Story type: Literature
General Rufus Putnam, a brave officer of the Revolutionary war, was the first to call the attention of the Eastern States to the rich territory opened to settlement west of the Ohio by the peace with Great Britain, and he was one of the earliest band of pioneers which landed on the shores of the Muskingum. In 1787 Rev. Manasseh Cutler of Ipswich, Massachusetts, published a description of the Ohio country, which left little to the liveliest imagination. If anything was naturally lacking for the wants of man in a land abounding in wild fruits, “herds of deer, elk, buffalo, and bear,” and flocks of “turkeys, geese, ducks, swans, teal, pheasants, partridges, etc.,… in greater plenty than the tame poultry are in any part of the old settlements of America,” and in rivers “stored with fish, especially catfish, the largest, and of a delicious flavor,” which “weighs from thirty to eighty pounds,” it could be easily supplied by art. “The advantages of every climate,” Dr. Cutler told his readers, “are here blended together,” and the rich soil, everywhere underlain with valuable minerals, and covered with timber waiting to be built into ships and floated down the rivers to the sea, would produce not only “wheat, rye, Indian corn, buckwheat, oats, barley, flax, hemp, tobacco,” but even “indigo, silk, wine, and cotton.”
It is no wonder that the Ohio Company found the New Englanders eager to come out and possess this goodly heritage, and that the first band should have started from Dr. Cutler’s own village. At dawn, on the 30th of December, 1787, they paraded before his church and parsonage, twenty-two men with their families. After listening to a short speech from him, they fired a salute, and set off, as the lettering on their leading wagon made known, “For the Ohio Country.” It was eight weeks before they reached the headwaters of the Beautiful River, and began to build boats to float down its current to the mouth of the Muskingum. In the meantime, on the 1st of January, 1788, another company left Hartford, Connecticut, and in four weeks joined the first. They could not embark on their voyage together until April 2d, but in five days they arrived at Fort Harmar, beside the Muskingum, and were at their journey’s end. They did not find the shores waving with indigo, silk, and cotton, but they saw that the soil could produce almost any crop, and the weather was so mild and lovely that they must have been confirmed in their belief of all that Dr. Cutler had told them of the climate. Captain Pipe, the Delaware chief who had brought Crawford to his death of cruel torment a few years before, was encamped for trade near the military post, and with seventy other Indians he welcomed the newcomers to the Muskingum, where they wisely built a stockade as soon as they could for defense against their red friends. They settled down at once to hew their fields out of the forest, and the very next year they had a school for their children. Bathsheba Rouse taught this first Ohio school, and Ohio women may well be proud that she taught it a whole year before a man taught the next Ohio school. The settlers called their town Adelphia, but soon changed its name to Marietta, which they made up from the name of the French queen Marie Antoinette, though Marietta was a common enough name in Italian before their invention of it.
They built mills on the streams, and in the streams, where the current turned their wheels, and after a first summer of rejoicing they quieted down to the serious business of clearing farms, having ague, and saving their scalps from the hospitable Delawares and their allies. The very year after their arrival the wonderful climate behaved so ungratefully that the corn crop was cut off by an early frost; and something like a famine followed; but still the year of the settlement was one of high hopes and sober jollity. The pioneers celebrated the Fourth of July, 1788, with a grand banquet of “venison barbecued, buffalo steaks, bear meat, wild fowl, and a little pork, as the choicest luxury of all;” and at least “one fish, a great pike, weighing one hundred pounds, and over six feet long,” which could easily be “the largest ever taken by white men in the waters of the Muskingum.” Several of the Indians, who were always ready for eating and drinking, took part in the celebration, and the settlers saw with pleasure that they did not like the sound of the cannon. They all “kept it up till after twelve o’clock at night, and then went home and slept till daylight.”
The Marietta people knew how to enjoy themselves, but they had not come to Ohio for pastime, and they were soon all hard at work improving themselves as well as their lands. They not only had the first school in Ohio, but the first Sunday school. They had a public library in 1796, and preaching in the blockhouse from the beginning. It was ordered that every one should keep the Sabbath by going to church, and all men between eighteen and forty should do four days of military duty every year, as well as “entertain emigrants, visit the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, attend funerals, cabin raisings, log rollings, huskings; have their latchstrings always out.” Perhaps the reader has heard before this of having the latchstring out, but has not known just what the phrase meant. The log cabin door in those days was fastened with a wooden latch on the inside, which could be lifted on the outside by a leathern string passed through a small hole in the door above it. When the string was pulled in, the door was locked; but the free-hearted man always left his latchstring out, so that every comer could enter and share his fireside with him.
The good people of Marietta had soon occasion for all the kindness enjoined by their laws in befriending a hapless colony of Frenchmen, whom certain speculators known as the Scioto Company had lured from their homes in the Old World, and then abandoned to their fate in the heart of the Western wilderness, where they had been promised that they were to find “a climate wholesome and delightful, frost even in winter almost entirely unknown, a river called, by way of eminence, the beautiful and abounding in excellent fish of a vast size; noble forests consisting of trees that spontaneously produce sugar, and a plant that yields ready-made candles; venison in plenty, the pursuit of which is uninterrupted by wolves, foxes, lions, or tigers; no taxes to pay, no military services to be performed.”
Some of the adventurers who came to Ohio on these flattering terms were destitute people who agreed to work three years for the company and were then, each to receive from it in reward for their labors fifty acres of land, a house, and a cow. But others were people of means, who joyfully sold their property in the French cities and came out to found new homes in the Western woods, with money in their hands, but with no knowledge of woodcraft, or farming, and able neither to hunt, chop, plow, sow, or reap for themselves. They were often artisans, masters of trades utterly useless in that wild country, for what were carvers and gilders, cloak-makers, wigmakers and hairdressers to do on the banks of the Ohio in 1790? Some ten or twelve peasants came with the rest, but they were helpless too in the strange conditions, and if it had not been for the settlers at Marietta, they would all have fared miserably indeed.
The Scioto Company had so far provided for them as to agree with the Ohio Company for the erection of a little town or village where Gallipolis now stands; and when the first boats arrived with the strangely assorted company, they found a space cut out of the forest, and in the clearing eighty log cabins standing upon four streets fronting the river, with a square inclosed by a high stockade and fortified with blockhouses, where they might take shelter from the Indians. The cabins forming this square were of a better sort than those on the streets, and there was one meant to serve for a council chamber, where the newcomers promptly began to give balls. They arrived late in October, and there was nothing for them to do but to wait for the spring, even if they had known how to farm, and in the meanwhile they had as good a time as they could. They did not yet know that the Scioto Company, which failed to pay the Marietta people for building their village, had no power to give them titles to their land, and they hopefully spent their money in hiring American hunters to supply them with game. They seem to have been rather a light-hearted crew, in spite of their misfortunes and sufferings, and they not only amused themselves, but they amused their neighbors by their gay unfitness for the backwoods. If they went to fell a tree, half a dozen of them set to work on it with their axes at once, and when they had chopped it all round, they pulled it down with a rope, to the great danger of their lives and limbs. When they began to make gardens in the spring they followed the rules laid down in some books on gardening which they had brought with them from France, and they planted the seeds of such vegetables as they were used to at home. In a climate where “frost even in winter was almost unknown,” the Ohio River froze solidly over the year after they came, and the hunters brought in little or none of the promised venison, though certainly not molested in the chase “by tigers, lions, or foxes.” The colonists were in danger of starving, and many of them were already sick of the fevers bred by the past summer’s sun on the swamp lands about them. It was one of their few advantages that the Indians did not trouble them much, but after killing one of them in mistake for an American, contented themselves with stealing the Frenchmen’s cattle.
When the colonists found that the Scioto Company could not give them titles to the farms they had bought with their money or their toil, they began to stray away from the settlement. Some went down the rivers to New Orleans, others wandered off elsewhere, perhaps to St. Louis, or to the French towns in Indiana and Illinois; and when Congress at last came to their relief with a grant of twenty-four thousand acres, there were left at Gallipolis only ninety-two persons, out of the original five hundred colonists, to profit by the nation’s generosity. In 1807 few or none of them remained on the spot where they had fondly hoped to make peaceful and happy homes for themselves and their children. It was a sad ending to a romantic story, the most romantic of all the Ohio stories that I know, but we must not blame those who deceived the colonists (not quite wittingly, it seems) for all their woes and disasters. These were partly owing to themselves. The New Englanders who settled at Marietta did not find eighty comfortable cabins waiting for them, and they did not hire hunters to provide their food, or begin by giving balls. The able and educated men among the French colonists seem to have cowered under their disasters like the rest; and some were incurable dreamers. One of the best of them used afterwards to tell how he was descending the Ohio with two philosophers who believed so firmly in the natural innocence and goodness of men, that they invited some Indians aboard their boat and were at once tomahawked. Their skeptical companion shot two of the savages and then jumped into the river, where he swam for his life, diving at the flash of their guns, till he got safe to the farther shore.
The Frenchmen at Gallipolis were not the stuff that the founders of great states are made of; but the New Englanders at Marietta were, and so were the New Jerseymen at Cincinnati, who followed next after them in time. These had even a harder struggle in their beginnings than the people at Marietta, for there the emigrants made their settlement under the guns of Fort Harmar, in a region loosely held by the milder Delaware tribe of the Algonquin nation; but the lands between the Great Miami and Little Miami were claimed and held by the fierce Miamis and Shawnees, and they had been so long the battle ground of the Indians and the Kentuckians that the region was called the Shawnee Slaughter House. The great warpath of the tribes ran through it from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, and the first white settlers had to build stations with blockhouses and stockades before they could begin to till the ancient fields, where from time to time immemorial the Indians had planted and gathered their harvests of corn. The first settlers arrived from New Jersey in December, 1788, some eight months after the settlement at Marietta, and in a little more than a year a fort was built at Cincinnati and garrisoned with United States troops; but in 1791 a band of five hundred Indians, led by Simon Girty, attacked Dunlap’s Station at Colerain. They were beaten off only after a stubborn fight, though the Americans were armed with the cannon which the savages so much dreaded; and before they raised the siege they burned a white prisoner near the station.
This was a surveyor, and one of those New Jersey men of education and substance who were the earliest settlers in the Symmes Purchase, as the tract between the two Miamis was called. John Cleves Symmes, a prominent citizen of Trenton, had bought the land of the government, and he came himself with his friends to make the place his home. The events of this emigration were not so poetic as those of the New Englanders who settled on the Muskingum, but they resulted in the foundation of our greatest city; and if the first school in Ohio was at Marietta, the first church was built at Cincinnati. The hamlet opposite the mouth of the Licking was first known as Losantiville, a name made up of Greek and Latin words describing its situation, but this was soon changed to Cincinnati. The fort was built in 1790, and called Fort Washington; it was the strongest fort in the Northwest Territory, and to its strength Cincinnati owed her freedom from attacks by the Indians; it was of hewn timber, and was eighty feet square. At Cincinnati, Harmar and St. Clair began their march to defeat; here too the recruits for Wayne’s army gathered and encamped before they began their march to victory.
The past of the place is not so rich in legend as that of much humbler localities, but there is at least one Indian story which will bear telling over again. It concerns Jacob Wetzel, the brother of the famous Lewis Wetzel, who was one day returning from a hunt well within the bounds of the present city, and had sat down on a log to rest, when a growl from his dog warned him of danger. He instantly treed, or jumped behind a tree, and then saw an Indian treed behind a neighboring oak. They both fired; the Indian missed, but Wetzel’s bullet had broken the savage’s arm. They rushed at each other with their drawn hunting knives, and fell in a fearful struggle. Wetzel unhurt was no match for the wounded Indian, who sat astride of him with his knife lifted when Wetzel’s dog sprung at his throat. Wetzel now flung him off, and while the dog held him helpless, easily dispatched him. Another story is of the usual ghastliness relieved by a touch of the comic. Colonel Robert Elliott was shot by the Indians near the northern line of Hamilton County. One of them sprang upon him to scalp him, but at a touch the poor man’s wig came off in his hand. He lifted it and was heard to say with an oath, “Lie!” while he stared at his trophy in bewilderment.
One of the later captives of the Indians was a boy of eleven named O. M. Spencer, who was seized near Cincinnati in 1792, and carried to a Shawnee village on the Maumee, where he was taken into a family. His case is peculiarly interesting because Washington himself asked his release through the British governor of Canada; and he was at last returned to his friends by canoe to Detroit, by sailing vessel to Erie, by land to Albany, by water to New York, and by land through Pennsylvania to Cincinnati. He was two years in getting back to his friends. .
The next settlement in Ohio, and the first within the Virginia Military District, was at Massie’s Station, now Manchester, where Colonel Nathaniel Massie, with thirty families, arrived in 1790. They at once made themselves safe in an inclosure of strong pickets, fortified with blockhouses, and as the woods and rivers abounded in game and fish, they began to lead a life of as much comfort as people could enjoy who were surrounded by a wilderness, with the lurking danger of captivity and death on every hand.
Six years later, Colonel Massie laid out the town of Chillicothe, which became the first capital of Ohio, and in the same year, 1796, the earliest settlers from Connecticut landed at Conneaut in Ashtabula County. They were led by Moses Cleaveland, a lawyer of Canterbury, Connecticut, a man of substance and ability, and they had come from Buffalo, some by land and some by water, but they arrived within a few hours of one another. It was the Fourth of July, and Cleaveland wrote in his journal: “We gave three cheers and christened the place Fort Independence; and, after many difficulties, perplexities, and hardships were surmounted, and we were on the good and promised land, felt that a just tribute of respect to the day ought to be paid. There were in all, including women and children, fifty in number. The men, under Captain Tinker, ranged themselves on the beach and fired a federal salute of fifteen rounds, and then the sixteenth in honor of New Connecticut. Drank several toasts…. Closed with three cheers. Drank several pails of grog. Supped and retired in good order.”
This was the order of the four lawful settlements in the Ohio country: first that of the Massachusetts men at Marietta in July, 1788; next, that of the New Jersey men at Cincinnati in December, 1788; then that of the Virginia men at Manchester in 1790; and then that of the Connecticut men at Conneaut in 1796.