Initial Event's—Survey Into Lots and Settlements—First Settlers—First Log House.
Nine years before Dayton was projected, Major Benjamin Stites, John Stites Gano, and William Goforth formed plans for a settlement to be called Venice, at the mouth of the Tiber, as they named Mad River.
The site of this proposed city lay within the seventh range of townships, which, on June 13, 1789, they agreed to purchase from John Cleves Symmes for eighty-three cents an acre. The contract was signed "at the block houses near Columbia, commanded by the above-named Benjamin Stites," One of the stipulations made by the purchasers was that a road should be at once cut through the woods to Mad River. The deed was executed and recorded, but Symmes' misunderstanding with the Government and the Indian troubles forced them to abandon their project, and "we escaped being Venetians." But before their plan was frustrated, the town of Venice, with its two principal streets crossing each other at right angles in the center, was laid out on paper. In each of the four quarters outlined by the streets the position of houses and squares was indicated. The projectors were Baptists, and a whole square was set aside as a gift to the first church of that denomination organized by Venetians. A half-acre lot was promised to "each denomination of pious and well and religiously disposed people, who worship the God of Israel, found in the town within two years after the founding of the settlement." The lots within the town contained half an acre, and were valued at four dollars each. Three of them were donated as sites for a capitol, court house, and jail. The out-lots were to contain five acres, and the price for each was twenty-five dollars.
From the time that Major Stites and his colleagues canceled their bargain with Judge Symmes till 1794 the Indians were constantly on the war-path. White men who ascended the Miami from Cincinnati to the site of Dayton made the journey at the risk of their lives. A spy and a hunter always accompanied them, and one was as necessary as the other. Surveys were obliged to be continually on the watch, while on the march or in the camp. Part always stood on guard while the rest cooked, and, for fear of attracting the attention of wandering bands of savages, it was necessary to extinguish their fire at bedtime, and to keep a sharp lookout when they rekindled it before daybreak. Previous to Wayne's victory it would have been foolhardy to attempt a settlement in the heart of the enemy's country, and expose helpless women and children to the raids of the pitiless savages.
Treaty of Greenville
The treaty of Greenville was regarded as securing the safety of settlers in the Indian country. August 80, 1795, less than three weeks after the treaty was signed, a party of gentlemen contracted for the purchase from John Cleves Symmes of the seventh and eighth ranges, between Mad River and the Little Miami. The purchasers were General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory; General Jonathan Dayton, afterward senator from New Jersey, General James Wilkinson, of Wayne's army, and Colonel Israel Ludlow, from Long Hill, Morris County, New Jersey. They proposed to mate three settlements—at the mouth of the Mad River, on the Little Miami, in the seventh range, and on Mad River above the mouth. This was one of the conditions of their contract with Judge Symmes. Benjamin Van Cleve, one of the original settlers of Dayton, gives in his journal an interesting account of the survey of this purchase in the autumn of 1795: "Two parties of surveyors set off on the 21st of September, Mr. Daniel C. Cooper to survey and mark a road and cut out some of the brush, and Captain John Dunlap to run the boundaries of the purchase. I went with Dunlap. There were at this time several stations on Mill Creek— Ludlow's, White's, Tucker's, Vorhees,' and Cunningham's. We came to Vorhees' and encamped.
"In the morning Mr. Cooper and his party proceeded with the road, and our party took Hamar's old trace in company with a Mr. Bedell, who had a wagon with provisions and tools and was going to make a settlement a considerable distance in advance of the frontier, which was afterward called Bedell's Station, and lay a few miles west of where Lebanon now is. On the 23d we reached the line between the third and fourth ranges of townships, which had been run by Dunlap in 1788. On the 24th and 25th run north eighteen miles to the south boundary of the seventh range, and then run west to the Miami, running nearly south. The next morning our horse was missing. We hunted for him all day, but never found him. He had been well secured. The Indians probably had stolen him. On the 27th we carried our baggage up to the mouth of Mad River. About thirty rods from the mouth we found a camp of about six Wyandot Indians. We were a little alarmed at each other at first, but became very friendly. They gave us some venison jerk and we in return gave them a little flour, salt, tobacco, end other small articles. At the request of one of them, I exchanged knives with him, giving him a very large one, scabbard and belt that I had carried for several years, for his, which was not so valuable, with a worsted belt and a deer skin to boot. We had not been here long until Mr. Cooper and his party arrived.
"On the 28th, Mr. Cooper returned to make some alterations in his road. We continued engaged in our survey till the 4th of October. We established the northern and southern boundaries of the purchase, and meandered Mad River and the Miami from the northern line of the eighth range to the southern line of the seventh when we returned to Cincinnati."
Mr. Van Cleve records many hardships and dangers. On the morning of the 1st of October they sent their hunter and pack-horseman, William Gahagan and Jonathan Mercer, forward to cook at the mouth of Muddy Run; but their surveyor occupied more time than they anticipated, and it was evening before, after a day of fasting, they reach the rendezvous. "When we found them," he says, "some Indians had robbed them of the most of our provisions and menaced their lives." Soon after, they fasted for thirty-four hours, working and walking most of the time. "October 3d. It rained very hard, and the surveyor got his paper all wet, and vas about stopping. We had about a pound of meat, and, though we had nearly all done our business, were thinking of setting off for home. I undertook to keep the field notes, and fell on the expedient of taking them down on tables of wood with the point of my knife, so that I could understand them and take them off again on paper." "On the 1st of November we went again to Mad River. On the 4th, Israel Ludlow laid off the town at the mouth of Mad River, and called it Dayton, after one of the proprietors. A lottery was held, and I drew lots for myself and several others, and engaged to become a settler in the ensuing spring."
Each of the original settlers received a donation of an in-lot and an out-lot, which he or his representatives drew at the lottery held at the mouth of Mad River November 4th. In addition, each of them had the privilege of purchasing one hundred and sixty acres at a French crown, or about one dollar and thirteen cents per acre. The proprietors hoped, by offering these inducements, to attract settlers to the place. Forty-six persons had agreed to remove from Cincinnati to Dayton, but only fifteen fulfilled their engagement. Four others, however, came, so that the number of settlers who had entitled themselves to the donations and other privileges offered by the proprietors was nineteen. Two or three prospectors came up during the winter, but returned for their families. Benjamin Van Cleve says in his journal, -under date of April 1, 1796: "During the preceding winter two or three settlers had arrived here; several families had settled at Hole's Station, where Miamisburg now is; a few persons had settled at the Big Prairie on Clear Creek (below Middletown); two had established themselves at Clear Creek and several were scattered about the country lower down. This spring a settlement was made by Jonathan Mercer eight miles up Mad River; another was made at the forks, called Chribb's Station; another at the mouth of Honey Creek, and another at the old Piqua, on the Miami." But for several years Dayton was considered the frontier. One of the settlements begun this year was Franklin.
The original settlers of Dayton were the following persons and their families: William Hamer, Solomon Hamer, Thomas Hamer, George Newcom, William Newcom, Abraham Grassmire, John Davis, John Dorough, William Chenowith, James Morris, Daniel Ferrell, Samuel Thompson, Benjamin Van Cleve, James McClure, John McClure, Thomas McClure, William Gahagan, William Van Cleve.
In March, 1796, they left Cincinnati in three parties, led by William Hamer, George Newcom, and Samuel Thompson. Hamer's party was the first to start; the other two companies left on Monday, March 21st, one by land, the other by water. Hamer's party came in a two-horse wagon over the road begun, but only partially cut through the woods by Cooper in the fall of 1795. The company consisted of Mr. and Mrs. William Hamer and their children, Solomon, Thomas, Nancy, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Polly, and Jonathan and Edward Mercer. They were delayed and had a long, cold and uncomfortable journey. In the other party that traveled by land were Mr. and Mrs. George Newcom and their brother William, James Morris, John Borough and family, Daniel Ferrell and family, Solomon Goss and family, John Davis and Abraham Grassmire. William Van Cleve, instead of going with his relatives in the pirogue, accompanied this party to drive Mr. Thompson's cow, which was with the cattle belonging to the Newcom division of the colonists. They were two weeks on the road. The sixty miles from Cincinnati to Mad River was a tedious and exhaustive journey. The road was merely a rough, narrow, unbroken path through the woods and brush, except that part of it which led to Fort Hamilton, which, as it was used by the army, was kept in tolerably good condition. They suffered from cold and dampness in camp, as it had rained and was spitting snow.
Their furniture, stoves, clothes, provisions, cooking utensils, and agricultural implements and other property, as well as children too small to walk, were carried on horses in creels made of hickory withes and suspended from each side of pack saddles. It was a difficult matter to ford the creeks without getting the freight and women and children wet. Trees were cut down to build foot-bridges across the smaller streams. Rafts were constructed to carry the contents of the creels and the women and children over large creeks, while the horses and cattle swam. Their rifles furnished them with plenty of game and their cows with milk at meals. They were obliged to stop for a time at the Big Prairie, near Middletown, and made a second halt at Hole's Creek, now Miamisburg. They reached here in less than a week after the other parties arrived.
Thompson's party came in a large pirogue down the Ohio to the Miami and up that stream to the mouth of Mad River. A pirogue was a loner, narrow boat of light draft and partly enclosed and roofed. One man steered while the others poled. The Miami in 1796 wound through an almost uninhabited wilderness. Such a journey, looking back from this safe and prosaic age when steam cars whirl us up from Cincinnati in two hours, must have been full of danger and of exciting adventures, and yet not without its pleasures. It required much skill and muscular strength to pole a boat up stream for many miles. In an article on "Early Recollections of the West," contributed to the American Pioneer, a description of this mode of navigation is given. The writer says the boats were "provided with running-boards, extending from bow to stern, on each side of the boat. Each man was provided with a pole with a heavy socket. The crew, divided equally on each side, set their poles near the head of the boat, and bringing the end of the pole to their shoulders, with their bodies bent, walked slowly down the running board to the stern, returning at a quick pace to the bow for a new set." Imagination invests this little band of adventurers, laboriously poling their boat-load of women and children up the Indian-named river and valley to a frontier home in the ancient Miami hunting-grounds, with an atmosphere of romance. On the borders of their ancestral cornfields and game preserve lurked jealous and revengeful savages, gazing with envious and homesick eyes on the rich lands of which the pioneers had dispossessed them. The Indian reign of terror lasted until after 1799, the travelers on the river were probably in less danger of surprise in early spring than when the foliage was in full leaf, and the Indians could consequently more easily conceal themselves.
However unpropitious the season may be, there are always occasional sun-shiny days in early spring in Ohio. Though the woods in 1796 were wet from recent showers, the rain seems to have been over before the pirogue began its voyage, and no doubt part of the time the weather was mild and bright. The banks of the Miami were thickly wooded, the flowers and foliage of the trees were just beginning to unfold, and the ground was covered with grass fresh with the greenness of spring. Along the lower part of the river the foliage was more advanced and the earlier varieties of wild flowers were coming into bloom.
For miles on either side of the Miami extended a fertile and beautiful country, diversified beyond the rich bottom lands by low hills and pleasant little valleys, dense forests of ornamental trees and the most valuable timber and occasional small level prairies (natural fields and meadows awaiting the farmer's plow and cattle), the whole watered by cool, delicious springs and limpid streams.
At the close of each day the boat was tied to a tree on the shore, and the emigrants landed and camped for the night around the big fire by which they cooked their appetizing supper of game and fish and the eggs of wild fowls for which the hunger of travelers was a piquant and sufficient sauce. No doubt their food, as described by other pioneers, was cooked after this fashion: Meat was fastened on a sharpened stick, stuck in the ground before the fire and frequently turned. Dough for wheat bread was sometimes wound around a stick and baked in the same way. Corn bread was baked under the hot ashes. "Sweeter roast meat," exclaims an enthusiastic pioneer writer, "than such as is prepared in this manner, no epicure of Europe ever tasted." "Scarce any one who has not tried it can imagine the sweetness and gusto of such a, meal, in such a place, at such a time."
No doubt the travelers by water had a more comfortable trip than those who came by land, though to hardy pioneer families a journey on horseback or in a wagon through the Miami woods, even if undertaken in early spring, had its compensating enjoyments, which were sometimes remembered after its hardships were forgotten.
In the pirogue came Samuel Thompson and his wife, Catherine; their children, Sarah, two years old, Martha, three months old, and Mrs. Thompson's son, Benjamin Van Cleve, then about twenty-five, and her daughter, Mary Van Cleve, nine years of age; the widow McClure and her sons and daughters, James, John, Thomas, Kate, and Ann; and William Gahagan, a young Irishman. The passage from Cincinnati to Dayton occupied ten days. Mrs. Thompson was the first to step ashore and the first white woman, except, perhaps, the captive Mrs. McFall, rescued by Kentuckians in 1782, to set her foot on Dayton soil. Two small camps of Indians were here when the pirogue touched the Miami bank, but they proved friendly, and were persuaded to leave in a day or two. The pirogue landed at the head of St. Clair Street, Friday, April 1st. The following brief entry is the only allusion Benjamin Van Cleve makes in his journal to this import-ant event in the history of Dayton: "April 1, 1796. Landed in Dayton, after a passage of ten days, William Gahagan and myself having come with Thompson's and McClure's families in a large pirogue."
We can easily imagine the loneliness and dreariness of the uninhabited wilderness which confronted these homeless families. There were three women and four children—one an infant—in the party. "The unbroken forest was all that welcomed them, and the awful stillness of night had no refrain but the howling of the wolf and the wailing of the whippoorwill."
The spring was late and cold, but though at first the landscape looked bare and desolate, before many days the air was sweet with the blossoms of the wild grape, and plum, and cherry, and the woods beautiful with the contrasting red and white of the redbud and dogwood and the fresh green of young leaves. The woods and prairies were full of wild fruits and flowers. These wild fruits and hickory-nuts and walnuts, which were very abundant in the fall, would be a welcome addition to their scanty fare, and among the smaller alleviations of their lot. The thick growth of weeds and flowers was a proof of the indications wherever their eyes rested.
The first settlers of Dayton passed through many thrilling and romantic adventures, and the story of their lives, if we had it in full, would be exciting and entertaining. The few biographical incidents that have been preserved are interesting to students of our early history.
The Thompson party was the first to arrive here. Samuel Thompson was a native of Pennsylvania, and removed to Cincinnati soon after its settlement. He married the widow of John Van Cleve. Mr. Thompson was drowned in Mad River in 1817, and Mrs. Thompson died at Dayton, August 6, 1837.
From 1810-1812 James Holt was Colonel of the Fifth Regiment of militia. The following order was issued in 1813 by R. J. Meigs, governor of Ohio:
"Headquarters, Dayton, May 26, 1812.
"Captain Van Cleve's company of riflemen will march to the frontier of the State west of the Miami under the direction and charge of Colonel Holt. Colonel Holt will assist the frontier inhabitants in erecting blockhouses in suitable places and adopt any mode he may think best for the protection and the continuance of the settlements."
The Thompsons, Van Cloves, McClures, George Newcom, his wife and brother William, and Abraham Grassmire settled on. the town plat and the other colonists on neighboring farms. The farming lands for two or three miles around the mouth of Mad River were included in the Dayton settlement. William Van Cleve moved to his farm south of Dayton in two or three years, and Abraham Grassmire left here before 1803.
The town plat was divided into two hundred and eighty building lots, ninety-nine feet wide and one hundred and ninety-nine deep, and reservations were made for markets, schools, churches, and burial grounds. There were also fifty-four ten-acre out-lots east of the present canal basin. The town and three of the streets were named for the original proprietors. General Dayton, General St. Clair, General Ludlow, and General Wilkinson, who were Federalists, and as a compromise one of the streets was called Jefferson.
Originally in Hamilton County
Dayton was originally in Hamilton County, out of which several other counties were afterward carved. Dayton Township was formed in the winter of 1796-1797. It was of great size, and included the whole of what are now Wayne, Mad River and Van Buren township, and parts of Washington and Miami townships; and also other territory at present in Montgomery, Greene, Clarke, Champaign, Logan, and Shelby counties. The county commissioners and township assessors jointly controlled the expenditures of the township, but made regular reports to the county court and met yearly as a court of appeals to hear objections against assessments.
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