The Pioneers of Ohio

THE thirty years of Ohio life which followed the passage of the Ordinance of 1787 may be summarized as the long struggle of the pioneers with the forest and bad roads; they were literally getting out of the woods. The first migration of the traders and the hunters was past. The murderous foes of Logan, Cornstalk, and the Moravians had disappeared. The early settlers who followed them had, by a sudden revolution, set up a State and begun a new order of things. Then came an immigration, attracted not only by rich land and love of adventure, but by the strong prestige which the free State, built upon the Ordinance of 1787, had at once acquired. The immigrants were not merely admirers of free commonwealths in the abstract, but numbers of them were men from Kentucky, Virginia, and States further south, who brought their slaves with them for emancipation. A reaction followed upon this movement. The masters, with the best intention, had unwisely set the freedmen adrift in a wild, uncultivated country, without fitness or capacity to provide for themselves. Bad results followed, and harsh legislation was resorted to as a check. Laws were passed, not only to restrain the settlement of negroes, but to expel them. Among other measures, they were made incompetent as witnesses in any suit, criminal or civil, where a white person was a party. Violent outbreaks occurred in which expulsion, under these laws, was cruelly enforced.

The times were every way hard. The straits to which the forefathers of the State were reduced, in public as well as in private life, are to be seen in the pictures of their first capitol at Cliillicothe, of hewn logs, two stories in height, with an imposing front of thirtysix feet on Second Street, and twentyfour feet on Walnut. Its grand feature was fifteen glass windows, each of twelve panes, eight by ten inches in size, a degree of splendor thought to be unequaled in the Territory until eclipsed by the Blennerhassets. Here sat the territorial assemblies in St. Clair’s time. Its successor, erected by Ross County, in 1801, to accommodate the assembly and the courts, far surpassed it. This probably was the first public edifice built of stone northwest of the Ohio. It was about sixty feet square, surmounted by a belfry and lightning-rod, upon which the American eagle, with wide-spreading wings, long did duty as a weathercock. Here the convention which formed the Constitution of 1802 and the state legislature, for many years, held their sessions.

The millions who are dwelling in peace and plenty in the broad farms and busy towns of Ohio to-day can get no realizing sense, from mere words, of the hardships by which their prosperity was earned. The toilsome journey, the steep mountain-ways, the camping-out where there were no inns and hardly a road to guide them, were as nothing to the dreariness which, at the journey’s end, confronted the immigrant and his devoted wife and tender children. The unbroken forest was all that welcomed them, and the awful stillness of night had no refrain but the howl of the wolf or wailing of the whippoorwill. The nearest neighbor often was miles away.

Their first necessity was to girdle the trees and grub a few acres for a corn crop and truck patch, sufficient for a season. As soon as the logs were cut a cabin was built, with the aid of neighbors. Necessity invented the “ houseraising,” as it did log-rolling and cornshucking. This habitation, with its clapboard roof, its single room and door, if any, swinging upon wooden hinges, with no window but a patch of greased newspaper between the logs, and no floor but the ground, was often finished at nightfall on the spot where the trees had stood in the morning. The daubing of the chinks and wooden chimney with clay, and a few pegs in the interior for the housewife’s draperies, were all that the Eastlake of those days could add to the primitive log cabin.

But food, rather than shelter, was the severest want of the pioneers. True, the woods were full of game, but venison, turkey, and bear meat all the time became tiresome enough. There was no bread nor salt. The scanty salt springs were therefore precious. The Indian corn, when once started, was the chief reliance for man and beast. The modern Ohioan may know of hominy, but the art of making hoe-cake, ash-cake, johnny-cake, the dodger, or a pone is lost. This crop, convertible also into bacon, pork, and whiskey, soon became the staple of the country. The want of mills at first led to singular devices. Corn was parched and ground by hand or by horse-power. At Marietta an ingenious application of power was obtained by bracing a mill-wheel between two boats anchored in the current of the Muskingum, — a powerful mill-race without a dam.

The furniture of the cabins and the dress of the people necessarily partook of the same absolutely rustic simplicity. Excellent tables, cupboards, and benches were made of the poplar and beech woods. The buckeye furnished not only bowls and platters for all who had no tin or queensware, but also the splitbottom chair still in popular use. Bearskins were bed and bedding. The deerskin, dressed and undressed, was very much used for clothing, and the skins of the raccoon and rabbit formed a favorite head-gear. But wool and flax soon abounded, and spinning-wheels and looms became standard articles in every house. The homemade tow-linen and woolens, or mixed flannels, linseys and jeans, constituted the chief materials for clothing. For dye-stuffs the hulls of the walnut and butternut and a root of bright yellow first answered, but were superseded by indigo and madder, which became almost uniformly the colors of the hunting-shirt and the warmus. These primitive fashions gradually yielded, as store goods, together with iron and Onondaga salt, began to be introduced by the great Pennsylvania wagons, from Pittsburgh and the ports along the Ohio River. After the purchase of Louisiana considerable imports came from New Orleans by keel-boats.

The pioneers had pastimes and festivities also in their own way. Besides such gatherings as those already mentioned, there were the sugar-camp, the militia-musters, the bear-hunts, the shooting-matohes, and the quarter-race. At these the neighborhood for miles around was wont to gather. The quilting-party also was a thing of joy in feminine circles. Here the housewife made a gala day for her friends by collecting them round her frame to put together one of those decorative works, a pile of which, to the pioneer mother, was esteemed of more honor than all the shawls of her modern granddaughter. A wedding, among people of the better sort, was a three-days’ festivity. The infare, or gathering, on the first day, included a variety of the sports above mentioned, according to taste and circumstances. Next came the nuptials, the invariable dance, and the feast. The guests closed the third day by escorting the bride to her new home, and the ride was not unlike that to Canterbury in style. The housewarming ended with another dance, in which there was no modern stiffness or dawdle.

Camp-meetings were another early custom, originally adopted to supply the want of Sunday worship. The country store, also, was an important centre, especially when the county-seats were distant. There was little money, and business was chiefly in barter for peltries, ginseng, beeswax, and such products as could be transported by packhorses. Cut money, or “ sharp shins,” was a curious necessity of the times. For want of small change the coins, chiefly Spanish, were cut into quarters, and so circulated. By a law of the governor and judges, in 1792, it was enacted that, as the dollar varied in the several counties of the Territory, all officers might demand and take their fees in Indian corn, at the rate of one cent per quart, instead of specie, at their option. In trading, the deer-skin passed uniformly for a dollar. The bear-skin brought more, and the peltries variously less. Beaver were rare, and soon became extinct.

A curiosity of later date, when roads and wheeled vehicles became practicable, was the traveling museum. It consisted of three, four, or more box-cars, mounted on low wheels, and lighted by windows in the top. These, on arriving at the show places, were united, end to end, so as to form an interior gallery, through which the admiring spectators passed to enjoy the sights. Shelves and glass cases were filled with objects of every description, from the bones of the mastodon down to Dr. Franklin’s veritable penny whistle. Panoramas of colored engravings were exhibited through magnifying glasses, and the whole world was brought before the eye by the pulling of a string. The grand attraction was the gallery of wax figures, among which the most captivating were the Sleeping Beauty, Daniel Lambert, Washington on his death-bed, and perhaps the actors in the latest atrocious murder, all in one mingled scene.

Schools were an object of the very earliest interest to the settlers of Ohio. The first school was not the free school, however, for which Congress had set apart the munificent foundation of one thirty-sixth part of all the lands in the State. This was to wait until the gift should be ripe for the purpose. Pride and ignorance, moreover, were bitterly opposed to the free system. Schools were sustained for twenty-five years by the parents of the pupils, and though of divers sorts, were by no means inefficient. Hardly a township or village was without one. Generally they were of humble architecture, but had good teachers. The mixture of studies would be regarded now as heterogeneous. Discipline was of the most rigorous type. “ Toeing the mark ” was the test of decorum. At the teacher’s desk there was commonly a straight line drawn or cut on the floor, to which every one of the class reciting was bound to stand erect under direful penalties if neglectful. Many of the men who taught these schools were of superior education, and the names of some are kept in grateful memory. One of them deserves more than a passing mention. This was Francis Glass, who about the year 1820 kept a school for the farmers’ children in a remote part of Warren County. In the midst of this drudgery he conceived and wrote the life of General Washington in Latin, a volume of two hundred and twenty-three pages. After his death it was published by his friend, Prof. J. N. Reynolds, with the approval of Charles Anthon, Drs. S. B. Wylie, Wilbur Fiske, and other classical scholars, as not only a literary curiosity, but, to use Dr. Anthon’s words, for its easy flow of style, and the graceful turn of very many of its periods.

Another phase of the times is given by Judge Burnet, in his Reminiscences, when he speaks of the long journeys made by the judges and lawyers on horseback, through the wilderness and swamps across the Indian country, in the annual rounds of the courts. They traversed distances of sixty or eighty miles in these circuits without seeing the habitation of a white man, carrying blankets and supplies for their bivouacs, often made in swamps where the roots of the trees afforded the only bed. The Indians entertained them always with hospitality. Old Buckongehelas on one occasion made up a grand ball game on the St. Mary’s for their diversion. Riding the circuit in company long continued to be the custom of the judges and the bar, the lawyers residing in only a few of the larger towns. If the traditions he credited, the old court-houses and the wayside must have echoed with a wonderful mingling of law and hilarity. Hammond, Ewing, Corwin, and Hamer all began their practice in this school.

It was not many years before these primeval conditions began to wear away. In the more fertile and accessible counties the farms and houses, with their grounds and blooming orchards, their well-filled barns and herds of cattle, horse, and swine, gave a new aspect to the country. Mansions of greater proportions and elegance were to he seen here and there, with interiors furnished with mahogany, mirrors, and all the fittings of life in the older States. The advance in the ways of polished society was a grief to McDonald, the biographer of the pioneers, who “ well remembers it was in Mrs. Massie’s parlor he first saw tea handed around for supper, which he then thought foolish business, and remained of that opinion still.” The earliest of these stylish mansions was that of the Blennerhassets, built with a broad Italian front, at the head of a large island in the Ohio, near Parkersburg. Dr. Hildreth, in his Lives of the Early Settlers, has preserved a full description of this superb establishment, a paradise in the wilderness, and its accomplished builders, and shows that Mr. Wirt’s picture was not so extravagant as has been supposed.

In state affairs the legislature had given evidence of its disenthrallment by establishing eight new counties at its first session. By the year 1810 the number had been increased to forty-one, the population of the State, at that time, having risen to 230,760 in number. More than a third of the State had been cast into the Indian Territory. In 1804, the Firelands and all the Reserve west of the Cuyahoga, together with the military lands lying between the Reserve and the treaty line, were purchased from the Indians, and the proprietors of the Firelands incorporated by the legislature. Their names fill more than eighteen pages of the Land Laws of Ohio, where the towns, and the precise loss of each sufferer, in the raids of Tryon and Arnold, are recorded for history. The Connecticut Land Company caused their purchase to be surveyed into townships five miles square. Six of these, including Cleveland and Youngstown, were sold. All the rest were subdivided among the proprietors, by the close of the year 1809. Still the Western Reserve did not move.

In 1805, the directors of the Firelands put them in charge of Taylor Sherman, of Connecticut, as their general agent. His mission was accomplished by a full survey, allotment, and partition among the numerous owners, completed in 1811. Mr. Sherman however, contributed more than this to the history of Ohio. In 1810, he was followed by his son, Charles R. Sherman, who had been educated and admitted to the bar in Connecticut, and was now settled in Lancaster. In that distinguished home of lawyers he took a prominent position, and was appointed one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the State. He died in 1827, while on the circuit. In the earlier volumes of the decisions of that court, he has left an enduring monument of his rank, as one of the ablest lawyers and judges of the State. Among his children are General William T. Sherman and Senator John Sherman. Ohio, therefore, may attribute to the Firelands, and the misfortunes by which they were founded, no small share in her promotion.

Another treaty with the Indians, in 1808, secured a roadway between the Firelands and the rapids of the Maumee, with land a mile in width on both sides for settlement; also a roadway from Sandusky up to the treaty line. But how little it was worth is related by Daniel Sherman, who, in escaping from Huron County to Mansfield, at the Indian outbreak in 1812, did not find a cabin or clearing in forty miles. The statutes were prolific of new roads, new counties and schemes for developing salt springs and navigable rivers. But there was no money to make them.

A far more important measure was the movement by the Ohio Senators in Congress for utilizing the two per cent. fund, which had been pledged to the State for making a road between the Ohio River and tide-water. The special committee to which, on Mr. Worthington’s motion, the subject was referred in 1805 recommended the route by way of Cumberland, which became the National road. Under an act of Congress, March 29, 1806, commissioners were appointed to lay it out. Wheeling was adopted as the crossing-place, on the Ohio, because it was not only on the direct line to the centres of Ohio and Indiana, but was safer for connection with the navigation of the river. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia ceded the right of way, and contracts were made in 1808 for constructing a turnpike road, metaled with broken stone, one foot in depth, and nowhere to exceed a gradient of five degrees. This, it was promised by Mr. Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury, would effect a reduction in freight of one dollar per hundred on all the produce of the West, and its returns from the East. As this would be a gain of two dollars upon every barrel of flour and pork, it will be seen how vitally interesting it was to the people of Ohio. Their crops were profitless. Except on the Ohio, and the rivers running to it, there was no outlet for the immense production of which the State was becoming capable. Every year at the spring freshets, quantities of flour, bacon, pork, whiskey and the fruits of the country adjacent to the streams were taken in flatboats to New Orleans and the intermediate markets. This would have been a most profitable commerce but for the extreme hazards to which these frail and unmanageable craft were subject. The starting of these fleets annually was a spectacle of great interest at the towns on the Muskingum, Scioto and the Miami. Keel-boats, built in the fashion of canal-boats, but lighter and sharper, were also used with profit, as by great labor they could stem the current of the Mississippi, and the cargoes which they brought back were the earliest considerable imports of foreign goods. Numbers of sea-going vessels were built on the Ohio River, and freighted with produce to the West Indies or Europe. Marietta alone is reported to have sent to sea, before the war of 1812. seven ships, eleven brigs, six schooners, and two gun-boats. The entire commerce of Lake Erie, prior to this time, was carried on by half a dozen little schooners.

At the moment when the State, with a quarter million of people, an exuberant soil, a dozen considerable towns, and the prospect of another British and Indian war overhanging it, lay like a young giant, bound hand and foot, occurred the signal event which was to give the Mississippi Valley an impetus to an illimitable growth. This was the launching and departure from Pittsburgh, in October, 1811, of the steamboat Orleans, first of the mighty fleet which put the currents of the great river to naught. On this voyage Mr. Roosevelt, who had superintended the construction for Messrs. Fulton and Livingston, with his young wife and children, Andrew Jack, the pilot, Baker, the engineer, and six hands, besides domestics, constituted the sole freight. The novel appearance of the craft and the speed with which it passed through the long reaches of the Ohio excited wonder and terror among the riparians. Few of them had heard of steamboats. Some supposed the comet, then near, had fallen into the river. War with England being expected, one little town was alarmed with the cry, “ British are coming,” and took to the hills. The Orleans being prevented, by low water, from passing the falls at Louisville, was employed between that place and Cincinnati, during this detention. On the Mississippi she incurred much peril from the effect of the extraordinary, earthquakes, which continued from December until February. She reached her destination December 24th, but neither the Orleans nor the two steamers from Pittsburgh which followed her, in 1813 and 1814, returned to the Ohio. The first which accomplished this was the Enterprise, of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, under the command of Henry M. Shreve. In December, 1814, he took a cargo of ordnance stores to General Jackson, in fourteen days from Pittsburgh. After serving that officer until May, Captain Shreve set out for Pittsburgh, and in twenty-five days arrived at Louisville. For this wonderful feat, the people of the town honored him with a public dinner.

Commerce, though still suffering a check eastwardly, now shed some of its genial influence over the valley of the Ohio. The Lake shore, and the northwest portion of the State, remained inaccessible. It was not until August, in the year 1818, that the first steamer on Lake Erie, the Walk - in - the - Water, made her appearance, having been built at Black Rock, within a few miles of the spot where the Griffin was launched in 1679. New York, as early as 1811, had been agitated with the grand design of connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson. In response to her call, the legislature of Ohio, in January, 1812, had heartily resolved that the cost of such a work should be assumed by the United States. Poverty, and not her will, was at fault.

Rufus King.