MAKING OF MONROE COUNTY, OHIO

by R.E. Harrington

 

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Until the early 1800s, essentially no one lived in what is now Monroe County, Ohio -- not even Indians. It is true that American Indians inhabited the North American continent long before the Europeans began to arrive. However, their population was sparse consisting of a number of tribes distributed over a vast wilderness. They subsisted on meat that they hunted with bows and arrows, spears, and traps. The Indians were also farmers in that they planted corn, beans, and squash. They lived in small villages of usually no more than a few hundred individuals. Being surrounded by vast areas of wilderness, they had no concept of owning land as the Europeans knew it.

 

Then came the British and French who had been fighting each other in Europe and on the seas for centuries. Through early contact with the Indians of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes area the French had discovered a rich resource in the form of animal pelts that was available by trading with the Indians. So, the primary interest of the French was to establish a partnership and trade with the Indians. For this purpose, they cultivated the friendship of the six tribes who lived in what is now upper New York State. These tribes became known as the six nations or the Iroquois League. The French built trading posts and provided the Indians with blankets, guns, gunpowder, cooking utensils, axes and tomahawks, whisky, cloth, and other European commodities. In exchange they took animal pelts and skins for leather that were in great demand in Europe.

 

The French encouraged more and more trapping and exploitation of the animal population for furs and leather. The Indians of the Iroquois League were only too glad to comply because animal pelts were the money with which they could buy the white man's goods that over the decades had gradually become necessities for their newer way of life. Trade was the only source of such commodities as metals, guns, gunpowder and whisky.

 

Eventually, the population of animals diminished to the point that they were insufficient for the Indians of the Iroquois League to meet their trading requirements. Again, the French came to their Indian partners' "rescue" by encouraging and helping them to become aggressors of their neighboring tribes. So the Iroquois League moved westward into new hunting and trapping areas along the Great Lakes. In this process, they eradicated the Erie Indian Tribe and under the tutorage of the French, appointed themselves as the leading tribe over all other tribes in what would become known as the Northwest Territory. Several of the tribes submitted to the administrative domination by the Iroquois League, but a number of others such as the Shawnee and Miami did not.

 

Farther south on the North American continent the British were interested in settling and farming the land. While the British also traded with the Indians for animal pelts, the major income from their colonies came from food, tobacco and taxes imposed on the expanding population. This policy encouraged the expansion of settlements and the colonies grew ever westward as more settlers came and the demand for land increased. For nearly a century the land east of the Allegheny Mountains was sufficient for the growing population. The King of England had established the Allegheny Mountains as the dividing line between settlers and the Indian lands, a boundary that was honored by the settlers for several decades.

 

By the middle of the 1700s the relationship between France and England on the American continent had deteriorated even further. To support the French trading enterprises to the north in 1749 the French sent a military expedition that claimed most of the area that we now call the Northwest Territory. In so doing their claim included the lands of the Shawnee, Cherokee, Miami, Mingo, and other tribes. The British viewed these claims as a trespass on their Pennsylvania and Virginia colonies. In addition, the British had established their own trading posts among the Shawnee and other Indian tribes in this area. When the French arrived these British traders were told to leave.

 

These new claims of the French to the Ohio country fanned the flames of antagonism that led to the French and Indian War. The Indians viewed the squabble between the French and British as being between two white tribes from across the ocean.  Most of the Indian tribes preferred to remain neutral in the squabble.  However, the French were the trading partners of the Iroquois League who had become dependent on trade for their survival and prosperity. So, eventually they agreed to join with the French in their war with the British.

 

France did a poor job supporting their colonial forces in America both militarily and in terms of providing supplies the trade with the Indians. As the sources of trade supplies dried up for the French, caused in no small part by the British, the French traders began gouging and cheating the Indians. Deliberately playing to this French weakness, the British offered better deals and in effect bought much of the Indians' allegiance away from the French. This had the effect of reducing military pressure on the British although the hostility of the Indians over the encroachment by settlers still existed. Eventually the British prevailed in the French and Indian War and in 1760 they were victorious in forcing the French to withdraw from North American.  As a result, the Indians found themselves trading with the British instead of the French.  Having won the French and Indian War, the British laid claim to all the Northwest Territory. This was one of the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1763 that was made between the British and French but without the participation of the Indians. With the French expelled from North America, the King of England, in an effort to appease the Indians, ordered that all of the land between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River would be Indian land and was not to be settled.

 

By this time the land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Allegany Mountains had become filled with farms and new land was needed for settlement. Settlers began to spill across the Allegheny Mountains from Pennsylvania and Virginia. In addition, surveyors were being hired to survey land in the upper Ohio Valley with an eye to future settlement. This encroachment of the whites into the Indian hunting land cause justifiable concern among the Indians that the lands of the Ohio Valley would soon be settled as the land east of the Allegheny Mountains had been.

 

In an effort to accommodate the need for new land, the British convened a council at Fort Stanwix with the Iroquois League in 1768. They did not invite the tribes who inhabited the Ohio Valley. From the Iroquois League they "bought," for 10,000 worth of goods, the area to the west of the Allegheny Mountains and south and east of the Ohio River. In retrospect, it seems clear that this negotiation with the Iroquois League was a ruse to claim that the land had been bought, as opposed to being taken by force. Needless to say, the Indian tribes such as the Shawnee, Cherokees, and Miami who claimed the area as their homes and hunting grounds did not recognize the transaction.

 

For the Indians who lived on and used the lands "purchased" by the British of the Stanwix Treaty, the problem was the continuing encroachment of settlers. To some of these tribes the conflict between the French and British had been an opportunity to push the settlers back across the Allegheny Mountains. Indeed, the French had encouraged this goal to help enlist the Indian forces to their side during the French and Indian War. But with the British being the winning side in the French and Indian War, the problem of encroachment of settlers took on a more serious and sinister complexion.


The King's order to reserve the land north of the Ohio River as Indian land stood for only a short period. The ruse of the British buying land from Indians who did not own it was repeated several times. Over the next two decades, the situation went from bad to worse with both the whites and Indians becoming increasingly suspicious of the other.  Before long, this led to a state of open but undeclared war between the white settlers and the Indians. The Indians' objective remained that of forcing the whites to return east of the Allegheny Mountains. Attacks were mostly relatively small hit-and-run skirmishes in which both the whites and Indians committed horrendous atrocities.  Several times the whites were nearly driven from the lands west of the Allegheny Mountains where they were settling. 

To make matters worse for the settlers, in 1776 the Americans declared their independence from England. This precipitated the American Revolutionary War that involved several years of war between England and the eastern colonies.  The new American government that was formed was weak. It had no money and was ill prepared to provide protection to the settlers on the western frontier.  As a result, the undeclared war between the whites moving into the Ohio Valley and the Indians who felt that they owned the land continued with disastrous results for both sides, but mostly for the whites. 
[Capt. John Baker, John Wetzel,]

 

As the war between England and the future United States, reached a conclusion attention could be focused on the Indian problems at the western frontier. The problem was that the new American government was broke and tired of war. The result was a period of about a decade of aggressive Indian attacks on the settlers. The new Federal Government built forts and staffed them with minimal troops but at best these were shelters for settlers if they had advanced notice of Indian raids.

 

Even though the Revolutionary War had been concluded in the east with the surrender of British Major General Charles Cornwallis to George Washington at Yorktown, the British still held key forts in places like Fort Detroit, Fort Niagara, and Fort Miami. They also continued to operate trading posts with the Indians. And while there was at least a pretence of observing the surrender as terms of the peace treaty were being worked out, these Canadian and fort commanders continued the war by sponsoring the Indians as their surrogate armies. From these positions they continued to serve as military suppliers and advisors to the Indians and encouraged them to continue attacks on the settlers in the Ohio Valley. Several futile efforts were made by the white settlers to muster an effective resistance. However, the armies used for these efforts were largely collections of unorganized and untrained militia from among the settlers. The Indians with the help of the British effectively repelled most of these missions, frequently with great loss of life among the militia. The Indians took refuge in what is now Central Ohio and were essentially immune from attacks by the whites. [Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair]

 

During this long and bloody period, war parties of Indians would leave their villages and follow established trails to the Ohio River or canoe down one of the rivers leading into the Ohio River. There they lay in wait for boats to come down-river with passengers and stores intended for the settlements or forts. They would attack the boats, kill or capture the crew, confiscate the cargo, and return to their villages. This became a profitable activity for the marauding Indians although it was not without risk for the warriors. The fate of prisoners could range from being adopted into the Indian tribe, to being sold to the British, to being killed and scalped, or to be horribly tortured to death for reasons known only to the captors. [Crow Sisters, - Johnson Brothers, - Battle of Captina, - Drumm Family Massacre]

 

Many of the war parties would cross the Ohio River and set upon settlers' cabins. The outcome would likely be about the same as for the boats that they attacked on the river. They would loot the cabins of anything that they found of value and could carry. They would usually kill all the livestock and destroy the crops. An objective was to terrorize other settlers into returning east of the Allegheny Mountains.

 

The horrendous, inhuman acts were not confined to the Indians. Whites frequently engaged in similar activities, some motivated by revenge, others perhaps intended to dissuade the Indians from their terrorist ways. The result became almost a one-upmanship contest of who could be the more cruel.

 

Most people who were killed by an enemy on the frontier were scalped. A major factor in this practice was to collect a bounty that had been placed on victims. The British, for example, paid the Indians a bounty for each scalp taken. These were bought by the British and stored. In these wanton acts of murder even the unborn was not exempt. [Scalp shipment]

 

The land that would eventually become Monroe County was on one of the main routes followed by Indian war parties intent on waylaying boats or crossing into Virginia. Trails that ran along Sunfish and Captina Creeks were used for these purposes.

 

Finally, after years of terrorist activities that resulted in white settlers and Indians alike being massacred, the Federal Government mustered the resources to assemble, equip and train an effective army on the western frontier. Under professional military leadership for the first time, General Anthony Wayne marched an army of 2,500 trained men north to do battle with the Indian tribes. When the encounter between the Indians and whites finally occurred at Fallen Timber, the effectiveness of St. Clair's army was hardly tested. It served its purpose, however. The Indians were sufficiently impressed that they capitulated and most of the tribes sued for peace. The conclusion of this last major confrontation resulted in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. [Greenville Treaty]

 

All of the Indian tribes had not signed the Greenville Treaty, however, so even after the Treaty, attacks on some white settlements continued but they were sporadic and claimed fewer casualties. Effective, organized resistance by the Indians was never again achieved even though they tried; particularly, through the efforts of Tecumseh.

Many details of the history of this period have been omitted in the brief narrative above.  But, it is not the purpose of this discussion to detail the history of the Northwestern Territory.  Suffice it to say that following the Greenville Treaty of 1795 the flow of settlers increased dramatically, particularly into the region north of the Ohio River. The Greenville Treaty had established a new boundary between the settlers and Indian lands. The Indian lands were reduced to what is now the northern half of the State of Ohio and lands west of Ohio. The Indians moved farther north and west making way for the new wave of settlers. 

 

On March 1, 1803 Ohio became the seventeenth state in the United States. The Northwestern Territorial Government was ended by the organization of the Ohio State Government on that date, as called for by the provisions of the Ohio constitution framed at Chillicothe.

Ten years before the Greenville Treaty, and 28 years before it became a county, Monroe County was part of a block of land that became known as The Seven Ranges.  The new American Government established the Seven Ranges to provide land to pay soldiers and officers who had fought in the Revolutionary War.  The Government also intended to sell this land to individuals as a way of raising money. The Seven Ranges included all or major parts of what are now the counties of Carroll, Jefferson, Harrison, Belmont, and Monroe. It also included small parts of the counties of Columbiana, Tuscarawa, Guernsey, Nobel, and Washington. In order to have a method to identify and locate the individual land parcels, a method of surveying was established in 1785 that became known as the Federal Survey System. The Seven Ranges were the first public lands to be surveyed using this system. This method is essentially a grid of squares, six miles on each side, that could be overlaid on a map of the region much like the system of latitude and longitude that is used on a worldwide basis.  The system is still in use today.
[
Federal Survey System]

Using the Federal Survey System, soldiers of the Revolutionary War could be given acreage in the form of "warrants."  The owner of a warrant could either settle on the land described by his warrant or sell the warrant if he could find a buyer.  The difficulty for the warrant holder, however, was that at the time these warrants were issued in the late 1700s, the Indians still thought that all the land north of the Ohio River belonged to them.  And since the war between the settlers and Indians was raging, it was frequently worth their life to try to claim and settle on land covered by the warrant.

 

Another consideration was that most of the land in the southern part of The Seven Ranges is hilly and on average a lot less desirable for farming than much of the other land found in Ohio.  As a result, the land sold slowly and settlement of Monroe County lagged behind the settlement of some of the choicest farmlands farther down-river and in the center and northern part of the State. 


Some of the lands in The Seven Ranges were offered for sale in New York in 1787-9 and some in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in 1796. Some of the land sold at these sales, but not much. It was not until the land offices were established in July 1, 1800 that sales picked up.

 

Monroe County was organized as a county of Ohio by an act of the Ohio legislature on January 29, 1813.  Although established in 1813, its borders were modified several times through 1851. It was named for James Monroe who was then the United States Secretary of State (1811 - 1817) and later became the fifth president of the United States (1817 - 1825). The greatest extent of the county, east and west, is twenty-six and a half miles, by twenty-two miles north and south. It contains 470 square miles.

 

By the time that Monroe County became an Ohio county, it was beginning to be actively settled.  From a relatively slow start during the first decade of 1800 the population increased rapidly during the years between 1820s and 1850s. 

 

 

 

By the late 1820s Monroe County began to see a rush of settlers eager to buy land and begin farming. Many came directly from Europe enticed by the opportunity to own their own land in an environment largely free of the politics and demands of government. They came with their own religious biases but in most cases, not because of them. Both the Protestant and Catholic settlers brought their respective churches' customs and organizations and it is to the record keeping systems of these churches that we are indebted as major resources of data and information to help reconstruct much of what we know about these settlers who are our Monroe County ancestors.

 

Many of our ancestors arrived in the decades between 1830 and 1850. Most bought farms and began their families. It was the settlers of this period that established the familial tone of the County with many of the current residents being descendants of these early families. Many of the farms where they settled were bought from holders of those early deeds or warrants.  In some cases, these farms already had houses and other improvements on them, but most did not.

 

In 1850 Monroe County reached it peak in population. Over the next 60 years the population remained about constant at around 25,000 people. This undoubtedly reflected the facts that the available farms had become saturated with large, stable families that limited further growth. Then, after about two generations the original families began to age and with no more land available and the coming of the automobile and railroad that made travel easy, the younger population began to move elsewhere to seek their future. Over the decades of 1910 through the 1940s the population of the County steadily declined to the present level of about 15,000. This new stabilized population level reflects the relatively older community and the fact that the County offers little opportunity other than farming as careers to younger people.

 

It would be a serious oversight not to take note of the oil boom that occurred in Monroe County at the turn of the 20th century. Oil had been discovered in the late 1890s on both sides of the Ohio River. This discovery attracted developers, speculators, wildcatters and many others to Monroe County. Villages such as Lewisville, Graysville, Rinard Mills, and elsewhere nearly burst at their seams as they tried to accommodate the sudden burgeoning, albeit temporary, populations. Oil brought jobs and money and unprecedented requirements for hotels, restaurants, general stores, saw mills, saloons, livery stables and many other supply and service oriented businesses. Farmers became able to supplement their incomes by working in the oil fields. Many of the young men entering the work force for the first time had another option besides farming. All these factors combined to maintain the higher population level through the decade of 1900. But as the oil boom fever passed and the industry converted from exploration and drilling to production and maintenance, most of which was done by the indigenous population, the County began to resume much of its original familial flavor. The difference was that the industry of the County had experienced a change. Families who had settled as farmers were now farmers and oil field workers. Some of this vocational flavor can still be seen today in Monroe County. But, it is more likely to be seen by those doing genealogy and peering into the past 100 years.

 

 

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