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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

General William Cortenus Schenck Was Franklin Founder

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 28 July 2004
Source:
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 229
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

In commemoration of Franklin's 200th birthday this year, 1996, the writer will sketch a short history of its founder, General William Cortenus Schenck.
Franklin is one of the oldest settlements in the County. It is easily identified as the city that lies in the valley of the Great Miami River. It was founded in part by General Schenck and Daniel C. Cooper, both surveyors from New Jersey. The new settlement was not recorded at Cincinnati until 1800.
Cooper, in September 1795, marked and laid out a road from Ft. Hamilton to the Mad River. In 1796, he, along with other proprietors, settled Dayton. In 1800, he sold his interest in Franklin to General Schenck.
The treaty with the Indians was not signed until August 1795. Schenck was commissioned, at the age of 20, a Lieutenant of the Hamilton County Militia of the Northwest Territory on February 6, 1793. (Hamilton County originally consisted of all of Hamilton, Warren, Butler and part of Greene and Montgomery counties.) While a part of the militia, Lieutenant Schenck, along with others, traversed the lands north of the Ohio, traveling on the east side of the Great Miami. No doubt he evidenced on this trip the magnificent site along the river that was later to become Franklin, for late in 1795, the town was platted. After a long hard winter, spring abounded and the building began.
Schenck was born near Freehold N.J., January 11, 1773, the son of Rev. William Schenck. The latter was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian denomination in 1771, and a year later was found to be serving a church in Allentown, N.J. This era was marked with the beginnings of the American Revolution. Rev. Schenck served the American cause as an army chaplain.
In 1777, the family, which included four-year-old William, were driven out of New Jersey by the British and removed to Bucks County, Pa. Here Rev. Schenck served as pastor of the church of North and South Hampton.
William received his first schooling from his father. He later lived with his uncle, General John N. Cumming, and attended school at Princeton College. Undecided as to his vocation, his studies included both law and medicine.
Gen. Cumming was associated with land deals in the Ohio country, along with Judge John Cleves Symmes and a Mr. Burnet from New Jersey. Possibly the General instilled an interest in William to travel west into the unexplored frontier.
After young William's first explorations in late 1795, he became ill and returned to Huntington, Long Island, where his father was ministering a church. Gen. Cumming thought it would be better for William's health if he were to return to the Ohio country. On April 26, 1796, a letter was received by William from Uncle John which stated that a compass, a chain and mathematical instruments, along with land warrants, would be supplied him by Israel Ludlow and Jacob Burnet. Never having an interest in surveying procedures, he was now in a position to do what was possibly in his heart for some time, explore the great-unknown lands north of the Ohio.
Through this godsend William C. Schenck would become known as the most proficient draftsman and capable surveyors in the West. (Ohio was then the proving grounds for the most elaborate surveying system in the world. The rectangular surveying system in Ohio included both five and six mile townships.) At age 23, he was employed as a surveyor of the Virginia Military Lands, which lay between the Little Miami and Scioto Rivers.
He returned to his father's home at Huntington, Long Island, in 1797. It was here he took as his bride, Elizabeth Rogers, daughter of Captain William Rogers. The new couple set out for Cincinnati in the spring of 1799.
Schenck was elected Secretary of the first Territorial Legislature in Cincinnati on September 26, 1799. He was away on business during the winter of 1801 and '02, having traveled to the area of Licking County where only a few families had settled. He surveyed a tract of 4,220 acres owned by Uncle John and G.W. Burnet, and was given a one-third interest in the lands due in part to his surveying. While in this undertaking he laid out the town of Newark, Ohio, designed from the same town in New Jersey.
He moved his family, which at this time included two children, to his town of Franklin in 1803. It was here that he would father eight more children, which included Admiral James Findlay and General Robert Cumming Schenck. He spent the rest of his life in the town that he founded and was buried in the Woodhill Cemetery.
His home was built along the river on Front (River) Street between First and Second. He had picked out a spot that comfortably fit in with the scheme of the beautiful river.
The unsettled country apparently attracted family members from the old homeland, for John Noble Cumming Schenck, William's younger brother, followed him to the Miami country in 1799 or 1800. He first worked for Martin Baum, a well-known marketer from Cincinnati. His work was of such quality that he was sent to Franklin and became its first Postmaster and a successful businessman.
Other family members to follow William were brothers Garrett and Peter. Both portrayed the family name in Franklin.
General Schenck was very comfortable with his brothers near him. He was now content and proceeded with the business of the town. He donated lots for public buildings, a church, a school and a park along the river.
(In 1814, a governmental body was organized and, in 1837, Franklin's incorporation charter was finalized. It became a city in October 1950.)
Schenck advertised on August 31, 1803, in the Cincinnati newspapers, The Western Spy and The Hamilton Gazette, that "a person qualified to teach an English school will find employment."
His interests were directed toward higher education, and in securing this concern, he was appointed to the original board of trustees of Miami University in Oxford. He was also elected to two terms in the first Ohio Senate.
William received his second military assignment on November 17, 1807. He was selected Captain of a Battalion in the 3rd Regiment of Hamilton County. It was either prior to, or during the War of 1812, that he received the commission of General.
General Schenck founded the Eastern Star Lodge of the Masonic Order on December 17, 1819. While serving in these capacities, he still worked as a surveyor and was engaged in selling lands mainly for General Cumming and Mr. Burnet.
By an Act of Congress, in 1816, an area of 12 square miles on the Maumee River, near its mouth, was surveyed and sold. The General surveyed the tract and laid out a town, Fort Lawrence, which later became known as Toledo. Part of this land he acquired for himself. This area, infiltrated with swamps, caused Schenck undue sickness. He later sold his part for a thousand dollars.
A canal project was being discussed that would link Lake Erie to the Ohio River by way of Toledo to Cincinnati. William C. Schenck was one of three commissioners appointed by Governor Ethan Brown for this undertaking. His part as commissioner was to survey a portion of the lands.
On January 11, 1821, General Schenck delivered a speech in the Ohio Legislature encouraging the construction of the canal. He was suddenly stricken ill, and within seven hours of the address, he died, age 48.
He had suffered many hardships in the wilds during his stint as surveyor. His dream of seeing a canal arriving in Franklin did not become a reality, for in Middletown, Ohio, on July 21, 1825, the first spadeful of dirt was removed for the beginning of the Miami Canal.


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This page created 28 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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