"He came to survey the " Fire-Sufferer's Lands" (i.e. the "Fire Lands") from Danbury, Connecticut in 1805. His ashes now rest in Oak Bluffs Cemetery near the place he called "Ruggles Grove" and in sight of the Lake we call Erie six miles west of Vermilion, Ohio."
Almon Ruggles was born in Connecticut in 1771. His father's name was Ashbel. Ashbel was the son of one of three brothers who had immigrated from Scotland sometime in the mid 18th century. Almon's mother was Rebecca Bostwick. When he was born he was a twin. His brother, Alfred, died as an infant. No mention is made of any other children in the family.
Almon's parents were quite poor, and when just a boy he was sent to live with an uncle who was a Presbyterian deacon and very closefisted. (Being of Scottish dissent myself I intuitively understand this personality trait.) His uncle refused to allow him an education. We need remember that things like public schooling were just being invented when Almon was a youngster. But Almon was a resourceful person and he found a way to acquire the education he needed and thirsted for by catching woodchucks, tanning the skins, and braiding them into whip-lashes for the market.
In all Mr. Ruggles had but six months formal education. Even with this meager resource Almon stormed ahead in life. He was very very astute and worked as a teacher for several years before leaving the comforts of life "down east" and heading west as a surveyor.
I do not make light of Almon Ruggles' life nor his achievements. Lesser men, and women, (myself included) would have left well enough alone and stayed where it was familiar and safe in the east. Ruggles did not. He came into the Fire-lands employed to survey the rough woodlands found along south central Lake Erie. The task was formidable. When he came to a stream he could not ford he would tie his small wardrobe into a small bundle and swim across, and then return for his compass and other surveying equipment.
His first surveys were rejected by his employer. Undaunted by this state of affairs Ruggles managed to become the leader of the committee (The Fire-lands Proprietors) who employed him, resurveyed the country, and his work was found to be very satisfactory. One of the most amazing facts about the Fire-lands surveying work is that after charting 500 thousand acres of land using equipment similar to that now used by persons surveying roads it was found that it was only off by about 27 acres. The Fire-lands is composed of 500,027 acres. That, in itself, is no mean feat. The country was heavily forested, and there were swamps, rivers, and various streams throughout the land. This also included the Lake Erie shoreline and the islands.
As an aside I would mention that this land was purchased from native Americans for $19,000 after the British had burned the towns of London, Groton, Norwalk, Greenwich, New Haven, Ridgefield, Fairfield, and Danbury in Connecticut . Some of the names you will recognize as common city and/or township names in Ohio today. Joining Mr. Ruggles in his mapping work were Judge Wright of New York, Mr. Simeon Hoyt, and Simon Durand, both of Connecticut. Hoyt and Durand like Mr. Ruggles opted to stay in the country when their work was done. Hoyt settled in the Clarksfield area, and Durand chose Henrietta for his home.
Were this all Almon Ruggles achieved in his life it would have been enough. But there is much more. He was just beginning to reach his stride when he finished his survey of "The Fire-Sufferer's Lands".
Part 2: The first record of an election in Vermilion Township was April 6, 1818. The election was held in the house of Almon Ruggles. At this election he was selected to be the first clerk of the township. For his work surveying the Fire-Lands Ruggles received a salary and an option to select one square mile of land any where on the lake shore within the limits of the country he surveyed at one dollar an acre. He opted to acquire a tract of land six miles west of present day Vermilion. He called it "Ruggle's Grove". We know it today as Ruggles Beach. No small part of the acreage he chose now belongs to Lake Erie.
In 1808 Ruggles married Miss Annis Dibble of Brookfield, Connecticut. Prior to locating her in Ohio she bore a child they named Rebecca. After coming to Ohio they had another daughter they named Betsey. In 1815 Annis died leaving Almon with the two children. Some time later he married a widow, Mrs. Rhoda Buck nee Sprague. They had two boys, Richard and Charles. One of the girls (history does not tell us which) married a Dr. Phillips of Berlin Heights. The other daughter had apparently died. Charles was married twice. His first wife was Miss Mary Douglas, and Miss Julia Mallory was his second wife. By the writing of this history in 1879 Charles had also passed away. Richard, the remaining son, married Miss Eleanor Post of Berlin and was then living on the Ruggles homestead. Charles III, Richard's great-great grandson still lives on the Ruggles property.
For many years after his survey work Mr. Ruggles worked as land agent for the proprietors of the Fire-Lands. The first tract of land he sold was to Mr. Ezra Sprague in Florence Township (then called Jessup) in 1808 for $1.29 an acre. Sprague went back to his home in Painesville returning in February of 1809 with a man named Sears, a yoke of oxen, a log chain, an axe, and an iron kettle. The settlement of the Fire-Lands was officially on its way.
The same year Sprague returned to his land Huron County was officially organized and Ruggles became its first recorder. He was appointed associate judge of that county the same year his first wife died (1815), became a State Senator (representing Ashtabula, Geauga, Portage, Cuyahoga and Huron counties) the following year, and was re-elected to that office in 1818. In 1824 he was elected to the House of State Representatives. Mr. Ruggles was a member of the Whig Party (that evolved into what we now know as the Republican Party), and he was a close friend of General Harrison who had a garrison quartered in Huron that had policed the area during the War of 1812.
But that ain't all folks! In 1809 Ruggles built a mill for the "proprietors" near the southern line of Florence Township on the Vermillion (two els) River. There was a very practical reason for this; the pioneer farmers needed a mill to grind their grains. The nearest one at that time was just south of Cleveland. That was a mistake. The river soon took the mill to the lake. Undaunted by this turn of fate he built another mill along La Chappell Creek in 1811-12. This proved to be of extreme benefit to early settlers.
And now a few words about the true character of this gentleman. I have read and written alot about Almon Ruggles' accomplishments. Those accomplishments depict a man who was very motivated and fearless. What has not been said is that he was both a kind and very generous person. Here was a man who held high and low positions of private and public trust and honor who served in trust and with great honor. He always remembered the poverty in which he lived as a child, and when necessary helped less fortunate people who came before him.
One of the biographies from which this article was adapted says of him: "He was too large a man for wrong-doing, and too liberal and kind to treat any with incivility. Such a life never ends, so long as grateful children and grandchildren walk in its echoes."
On July 17, 1840, in the 69th year of his life, Almon Ruggles passed into the hands of God. I visited his grave on the 2nd of February, 2003. A modest stone marks his resting place. Below it in the winter grass lay a weathered plastic lily. I placed it before his marker as a very humble token of my esteem for a true American pioneer. It was all I had. I doubt that he would object.
Ref: History of The Fire-Lands, Comprising Huron and Erie Counties Ohio - W.W. Williams 1879 Published in "Rich Tarrant's Yesteryear; An Anthology of Historical Narratives of Vermilion, Ohio and It's People" - 2005 Trafford Press Previous Bio Next Bio
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