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The Pioneer Women of Henry County

Personal Characteristics and Reminiscence

By: Emma H. Bundy Chambers, 1896

      This history is from a paper read before the Henry County Historical Society in 1896 by Mrs. D. W. Chambers, wife of Capt. David W. Chambers, a prominent resident and attorney in New Castle. IN.

      I have derived my information from older people who knew these women and were able to say much in their praise.
      Among those who deserve a name in our local history I would mention Sarah Bedsaul, the first wife of Isaac Bedsaul, the first merchant who owned a store in New Castle and carried on that business in the town. This he did from the years 1823 to 1835, and of him the pioneer women bought their dry goods for their families, their best dresses for themselves and daughters, which at that time was a nice chintz; their everyday dresses were mostly home-made, of the cloth spun and made up with their own hands, without the aid of a fashion magazine. Mrs. Bedsaul was the daughter of Charles Johnson, the first settler within the corporate limits of New Castle, who erected a cabin on the lot immediately west of the Nixon homestead, on what is now called Church Street. She was a most estimable woman and greatly beloved by all who knew her, but after a short married life of ten years, fell a victim to the terrible scourge, cholera, which prevailed here in 1833.
      Jane, the first wife of Abraham Elliot, also my grandmother, came to the county in 1823 with her husband and family from Wayne county, where they had resided for many years before migrating to the wilds of Henry county. Abraham Elliot was for many years an attorney at law, justice of the peace, and associate judge of the Henry Circuit Court. He and his wife came to Indiana shortly after the Territory was organized, settling in the village of Richmond, which was then near the frontier of civilization, and during the war with England and while Gen. William Henry Harrison was Governor, and for several years afterwards, continued to reside in that county. After the treaty of Greenville in 1818 whereby the Indians ceded to the United States a large body of land of which Henry county formed a part, the family began to look for cheap land and business opportunities, and found them here in Henry county. It goes without saying, nothing could have been more unpromising, for besides soil, timber, water and wild beast, there was nothing. There was an Indian trail leading to New Castle, but no road, no houses nor conveniences of any kind. The country was to be made habitable by industry, and the faithful wife cheerfully performed her part. She was the mother of twelve children, all of whom grew up to be respectable men and women; two only survive. This good woman also became a victim to that fell destroyer, cholera, in 1833.
      Catharine Hollet Woodward, wife of Ashael Woodward, once a well known citizen of New Castle, who departed this life twenty-two years ago, on 19 Mar 1875, came with her husband and family and settled on the land, part of which is comprised in the original plat of the town of New Castle in the year 1819, two years before the county of Henry was organized, and more than three years before the town plat was surveyed. Among the pioneers, she stood in the front rank, because white people were not allowed to settle in Henry county, until after the promulgation of the treaty of Greenville. There were in fact, but a few people who came to the county as early as 1819. The country was an unbroken wilderness. The Indians were here at that time in full force, and they remained until 1822 before they took their departure for their new homes in the Northwest. The experiences of Katharine Woodward in pioneer life must have been very complete, but she seems to have been equal to the occasion being possessed of an extremely kind heart. She was regarded an invaluable nurse in sickness and considered it no hardship to walk several miles to minister to the wants of the suffering. She the mother of a large family of children, who grew up in New Castle, but of them Capt. Pyrrhus Woodward is the only survivor. She departed this life 11 Jan 1871, several years in advance of her husband, after a well-spent life, greatly respected by all who knew her.
      Another good woman who stood in the front ranks is Sarah Healy, Wife of Jesse Healy, who was appointed and afterwards elected the first sheriff of Henry county. She and her husband removed to the county from near Richmond in the spring of 1821 and settled a short distance north of town. It was my good fortune to be well acquainted with her, and hear her say she cooked the dinner for the men that erected the first courthouse in the county. She was a welcome and frequent visitor at my father's house from my earliest recollection, and when a child I never tired of hearing her tell of her early life on Blue river, when the Indians were plentiful and made themselves too familiar sometimes. Later on in life she removed with her husband to a farm near Spiceland. She survived her husband who died on 25 Feb 1856 some years and died on 7 Jul 1871 at the age of 79 years at the home of her son, Welborn Healey, on his farm near Spiceland. Both are buried in the Evans cemetery in Prairie township.
      I would next mention Emeline Reed, wife of Dr. Joel Reed, once a very prominent citizen and distinguished physician of this city, who became a citizen about the year 1824 and both continued to reside here as long as they lived. I mention her name with greater pleasure, because it is my lot to bear her name as part of my own, and for the reason that from infancy to womanhood, I personally knew her and highly esteemed her, perhaps for the reverence of which a child bears toward a mother. I knew her to have been a woman of boundless charity towards the poor and needy, her heart overflowing with beneficence for all who needed help. As a wife and mother she was all that could be desired, and it is the uniform testimony of all now living who knew her personally, that no woman could have discharged the duties of this life more faithfully. She has been dead more than thirty years and no doubt she has realized the reward of the just. It is perhaps impossible to write impartially concerning one I so much venerated.
      Elizabeth Powell, wife of John Powell, once a highly respected, wealthy and benevolent citizen of New Castle, came to the town with her husband became identified with it about the year 1827 and remained here until her death which occurred in 1862. I was of sufficient age to know her very well and can speak of my own knowledge as to her amiable qualities. She was plain and unassuming, but no woman could have been more charming in the social circle, and I am sure no domestic establishment was better managed than that of Mrs. Powell. Her husband died in 1859 and she was several years a widow.
      Later on others moved in , took up their residence and identified themselves with the early settlers. Among them Mrs. George H. Rogers, Mrs. Evan Hobson, (subsequently Mrs. James Reed,) Mrs. Jacob Thornburgh, (afterwards Mrs. S. T. Powell,) Mrs. Lorenzo D. Meek, generally known as "Patsy Meek," Mrs. Philander Ross and many others that I might mention all of whom discharged their duties faithfully and have been called to their reward.
      But the history of one good woman of that period is a biography of all. None were exempt from privations and hardships. Their work was doubly hard. They must be nurse as well as physician. The music instrument in their house was the spinning wheel. The good people of the world have generally been very much alike, and the quit domestic life of a mother who discharged her duties to her husband and children furnishes but little material for history. The present generation with the convenience of civilized society at their command, owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneer mothers who labored under such great privations and difficulties for the advancement of their husbands and children.

2002 UEB

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