Reminiscences of Aurora's Gen. Chauncey Eggleston
Aurora’s first military company, formed in 1810, was comprised of 30 “men of war.” Ebenezer Harmon was elected captain; Joseph Eggleston, lieutenant; Eber Kennedy, ensign and Chauncey Eggleston, sergeant. The Aurora Company was called into service during the War of 1812 providing a defensive force along the border of the western frontier. Chauncey Eggleston rose in the ranks and was elected brigadier general. Under his leadership the company was honored to participate in the parade held in Ravenna on Sept. 2, 1826, to honor the “deceased patriots Adams and Jefferson.” John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had died within hours of one another on July 4th, the 50th Anniversary of American Independence. Eggleston resigned from his position with the 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, of the Ohio Militia in June 1828.
Chauncey was 20 years old when he settled in Aurora with his parents Benjamin and Mary Eggleston and younger sisters Susannah, Achsah and Harriet. He had four older brothers and an older sister who did not make the journey. The family travelled from Middlefield, Massachusetts with Jeremiah Root, his wife Lucretia and their eight children along with Samuel and Sarah Taylor and their seven children.
In a memoir entitled "The Personal Reminiscences of General Chauncey Eggleston," he wrote, “I have always supposed that I was born in Middlefield, County of Hampshire, State of Massachusetts, in the year A.D. 1786, August 27th.” His earliest childhood recollection was that at age 6 he and his siblings all had the measles. He remembered that he went to school 3 months a year until age 14. “I got so that I could read and write and cipher some, say to the rule of three” stating that children in those days had very little opportunity to learn. As soon as they were old enough to earn a living, their school days came to an end. He explained that “farm work ... and coarse living made them strong and a good deal of common-sense put into active practice made them about as learned as people now-a-days.”
Chauncey’s older brother Benjamin settled in Petersburg, New York, 30 miles southeast of Utica. Benjamin had a two-story frame house. In one room he operated a store trading with the local Native Americans. He traded dry goods, groceries, blankets, powder and lead in exchange for bear, otter, mink and beaver pelts. It was there that Chauncey learned how to shoot a bow and arrow. More importantly, he gained an appreciation for their culture and their ability to live off of the natural surroundings. He also learned to process potash making fertilizers and lye used in bleach and soap. After two years he returned to Massachusetts and lived with his parents. It was at that time that he became an apprentice blacksmith making 60 cents a week.
In 1807, Chauncey’s father decided to sell their home in Middlefield and move to “New Connecticut.” Like many settlers at that time the Eggleston’s were seeking a new start in the lands of the Western Reserve. Chauncey wrote that “Father was not rich and we had to economize in every way we could to live and get prepared to make the great journey …” He fashioned a double set of harnesses from leather along with the wooden yokes. He “borrowed a broken anvil and cut out two tanned sheep skins into a small bellows.” He recalled that “In an old stable I fixed up my tools and irons for a new wagon … I did such shoeing horses and oxen and all things else that we needed.”
On the 7th day of June, 1807 the Egglestons started the journey to Aurora along with the Root and Taylor families. Chauncey remembers that after 42 days “of diligent travel over rivers, mountains and through swamps and mire …” they all arrived safely. An incident along the journey demonstrates the strength, will power, and determination of the 21-year-old Chauncey. At one point along the trail through the Allegheny Mountains a team of oxen became ill having eaten fungus infested rye. The oxen “could hardly walk or stand” and Chauncey was left to tend to them until they were able to travel. The Eggleston’s used a horse to pull their wagon leaving Chauncey on top of the mountains 30 miles from Pittsburgh. The families continued on to Pittsburgh where they rested for three days. It was there that Chauncey caught up with them.
They still had 110 miles to travel to reach Aurora. Chauncey recalled that the trail was “through bush and swamp and up and down some of the worst hills or mountains that could be passed over by man or beast.” Upon reaching Warren, Ohio the party still had 26 miles to travel. Chauncey described the remaining route as an “almost unbroken forest, beech woods, beech root and beech mud, no bridges and almost no road.” It was decided that Chauncey would go onto Aurora alone and seek the help of Capt. Perkins who would travel out to meet them with a team of oxen. Such were the ordeals that Aurora’s earliest settlers had to endure on their journey into the wilderness.
In the early years of the settlement household items and building materials had to be brought from Pittsburgh. Material, pins, needles, glass, nails, coffee tea and other staples were all items that had to be transported the 110 miles. Farming and hunting supplied the settlers with their main source of food. Chauncey did not especially like hunting and did so only out of necessity. He described an incident when a bear had attacked several of his hogs. He set a “double-spring bear trap” next to one of the dead hogs. Within a few hours the bear returned and was caught in the trap. The bear fled with the trap still intact. The trap slowed the bear’s escape and Chauncey eventually caught up with it as it was trying to get through a swamp. Shooting the bear he dragged it back “through the wilderness to let the women and children and hogs see what came upon them. The hogs were more scared than the rest. They raised their bristles and groaned and grunted and fled and did not return to our house for two or three weeks.”
The greatest dangers to the settlers were the wild animals that inhabited the region. Bears and wolves were a constant threat. Periodically the surrounding communities would work together to lessen the danger. Chauncey described how he was chosen to lead a hunt in nearby “Streetsborough.” The area had not yet been settled and there was an abundance of game. “It was concluded to surround the town and drive the game to the center and slaughter as far as possible.” The communities of Kent, Hudson and Shalersville were called upon to “choose a committee to meet on a certain day … all would help, old and young, guns or no guns, all would help drive the game in.” The town was surrounded with people spread 20 yards apart. “After we were all in place I was to give the word as loud as I could holler … All Ready.” Word was passed along the line around the entire town. When “the word ‘All Ready’ came around … I gave the word ‘Forward March.’ We killed ninety-four deer.” They surrounded the town of Freedom and killed 23 bears. Chauncey also led hunts surrounding swamps killing wolves. He reported that as a result of the hunt attacks on livestock and settlers was greatly reduced. By today’s standards this approach to hunting may be thought to be extremely callous, but it was done out of the necessity to protect the settlements.
Chauncey Eggleston was remembered for being “positive, not pugnacious; not widely read, but widely experienced, he was broadly competent in practical affairs. His contributions to the settlement and organization of Aurora had a significant impact that were celebrated by the descendants of the town’s early pioneers. In the Part II of the Reminiscences of General Chauncey Eggleston his work as a blacksmith, brickmaker, farmer, whiskey distiller, cheese maker, sugar producer, member of the Ohio Militia and soldier during the War of 1812 will be recounted.
Printed with the permission of the Aurora Historical Society which retains rights to all content and photos.