by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
Ashtabula River still held the plenty of fish which moved native Americans to call it “river of many fish” when a number of families, including those of Sala Blakeslee and son John G.; Zadoc and Warner Mann, Lynus Hall, Titus Seymour, David Warren, Elias Upson, Noah Bronson, Hubbards left New England to seek land in the area now known as Ashtabula in 1811.
Many families made the trek over Zane's Trace into the Ohio, after the Revolution, to seek land promised, in lieu of payment for their enlistments in the War. Land was scarce in New England, with original homesteads left, either whole or in parts, to the sons of homesteaders moving out from the original settlements over the previous nearly 200 years.
Not all the colonies followed this practice, however, so settlement of Ohio also included citizens of Connecticut who, by the policy of that colony, provided 'bounty lands' to citizens whose homes, outbuildings and businesses had been destroyed by the British. The waves of settlement continued for generations, as homesteads began west of Ohio, into what is now Indiana.
Among the first New Englanders who settled in the Ashtabula the names above all came from the congregation at the St. Peter's Church Episcopal Church of Plymouth CT. Today, the original church of St. Peter's in Plymouth, founded 1740, has merged with Trinity Parish, Thomaston, CT, founded in 1869.
When the wagons moved off those riding or walking beside them knew it was very likely they would never see their birth homes again, and took with them memories of home and a hunger for God. A familiar face would join them six years later.
Here in Ashtabula a parish of the Protestant Episcopal church was founded by resolution at the Blakeslee Log Cabin on September 26, 1816. The church, the first, “regularly organized Episcopal Church in Ohio,” held its first service on February 19, 1817 at the home of Hall Smith, located at the north end of the present-day Main Avenue, conducted by Father Roger Searle.
Father Roger Searle had ministered to many of them in Connecticut and remained in correspondence with his former parishioners. He joined them on February 16th, to begin a ministry which included starting parishes across Ohio, ending only with at his death in 1826, He is buried at Ashtabula’s Chestnut Grove Cemetery. St. Peter’s is visible from his hilltop gravesite.