LIMA — James Sunderland was young when Allen County was young. Before the railroads, the oil wells and the industry, when unbroken forest covered Allen County, members of the Sunderland family settled in Fort Amanda and the area around it.
By the end of the 19th century, James Sunderland, by then an old man was one of a dwindling number of living links to the county’s pioneer past. In August 1895, he reflected on those early days in a speech to the Elida Pioneer Society recorded in the Lima Times-Democrat.
“Hunting was great sport during my boyhood, there being plenty of deer, bear, turkey, wild hogs, wolves and squirrels we had by the thousands; while the finest fish could be caught in the Auglaize River — sturgeon, lake shad, black bass and pike being very abundant,” he told the pioneer society. “Father caught a sturgeon seven and a half feet long at one time, and pike five feet long were frequently caught.”
Indians, too, were “numerous in our neighborhood,” Sunderland said, recalling a time when, as a young boy, an Indian named Big Knife saved his life after a kettle of boiling water he was playing nearly tipped over. “I no doubt would have been scalded to death but for Big Knife’s presence, who snatched me up just in time to save me. I well remember this circumstance as I was very badly scared for I was very much afraid of the Indians and thought I was surely going to be killed when caught up by Big Knife,” he told the pioneer society.
“Our first schools were on the subscription plan, and the first school I went to was built the same as the log cabins of the settlers. Pegs driven in holes in the wall supported plank for desks and the seats were puncheons with wooden legs,” Sunderland said. “for many years we had no churches but held divine service at the cabins of settlers or in case of big meetings in the barn of some neighbor who was fortunate enough to have one bigger than his house.”
His father, Dye Sunderland, had moved to the area around Fort Amanda in the early part of 1821. “At that time but three other white families lived in that vicinity — Andrew Russell, who had moved there in 1817, Henry Harter and a Mr. Underwood, who was a silversmith and manufactured jewelry for the Indians and traded for their furs,” James Sunderland said.
Andrew Russell was married to Isabella Sunderland, Dye Sunderland’s sister. Dye and Isabella were the children of Peter Sunderland Sr., a veteran of the Revolutionary War who was badly wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Sunderlands’ ancestors had emigrated from England to New Jersey. Peter Sunderland moved west after the Revolutionary War, eventually settling his family in Montgomery County.
In the spring of 1817, Russell moved his family north from Montgomery County to what would become Allen County. In 1817, however, it was still Indian land and would remain so until ceded to the U.S. by a treaty signed in September 1817. Fort Amanda was part of Allen County from the time the county was established in 1820 until 1848 when it became part of the newly organized Auglaize County.
Russell, like others who came to the area before 1820, squatted in the abandoned fort on the west bank of the Auglaize River. Built during the War of 1812 under the supervision of Colonel Thomas Pogue and named for his wife, Fort Amanda would serve as an incubator and focal point for the early settlement of Allen County.
“The fort consisted of a stockade enclosing a rectangular area of about an acre and a half,” C.W. Williamson wrote in his 1905 History of Western Ohio and Auglaize County. “The pickets were eleven feet high and set four feet in the ground. A two-story block house in each corner of the quadrangle projected four feet over the pickets. The block house in the southeast corner was the largest and was used for officers’ quarters. In the center of the quadrangle there was also a large two-story building, of which the upper story was used for a hospital and the lower story for a storage room.”
After the war ended in 1814, the fort was occupied for a time by a Frenchman named Francis Duchouquet, who served as an interpreter for the Indians. Along with Russell, the Peter Diltz and William Vanausdall families also arrived at Fort Amanda from Montgomery County in 1817. Diltz returned to Montgomery County in 1821, while Vanausdall moved on to Michigan that same year. Vanausdall returned to Fort Amanda in 1824, dying there later that year.
Russell, already the father of five children, welcomed a sixth on July 13, 1817, when a daughter named Susanna was born at Fort Amanda. Susanna Russell is known as the first white child born in Allen County, although she was born before the county existed, C. Ernest Robinson noted in an article written in 1965 for the Allen County Historical Society. Susanna Russell would eventually marry Charles C. Marshall, who served for a time as mayor of Delphos.
“It is a matter of conjecture if a house was finally built or if the family lived in the fort until the father’s death as stated by some,” Robinson wrote. “In any event Russell cleared and farmed the land as cleared and was the first farmer in this territory.” Russell died in September 1824, shortly after his wife gave birth to another daughter. Isabella Russell, with six young children and an infant to care for, quickly remarried, tying the knot with Samuel Washburn.
Isabella Russell-Washburn’s brother, Dye Sunderland, joined his sister in Allen County in 1821. He had scouted out the land near Fort Amanda upon which he wished to settle in later 1820 and contracted with “Henry Harter and a half-breed named Bazeel to build him a log cabin and have the same ready for occupancy when he should arrive with his family,” James Sunderland told the pioneer society.
“Father, however, fearing the roads would become bad, started earlier than he at first intended and reached Fort Amanda with his wife and four children Feb. 14, 1821, and finding his house far from being complete, and unable to rent another, was compelled in mid-winter to got to work and finish same, even heating water to mix with mud with which to daub it,” James Sunderland said.
Peter Sunderland and his wife eventually moved in with Dye Sunderland on the farm near Fort Amanda and he died there in 1827, the year his grandson, James, was born. Peter Sunderland’s wife died in 1831. Another of Peter Sunderland’s sons, William, settled in the area as well as a man named Benjamin Russell, who is thought to have been a brother of Andrew Russell.
In 1831, Washburn and Dye Sunderland were involved in the establishment of a town called Amanda at the site of the old Tawa Town, just northwest of Fort Amanda on some of the family land. Although the town was laid out, with lots and streets platted, it failed to find success.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.