A Pioneer Story: Laura’s Childhood—Part 3

Ann Denman had married Dr. William Tell Parker who was from the southwestern part of Ohio, and gone there to live.  When he left for the gold mines of California she was left living with some of his relatives in New Richmond on the Ohio River about 20 miles above Cincinnati.  When Laura took the trip from her home in northeastern Ohio in 1850 or ‘51, it was a hazardous 300 miles by train from Sandusky to Cincinnati.  At age 20, Laura had never yet traveled so far or by train but the family was sure she would do just fine so her preparations were made.  As she wrote: “…in three weeks I was ready to start out into the world with my belongings, which consisted of two trucks, one handbox, one umbrella, one hand sachel, besides some smaller items.”

Her brother William drove her in a wagon the 25 miles from home to Sandusky City which was the nearest place to get a train.  When they got there they discovered that the train to Cincinnati wouldn’t leave until 6 PM, so William put Laura in the care of the hotel-keeper, asking him to make sure she got on the train.  Laura was left on her own to begin this great trip.  She was, however, approached by an old lady who asked where she was going and found her a nice young couple also going to Cincinnati to travel with.  The railroad that Laura traveled on was probably the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad.

Laura described the trip, which took overnight, in this way:  “The car, tho not as luxurious as the present day Pullman [she was writing in 1919], was provided with seats having iron head rests of the shape of a half circle within which you were supposed to rest your weary head while in the embrace of Morpheus.  This arrangement not being conducive to sleep, my fellow travelers and myself engaged in conversation and in the course of the night, which was a long one, we made the discovery that the gentleman had been raised in the same neighborhood in Ohio as myself until a boy of fourteen years when my father had bought his father’s farm and the Tucker family moved to Indiana and we had lost all trace of them.”

“This little episode helped to while away the weary hours of the night and at daybreak we arrived at the great city whose smoke laden air was almost stifling to one who had always been accustomed to breathing the pure fresh a2551141204_87afec08b8_oir of the country.  I was met at the depot by a brother of my sister’s husband who escorted me to a hotel and arranged for my stay until the riverboat for New Richmond should start up the river.  This was a new experience for me, –riding by steamboat on the Ohio River,—and one I greatly enjoyed.  Never shall I forget the fine scenery along its banks as there came into view the vine-clad hills laden with the great clusters of the purple fruit.  The waving grain and field of clover all spoke of the richness of the alluvial soil.”  This was in the fall of the year and I suspect that the purple fruit she sawview of Augusta was wild grapes, maybe riverbank grape.

Laura was met in New Richmond by a another young man who had been sent from the house where her sister was staying, to take her there.  Ann Denman Parker was staying at the home of the Donaldson family, while her husband was absent in California, presumably because Mrs. Donaldson was her sister-in-law.  The Donaldson house was described by Laura this way:  “..English mansion located far up on the hill overlooking the Ohio River, which at times was dotted with boats plying up and down on its placid waters.  The proprietor of this mansion had built in English style, –four square in its outer dimensions, partitioned into four large rooms with a spacious hall running the entire length of the building, while a wide staircase led to the upper rooms, one of which my sister occupied and where much of my time was spent the next four months in caring for her and her young son.”

Dr. Parker, husband of Laura’s sister Ann, was anxious to hear from his family often.  Ann was not strong enough to write, so it fell to Laura’s lot to carry on the correspondence.  I can picture her sitting at a small desk in her sister’s room, or maybe by the bed with a lapdesk, writing for her sister.  Perhaps Ann dictated and perhaps she only told Laura what she wanted to say and left it to the writer to put into words.  One specific that Laura described was the discussion that her sister and she (and likely the rest of the Donaldson family) had about the name to be given to the young son just born.  The final decision was to name him Frederic Donaldson Parker.  When Laura wrote to Dr. Parker that his son was named Frederic D. Parker he assumed it was for Frederic Douglass, “the great colored orator of the day”.  Laura doesn’t tell how she responded to this, but moved on to telling about the excitement over slavery running high in those days.

Soon after this, Laura’s mother sent word that she wanted them all to come home if Ann was able to travel, and “she would take her to Cleveland to a doctor who she thot could cure her.  Arrangements were hastily made and we set out on our journey.”  The kindness of the conductor and some men traveling in the car helped improvise a bed of sorts for Ann.  The men spread their overcoats on a seat to cushion it for her.  They were met at New London by their “mother and brother Charles who went on to Cleveland with Sister Parker while I took little Fred and went to my Father’s the with sister who had come for us.”  The treatment by the Cleveland doctor was very successful and by the end of 6 weeks Ann was able to return to her parents’ home and take up the care of her little son.  Laura was free to look for other employment.

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