The children included oldest daughter Hannah who did not want to move to the country and youngest daughter Martha who loved the novelty of change. Daughter Arabella McCullough and her daughter Elizabeth who was visiting them at the time, was excited for her parent’s new venture. Eight year old son Donn and Abram at six years old were the two youngest in the family. The servant girl, Patsey Jackson also traveled with them. The oldest son, Wykoff was already established as a lawyer in Cincinnati.
Benjamin was a court circuit Judge which required him travelling a lot. He also built a saw mill on his farm property and had an orchard which he took great care of. Elizabeth set up house for the family, making durable rugs that lasted for many years. She also worked on the landscaping, with walks, planted hedges, fish pond, flowers beds and borders of roses, Lilacs and wax-berries.
The family moved temporarily to Cincinnati so the younger boys could get the proper schooling. The farm was rented to Mr. Seig with the understanding that Benjamin and his family would live with him during the summer months. Benjamin practiced law with his son, Wykoff while in Cincinnati.
Three years later the family returned to the farm for good. They discussed building a new home but too many memories of the cabin won and a compromise was made to update the outside by adding weather board and plaster to the inside.
At this time Benjamin built a mill for flour making, a huge barn, tenant houses and other buildings. Near the front gate was Benjamin’s law office, where Donn studied law from his father. The home had many visitors over the years and the family enjoyed picnics at “Bald Knob” and “Squaw Rock”. They had driving and riding parties with their ponies; Blue, Dick and Fidget and fun with the pet dog, Fuz.
Benjamin and Elizabeth also took care of Abram’s children after the death of his wife during his service in the Civil war. Over the years, besides their children and grandchildren who lived with them they also adopted orphans or took others children into their home for a total of seventeen.
Benjamin passed away on April 28th, 1863 when he was eighty four years of age after a carbuncle developed. Three years to the day Elizabeth passed away at eighty six in 1866 from natural causes. As family passed away into death the little cabin sat empty of the life that made it a cherished, loving home.
Then in 1975 the property was bought by Dave and Jane Younkman who were planning on building a home nearby. They discovered the house, falling apart, covered in brush and brambles, barely recognizable as it once was and discussed what they should do with it. After researching the property and finding out the history of the cabin in the woods the Younkman’s restored the home and opened an antique gift shop called, “The Pioneer House.” They shared the cabin’s history with their customers.
Jane’s health declined so the cabin property was sold on February 20th, 2004 to Matthew Jones. It was thought he would keep the gift shop business going but sold it instead. Michael Kuntz and family purchased the property on December 29, 2008 and were the first to live in the house after many years. They added the full bath and updated the kitchen in the home.
They also had three girls they took in while in Cincinnati, all were married form the Piatt home. The fourth, Patsey, was a poor idiot girl. She was abused by her master so Elizabeth trained her to be a good servant.
At Mac-O-Cheek, their home in West Liberty, they added fourteen more children to their family. Five granddaughters and two grandsons went to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for awhile after the death of their mothers. Six more girls and one boy not related, also made their home with Benjamin and Elizabeth.
The Piatt's were of Catholic Faith. The nearest Catholic Church in Columbus, was three hours away by horse and buggy. Elizabeth wished for Benjamin to build her a church near their home. Benjamin was more inclined to build things like the sawmill that would bring in money first. One day Benjamin was called off to Cincinnati on urgent business. As soon as he left, Elizabeth told the workers to stop what they were doing and supervised the building of a log hewed chapel. She had them use the wood set aside for building a workshop. It was completed before Benjamin arrived home and was affectionately named St Elizabeth Catholic Chapel.
Elizabeth was very compassionate toward the slaves and the ordeal they were going through to get to freedom. That is why she ran a stop on the Underground Railroad from her home. Benjamin was a Federal Court Circuit Judge, so it was his sworn duty to arrest anyone who helped the slaves escape. However, he and Elizabeth came up with a plan for her to run the stop while he was traveling for work. At the end of their gate stood a black lawn jockey. When Benjamin was gone a white flag was placed in the jockey's outstretched hand. When he was home the flag was removed signaling to the slaves that they should continue on to the next stop. Benjamin sent someone home a day early to give Elizabeth plenty of notice to make sure the slaves were gone by the time he arrived home. Since no records were kept on the Underground Railroad there are some who believe this to be true and some who don't.
Elizabeth was a pioneering woman who took care her own and others, took charge when things needed done and changed the lives of the slaves who passed her way. She may not have been a well known figure from the history books but think of all the people whose lives she touched and changed forever.
Sources- A Memorial Biography of Benjamin M. Piatt and Elizabeth, His Wife.
The Adopted Children of Elizabeth and Benjamin Piatt by David Boysel
Rev. Tami Wenger
The Village of West Liberty is Ohio's best kept secret travel destination. Come stay awhile in this quintessential Midwestern small town in the heart of the Buckeye State!