Brinkhaven

Alleged centenarian Susannah Devore lived east of Brinkhaven, seen here in a period image. The mystery of her true age remains unanswered.

MOUNT VERNON -- I love writing historical columns. I get to play detective, trying to piece together forgotten stories and bring them once again to life.

Often, I get tips or further insight from readers, which tells me others are also interested in delving into the forgotten past.

But some stories refuse to resolve themselves, even after considerable digging. I have three of them for you this week. Perhaps someone out there can tell us more about each.

There is an interesting article that popped up on newspaper wire services in 1866, spread throughout the nation under the dramatic headline, "Total Depravity." The total depravity cited was a case that was first reported in the Bucyrus Journal:

Mary Noblet has been arrested in Knox County for stealing meat and robbing and burning a church library. It is said she stole the meat and then stole the Sunday school library to cook the meat with. If a worse case of human depravity can be imagined, we would like to hear of it.

I would love to travel back in a time machine and deliver these smug people a DVR and TV with several episodes of any modern "reality" television show. They'd faint.

Since finding this report, I've done a number of searches for Mary Noblet, but I can't find her in Knox County. The closest Mary Noblet I can find lived in Crawford County, which is where the newspaper report originated. Perhaps the event in question happened there, because I can find no trace of it in any Knox County sources. It may only be that the law caught up with her in Knox County.

Ms. Noblet would have been about 20 years old at the time of the incident, still young enough to have been perceived as a runaway from her family, if that's, in fact, what she did. The theft of meat and stealing of flammable material for a fire could have been the desperate act of a starving woman.

What is indeed peculiar is that in the 1870 census, Mary is listed as housekeeper for another Noblet, 20 years her senior, who is not listed as having a wife. Nonetheless, the house is full of young children. Perhaps her desperate crime came from an attempt to flee a very bad life from which there was no escape.

Another newspaper story, this time from 1904, tells the story of a woman, Susan (or Susannah) Devore, who lived near Brinkhaven (or "Brink Haven," as it was styled in those days), just over the line into Tiverton Township in Coshocton County. Devore was said to be 108 years old at the time of her death, a remarkable feat which would have had her living in three centuries: born in 1796, died in 1904.

The problem is that once I found her on period census reports, the story doesn't hold up. In the 1870 census, Devore is described as 70 years old, which puts her birth a few years later. But in 1880, she is still listed as 70 years old by that census taker. So, was she born in 1796, 1800, or 1810?

It's hard to say.

Susan Devore is listed by the 1900 census as illiterate. If she couldn't read or write, would her math skills be much better? There's every possibility that the old woman didn't know her exact age, and periodically revised it upwards. Billed as 108 at her death, Devore may have been no older than her early 90s, which is respectable, but hardly worthy of national news coverage.

Additionally, the son she lived with is more solidly documented with a birth date of 1842. It's easy to image Susan Devore giving birth at age 32, but age 46 was very advanced for birth in those days.

Last but not least, I've gone in circles trying to discover why there is a place in northern Knox County known as College Hill. It is not to be confused with the familiar hill upon which Kenyon College sits in Gambier. This College Hill is a sparsely populated dusty intersection of College Hill Road and Pealer Mill Road in Brown Township.

Most likely, it takes its name from the schoolhouse that 1870 and 1896 maps show being there, though there's nothing to indicate it was anything other than a standard, one-room country schoolhouse.

If anyone knows anything more about any of these historical mysteries, contact me here or at the email Mark@sinisterhandmedia.com.

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