Letters from Early Kinsman Settlers Lead to New Book | News, Sports, Jobs

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

Kinsman Township, a quintessential Connecticut Western Reservation community, began as a dream in 1795 when John Kinsman and 35 other men formed the Connecticut Land Company to purchase and survey the lands that became this canton.

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

Arriving in 1816, Patriarch Deacon Lovel Parker moved his family to join other hard-working settlers in the process of carving out a city in the desert. Located between Stratton and Pymatuning creeks, harnessed water power was an asset to many of the early industries and factories.

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 part for the Cleveland factory, he 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 pursue his own gold rush fortunes. Harriet and the girls weren’t completely alone, however. 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 farmhouse on Locust Hill in Kinsman was inhabited by the Parkers until 1934.

A later resident, coincidentally a member of the library’s board of trustees, discovered a bundle of letters in Kinsman’s historical collection at the library, written by the original inhabitants of his home. The majority of the letters in the collection are between Rufus during his stay in California and his sisters and mother in Kinsman.

The administrator, 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 them. There were many challenges deciphering the handwriting, phonetic spelling, lack of punctuation, and an unknown timeline, but throughout the process a narrative presented itself.

Local writer and historian Emily Webster Love was later enlisted to help with the project. She discovered that the letters not only tell the history of the Parker family, but they offer a snapshot of Kinsman and the surrounding area at that exact moment. From the War of 1812 to the end of the 19th century, they include descriptions of community events like typhoid epidemics, the ill-fated Clinton Air Line and the Gold Rush, as well as personal struggles against the alcoholism, domestic violence and disease. The letters give an honest and unique account of life 150 years ago.

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

Webster Love succinctly states, “The correspondence between Rufus, his sisters and their 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 their satisfaction as the story peaks in fulfillment and hope to its surprising climax.”

“The Locust Hill Parkers: Connecticut Yankees on the Ohio Border” 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 Reference and Adult Services Librarian at the Kinsman Free Public Library.

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Angela C. Hale