Reminiscences of Chauncey Eggleston: Part II
In "The Reminiscences of Chauncey Eggleston," Eggleston recalled 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.” Many of the Aurora’s early settlers were attracted to the Western Reserve by the lure of improving their economic situations. Farm lands depleted of fertility along with an economic depression that ensued in the years following the American Revolution made many believe that life in the land of the “New Connecticut” would be much better than it was in “Old Connecticut.”
Chauncey’s older brothers had already left Middlefield and had established themselves in Upstate New York and western Pennsylvania. It was left for Chauncey to care for his parents and younger sisters. Eggleston was a 21-year-old young man when he and the family set off for Aurora. Although lacking in wealth he had the determination, ingenuity, and steadfastness that led him to become one of Aurora’s most prominent and respected men.
The Eggleston’s farmed a large tract of land near the center of the village raising cows and growing the hay to feed them. It was Chauncey, who, along with Ebenezer Sheldon, sold the first “Aurora cheese,” having taken it to Pittsburgh in exchange for salt and iron nails. With several other partners, Eggleston also went into “sugaring” making 400 pounds of cake sugar for his fellow settlers. He was also Aurora’s first blacksmith using the skills as an apprentice in Middlefield.
Chauncey did not hesitate to try his hand in other ventures that could be profitable. Chauncey recalled, “Whiskey was in early times thought to be necessary as our breath to keep society alive…Our cupboards and stands must have their well filled decanters and drinking glasses, or we were behind the times.” Since there were few distillers in the area, Chauncey tried his hand at making whiskey since it “was worth 75 cents a gallon and one bushel corn would make three gallons and the still slop would fatten many hogs.” He spent two years at distilling spending all his earnings and made nothing. So he gave “it up a wiser and better man than when (he) commenced.”
Eggleston not only used his talents to supply the town with much-needed materials and products to sustain the settlement, he also became a prominent citizen in both politics and the church. Chauncey served as one of the town’s first constables, was overseer of the pound, highway supervisor, township trustee and Justice of the Peace. He was also elected to a two-year term to the Ohio Senate.
As a member of the Congregational Church, Eggleston was called up several times to serve on committees that investigated the transgressions of the church’s tenants by members of the congregation. In one case, he reported to the congregation that Enos Bissell had rejected important doctrines of the Bible by not believing in eternal damnation, infant baptism, and not travelling on Sunday. He reported that Bissell also stated that he didn’t care if he were excommunicated. When the congregation ran short of the funds needed to complete the construction of the “Old Brick” church, it was Eggleston who organized a fundraising program by selling the pews. Chauncey paid $300 for a front row pew. He was also a member of the church’s choir and orchestra for 60 years. During the church services he “named the tune and gave the pitch” for the hymns. He also played the bass viol. Religion was important to him. He and his wife Eunice had all of their 10 children baptized by Reverend Seward.
His commitment to protect the settlements frontier along with his fellow settlers is another testament to his character. In the early 1800s, the young nation’s frontier lay just beyond the Appalachian Mountains. While claims to the lands had been ceded by the British as part of the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution, British presence in North America still remained a threat. In addition, a majority of Native Americans had sided with the British in hoping to prevent the continued encroachment of Americans onto their lands. The tensions between the British and Native Americans on one hand and the Americans on the other led to the War of 1812. (As a note, Native Americans that lived in the area of Aurora never presented a danger to the settlement.)
Aurora’s first military company was organized in 1810. When war broke out Eggleston described Aurora’s company as “poorly prepared for war, our discipline was naught and our arms but few and poor, some good rifles and good shooters, but we were farmers and our war arms, what there was, wholly unfit for battle…” He recalled that “thousands of Indian warriors joined our enemies, who were fully acquainted with this part of the country, so we were in sore distress.” Chauncey claimed that their only strength was the reliance of the “God of Battles.” He worried that when the company was called up that the “old folks and mothers and girls” would be left to defend themselves and “fight the savages.” On Aug. 16, 1812, word reached Aurora that American Gen. William Hull had surrendered Ft. Detroit to the British and a British force with “2000 savages” would soon be at Cleveland and “spread over the country and murder and destroy it.” On a Saturday night the Aurora Company was order to be in Cleveland by 6 p.m. on Sunday. The men knew the danger that existed if they did not defend the frontier as part of the American effort. Eggleston dreaded the idea of leaving a young wife of two years, his aged parents, and four sisters to defend themselves.
The company faced an 18-mile march in the dark to Cleveland to meet a “formidable foe…two thousand Indians and six hundred British regular soldiers, with tomahawks and scalping knives.” The company was allowed to go home and say goodbye to their families. Meeting on the “west line of Aurora on the road to Cleveland” they were ready to march not knowing how many other settlers from the region would be part of their force. Having “bid adieu to (their) family and friends” they shouldered their rifles and were ready to face the danger ahead. Just as the Aurora Company was ready to move out word arrived that the army that was marching on Cleveland was actually Hull’s men who had been “paroled” by the British. With the immediate danger over, Chauncey recalled that “we all went back to our families, thankful to God for our disappointment.” The Aurora Company was again called up several days later mustering in Hudson and then marching onto Cleveland where they camped on the east side providing a defensive perimeter on the frontier. Chauncey had the opportunity to speak with several members of Hull’s men who had been surrendered and then paroled by the British. They said that Hull was a coward for surrendering without even firing a shot and how scared Hull’s son was that he had soiled his “breeches.”
Chauncey Eggleston died in November 1873 at the home of his daughter in Chagrin Falls at the age of 87. His wife Eunice had died in April 1873. They had been married for 63 years. They are buried in the Aurora Cemetery. In a footnote to the Reminiscences, it was written that, “Never frivolous, he had a fine sense of humor, which never led towards coarseness. He was always a gentleman of the old school, lending dignity and or religiousness. Whatever he did he moved steadily toward his mark and in the time of loss or pain he did not appear greatly moved. It was said that with education he might have been fitted to have occupied any position in the gift of the public. The record of his youth will be an inspiration to generations of descendants yet unborn.”
Printed with the permission of the Aurora Historical Society which retains rights to all content and photos.