John Shafer and Lydia Dodge: early Michigan settlers

(Midwestern migration)

John Joseph Shafer: A Life story, 1819-1895

John Joseph SHAFER was born 22 April 1810 in New York at a location  believed to be near Albany.
John was first  married at about age 19 years, in New  York state, unfortunately the name of his wife has not been either located or preserved. This union produced two daughters: Hanna  Maria, born in 1829 in New York  and Harriet B., born before 1837.

It is believed  that John and his first wife separated in Pennsylvania before 1837.
Still in Pennsylvania, John married his second wife, our ancestor, Lydia A. Dodge. Lydia was born 2 May 1813, in New York  state. John and Lydia  remained together for the rest of their lives.

Little is known of John’s early years; children were born to him and his first wife in New York state; it is  said that he had worked on the Erie Canal,  which opened in 1825. Information gathered from the Lawrence Township, Van  Buren County, Michigan census of 1860 showed the family had moved to Carlisle  Township, Lorain, Ohio around 1836-37, where their eldest son, ♥ Martin Jackson was born 16 October 1837. Lorain is located twenty eight miles west of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, on the coast of Lake Erie.

Birth records show that the family moved to Ingham County, Michigan between March 1849 and February 1851 where the last of their children were born.

In 1855, the family moved to Lawrence Township in Van Buren County, Michigan. John Shafer was one of the first white men to settle in that area, which was west of a lake on the township line next to Hartford Township.  The lake was named, Shafer Lake after settler John Shafer. In the year 2011, the lake still bears the Shafer  family name.

John acquired a considerable tract of land in Lawrence and Hartford Townships. A piece of this land was donated for a school on Lawrence Township. The Shafer School, as it came to be called, was built on the property, located on the northeast corner of the crossroad that runs to the south of Shafer Lake.
The building was “The Shafer School, Hartford andLawrenceTownship’s Fractional District No. 7”.

[Howard Leroy Shafer wrote the following account in 1967]
“John Joseph Shafer the one this history is about, the writer well remembers the tellings of his first settling in Lawrence Township, Michigan.

How they cleared the forest land of Beech, Maple, Walnut, Cycamore Whitewood (better known as Yellow Poplar or Tulip trees) and many others, by cutting them down and piling in great heaps, all the logs with the brush, then set them on fire (logs like these would be a prize today), so they could till
the land between the stumps.”

“A section of very large Sycamore log which was hollow was used as a smoke house for meat. By standing it on end, cutting a door in the side to walk through–so they could hang up their meat to be smoked on metal hooks…a roof made of boards fastened lengthwise to the sloping cut of the top end of the log. They used Hickory wood for the smoke. After his death his youngest son, John W. Shafer used it for many years- later it was returned to the old home place, which is now owned by one of the descendants, Clayton F. Shafer (R.R. 2, Hartford, Michigan)”

“Crops raised were beans, corn, hops, oats and wheat. The last two were harvested with cradle scythe, tied with a few stalks of grain into bundles, which were stored in the barn to be threshed; this usually done in cold weather.
Beans were pulled by hand when ripe. All were thrashed out with a flail–a wooden instrument made of a long pole, about eight feet long and about one and a half inches in diameter and a two and a half long pole, fastened to the end of the other with rawhide. It could be swung into a circular motion and
let fall on the grain which would spread out in thin layers on the floor, thus knocking out the grain. On cold frosty days was the best for this, the items being threshed would seem to pop out of its hulls. The grain and beans then would be cleaned by running them through a fanning mill which was turned by hand, with a crank.”

“Hops, a vine that grew several feet long, was raised on poles into the ground. They would have cone shaped blooms which were picked at a certain time, these were steamed and dried in what was called a hop house. They were used in making yeast for bread, balance sold for use in malt for liquor and narcotics.”

“How they use to catch wild pigeon, now extinct, with large trap nets, set out in the fields where they came to feed.. Sometimes flocks were so large they would darken the ground as if a cloud were in the heavens. When these traps were sprung often they would catch them by the hundreds. They would take them in to town where they would sell them for as little as  fifty cents a dozen, to be sent to the larger towns of city. They often would roost at night in the woods nearby, and sometimes they would be so many on a single large limb it would break the limb off.”

In 1860 or shortly thereafter, John a Lydia’s youngest daughter, several  year old, Lodema, died of TB. It was thought at the time that the disease gained access to Lodema’s system after she had breathed hot steam (!) through he mouth and into her lungs from a boiling tea kettle when she was a small child.

“…some of the Pottawattamie Indians (the tribe use to live around Lake Michigan’s southern shores) use to come in summer months and put up their teepees along the roadside and then work for the farmers. As late as 1906 the writer remembers them along the road about a mile and a half south of the old Shafer homestead, and not far from where the writer lived they picked huckleberries in the swamps for the owners.

When not working for others they would make baskets from Black Ash logs, which they usually stole from nearby woods. They made cloths baskets, hampers with covers, market baskets and many others in many sizes. They would beat the log with a maul to remove the bark and a hard layer of wood, while the log was still full of sap. This allowed the soft layers to be mashed so they could
remove each layer at a time, in long strips as long as the log. They would cut this into desired widths they wanted for the many styles of baskets. They stained some for decoration with natural stains they would gather–blue, green, red and yellow most common used.”

“The writer has attended Indian picnics and dances given by them to raise money to keep up the
church and burial ground they used,. Located in a thicket on the south bank of Rush Lake, north west of Hartford, Michigan about four miles.

They put on a War Dance, used bow and arrow, and boomerang. Also dance for all who wished to. The church has long been gone; few markers were used for the dead and remain.”
End of Howard Leroy Shafer’s account.

In the  years  after 1860, the Shafer family cabin burned down. John Sr. and his youngest son John Wyman Shafer Jr., who’d became a carpenter, built a new house just north of the  Shafer School.

Some  of John Joseph’s children and many of his descendants, including Howard Leroy  Shafer, attended the Shafer School.
The school house burned down twice and thereafter was not rebuilt. The old home place and school ground was in 1967, still owned by a Shafer descendant.

John’s wife, Lydia, died 26 April 1882 in Lawrence Township at age 68 years 11 months and was buried in the New Lawrence Hill Cemetery.

John was a prosperous farmer who loved nice horses. One day he hitched a colt to a sulky in order to break him in for driving. They headed east on the road to Shafer’s Lake where the colt ran away with
him-going off the road and throwing him against a tree. The injury received by 84 year old John J. Shafer caused his death shortly thereafter on 5 February 1895. John was buried alongside his wife in the New Lawrence Hill Cemetery.

A large monument has been set at their grave site with their names and a verse inscribed:

“No pompus marble to
their name we raise this stone
Bespeak their praise
Potential fondness
did their life attend,
A tender mother and a
faithful friend.”

Some time before his death, John deeded parcels of about 28 acres to each of his heirs. On 20 February 1895, John W. Shafer Jr. petitioned for an administrator to divide his father’s  personal property which had an estimated value of about $900. Elijah M. Shafer, another of John‘s sons became administrator and listed the heirs to receive  their share. The Will was not probated.

The Shafer family descended through Martin Jackson Shafer, to his son Charles Elmer  Shafer, to his son Pearl Elmer Shafer, to daughter Hazel May (Shafer) to myself, Larry and daughter Jane Elizabeth.

John  Joseph Shafer: A Life story has been, taken  from the 93 page family genealogy book, Descendants of John Shafer 1810-1967 by Howard Leroy Shafer, who was born in 1898.

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Filed under My family in history, __4. Midwestern migration

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