The First Settlers of Ashtabula
Darrell E. Hamilton
The first settler to arrive in the original Ashtabula Township,
(Ashtabula City, Ashtabula Township, Kingsville, Plymouth and
Sheffield Townships) arrived in what now is Ashtabula City about
the beginning of June, 1801. Most likely he came from Connecticut
but my research has found that he could have came from some-
where in the South by the way of Pennsylvania. Never the less he
came alone and settled at the Harbor on the west side near the river. His name was Thomas Hamilton.
After pitching his tent, he proceeded with the preparations for the erection of a log cabin. After the trees were cut and the logs prepared to put into place for his new home, Hamilton was faced with a real dilemma. How was he going to assemble his new home?
The logs were much too heavy for one man to handle. However,
luck, good fortune, God or whatever you want to call it smiled
down on Mr. Hamilton.
Unlike Thomas Hamilton, most early settlers usually traveled
in groups of families. Sometimes three or four families would tra-
vel together to a new settlement. Often these families who traveled
to the Connecticut Western Reserve traveled by boat. As fate might
have it, a group of settlers stopped near the mouth of the Ashta-
bula River. Hamilton offered the settlers the hospitality of his
meager surrounding. In return for his hospitality, the men helped
Hamilton erect his new home.
Thomas Hamilton spent almost two years in his new home a-
mong the virgin forest of Ashtabula. He hunted and probably planted a garden as most early settlers brought seed with them.
The nearest settlement to him was Austinburg about ten miles a-
way. He rarely ever saw another human being and loneliness to a
young man sometimes is too much to bear. After about two years,
Thomas Hamilton moved on.
In the spring of 1803, right about the time Thomas Hamilton left
the area, the first permanent settler arrived in Ashtabula. George Beckwith and his family were originally from Connecticut but did not arrive in Ashtabula from Connecticut. George Beckwith was
one of the first settlers in Austinburg in 1799. After spending about four years in Austinburg, Beckwith decided to move close to the
lake. Chances are that he and his family took up residence in the
Thomas Hamilton cabin or at least incorporated a part of the
Hamilton cabin into theirs. The settlers of Austinburg along with
George Beckwith's brother, Samuel Beckwith, helped the Beck-
withs build and/or move to their new home. The George Beckwith
cabin was located just south of Bridge Street and was occupied
by George, his wife and two very young daughters.
In January 1804, George needed to go to Austinburg for sup-
plies. On his way back home he encountered a blizzard. George
was unable to see where he was going but knew he had to keep go
ing to keep warm. Unable to see, George walked around a tree un-
til he had worn a trench around the tree. Becoming tired, he sat
down and probably fell asleep and froze to death. He was found
about 250 yards south of what now is Bunker Hill Rd. near the Saybrook-Ashtabula line. Thus, George Beckwith became the first
settler to die in what now is now Ashtabula City.
A miscarriage of justice has been done by some local historians
in the past. Some historians have credited a later settler as being
the first the first permanent settler in Ashtabula. What was forgot-
ten or ignored was the fact that Mrs. George Beckwith remained in
that log cabin for several years. At the time of her husband's death,
Mrs. Beckwith was a very young woman with two very young
daughters to support in the wilderness all by herself. Over a hun-
dred years ago, a local historian who had known Granny Beckwith
as she was called later in her life, wrote the following:
"She was a woman of great energy and character. She
deserves to be numbered as a benefactress of her day. She
endured great hardships in her lone condition, but she is
said to have found means to assist others."
Settlers from the east would come with great loaded wagons but
would be stopped at the river's edge because of the depth of the water. Mrs. Beckwith would know by the depth of the water in the
stream whether or not it was fordable at the crossing place, some
three-forths of a mile below her dwelling. She would row down to
them in her canoe and offer her assistance. Her method was first to
ferry the family across the river in her canoe; then she'd direct the
men to bind their load on strongly; to tie a rope to the end of the
wagon giving her the other end of the rope to carry in her Canoe
to the opposite shore. Then the oxen having been loosened from
the wagon, would be driven into the stream to swim over to theother side. Mrs. Beckwith would then have the wagon rolled into the stream, hitch the team to the rope and then have the oxen draw the wagon through the water to the western shore.
Once the travelers were across the other side, they would glad-
ly pay Mrs. Beckwith for her help which was much deserved
and needed by Mrs. Beckwith and her two daughters.
Samuel Beckwith, brother of George Beckwith, seeing the hard-
ships of his brother's wife, moved with his family to Ashtabula
from Austinburg and settled on the opposite side of the river.
However, Samuel Beckwith himself would meet an untimely death
in October of 1813.
Mrs. Beckwith remained in Ashtabula for many years before
moving to Sheffield Township. She died at the age of ninety, a
pauper at the infirmary in Kingsville.