Letters: North Cabin a Piece of U.S. History

By Frank North, Reprinted from The Lansing Star Online April 24, 2009

The North Cabin, now disassembled and awaiting a new chapter in its life, has significance even beyond its important relationship to Lansing’s own history. It represents several periods of American history that can be told well by the wooden structure and through the lives of those who pioneered Lansing and surrounding communities. The fact that it was built there when it was is a story worth preserving, protecting and retelling. But only the Town of Lansing and its residents can insure that the story will be told to the generations yet born.

Although not unique, the North family moved over two hundred years ago, in the late 1700s, to literally begin a new life in the far western lands of the young nation.  Their journey was not at all like the one we could make today along highways and Interstates. And, for a colonial family that had experienced some of the pivotal moments in the founding of the United States, their story is one that is worth retelling in the very cabin that they built by hand in the new wilderness. There is no better place to tell the story of America than in the North Cabin.

Their story is an American story. The North family sailed across the Atlantic and landed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1729.  In 1734, Caleb North bought 69 acres of land from the Penn family in Pennsylvania County, now Montgomery County.  William Penn, the founder of the Commonwealth, had sold most of his land holdings but kept for himself a tract located on the east side of the Schuylkill River, located just east of present day Royersford. The Norths lived just twenty miles west of Philadelphia, where Mingo Creek flows into the Schuyhill River. Valley Forge lies less than 10 miles east of their home. The war for independence from Great Britain was fought all around them and battlefields and history markers are quite common. Today, at the very place where the Norths lived, subdivisions of new homes fill the once rolling farmland.

Caleb’s son, Roger, married Ann Rambo, great-granddaughter of Peter Gunnarson Rambo of the colony of New Sweden, located on the shores of the Delaware River where the city of Philadelphia is now located.  (The Rambos were among the first Swedish families to settle in New Sweden in the mid-1600s. The Rambos were landowners and influential in the affairs of William Penn’s Commonwealth.) In December 1747, following the French and Indian Wars, companies of soldiers, called Associators, were formed to defend the City of Philadelphia and the Province. Officers were chosen and commissioned by the Provincial Council. In 1748, Roger North was commissioned a lieutenant in the Provincial service. During the Revolution he was too advanced in years to bear arms, but his eight sons enlisted in the conflict. Roger spoke in support of the cause of freedom from Great Britain and is recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a revolutionary patriot. Roger’s son, Thomas, who was born in 1757, fought in the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. As an inducement to serve, the Continental Congress used bounty lands as payment to those soldiers such as Thomas who fought in battles of the war. Because of Thomas’ land bounty payment for service, the North family moved to today’s Lansing, Tompkins County, NY. Although very few veterans actually settled on the bounty lands they were awarded, Thomas North did. He and his family, having lived in Pennsylvania for almost thirty years, left to start life anew in a place that few Europeans or colonists had ever seen.

Thomas and his family probably began to build their cabin soon after they arrived. My great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Exner North, born in Pennsylvania, was just an infant when they started their new life on New York’s western frontier.  Joseph was a soldier in the war of 1812 and rose to the rank of captain. He saw service at the Battle of Lundy's Lane, which took place on July 25, 1814, in present-day Niagara Falls, Ontario, during the War of 1812.  It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war with Great Britain and both sides lost about the same number of men. The British had 84 killed, 559 wounded, 42 captured and 193 missing. The Americans lost 171 dead, 572 wounded, 7 captured and 110 missing. Joseph was one of the few American prosiners of war.

My great-great grandfather, Seth, was born near lansing in 1823. In 1838 he moved with his father, mom and brothers and sisters to another faraway land, Michigan. The place they made home they named for Lansing, their old home in New York.  Soon after, the capitol of the State was located three miles north of his farm. Joseph’s brother Joshua, who stayed in Lansing, had a son Thomas Jefferson North.  Two of his sons, Frank Joshua and Luther, became associated with the Pawnee tribe in Nebraska, became legendary scouts for the U.S. Army and teamed up with William F. Cody and his Wild West show. A fascinating family’s story but more than that, a story of our country’s founding, its wars and battles, its western migration, and the settling of land that became the nation we know and cherish.

All in all, in just three to four generations, a story of American history can be told by a simple, hand-hewn wood cabin in western New York State. From colonists landing on docks in William Penn’s providence of Pennsylvania, through the defense of the province to the battles of the American Revolution, to western movement of young families seeking a new life in an unknown wilderness of western New York to the soldiers’ heroism in defense of their new nation against Great Britain in the War of 1812. Lansing has a proud history that must be told and the cabin can serve as the jumping off

I echo the sentiments expressed by Matthew P. Binkewicz in the “To the Point” article published in the April 10th issue of the Lansing Star:  “As with most issues in this community, there are several opinions about the significance of this structure. Our town has a deep and rich history.  Over the years, dedicated individuals have given their time and expertise to record, preserve, and ensure this history for future generations. We now have an opportunity to continue in that same tradition and rebuild the North Log Cabin in our town. Our great-grandchildren will be glad we did, and that is to the point. “

When the fate of the cabin is being decided, please place the cabin and its history in the broader context of the history of our country and the men and women pioneers who first came to the colonies, who fought for our liberty and freedom from Great Britain, who fought time and again to preserve our nation and whose ancestors can point to a simple, 200-year-old structure and tell a proud story of who we are as Americans.

Frank North
Tampa, Florida