The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 3, 2011

Q.F. Atkins: Man of many talents, hardships

He was the county’s first sheriff and grandfather of a famous ship builder

Star Beacon


Quintus Flaminius Atkins.
Of his chiseled face, it was written, if it were “set on the Mason and Dixon’s line, turned to the south, (it) would of itself abolish slavery.”
Atkins, who was Ashtabula County’s first sheriff, led a remarkable life of both hardship and accomplishment. When he died in 1859, he left behind a number of manuscripts originally published in the local press and later assembled as “recollections.” Of most significant interest to local history lovers is “Recollections of Pioneer Life in Northeastern Ohio,” a topic he was well qualified to write upon.
Atkins was recruited to leave Manlius, N.Y., in the year 1802 and follow relatives to the wilderness of Morgan Township. His detailed notes of the journey across land and water provide fascinating reading of the obstacles that pioneers faced in just getting to the Western Reserve, let alone clearing the forest, building a home and growing provision.
He tells of the dangers that pioneers faced when the road that led along the shore of Lake Erie encountered “perpendicular, rocky projections that in some places for a quarter mile or more, supplied the place of the sand beach.” 
If the waves were high, the pioneers were forced to wait out the weather before attempting to enter the lake and navigate the horses, oxen and wagons around the obstacle. One such attempt claimed the lives of the horses and all but one family member as they were pulled under the swells.
“This sad family waked up the people to cut a road all the way, back in the woods, past these rock points, which prevented the recurrence of any such accident afterwards,” Atkins wrote.
He arrived in Morgan Township in late October 1802. After several days of assisting his uncle Gillet’s family with their homestead, Atkins chose lot 59 of the township to purchase for himself. To pay for it, he contracted with a B. Battell as a laborer at the rate of $12 per month. The land cost $1.50 per acre. 
Atkins’ recollections relate many stories of personal hardship as he cleared land for both himself and his employer.
“Chopping was almost the only business pursued by the early settlers in the winter season, for a number of years after they commenced their improvements,” he writes. “Every acre had to be cleared, in some way, of a heavy growth of timber before a blade of grass or an acre of corn or wheat could be produced. This necessity kept all that could wield an ax busily engaged through that season of the year, which is now so generally devoted to the objects of dissipation and worldly pleasure.”
Atkins notes that any man whose hands were not calloused back then would have been considered a “nondescript.”
Despite his observation that “we had no young ladies then (1803) as a class” and the necessity of working throughout the winter, Atkins married Sarah (some sources, Sally) Wright on Feb. 22, 1804. Sarah was the daughter of Capt. John Wright, also an early settler of Morgan Township.
The lure of wife and hearth did not prevent Atkins from pursuing a livelihood filled with hardships and separation. During much of 1805, Atkins carried the mail between Cleveland and Detroit — on foot. The route was difficult, dangerous and necessitated gun and ax for companions. “It required great courage and untiring energy and perseverance; but he was a man who never objected to any necessary service or duty, no matter what its hardships or privations,” wrote Atkins’ biographer in the “1878 Williams Brothers History of Ashtabula County.”
The year 1806 found Atkins and his wife working as missionaries in Sandusky with the Rev. Joseph Badger, who had an outreach to Native Indians. Atkins, a man of many talents, built a boat on the Grand River in Austinburg, loaded it with supplies and traveled to the river’s mouth. They were met there by Native Indians, who completed the trip with them along the southern shore of Lake Erie to Sandusky.
Stricken with repeated attacks of ague and fever, the couple eventually abandoned the mission and moved back to Ashtabula County. Atkins returned to carrying the mail, this time between Cleveland and the Vermilion River. Curiously, even though he was still carrying the mail on foot, the service was called “express mail,” making one wonder if he was expected to run, rather than walk, the route.
Hard times
Life briefly became a bit easier for Atkins in 1811, when the county was organized and he was appointed sheriff. Being sheriff, he was exempted from military duty when the War of 1812 broke out, but Atkins nevertheless served on a volunteer guard that scouted the area around Sandusky Bay and the Huron River. The area was threatened by British forces and allies.
Atkins resigned his job of sheriff in July 1813 so he could devote all his efforts to the military. He enlisted and served as a lieutenant in the western army under Gen. W. H. Harrison.
Returning to his Morgan Township farm after the war, Atkins was elected sheriff and moved his family to Jefferson. There was a four-year term limit on the sheriff’s job, and in the winter of 1819-20, Atkins was appointed auditor of the county. 
Atkins appears to have been well connected to the lawmakers of the 20-year-old state, for in 1823, he was appointed to supervise the building of the Miami and Western Reserve Road, a turnpike through the Maumee Swamp. That task took about three years.
His turnpike job was followed by a partnership venture to build a section of the canal between Cleveland and Portsmouth. The effort ended in disaster when Atkins’ partner disappeared with his investment. Atkins was left insolvent; the fruit of his years of hard labor in the wilderness vanished with the scoundrel.
Atkins then held a series of jobs that eventually took his family away from Ashtabula County. They moved to the farm of Edward Wade, Brooklyn, Cuyahoga County, in early 1839. Atkins was appointed an associate judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County, a position he held until the court was abolished by a change in the law.
During the 1830s and 40s, Atkins was active in the anti-slavery movement in both the Western Reserve and New York. 
After the death of his wife in 1853, Atkins bounced between the homes of several of his children, who were spread out from Chicago to Geneva. He died at the age of 77, at the home of his daughter, Bertha Judson, in Brooklyn.
Despite his long absences from home as a young man, Quintus fathered 10 children  — nine daughters and one son — who lived to maturity. From this offspring came a large number of very successful grandchildren who became lawyers, college professors, clergymen, railroad builders and managers, manufacturers, mill owners and sailors. One in particular, Matthew Turner, headed to California in 1850 during that state’s gold rush and struck it rich. But that’s an Odd Tale for another week.