The "post office" was his home.
  • 1820 census, he was in Medina County, Ohio.
  • 1821 Appointed Treasurer of Medina Village, continued until 1832
  • 1830 census, he was again. in Medina County, Ohio.
  • Died 7 Sep 1833, in Wooster returning from Columbus where he had taken a remedy for the cholera epidemic.
  • He is buried in the Old Town Cemetery in Medina.

Those are the facts. But they don't tell the whole story of the man that was Rufus Ferris.

In Northrup's Pioneer History of Medina County, the Ferris family's arrival is described as follows:

     "On the 11th day of June, 1816, Rufus Ferris, Esq., arrived with his family; and, having a number of hands in his employ, soon erected a shanty for their things, and did their working by the side of a fallen tree. Mrs. Ferris had to bake every day, rain or shine out of doors. He soon erected a log house, half a mile north of the Public Square in Medina. He was agent for Mr. Boardman, and his house was open and free for all who came to purchase land in the township. He, with his men, pushed forward the chopping and clearing as fast as they could, and soon had corn and wheat growing on the ground so recently an entire wilderness."

From this, we learn that although it was very rough living for the family, Rufus had the means to hire men to help clear the land. Or rather,  Elijah Boardman provided him "with abundant means for operating expenses."

During the barn raising in 1817, men came from Liverpool and Brunswick and needed stay overnight to finish the next day. Ferris, being a genial host and a fun-loving man, provided two large pails of milk-punch. Described as "sweet, but strong with whiskey", it was quite potent. It soon debilitated the men and several who "drank most freely were on their backs feeling upwards for terra firma."

After the rafter and ridge-pole were in place, "Uncle John Hickox" went up and walked the ridge-pole from one end to the other. This was quite daring in a time when there were no ambulances, x-ray machines or even doctors around. The barn was used as the first court house in Medina.

In 1820 he became a charter member of the Medina Masonic Lodge, and of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where he was the clerk.

His home became a regular stop on the stagecoach run from Cleveland to Wooster and continued in operation until 1845.

Also in 1820, Rufus wrote a letter to Boardman in Connecticut. Parts of the letter were reprinted in 1979 article in the Medina Gazette. Instead of talking about the progress being made in Medina or land sales, Rufus was complaining about the weather and his rheumatism!

Portrait of Elijah Boardman at the Metropolitan
Museum in New York.
"From the middle of June to July, it was the most gloomy time I ever saw. The south branch of the Rocky River on Smith Road ceased to run. Our fields ceased to look green and we should be at this time but a little better if it was not for the very heavy dews that fall every night....

Was you to see the position that I am this moment compelled to put myself in, in order to write to you, my friend, you would say, 'Curse the rheumatism. Let Ferris along." Here I am... stretched full length on the floor face downwards with my pen, ink and paper in my reach and thus compelled to write."

Described as " Of a genial nature and of a fairly well-to-do family" he was a "popular and much respected citizen." He "devoted himself to entertaining strangers who would be likely to buy Boardman land."

In Joann King's book, Reverend Clark described Rufus as "large for his time -- six feet tall, lean and spare." No portrait of Ferris has survived. Clark also thought Rufus had limited education but was "a man of strong intellect and a smart man, well suited for his frontier responsibilities."

Later in that book Rufus called himself a "Hickory Quaker." This means he was flexible, but strong and tough, like a hickory tree. Many of the FERRIS families were Quakers. He "wore his Quaker hat proudly." But was flexible enough to be a founding member of the Episcopalian church, St. Paul's!

His wife, Hannah, willing fed anyone who came to their door and gave them a bed for their tired heads. When the first family with women and children showed up at her door, she "spatted her hands" for joy. Clark remarked "In the name of every pioneer... I would say of this model of benevolence, Mrs. Ferris, her memory is blessed, may her rest be glorious!"

In 1825, he built a larger brick house to replace the cabin. It had ten rooms and eight fireplaces. The house still exists and is at 325 North Broadway. It has been renovated extensively and Rufus would not recognize it today.

Rufus Ferris house in 1952 as pictured in the book Building a Firm Foundation.
It had already had many renovations, including a squared roof instead of gable.
This picture would be from before its latest renovation.
The house as it stands today at 325 North Broadway. It is law offices
The historic marker next to the house.

In 1833, when cholera broke out at the Columbus penitentiary, Rufus traveled there with a remedy. On his return trip, he contracted the disease and died in Wooster.

Rufus Ferris' tombstone from the Old Town Cemetery.
No stone for Hannah, but son Hiram's stone is to the right.

I would like to know more about Rufus' life. What did he do for a living before working for Boardman? What was his relationship with Elijah Boardman? Why did Elijah chose Rufus to be his land agent?

Perhaps future research will answer these questions.

Medina County Gazette January 24, 1879, p.4
Medina County Gazette March 2, 1951, p. 2
Medina County Gazette June 24, 1968, p. 14
Medina County Gazette Nov 17, 1979

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Portrait of Elijah Boardman

Building a Firm Foundation by Susan McKiernan and Joann G. King
Historical Highlights of Medina,  Eleanor Iler Schapiro, editor.
History of Medina County and Ohio Baskin & Beatty
Medina Coming of Age 1810-1900 by Joann G. King
Memoir of the Life and Character of Mrs. Mary Anna Boardman
Pioneer History of Medina County  N. B. Northrup

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, Kathy!