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Water conditions prevail over justice

By Henry Timman • May 25, 2018 at 12:00 PM

All of northern Ohio was agog at this time of year in 1819.

First, however, we must consider there weren’t a whole lot of people living here, but everyone must have been talking about the murder of two trappers along the Portage River in what is now Ottawa County. At that time Ottawa County didn’t exist and Huron County had legal jurisdiction over present-day Seneca, Sandusky and Ottawa counties.

Early in April of 1819, four men decided to take a hunting and trapping expedition along the Portage River. They were John Wood, George Bishop, Abiather Shirley and Barnabas Meeker. After a week or two, Shirley and Meeker returned home, while Wood and Bishop remained and accumulated a credible amount of animal furs.

Their camp was discovered by three Ottawa Indians whose folks were camped near what is now Toledo. These three were Negosheek, Negoneba and Negossum. Negosheek made a plan to murder the two trappers and steal their furs and equipment. About April 21, 1819, they entered the camp and, finding the two men asleep, quickly dispatched them and stole all that they could carry. Negossum, a boy of 17, didn’t actually participate, but he was made to touch the bodies and thus incriminate himself.

Like so many criminals, they had no follow-up plan after the murder. They sold some of their loot to a nearby trader named Guy, and hid the remainder of it. They also told another Indian named Chazee what they had done and he promptly reported it to Charles C. Tupper, constable of Danbury Township on the Marblehead peninsula east of present-day Port Clinton.

Eventually the three were indicted by a Huron County Grand Jury. At the trial, Negossum was released by his proving that he didn’t actually participate in the murders. The other two were returned to the temporary county jail, which was the log cabin of Daniel Raitt on the west side of North Hester Street, perhaps halfway between West Main and Monroe streets. They were hanged July 1, 1819, on the grounds of the Episcopal Cemetery on West Main street on gallows built near the west property line.

In 1879, W. W. Williams published his “History of the Fire Lands” and told the story of this crime and punishment but did not use the details of the difficulty in holding a coroner’s inquest. The bodies had been brought to the mouth of the Portage River but the coroner was in Norwalk and the winds on Sandusky Bay would not allow a crossing. Therefore, Constable Tupper summoned a jury of local men to rule on the deaths, though it probably was a stretch of his authority.

Not surprisingly, the jury ruled that it was willful murder by persons unknown. The documentation was forwarded to the proper authorities in Norwalk, the seat of Huron County government and the rest is history. I find it interesting that justice could not easily prevail over the winds and water conditions of Sandusky Bay in those pioneer times — but there always was an alternative to Plan A!

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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