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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

History Of The Miami Valley's First Blockhouse

Dallas Bogan on 4 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

On one of his visits to the Miami Valley President Abraham Lincoln said: "This beautiful and far-famed Miami Valley is the garden spot of the world."
Benjamin Stites is credited with the exploration and land speculation of this beautiful tract of land. Stites was originally from Essex County, N.J. He later emigrated to Western Pennsylvania where he became a Captain in the militia, and took a venturesome part in the frontier encounters with the Indians.
He descended, in the spring of 1786, the Ohio River from Redstone, Pa., with a flatboat of flour, whiskey and other merchandise to Limestone, now Maysville, Ky. Apparently not having any buyers forced him back into the interior to Washington, where a pillaging party of Indians ran off some of his horses and robbed him of other property.
Organizing a group of local residents they immediately followed the trail down the Kentucky shore to a site opposite the mouth of the Little Miami. Here they constructed a raft, crossed the Ohio and followed the trail up the Little Miami Valley to the area of Old Chillicothe (now Old Town), about three miles north of Xenia.
The Indians were encamped in considerable force and Stites wisely decided not to approach them in pursuance of his horses and merchandise.
While returning to the Ohio, Stites leisurely spent his time observing the beauty and fertility of the newly discovered lands. He promptly decided to return to the valley with a colony and make a permanent settlement.
At a later time he met in Trenton, N.J., Judge John Cleves Symmes. Stites provided Symmes with a great deal of information concerning the lands between the Miamis. (Major Stites later received a deed for 10,000 acres near the mouth of the Little Miami from Judge Symmes.)
The settlement of Columbia was begun on November 18, 1788, along the Ohio River near the mouth of the Little Miami. The small party had preplanned the village structure, and while in Limestone they had cut a large number of oak clapboards to be used as roofing for a fort. The chinking was prepared from the heartwood of the trees, and the doors were to be of double boat planks.
While gathering material for the new village of Columbia the Indians attacked the party and killed two of them, one being the nephew of Stites, Nehemiah.
Reports of Indian uprisings around the Little Miami reached Major Stites and his party in Limestone prior to their departure. This caused them to be extra cautious while landing at the new site.
After landing part of the men proceeded to assemble the blockhouse while others were detailed as guards, thus protecting the women and children until the construction could be completed.
The erection of this structure took five days; immediately the women and children and the goods were moved inside. The men afterward engaged themselves in laying off the land and erecting cabins for themselves and their families.
These dwellings were considered admirable residences in Columbia, for they were to them palaces away from the dreaded Indians, and were considered a real contentment and enjoyment more-so than in the more extravagant and luxurious dwellings of the present day.
The Indians had discovered the boats of Major Stites opposite the blockhouse, and had held a council at their hunting camp, which was located six miles northwest of the Little Miami.
They decided to make the acquaintance of the white men as friends. Neither party could speak the other's language. However, the Indians had a white man among them named "George" who had been a prisoner twelve years; he could speak both languages.
"George" and an Indian were sent down to the blockhouse while construction was still going on and cautiously called out in English to the party. They assumed that he was one of their own and paid no attention to him. At some distance, he repeated his call several times and one of the whites finally answered him in a rather rough manner. Hearing this, "George" and the Indian returned to their camp.
After a short pow-pow, the Indians were determined in their efforts to reach the blockhouse. They returned in a number of six, mounted on horseback, and were committed to capturing a prisoner. They soon discovered the fresh trail of three of the surveyor's who were out hunting. They rode along the trail until they came within sight of the whites, which fled at first appearance of the Indians; they soon found escape impossible and prepared for the challenge.
Joseph Cox and Robert Hamson, both from New Jersey, were two of the three. Hamson aimed his rifle point blank at the leading Indian. Seeing this, the Indian took off his cap, holstered his rifle and extended his right hand. "George" was at the same time calling to the white men not to shoot for they were friends and did not wish to hurt them; the Indians only wanted to be led to the blockhouse.
The nine men, six Indians and three white men, reached an agreement. Upon arrival at the blockhouse, the residents were confused as to the intentions of the Indians, whether it was a demonstration of real friendship, or only a ploy to gain knowledge of the strength of the white settlers.
However, after a few days acquaintance, both parties became very sociable, with the white hunters repeatedly taking shelter in the Indian wigwams, and the Indians, with their squaws and papooses, spending whole days and nights in the blockhouse, intermittently drinking on old Monongahela whiskey.
Fear of the Indians was thus appeased, at least for a time, which enabled the settlers to go about their work without suspicion. This engagement also allowed other settlers interested in Stites settlement to arrive unmolested and unharmed. It was this incident that allowed the early Miami Valley settlers to prosper and spread into "the garden spot of the world."
Athen F. Stites, nephew of Benjamin, related later that the old blockhouse site was covered with hackberry trees in front of and around the fort, and while he was chopping one of them on the 25th of April 1838, the blockhouse tumbled down.
Within two hours time Athen heard a tremendous roar off toward Cincinnati. He remarked that some one was celebrating the fall of the old blockhouse. The explosion turned out to be the steamer Mosele at Washington Street, where the vessel had landed to take on some emigrants.
(The site lies in Section 29, Township 5, Fractional Range 1, Spencer Township. The area today would be adjacent to Tucker Marine Company, 4603 Kellogg Avenue.)
A more precise account of Columbia and its blockhouse can be found in the book entitled, "Stockades in the Wilderness" by Richard Scamyhorn and John Steinle.

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This page created 4 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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