On a frosty cold February night in 1935, the Hartford
area lost one of its landmark homes. Located out in the Miles
District northeast of town, the house was built by pioneer sawmill owner Fabius Miles.
Later on, it was known as the Worthington
property. For a time, it also served as the residence of Congressman
George Foulkes. Then, sometime in there, it was modernized and at
the time of its destruction by fire, Charles Nichols occupied it.
That bitterly cold night, Hartford firemen
responded with two trucks and battled the blaze with chemicals and water
pumped from the Paw Paw River. Thought to have started in a
defective chimney, the fire had progressed so far the building could not
be saved. The Nichols family's belongings had been carried out by
It was a tragic end for one of the nicest
homes in the area. When Fabius Miles built something, he spared no
effort or cost in making it the best.
Fabius came from New York State, as did many
Hartford area pioneers. His father, Jonathan Eastman Miles, was born
in New Hampshire and planted apple orchards around Watertown, New York,
where he settled and reared a family. His first wife, Mary Sheldon,
died in childbirth. Thereafter, he married her younger sister,
Lucinda, and with her had a total of seven sons and five daughters.
Life must have been rough for pioneer women-in more ways than one.
Fabius' sister, Eloise M. Abbott, came to
Michigan and was a well known newspaper correspondent in Van Buren County
until she moved to California.
Fabius went to school in Buffalo, New York,
then returned to study at the Watertown Academy. His French teacher
had been an officer in the French Army under Napoleon.
In 1838, Fabius Miles established the
Watertown Normal School. He also married Bethiah Mantle, one of the
local girls who was a gifted singer and a student of astronomy.
One of Fabius' students became a doctor-his
name was Bartholomew, and he moved to Keeler, which at the time was a
little frontier community on Territorial Road running across the area that
was to become Michigan. This may have had some bearing on Fabius
Miles' decision to try his hand a pioneering in our area. In 1844, Fabius
left his home and wife, Bethiah (who was pregnant), and came to see the
Michigan area for himself. He already had relatives living northeast
of Hartford...his cousins, Charles P. Sheldon and wife, were homesteading
on the banks of the Paw Paw River northeast of town.
Fabius wanted to make sure Hartford was the
right place to settle, so he journeyed on to Illinois, down the
Mississippi River, and then back to the Hartford area. On the way,
he contracted a fever (probably malaria), which was to plague him at times
Fall of 1844, Fabius started to build his
sawmill on the banks of the Paw Paw, estimating the total cost of the
project at $3,000. He hired a millwright and soon spent the $1,200
he had brought with him. He borrowed another $2,000, but it was not
enough. He had ordered all of the cast iron parts form Mishawaka,
Indiana (about forty miles away), and had to pay for them.
So Fabius packed his suitcase and walked to
Battle Creek. There, he borrowed seven dollars from a friend and
took "the cars",
as the railroad was called then, to Detroit. He boarded a boat for
Buffalo, N.Y., and arrived there with 25¢ in his pocket.
He found some more friends who financed the
rest of his trip home by canal boat. At Watertown, he raised $500
and started back. When he got to Hartford, this money helped him to obtain
more credit and he finished and opened his sawmill in 1847.
Fabius Miles floated many feet of lumber down
the Paw Paw River. In 1859, he took a cargo of boards to New York
City from his mill. This must have been an almost impossible task.
He floated the lumber rafts down the river in high water to St. Joseph.
Then, he had them pulled around through the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal,
and the Hudson River to New York City.
His wife, Bethiah, had come out to Michigan in
the fall of 1844. She was expecting their first child, Rebecca Jane, who
was born a month later. A philosopher once said,
A woman is like a tea bag.
You can't tell how strong she is until she gets into hot water."
Bethiah certainly proved herself getting to
the frontier and living successfully after that. Fabius wrote to
her, giving details of how to make the long and difficult journey to
Hartford. Racked by fits of fever, he scribbled by candlelight a
long letter which survives to this day. In 1931, a curio dealer
found his letter in Michigan City, Indiana, a part of a bundle of old
newspapers and other papers he was sorting for historic items.
The letter was written August 13, 1844, and
mailed at Paw Paw two days thereafter. There was no envelope, just
the letter folded over and addressed to Mrs. F. Miles, Watertown,
Jefferson County, New York. No postage stamp was used, just a
notation that 25¢ postage had been paid.
Fabius (in the letter) told his no doubt
anxious and very pregnant wife that she should not take the boat from
Buffalo to Monroe, Michigan, because the railroad was not completed from
that point across Michigan. Instead, she should go directly from
Buffalo to Detroit and take
from there to Marshall, where he would meet her.
Fabius had been suffering from symptoms of "ague"
(A febrile condition in which there are alternating periods of chills,
fever, and sweating. Used chiefly in reference to the fevers associated
with malaria. As defined in
and fever almost every other day. He said he was so weak he could
hardly write, but he believed the attacks were lessening.
If she got to Marshall, and he was unable to
meet her there, she was to take the stage coach to Paw Paw, and by that
time he would surely be well enough to meet here.
If she had to ride the stage, it would go
through the night, and she would be very tired. But she should tell
the agent or driver that her health was not very good, and she would be
glad if they would drive the coach as carefully as possible.
Fabius ended the letter by saying,
"I am tired out with
writing this letter and in addition to all that I feel very anxious to see
Yours till I see you,
Well, Bethiah made it to Hartford. One month later,
Rebecca Jane was born. This girl grew up to marry an Englishman who
came to the Hartford area.
Rebecca Miles Jelley became a teacher in the first public school
established in Hartford.
But before Rebecca was born, her parents had
as their first order of business building a home. They lived,
meanwhile, with their relatives, the Charles Sheldons.
In October, just three weeks after Rebecca was
born, Fabius moved his family into a new log cabin. It had a dirt
floor and basswood roof. For awhile, their only front door was a
blanket hung over the opening.
Quite a few Indians lived in the area and west
of their near Stoughton's Corners, Chief Simon Pokagon was to establish
his headquarters. The local Indians soon found that the Miles family
was friendly. These Native Americans were very curious about the
White Man's ways. When they came by the cabin, they would often lift
the blanket at the door and look around to see what was going on.
Then, they would continue on their way.
This must have been disconcerting to the young
frontier wife, but she soon became used to it. In fact, the squaws
would come to help her with laundry and baking. They thought white
bread to be about the height of luxury. Bethiah often had the
company of Indian women when Miles was away on business. Sometimes
the frontier family would get up in the morning and find an Indian or two
rolled up in a blanket in front of the fireplace hearth, having taken
shelter there for the night.
Isabelle J. Boyer, granddaughter of Fabius and
Bethiah Miles, recalled in later years some impression of her grandmother:
"I have no record of
Grandmother's education, but...she was well educated. For one thing,
she was well versed in astronomy. She taught me all I ever knew
about the stars. ...I remember well listening to her repeat
poetry she had learned in earlier years and to me it was very wonderful.
She had a sweet voice but could sing only a few notes when her voice would
break on account of having typhoid fever a few years before I can
Bethiah Miles was a pioneer wife and mother
who surely had the "true grit" it took to settle the wilderness.