Chapter III: Pioneer Life
Two Houses on Main Street in 1799- Small Size of Cabins- Description by W.C. Howells of a Home of the Period- Newcom’s Tavern, First House in Dayton, Chinked with Mortar- Corner Monument Avenue and Main Street the Business Center of Dayton- First White Child Born in Dayton- Biography of Colonel Newcom- Wearisome Journey Through the Woods to Dayton- Camping at Night- Newcom’s Tavern Described- Relics- Old Clock and Brass Candlestick- First County Court Held at Tavern- Money Scarce- Convicted Persons Fined a Deerskin or a Bushel of Corn- Sentenced to Thirty-Nine Lashes on Bare Back- Sheriff Newcom’s Primitive Prison a Corn-Crib and a Dry Well- Anecdotes of Visits of Troublesome Indians to the Tavern- Colonel Newcom Introduces Apples- First Wedding in Dayton- Benjamin Van Cleve’s Characteristic Account of the Event- Mr. Van Cleve’s Hospitality to Strangers- Usefulness to the New Town- W.C. Howells’s Description of Social Life in Pioneer Times- Fire-Hunting on the Miami- Women Helped Their Husbands in the Fields- Dependent on the Husband’s and Father’s Gun for Meals- Pelts and Bears’ Oil Articles of Merchandise- Skins Used for Clothes, Moccasins, Rugs, and Coverlets- Business Conducted by Barter- Ginseng, Peltries, Beeswax, etc., Used as Money- Cut-Money or Sharp Shins- Charges Made in Pounds, Shillings, and Pence- Wild Animals- First Mill, a Corn-Cracker Built by D. C. Cooper- Log Meeting-House Built- Dayton First Governed Wholly by County Commissioners and Township Assessors- D. C. Cooper Justice of the Peace- Early Marriages- Petition Presented to Congress by Settlers- The Town Nearly Dies Out- D. C. Cooper, Titular Proprietor, Resuscitates It- Town Plats- Basis of Titles- Ohio a State- Montgomery Separated from Hamilton County- Population Increases- First Election- First County Court- Mr. Cooper Builds Saw- and Grist- Mills- Levees- New Graveyard- Log-Cabin Meeting-House Sold- New First Presbyterian Church- Mr. Cooper’s Death- First Jail.
The only buildings in 1799 on Main Street within view of the blockhouse on the site of the Soldiers’ Monument were Newcom’s log tavern, two stories in height, and containing four rooms, built in the winter of 1798-1799, and George Westfall’s cabin of one room and a loft, on the southeast corner of the alley between First Street and Monument Avenue. One wonders how a family of five or six could live in a diminutive house like the latter. W. C. Howells, father of the novelist, in his “Recollections of Ohio,” published in the spring of 1895, describes such a cabin, into which two families, one of them his father’s,- cultivated, refined people,- were crowded for four days and nights, and which was the home of the Howells family, numbering nine, for several months. This log cabin was eighteen by twenty feet in size, and with a loft overhead, in the highest part of which you could make a bed on the floor. The cabin contained fourteen persons during the crowded period mentioned- eight grown people and six children. Mr. Howells says: “As I write this in a house where there would be a room for each, I do not myself see how it was managed. But that was fifty years ago, and people put up with worse things. The fact is, there was no alternative, and when it is that or nothing we can do many odd things.” In those days people rolled up in a bear-skin or blanket and slept on the puncheon floor or out-of-doors in summer on the grass.
It is difficult for people with modern ideas of space and privacy to comprehend how a small house like Newcom’s Tavern could have afforded accommodations for travelers, for a store, church, court-house, and jail. But Mr. Howells throws some light on this question also. Describing a journey in a wagon, he says: “We stopped at night at a tavern, as was the custom, only hiring the use of one room on the first floor, known as the movers’ room, and the privilege of the fire to make tea or coffee, or fry bacon. It was very much like camping out, save that we were housed at soldiers’ quarters.” The movers’ room of a tavern was also, no doubt, often used for meetings of the court or of the church. Mr. Howells says that cabins sometimes contained a four-light window, with greased paper for glass, but it was very common for logs cabins to have no windows whatever. In extremely cold weather the door would be closed, and likewise at night, but mostly, by keeping a good fire, the door could be left open for light and ventilation; and the chimneys were so wide and so low, very often not as high as the one-story house, that they afforded as much light as a small window. These chimneys were always outside the house at one end. The manner of building them was to cut through the logs at the gable-end a space of six or eight feet wide and five or six feet high, and logs were built to this opening like a bay-window; this recess was then lined with a rough stone wall up as high as this opening; from that point a smoke-stack was built of small sticks split out of straight wood, and laid cob-house fashion to the height desired, and then plastered inside and out with clay, held together by straw.
In 1799 lime was made in Dayton for the first time, from stones gathered from the bed of the river and piled on a huge log fire, which took the place of a kiln. Newcom’s Tavern was the first house chinked and plastered with lime mortar instead of clay. “A wondering country boy, on his return from the village, reported to his astonished family that Colonel Newcom was plastering his house with flour.”
The southwester corner of Monument Avenue and Main Street was the business center of Dayton Township for five or six years. If a crowd was possible in such a hamlet, it assembled there when court was in session, as in 1803, or when there was a meeting to organize for defense against the Indians, or to attend to religious or political affairs. All travelers on horseback, on foot, or in wagons, prospectors hunting for land, emigrants, farmers and their wives in town for the day, stopped at Newcom’s Tavern to eat or sleep, shop, attend to law business, get a drink of water from the only well in the township or a glass of something stronger, or to rest and gossip around the roaring log fire, where the villagers loved to gather. April 14,1800, Jane Newcom, the first child born in Dayton, was born at her father’s tavern. She married Nathaniel Wilson. Mrs. Josiah Gebhart, daughter of Mrs. Wilson and granddaughter of Colonel Newcom, has portraits of both these pioneers in her possession.
The interest that is felt in the preservation of Newcom’s Tavern renders the career of the builder of that historic house, a man who “enjoyed the respect of the whole community,” of importance. Colonel George Newcom was born in Ireland and brought to this country by his parents in 1775. The Newcoms settled first in Delaware, removing afterwards to the neighborhood of Middletown, Pennsylvania. George Newcom married Mary Henderson, of Washington County, Pennsylvania. They had three children, one of whom died before they came to Dayton. The second child, John W., had several children, all of whom died young, except Martha A., who married John E. Greer, of Dayton. The third child, Jane, as already stated, married Nathaniel Wilson, and four of her nine children lived to be well known in Dayton- Clinton, Mrs. Mary J. Hunt, Mrs. Elizabeth Bowen, and Mrs. Josiah Gebhart.
In March, 1796, George Newcom and his wife left Cincinnati (where they had arrived about 1794) for the site of Dayton. Three other families and five unmarried men were of the party. It took them two weeks to make the trip of sixty miles over the almost unbroken roads, and very wearisome and uncomfortable was the journey. The weather was damp and cold, rainy, and spitting snow. Camping at night in the wet woods was a trying experience, though hatchet and ax furnished fuel for a blazing fire, kindled by rubbing together pieces of punk or rotten wood, and their rifles supplied them with food from the surrounding forest. Beds were made by spreading blankets over brush. In the early morning mothers and children arose, shivering and unrefreshed; breakfast was prepared, horses fed and packed by men cold, tired, and discouraged, and another day’s journey begun.
The road from Cincinnati to Hamilton had been used so much by United States troops that it was tolerably good, but the rough, narrow road from Hamilton to Dayton was often almost impassible for heavily laden horses. Even the women seem to have walked most of the way. The men drove the cattle and led the packhorses. In creels, suspended from either side of the pack-saddles. Were carried bedding, clothing, cooking utensils, tableware, provisions, tools, implements, and children too small to walk, their heads only appearing above. When the party came to small streams, they felled trees and made foot-bridges. It was necessary to build rafts to carry men, women, children, and freight across large creeks, and horses and cattle swam over. Driving the cattle, which would stray from the road and occasion delay till they were found, was troublesome and provoking business. Finally, the party reached the mouth of Mad River, and found friends awaiting them, the other two companies of settlers having arrived a few days sooner.
Colonel Newcom built a cabin of one room and a loft on the southwest corner of Main Street and Monument Avenue as soon as he arrived, which in the winter of 1798-99 gave place to the tavern of two stories and four rooms. This latter house is usually described as tavern, store, court-house, and jail, though the jail, in two separate “apartments,” was really in the back yard, where was also a log barn. When large parties stopped at Newcom’s Tavern, probably they occupied a movers’ room and looked after themselves. But when one or two travelers alighted with their saddle-bags, they were no doubt made literal guests and taken into the family as if they were friends or relations. It was a typical frontier tavern, the host and hostess, as was the universal custom in private houses, assisting in doing the work of the tavern, and often even the stable, with their own hands. On the kitchen mantel of the tavern stood tall brass candlesticks, one of which is now in the possession of Mrs. Josiah Gebhart. In a corner ticked the large, old-fashioned clock, six feet or more in height. It is now in the possession of Mr. Charles W. Gebhart, wound regularly with the key that Colonel Newcom used, and keeping as excellent time as it did a hundred years ago. In the kitchen also stood a dresser laden with pewter dishes, which shone like silver.
The first county court was opened in an upper room in Newcom’s Tavern July 27, 1803, by Hon. Francis Dunlevy, presiding judge of the first judicial district. Benjamin Van Cleve was clerk pro tem.; Daniel Symmes, of Cincinnati, prosecutor pro tem.; George Newcom, sheriff; and James Miller, coroner. The law fixing the county-seat at Dayton, which went into force in May, 1803, also directed that the court should assemble “at the house of George Newcom, in the town of Dayton.” As there was no business to transact, court adjourned on the evening of the day it assembled. Nearly all the men in Montgomery County flocked to Newcom’s on July 27. The opening of the court was the occasion of universal excitement and amusement in that stagnant, back-country region. The judges and lawyers slept the night of the 27th in one room at the tavern, and left early the next morning on horseback to open court at Xenia. The second session of court- November 22, 1803- was held under the trees back of Newcom’s Tavern, aad [misspelling of and] the aid of the sheriff was required to disperse the curious crowd which was listening, not only to the testimony of witnesses, but to the presumably secret discussions of the jury. Seven cases were tried, and court adjourned next day.
As money was scarce, persons convicted by the court were fined a certain number of deer or other skins, or an amount of corn or pork. Small offenses were often punished by form one to thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, well laid on, the sentence being executed by Sheriff Newcom as soon as pronounced. There was no regular jail, and Colonel Newcom confined white prisoners in a dry well on his lot. “The pit was dry and there was no water in it,” as Curwen, the witty first historian of Dayton says, “and following the example of Old Testament jailers, he let down those who broke the peace of the State, and there they remained till brought up for trial.” When drunken and troublesome Indians were placed in his keeping, he bound them and confined them in his corn-crib.
Visits of Indians were a great nuisance to pioneers, whether they were friendly or the reverse. They were in the habit of calling white people by their Christian names, and would stand outside the Newcom house, carefully closed against them, shouting “Polly, Polly,” and if Mrs. Newcom persisted in refusing to admit them, would fill their hands with corn from the crib and throw it through the chinks between the logs of the cabin, which were not always well filled with plaster. One day Colonel Newcom came home and found his wife at the wash-tub and an Indian bespattered with blood bending over her with a tomahawk. The Colonel demanded what this meant, and the Indian replied that “Polly” was washing his shirt. He had compelled Mrs. Newcom to get a tub of water and wash the shirt, which was soaked with blood, whether of man or wild beast Mrs. Newcom did not learn. Colonel Newcom sprung upon the Indian, gave him a severe beating, bound him with strong rope, and threw him into the corn-crib. In a short time the Indian was discovered running towards Mad River, and was never seen nor heard of again. How he managed to untie the rope and escape is an unsolved mystery.
Once, when Mrs. Newcom was ill, a crowd of excited Indians burst into the room where she lay and ordered Colonel Newcom to get them a rope, and they wished to bind one of their number who had offended them. Mrs. Newcom was afraid to be left alone with the Indians, and sat up and begged her husband not to get the rope. Thereupon one of the Indians pushed her back with great violence on the bed. Terrified at the threatening manner of the angry ruffians, she caught up her baby, Jane, and fled into the hazel bushes as far from the house as she was able to go, not returning till Colonel Newcom had got rid of the intruders.
Colonel Newcom introduced apples into Dayton. Previously the settlers had no fruit but the wild growth of the woods and prairies. He brought a number of apples from Cincinnati, called the citizens together, and gave different varieties of the fruit to whoever desired to plant the seed. He planted seed on his farm, now the home of Mr. P. E. Gilbert, on Huffman Avenue, setting out the tiny trees in an orchard when they were only a few inches high. This orchard was cut down a year ago.
Colonel Newcom was the first sheriff of Montgomery County, and held other offices. He was a member of the Ohio Legislature for twenty-three consecutive years- first as a senator and afterwards as a member of the lower house. When the Legislature spent time uselessly on business of little importance, he would berate his fellow members for wasting the people’s money by long sessions when all important affairs could have been crowded into a short period. He served as a soldier in Wayne’s campaign against in the Indians in 1794, and also in the War of 1812. April 2, 1834, his first wife died. He married Elizabeth Bowen, June 22, 1836. She died October 29, 1850. Colonel Newcom lived to be eighty-two, and died February 25, 1853.
August 28, 1800 is noted as the first date of the first wedding in Dayton. On that day Benjamin Van Cleve was married to Mary Whitten at her father’s house on his farm a short distance from town. Mr. Van Cleve makes this characteristic record of the event in his diary: “This year I raised a crop of corn and determined on settling myself, and having a home; I accordingly, on the 28th of August, married Mary Whitten, daughter of John Whitten, near Dayton. She was young, lively, and ingenuous. My property was a horse creature, and a few farming utensils, and her father gave her a few household or kitchen utensils, so that we could make shift to cook our provisions; a bed, a cow and heifer, an ewe and two lambs, a sow and pigs, and a saddle and spinning-wheel. I had corn and vegetables growing, so that if we were not rich we had sufficient for our immediate wants, and we were contented and happy.” Mr. Van Cleve’s marriage was a benefit to the community, for it enabled him to exercise that open-handed hospitality to strangers which was a trait of the public-spirited pioneers. The writer of an obituary notice of him published in the Dayton Watchman, in 1821, says: “He has been a leading character in this county, and has taken an active part in promoting its interests. By using system in his business, he found leisure from his duties as clerk of the court, postmaster, and his private affairs, to do much for the public good; and the strangers that passed through town found in Mr. Van Cleve one who was able and took pleasure in giving them information.”
Ohio was a new and unknown country at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and travelers and land prospectors were unable to obtain from books or newspapers the facts they desired in regard to soil, climate, population, and business. It was, therefore, greatly to the advantage of a recently settled town and county to have within their borders one like Mr. Van Cleve, who was not only a good talker, but a perfect mine of information (he had, while surveying, traveled over nearly every foot of ground in this neighborhood), and also willing to take the time and trouble to instruct inquiring visitors, who, if properly approached, might be induced to become permanent settlers. He understood farming, and cultivated his quarter-section, one hundred and sixty acres, now within the corporation, in the eastern part of town, and a valuable inheritance for his descendants.
Benjamin and Mary W. Van Cleve had five children: John Whitten, born June 27, 1801, died, unmarried, September 6, 1858, as remarkable a man and as useful a citizen as his father. William James, born 1803, died 1808. Henrietta Maria, born November 16, 1805, married Samuel B. Dover, September 21, 1824, surviving him; she married Joseph Bond November 4, 1858, and died May 18, 1879. Her descendants now living are two daughters, Mrs. Sophia Simpson, of Dayton, and Mrs. Mary A. Dill, of Union City, Indiana; William Simpson, of Dayton, Dr. Moses Simpson, Freehold, New Jersey, -children of Mrs. Sophia Simpson,- and thee sons and daughters of Thomas Dover, deceased,- Fay and Samuel, of Dayton; John, living in California; Mrs. Anna McKnight, of Dayton. Her third daughter, Phebe, married Emery Belden, and her daughter lives in Dayton. The fourth daughter is dead, but has a son and daughter living in the city. The fourth child of Benjamin Van Cleve was Mary Cornelia, born December 2, 1807; married James Andrews, November 20, 1827, and died February 19, 1878; children, Miss America Andrews and Mrs. Laura Poling, of Dayton, and I. W. Andrews, of Kansas City; grandchildren, Mrs. Edith Allison, Dayton; Dr. J. Andrews, Mansfield; Mrs. Alice Yoke, Lewisburg; Harry C. Andrews, Cambridge City. The youngest child of Benjamin Van Cleve, Sarah Sophia, was born November, 1809; married David C. Baker, February 11, 1830, and died October 18, 1839. Her children live in Indiana or Kansas. Mr. Van Cleve’s first wife died in 1810. In 1812 he married Mary Tamplin. They had no children. She died in 1825.
W. C. Howells (who, by the way, lived in Dayton and edited the Transcript in 1850) says of pioneer times: “Particularly remarkable was the general equality and the general dependence of all upon the neighboring kindness and good offices of others. The houses and barns were built of logs, and were raised by the collection of many neighbors together on one day, whose united strength was necessary to the handling of the logs. This kind of mutual help by the neighbors was extended to many kinds of work, such as rolling up and burning the logs in a clearing, grubbing out the underbrush, splitting rails, cutting logs for a house, and the like. When a gathering of men for such a purpose took place, there was commonly some sort of mutual job laid out for women, such as quilting (patchwork was the art embroidery of that era), sewing, or spinning up a lot of thread for some poor neighbor.” Corn-husking and maple-sugar camps were also jolly resorts in their seasons. An abundant supper, which the women who were guests helped to prepare, was served on such festive occasions, and dancing and kissing games finished the evening. Singing- and grammar- or spelling-schools were also pioneer amusements of men and women of all ages. A favorite sport of the settlers was fire-hunting, which Curwen thus describes: “The deer came down to the river to drink in the evening, and sheltered themselves for the night under the bushes which grew along the shore. As soon as they were quiet, the hunters in piroques paddled slowly up the stream, the steersman holding aloft a burning torch of dried hickory bark, by the light of which the deer was discovered and fired on. If the shot was successful, the party landed, skinned the animal, hung the carcass to a tree, to be brought home in the morning, and then proceeded to hunt more game.” Fire-hunting must have been a beautiful spectacle to the women and children watching it from the Monument Avenue bank of the Miami.
Women helped their husbands and brothers in all possible ways in those days, even when used to town life in the East. If extra work out-of-doors was needed, the wife or daughter would be called on to aid, and sometimes they would assist in planting and hoeing the corn and raking the grain or hay in harvest. All was country in Dayton ninety-five years ago, in spite of four or five cabins on the town plat. W. D. Howells, speaking of his father’s sympathetic account of pioneer life, says “He did not deceive himself concerning the past. He knew that it was often rude and hard and coarse; but under the rough and sordid aspect he was aware of the warm heart of humanity in which, quite as much as in the brain, all civility lies.” In 1804-1810, when one-roomed log cabins began to give way to neat dwellings of several rooms, and new settlers built brick buildings for country stores, their educated and well-bred wives used to aid them by molding candles and making ginger cakes, rolls, root-beer, and other articles for sale.
In the earlier years of our history settlers’ families were often dependent upon the father’s gun for a breakfast or dinner, and hunting was oftener an occupation than an amusement. Deer and bears were killed in large numbers for both their pelts and flesh, and the bears also for their oil. Deerskin was made into men’s clothes and moccasins, and bearskins were used as rugs and coverlets. The meat, and also that of wild birds, was salted and eaten as we eat dried beef. Racoon skins were in demand for winter caps. Pelts of various kinds were used instead of money.
There was little money in circulation, and business in the Northwest Territory was chiefly conducted by barter of articles that were easily transported on packhorses, such as ginseng, peltries, and beeswax, which had fixed values. A muskrat skin passed for twenty-five cents; a buckskin for one dollar; a doeskin for one dollar and fifty cents; a bearskin for from three to five dollars; a pair of cotton stockings cost a buckskin; a yard of calico cost two muskrat skins; a set of knives and forks, a bearskin; a yard of shirting, a doeskin; a pair of moccasins, a coonskin, or thirty-seven and a half cents. The want of small change led the pioneers of the Ohio Valley to invent what was called cut-money, or sharp shins. They cut small coins, chiefly Spanish, into quarters, and circulated them as readily as money that had not been tampered with. American merchants had not yet learned to use the United States currency, and their charges were in pounds, shillings, and pence. In 1799 Hyson tea was sixteen shillings tenpence per pound; load sugar, four shillings; flour, eighteen shillings tenpence per one hundred pounds; pork, eighteen shillings ninepence; beef, twenty-two shillings sixpence; work, groceries, and dry goods were often paid for in corn or pork.
The habits and surroundings of the people were very primitive. Wildcats and panthers strong enough to carry of a live hog prowled in the surrounding woods, and wolves, which destroyed stock, poultry, and young vegetables, were shot by moonlight through the chinks of the cabins. The wolves howled from dusk till dawn like innumerable dogs, as any one who has visited prairie countries can understand.
An event in the lives of the people of this region was the building, by Daniel C. Cooper, the greatest benefactor of early Dayton, on Rubicon Creek, which ran through his farm, now the site of the Cash Register Works, of a tub-mill or “corn-cracker,” run by water, which began to be used in the winter of 1799-1800. No flour could be obtained, and previous to this date meal was ground in hand-mills, three or hour hours of tiresome work being necessary to grind enough to last one small family a single day. This tub-mill was a rough affair, and the sides were not inclosed, but settlers brought their corn to it from nearly the whole of the Miami Valley, and from up Mad River as far as Springfield. Curwen, our first historian, says that Mr. Cooper “obtained all the custom of town, and took toll from the Trojans and Pequods.”
In the spring of 1800 the people of Dayton and the surrounding country got out logs and built the first Presbyterian meeting-house on the corner of Main and Third streets, where Callahan’s block now stands, D. C. Cooper having given two lots for a church and graveyard. Before this the Presbyterians had held services in Newcom’s Tavern or the blockhouse. The log-cabin meeting-house was eighteen by twenty feet in size, seven logs high, and raised two feet from the ground by pieces of log places upright under each corner. The seats and doorsteps were logs, and it had a puncheon floor and a clapboard roof, secured by weight poles. It had no windows, but sufficient air and light entered by the door and between the logs, the chinks being unfilled. Hazel bushes and small trees entirely hid it from view of passers up or down Main Street. It was approached by a narrow path, which wound through the uncleared graveyard.
Dayton was originally in Hamilton County, which included the counties now known as Montgomery, Greene, Clark, Champaign, Logan, and Shelby, and other territory, and was governed by county commissioners and township assessors. Dayton had no other government till 1799, when Daniel C. Cooper was appointed justice of the peace. He served three years and seven months and tried one hundred and eighteen cases. Eighteen of them were certified as settles and the rest as “satisfied.”
The Territorial law permitted the marriage “of male persons of the age of eighteen and female persons of the age of fourteen, and not nearer of kin than first cousins.” But it was necessary that notice should be given, either in writing posted at some conspicuous place within the township where the woman resided, or publicly declared on two days of public worship. Sometimes a notice written on a piece of paper, and signed “D. C. Cooper, Justice of the Peace,” was tacked to the trunk of a large forest tree close to a road. Early marriages were so much the custom that respectable parents saw with approbation young daughters who at the present day would still be in the school-room married to men who were mere boys in age. A girl of fifteen was as much a young lady in 1800 as a girl of twenty at the present day.
The county expenses for 1797 were as follows: Assessor, James Brady, $5.20, paid by the treasurer out of the first money that came into his hands; Cyrus Osborn, constable of Dayton, $1.90, “for his trouble and attention in executing the commissioners’ warrant for ascertaining taxable property.” He also received “fifty cents for one quire of paper used in the aforesaid business.” The commissioners each received $7.50, and $14.34 was expended by the county for the stationary. The officers of Dayton Township in 1798 were James Thompson, constable; Daniel C. Cooper, assessor; George Newcom, collector. Mr. Cooper’s fees were $7.20. Twenty-two tax payers lived in Dayton in 1798, and the taxes amounted to $29.74. In 1801 Benjamin Van Cleve was appointed to make a list of free male inhabitants twenty-one years old and over. The danger of attacks from Indians, as well as the need of men to clear lands, rendered it as necessary to ascertain how many men in the township were able to bear arms or wield an ax as to learn the names of taxpayers and the value of their property. Mr. Van Cleve says, “The number of free males over twenty-one years old, between the two Miamis, from the south line of the township to the head of Mad River and the Great Miami, was three hundred and eighty-two; east of the Little Miami, less than twenty.”
The high hopes with which the little bands of settlers had made their way through the woods and by river to Dayton seemed at first doomed to disappointment, as the following quotation from a petition of the settlers to Congress, probably written by Benjamin Van Cleve about 1802 or 1803, shows:
“On the 5th of November, 1795, forty-six persons engaged to become settlers at Dayton, but from the many difficulties in forming a new settlement so far in the wilderness country, only fifteen of these came forward, and four others, making nineteen in all. These settlements were formed by your petitioners a few months after the treaty of Greenville, when we had no faith in the friendship of the savages. Our settlement was immediately on their hunting-grounds. We were not able to keep a horse amongst us during the first season by reason of their stealing. The scarcity of provisions had raised flour to nine dollars a barrel, and other articles in proportion, which we had to transport fifty miles through a wilderness, clearing roads, etc. Under all these and many more difficulties we labored, in hopes of obtaining our lands at a low rate, and the small gratuity offered. Several of your petitioners have not been able to procure any land; others laid their claims before the commissioners agreeably to the late law, and purchased at two dollars per acre. We beg leave to state to your honorable body that the proprietors have been at vast expense, labor, and difficulty in forming the said settlement, and have received no recompense nor privilege other than subsequent settlers; that they first opened a way in consequence of which the country has become populous, and the United States has received a handsome revenue from the sale of the lands; that the town of Dayton is purchased by subsequent settler. We pray that Congress will make us such gratuity in lands, or deduction for payments for lands, or grant such other relief as our case merits.”
Symmes and St. Clair and his associates had paid two-thirds of a dollar per acre for land, and sold at a small advance. But the Government raised the price, and Benjamin Van Cleve says in his diary: “Mr. Ludlow, who was one of the proprietors and agent for them, informed me that they relinquished their claim on account of the rising price; that they could not afford to pay two dollars.”
It was at this time that Daniel C. Cooper become titular proprietor of the town by purchase of preëmption rights and agreements with the settlers. Each of the original settlers received a donation of an inlot and an outlot, which he or his representative drew at the lottery held at the mouth of Mad River November 4, 1795. When the original proprietors failed and retired, settlers were obliged to pay two dollars an acre, one dollar for a town lot, and did it willingly, at the Cincinnati land office to secure these “donations.” The town nearly died out between 1802 and 1803. Four cabins were vacant and only five families lived here- those of George Newcom, Samuel Thompson, John Welsh, Paul D. Butler, and George Westfall. The Van Cleve brothers and William Newcom and John Williams were farming. The McClures and Arnett had moved away. But Mr. Cooper bought the town to life again, and secured satisfactory titles by patent or deed. Mr. Cooper made several plats of the town; that of 1805 provided for a little park at the intersection of Main and Third streets, with a court-house in the center. In 1809 he made a revised plat to conform to deeds and patents, and to the plat made by the original proprietors in 1795, and to this plat all subsequent additions have been made. Prior to the record of this plat of 1809, property was seldom transferred by deed; the county commissioners established a rule that that party would be recognized as the owner of a lot whose name appeared on the plat opposite any lot number; thus, to pass the title of a piece of property from one person to another, all that was necessary was a verbal request of the owner to have the purchaser’s name placed in the list instead of his own. Of these transactions, be they few or many, no record has been preserved, but instead of such record a perfect list of lot owners at the time the plat of 1809 was recorded, forms the basis of title to all the original three hundred and twenty-one lots of Dayton.
At first, county and township officers were appointed by the Territorial governor and courts. In 1802 Ohio became a State, and Montgomery was separated from Hamilton County. Population had now increased till it was thought best to authorize an election by the people of additional officers. Jerome Holt, sheriff of the county, was directed to give notice to the inhabitants of Dayton Township to convene at the house of George Newcom and proceed to elect by ballot a chairman, town clerk, three or more trustees or managers, two or more overseers of the poor, three fence-viewers, two appraisers of houses, a lister of taxable property, a sufficient number of supervisors of roads, and one or more constables. The first county court was opened in an upper room at Newcom’s July 27 of this year. In March, 1803, the first State Legislature, at Chillicothe, recommended Dayton for the county-seat, and the selection was confirmed in April by the commissioners appointed to designate county-seats. The half-deserted backwoods village of Dayton seemed as unpromising a place for a county-seat. But it was the nucleus of a number of farming settlements, and was the principle hamlet in the township. The growth and improvement of Dayton was marked after it became the county-seat. The taxes for 1804 amounted to $458.40. Main Street was cleared to Warren Street in 1804, and the gully at the Main and Third Street crossing filled with walnut logs cut in the woods where Cathcart’s livery-stable now stands.
This year Mr. Cooper built a sawmill on First Street and a grist-mill at the head of Mill Street, to which in 1809 he added a carding-machine. He built a levee for the protection of his Mill Street property. At an early date Mr. Cooper employed Silas Broadwell to build a levee to protect the western part of the town, agreeing to give him certain lots in its vicinity in payment for making it and keeping it in repair. The levee began at Wilkinson Street, and ran west a considerable distance with the meanderings of the Miami.
When Mr. Cooper gave lots on the east side of Main Street, opposite the Court-house, for a church and graveyard, they were considered so far out of the way that it was not supposed that the town would extend much beyond them; but by 1805 property in that neighborhood was wanted for residences or business. The log-cabin meeting-house was sold for twenty-two dollars, which became the nucleus of a building-fund for a new church, and the graveyard was platted and sold at auction at the Court-house. Mr. Cooper gave a new graveyard of four acres at the south side of Fifth Street, between Ludlow and Wilkinson streets, equal shares being given to the First Presbyterian and the Methodist churches and the town of Dayton. The new Presbyterian church, on Second and Ludlow streets, was not built till 1817. Two structures have succeeded it- one of brick, built in 1839, and the present stone church, built in 1867. Till the church of 1817 was completed, the congregation held services at Newcom’s, or at McCullum’s new brick tavern, southwest corner of Main and Second streets, removing in 1806 to the new Court-house.
Mr. Cooper was deeply interested in the new Presbyterian church. When the bell for the church arrived at his store, southeast corner of Main and First streets, in 1818, he placed it on a wheelbarrow, and himself wheeled it to the corner of Second and Ludlow streets. He over-exerted himself, and burst a blood-vessel, which caused his death. He left two sons, who both died young and without children. Mr. Cooper won the respect and affection of all his fellow-citizens. To no one does the present generation owe a larger debt of gratitude. When he died, his affairs were somewhat involved; but by prudent management his executors, James Steele and H. G. Phillips, relieved the estate from embarrassment, and it henceforth steadily increased in value. Every improvement of this large property benefited the city.
A jail was built of round logs in the fall of 1804 on the end of the Third Street side of the Court-house lot. It was thirty feet long, sixteen wide, and twelve high, and contained two disconnected cells, floored and ceiled with logs. There were but three small windows in the building, secured by two-inch plank shutters and iron bars, but two doors, also of two-inch plank, spiked and hung on iron hinges. The doors and shutters were locked on the outside, and the keys kept by Sheriff Newcom at his tavern, three squares off. During the sessions of court at the tavern a doorkeeper was appointed to conduct prisoners to and from the jail. This log fortress, which was built for $299 by David Squier, in two months, was stronger than the blockhouses which did such good service during the Indian wars, and answered every purpose till it became necessary that the sheriff should live at the jail, when one of stone was erected.
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