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Bethiah and Fabius Miles 
Early Settlers in Hartford Township, Michigan

Click here to view the Miles home along the Paw Paw River
Click here to read the history of Bethiah and Fabius and their home.


         This drawing of Bethiah and Fabius Miles was part of the original portrait discovered by Jason and Nikki Meachum in the attic when they moved into their home on 52nd Avenue in Hartford Township.  Jason and Nikki live about 1/2 mile from the original location of the Miles home.  It is not known why this portrait was in the attic of the Meachum home. 

Information from the book 
Paw Paw River
Days and Nights

by Roy (Bud) Davis
published in 1993 

Fabius Miles

For historical information necessary to write this story, I am indebted to several people whose names I wish to mention at the beginning.  They include Vannie MacLeod, a descendent of Fabius and Bethiah Miles through their oldest daughter, Rebecca Jane.  Vannie’s mother was one of the heroines in another story of the Hartford post office robbery.

Another resource person is Larry Larsen, carpenter and builder, the son of Aage and Hildreth Balfour Larsen.  Hildreth was descended from Fabius and Bethiah’s second daughter, Florine Levantia.  Incidentally, Hildreth and I were classmates in Hartford High School and we graduated together.

My third resource person is Leta Benjamin, whose parents were Leonard and Jessie Dade.  Before moving into Hartford, the Dades farmed out near Webster’s Hills in the Miles District.  Leta has told me many stories of pioneer life in that area.  Incidentally, the Dade farm was near the present home ranch of retired builder Rich Conklin.  Rich’s wife, Genieveve, is a niece of Leta’s.

These and other friends have provided considerable material for my story on Fabius Miles…

  On a frosty cold February night in 1935, the Hartford area lost one of its landmark homes.  Located out in the Miles District northeast of town, the house was built by pioneer sawmill owner Fabius Miles.

Later on, it was known as the Worthington property.  For a time, it also served as the residence of Congressman George Foulkes.  Then, sometime in there, it was modernized and at the time of its destruction by fire, Charles Nichols occupied it.

That bitterly cold night, Hartford firemen responded with two trucks and battled the blaze with chemicals and water pumped from the Paw Paw River.  Thought to have started in a defective chimney, the fire had progressed so far the building could not be saved.  The Nichols family’s belongings had been carried out by helpful neighbors.

It was a tragic end for one of the nicest homes in the area.  When Fabius Miles built something, he spared no effort or cost in making it the best.

Fabius came from New York State, as did many Hartford area pioneers.  His father, Jonathan Eastman Miles, was born in New Hampshire and planted apple orchards around Watertown, New York, where he settled and reared a family.  His first wife, Mary Sheldon, died in childbirth.  Thereafter, he married her younger sister, Lucinda, and with her had a total of seven sons and five daughters.  Life must have been rough for pioneer women-in more ways than one.

Fabius’ sister, Eloise M. Abbott, came to Michigan and was a well known newspaper correspondent in Van Buren County until she moved to California.

Fabius went to school in Buffalo, New York, then returned to study at the Watertown Academy.  His French teacher had been an officer in the French Army under Napoleon.

In 1838, Fabius Miles established the Watertown Normal School.  He also married Bethiah Mantle, one of the local girls who was a gifted singer and a student of astronomy.

One of Fabius’ students became a doctor-his name was Bartholomew, and he moved to Keeler, which at the time was a little frontier community on Territorial Road running across the area that was to become Michigan.  This may have had some bearing on Fabius Miles’ decision to try his hand a pioneering in our area. In 1844, Fabius left his home and wife, Bethiah (who was pregnant), and came to see the Michigan area for himself.  He already had relatives living northeast of Hartford…his cousins, Charles P. Sheldon and wife, were homesteading on the banks of the Paw Paw River northeast of town.

Fabius wanted to make sure Hartford was the right place to settle, so he journeyed on to Illinois, down the Mississippi River, and then back to the Hartford area.  On the way, he contracted a fever (probably malaria), which was to plague him at times thereafter.

Fall of 1844, Fabius started to build his sawmill on the banks of the Paw Paw, estimating the total cost of the project at $3,000.  He hired a millwright and soon spent the $1,200 he had brought with him.  He borrowed another $2,000, but it was not enough.  He had ordered all of the cast iron parts form Mishawaka, Indiana (about forty miles away), and had to pay for them.

So Fabius packed his suitcase and walked to Battle Creek.  There, he borrowed seven dollars from a friend and took "the cars", as the railroad was called then, to Detroit.  He boarded a boat for Buffalo, N.Y., and arrived there with 25¢ in his pocket.

He found some more friends who financed the rest of his trip home by canal boat.  At Watertown, he raised $500 and started back. When he got to Hartford, this money helped him to obtain more credit and he finished and opened his sawmill in 1847.

Fabius Miles floated many feet of lumber down the Paw Paw River.  In 1859, he took a cargo of boards to New York City from his mill.  This must have been an almost impossible task.  He floated the lumber rafts down the river in high water to St. Joseph.  Then, he had them pulled around through the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and the Hudson River to New York City.

His wife, Bethiah, had come out to Michigan in the fall of 1844. She was expecting their first child, Rebecca Jane, who was born a month later.  A philosopher once said, " A woman is like a tea bag.  You can’t tell how strong she is until she gets into hot water."  

Bethiah certainly proved herself getting to the frontier and living successfully after that.  Fabius wrote to her, giving details of how to make the long and difficult journey to Hartford.  Racked by fits of fever, he scribbled by candlelight a long letter which survives to this day.  In 1931, a curio dealer found his letter in Michigan City, Indiana, a part of a bundle of old newspapers and other papers he was sorting for historic items.  

The letter was written August 13, 1844, and mailed at Paw Paw two days thereafter.  There was no envelope, just the letter folded over and addressed to Mrs. F. Miles, Watertown, Jefferson County, New York.  No postage stamp was used, just a notation that 25¢ postage had been paid.

Fabius (in the letter) told his no doubt anxious and very pregnant wife that she should not take the boat from Buffalo to Monroe, Michigan, because the railroad was not completed from that point across Michigan.  Instead, she should go directly from Buffalo to Detroit and take the cars from there to Marshall, where he would meet her. 

Fabius had been suffering from symptoms of "ague" (A febrile condition in which there are alternating periods of chills, fever, and sweating. Used chiefly in reference to the fevers associated with malaria.  As defined in MS Bookshelf ) and fever almost every other day.  He said he was so weak he could hardly write, but he believed the attacks were lessening.

If she got to Marshall, and he was unable to meet her there, she was to take the stage coach to Paw Paw, and by that time he would surely be well enough to meet here.  

If she had to ride the stage, it would go through the night, and she would be very tired.  But she should tell the agent or driver that her health was not very good, and she would be glad if they would drive the coach as carefully as possible.

Fabius ended the letter by saying, 

"I am tired out with writing this letter and in addition to all that I feel very anxious to see you here…

Yours till I see you,

Fabius Miles"

Well, Bethiah made it to Hartford.  One month later, Rebecca Jane was born.  This girl grew up to marry an Englishman who came to the Hartford area.  Rebecca Miles Jelley became a teacher in the first public school established in Hartford.  

But before Rebecca was born, her parents had as their first order of business building a home.  They lived, meanwhile, with their relatives, the Charles Sheldons.

In October, just three weeks after Rebecca was born, Fabius moved his family into a new log cabin.  It had a dirt floor and basswood roof.  For awhile, their only front door was a blanket hung over the opening.

Quite a few Indians lived in the area and west of their near Stoughton’s Corners, Chief Simon Pokagon was to establish his headquarters.  The local Indians soon found that the Miles family was friendly.  These Native Americans were very curious about the White Man’s ways.  When they came by the cabin, they would often lift the blanket at the door and look around to see what was going on.  Then, they would continue on their way.

This must have been disconcerting to the young frontier wife, but she soon became used to it.  In fact, the squaws would come to help her with laundry and baking.  They thought white bread to be about the height of luxury.  Bethiah often had the company of Indian women when Miles was away on business.  Sometimes the frontier family would get up in the morning and find an Indian or two rolled up in a blanket in front of the fireplace hearth, having taken shelter there for the night. 

Isabelle J. Boyer, granddaughter of Fabius and Bethiah Miles, recalled in later years some impression of her grandmother:

"I have no record of Grandmother’s education, but…she was well educated.  For one thing, she was well versed in astronomy.  She taught me all I ever knew about the stars.   …I remember well listening to her repeat poetry she had learned in earlier years and to me it was very wonderful.  She had a sweet voice but could sing only a few notes when her voice would break on account of having typhoid fever a few years before I can remember." 

Bethiah Miles was a pioneer wife and mother who surely had the "true grit" it took to settle the wilderness.

Other interesting notes regarding Fabius Miles from the book, A History of Hartford by Charles A. Spaulding:
  • Fabius Miles located 300 acres on Section 12 in 1844.
  • He served as a member of the State House of Representatives for the session of
An original portrait Fabius and Bethiah Miles and of their home was found in the attic of a home purchased by Jason and Nikki Meachum on 52nd Avenue, approximately 1/2 mile from the original location of the Miles home.  It is not known why the portrait was in their attic.

Click here to view an original portrait of the Miles home.
Click here to view an original portrait of Fabius and Bethiah Miles
Click here to view the history of Fabius and Bethiah Miles and their home.


Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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Pearls In Our Past - Hartford Michigan
A Pictorial History of Hartford Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik
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History of Hartford Michigan
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Revised: March 23, 2009