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Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity
Chapter One




In 1669 La Salle, a Frenchman, discovered the Ohio River, and the French consequently claimed all the territory watered by it and its tributaries as belonging to France. The English resisted, claiming that the discovery of the Atlantic coast gave them the possession of the whole continent, and, to strengthen their claim, in 1664 made treaties with the Iroquois Indians of the Six Nations for the purchase of all their lands, for which they received legally executed deeds. Seventeen years later a treaty of peace was signed between the Iroquois and French, which enabled the latter to keep possession of the Great Lakes. In 1726 the English made another treaty, which they claimed confirmed the treaty of 1664, and eighteen years later, in 1744, made another treaty at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by which they purchased the Ohio basin for four hundred pounds (twenty thousand dollars). This treaty was confirmed at a village called Logstown, in Pennsylvania, in 1752. At the close of the War of the Revolution, by the treaty of Versailles, which secured the independence of the United States, Great Britain relinquished her claim to the Ohio Valley.

From 1752 the Indians were complete masters of all the Northwest Territory. They made frequent raids into Kentucky and West Virginia.

In 1780 General George Rogers Clark led an expedition of Kentuckians to Ohio. One of the officers who held command under him was Captain Robert Patterson, one of the founders of Lexington, Kentucky, and of Cincinnati, Ohio,—the father of Colonel Jefferson Patterson. This expedition was successful, defeating the Shawnees at their town of old Piqua, west of Springfield, Ohio, where it is said the great chief Tecumseh was born.

In the fall of 1782 the Indians were so troublesome that General Clark raised one thousand Kentuckians, and led a second expedition into the Indian country, Colonel Patterson accompanying the expedition. They saw no Indians and were not molested until they reached the mouth of Mad River, where, on November 9 of that year (1782),they had the first skirmish on the site of Dayton, in which the Kentuckians were victorious.

In 1786, the Indians still being troublesome, Colonel Logan, of Kentucky, raised another force. Colonel Robert Patterson having command of one brigade. This expedition was also successful. Among the Indians taken captive was a lad whom Colonel Logan took to his Kentucky home, and to. whom he became much attached. The boy took the name of Logan, and was for life a strong friend of the whites. After a few years he was allowed to return to his tribe, and .became the friendly Shawnee chief Logan. He was mortally wounded in the War of 1812, while in command of a detachment under General Harrison against some Indian allies of the British.

On returning from the expedition in 1786, Colonel Logan encountered a party of Indians in camp at the mouth of Mad River, Tecumseh, then about fourteen years of age, being with them. After a slight skirmish, the Indians were driven up Mad River, the whites thus gaining the second victory on the site of Dayton. The party remained here for two or three days, examining the land with a view to settlement.

In 1784 Virginia, claiming the territory northwest of the Ohio by purchase from the Indians, ceded it to the United States. Tradition says that the land bounded on the south by the Ohio, on the east and west by the two Miamis, and by Mad River on the north, was reserved by all the Indian tribes as a hunting-ground. It was the home of all kinds of game,—bear, deer, elk, panthers, wolves, wild turkeys, birds, and fish,—and it is probable that no wigwam was ever erected here. The Indian villages were numerous west of the Great Miami and east of the Little Miami. The Indians claiming this Miami Valley were called the Miami tribes. The word Miami means, in the Indian language, "mother." The Miamis belonged to the Algonquin tribe, and came here from Michigan. They were noted for their intelligence and force of character, and were at the head of a powerful confederacy. Their principal village was near Piqua, Ohio.

In 1751, when Gist, the agent of the Virginians who formed the Ohio Land Company, visited this valley, he wrote: "The land upon the Great Miami River is very rich, level, and well timbered, some of the finest meadows that can be. The grass here grows to a great height on the clear fields, of which there are a great number, and the bottoms are full of white clover, wild rye, and blue grass." In his account of his visit to the Indian village near Piqua, he says: "It is accounted one of the strongest Indian towns upon this part of the continent. The Twightwees [or Miamis] are a very numerous people, consisting of many different tribes under the same form of government." The remnants of the Miami tribes are now domesticated and living on farms in Miami County, near Peru, Indiana.

In the winter of 1786 Mr. Benjamin Stites, of Red Stone, Pennsylvania, on the Monongahela, having been to the mouth of Mad River, probably with General Clark, and being impressed with the fertility of the soil and beauty of location, went to New York with the intention of purchasing from Congress a tract of land on the Great Miami River. On becoming acquainted with John Cleves Symmes, then a member of Congress from New Jersey, he represented to him the character of the Miami Valley, and solicited his influence and cooperation in effecting the purchase. Mr. Symmes preferred having some personal knowledge of the country before he would engage in the enterprise, and accordingly crossed the mountains and descended the Ohio River as far as Louisville, Kentucky. In July, 1787, Congress authorized the sale of lands in the Northwest Territory in tracts of not less than one million acres, and John Cleves Symmes made application on August 29, 1787, in his own name, for the purchase of the lands (the consideration being sixty-six cents per acre) lying within the following limits:


"Beginning at the mouth of the Big -Miami River, thence running up the Ohio to the mouth of the Little Miami, thence up the 'main stream of the Little Miami River to the place where a line to be continued due west from the western termination of the northern boundary line of the grant to Messrs. Sargent, Cutler & Company shall intersect the said Little Miami River, thence due west, continuing the said northern line, to the place where the said line shall intersect the main branch or stream of the Big Miami River, thence down the Big Miami River to the place of beginning."


Mr. Symmes must have felt confident that there would be no check in his negotiations for these lands, as on the 26th of the following November he issued a manifesto announcing his purchase and a-plan for colonization. The next month the first land warrant was issued, as follows:



"[SEAL.] This entitles Benjamin Stites, his heirs, or assigns, to locate one section, in which the fee of six hundred and forty acres shall pass, subject to the terms of settlement.

"December 17, 1787.


(Countersigned,) "BENJAMIN STITES."


On the warrant is found the following note:


"SPESHEL.—At the point betwixt the mouth of the Little Miami and the Ohio, in the pint."


The Treasury commissioners, however, denied having made a contract with Judge Symmes, and were disposed to repudiate his claim. In the meantime Mr. Symmes, in July, 1788, had started west with a colony of sixty persons in fourteen four-horse wagons, arriving at Pittsburg on August 20. After a short stay there and at Marietta, they went on to Limestone, Kentucky.

Judge Symmes, being anxious to know more of the Miami country, in 1788 organized two companies of surveyors, with Captain John Dunlap and Major Benjamin Stites in command, who explored the valley from the mouth of the Great Miami to Honey Creek. Major Stites, remembering former impressions of the land around the mouth of Mad River, commenced negotiations for its purchase, and succeeded in interesting others in his purpose to locate a colony at that point. On June 13, 1789, he purchased of Mr. Symmes, for John Stites Gano, William Goforth, and himself, the whole of the seventh range of lands, for which they were to pay eighty-three cents per acre, and at once commenced plans for a town, to be called Venice. One of the stipulations was that a road should be opened to the mouth of the Tiber (Mad River). The town was to be laid off in squares, each square to contain eight half-acre lots. The streets were to cross at right angles. At the center of the town spaces were to be left at each of the four quarters for market-house and public square. One square was to be given to the first Baptist church in the town, and "each denomination of pious and religiously disposed people, who worship the God of Israel, formed in the town within two years after the founding of the settlement" was to receive one half-acre lot. Three half-acre lots were to be given for "a capital, a court-house, and a gaol." Half-acre lots were to be sold for four dollars each. The articles of agreement for the above were signed at the blockhouse, near Columbia, commanded by Major Stites, on June 13, 1789; but owing to Indian troubles and Mr. Symmes's failure to meet his obligations to the Government, the scheme fell through.

The last surveying party previous to Wayne's treaty at Greenville, August 20, 1795, was sent to the Miami country on August 7, 1789. It consisted of Mr. Matthews, a surveyor, with four assistants and a guard of seven soldiers. While eating breakfast one morning they were fired upon by Indians in ambush, a bullet passing through the bosom of Mr. Matthews's shirt, just grazing the skin. As the men rose to their feet the forest seemed to be filled with savages; another volley was poured upon them, and six of the soldiers fell dead. Out of the party of twelve six only remained, and they returned at once to Cincinnati.

In 1790 and 1791 numerous parties of Indians were organized for raids on the frontier settlements at Marysville, Cincinnati, etc., the mouth of Mad River being their principal and favorite rendezvous. They were constantly skulking around Cincinnati, watching for an opportunity to kill or steal. It was in one of these raids that John Van Cleve, grandfather of our deceased fellow-citizen, John W. Van Cleve, was killed at Cincinnati. In the spring of 1793 it was felt that a decided effort must be made to conquer the Indians, and General Wayne was made commander-in-chief of the Western army—about three thousand six hundred men. On Christmas day, 1793, a detachment of this army encamped on the ground made memorable by St. Clair's defeat. A reward was offered for every human skull found, and over six hundred were gathered by the soldiers. A fort was built on this ground, appropriately called Fort Recovery.

Early in 1794 General Wayne, hoping to avoid the terrors of Indian warfare, sent three men acquainted with the savages,—Freeman, Trueman, and Hardin,—to make overtures of peace to the Indians, but they were most inhumanly murdered. From this time on General Wayne was busily employed preparing for an engagement, until on August 20, 1794, he met the British, Spanish, and Indians combined, on the banks of the Maumee, in the battle of "Fallen Timbers," and succeeded in putting the entire army to rout. This was certainly a victory over the British and Spanish, who had joined with the Indians hoping to crush out General Wayne. The British, for the sake of trade, refused to give up their forts south of the Great Lakes until 1796, and continued to supply the Indians who fought against St. Clair and Wayne with provisions, muskets, canon, and ammunition, and frequently numbers of painted Canadians accompanied the Indians to the battle-field. The evil influence of the British did not cease until after the War of 1812.

After General Wayne's victory on the Maumee and the treaty of Greenville, August 20, 1795, which had a decided influence on the settlement of Dayton, General Jonathan Dayton, of New Jersey, afterwards United States Senator from that State, General Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory, General James Wilkinson, of Wayne's army, and Colonel Israel Ludlow, of Morris County, New Jersey, contracted with John Cleves Symmes for the purchase of the seventh and eighth ranges between the Miami rivers.  They employed Daniel C. Cooper, a surveyor, to be their agent. On September 21, 1795, two surveying parties started from Cincinnati, one in charge of Daniel C. Cooper, and the other under John Dunlap. The first night they camped at Voorhees's Station, nine miles out of Cincinnati, and the next morning separated. Benjamin Van Cleve accompanied the Dunlap party, to "run the boundaries of the seventh and eighth ranges between the Miami rivers." After being out for five or six days, their packhorse was stolen by the Indians during the night, and they were compelled to carry all their lug-gage to the mouth of Mad River, which they reached on Sunday, the 27th. Mr. Cooper's party, consisting of two chain-carriers,—Jerome Holt and Robert Edgar,—one man with an ax, and a hunter, who was also cook (whose names I cannot recall), was "to locate and mark a road, partially cutting out the underbrush, from Fort Hamilton up the east bank of the Miami River to the mouth of Mad River." I have often heard my father say that the road then laid out is practically the present Cincinnati road through Miamisburg and Middletown. This party reached camp on one day, and started on their return trip the next morning. In the spring of 1796 three of the party— Cooper, Edgar, and Holt—came to Dayton and made it their permanent home. Dunlap, with his party, consisting of Benjamin Van Cleve, William Gahagan, David Lowry, Jonathan Mercer, and Jonathan Donnell, remained surveying in the neighborhood for several days, and reached Cincinnati on the 6th of October.

On November 1 Israel Ludlow accompanied a surveying party to the mouth of Mad River, and on Wednesday, November 4, 1795, laid out the town, calling it Dayton in honor of Jonathan Dayton, one of the proprietors. Curwen says the town was divided "into two hundred and eighty inlots, one hundred feet front by two hundred feet deep, and fifty ten-acre outlets, which lay south of Third Street and east of St. Clair Street." The next day those of the party who expected to settle here drew lots for location, and acted as proxy in drawing for others who expected to locate here in the spring, the proprietors giving to each bond-fide settler one inlot and one outlet, provided they would clear and fence the same. Judge Symmes had made this agreement, which on his part was not fulfilled. The following is a copy of one of his certificates:


"This will certify that Robert Edgar has complyed with the conditions of settlement in the town of Dayton and is entitled to receive a deed for the following lots so soon as the Honorable John C. Symmes shall obtain "a patent from Congress, including the premises, viz.: Town lot numbered on the plat of said town Thirty-two, and ten-acre outlet number Five.

"For the proprietor,


"DAYTON, March 17, 1798."


Unfortunately for my father, after his work of clearing the above lots, the new proprietors refused to recognize Judge Symmes's contracts.


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