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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan
William Smalley - Indian Captive, Woodsman, Guide And Pioneer On Todd's Fork
Dallas Bogan on 26 August 2004
article from the book, "The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow." by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The subject of this sketch was the first white settler on Todd's Fork at a distance from its mouth, and the first settler in what is now Washington township, Warren County. A brief sketch of Smalley appeared in Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio, but in both editions of that work he is placed among the early settlers of Clinton County. This is an error; while his land lay on both sides of the county boundary, his home was in Warren County.
Many facts in the life of this frontiersman were collected with great industry by Samuel Harris, Esq., and printed in his history of Washington Township in the Warren County History. Esquire Harris spent much time in collecting these materials and took much pains to arrive at the truth in disputed points. His account differs in many particulars from others, but is without doubt the fullest and most reliable sketch of the pioneer ever printed. Since its publication, I have had access to some other sources of information which I shall make use of in this article.

Indian Captive.

William Smalley was probably born in New Jersey about 1760 but his parents emigrated while he was quite young to the frontier in western Pennsylvania, where William spent his boyhood not far from Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh). The Indians were troublesome in this region, and the settlers in their work in the fields stationed the men too old to work with boys to watch the approach of the red men and give the alarm. While engaged in this picket duty William was captured by the Indians when he was about sixteen years old. He saw his father tomahawked and he and others were carried into captivity. He was taken to a town on the Maumee where he lived until he was about twenty-one. The rims of his ears were cut and hung down as a sort of trimming, a mark of savagery, which he carried until death. During his life in captivity he learned much of the Indian mode of life and was able to speak their language with fluency, and in later years was sometimes employed as an interpreter.
It is said that Smalley learned to speak French, and that he gained his release from captivity by negotiating friendly relations between the Indians and French traders. He returned to his own people in Pennsylvania where he married Prudence Hoel. Soon after his marriage, he with other members of his father's family, removed to Columbia, near the mouth of the Little Miami River, where he had his home for several years.
At what time he arrived at Columbia is not known. It is said he served in Harmar's campaign in 1790 and St. Clair's in 1791. Dr. Ezra Ferris, an early settler at Columbia, mentions William Smalley as one who understood the Indians character better than most of the pioneers, and says he told the whites that there would be no permanent peace with the Indians until they were thoroughly whipped, which proved to be true. Smalley's knowledge of the Indians' paths, roads, and trails, their language and mode of life made him a useful guide and interpreter in the expeditions against the savages.
He served in Wayne's army in 1794 and remained in the army until the treaty of peace at Greenville in 1795.

Guide and Interpreter.

After St. Clair's disastrous defeat the Indians greatly harassed the Miami settlements and it was determined to try the effects of a negotiation with the savages. Major Alexander Trueman, of the First United States Regiment, was chosen to bear a flag of peace to the tribes on the Maumee and Auglaize rivers. Smalley was chosen to act as guide and interpreter. The officer, the interpreter and a waiter, all mounted, set out from Fort Washington at Cincinnati in the spring of 1792. Of this party, the interpreter was the only one who returned. In the record of the officers of the United States Army, it is said that Major Trueman was found dead about April 20, 1792, having been killed and stripped by the Indians.
From the account given by Smalley after his return it appears that when the party had approached within about thirty miles of the point of destination, they fell in with three Indians, two men and a boy, who were encamped on a hunting ground. This was on the eighth day after leaving Fort Washington. The Indians invited the whites to encamp with them, and after the white waiter had made some chocolate all supped together. The old Indian and Smalley had a long conversation in the night and many professions of friendship were made, but before morning, the treacherous savages shot and killed Major Trueman and the waiter and made Smalley a prisoner. Their object in murdering the men was to get possession of their horses and other property.
Smalley was conducted to the Auglaize town and there he was taken to the celebrated chief, Buckongehelas, who strongly reproved the Indians for the murder. Nothing, said the chief, could justify them in putting the white men to death. The chief protected Smalley during his stay in the Indian town and afterward permitted him to go to Detroit. From this place he passed to Lake Ontario, where he obtained leave to return to his home. He arrived at Columbia on December 30, 1792 [1793?], and nine days later his narrative of the thrilling scenes he had witnessed in the nineteen or twenty months which had elapsed since leaving Fort Washington were put in writing by William Goforth, a worthy pioneer of Columbia.

Pioneer on Todd's Fork.

While living at Columbia, Smalley was engaged by General William Lytle, the extensive land surveyor in the region between the Little Miami and the Scioto, as a hunter and guide to his surveying party at 75 cents per day. He thus became well acquainted with the lands east of the Little Miami and he selected for his home a tract of good land on Todd's Fork about ten miles above its mouth. Here he and his brother Benjamin built a double log cabin about 1797 and made a clearing of a tract of the best land in that locality.
He did not receive his deed until several years after his settlement on his land. On August 21, 1801, William Lytle conveyed to William Smalley 600 acres on Todd's Fork in consideration of $200. On March 20, 1806, William Smalley conveyed 100 acres of this tract to Benjamin Smalley in consideration of $300.
It is believed that it was in the year 1797 that the two brothers, William and Smalley Benjamin Smalley erected the first house in Washington township. It was a double log cabin and stood on the southeast bank Todd's Fork, one mile west of Clarksville, and in Warren county about fifty rods west of the Clinton county line. Here were extensive bottom-lands of fertile soil.
The two pioneers brought their families and a portion of their household goods to the new log house, where they left their wives and children and returned to Columbia for the remainder of their goods. Before leaving they gave strict injunction to the women and children to show no sign of fear if any Indians came. This was two years after the treaty of peace. Eight Indians came the first night and were given one of the cabins in which to sleep. In the middle of the night one of the Indians stirred up the fire, lit his pipe and took a long smoke, after which he slept till morning, when all departed. The Indians continued to make visits to this neighborhood and encamped in parties of fifty or more with their dogs and ponies for a number of years after the first white settlements were made, but there were no Indian towns in the vicinity.
At the time of the settlement by the Smalley brothers, their nearest neighbor was James Miranda, at the mouth of Todd's Fork, about nine miles distant. In 1801 John Barkley built a cabin about three-fourths of a mile south of Smalley's and the next year he built a hewed log cabin. At the raising of this second house, men came from a distance of five or more miles in Clinton and Warren counties.
The first person known to have been buried in Washington Township was a runaway slave from Kentucky. He was found sick in the forest by William Smalley who took care of him, and after his death had him buried on the bank of Todd's Fork at the junction of the Bull Skin Road and College township roads. This was about 1803. The washing of the bank of the stream exposed the bones and the skeleton was exhumed about 1860 by Dr. Francis M. Wilkerson and kept in his possession.
In 1806 William Smalley built a gristmill of sufficient capacity for the neighborhood. He also built a sawmill and conducted for a time a small distillery.
Smalley was a Baptist and prior to 1811 Baptist preachers conducted services at his home. The meetings were sometimes held in his mill; in cold weather in the house; and in fair weather in a grove near by. There was a division among the Baptists early in the last century, perhaps on the question of slavery, and on August 1, 1811 the Union Baptist church on Todd's Fork was organized by William Smalley and ten others with Joshua Carmon, an anti-slavery Baptist, as their preacher. The congregation called themselves Baptists and "Friends of Humanity." They had a log meeting house until 1823 when they removed their church to Clarksville.

Removes West.

After residing on his farm for thirty years and getting it well improved, he determined to sell it and remove to Illinois. The following advertisement in the Western Star for several issues early in the year 1828:

A Valuable Farm For Sale.
"The subscriber offers for sale the Farm and Plantation whereon he resides about 640 acres of which about 150 acres are first rate bottom land and the residue of good quality. There is about 150 acres of cleared land, a brick house and kitchen, a grist and sawmill, and two orchards on the premises, which could be sold at a reduced price. Terms made known by application to the subscriber, near the line between the counties of Clinton and Warren, on Todd's Fork, near Clarksville."
William Smalley
January 12th, 1828

The farm appears to have been sold not long after to John Hadley.
On August 16, 1833, William Smalley of Vermillion county, Ill., executed a power of attorney authorizing Thomas Corwin of Warren County, Ohio, to release a mortgage by John Hadley for $5,265 on this farm.
Our land records show that William Smalley signed documents with his mark, but the name of his brother Benjamin is found signed as a witness to the signature in a deed.
William Smalley died about 1840 in Illinois at an advanced age. The statement in Howe that he passed his last years in poverty is believed to be incorrect. Harris's sketch says he died possessed of a comfortable estate. His wife, Prudence, died in 1824 and was buried at Clarksville.
Mr. Smalley was the father of ten children, six sons and four daughters, most of whom moved west. His son, Freeman Smalley was a Baptist minister. Before his removal to Illinois, William Smalley married the widow of Thomas Kelsey.

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