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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Emigrant's Adventures

Dallas Bogan on 10 August 2004
"The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow" by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The Romantic Story of the Old Days in the Wilderness of the Ohio Valley.

How the First White Settlers Went Into Kentucky and Ohio
--The Ohio River the Great Thorofare--Ways of Traveling--
The Great Exodus--Washington's Long Walk
in Ohio--Flatboats.

December 9, 1909

The story of the backwoodsmen who peopled the great states on both sides of the Ohio in the latter part of the eighteenth century can never become a tiresome one. This story is told in Theodore Roosevelt's great history, the Winning of the west. The distinguished author begins his history with the declaration that during the past three centuries the spread of English speaking peoples over the world's waste places has been the most striking feature in the world's history. And we may add that the remarkable emigration from the Atlantic states over the mountains and thru the wilderness to the Ohio valley in the years succeeding the revolution is the most striking fact in the population movements of our country.
The swarming of multitudes from states not yet old or thickly populated into a wilderness is one of the most curious facts in all history. During the revolution and for some years after its close the emigration was chiefly into Kentucky, but after Wayne's victory over the Indians the tide was turned into the Northwest Territory and of all portions of this great region the Miami valley received a much larger share than any other area of equal size. In the Miami valley, the three lower counties of Hamilton, Warren and Butler received the largest number of immigrants, and in the first year of Ohio's existence as a state a census taken in August 1803, showed that Warren county had more inhabitants than Butler, Montgomery, Greene or Clermont, and stood among its neighbors second to Hamilton only.

Down the Ohio.

The two chief routes of the emigrants westward were the Wilderness Road and the Ohio river. The first of these had been opened up in 1775 by Boone-Daniel Daniel Boone, who with thirty ax-men made a bridle path or pack-horse trail from the Holston to the Kentucky thru Cumberland Gap. It was sometimes called the Wilderness Road and sometimes Boone's trace and was the most famous road in the early history of Kentucky. Tens of thousands traveled over it from Virginia and the Carolinas seeking new homes in the west.
But the emigrants' chief highway was the Ohio river, because going down stream in a boat was usually the cheapest, quickest and most comfortable way the emigrant had of taking his family on a long journey and it was also much the easiest way for him to carry with him household goods and implements of husbandry. It must not be supposed, however, that the emigrant's family found the voyage down the Ohio a pleasure ride. Passengers and live stock would be huddled together into the smallest possible space; there was little protection from storms and low water often caused annoying delays.
The emigrants usually selected the late fall or early winter for embarking on the Ohio as the river was generally too low for navigation until after the autumn rains. Sometimes the cold weather set in before the waters rose. According to Judge Francis Dunlevy this was the case in the autumn of 1779. Having his home in the Red Stone country, Dunlevy saw crowds of emigrants gathered and waiting for the rains to raise the river in that autumn. They had come from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas to the principal branches of the Ohio and built boats. The season had been remarkably dry and the rivers remained low until Christmas when a deep snow fell and the cold became intense. Hundreds of men, women and children lay in open camps or rude cabins until the early spring. Dunlevy relates that among these crowds of emigrants some were residents of the frontiers of western Pennsylvania and Virginia who had sold their lands in a country still new in order to remove still further west.
Even the emigrants who went down the Ohio by boat often had long journeys to make from their old homes to reach the place of embarking, and another to reach their lands after embarking. These overland journeys were made in many ways, on foot, on horseback, by ox-carts, by large Pennsylvania wagons, and by the little southern wagons, drawn by one or two little southern horses.
The emigrants often took cattle and hogs with them. Sometimes the women and smaller children would ride and the men and older boys would walk to drive and look after the live stock. Sometimes a dozen pack-horses would be led along in single file all heavily loaded. The mother of a pioneer family, in moving from Pennsylvania to Marietta in 1789, walked most of the way leading a cow.
Charley Williams, the first settler in Coshocton county, Ohio, relates that in moving westward from his home in Maryland when a youth, he walked barefooted over the mountains, starting in October, 1779.
In the autumn of 1784, James Trimble, two of his sons became distinguished in Ohio history, removed from the valley of Virginia to the Ohio valley, first settling in Kentucky. A number of Virginia families accompanied him, forming a band of emigrants, bold, energetic and intelligent, nearly all of Scotch-Irish descent. Mrs. Trimble made this journey on horseback, carrying in her arms a babe eleven months old, christened Allen. This babe was afterward twice chosen governor of Ohio. The journey occupied several weeks. Their food was cooked at the campfires. In days of rain no shelter would be obtained. Governor Allen Trimble, in his autobiography, tells the thrilling story of his mother crossing the swollen Clinch river on horseback having two little children on her horse with her. The horse had plunged into the dangerous waters and had gone too far for her to turn back. With rare presence of mind she gave the horse the rein, held her two children with her left arm and grasped the horse's mane with her right hand. The strong horse stemmed the current for three hundred yards and bore his burden safely to the shore.
The father of Dr. Ezra Ferris, of Lawrenceburg, Ind., with his family and two other families started from Stanwich, Conn., for the Little Miami on September 20, 1789. The journey at that time was looked upon as novel and daring, and as the emigrants started in wagons they were surrounded by a crowd of spectators. Their route was along the road on the north side of Long Island to New York City, thence from New Jersey and Pennsylvania and over the Alleghenies to the Monongahela river; thence by boats to Columbia at the mouth of the Little Miami, where they arrived Dec. 12, 1789, after being two months and twenty days on the journey.
For a generation movers to the west could be seen making their way in all sorts of vehicles in the older states, sometimes thronging the roads. On Sunday, October 27, 1805, Isaac Burr riding on horseback near the Natural Bridge in Virginia wrote in his journal: " A multitude of people moving westward; today have met 60 wagons and carts." And the next day: "I am still meeting families going westward; a cold time they must have had these few days past."


At first the water craft used in descending the Ohio were canoes, pirogues and rafts. Next came the flat- boats which were at first only from four to six feet in width but soon were made much larger. They were constructed of green oak plank. No nails or iron was used in building them, but the heavy oak planks were fastened by wooden pins to still heavier frames of timber. The seams were at first closed with pitch or tar, but this being expensive, tow or some other pliant substant was afterward used in caulking.
The flat boats were only used in descending the river and when they arrived at their destination were of no value whatever as boats. They were sometimes ripped up and their materials used in constructing temporary buildings for shelter on the bank of the river. At Maysville, Ky., they became so numerous that they were frequently set adrift in order to make room for others. In 1790 when the most substantial and solid wooden fortress in the western country was to be built, General Harmar wrote that he had purchased at Limestone, from 40 to 50 flatboats at the moderate price of from $1 to $2 each to be used in the construction of Fort Washington at Cincinnati.
Before the settlement of Symmes Purchase had been commenced the large number of boats carrying emigrants down the Ohio into Kentucky had attracted the attention of General Harmar, and on May 14, 1787, he wrote the secretary of war from Fort Harmar: "Curiosity prompted me to order the officer of the day to take an account of the number of boats which passed the garrison. From the 10th of October, 1786, until the 12th of May, 1787, 127 boats, 2,689 souls, 1,333 horses, 756 cattle and 102 wagons have passed Muskingum bound for Limestone and the Rapids."
Maysville Ky., long called Limestone, was the greatest landing place on the Ohio river for emigrants to Kentucky. All the merchandise for Lexington and neighboring towns left the river at this place. Yet Maysville itself long remained a small town and in 1805 contained only about fifty dwellings and was not growing rapidly.

Washington on the Ohio.

One of the first to describe the journey from the tide water to the head of the Ohio and down that stream by boat as far as the Kanawha was no less distinguished an American than George Washington, who made the journey and kept a journal of his travels and observation. This expedition was in 1770, five years before the commencement of the revolution, and it was in behalf of soldier's claims to a bounty of 200,000 acres which had been promised by the colony of Virginia to officers and men. Col. Washington was accompanied by his friend and neighbor, Dr. Craik. They set out on October 5, with three negro servants, two belonging to Washington and one to the doctor. The whole party was mounted and they had a lead horse for baggage.
Without traveling continuously they reached Fort Pitt in twelve days. Leaving their horses they embarked in a large canoe for the voyage down the Ohio. Captain William Crawford accompanied them down the river and they had two Indians and an interpreter with them.
Washington's journal notes the distances made each day. On the downward voyage when they rowed all day they made an average of over 30 miles, the greatest distance on any one day being about 32 miles. Going up stream on the return trip the greatest distance made in one day was 27 miles but after heavy rains and the river was swollen they made only 18 miles after working hard the greater portion of one day, and the next day only 5 miles, the current being strong against them.
On his homeward journey George Washington took his only long walk in Ohio. On arriving at the remarkable bend in the Ohio river, where it forms a part of the southern boundary of Meigs county, the boat was sent around with the baggage and Col. Washington and Captain Crawford walked across the neck. They were two and one- half hours in walking, and the distance was estimated at eight miles. Washington carefully noted the soil and timber and thought that a valuable tract of about 4,000 acres might be found there. This walk was taken November 5, 1770.

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This page created 10 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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