Three Wisconsin Women of the Waves
Many pioneer women aren’t historically famous, but their places in history are footnoted in state, local, and other records. Mary Ann Wadhams Hunt, Elizabeth Ashby Manville, and Naomi Dunn Davis Wood were three ordinary pioneering women who contributed to Wisconsin Maritime history.
Mary Ann Wadhams Hunt was born in Goshen, Connecticut on January 22, 1801. In 1811, when she was nine, her parents moved to Genesseo Valley in Western New York, famous for its beautiful woodlands and rolling hills. After an overland journey in three covered immigrant wagons, the Wadhams family settled at Mount Morris. Mary Ann’s mother brought the first side saddle, the first brass kettle and the first set of china dishes in the country.
Mary Ann’s years in Mount Morris were pioneer years of great hardship. Her sturdy father farmer transported loads of wheat by wagons over Indian trails across New York to trade it in Connecticut, a journey that took weeks to make. When the Erie Canal was finished in 1825, a great roar of cannons reverberated on Lake Erie's shores as people celebrated a quicker way to travel.
On October 23, 1807, Mary Ann Wadhams married Dr. Hiram Hunt, a physician from Mount Morris, New York. They shared the busy life of a pioneer physician until he died in October 1853.
The Seneca Indians had long lived in this region so Mary Ann’s house was surrounded by log houses and wigwams and some of her playmates were Indian children. She knew "Tall Chief" well and Red Jacket, a distinguished Indian orator, was often a guest at her father's table. She watched the last sacrifice of a pure white dog killed and burned to appease the Great Spirit and studied the Indians circling the fire and dancing.
Mary Ann Wadhams also knew Mrs. Mary Jemison. The Indians captured Mary Jemison, a white woman who was the only survivor of her family after the Wyoming massacre. Mary Jemison married an Indian, and lived near the Wadhams. Mary Ann Wadhams marveled that Mary Jemsion refused to return to her people, but preferred to live with the Indians.
Mary Ann vividly remembered events of the Revolutionary War and that as a little girl she met many officers of the Revolutionary Army. During the War of 1812 she witnessed the British burning many of the towns along Lake Erie.
In 1823, Mary Ann Wadhams Hunt crossed Lake Erie from Buffalo to Detroit and she traveled as far as Mackinac Island. She distinctly remembered Commodore Perry's battle against the British.
In 1868, Mary Ann Hunt moved to Beloit, Wisconsin with her daughter Catherine Fayette Royce. They settled in a home on College Avenue, facing Beloit College. When Mary was 73 years old, she and her granddaughter, Mary Royce, revisited Mount Morris, New York. Mary found the traveling on the lakes much easier and more comfortable than on her first trip to Wisconsin.
According to Folders 55 and 56 of the Student Records of the Litchfield Female Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut, Mary Ann Wadhams had gone to school there and lived to be over one hundred years old.
Elizabeth Ashby Manville
Elizabeth Ashby Manville was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on January 16, 1843 and died on January 27, 1924. William Ashby, her father, came from Rome, New York, to Wisconsin in 1836 and entered the lumbering business around Sheboygan. She was educated in a one room log schoolhouse near where she was born and later taught her children in the same cabin. In 1867, Elizabeth married Fayette Manville, a photographer who maintained a studio at Sheboygan, Algoma, Kewaunee and Sturgeon Bay.
Elizabeth saw shipping begin and grow on Lake Michigan. She was only four when the Steamer Phoenix burned a short distance from the port of Sheboygan, but she remembered it vividly. On Sunday, November 2, 1847, the propeller Phoenix, captained by B.G. Sweet, was upward bound on Lake Michigan. At 4 o'clock, about 15 miles north of Sheboygan and several miles from shore, disaster struck. Firemen on duty discovered flames on the underside of the deck above the boiler. They immediately activated three pumps and several lines of water buckets, but the flames crackled and danced and consumed the ship.
There were about 250 people-both passengers and crew on board. Twenty five of the people were cabin passengers, five American steerage passengers and 160 were emigrants from Holland. Some of the emigrants jumped overboard immediately. Others climbed the shrouds and clung to the rat lines up to the very cross trees of the ship. As soon as the fire reached the combustible material, the people were thrown back into the flames.
The Propeller Delaware arrived at the scene of the disaster about two hours after the fire was discovered and helped rescue those in the water. The burning hulk of the Phoenix was towed to shore near Sheboygan. About 190 people were killed.
An extra to the local newspaper, the Sheboygan Mercury, gave the death toll as 250 and over. It said that the fire originated from the boilers not being filled with water and becoming heated so as to ignite the wood lying adjacent and was not discovered until the flames burst forth, instantly enveloping the whole boat.
One reason Elizabeth remembered the Phoenix so vividly was that many of the survivors of the Phoenix were brought to Sheboygan and given food and shelter and assistance. The Ashby family was very active in the rescue work. They took an immigrant girl into their home and the girl remained there for several months.
Naomi Dunn Davis Wood
Naomi Dunn Davis was born in Shiloh, New Jersey on September 8, 1800. She married Lewis N. Wood of Cumberland County, New Jersey in 1821 and the young couple moved to New York.
In 1832, they moved to Waterville, where Mr. Wood conducted the Academy and studied medicine. He graduated from the Geneva Medical College in 1837. After he graduated, Lewis Wood came to Chicago by way of Buffalo, where he took a sailing vessel on the Great Lakes. His wife and eight children went to New Jersey to visit relatives before going to Chicago, which then had a population of about 3,000 people. When Mrs. Wood traveled with her children, they went by boat from New York City to Albany, then by canal boat to Buffalo and then by sailing vessel on the lakes.
The boat that Dr. Wood expected his family to sail on burned on the way to Chicago with the loss of all passengers. He thought that all of his family had died until the boat they were really aboard arrived. The Canal boat from Albany had been so slow that they missed the ill-fated ship. The Wood family had a joyful reunion The Woods didn't like Chicago, so they bought 360 acres of land in Walworth County and went there to live in 1839.
Dr. Wood practiced medicine and Naomi established a pioneer home centered around books and reading. She managed a big farm efficiently, trained her children, and helped her husband as much as she could, even assisting him in medical emergencies. Naomi often told her grandchildren the story of her voyage to Wisconsin.