Remembering Aurora's early veterans

JOHN KUDLEY JR.

From the community’s very beginning, women and men from Aurora have bravely and unselfishly served our nation and have defended its flag. Aurora’s first settler, Ebenezer Sheldon served as a minuteman in Col. Oliver Wolcott’s regiment responding to the Lexington alarm in 1775 which went in relief of Boston.

On April 19, 1775, British troops had been dispatched from Boston by British General Thomas Gage with orders to seize military stores alleged to have been stored in Concord, Mass. Colonial militia skirmished with the British, first at Lexington and then Concord after which the Redcoats were harassed all the way back to Boston.

News of the battles quickly spread throughout New England.

Prepared for such an alarm, able-bodied men from across the region hurried off to Massachusetts. Ebenezer was one of 51 men who answered the alarm from Suffield, serving a total of 18 days before returning to the care of the family farm.

He later served as a captain in the first regiment of Connecticut state troops.

Another early settler, Julius Riley, served in the Connecticut Light Horse Cavalry, and Samuel Taylor had been a drummer boy who possessed discharge papers signed by George Washington.

During the War of 1812 General Chauncey Eggleston led an Aurora Company of 30 men in defense of Cleveland and later in that same conflict Capt. Ebenezer Harmon led a company from Aurora. Eggleston recalled that his men were “poorly prepared for war, our discipline was naught and our arms but few and poor … but we were farmers and our war arms, what there was, wholly unfit for a battle.”

Eggleston and his men were ordered to Hudson, where they joined forces with men from Mantua and Tallmadge. The assembled force then marched on to the east side of Cleveland, where they set up camp prepared to defend the frontier from attack by the British and their Indian allies.

Each man was given a ration of “one round of meat, and one of bread, and a half pint of whiskey.”

Aurora’s farmer-soldiers as well as the others were apprehensive about leaving their families unprotected in the wilderness.

The service of citizens from Aurora did not always take place during time of war. In 1838, the Aurora Calvary Company under the command of Samuel Hickox was ordered by Portage County Sheriff Wallace to appear in Ravenna to provide security for the execution by hanging of Samuel McKisson, who was convicted of killing his wife Catherine in Northfield despite his pleas of innocence.

The murder had taken place on July 24, 1937 at 11 o’clock at night. Catherine had been killed with an axe while asleep in bed. Officers of the Calvary Company were Col. Samuel F. Hickox, Major J.M. Hickox, Cap. I.N. Blackman, Cornet Austin Blackman, Adjutant Horace P. Cannon, 1st Lt. S.T. Shepard and 2nd Lt. George G. Hickox.

When the Company arrived in Ravenna they set up headquarters at the Old King Tavern where they first had lunch. The hanging took place on a cold and snowy day in early February in a field about a mile from the court house. When Hickox and his men arrived at the site a huge crowd of several thousand men, women and children had already gathered to watch the execution. The local militia had difficulty controlling the crowd so the Aurora Calvary was ordered to carefully open a path to the gallows.

Once on the gallows McKisson was given the opportunity to say a few words. He raised his right hand and stated “I tell you this hand never did the deed for which I am to suffer death.” Wallace told McKisson that he had ”only three minutes more to live.”

A minister gave a short prayer. A blindfold was placed over McKisson’s face. The “sheriff ran down the stairs, put his foot on a spring and McKisson was ushered into eternity.”

Sixty one years after the execution Austin Blackman, a member of the Company, recalled that he had “nearly frozen” with the temperature having fallen to 19 degrees below zero. The men had left their overcoats behind at the tavern because they were “anxious to display” their “gold and silver lace and silver buttons.”

After the hanging they returned to the tavern to warm and retrieve their belongings.

Faithfully fulfilling his duty, Blackman expressed that he “had no desire to witness another execution.

During the American Civil War a total of 80 men served in the Union Army between the years 1861 to 1865. Sixty had volunteered for enlistment prior to the Draft Act of 1863. However, not all those drafted were eager to serve. Of the 11 men drafted in 1863, six hired substitutes, one was exempted, one denied that Aurora was his home town, two had “skedaddled” and only one had actually been inducted. When the war ended Aurora had suffered eight confirmed deaths.

The commitment of Aurora’s men and women serving our nation has continued to the present day. While the uniforms, equipment, and weapons of war have changed from early days on the greens of Lexington and Concord, the shores of Lake Erie, a wintry field in Ravenna, and the battlefields on American soil, the commitment and bravery of Aurora’s Veterans have not changed.

Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society,.