Justice at the Old County Seat

We live in a very organized society. We accept man made laws, police, lawyers, judges, juries, courtrooms and prison to uphold the laws of a modern civilized man. But there was a time when there weren’t many man made laws and even less people to uphold these laws. For the early settlers, religion played a huge part in their lives. Knowing the difference between right and wrong, understanding the Ten Commandments and the fear of God based upon religious teaching are what allowed people to live together and prosper in wilderness communities across this great land.

It was also this way in early Abbot's Settlement* of Avery Township where people meet to have religious service and praise God. Lucy Abbott Stevens, who was the daughter of founder David Abbott, recalls what church meetings were like for early settlers “it was an old fashioned Methodist shouting and clapping of hands, it seemed to do them all good  to get together, rough and hardy ones they were, to worship God as was their wont in old Connecticut”.

But sometimes, all the praying in the world couldn’t stop fundamental laws from being broken. In 1815, F. W. Fowler, now constable of the area, married and he and his wife decided to build a two-story home on the designed county seat property. He also built it large enough to open a tavern in front of the home. About that time, David Abbott (who owned the land) and Ebenezer Merry (who owned land next to the county seat) got together and decided since Fowler was the constable; they would recommend for him to build a jail beside his tavern/house. Since he was on the county seat property and the constable, he agreed to build a log cabin jail beside his house.  In 1817, a rumor began that a young woman had murdered her child - infanticide. And Fowler, who was a religious man, swore to protect those that could not protect themselves, received a writ from the court to arrest the woman.

After arresting the young woman - Peggy Van Duesen, he took her before the Justice Court and they, in turn, bound her to the Court of Common Pleas to answer to the laws of the country, for the crime committed. The Sheriff of the territory, Lyman Farwell, appointed Constable Fowler as his deputy and the jailer, so he did his duty which was to take her to his new jail. He kept her in jail until the court was seated which was no easy task because they had to find a a group of men to sit on the jury and find a place to set up the courtroom. Meanwhile Constable Fowler was running his tavern, being constable of Huron/Avery, performing duties as a deputy, being jailer of the woman prisoner and spending time with his new wife at home.   

This was the first murder trial at the town of Abbot's Settlement, so it was important to the settlers, who lived in this area, to do it correctly. Sitting as judges of the trial were George Tod of Youngstown and Jabez Wright as presidents of the court and Stephen Meeker and Joseph Strong who were Associate judges. The Grand Jury was seated and sworn in and received the charge of the court.  The court then put the jury in charge of the Sheriff, who had no idea what to do with the jury, so he passed on the responsibility of the jury to his deputy - Constable Fowler. Since no jury had even been sworn in at this area, Fowler also had no indication what to do with the jury. The judges used the one room schoolhouse, which was an old Indian log cabin, for the courtroom which left no place to put the Grand Jury who had already heard the testimony of the charges.  

After discussing this situation with David Abbott, who was also an attorney, Fowler decided to take the woman out of his jail and put her in his personal custody so that he could put the jury in the jail for deliberations. He then moved chairs into the jail and generally prepared the jail for the Grand Inquest which the jury wanted for their deliberations. He then moved the jury to the jail and told them that if they need anything, to let him know and he left them to deliberate. After some time he had not heard from the jury and he approached the jail door and knocked to which he got no answer. He knocked again and still no answer. He thought this strange so he opened the door to put his head into the room to check on the jury but to his surprise, the room was empty.

Entering the room, Fowler surmised that the jury had left for parts unknown, never to return as jury members. Fearing that the Sheriff would hold him responsible for the jury’s disappearance, he immediately notified the Sheriff of the jury’s flight and then took the prisoner back to the jail to await instructions. He didn’t hear from the judges or the Court or even the Sheriff until one day he finally received an order to release the prisoner. No one really knows why the jury left the jailhouse, but no decision was made in the first murder trial at the old county seat.

 

* Abbot’s Settlement: When David Abbot purchased 1800 acres on both sides of the Huron River, this area was part of Avery Township (now known as Milan Township – part of Section Two) which was on both sides of now Mason Road.  Later, Abbot submitted to the recorder’s office a “Town of Huron” which was on the east side of the river and this area became briefly the County Seat on Huron Township until it was moved to Norwalk in 1818. Abbot’s Settlement is also known with historians as Abbott’s Settlement, Avery Twp, Huron, Avery (there is no record of changing the name from Huron to Avery) and the old county seat. The old town of Huron/Avery are gone today and they have no relationship to the current towns of Huron or Avery in Northern Ohio today.

 
Source Material: The Firelands Pioneer, November 1858, Memoirs of Milan Township by F. W. Fowler - Page 28
 

The book "The Town of Milan" by Jas. A. Ryan, which was published in 1928, tells a different story. According to his research, the trail was held at David Abbott's house and the jury's verdict was not guilty. I really like this book by Ryan, but I have gone with F. W. Fowler's account since he was actually there and a principal part of the trail.

 
Milan Pioneer Stories
Rattlesnakes at Old Women Creek
Justice at the Old County Seat
 The Tragic Story of Return Ward
 

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