Header Graphic
Some Dayton Saints and Prophets
Mrs. Julia Johnston Patterson



      SOUTH of the city, between Main and Brown Streets, stands a plain gray brick house with porches, and surrounded by trees.  It is known to every Dayton man and woman as the "Rubicon" farm, formerly the home of Jefferson Patterson, and his wife.  It was built by Colonel Robert Patterson, the Kentucky pioneer of noble memory, about 1816. He died in 1827.  In 1842, his youngest son, Jefferson, married Juliana, one of the eleven daughters of Colonel John Johnson, of Piqua, and brought her to Dayton. They were married by the Rev. Ethan Allam, and it is said that their wedding was one of the finest ever held in Piqua. Crowds of friends came from all over the country, and the large homestead of the Johnston's, at Upper Piqua, was the scene of great rejoicing. The wedding trip was like that of Julia's mother, only not so long.  Both were made on horseback.  The Johnston bride and groom rode in the saddle from Philadelphia to Fort Wayne, Indiana; the Pattersons only from Piqua to Dayton.

      For two years they lived on Jefferson Street, but following the death of Mrs. Robert Patterson, and the birth of their second child, they moved out to the farm.  In this house, the "Rubicon,” were raised the eight children that originally made up the Patterson family, and I wish I had the pen to write of all that that meant.

      The farm, the farmhouse, the family in it were a type of the kind of life indigenous to American soil; best of the best while it lasted, forever to be regretted that it is gone. The middle-aged and elderly people in Dayton, who were a part of that life from time to time, as they happened to be the guests of one or the other of those eight children, will testify that nowhere else did they have quite such good times as at the Patterson farm.  The house was always full. The gate on Main Street or the gate on Brown Street was forever swinging open to admit carriage loads of people.  I cannot imagine the Pattersons with only one entrance gate; it would have seemed too inadequate. Sometimes they were Mr. and Mrs. Patterson's friends, sometimes the children's, sometimes church picnics, or cousins from Cincinnati.  It might be the Pugsleys, or the Kiersteds, the Phillips, or the Henry L. Browns, the Shaker Pattersons, from Shakertown, or the Harries, from Harries Station; perhaps it was John Van Cleve filling an entire sleigh seat with his ponderous bulk, or a wagon-load of youngsters come to spend Saturday; perhaps it was a family fallen into poor circumstances, and turning to Mrs. Patterson as the sure source of aid and encouragement.

      In all that this involved, the hospitality, the mothering, the housekeeping, the charity, Mrs. Patterson will always be remembered as the head and front.  Mr. Patterson had larger, wider interests; he was in the State Legislature, which kept him away from home a good deal.  But if he helped manage the State of Ohio, Mrs. Patterson certainly did manage the farm.  She had black servants, descendants of those slaves the old Kentucky Colonel had brought up with him and set free; but that is not to say she was idle. On the contrary there were few industries going on under that roof which Mrs. Patterson did not touch with her own hands. She had been brought up by her Quaker mother, Mrs. Rachel Robinson Johnston, whose large family and splendid domestic training was as a proverb to all who knew her.  Besides, in those days, housekeeping was both a fine art and a practical science.  A farm in the Thirties, Forties, and the Fifties, was a self-supporting, self-producing community.   All had a hand in it, children as well as parents.  Therefore the bread was baked, the butter churned, the fruit preserved, the cider pressed, the meat butchered and smoked, the candles dipped, the herbs dried, the sugar boiled. As soon as the boys were old enough they went after cows, fed the calves, picked up chips, filled wood boxes, worked the churn-dasher, and turned the sausage-mill. The girls dusted, tended baby, (there was always a baby to tend,) and helped mother with the stocking-darning.

      One would think this sufficient to keep a woman busy without any society duties, or demands upon her hospitality.   Not so.   Mrs. Patterson neglected no call from friends or her church.   She and Mr. Patterson helped organize Christ Church, and entertained Bishop Mcllvane, when he came to confirm, as her parents had Bishop Chase in his visitations twenty years before.  She was on the Sanitary Commission during the war, and a member of the Woman's Christian Association later. How did she do it?  We may well ask. An iron constitution to begin with, an infinite capacity for work, and a genius for arranging details. I did not appreciate it at the time, and doubt if her children did.  It seemed perfectly natural that Mrs. Patterson should be always having company, always sitting down to a table with several young guests; always having sewing-societies in the parlor, or church picnics on the lawn, and never tired, never cross, never distracted, never depressed.  She had the large sense of "mine and thine" that made her include her cousins, her aged father until his death, her younger sisters, (relieving her mother of their care,) her husband's relations to the seventh degree, and her children's friends, to that boundless, gracious opening of her heart and house called by the cold term "hospitality."

      Saturday and Sunday must have been her busiest days, for then the children were out of school, and

brought their town friends to spend the week end. Her boys might go fishing only every other Saturday; the Saturdays between meant work on the farm; saw-mill, cider-mill, wood-pile, claimed their reluctant energies.  If they complained, (and my memory says they did,) it made no difference.   Work was work in those days.   Perhaps they have found out since that it was not a bad lesson to learn at fourteen.  But when fishing Saturday did come how happily they trooped down that Main Street lane, across the canal bridge, and over to the river below the Bluffs, with dinner-pail packed full of thick slices of bread and jelly, hard-boiled eggs, and cookies!  And how tired they were at night when the calves had to be fed!

      Above the farm, at the junction of the roads, stood a brick school-house. The land had been left by Colonel Robert Patterson for school purposes.   The building was put up under the supervision of Jefferson Patterson and Mr. Wead, and District No. 7, Harrison Township established. To give their children good schooling facilities was the great effort of both parents.  Seven of the Patterson children were pupils at this schoolhouse.  Mr. Patterson employed the teachers, saw to having wood hauled and split for the stove.   Mrs. Patterson used to invite both teacher and pupils down to her house to supper, and several times she took the whole school over to the Asylum in a big sleigh to a dance. Therefore it will be seen that Mrs. Patterson's domesticity did not prevent her from participating in those wider outside interests from which a good deal less domesticity has been held by some woman to absolve them.

      After the death of Mr. Patterson, and the eldest daughter, Kate, both within a week, a crushing blow to the wife and mother, the farm seemed to become too heavy a load for Mrs. Patterson. The children had most of them married, and it seemed time for her to retire from the heavy duties of her long and active life.  Her sons bought a home on West Third Street, and there she passed the remainder of her days until her death in 1898. The Third Street house, comfortable as it was, never seemed a natural place for Mrs. Patterson.  A brick house, on a narrow lot, on a city street, was not the setting that seemed right or appropriate to one whose associations had been with large rooms, open lawns, wide porches, and kitchens, and a bountiful, well surrounded table.

      But the change was inevitable. It has often seemed as if that earlier death to active life must be harder for the aged to bear than the later and actual death which is merely a change of element, rather than a change of occupation.

      Having nothing to do but to sit and wait for her friends to come to see her; Mrs. Patterson became a most interesting talker.  Her reminiscences were of wide range and rich content.   She remembered the days when her father was Indian Agent at Piqua, when he had ten thousand Indians, comprising seven different tribes under his control. Mrs. Patterson herself had been born in a blockhouse, and had heard many an Indian alarm, knew of their habits, could talk by the hour of those times which are now, and forever will be, ancient history.  Her children's children came to see her there, and heard these tales.  They will remember her strong lined face, the white cap, and the white puffs of silken hair each side of it, and they will think that no one else ever had so fine, so wonderful a grandma as they did.
     And they will not be wrong.

Return to "Some Dayton Saints and Prophets" Home Page