Aaron Burr Goodwin
By Pamela Pattison Lash
A violent temper, a fine education, knowledge of surveying, an unscrupulous nature, and a trickster are several descriptors used to detail this early settler of the Bridgewater, NW Twp area. He was branded a coward by some for not leaving his cabin at night for fear of reprisals by the Native Americans whom he had cheated, but it’s also said he was merely exercising caution. William Shinn, a county historian, called him a man of mystery and romance.
Aaron Burr Goodwin was born sometime between 1790 and 1800. His other vitals are currently unknown, but his claim to fame in Williams County, Ohio was that he was the first settler in the Bridgewater/NW Township area. Accounts state he was here as early as 1837. . He may have purchased land in Hillsdale Co, MI on 16 Mar 1837 and Steuben Co, IN on 5 Aug 1837 both citing him as Aaron Burr Goodwin of Hillsdale Co, MI. Before his arrival at some point he was reputably an Indian trader in Jackson, Michigan. When he appeared on Williams County soil, he had two orphans with him, a boy and a girl, whom he brought from Cleveland, Ohio. No accounts tell anything of the boy but the girl, Anne Goodwin, married another early settler, Hiram Russell. In fact when Goodwin left the area, the Russells took over his cabin for a time.
Aaron was blessed with gunsmith skills, a superior education, and experience as a frontier surveyor. This education may have been the ability to read and write and cipher (math skills). From his cabin he sold goods such as powder, lead, calico, tobacco, and whisky; the last item got him in trouble with the natives. When they bought his whisky they would get drunk and Aaron would take advantage of them to make a great deal of money. As the histories tell, Goodwin feared for his life when he refused to sell one native some grog; this led to an altercation whereby a scalping knife was drawn and Aaron quickly barred his cabin door and used his rifle to scatter the complainers from his establishment. Another time he cheated a man named Big Jack out of an impressive bearskin. Since many accounts claim Goodwin had a fierce temper, “a conflagration”, one can imagine the frequency of his altercations with both natives and white settlers.
According to the 1840 Bridgewater Twp, Williams Co, OH federal census p215 Goodwin (40-50 years old) was enumerated with a female of similar age. No wife is ever mentioned in the histories so the lady’s identity is a mystery. Goodwin spent between six to eight years here. During that time he served as a mail carrier, keeping the letters and other valuables under his hat, as was the postal custom of the times. Perhaps items were lost or stolen. The histories say even the white settlers began to doubt his honesty, so one day he packed it in and left.
Another theory exists that he supposedly did not like crowds, “the encroachment of civilization” so when this area became populated he stole away into the night, never to return. Some say he traveled as far west as Illinois or Iowa.