Letters from original Kinsman settlers leads to new book | News, Sports, Jobs

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series on the history of our region coordinated by the Trumbull County Historical Society.

A quintessential Connecticut Western Reserve community, Kinsman Township began as a dream in 1795 when John Kinsman and 35 other men formed the Connecticut Land Company to purchase and survey the land that became this municipality

John Kinsman made this town his home and encouraged his Connecticut neighbors to join the new settlement. One such Connecticut family was the Parkers.

Arriving in 1816, patriarch Deacon Lovel Parker moved his family to join other hardworking settlers in the process of carving a town out of the wilderness. Located between Stratton and Pymatuning creeks, harnessed water power was an asset to many of the early industries and mills.

Lovel’s son Linus established an ax and tool factory in 1818 and later began construction of a mill along Stratton Creek in the 1830s. Tragically, during the process of acquiring a piece for the Cleveland mill, fell ill and died soon after.

His passing left his young wife Harriet to manage the household and take care of the four children: Sarah, Rufus, LeMira and Hannah. Even more responsibility was placed on Harriet when Rufus left for California in 1852 to seek his own fortune in the gold rush. Harriet and the girls weren’t completely alone, though. The Parkers were a large family who became influential members of the surrounding communities of Gustavus, Hartford, Canfield and Poland. Although the family dispersed, the original Locust Hill homestead in Kinsman was inhabited by the Parkers until 1934.

A later resident, who happened to be a member of the library’s board of trustees, discovered a packet of letters in the library’s Kinsman Historical Collection, written by the original inhabitants of his home. Most of the letters in the collection are between Rufus during his time in California and his sisters and mother in Kinsman.

The trustee, Richard Thompson, immediately recognized the need to preserve these letters and entrusted them to Katy McKinnon, who began the arduous task of scanning and transcribing. Many challenges arose in deciphering the writing, phonetic spellings, lack of punctuation, and unknown chronology, but through the process a narrative was presented.

Local writer and historian Emily Webster Love was then hired to help with the project. He discovered that the letters not only tell the story of the Parker family, but provide a snapshot of Kinsman and the surrounding area at that time. From the War of 1812 to the late 19th century, they include descriptions of community events such as typhoid outbreaks, the ill-fated Clinton Air Line Railroad, and the Gold Rush, as well as personal struggles with alcoholism, domestic abuse and disease. The letters give an honest and unique account of life 150 years ago.

What began as a discovery of letters turned into a labor of love that will result in a book titled “The Parkers of Locust Hill: Connecticut Yankees on the Ohio Frontier” by Webster Love on behalf of the Richard and Rhonda Thompson Foundation. This privately published work combines the original letters with historical annotations gleaned from family memoirs and genealogical research to add context to the narrative.

Webster Love succinctly states: “The correspondence between Rufus, his sisters and his mother tells a story of hardship, hard work, moral strength and, above all, faith.” She goes on to say “You won’t be surprised to feel his satisfaction as the story builds to a high point of realization and hope to its astonishing climax.”

“The Parkers of Locust Hill: Connecticut Yankees on the Ohio Frontier” will be available soon.

The Kinsman Free Public Library is located at 6420 Church St. Kinsman. For more information, visit www.kinsmanlibrary.org.

Straub is the adult services and reference librarian at the Kinsman Free Public Library.

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