Eli Wilson (1789-1869)

Eli Wilson was one of the original pioneers of Shelby, arriving in 1818 with the Henry Whitney and Stephen Marvin families.

Eli was born August 29, 1789 in Weston, Fairfield County, Connecticut, of a poor family who bound him out for service until he was 14. He then apprenticed to learn carpentry and married Mabel Barnes on Oct. 10, 1807.

When he was 23, the War of 1812 broke out and he enlisted in the 25th Infantry Regiment in Hartford, Conn. He fell sick on the march from Connecticut to Burlington, Vermont and was left at Cambridge, New York for two months until he was ordered to return to Hartford with Capt. Peter Bradley to recruit a second company.

In the spring of 1813, they again joined their regiment, which was then stationed within four miles of Lake Ontario. The unit crossed the Niagara River to the Canadian side to attack Ft. George. Despite heavy fire, they captured the fort. The unit remained at the fort until October when they set sights on Montreal. They collected about 300 boats and proceeded to the head of the St. Lawrence River, where they encountered heavy fire, lost some vessels, and finally abandoned the campaign. His obituary headline reads “Death of Gen. Eli Wilson” but it was an honorary title as he was enlisted.

He was mustered out and went back to work as a carpenter until 1818, when a group of 20, including the Marvins and Whitneys, set out for the state of Ohio. They made the journey by wagon, crossing the Allegheny mountains to arrive in April 1818.

Eli first purchased land just south of Main Street on Gamble behind where the First National Bank now stands, and set up a saw mill on Blackfork Creek, remaining there six years, then selling about 45 acres to James Gamble. The land encompassed the eastern limit of Blackfork Creek to Gamble Street.

The Wilsons’ second home was located on high ground on what is now Mansfield Avenue between Subway and the power plant. The mansion is still standing. The front door was originally facing west, in anticipation of the S.M. & N.R. railroad coming to town. The citizens of Mansfield and beyond were in favor of routing the railroad through Ganges. When the charter was applied for, Eli Wilson was named one of the commissioners to form the company.
Eli persuaded the company to ride along the route he proposed through Shelby. When the engineer passed through Shelby, he deemed it to be the most practical and cheapest route. The first train stopped by the Wilson mansion in 1846.

Eli provided land for the first cemetery in Shelby, just west of his home, where the Shelby Salesbook, and now Shelby Fire Department now stand. It was named Wilson Cemetery after him, but also sometimes called May Cemetery after another land owner. Eli was buried in the cemetery after he died June 17, 1869 at about 80 years old. His remains, and others, were moved to Oakland Cemetery when the Salesbook negotiated with the city for more land.

Condensed from Independent News, July 1, 1869.

Submitted by Christina Yetzer Drain

Giles Swan 1793-1849

Giles Swan, along with his brother Adam, were among the earliest settlers in the Shelby area, in what was then Blooming Grove Township, about 1816.1 They came from Fairfield County, Connecticut, following Indian trails the last few miles as there were no roads cut yet. The area was densely forested with birch, beech, ash, sugar and oak.2 Deer and turkey, among other wildlife, were abundant, so much so, it was a favorite hunting area for the Wyandot Indians who lived to the west.

Giles made a final payment for 160 acres of land from the US government in 1819, on Section 10 of Township 022N, Range 019W, at the southwest corner of what is now SR 96 and Plymouth Springmill Road. He had already erected a cabin on the property and was living there with his wife Jane Rockwell. Jane traveled with her parents Joseph and Mercy Rockwell to the the area shortly after the Swans arrived.3 They married July 27,1817, believed to be the first marriage in the township.4

The Swans were friends with many of those who came in later years. Stephen and Sarah Marvin, Deborah Moyer, Eli and Mabel Barnes Wilson, and Henry and Lucy Grumman Whitney, who settled in what is now the city of Shelby, came in 1818 from Fairfield County, Connecticut. The three families stayed with the Swans the summer of 1818 while they cleared the land and built their cabins about a mile away.

The Independent News in 1869 relayed a wonderful story about the friendship among the families and their Native neighbors.

While the above mentioned families were all living together, one night, there came there a small band of Indians, numbering about ten or twelve, among whom were several well known Indians; one called ‘Jacob’ and another ‘Williams.’ This latter Indian was said to be a very intelligent Indian, and spoke English quite fluently. The Indians were well supplied with whiskey, as were also the settlers; and after the greetings were exchanged, the bottle was passed around quite freely, both whites and Indians drinking out of the same bottle, and the very best feeling pervaded both sides. When both sides were pretty well warmed up, the settlers proposed that the Indians should exhibit their war dance. At first the Indians objected, alleging their want of preparation, and of the proper materials for paint, &c., and of the proper implements, such as a drum; &c. But they were finally persuaded to proceed with the dance and the whites proceeded to kindle a fire in front of the cabin of Mr. Swan. One old Indian took a seat on a log, and was furnished with a clap-board, which he placed on his knees, and commenced a song in the Indian language, keeping time on the clap-board with his knife and hatchet, while the others ranged themselves around the fire, and commenced the war dance, yelling like demons, gesticulating furiously, and leaping around in the most grotesque and violent manner. The subject of the old Indian’s song, as he informed the settlers, was the ancient exploits of his tribe in war, and their triumph over their enemies. It was in fact an epic poem in the Indian vernacular, and although no doubt far below our standard, in point of merit, yet it is said this rude song had some striking and beautiful passages. After the Indians had concluded their dance, they then proposed that the whites should dance after their fashion, and they would join. Accordingly the whites formed on the floor, to dance the “French Four,” and two Indians danced, one with Mrs. Moyer, mother of the late Stephen Marvin’s wife, and the other with Mrs. Swan. The Indians unexpectedly, proved to be very graceful dancers, gliding around in a very easy manner. After each dance, the bottle passed around freely, and the dance was kept up till about two in the morning. The music was furnished by the white women, who sang the tune.5

Sharon Township was created from part of Blooming Grove Township February 9, 1819, which included one-half of the territory that is present-day Jackson Township, and Giles Swan’s farm. At the first election in 1823, fourteen settlers were present: Giles H. Swan, John B. Taylor, Joseph Curran, Eli Wilson, Almon Hayes, Harvey Camp, Henry Whitney, Matthew Curran, James Smith, Adam Swan, James Kerr, James Rockwell, Levi Bargaheiser and DeLanson Rockwell. Giles Swan, John B. Taylor and James Rockwell were elected trustees.6

In 1823 and 1824, Giles Swan purchased two more land patents from the US government totaling 160 acres on the north side of what is now SR 96, with the northern border as present day East Smiley Road.

Two girls and a boy were born to Giles and Jane – Maria (1818), John (1820), and Lucy (1825).

Around 1820, the first schoolhouse was erected near the crossroads, and not far from the residence of Giles Swan.7 He likely was a proponent of the schoolhouse and education; Giles and Adam both graduated from Yale College.

A newspaper account from 1928 mentions Giles Swan’s death in detail. The story was not true – 

Giles Swan was killed at a log rolling, and its the first death on record in Jackson Township of our early settlers. He was buried along the bank of Bear Run, directly east of the Wm Gilchest home 1 1/2 miles east of Shelby.8

When Lucy was 18, in about 1843, the family moved west to Missouri. They lived there about four years, then moved to Polk, Iowa, where Giles again homesteaded 80 acres, purchased from the US government.9 He barely had time to clear land before he died two years later. Jane died in 1876 in Iowa. Little is known about brother Adam.

Giles Hallam Swan
B: 29 Apr 1793, Stonington, New London, Connecticut
M: 27 July 1817, Sharon Township, Richland, Ohio
D: Dec 1849, Polk City, Polk, Iowa

Jane Rockwell
B: 5 Jan 1798, Wilton, Fairfield, Connecticut
D: Mar 1876, Des Moines, Polk, Iowa

Maria Swan
B: 1818, Jackson Township, Richland, Ohio
M: 1837, to Eli Mosier
D: 11 Apr 1862, Madison Township, Polk, Iowa

John R. Swan
B: 31 May 1820, Jackson Township, Richland, Ohio
M: 7 Mar 1844, Elizabeth Warren Strode, Clay, Missouri
D: 28 Feb 1900, Clay, Missouri

Lucy Swan
B: Apr 1825, Jackson Township, Richland, Ohio
M: 12 Sep 1856, Oliver Ralph Jones, Des Moines, Polk, Iowa
D: 2 May 1908, Des Moines, Polk, Iowa


  1. A.A. Graham, 1880, History of Richland County, Ohio, Mansfield, Ohio, A.A. Graham & Co., Publishers, 421
  2. Original land survey.
  3. A.A. Graham, 1880, History of Richland County, Ohio, Mansfield, Ohio, A.A. Graham & Co., Publishers, 421. 
  4. A.A. Graham, 1880, History of Richland County, Ohio, Mansfield, Ohio, A.A. Graham & Co., Publishers, 422.
  5. Independent News, Shelby Ohio August 19, 1869. Story relayed by T.H. Wiggins, who interviewed Samuel Rockwell, nephew of Jane Rockwell. Mrs. Marvin was alive and present at the dance. 
  6. A.A. Graham, 1880, History of Richland County, Ohio, Mansfield, Ohio, A.A. Graham & Co., Publishers, 572.
  7. A.A. Graham, 1880, History of Richland County, Ohio, Mansfield, Ohio, A.A. Graham & Co., Publishers, 422.
  8. A History of Shelby, The Shelby Daily Globe, 5-9-1928. The story is not true. Giles died in Iowa in 1849. The writer may have meant Joseph Rockwell, who was the first recorded death of an adult in Sharon Township in 1818.
  9. The Des Moines Register, Des Moines, Polk, Iowa, 3 May 1908, page 9, obituary of Lucy Swan Jones.

Submitted by Christina Yetzer Drain.