Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sarah Ellen Drew, 1838 - 1940

Documenting the lives of African Americans of Sandusky County, Ohio is not an easy task! In depth research by Charles Weiker of Fremont, Ohio has identified some of the families. Many were related either before coming to Sandusky County or by marriage after their arrival.

One of the most well known in the community was Sarah Ellen Drew, wife of Thomas Drew, who came to Fremont in 1880. In March of 1933, Sarah, was interviewed by Juel Reed of the Fremont News Messenger. That interview provides a rare glimpse into the life of a child born into bondage in Frederick County, Maryland and enslaved in Loudon County, Virginia as a young woman during the Civil War.

At the time of the interview, Sarah, 95 years of age, was living alone at the home she and her husband had built at 541 Second Street in Fremont. Her husband had died 25 years earlier. She had also lost a son and a daughter.

Sarah was born into slavery on a plantation owned by the Crummel family of Frederick County, Maryland. She said, “I did everything around the farm – milked cows, rode horses, did all kinds of general work.” Sarah stated that later she “went into service across the Virginia line. There were lots of tobacco fields there – no cotton – they don’t raise it there – not far enough south.”

Sarah frequently went with her master and mistress to Baltimore and Washington, D. C. Shortly after President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, she attended an affair at which he was present and had the privilege of shaking his hand. She recalled, “He was a wonderful man – not handsome – but so kind looking. We all loved him.”

Two months after the firing on Fort Sumter, Sarah heard the first rumblings of guns near the Loudon County, Virginia plantation, where she lived. “I can still see them bringing the wounded men in – wagon load after wagon load. Some of them were screaming and praying for someone to shoot them and put them out of their misery. Every church was full and they quartered them in every house. Even the place where I was in service had some. I remember seeing 15 of them on the floor of one room. And the way they were buried! They died like flies, and even yet I can see them burying men in boxes that weren’t fit to put a dog in they were so rough. They died so fast they had to get rid of the bodies in some way, I guess.”

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Sarah returned home to her father, her mother having died the previous year. “We were crazy with joy. Remember, we were in bondage all those years, and the thought of being free was almost too much.”

Sarah’s three brothers fought in Union regiments. Immediately after the surrender, she received a letter from one of her brothers stating. “We ate breakfast in Richmond this morning and not a shot was fired. But the panic was awful. Women and children ran all over screaming. We had to order them inside the houses.”

When freedom came, her father moved on a small farm of his own, and a few years later, Sarah married Thomas Drew, who had come from Jefferson County, Virginia. Three months each winter, Sarah did housework for wealthy families in the vicinity. When one of them, the Raifsnyders, came to Fremont in 1880, Sarah came with them.

Recalling her arrival in Fremont, Sarah laughed, saying, “It was the furtherest I’d ever been up north. Do you know what impressed me the most – the board walks! I’d never heard they had them up here, but I never saw them before. Down south we had flagstones.”

Sarah recalled the celebration in Fremont the following spring when the Hayes family returned to Spiegel Grove. A short time later, her husband Thomas and their children joined her in Fremont. When the Raifsnyder family moved away, Sarah worked for the Stanley Thomas and Grund families.

She later worked for the Hayes family. She recalled, “They were grand people. I don’t know as there were any nicer white folks any place. Whenever they were short handed at the Grove they always called me. Sometimes I cooked for them and some times when they had big affairs I’d usher. And Mrs. Hayes! She was the most wonderful person to work for you could imagine. Why, I remember that several times she drove me home. They had a white horse – his name was Nimrod – and the carriage would bring me right up here to my door.” Henry Drew, Sarah’s son, also worked for the Hayes family. Application for probate of will of Thomas Drew by his widow Sarah Ellen Drew
She remembered the days when Colonel Webb Hayes and Fanny Hayes, children of President and Mrs. Hayes, were young. “After Miss Fannie married and went to Washington, she used to come back here to visit real often. She had a colored nurse for the baby, and she used to bring the nurse over here to visit me.”

In her final years, Sarah Drew lived for a time at the Sandusky County Infirmary. Benefiting from an “old age pension,” Sarah moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where she resided with her granddaughter, Sadie Whiteside. Sadie (born Sarah Ellen Drew) was the daughter of Thomas and Sarah’s son, Cornelius Henry Drew.

Sadie had married Leander Dixon, a son of William M. and Elizabeth Dixon. William M. Dixon was a Civil War veteran and member of Fremont’s Eugene Rawson G.A.R. Post. After the death of Leander, Sadie Drew Dixon married William Whiteside. Sarah Ellen Drew died at Sadie’s home in Oberlin in January of 1940 at the age of 102. Services were held at the Warren A. M. E. Church in Fremont, Ohio, where Sarah Drew had been a devoted and active member. She is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont.

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