Excerpts from The Defiance Democrat Newspaper
Defiance Democrat - September, 1866
The Orphan Train Stopped Here – Defiance, Ohio
by Dianne KlineIn the September 8, 1866, Defiance Democrat, the first notice is given of an upcoming visit from an Agent of the New York Children‟s Aid Society with the intention of finding homes for needy children. The thought was that these children who were orphaned, homeless, neglected or in street gangs from the city would be much better off living in a rural home with a family, rather than in an urban institution.
In the beginning, children from the city were placed in homes in the East, at first for help in manufacturing, but by 1854, the first group was sent to Dowagiac, Michigan for farm labor during the early settlement days. “From this rather inauspicious first settlement, Michigan continued to receive the eastern poor, sharing with Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas approximately 90 percent of those resettled by the Children‟s Aid Society.”1 The placements continued until 1929.
The stop in Defiance in 1866 followed the usual procedure of bringing a group of children with an adult to some rallying point in the town, usually a church, large hall or even the railroad depot, where families then could choose from the group.
The Defiance paper of 1866 states:
“We renew our notice that the Agent of the Society will be in Defiance on Thursday, the 13th day of September, with a company of children seeking homes. These children, of all ages, are gathered up by means of this Society in the large cities and their suburbs, and sent West, to be raised and instructed in the means of support among the farmers of the West. This Society has already sent out 14,000 children, who have been successfully cared for, to the mutual benefit of all parties. The Agent, Mr. FRIEDGEN, informs us that this will be his 62d colony, and that he has never yet failed in disposing of his charge within two days of his arrival at any town, and he does not fear that he will be unsuccessful here.
Persons desiring further information, or to apply for a child, are referred to the following citizens who will act as a Committee of Reference and assist the Agent in disposing of his charges: Messrs. Wm. A BROWN, S.T. SUTPHEN, J.F. SHULTZ, J.H. BEVINGTON and L.E. MYERS.
We append the Society‟s Published Terms:
-All applications must be made to the committee.
-The children must be kept till of age, except in the case (which rarely happens) of one having an ineradicable disease, physical or moral, at the time the child was taken. Should a removal be necessary for other sufficient reasons, it can be effected by consent of the Committee; but a new home must be provided by the party who has taken the child.
-If ill-tempered, or neglected, as to physical or moral culture, the child will be removed by the Society.
-The child will not be indentured; a mutual voluntary agreement having been proved by the experience of the Society to be the most practical, and the best plan.
-It is expected that the expense of transportation (which is very moderate) will be paid by those who take the children.
H. Friedgen, Agent.”2
The next paper reported a very successful placement:
“The children brought West by the Children‟s Aid Society arrived on last Thursday afternoon. Hundreds of people were at the Depot – partly from curiosity, but the most with a view to select a child. The children were taken up that afternoon, promptly, by some of our best citizens. A many more could have been disposed of.”3
Some children were eventually adopted by their families, but many children often lived lives in limbo in their new homes. It was expected that the Agent would provide some follow-up visits to the placements, but in reality, that seldom happened. Contact between the Society and the placed children was generally lost after awhile.
Several sad incidents occurred in Defiance in the families of these children.
On November 17, 1866, the Defiance Democrat reported the death of one of the children, who was seemingly not important enough to be named:
“We have to record another melancholy result of the careless use of firearms by boys. On Sunday last, as some boys were playing in the barn of Mr. Chas. SPEAKER, one, a young KRUGTON, in sport snapped a pistol he held in his hand, which unexpectedly went off, wounding his hand and killing instantly another boy, aged 10 years, recently taken by Mr. Speaker to raise, of the lot sent out by the N.Y. Children‟s Aid Society. A jury empanneled by Coroner BEADERSTADT found in accordance with the above statement.”4
By the next spring, the paper reported another tragedy involving one of the orphans who this time is only named by a first name:
“Outrage and Possible Crime. One of the New York Orphans, a boy of 12 named Robert, in the family of Joseph KERN (Korn?) of Adams twp., died last week and the neighbors, not being satisfied procured an inquest. Coroner Beaderstadt, the Prosecuting Attorney, and Drs. ASHTON and MOSS, went out on Tuesday, raised the body and with a jury of the township,
respectable citizens and heads of families, held an inquest. The jury agreed that the boy had made a fair and square die of it.
A reading of the Surgeons‟ and witness testimony at the office of Prosecuting Att‟y HARDY does not bring us unanimously to this conclusion. The Doctors found sores and abscesses on both sides of his head, on his body and on his legs, and Kern hmself admitted to the jury that the boy had a way of falling quickly and flat when his wife boxed his ears, and that he himself had whipped him. We read in the papers of various instances of shocking cruelty to these children elsewhere, and that a different style of notice was taken of them. They probably are not models of correct and amiable behavior and bad beatings and murdering is not the treatment nor the mode of reformation they are entitled to. This case seems to us might, with regards to due „rights of persons, as also to the reputation of the community, be ventilated in the courts – a sound public sentiment should require it. If hushed up, there are some people who will continue to think that the State has probably been defrauded of ten or fifteen years service from Kern and wife.”5
Strangely, I found no further mention of this case in the paper, so the verdict must have stood and the case forgotten. In fact, this was the last mention of the orphans or the Children‟s Aid Society that I found in the papers, reading through 1872.
For some children, placement might have meant an adoring family, but for others, it was only a means to acquire farm labor. Few records exist to enlighten us on individual cases, unless they have been maintained by families of these ancestors.
I asked Rhonda Casler at the Records Center in Defiance if any records of these children existed in our county, and she could find no mention of them in probate or adoption records. So it would seem that the placement was an informal one with perhaps just an agreement made with the Children‟s Aid Society itself.
For those interested in researching the orphan trains,
many good websites exist for general information, including:
For this article, I used the following:
1Holt, Marilyn Irvin. The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America. University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
2”Children‟s Aid Society.” Defiance Democrat, September 8, 1866, p. 3.
3Defiance Democrat, September 15, 1866, p. 2
4Defiance Democrat, November 17, 1866, p. 2
5”Outrage and Possible Crime.” Defiance Democrat, April 20, 1867, p. 2.