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 Amos Critchfield (< 1746)

The following is quoted from the book "Those Days: An American Album" by Richard Critchfield. Anchor Press/Doubleday 1986.

"They weren't all saints. Remember Samuel Johnson's low opinion of the Early Americans? ".....a race of convicts who ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging." It went with a claim that four of every ten Englishmen who came here between 1607 and 1776 were in trouble at home: convicts, debtors, drunks, runaways.

Having Quakers on one side, it seems fitting to have convicts on the other. Actually, family legend doesn't say what Amos Whitfield had done, whether he'd committed a crime or simply been shanghaied, just that he was an impressed seaman in the British Royal Navy, serving on a frigate. Thought to be a native of Wales, he jumped ship off the coast of New Jersey in 1746 And made his way to the backwoods frontier country of Virginia and Delaware, there to assume the alias Critchfield. It is conceivable that he made it up, but more likely he heard it and took it as his own name.

The history of the Critchfields in America, or at least that particular branch that began with Amos Whitfield, really begins with his offspring, including a son, Nathaniel. (Four other sons, Joseph, Samuel, John and William, have come to light; Amos had thirteen children in all.) As a old Man in Ohio in 1832, Nathaniel applied for a veteran's pension. Barely Literate and a casual speller he sometimes dropped the 't' in Critchfield he said he'd enlisted in the Continental Army three times, first in April 1778, when he was seventeen, in Colonel Evans's Virginia Regiment, and re-enlisting for two more hitches in 1780, this time with Colonel Piper's Pennsylvania Regiment. He served a total of sixteen months and stayed a private the whole time.

(Comments on war by others left out here).

When the "troublesome" war did at last end, young Nathaniel struck out at Once for the western Pennsylvanian frontier. Not to settle for good, though. Like so many, he, too, would get "Ohio fever." Under the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, the British gave up their lands northwest of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. The Continental Congress in 1785-87 legally opened up this land for settlement, and despite famine and Indians, the rush was on. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, whole towns in New England were pulling up stakes and heading for Ohio. Many were like Francis Williams and his Quaker neighbors in Whittier; they mixed a religious zeal to live without sin and do God's work with a shrewd appreciation of the prosperity to be gained by clearing and cultivating virgin land.

Migrants like Nathaniel, coming from the backwoods of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the southern coastal states, were of a different breed. Many, like him, were individualistic, barely literate veterans of the Continental Army, crack shots and hardy enough to survive on a frontier. In 1806, Nathaniel, now forty-five, headed West through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and down the Ohio River, finally setting out into the Ohio woods on foot with two of his grown sons, carrying guns, ammunition and tools for work. He was soon joined by his wife, Polly, and the rest of their large brood of children, and they cleared a tract of bottomland and sowed it with crops. At some point, at least two of Nathaniel's brothers, Joseph and William, who had both also been foot soldiers in the Revolution, migrated with their families to the same farming area in Ohio, what later became Knox County. Working small dirt farms in Southern Ohio, they were perhaps typical of the many poor whites who settled there, having little and asking for little just enough land to clear and till so they could feed their families and be let alone. As Private Vaughan's diary conveys, their experience in the Revolution would have left such former enlisted men more crustily independent than ever and more suspicious of the American officer class and its ethics and laws. These frontiersmen would pass such values down to their children; the war had taught them to shoot straight and to depend on themselves to survive."

"As an old man, Nathaniel Critchfield got his pension, enjoyed it for only five years, and died in 1837. His tombstone, in Shrimplin Cemetery in the town of Howard, Knox County, reads: "With Washington at Valley Forge." The year Nathaniel died, one of his great-grandsons, Lyman, who was to become Ohio's attorney general in 1861, when he was only thirty, had just turned six. Well over a century later, at this writing, one of Lyman's grandsons, who was twenty-two when Lyman died, is still alive, a vigorous ninety. Thus one can quite easily span the entire two century history of the United States in three lifetimes."

"It took many more generations. One of Nathaniel's sons, William (1782-1867) married an Elizabeth Troutman, and Their son, Rueben (180597), and a Nancy Hardesty, were Lyman's parents. Rueben himself stayed a poor farmer and sometime cabinetmaker and mechanic (though a brother served and died as a post surgeon in Tennessee during the Civil War). It was his wife, Nancy, a Quaker from Maryland, who felt she had come down in the world and fought to get her two sons educated. She did. Both became wealthy lawyers, and with them the Ohio Critchfields left farming and rural life for good. They prospered, shared an addiction to fat horses handed down, according to family legend, from Nathaniel, the Virginian and ran for public office."

 

Lyman R. Critchfield

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"Lyman himself lived on until 1917, dying at his desk right in the middle of writing a legal brief when he was eight-six [68]. A Populist and Democrat in a Republican state, he ran and lost races to Congress, argued cases before the Supreme Court in Washington and was an early champion of the eight  hour day. He was a lifelong admirer of William Jennings Bryan and, alas, Bryan's oratorical style. (A sample from an 1896 speech on Pioneer Day: "Before the gigantic savage Indian chief, painted hideously for war, and armed with gleaming instruments of revenge and death, the pioneer was the disarming angel of a new covenant of the family, religious faith and liberty...").

It was a strangely ill-fated family. Lyman's wife, Adelaide ("...a queenly stateliness equaled by few," intoned the 1910 Wayne County History), died terribly, burned to death after her dress caught fire from a gasoline stove explosion in 1895. (A younger brother of Adelaide's, Hartley Shaffer, the black sheep of the family, went West the same year, we will encounter him briefly.) One of her daughters, Addie, died young too, of meningitis at twenty  four. The old family mansion on North Bever Street in Wooster, Ohio, went up in flames in 1978; one of Lyman’s great-grandsons died in the fire. Premature death seems to have cursed the family."

"Lyman Critchfield had five daughters and two sons. The younger son, who appears but once in our story, fought in Cuba in 1898 and later became a Wooster judge."

 "He is chiefly quoted in the family for a remark he made to the young Scandinavian bride of a honeymooning young nephew from North Dakota; "You are the first person of Swedish decent," said the judge, "that I have ever met who is not of the domestic class." Aunt Irene never forgot it. She was still talking about it when she was eighty years old. the other son, Henry, was the author's grandfather. Born in 1861, he went to Ohio's Kenyon College and then, seeking to become a doctor, he became a medical apprentice to an established physician, in the custom of the times, first in Middleburg, Ohio, then in Minneapolis. He'd finished up at the University of Minnesota just as Hadwen Williams - seven years older, but he'd worked his way through --was getting his medical degree in Iowa. As a young doctor, Henry met and married a pretty Irish girl, Lillie Ray, who ran a sewing school in downtown Minneapolis. her parents had come from Cork during the potato famine. Lillie's father knew Andrew Burke, another Irishman who'd gotten into banking in Dakota Territory and later was to become North Dakota's second governor. With Burkes help, in 1886 Henry was offered a section of land – six hundred and forty acres -- in the Red River Valley just across the Minnesota State line, if he would set up a medical practice in a brand new town, Hunter. It had been created just six years earlier, in 1880, when the Great Northern Railroad extended a branch line that far. Hunter was on the edge of the extinct, prehistoric Lake Agassiz; its black soil, left by glaciers, was said to be wonderfully fertile."

"In those days, with everybody talking about getting rich from wheat and land speculation, Dakota Territory was the place to go. In the Twin Cities if was talked about not as the big, empty and dry prairie that it was, but as the empire it could become in twenty or thirty years-- the main passenger train to cross it was called the Empire Builder. The last of the buffalo herds were gone, but their bones were still scattered about. Wild elk were abundant, so was game. Ten years had passed since Little Bighorn. The Indians were vanquished at last. One could be in on something. Extract from a compendium of current biography in North Dakota, 1900:"Dr. Henry Critchfield, M.D., is one of the most widely known physicians and surgeons of Cass County, and has resided in Hunter and followed the practice of his profession there for fifteen years ... The great-grandfather of our subject, Nathaniel Critchfield, was a native of Virginia and one of the First settlers of Ohio..." No mention of poor Amos Whitfield. A granddaughter of Dr. Henry Critchfield from Minnesota gives us a last look at Nathaniel's descendants who stayed in Ohio: "We visited them some years ago. We stayed in town at the Judge's big house on the hill. And they had a horse farm where they had dug their own lake and kept trotters in beautiful white barns, surrounded by green fields and whit fences. Their hours, Demon Hanover, once won the Hambletonian. They were people who had a lot of money and who showed they had a lot of money and their conversations were about things that had to do with money and football and horses..."

   

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