Clinton Co., OHGenWeb


Chapter V - Pioneer Incidents

Part II - Earliest Settlement

[Chapter V - Part I] - [Return To Beer's Index] - [Chapter V - Part III]


The Virginia Military Tract had been explored, in the early part of 1787, by Maj. John O'Bannon and Arthur Fox, two Kentucky surveyors, who wished to obtain a knowledge of the land for the purpose of making entries when the land office for the district should be opened. The latter event occurred on the 1st of August, 1787, and O'Bannon not only entered considerable land, but he became prominent as a surveyor in the district. O'Bannon Creek is named for him.

Concerning the first settler in what is now Clinton County, a dispute arises among those who have made investigations. It has been stated that William Smalley settled within the present limits of Vernon Township, west of Clarksville, in .1797, and that to him should be awarded the honor of having been the pioneer settler of Clinton County; but the fact has been conclusively developed that Mr. Smalley's cabin was built about fifty rods west of the line which divides this county from Warren, in the township of Washington, in the latter county. It is thought, however, that his purchase extended over the line into Clinton.

It will be difficult to decide who was the first actual settler within the territory now comprising Clinton County, as the evidence seems to show that three persona came about the same time, and located at widely separated points. These were Morgan Van Meter, of Green Township; Amos Wilson, of the township bearing his name; and David Sewell, of Vernon Township. There is trouble in ascertaining the date at which each of these men came, but the latest investigations seem to fix them all in the year 1799. Morgan Van Meter* has generally been accorded the honor of being the first arrival, and Judge Harlan prepared the following sketch of him:
"Morgan Van Meter was the first settler within the limits of Clinton County as it now exists, having come here in 1798 or 1799. He was also the first tavern-keeper within the same limits. His tavern was the first opened on any of the roads, traces or paths leading from Chillicothe to Cincinnati. `Van Meter's' was made a conspicuous point in the road guides published in the Pittsburgh almanacs of seventy years ago, for the information and direction of travelers by land from that town to Cincinnati. Gen. Cass, in a conversation with one of our citizens a few years ago, made inquiries about this early public house, and stated that, having lain out all night in the woods a few miles southwest from Van Meter's, he was glad to find it in the morning in time for a late breakfast. This was in very early days.

It is said of Morgan Van Meter that when the college township road was being located, about 1803 - 04 he met the surveyors and viewers a short distance west of Snow Hill and by generous donations from his whisky jug induced them to change the route of the road so that it should pass near his cabin, northwest of Snow Hill.

"Morgan was the first of five sons of Joseph Van Meter. His brothers were Joseph, Isaac, Abraham and William. all of whom. except William, were atone time residents of the State of Ohio, laid, we believe, of the old town of Deerfield, on the Little Miami River in what is now Warren County. The Brothers who carne to Deerfield were said to have had families. Morgan lived in the lower part of the little town. not far from the river, in one end of it a double cabin, or a cabin divided into two rooms. the other room being occupied by the family of the late Judge Michael H. Johnson, a well-known resident of the Hopkinsville neighborhood, Warren County. He (Van Meter) removed directly from Deerfield to the head of the East Fork of the Little Miami. near where Snow Hill now is, in Clinton County. The point where he settled is a little cast of south. and distant about two hundred-yards from the present residence of Zephaniah Shears. Here, it is said, he found an unoccupied Indian wigwam. With the exception of this hut, there was not a human habitation within a radius of ten miles. Here he built his cabin and opened it to the public as a tavern. Here Morgantown was afterward laid out. His father, Joseph Van Meter, was a native of the State of Maryland. He was born upon the frontier, and, though frequently changing his residence, died upon the frontier. He seems to have belonged to that class of men, once quite numerous, who keep constantly on the border of civilization, and follow close upon the footsteps of the Indians as they retire further west at the advance of the white man. He had removed from Maryland several years before the Revolutionary war, and was living on the South Branch of the Potomac River, in Virginia. when his son Morgan, his first child. was born. The family record of Morgan Van Meter's family, furnished by Mrs. James Van Meter, of Wiota, La Fayette Co., Wis., shows the year of Morgan's birth to be 1765. Between the birth of Morgan and of Joseph, his second son, he crossed the Allegheny Mountains, descended the Monongahela, and settled at the forks of that river, At this point, Joseph and perhaps others of his family were born.

"In 1770, Joseph Van Meter the elder, in company with three of the Zane brothers, removed with his family to the Ohio River, near where Wheeling now is. The Zanes settled at the mouth of Wheeling Creek. while Mr. Van Meter settled a few miles above, on Short Creek. Other settlements near by were commenced soon after. Block-houses, being works of prime necessity on the frontier at that day, were erected at several places to the settlements, as some protection against the Indians, though seldom adequate when assailed by a strong party. Near to these the settlers built their cabins, as far as convenient, such it plan being considered as some protection against surprise and attacks by small parties of Indians. In 1774, a small military work was erected, under British authority, on the south bank of the Ohio River. not far above the mouth of Wheeling Creek. The plan upon which it was built is said to have been drawn by the celebrated Gen. George Rogers Clark. It was called at first Fort Fincastle, the name of the county in which it was located, hut, two years later (1776), the name was changed to Fort Henry, from the celebrated Patrick Henry. then Governor of the State of Virginia. This was the only fort between Pittsburgh and the mouth of the Great Kanawha, which was in that day considered tenable against a force of any great number. A stockade was in process of erection near West Liberty, on Short Creek, in September, 1777, but was not yet completed when the Indians attacked Fort Henry, late in September of that year. It was intended to serve the double purpose of protecting the lives and property of the settlers. and the county buildings, West Liberty being then the seat of justice for Ohio County. This rude structure was named Van Meter's Fort, from Joseph Van Meter, the elder. Late in September, 1777, notice was given the settlers at and in the neighborhood where Wheeling now is that a large Indian army was collecting on the Sandusky River to march against Fort Henry and the settlements in the neighborhood. This friendly warning is said to have been sent by the brother of the Zanes, who had taken up his residence with the Indians, had adopted their dress and mode of living, and had married an Indian woman. The messenger had scarcely brought the direful news to the garrison before the Indians were before the walls of the fort, tinder the leadership of the renegade white man. Simon Girty. The Indians had come to and crossed the Ohio unperceived, though a considerable force of the most capable and experienced scouts and Indian fighters on the frontier had been sent out into the woods on the north side of the Ohio, through which the enemy was expected to come, to discover, if possible, the force of the latter, and the time at which they would probably arrive. Girty, however, succeeded in bringing his warriors before the very walls of the fort before his approach was discovered. The force of the Indians was computed at from four hundred to five hundred men. The entire force of the garrison and settlers was forty-two, all told, many of whom were o Id men and boys. In the course of the first night after the arrival of the Indians, the settlers and their families either took shelter in the fort, or were brought in. The nest morning, the Indians succeeded in killing one of the men belonging to the garrison. Fourteen men were sent out in pursuit of a small party of Indians, were surrounded, twelve of them killed and one badly wounded. Twelve volunteers from the fort were sent to the relief of the first party, were surrounded, and eight of them killed. Two or three more were severely wounded, but were able to conceal themselves from the Indians, and came in or were brought in after the Indians withdrew. Not a man was killed or wounded in side the fort. On the third day of the siege, forty mounted men from Short Creek and fourteen from Cross Creek arrived at the fort and were admitted. These timely re-enforcements so discouraged the Indians that they raised the siege and engaged in killing the cattle and burning the cabins and fences of the settlers.

"Two accounts are given of the part acted by Joseph Van Meter and his son Morgan. One is that Joseph and his family took refuge in the fort without loss of time. The other is that father and son, on the second day of the siege, composed a part of the company of forty men, who, on hearing of the dangerous condition of the people and garrison in the fort, left the settlement on Short Creek, went to their relief, and were fortunate enough to be able to enter the fort without the loss of a man. Both accounts agree that both Joseph and his son Morgan were in the fort while it was besieged by the Indians, and participated in its defense. At one time during the siege, it is said, the rifles used by the men in the fort became so heated by the rapid firing as to become to some extent useless, and recourse was then had to a lot of muskets, of which a sufficient number was found in the storehouse of the garrison. If this account be true-and it is credited in the history of the siege - it clearly shows that, if a part of the garrison was composed of old men and mere boys, they were at least acquainted with the use of the rifle.

"Joseph Van Meter, the elder, continued to reside on Short Creek until his death. The manner of his death was never certainly ascertained. He went from home to fish, and never returned, nor was any vestige of him ever found. Some supposed that he had been drowned, while others were of the opinion that he had been taken prisoner by the Indians and burned at the stake .

"Morgan Van Meter came to Clinton County as early as 1798 or 1799. It is believed that he was settled at Deerfield, Warren County, with his brothers, Joseph and Isaac, as early as 1796, or at least 1797, having come here from Harrison County, Ky. Joseph could not have remained long at Deer field if he came there in 1797, for in that year there is the most satisfactory evidence that he was located at the mouth of Dodson's Creek, on the south side of the East Fork of the Little Miami, a mile or so below Lynchburg, in what is now Highland County. Morgan Van Meter did not leave Deerfield, as is claimed, for a year or two after his brother Joseph did. William Van Meter, a very intelligent gentleman, a distant relative of the Van Meter brothers. who settled, when a boy, on the East Fork, near to Isaac and Joseph, is of the opinion that Morgan settled near where Snow Hill now is in 1798. But Mrs. Leggett, still living (this sketch has been written a number of years), says he made his settlement the year in which she was married. Her family record, being produced, shows that her marriage occurred in 1799. Mrs. Leggett was a Shawhan, a sister of the late John Shawhan, Esq., long a resident near Deerfield, and of Amos Shawhan, of Morrow, and knew the three Van Meter brothers when she was a young woman and they were residing at Deerfield. Deerfield at that time was simply a cluster of houses. It was not laid oft as a town until several years afterward. The houses were of very rude construction, being designed for temporary shelter more than for permanent abode. On the arrival of any new emigrant, if he found an empty house, he took possession of it. If there was no vacant house, one was put up for him. Deerfield was simply a place to stop and stay until a selection for a permanent settlement could be made.

"The farm of Joseph Van Meter was on the southeast side of the East Fork of the Little Miami, and is now generally known in the neighborhood as the Michael Stroup farm. Mr. Van Meter removed to Illinois many years since, where he died. His brother Isaac settled at an early day in the neighborhood of his brother Joseph, on the northwest side of the East Fork, about one and a half miles north of where Lynchburg now is, in Clinton County. The farm opened by him was the old homestead of the late Hiram Connell, now owned by Mr. Connell's son William. Mr. Van Meter sold it in 1814, and removed to Illinois

"The College Township road, which led from Chillicothe to the College Township, near where Oxford College has since been established, was, as far as where Clarksville now is, the road from Chillicothe to Cincinnati. It is believed that it was surveyed and established in 1799,* and, being blazed through, soon became a road much used by travelers. This road was not cut out or improved, at least in some parts of it, until 1804. Horsemen, guided by blazes made on the trees, followed the line of the road, and were thankful for this help.

"Morgan Van Meter has now lain in his grave more than sixty years. The son of it frontiersman, he had but little, if any, education. So far as we know, he never held an office or aspired to one, civil or military. The house he lived in has disappeared, and his grave is covered by a stable, or is in the public highway, with no stone to mark it. But his name is perhaps more frequently spoken of by our old people than that of any citizen of Clinton County who has been dead fifteen years, with perhaps a few exceptions.

"Morgan Van Meter made his will during his last sickness. It bears date March 28, 1813, and was admitted to record June 21, 1813."

Regarding Amos Wilson, the following is in the language of Judge Haglan: "Amos Wilson, from whom Wilson Township, Clinton County, was named, was one of three soils of John Wilson, a member of the first constitutional convention of Ohio, who was the son of John Wilson, an Irishman. Amos Wilson and his father before him, and several of his brothers and sisters were born in New Jersey. From that State his father removed with his family to the Redstone country in Pennsylvania, and from there to Washington County, Ky. He lived for several years in Washington and Greene Counties. His nest removal was to Mill Crook, in Hamilton County, Ohio, near Cincinnati. John Wilson, named for his grandfather, born December 29, 1786, informed the writer, on March 13, 1876, that his grandfather, after he sold his possessions in Kentucky, supposing that he would get his money in silver, took his grandson, then nine years of acre, on a separate horse to Lexington, to bring the money home. He, however, was not paid cash as he expected, but was given a draft on Cincinnati, on which he received his payments when they arrived there. This was in 1795.In 1796, John Wilson, with his family, and his sons and their families, left Kentucky and came to Cincinnati. That year, the party raised a crop on Mill Creek. In the spring of that year, George and Amos went to Middle Run, in what is now Greene County, Ohio, and cleared a few acres of land,, on part of which hemp was sown, and on the residue corn was planted. No fence was put up around the little clearing. The corn made a good crop; the deer took a part of it, but the squirrels seemed shy of it, as if doubtful of its fitness for food. These young men returned to Mill Creek and remained until fall, when each mounted on a horse and returned to their newly opened farm to secure their crops. One night, three Indians came and stole their horses. n discovery of their loss, the Wilsons, each armed with a rifle, started in pursuit. hey traced the Indians by a devious and circuitous way, taken evidently to avoid pursuit, to the old site of the famous town of Chillicothe, on the Little Miami, north of where the town of Xenia now is. ere the Indians, three in number, and all armed, were found encamped for the night. he pursuing party had, up to this time, supposed that there were only two Indians, with no advantage in number on either side; but here were three to two. The Indians watched their adversaries closely, and were constantly ready for action if a fight should be brought on. The Wilsons were not less vigilant, and were ready, but by no means courting a combat. The Indians, after a time, offered them something to eat. This, however, was the only friendly act performed by either side. Sleep on neither side was taken. It is believed that neither party even nodded. At last the light of morning came, and the white men mounted their horses and rode rapidly away without molestation.

"In the spring of 1797, John Wilson commenced a settlement on Middle Run. His improvement was immediately upon the road now leading from Waynesville to the town of Centerville, in Montgomery County, Ohio. His first dwelling, a rude structure, of course, has disappeared, but near its site the house long his residence still stands. It is situate on the south side of the road, and is in Greene County, though bat a short distance from the line dividing the counties of Greene and Warren.

"The Wilsons came to Cincinnati in 1796, from Kentucky; 1797, they cropped on Mill Creek, near Cincinnati; 1797, George and Amos, sons of John Wilson, raised a small crop of corn and hemp on Middle Run, Greene County; 1797, George and John came tip from :Mill Creek to look after their crops, and had their horses stolen by the Indians; in 1797, John Wilson, in the fall of the year, moved to Middle Run, in Greene County. In 1799, a Baptist Church was organized at Middle Run. About 1803, Amos Wilson began to preach in the Baptist Church.

"It is claimed by some (atlas history, of Clinton County, p. 11) that the first permanent settlement in Clinton County was made by Amos Wilson and James Mills, in what is now Wilson Township. in 1799. They were brothers-in-law, and came to the county together, but it seems to be clearly established that their settlement was not earlier than the fall of 1801 and possibly not until the spring of 1802. Amos Wilson, up to 1801, was living upon a preempted right about three miles northwest of where Waynesville now is. This pre-emption right he exchanged with the Rev. Joshua Carman (we find this name also spelled Carmen), well known to many of our citizens, for 100 acres of land in the eastern quarter of the county. Mr. Carman was, at the time of the exchange, living in the State of Kentucky, near Louisville, and had come out into the Miami country on an exploring expedition. Having secured Mr. Wilson's claim, he returned to Kentucky for his family, and, in the fall of the same year, brought them out to the Waynesville neighborhood. On his arrival, Mr. Wilson vacated the house on the pre-emption, and Mr. Carman entered into possession. Whether Mr. Wilson at once came up to settle on `he land he had thus acquired, or not until the following spring, has not been ascertained with certainty.
"That Timothy Bennet made his settlement as early as March, 1801, is clearly established, and we have the best authority for believing that Morgan Van Meter had made his settlement where Snow Hill now is at least two, and perhaps three, years previous. Mr. Wilson was married four times His first wife was Ann Mills, to whom he was married on the 22d day of June, 1791. In March, 1807, Mrs. Wilson died, and September 27,1807, he married Rachel James, with whom he lived until her death, in May, 1818. On the 12th day of July, 1818, he was married to Mary Coulter, who died in 1839. Mr. Wilson was married the last time in 1843, to Elizabeth Dowden, who survived him twenty years."

From data since obtained, it is evident that Judge Harlan was misled as to the actual time of Mr. Wilson's settlement in his county. The latter's son, Amos Wilson, Jr., furnishes information, which is confirmed by a record in the old family Bible, to the effect that Amos Wilson, Sr., located in Clinton County in 1799. The circumstances were these. He purchased 200 (instead of 100) acres in the northeast corner of W. Taylor's survey, in what is now Wilson Township, and, in order to find it, was directed to go to the locality of the Deserted Camp, and follow the survey line due northeast from there until he should cross Anderson's Fork and Anderson's Prairie, and reach the ridge land, or white oak land, beyond. He followed these directions, and, supposing he had reached his own land, at once began improving it. After two years' labor at this spot, he found that he was upon what is known as the Hinkson farm, in the R. Eggleston survey, No. 886, and, moving south to the adjoining farm, began anew to improve. A year was spent here, when he was chagrined to learn that again he was on the wrong land, it being in W. Lindsay's survey, No. 732, on what is now known as the Reed farm. Being now discouraged, and having wasted three years in improving land not his own, he avowed his determination to return to the older settlements; but Joshua Carman, from whom he had purchased the land, came along and showed him his own, and, to partially compensate him for his pains and induce him to stay, donated to him a strip containing fifty acres, lying on the west side of the original 200 acres. At this time, which was in the early spring of 1802, Mr. Carman was accompanied by Mr. Wilson's brother-in-law, James Mills, who had purchased a farm immediately south of Wilson's, in the same survey. These two men proceeded at once to erect log cabins on their farms, and both structures were raised on the same day. The families occupied them, and on these farms lived Amos Wilson and James Mills until their death. In 1827, Mr. Wilson erected on his place the first brick house in the northeastern part of the county. Of the family of Mr. Wilson, not a representative is now left in the county. The Mills farm is still owned by the descendants of the man who made the first improvements upon it in the spring of 1802.
David Sewell, the first settler of Vernon Township, is the third man claimed by some, and with perhaps equal evidence, to have been the first settler in Clinton County. Judge Harlan's account of him states that he bought land in the Archibald Campbell survey, No. 2250, early in 1798, and arranged to move upon it, his sons to go at once. One son, Aaron. was married, in April, 1798, in Frederick County, Va., and, with his wife, brother John and family, and their father and mother, started West. arriving in clue time at Bedle's Station, in Warren County, Ohio. The Judge then states that they could not then find the land which had been purchased. nor a surveyor who could show it to them. The Judge places their arrival in this county in 1801 or later, giving reasons for his conclusions, which appear in another place. Mr. Cyrus L. Sewell, in his history of Vernon Township. makes Statements founded on what seems to be conclusive evidence, showing that the Sewell families settled here in 1799, and that a division of the land was made in 1801. (See history of Vernon Township, in this volume.)