Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Leonard B. Gurley, Pioneer Poet

In honor of National Poetry Month, a story about Sandusky's pioneer poet:

Leonard Beatty Gurley was born in Connecticut to Rev. William Gurley and Susannah Beatty. His uncle, John Beatty, was the Mayor of Sandusky from 1833-1836, and his cousin, also named John Beatty, was a Brigadier General in the Civil War.  The Gurley family moved to the Firelands in the early 1800’s. Both Leonard B. Gurley and his father were Methodist preachers.  In the earliest days, they were “circuit riders,” riding on horseback to preach to the settlers. Rev. Leonard B. Gurley served as pastor of Sandusky’s Trinity Methodist Church from 1867 through 1869. Rev. Gurley was well known in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.

Though he is not credited in the newspaper, L.B. Gurley wrote what some consider to be the first poem published in Northwestern Ohio. Rev. Nathaniel B. C. Love wrote an article about Leonard B. Gurley in volume 10 of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society Publication.  The poem Thy Plains Sandusky begins:

Thy Plains Sandusky, and thy green retreats,
Thy perfum’d flowers, & they op’ning sweets,
How bright the scene to fancy’s richer glow,
True colors  deepen’d, void of airy show.

Dr. Love says of Leonard B. Gurley, “His imagery is so true to nature that one continually recognizes it as something seen, heard, felt in the observations and experiences of life.” Besides writing many poems and sermons, Rev. Gurley also wrote a biography of his father, The Memoir of  Rev. William Gurley, which is available for reading full-text at Google Books.

Rev. Leonard B. Gurley was a minister for over fifty years. His obituary in the March 29, 1880 Sandusky Register states that Rev. Gurley was “full of kindness for his neighbors, he was an excellent citizen, a faithful friend and brother adviser.” Though beloved by his family and friends, there is another side of Rev. Gurley.  A young woman named Mary Monnett came under the guidance of Rev. Leonard B. Gurley. Though she was in love with a male seminarian at Ohio Wesleyan University, Rev. Gurley convinced Mary that she should not pursue the romance. The story, which is available online, ends with Mary losing her money and living in an asylum.

Accounts of Rev. William Gurley, Rev. L. B. Gurley, and many other early settlers of Erie and Huron counties can be read in the Firelands Pioneer, available at the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library. 

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