Erie Canal – the Woodworth family, 1835 (part 2)

Continuing our look at the influence of the Erie Canal on the lives of Mequon pioneers such as Jonathan M. Clark and the Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck family (here and here), and the Bonniwell family (here). Today’s post continues our look at the first of two migrations of brother Ephraim and James Woodworth from Nova Scotia to their eventual home in Mequon. This post will make more sense if you read Part 1 first. The Woodworths were among many immigrants from Nova Scotia—including the Strickland, Loomer, Bigelow and West families—that came to Mequon and other parts of old Washington/Ozaukee county, Wisconsin Territory, during the early decades of settlement. 

Setting the scene: Eastern Canada and the Northeast United States, c. 1835

Here’s an annotated version of the map we featured in Part 1. As always, be sure to click the map to open a larger, high-resolution version in a new window. (If you’d like to see an enlarged, zoomable version of the original map, just click here.) Today’s annotated map illustrates the Woodworths’ 1835 trip as recorded in James W. Woodworth’s published diary.1 Later in this post we have another—more detailed— map to show the brothers’ wanderings in Ohio.

Walker, John and Alexr. Map of the United States; and the Provinces of Upper & Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, compiled from the latest Surveys and other authentic information, J. & A. Walker, 47 Bernal Street, Russell Square, London, and 33 Pool Lane, Liverpool, June 1st, 1827 [NE sheet], with annotations by Reed Perkins, 2021. Credit for original map David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, non-commercial use permitted under Creative Commons license. Click image to open larger map in new window. 

Nova Scotia to Ohio, March to May, 1835

The annotations show the brothers’ outward bound journey from Nova Scotia to northwest Ohio in red. The return journey is marked in blue. Solid lines represent travel by some kind of ship, broken lines represent travel on land, mostly on foot, with one segment via stagecoach.

  1. March 27, 1835, brothers James and Ephraim Woodworth depart home of Cornwallis, Kings Co., Nova Scotia aboard brig Joham, bound for Boston
  2. about April 17, 1835, arrive Boston, Massachusetts. Remain in Boston until May 3. On at least one Sunday while in Boston the brothers attended services at the Seaman’s Bethel and heard the famous Methodist preacher and temperance activist, Father Taylor
    On May 3, 1835, they depart Boston for Albany, New York, “over the mountains of Vermont, two hundred miles” via stagecoach
  3. May 5, 1835, arrive in Albany, then by foot to
  4. Schenectady, New York, where they bought passage on an Erie Canal boat to
  5. Buffalo, New York. At Buffalo they purchased passage on a steamer to Huron, Ohio.

Ohio and the settled parts of Michigan, 1834

To follow the Woodwards’ adventures in Ohio, we need another map. This one shows Ohio and the settled parts of Michigan Territory as they were in 1834, just one year before the Woodworths arrived. As on our other map, the red markings indicate the brothers’ journey from their home in Nova Scotia to the farthest point traveled on their 1835 journey. Their path homeward is marked in blue. Solid lines represent travel by ship, broken lines represent travel on land, presumably on foot.

Young, J. H, and A Finley. Map of Ohio and the settled parts of Michigan. [Philadelphia: A. Finley, 1834]. Library of Congress. Click here to open a copy of the original map without annotations. Click the map to open a larger image in a new window.

  1. about mid-May, 1835, after departing Buffalo their steamer arrived at Huron, Ohio. They traveled by foot, about 30 or 40 miles southward to the home of friend—and former Nova Scotia resident—Gideon Bigelow, brother of future Mequon pioneer Isaac Bigelow. Gideon Bigelow’s home was in Richland County, Ohio. Census records place the Bigelow home in or near the town of Plymouth, Richland County, Ohio. On this 1834 map, the Bigelow home was near the village of Truxville (now Ganges)
  2. Arrive at Gideon Bigelow’s after walking “forty miles” (current Google Map estimate is about 30 miles)

Real estate shopping in Ohio, May/June, 1835

Ohio was appealing to the Woodworths, perhaps as a future home, or perhaps as a real estate investment. After a few days with Gideon Bigelow, the brothers went in search of Ohio land to purchase.

  1. May 20, 1835, the brothers depart the Bigelow home. They join “a company going to look [for] land in the western part of the state” or, more precisely, where northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan Territory meet, in the disputed Toledo Strip
  2. Late-May, 1835, the party travels to Lenawee Co., Michigan, and find “land of most excellent quality, that was vacant, seventy miles from the land office in Monroe,” Michigan
    It turns out that Ephraim Woodward’s parcel was in the far southern part of old Lenawee County, Michigan; after the bloodless Toledo War of 1835-36, Ephraim’s land became part of Ohio. More on that, below
  3. June 1, 1835, they depart their new acreage and head to the government land office in Monroe to register and purchase it
  4. June 3, 1835, the land office in Monroe issues Patent No. 5979 to Ephraim K. Woodworth. James Woodworth’s diary always records the activities of the brothers as we, including “on the 1st day of June we left the woods for the land office, and got there on the 3d of the month, and entered at the office 120 acres of land, not leaving enough cash in pocket to half pay our bill home.” But only Ephraim’s name is on the patent for the 120 acres in section 5 of Town 10-South, Range 1-East from the Michigan-Toledo Strip meridian. They paid cash, probably $1.25 per acre, for a total cost of $150.00
  5. About June 3, 1835, they depart Monroe and return to Gideon Bigelow’s, traversing the Great Black Swamp along the way
  6. June 7, 1835, they arrive back at Gideon Bigelow’s home where they remain for a week

Return to Nova Scotia

With the deed for their new American acres in hand—and more than half their funds exhausted—the Woodward brothers decided it was time to head home to Nova Scotia. This part of the journey continues in blue on our first map:

  1. June 15, 1835, they depart Gideon Bigelow’s home in Richland County, Ohio, probably retracing their steps to
  2. Huron, Ohio, and then boarding a ship to Buffalo
  3. Their trip from Buffalo to Albany, was “mostly” by foot 2
  4. At Albany, they booked passage on a boat to go down the Hudson River to
  5. New York City, where, short of cash, they thought about joining a whaling voyage to earn enough money to get back to Nova Scotia. They headed to east toward New Bedford, Massachusetts to sign on to a whaling ship, but on the way to New Bedford they were talked out of that idea by a sailor they met on the road. At his suggestion they continued on until
  6. July 3, 1835, when they arrived in Providence, Rhode Island. They found temporary work in Providence; when they finished, they walked to
  7. Boston, Massachusetts where they found passage on a ship and sailed to
  8. St. John, New Brunswick. There they found “Capt. D. Loomer” (possibly related to the Loomer family that settled in Mequon?) and he took them in his ship across the Bay of Fundy to a small island, just north of Cornwallis on the east side of Cape Dore, called Spencer’s Island
  9. From Spencer’s Island they “took an open boat across the bay to home in Cornwallis, having been gone four and a-half months; some wiser for our experience.” They probably arrived home around mid-August, 1835

Ephraim Woodworth, real estate investor

On the first of July, 1839, Ephraim traveled from his new home in Mequon, Wisconsin Territory, to Gorham Township, Lucas County, Ohio, to sell his 1835 land.  He sold his 120 acres to one John Bouser (sometimes Bowser) of the same Gorham Township, for $330 cash. In just four years, Ephraim’s (or James and Ephraim’s?) $150 investment in Ohio land had more than doubled in value, with a final profit of $180.3

Postscript – where was Ephraim’s Ohio land?

In 1835, James and Ephraim Woodworth traveled from Nova Scotia to one of the most geographically and politically contentious areas in nineteenth-century America. By a quirk of fate, they arrived and purchased land right in the middle of the disputed Toledo Strip just as the State of Ohio and the Michigan Territory were fighting over who would control that important sliver of land.

Ephraim’s federal patent describes his land in precise surveyor’s terms: the E-1/2 of the NW-1/4 and the NW-1/4 of the NW-1/4 of section 5 of Town 10-South, Range 1-East from the Michigan-Toledo Strip Meridian, 120 acres in total. That surveyor’s description is as accurate and valid now as it was in 1835. But the Toledo War—and subsequent population growth leading to the formation of new counties—changed the political boundaries of Ephraim’s parcel more than once.

When Ephraim bought his land in mid-June, 1835, it was located in the southernmost part of Lenawee County, Michigan. After the Toledo War of 1835-36 was settled and the Ohio-Michigan boundaries clarified, the land became part of Ohio, in the newly re-drawn Lucas County. In 1850, Lucas Co. was divided in half; the western portion became, and remains, Fulton County. If you’re looking for Ephraim’s land on a modern map, you will find it in Gorham Township, Fulton County, Ohio.

Next time…

There is more to say about the Woodworths’ travels, including their migration with other Nova Scotians to Mequon, Wisconsin Territory, in Spring, 1837. And James Woodworth had some colorful experiences on an Erie Canal boat as he returned to Wisconsin after a visit to family in Nova Scotia in 1847. But I think I’ll save those stories for later. We’ll have something different on Monday.

Stay safe. Be well.



  1. All quotations in today’s post are from Woodworth, Rev. James W., My Path and the Way the Lord Led Me, Milwaukee, 1878, pages 9-11.

  2. On the large map, the blue line from number 16 to 17—the trip “mostly” on foot from Buffalo to Albany should be marked with a broken—not solid—blue line. Unfortunately, the software I used to draw this line won’t let me go back and change this at this point. Which is too bad, since I think walking pretty much all the way from Buffalo to Albany is awfully impressive.

UPDATED February 26, 2021, to add this note:

  1. When Ephraim sold his land in 1839, he realized a very large return on investment. That he could profit so substantially, and quickly, is even more remarkable considering that the country was still recovering from the economic disaster brought on by the Panic of 1837. Ephraim’s land investment appears to be another example of an early Mequon settler who was able to use newly opened federal lands to “buy low and sell high” and increase his personal wealth, even in the midst of a years-long financial depression.

4 thoughts on “Erie Canal – the Woodworth family, 1835 (part 2)

  1. What amazing walkers they were! Was this common at this time? The section by boat from Nova Scotia to Boston took 2+ weeks (460+ miles) – Buffalo to Albany is just short of 300 miles, walking! Are there any indications of how long this section of the journey took? I know pioneers that pushed west would try to travel 20 miles a day (on good days – some members of the family walking, some riding on the wagon). Whew!


    • It is pretty amazing how far—and in what conditions—people of this period traveled.

      I assume the Woodworth brothers made their lives a bit easier by taking advantage of the well-designed towpaths that ran alongside the Erie Canal for the full 362 miles between Buffalo and Albany.

      It’s not clear how long each phase of their return trip took. They left G. Bigelow’s Ohio home on June 15, and the trip back to Buffalo (based on the original journey to Ohio) may have taken a week (or less?). So from Buffalo to Albany by foot, then to New York City by ship, and then by foot to Providence, RI, took from, say, June 22 to July 3rd. Eleven days altogether.

      Let’s say the boat trip only took one day, and that the lads didn’t take any rest days in Albany or NYC. So that’s a total of 10 days to walk from Buffalo to Albany (c. 363 miles) and NYC to Providence (Google Maps says about 175 miles).

      So a total of roughly 540 miles in 10 days. That’s 54 miles a day, and completely unrealistic. If the walk and boat ride from Bigelow’s to Buffalo only took 3 days, that would give them 14 days to get from Buffalo to NYC to Providence; that’s about 38.5 miles per day. Still too unrealistic for me.

      So, like all sources, we have to look at the specific dates in J.W. Woodworth’s diary with some care. But the trip itself is still remarkable, even if the precise dates are suspect.

      I may do a few RBOH posts on hardy pioneer travelers in early Wisconsin. There are some wild stories to share.


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