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Posts Tagged ‘women’s history’

In Erie Street Cemetery in Cleveland, in the shadow of Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, lie the graves of Lorenzo and Rebecca Carter, the first permanent settlers of European descent in Cleveland.  There were other people who traveled to what is now Cleveland the Western Reserve at around the same time, but they either returned east or settled in other areas.

Carter graves

But before I went to Erie Street Cemetery, most of the references I found identified Lorenzo as the first settler, and merely referred to Rebecca as his wife.  First I confirmed that Rebecca and Lorenzo were married by the time he is reported as coming to Cleveland in  1797 – yep, they were married in 1789. I made sure that Rebecca and Lorenzo traveled together – all the references state that Lorenzo and Rebecca and their children moved here in 1797.  But somehow, in a lot of sources, Lorenzo is called the first settler, and Rebecca, if she gets mentioned at all, is relegated to being Lorenzo’s wife and is treated as being of little to no historical importance.  In the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Lorenzo gets credit as the first settler; Rebecca doesn’t even get her own entry. Ohio History Central does the same thing: Lorenzo is the “first permanent white settler;” Rebecca is grouped as part of the family he “relocated.” In her book Cleveland Cemeteries, Vicki Blum Vigil  identifies Erie Street Cemetery as the final resting place of Lorenzo Carter, first permanent settler, barely mentioning Rebecca.

What does it say about our assumptions about gender that two people can move together to a frontier, full of unknowns and potential danger, both working together to create a life in an alien place, but only one comes down through the history books as the first settler? The other is downgraded in our memories as merely a helpmeet. I’m sure Lorenzo and Rebecca Carter did different things on the frontier that Cleveland once was, but I’m sure they both contributed to the family’s success – they both had to be in it together for their family on the Cuyahoga River to survive. To see Rebecca essentially forgotten or a made into a footnote is sad.

The Early Settlers Association added a marker for the Carters, since the previous grave slabs are utterly unreadable.  Here, finally, Rebecca is listed on the same level as Lorenzo.  Above their graves is a metal plaque that reads simply “They remained – others fled.”  An elevated rectangular marker between Lorenzo and Rebecca’s monuments states:

Graves of Lorenzo & Rebecca Carter, the first permanent white settlers in Cleveland
Lorenzo, Died February 8, 1814, Aged 47 years
Rebecca, Died 1827, Aged 61 years
When others fled fever and ague the Carters stayed

Lorenzo and Rebecca Carter

The contrast between the stone and the writing is not ideal, and it’s already starting to show some wear. The best photograph I have seen of the Carters’ marker is here.

RIP, Lorenzo and Rebecca Carter, first permanent settlers of European descent in Cleveland. Thank you both.

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