Res. of the Late
Rev. G. H. Cowles
(built by him in 1815)
Ashtabula Co., O
REV. DR. GILES HOOKER COWLES. *
Rev. Dr. Giles Hooker Cowles, the first
settled minister of Austinburg and Morgan, and in fact of Ashtabula
County, emigrated to the former town from Bristol, Connecticut, with
his family, consisting of a wife, eight children, and a hired man,
in the year of 1811. He was a son of Ezekiel and Martha
Hooker Cowles, of Farmington, Connecticut, and was born in that
place, Aug. 26, 1766. He was descended from John Cowles,
who settled in Farmington in the year of 1652, and who was one of
three brothers who emigrated from England in 1635. His mother
was a daughter of Major Giles Hooker, of Farmington, and a
lineal descendant of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, the first
clergyman who settled in Connecticut. After having prepared
himself for college under the tuition of Rev. William Robinson,
of Southington, Dr. Cowles entered Yale college, and
graduated there with honor in the year 1789. During his
studies he became hopefully pious. He pursued his theological
studies with Dr. Jonathan Edwards, the younger, then of New
Haven. In 1791 he was licensed to preach, and in 1792 he
received a call from the Congregational church of Bristol, and was
ordained and installed over that church the 17th of October of that
year, Rev. Dr. Edwards preaching the ordination sermon, and
the Rev. Timothy Pitkins, of Farmington, Rev. John Smalley,
of New Britain, Rev. Rufus Hawley, of Avon, Rev. William
Robinson, of Southington, Rev. Simon Waterman, of
Plymouth, Rev. Benoni Upton, of Kensington, Rev. Jonathan
Miller, of Burlington, and Rev. Israel B. Woodward, of
Walcott, with their delegates, constituting the ordaining council.
In February, 1793, he was married to Miss Sallie,
daughter of Lebbeus White, of Stamford, Connecticut, a
direct descendant of Peregrine White, the first white
child born in New England, and also a descendant, on his mother’s
side, from a Huguenot family by the name of De Grasse,
which name was subsequently changed to Weed. Mrs.
Cowles was a woman of extraordinary beauty and great culture
for the time she lived, of remarkable force of character, of
intellectual power, and a model Christian minister’s wife and
mother. Although at the time of her marriage she was not a
member of the church, she became one in 1795.
Dr. Cowles preached in Bristol for nearly
eighteen years, when he was dismissed by mutual consent, May 10,
1810. The record of the church contained this entry:
“ Mr. Cowles, at the close of seventeen years’
and seven months’ ministry in this place, on the 27th of May, 1810,
preached his farewell sermon, from Hebrews xiii. 17:
"For they watch for your souls as they that must give
an account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief, for
that is unprofitable for you,’ to a crowded assembly, who were very
much affected, and appeared to regret the unhappy circumstances
which rendered the trying parting scene necessary. ‘Perhaps
the instance was never known that a minister and people ever parted
with so much harmony, but for wise purposes Providence has ordered
“There were four seasons of awakening during Mr.
Cowles’ ministry. Two hundred and eighteen members were added
to the church,—one hundred and eighty-one from the world entered
upon their profession, and thirty-seven by letters from other
churches. Sixty-seven, received in 1799, marked ‘a year never
to be forgotten.’ Of the two hundred and eighteen,
seventy-four were gone by deaths, removals, and excommunications.
The number remaining at his dismission, one hundred and sixty-two;
of these, but seventeen were members when he settled with them.
The church parted with a truly faithful minister, whose choice was
to live and die with them; but he has gone, and the church and
society’s duty is plain,—to endeavor to choose another who will be
as faithful to the souls committed to his charge, to support him and
assist him to fulfill the arduous task imposed on him.”
Hon. Tracy Peck, in a historical address he
delivered on the occasion of the celebration, in the year 1859, of
the fiftieth anniversary of the appointment of Charles G. Ives
as deacon of the church in Bristol, made the following reference to
“Mr. Cowles entered upon and pursued his
work here as a learned, pious, and faithful minister of the gospel.
He was never a healthy, robust man, being always afflicted with an
infirmity in one leg, which caused him to halt in his walk, and
frequently suffered much from salt-rheum. He was agreeable and
exceedingly interesting in all his intercourse with the people, and
was accustomed to visit often in the families and the schools. He
often examined the children and scholars in the shorter catechism,
he talked and prayed with them, regarding all this as a part of his
pastoral duties, a duty which he much loved, and his love was fully
reciprocated, and was one of the links which bound him to this
people, to those children and pupils, in so strong, endearing, and
lasting bonds of love and affection.
“Those of us here who were then children in those
families or in those schools, cannot well forget those days and
scenes, the remembrance of which is so sweet, so refining and
elevating, nor forget the name of the Rev. Giles Hooker Cowles,
so interestingly connected with them. And I have yet to learn
that there has been improvement in these particulars.
“Dr. Cowles was a sound and successful minister,
and during the seventeen years and eight months of his stay here
there were additions to this church each year, save 1804 and 1808.
The whole number was two hundred and eighteen, leaving in membership
at his dismission one hundred and sixty-two. At the head of
the admissions I see the name of my venerated and beloved mother, to
whom, for a long while, I have felt myself indebted for several of
the leading features in my life and character. Yet the great
and never-to-be-forgotten year in the ministry of Mr.
Cowles is that of 1799, when there was a general outpouring of
the Holy Spirit upon this church, a large proportion of the
community, and the hearts of the people in many places of our State
“How appropriate the entry made by Dr. Cowles upon the
records, where he says, ‘A YEAR NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN' ”
“Then it was that the Bible was so generally read by
the old and the young. Then it was that so many humble and
penitent prayers were offered upon the bended knees, from hearts
having great and alarming views of their sin and guilt, and pleading
for mercy in and through a Redeemer’s blood. Oh, how few are
here to-day who were here in 1799, and experienced for the first
time the sweets of redeeming grace! The refreshing influences
of the Holy Spirit were so pure, and the scenes so awful, yet so
rich, that I cannot, in this review, pass over them in silence.
Dr. Cowles has placed upon the records, 'That the year
of 1798 was one of great opposition to divine truth, and a neglect
of religious and public worship seemed to increase, and but one made
a public profession of religion.’ Much trouble and altercation
about school districts, etc. But God was pleased, in
1799, to pour out his Spirit upon the people in a remarkable manner,
and produced a revival of religion which ought to be recorded for
the information of posterity and to the glory of his glorious grace.
The first appearance of this work was at a lecture about the middle
of February. The Rev. Messrs. Joshua
Williams, of Harwinton, and Joseph Washburn, of Farmington, were
present, and gave some account of the revivals in some neighboring
towns. Two sermons were delivered in the afternoon, and divine
truth appeared to be attended with divine power. An unusual
attention and seriousness were apparent in the congregation, and
numbers seemed greatly affected and in tears. In the evening a
meeting was held at a large school-house, which was thronged, and
divine influence seemed more powerful than in the afternoon.
Within a week nearly fifty were under conviction, and ten or twelve
entertained a hope; and from the 31st of March, 1799, to May 1,
1800, one hundred were added to the church, sixty-one females and
“I suppose that there are two or three persons now here
who were present at these two meetings mentioned by Dr. Cowles.
“The years 1798, 1799, and 1800 were years of
excitement in this church and in the political movements of this
State and nation.
“In December, 1798, the Baptist society was organized.
Early in 1799, Elder Daniel Wildman, of the Baptist church,
moved into town and commenced religious services, which were mostly
held in his own house. His labors seemed to have a favorable
effect upon his hearers, and during that year several were baptized
by immersion and added to his church, two of whom were members of
“The question of baptism was discussed with interest
and produced great excitement. Mr. Cowles
delivered two sermons in proof of the duty of infant baptism, which
were enlarged and published in three sermons, together with an
appendix, by Rev. Jonathan Miller, then pastor
of the church in Burlington, which were circulated and read, and had
a soothing and quieting influence over one of the existing elements
of that day. . . .
“The council met here May 24, 1810, and, agreeably to
mutual consent, dismissed Mr. Cowles, and in their
result they say, ‘that they find that this church style him their
beloved pastor,’ and to whom the church return their thanks for the
faithfulness, ability, prudence, and zeal with which he served them
in the duties of the Christian ministry for seventeen years and
“ I was present on that occasion, and a society meeting
was holden, of which that worthy and much-respected man, Deacon
Bryan Hooker, was moderator and, while standing in the old
deacon's seat, and stating to the meeting the important transactions
of the day, he became so much affected and overcome that he seemed
to lose the power of speech. He stood silent for a while.
The tears then flowed free and abundant.
“I was then at the age of twenty-five years, and I have
often thought that I never attended a meeting so deep, so solemn,
and so impressive as was that. I do believe that during the
remaining sixteen years of the life of Deacon Bryan
Hooker, I looked upon his person and upon his private and public
character and acts with more respect than I could otherwise have
done; and that his whole life and character, while he lived and
since his death, have appeared to me more grand and more lovely, and
have had a greater effect on me, than has almost any other
transaction of his life.
“Mr. Cowles and his family left this
place for Austinburg, Ohio, May 21, 1811, where he was settled in
the ministry, and remained until his death. His daughter,
Miss Martha Hooker Cowles, of Austinburg,
having heard of this movement by this church, wrote to me, and says,
‘We, the younger members of the family, cannot from recollection
give much information. We, of course, were always interested
in Bristol as the place of our birth and associations of childhood,
and the names of Lewis and Ives were household words
to us.’ She gives the names and ages of the children of her
parents when they left Bristol. She also says ‘that her
parents and two of her brothers have passed away.’
“She sent me the following, being copies of the
inscriptions on the tombstones of her parents and brother Edward,
“ ‘Edward died in 1823, aged twenty-one years.
A very dutiful, affectionate son to his parents. Thou destroyest the
hope of man.
“ ‘This was engraven on his tombstone, as expressive of
my father’s feelings at the time.’
“ In Memory of
MRS. SALLY COWLES,
Rev. Giles II. Cowles, D.D.,
Died July 23d, 1S30.
Aged 56 years.
• The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.’
“ In Memory of
REV. GILES H. COWLES, D.D.,
Died July 5th, 1835,
Aged 69 years, and the 42d year
of his Ministry.
‘Yea, saith the Spirit, for they rest
from their labor, and their works do follow them.’
“I remember the wife of Dr. Cowles.
She was a woman of beauty, of superior education, and all her
intercourse with others was of a high, interesting, and finished
character. For a number of years I have seldom opened the
present first volume of our church records but I have seen and
readily recognized her handwriting, as she recorded and wrote much
for her husband.”
The foregoing extracts show the estimation in which
Dr. Cowles stood with his people in Bristol. He was
indeed a most pious and devoted minister of religion, whose sole
ambition was to serve only Him who suffered to save sinners.
His piety, his conscientiousness in the performance of his duty as a
minister of Christ, and amiability of character were household words
among the members of the church in Bristol, which lias been handed
down traditionally in that place. When a son of Dr.
Cowles, Mr. William E. Cowles, visited Bristol, in 1875,
for the first time since he left there a boy, he found not one
living who remembered hearing or seeing his father, but he found
many who knew of his father by reputation, and for the sake of the
memory of that good pastor they, the descendants of those who sat
under his preaching, tendered him a most hearty welcome.
It will be seen by the records we have quoted from that
Dr. Cowles preached in Bristol for nearly eighteen years, ending in
1810, when he dissolved his connection with the church. At
this time Ashtabula County had been settled ten years. Owing
to the scantiness of the population, no minister had yet settled in
that county. What little there was of the gospel that had been
expounded during that time was done by that good old
pioneer-missionary, Father Badger, who was wont to
make his semi-occasional visit in the various parts of the county,
preaching in the log meeting-houses, barns, cabins, and frequently
in God’s temple, under His mighty blue dome, amidst the
primeval forest grove. The good accomplished by this faithful
servant of Christ can only be known by searching the records
on high, but a truer, more self-denying, more earnest, more
conscientious, and more effective worker in the cause of religion
than was Father Joseph Badger never lived. He
has gone to that blessed land where live the just and the righteous,
to meet those whom he has brought unto the Lord, and there he
will reside forever. As the sequel will prove, Dr.
Cowles became a most worthy co-laborer in the vineyard of the
Lord with this estimable pioneer missionary. During the
spring of this year (1810), Mrs. Austin, the wife of
Judge Eliphalet Austin, of Austinburg, a woman of
great piety, innate strength of mind, and energy, came to the
conclusion that they ought to have a settled minister; that the
field was ripe for a bountiful spiritual harvest, and she notified
her husband that she would go back to old Connecticut on horseback
and hunt up a minister! And sure enough that brave woman, with
all her change of clothing in a traveling portmanteau, started alone
on horseback on that long journey to Connecticut, six hundred miles
away, through an unsettled country, and almost unbroken forests most
of the way. She arrived safely at her destination after a ride
of over thirty days. We have in our mind’s eye some of her
great-granddaughters who, when they made a journey taking about
one-half of that time, were constrained to take along several
enormous Saratoga trunks. What would they have thought of
traveling on a thirty days’ journey with their wardrobes
concentrated into a portmanteau? We cannot help drawing a
contrast. In spite of their thorough modern education, their
culture and accomplishments, and the advantages they had of living
in the midst of a higher grade of civilization, they can never excel
their good old grandmother in her piety, in all that made the true
woman, in the amount of the sound sense she possessed, of the
strength of character she had, the remarkable energy she showed, and
the heart she had overflowing with kindness.
Mrs. Austin went to Bristol, and was
closeted with Mrs. Cowles, and there she brought up
the subject of the need of a minister to preach the gospel in New
Connecticut. Mrs. Cowles fell in with the idea
of having her husband accept the call thus tendered by the intrepid
woman who had come so far for that purpose. She saw in the
then far distant Western Reserve rich and cheap land, and a chance
for her boys to fight successfully their way through life. The
matter was broached to her husband, and he was easily persuaded to
take a trip to New Connecticut, and make a prospective examination
of the field which he had been invited to cultivate.
Accordingly he started on horseback, and reached Austinburg, and the
result of his examination was that he concluded to move his family
there. He returned to Bristol, and in the following year,
1811, he took an affectionate leave of his old parishioners, with
whom he had been associated so long. We of this fast age are
in the habit of accomplishing that same journey, with the comfort
and adjunct of the sleeping-car, in from twenty-four to twenty-eight
hours, and can communicate with absent friends (literally in no time
at all) by telegraph. The leave-taking of the pastor and his
family from those whom they loved so well—the numerous and
affectionate relatives, the loving parishioners, the pious and
warm-hearted deacons, and the playmates of the children—was
unusually sad and solemn. This can be appreciated when it is
considered that the country they were emigrating to at that time was
thirty to forty days’ journey off, over horrible mud and corduroy
roads, up and down steep ungraded hills, with scarcely any hotels on
the wayside, with the consciousness that the probability was very
remote indeed of any ever returning again to the scenes of their
childhood, and this too at a time wheu it took over two months for a
letter to be sent and delivered and au answer received, at an
expense of fifty cents' postage both ways.
The farewell sermon preached by Mr. Cowles
on the Sunday previous to his departure was very impressive, and the
congregation presented a mournful appearance; but the doctor showed
a spirit of cheerful resignation to the force of circumstances.
For days previous to the departure the old parsonage was thronged
with callers from Bristol, Farmington, and the surrounding towns, to
bid the pastor and his family tearful farewells.
Dr. Cowles’ family at that time consisted
of himself, wife, eight children, and a hired man. His
furniture was loaded on to two wagons, and he himself, wife, and the
smaller children rode in a carriage. His children were
Edwin, aged seventeen years; Sally, fifteen years;
William Elbert, thirteen years; Edward, ten
years; Martha, seven years; Cornelia and Lysander
(twins), four years; Betsey, then an infant, aged one year.
It was in this manner that the caravan of the pastor traveled on its
long journey through forest and unsettled region, for the
far-distant Western Reserve.
After passing through the ordeals incident to such a
journey, Dr. Cowles reached Austinburg in the summer of 1811.
There being no “hotels” in that newly-settled region, and the houses
of the settlers small, and mostly of logs, for the first few days he
and his family took possession of the log church or “meeting-house,”
as the New Englanders called their places of worship, which was then
located at the Centre, about in front of the present town-house.
Soon the neighbors gathered from all around, and, wielding the axe
only as pioneer axemen can, in an incredible short period of time
they erected a commodious log dwelling, near the site of the present
homestead, for the pastor and his family to occupy. He was
installed pastor over the united church of Austinburg and Morgan in
the following September, and the entire ministry of the Western
Reserve assisted on that occasion. They were Rev. Joseph
Badger, of Ashtabula; Rev. J. Leslie, of Harpersfield ;
Rev. Thomas Barr, of Euclid ; Rev. J. Beers, of
Springfield; Rev. N. B. Darrow, of Vieuna; and Rev. Mr.
Spencer, of Fredonia, New York.
The members of the Austinburg church at that time, as
furnished from memory by Mr. William Elbert Cowles, were as
follows: Captain Stephen Brown and wife, Joab Austin
and wife, Deacon Moses Wilcox and wife,
Benjamin Sweet and wife, Mrs. Joseph B. Cowles, Samuel
Ryder and wife, Colonel Roswell Austin and
wife, Deacon Joseph M. Case and wife, Mrs. Lydia Case,
Deacon Sterling Mills and wife, Moses Wright
and wife, Judge Eliphalet Austin and wife, John
Videto and wife, Thomas Dunbar and wife, Noah Smith,
Erastus Austin, Zeri Cowles, Calvin Stone,
and Abigail Case. As a missionary, receiving a portion of his
salary from the Connecticut missionary society, Dr. Cowles
visited various portions of the Western Reserve, preaching the
In 1812, the year after his arrival in Austinburg,
Dr. Cowles started a movement among his people to build a
frame church edifice in place of their humble log meeting-house.
Judge Austin, Joab Austin, Dr. O. K.
Hawley, and Doctor Cowles led with liberal subscriptions,
and the means were raised sufficient to erect and inclose the first
church ornamented with a steeple on the Western Reserve, if not in
Ohio. The new church was occupied in 1815, when it was in an
unfinished condition, and it was not till 1820 that it was entirely
completed. Until that time it was probably the finest church
edifice in Ohio out of Cincinnati. The writer well remembers,
when a child, traveling with his parents to visit "grandpa and
grandma,” in 1830, the impression the appearance of that church made
on his childish mind when he saw it for the first time.
He had never before seen a steeple, and he gazed at the building
with a feeling of admiration akin to awe. Although only four
years old, the first impression on his mind of that to him
magnificent church was never effaced. On the following Sunday,
when he heard the church-bell,—that beautiful-toned bell, the first
he had ever heard,— on that lovely June morning, standing by the
side of his invalid grandmother, a few weeks before she was taken
away, his feeling of astonishment was greater than he can describe,
and his admiration was intense for the church with that wonderful
machine with a revolving wheel in the steeple for producing that
When the church building was planned it was decided at
first not to have a steeple on account of the expense. The
women came forward and offered to assume that expense themselves,
and their proposition was accepted.
The late Miss Betsey M. Cowles, in her speech
delivered at the three-quarter centennial celebration of the
settlement of the township of Austinburg, June 5, 1875, gave a vivid
account, in her pathetic style, of how the good and pious pioneer
women of Austinburg went to work to raise the means with which to
pay for that steeple, which we will copy:
“Seventy-five years ago to-morrow night the first woman
who came to this town was the wife of Sterling Mills.
She and her husband and Mr. Joseph Case were making their way
to the ‘Austins’ camp.’ But darkness overtook them amidst a
rain-storm, and compelled them to stop in the wood, and all that
long and gloomy night that brave pioneer woman sat upon her saddle
on the ground, with her infant in her arms. That kind-hearted
and gallant man, Deacon Joseph M. Case, the father of the
orator of the day, stood through all that night by the side of that
helpless mother and held an umbrella to protect her from the rain.
This was but one of the many incidents of the early settlement of
this region that ought to be told. We should remember the
hardships and sufferings endured by the settlers in those early
days, and keep alive in our hearts the memory of those brave pioneer
men and women.
“There was a meeting-house commenced here in 1812 and
finished a few years later, and the old subscription paper is still
in existence. The men had decided to build the church without
a steeple, but the women said no, they would build a steeple
themselves. I will illustrate how our venerated mothers and
grandmothers worked when they undertook anything. One of them,
Mrs. Rebecca Whiting, subscribed ten dollars, and took
in weaving to earn money to pay it. Another, Mrs.
Naomi Ryder, who had a large family of children, whom she
took care of well, put down her name for five dollars, which she
paid by taking in sewing, making pants for about thirty-seven cents
a pair, and coats for about seventy-five cents, and so on. We
think her granddaughter, Mrs. Pierce, who is present, does
exceedingly well for a modern woman, but she is not quite as smart
as her good old grandmother was.
To illustrate the spirit of religion
that prevailed among the early settlers of Austinburg, we will
allude to the prayer that was made by Dr. Cowles at the
raising of the frame of the church. The foundation timber, in
a square form, had already been laid on the brick-work. On
this the men all stood, facing inward, forming a hollow square, and
with bowed uncovered heads listened to the fervent prayer offered by
the pastor, asking the blessing of God on the enterprise, on
the erection and eventual dedication of the house of worship to the
glory of Himself.
The architectural design of this church was copied from
a church in Norwalk, Connecticut. It had a steeple about one
hundred and twenty feet in height. Its spire was surmounted by
a vane in the shape of an arrow with a spear-head. The rear
end of the vane spread out quarter fan-shaped into seven branches.
On the end of each branch was a gilt star, and in the centre of the
branches was a gilt quarter-moon, which, in addition to its
ornamental use, acted as a brace for the branches. This vane
was a most conspicuous object on the steeple, and many of the
readers will recognize it from the description we have given.
The inside of the church presented a considerable amount of
architectural effect. The centre of the ceiling was arched,
the arch being supported by large, finely turned wooden columns
resting on the gallery, which was on three sides, and directly under
these columns was another set supporting the gallery from the floor.
The pulpit was a high, old-fashioned, unique affair. It was
large enough to seat two beside the speaker. A portion of it
was supported on two very finely-finished, fluted wooden columns. To
the right of these columns was a fluted pillar-stand,
three and a half feet in height, on which was placed the baptismal
bowl. In front of the two columns was the communion-table.
From this "tall citadel," as it was sometimes called by the
irreverent, many doctrinal points have been made clear to the
average mind by the great reasoning power of Dr. Cowles.
From that old pulpit the infernal system of slavery has frequently
been denounced in scathing language by some of the early eloquent
anti-slavery orators. Some of the first sermons ever given
against intemperance were preached from that pulpit, and frequently
has it been graced with the venerable form of good old Father
From this crude description some idea may be formed of the
architectural appearance of this pioneer church,—the first ever
erected on the Reserve, if not in Ohio, with a steeple. The
bell was placed in the tower somewhere about 1825. It weighed
about five hundred pounds. It is said that the sound of this
bell drove away the wolves and other wild animals, for none had ever
been seen in the township since the bell commenced ringing out its
calls to attend public worship.
This old church—historic church it may be called—was
ruthlessly torn down about the year 1857, simply because there was
no further use for it, the majority of the congregation preferring
to attend worship, as a matter of convenience, at the “North End,”
and nearly all the rest went to the Eagleville church, for the same
reason. The church stood unoccupied and for a period neglected
by the ungrateful community for which it had done so much towards
its moral well-being. From this old church had evolved
directly and indirectly those grand, high moral principles, which
have spread over Ashtabula County and made it what it is. That
landmark, with its spire towering against the sky and its
conspicuous vane, which always excited the admiration of the writer
during his childhood days the church his honored grandfather helped
to erect, and in which he officiated so faithfully for nearly twenty
years; the church in which his beloved parents were married, in
which he and his brothers and sister were baptized, and in which the
funeral services were held over the remains of both his
grandparents, has disappeared forever. Nothing remains to show
the former glory of that fine specimen of a pioneer church, unless
it may be the bell, which had been transferred to a cheaply-built
and common-looking unorthodox house of worship at the “North End.”
Even the bell, apparently indignant at its being used against the
cause oforthodoxy, and at the treatment the old orthodox church had
received, became cracked, and refused to give out its former sweet
tones. Can it be wondered that the writer should have some
feelings of resentment at the want of appreciation of that old
pioneer church by those for whom it has done so much?
After having accomplished the work of erecting and
inclosing the church edifice, Dr. Cowles set about making
preparation to erect for himself, at his own expense, a
parsonage,—the present homestead now occupied by his daughter,
Miss Martha H. Cowles. As the first settled minister of
the town, he received from the Connecticut land company eighty acres
of land, and had the use of eighty acres more given by that company
for a parsonage lot. He purchased in addition one hundred and
sixty acres, making his farm, including the parsonage lot, three
hundred and twenty acres. He located his mansion on his own
lot, nearly opposite where the new church stood. In the winter
of 1813—14 his hired man, Mr. Shepard, whom he brought
with him from Connecticut, and his brother-in-law, Mr.
Frederick Weed, got out a quantity of saw-logs, which
were formed into a raft, on Grand river, and floated down to the
“Austin Mills,” now known as Mechanicsville, for the purpose of
being sawed into lumber for the contemplated new house. The river
being high and the current above the dam very rapid, the navigation
of the raft got beyond the control of Messrs. Weed and
Shepard, and it went over the dam, and Mr. Shepard
was drowned. Mr. Weed succeeded in escaping.
This sad accident and the loss of the logs delayed the building of
the mansion till the following year, 1815, when it was erected.
The plan of that house was drawn in a scientific and architectural
manner by Mrs. Cowles, and the convenience of that
plan excited the admiration of all who saw the inside of the house.
General Simon Perkins, of Warren, copied the
plan for his own house, which he built. It was considered to
be a wonderfully aristocratic dwelling by the younger portion of the
community, who had never been to Connecticut and seen the “big”
houses there. It is still, in this age of houses with modern
improvements,” a most commodious and convenient residence.
That old parsonage has witnessed many cultured gatherings under its
roof. Hundreds of ministers of the gospel, including Bishop
Chase and others of equal prominence, lecturers, anti-slavery
speakers, professors, and students, have enjoyed its hospitalities.
Can it be wondered that the association with the educated and
refined that were wont to assemble there should have had a
beneficial effect in moulding the character of the children of Dr.
Dr. Cowles was naturally of a grave
temperament and never was inclined to mirth, but his wife and
children could appreciate the humors of life just as well as the
rest of the world, and the big kitchen of the old homestead has
witnessed many scenes of innocent jollity. As an illustration,
we will copy from a letter written by the late Miss Betsey M.
Cowles and published in the Ashtabula News, describing the
“singing meetings” that were frequently held in Austinburg, and
often in the kitchen of the homestead:
“ One amusement was considered safe and legitimate, to
which no barrier was interposed, and that was ‘singing meetings.’
These were held first in private houses,—one week at Deacon
Mills', at the South End, next week at Judge
Austin's, at the North End, and the next at the parsonage, at
the Centre. Neither floods nor flames, hail, rain, nor snow,
light nor darkness, could keep the young folks from these meetings.
Benches on which to sit were improvised, huge fires were built
on the hearth, with plenty of tallow-candles to hold in the hand,
which constituted the preparation for these meetings. To these
they came on horseback, on sleds, on foot, a distance of one, two,
three, four, and five miles. The hour arrived for the ‘opening
up,’ the chorister would give the order, 'Take your places.
Strike your lights. Open to Majesty.’ A toot from the
'pitch-pipe,’ with the order, ‘Strike the pitch,’ and off the tune
goes, the leader in the mean time pacing the floor, with violent
gesticulations, swinging both arms at full length, beating time,
singing first one part as it falters and then another, like a
skillful general skirmishing along the lines, strengthening the weak
points. So he runs from one part of the room to another
wherever help is needed, and as a result the music fills the high
domes of the room. On the different parts of the ‘fuguing
tunes' was full scope for the exercise of his generalship, as each
part was led off by him, he rapidly swinging himself to each as it
strikes in; in short, bearing the entire burden of carrying the
whole; and when the tune is sung, commends the performance by
saying, ‘You have done well; but we’ll try it once more, just to let
your voices out a little louder.’ Each one had exerted his
vocal organs to the utmost, yet cheerfully they try again. An
hour or more thus spent, then comes intermission, or ‘visiting
times,’ then another hour of singing, mingled with laughs at the
mistakes or witticisms of the leader; after which all arise and sing
'Pilgrim's Farewell,’ and then they are dismissed and homeward
“In the progress of human affairs a ‘singing master’ is
hired; he boarding around with the people, they stipulating to give
him a certain sum for his services, and then open the school to all.
Among the early masters was, first, Amasa Loomis, a man who
sang loud and long. Following him was Deacon Grey,
a quaint, gray-haired, little old man, with a nice cultivated ear
for music, who greatly improved church music in this and neighboring
towns. He introduced the Handel and Haydn
collection of music in place of ‘fuguing tunes,’ and round notes in
place of ‘patent’ or 'buckwheat’ notes. On each evening he
would announce that a new tune would be 'put out’ next week; hence
expectations were on the alert. His schools were closed by a
grand ‘singing lecture’ in the meeting-house, at which time all the
new tunes were sung to a large and delighted audience, which had
assembled at the usual hour for meeting, or at one o’clock p.m.
As time advanced the name ‘singing lecture’ was changed to
The magnificent voices of four of Dr. Cowles’
children must have added greatly to the power of these “ singing
lectures.” The children, who inherited their musical gift from
their mother, were Cornelia, soprano; Betsey, alto;
Lewis, tenor; and Martha, soprano. Lysander
was a singer, but he did not rank with the sisters and brother I
have named. Martha had a marvelously sweet voice, but
it was never cultivated like her sisters and brother Lewis.
In later years — in 1840—the choir of the church in Austinburg was
probably equal to any in the State. It was under the
leadership of Squire Lucretius Bissell, a
half-brother of Joab Austin. He was a very
capable leader indeed, he having studied music as a science. The
principal singers of the choir, at the date I have named, were
Squire Bissell and his wife, Misses Cornelia
and Betsey Cowles, and Lewis Cowles. It
can be imagined how Dr. Cowles must have enjoyed
listening to the music of his children, especially so after the
death of his wife, when he reflected that they inherited their
voices from their sainted mother.
Dr. Cowles was a most substantial
speaker, never flowery, but solid and reasoning in his efforts.
His theological knowledge was of the highest order, and he was a
most profound student. When he settled in Austinburg he
brought with him from Connecticut his entire library, which at that
time, and for many years afterwards, was the largest in the county.
When not engaged with his professional duties he invariably retired
to his study for the purpose of reading or writing, or delving into
theological or religious lore. His three sermons defending infant
baptism, delivered in Bristol in 1802, to which Hon. Tracy
Peck referred in his address, were considered masterly
efforts, and are the best monuments of his talent that remain, and
could never have been produced save by a richly-endowed and
disciplined mind. His power over the minds of his people can
best be shown by the results of the great revivals of religion that
occurred at different periods of his ministry, especially the one in
1799, in Bristol, when over one hundred joined his church,—“a year,'
" which he entered on the church records, “never to be forgotten.”
The revivals of 1816, in Austinburg, showed the influence of his
power as a preacher. His piety was earnest and very deep,
which has been fully set forth by Mr. Tracy in his remarks.
The Hon. Charles Case, in his oration delivered at the
three-quarter centennial celebration of the settlement of
Austinburg, speaking of Dr. Cowles, said,—
“Then again, there was the Rev. Giles H. Cowles.
They used to think I was very bad when I was a boy. I know
what was said then, and I have never forgotten it. But I knew
that venerable man, and knew how consistent and faithful he was in
all the long years when he was the settled pastor of the church in
Dr. Cowles was a great friend of the
cause of education. Having received a thorough education
himself, he appreciated it. In 1825 he, with others, first
moved in the matter of establishing the Western Reserve college.
The three presbyteries of the Reserve met at Warren to decide upon
the location of the proposed college. The members were as
follows: from Grand River presbytery, Rev. Dr.
Giles H. Cowles, Harvey Coe, A. Griswold, and
Rev. Eliphalet Austin; presbytery of Portage, Rev. Joseph
Treat, John Steward, J. H. Whittlesey, and
Lemuel Porter; Huron presbytery, A. H. Betts, L. B. Sullivan,
Hon. Samuel Cowles, and D. Betts.
It was found difficult at so early a period to fix upon the most
eligible spot. At a second meeting of the board, Hudson,
Portage (but now of Summit county) was decided upon as the most
favorable locality. Burton, Euclid, Aurora, and Cleveland were
among the most prominent competitors for the location of this
college. The decision being made, the board proceeded to
Hudson, selected the site, and drove a stake on College Hill. The
trustees were chosen by the presbyteries, and a charter was obtained
He assisted in the first work of founding Grand River
Institute, and it was at his house where the first meeting of the
projectors of that institution of learning was held, and where it
received its charter from the State of Ohio. His name appeared
as one of the original incorporators.
He was a congenial gentleman with all with whom he came
in contact, although, as we said before, he was a grave man, and
never dealt in trifling remarks. He was charitable to others
in regard to their faults. On one occasion he was about
starting on a journey for the purpose of assisting in the ordination
of a new candidate for the ministry. It happened that this
candidate wore a ruffled shirt bosom, and was otherwise quite vain
and worldly in his ideas, and withal, conceited; so much so, that
the good wife of the pastor was somewhat prejudiced against him, and
she spoke to her husband, saying, “Mr. Cowles, you are
not going to ordain that man, are you?” He replied, “My dear,
the man must be pretty far gone if it won’t do to pray for him!”
The mission service required men of great hardihood,
firmness of principle, pure love for the cause of their Maker, and
willingness to suffer privations for the sake of Him who suffered
for us sinners. Such a man was Dr. Cowles.
What he did in the cause of religion was not done merely because he
thought it was his duty to do so, but he did it because of his deep
love for that cause. Such was the man who was selected by the
providence of God to help give direction to the religious
thoughts of the early settlers of Ashtabula County.
Dr. Cowles remained in charge of the
church as its pastor till the year of 1830, when he resigned.
The following was the text from which he preached his farewell
sermon at the close of his ministry: “God forbid that I
should cease to pray for you!” He continued to preach occasionally,
however, in neighboring churches. Rev. Henry Cowles,
formerly of Colebrook, Connecticut, a graduate of Yale, succeeded
Dr. Cowles as the pastor of the church, and remained in charge
of it till the winter of 1835-36, when he was dismissed at his own
request for the purpose of occupying a professor’s chair in Oberlin
college, which he filled for many years.
In 1823, Dr. Cowles met with his first
affliction by death in his family in the loss of his beloved son,
Edward Giles Hooker, who was taken away at the age
of twenty-one. He was a young man of more than ordinary
business ability; so much so, that he relieved his father of most of
the care of the farm and his business matters for several years.
In 1830 the doctor met with his greatest loss,—that of
his beloved helpmeet, his beautiful Christian wife, the devoted
mother of his nine children; she who did so much to smooth the path
over which he journeyed through life. She died at a
comparatively young age—fifty-six years. The death of this
model wife and mother caused a sad vacancy in the household as well
as in the social circle of Ashtabula County. She was buried by
the side of her mother, Mrs. Abigail White, who
had preceded her the year before. Dr. Cowles
submitted to the loss of his wife with Christian resignation,—felt
that the separation was only temporary, that what was his loss was
her gain. For five years after her death, he lived at the
homestead with five of his children,—Lysander, Lewis,
Martha, Cornelia, and Betsey. In addition
it was the privilege of two others of his children to live near
by,—William Elbert, who lived on his farm just a mile from the
Centre, and Sally, who was married to Rev. Eliphalet
Austin, a son of Judge Austin, and who lived at the North
End. The eldest son, Dr. Edwin W. Cowles, was
practicing his profession, that of medicine, in Detroit. The
affectionate children vied with each other in ministering to the
comfort of their venerable father, Cornelia especially taking
it upon herself to watch over his health and guard him against
exposure; but in spite of her affectionate care, he was taken ill in
the year of 1835, and after suffering from his disease for four
months, which he endured with Christian fortitude, he passed away on
a beautiful Sunday evening, July 5, in the sixty-ninth year of his
age, and the forty-second year of his ministry. His funeral
took place the following Tuesday, in the church he helped to build,
and which was crowded to overflowing by a sorrowing people who felt
that they had indeed lost a father in the death of their former
pastor. The following clergymen assisted in the exercises:
Rev. Henry Cowles, the pastor, Rev. Joseph Badger, Rev. Caleb
Burbank, Dr. Perry Pratt, Rev. Lucius Foot, the evangelist, and
Rev. Mr. Danforth. Rev. Mr. Badger read the
introductory hymn. It was intended that he, as a brother
pioneer clergyman and co-worker of Dr. Cowles, should have
delivered the funeral sermon, but his voice had become too weak, and
he was obliged to decline the invitation. Rev. Mr. Henry
Cowles delivered the sermon, which was very impressive.
The remains were interred by the side of his devoted wife and his
affectionate son, in the cemetery of the church.
Since the departure of Dr. Cowles to the “other
side of the river” he has been joined by nearly all his children,—Lysander,
in 1857; Edwin, in 1861; Lewis, in 1861; Cornelia,
in 1869; Sally, in 1872; and Betsey, in 1876.
Now only two of that remarkable group of children are left to tell
the good deeds of the pioneer pastor,—Martha and William
Elbert. They are waiting patiently and willingly to join
their father and mother, brothers and sisters.
Mrs. Helen C. Wheeler, of Butler, Missouri,
Judge Samuel Cowles, of San Francisco, Mr. Edwin Cowles,
of Cleveland, and Mr. Alfred Cowles, of Chicago, children of
Dr. E. W. Cowles; Mrs. Charlotte Austin Seeley, of
Austinburg, only living child of Mrs. Sally B. Austin;
Mrs. Cornelia C. Fuller, only living child of Mr.
William Elbert Cowles; Messrs. Edward
and Lysander and Miss Julia, children of Mr. Lewis
D. Cowles, are the grandchildren of Dr. Cowles now
* By his grandson, Edwin Cowles, Esq.
Source: 1798 History of Ashtabula County, Ohio
with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches
of its Pioneers and Most Prominent Men
by Publ. Philadelphia - Williams Brothers - 1878 - Page 93