Major Lorenzo Carter


“Major Lorenzo Carter”

Lorenzo Carter – Hero of the Western Reserve
The link is here


We call Lorenzo Carter the Hero of the Western Reserve because through all his personal trials and tribulations, he was determined, industrious, tenacious and was of huge importance to the settlement of Cleveland. Roads coming into Cleveland were poor. The Public Square was a mass of mud and stumps. By 1810 the population of Cleveland had dropped to 57. Schools and churches that had already opened were closing because the people were always ill due to the unhealthy conditions of the low and swampy land of Cleveland. Many people died of malaria. Lorenzo Carter “stuck it out” and the establishment of the city is due in no small part to his efforts. 

Major Lorenzo Carter was the first permanent settler in Cleveland. He and his family arrived from Rutland, Vermont May 2, 1797 and built a log cabin under a high sand bank near the Cuyahoga River, just north of present-day St. Clair Street. This cabin housed Lorenzo Carter, his wife Rebecca, his sons Alonzo and Henry, and four daughters, Laura, Polly, Mercy and Betsey. It also served as a tavern for the few residents of Cleveland.

(Carter’s Cabin at the Mouth of the Cuyahoga River – Whiskey Island on the Left)

By 1800 three or four cabins had been built in Cleveland. David and Gilman Bryant had a still at their cabin at the foot of Superior Lane. Lorenzo Carter also had a farm and still on what is today known as “Whiskey Island” (description in another section). Lorenzo’s son, Alonzo, also had a cabin on Whiskey Island…on the east side of the Cuyahoga River. Eventually, the mouth of the river was straightened to help with shipping and when this happened, the Carter farm and cabin ended up on the west side of the river, an area that was mainly swamplands and marshes.

(Picture showing the old river bed and the new, straightened mouth of the river)

In 1805, the Native Americans sold their land on the west side of the river. This portion of land was surveyed in 1807 and became known as Brooklyn Township. Around this time, land on the west side of the river came on the market, and Lorenzo and his son, Alonzo, bought a tract on the west side of the river near the mouth. Alonzo farmed this land and opened the Red House Tavern.

Ever industrious, Carter first operated a ferry to cross to the west side of the river. In 1808, concerned that there was no way to market Cleveland produce, he built the first boat in the area called the Zephyr. The entire village came to help get the boat into the water, using 12 oxen teams. With a capacity of 30 tons, Clevelanders could ship out grindstones and fur to trade in the East. They would trade for salt, garments, iron, brass and glass.

In “Cleveland: The Best Kept Secret”, Condon describes Lorenzo Carter as a large man not only in physical size, but also in thought. He was clearly a valuable resource to the early community, as he was often called on to settle disputes and his word was law with the Indians on the west bank of the river. Carter had a tough time of it in Cleveland. In 1803, he built a new frame house which burned to the ground the day it was completed. In 1806, Lorenzo’s son Henry, age 11, drowned in the river. In 1809, his warehouse was undermined by the lake and washed away. And finally, in 1814, Major Carter was stricken with cancer of the face and died. He is buried at Erie Street Cemetery, which was for many years known simply as ‘the old burying ground”. 

(Erie Street Cemetery)

For a man who was the center of action in pioneer times, it seems fitting that Major Lorenzo Carter’s final resting place is Erie Street Cemetery. Once surrounded by bushes and blackberry briars, Erie Street Cemetery is a quiet oasis alongside the hustle and bustle of downtown Cleveland and directly across the street from action-packed Jacob’s Field, the home of Cleveland baseball. 

Below is a letter from Alonzo Carter dated June 14, 1858, talking about his experiences and memories in Early Cleveland:
My father came here on 2nd of May, 1797. He was from Rutland, Vermont, but stayed the winter previous in Canada. I was seven years old then, going on eight. We built a log cabin under the hill, five or six rods from the river, about twenty rods north of St. Clair Street. There was an old trading house on the west side of the river, which stood not far from the corner of Main and Center streets. 

It was a double log house, quite old and rotten, which the traders used only during the trading season. James Kingsbury and his family came here one or two weeks after we did, and stayed a while in that house. 

In July 1797, our hired girl was married to a Mr. Clement, from Canada. They were married by Mr. Seth Hart, who was a minister, and the agent of the company. 

I remember seeing the cabin where the crew of the British vessel wintered, after it was wrecked. It was about two miles down the river, on the bank of the lake. The vessel had two brass guns on board, which were buried on shore. My father used to go to the wreck, and get bolts, spikes, and other pieces of iron. Some of this iron is in the gate at my house now. 

In the year 1798, my father brought some goods to trade with the Indians. I remember when Menompsy, the Chippewa medicine man was killed; it was towards evening. 

Menompsy had doctored Big Son’s wife, who he said he had killed with his medicine. They were in Campbell’s store, under the hill, which stood between the surveyor’s cabin and storehouse. Big Son threatened to kill the doctor in the store, but Menompsy said, “me no ‘fraid” They went out and walked along the road up Union lane. It was getting pretty dark. Big Son pretended to make friends, and put out one hand, as though he would shake hands. With the other hand he drew his knife and stabbed Menompsy who fell down and died. The Chippewas were encamped on the west side of the river, and the Senecas and Ottawas on the east side. Every body expected there would be an Indian fight. The west side Indians painted themselves black, and threatened the Senecas very severely. My father did not sleep for two days and nights. 

My father built a new frame house in 1803, near the junction of Superior lane and Union lane. Just as it was finished the shavings took fire, and it was burnt. He then built a block house on the same spot in the same year. 

I knew Amos Spafford for ten years; he was a surveyor and came here to live in 1799. He and my father set the big posts at the corners of the streets in 1801, or 1802. I and my brother were boys with his boys, and in 1799 we went about the streets a good deal, and sawed the corner stakes. Spafford took up the stakes, and put down the posts which he cut in the woods nearby. The stakes had been there three or four years. Superior lane was a sharp ridge where we could not get up or down. Traveled up and down the river, on Union lane. In 1800, or 1801, a vessel landed one hundred barrels of salt on the beach, which was carried off on horses, or carried up the beach. My father built his warehouse there in 1809 and ’10. General Tupper, an army contractor, used it in 1812 to store provisions, and also Murray’s warehouse. In 1813 they moved everything two miles up the river, to Walworth’s Point, to keep the stores from the British. 

My father’s warehouse was washed down in 1816 or ’17. The remains were there in 1823 and ’24. It was a double log house, and was undermined by the lake. 

Persons were buried in the old burying ground in 1797. A Mr. Eldridge was drowned at Grand river, and his body was brought here. We got some boards and made a strong box for a coffin. We put him in, and strung it on a pole with cords, to carry him up to the burying ground. Built a fence around the grave. 

The water rose in 1813–overflowed all the low ground. Bank began to slide in 1818. Ontario street was cut out at the time of the war. 

The Connecticut Land Company built two buildings between Superior and Union lanes. 
The general landing was near foot of Superior lane. Vessels could seldom get into the river. They anchored off and had lighters. When they came in the landed at the foot of Superior lane. 

My father died in 1814. They began to work Superior Lane very early–soon after I came here. 

The Indians had been camping on the beach at the Point, and left a cat there which my mother wanted. It was in 1798, I went with her to catch the cat, who ran under the logs back of the beach, and as I jumped over after her I went plump in the water, on this side where the swamp was. 

In 1806, the channel was three rods wide, and ten inches deep. My brother went in there to bathe, and got on the bar. I was across the river in the field topping corn. I saw his hands out of the water and ran there as fast as I could. He was never seen any more. The river has never been so far east as it was then. 

In 1803 and ’04, the hill road was traveled to Painesville. It crossed the Cuyahoga at the foot of Union and Mandrake lanes where the Indians used to cross. They swam their horses. 

Below is a letter from Gilman Bryant dated June 1, 1857 in which he relates his memories about Cleveland in the early days:“Mount Vernon Ohio
June 1st 1857:

Alexander C. Ellito, Esq.

Sir: According to your request, I will inform you about the first settlement of Cleveland, Ohio, according to my best recollection.

My father, David Bryant, and myself, landed at Cleveland in June 1797. There was but one family there at the time, viz: Lorenzo Carter, who lived in a log cabin, under the high sand bank, near the Cuyahoga river, and about thirty rods below the bend of the river, at the west end of Superior street. I went up the hill to view the town. I found one log cabin erected by the surveyors, on the south side of Superior Street, near the place where the old Mansion house formerly stood. There was not cleared land, only where the logs were cut to erect the cabin, and for firewood. I saw stakes at the corners of the lots, among the logs, and large oak and chestnut trees. We were on our way to a grindstone quarry, near Vermilion River. We made two trips that summer, and stopped at Mr. Carter’s each time. In the fall of 1797, I found Mr. Rudolphus Edwards in a cabin under the hill, at the west end of Superior Street. We made two trips in the summer of 1798. I found Major Spafford in the old surveyor’s cabin. The same fall Mr. David Clark erected a cabin on the other side of the street and about 5 rods northwest of Spafford’s. We made two trips in the summer of 1799, and in the fall, father and myself returned to Cleveland, to make a pair of millstones for Mr. Williams, about five miles east of Cleveland, near the trail to Hudson. We made the mill stones on the right hand side of the stream as you go up, fifteen or twenty feet from the stream, and about half a mile from the mill, which was under a high bank, and near a fall in said stream of forty or fifty feet. If any person will examine, they will find the remains and pieces of rock, the said stones were made of. The water was conveyed to the mill in a dugout trough, to an under-shot wheel about twelve feet over, with one set of arms, and buckets fifteen inches long, to run inside of the trough, which went down the bank at an angle of forty-five degrees, perhaps. The dam was about four rods above the fall; the mill stones were three and a half feet in diameter, of gray rock. On my way from the town to Mr. William’s mill, I found the cabin of Mr. R. Edwards. who had left the town, about three miles out; the next cabin was Judge Kingsbury, and the next old Mr. Gunn, thence half a mile to Mr. William’s mill. 

On my return to Cleveland in the fall of 1800, my father and myself came there to stay. He took a still from Virginia, and built a still-house under the sand bank, about twenty rods from L. Carter’s and fifteen feet from the river. The house was made of hewed logs, twenty by twenty-six, one and a half stories high. We took the water in a trough, out of some small springs which came out of the bank, into the second story of the house, and made the whiskey out of wheat. 

My father purchased ten acres of land about one-fourth of a mile from the town plat, on the bank of the river, east of town. In the winter of 1800 and spring of 1801, I helped my father clear five acres on said lot, which was planted with corn in the spring. Said ten acres were sold by my father in the spring of 1802, at the rate of two dollars and fifty cents per acre. Mr. Samuel Huntington came to Cleveland in the spring of 1801, and built a hewed log house near the bank of the Cuyahoga river, about 15 rods south-east of the old surveyors’ cabin, occupied by Mr. Spafford. 

I attended the 4th of July ball, mentioned in the History of Ohio. I waited on Miss Doan, who had just arrived at the Corners, four miles east of town. I was then about seventeen years of age, and Miss Doan about fourteen. I was dressed in the then style ñ a gingham suit ñ my hair queued with one and a half yards of black ribbon, about as long and as thick as a corncob, with the little tuft at the lower end; and for the want of pomatum, I had a piece of candle rubbed on my hair, and then as much flour sprinkled on, as could stay without falling off. I had a good wool hat, and a pair of brogans that would help to play “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” or “High Betty Martin,” when I danced. When I went for Miss Doan I took an old horse; when she was ready I rode up to a stump near the cabin, she mounted the stump and spread her under petticoat on “Old Tib” behind me, secured her calico dress to keep it clean, and then mounted behind me. I had a fine time! 

The Indians scattered along the river, from five to eight miles apart, as far as the falls. They hauled their canoes above high water mark and covered them with bark, and went from three to five miles back into the woods. In the spring, after sugar making, they all packed their skins, sugar, bear’s oil, honey, and jerked venison, to their crafts. They frequently had to make more canoes, either of wood or bark, as the increase of their furs, &c., required. They would descend the river in April, from sixty to eighty families, and encamp on the west side of the river for eight or nine days, take a drunken scrape and have a feast. I was invited to partake of a white dog. They singed part of the hair off and chopped him up, and made a large kettle of soup. They erected a scaffold, and offered a large wooden bowlful, placed on the scaffold, to “Manitou,” and then they presented me with one fore-paw well boiled, and plenty of soup, the hair still being between the toes. I excused; they said, “a good soldier would eat such.” They said, “God was a good man and he would not hurt anybody.” They, in offering the sacrifice to Manitou, prayed to him for their safety over the lake, and that they might have a good crop of corn, &c.”

“Cleveland’s Golden Story” by James Wallen, 1920

Other Sources:
“Lakewood Story” by Margaret Manor Butler, 1949 
“Cleveland the Making of A City” by William Ganson Rose, 1950
“Cleveland: The Best Kept Secret” by G.E. Condon, 1967
“This Cleveland of Ours”, Wilfred H. & Miriam Russell Alburn, 1933 – Page 139 has a GREAT description of the pioneers. Page 141 starts the second winter with Lorenzo Carter.



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