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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Story Of Early Successful Merchant

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

Lebanon's first store was established in the summer of 1803 in a room of the log tavern, the Black Horse, which was owned by Ephriam Hathaway. Ichabod Corwin, Samuel Manning, Silas Hurin and Ephriam Hathaway founded the City of Cedars six months earlier in September 1802.
Merchandise for this first store belonged to John Huston. Huston, in the spring of 1803, descended the Ohio River in a flat boat with a supply of goods and opened a store in Columbia.
A few months later he brought the remainder of his inventory to the new town of Lebanon. His nephew, Isaiah Morris, later of Wilmington, was employed as clerk of the new store. Huston died shortly thereafter and left his clerk penniless.
Merchants' licenses were not issued in Lebanon until 1805. The first such certificates granted were that of Lawson & Taylor, Daniel F. Reeder and William Ferguson.
The story of an early successful merchant in the Miami Valley is that of Joseph Hough. This story is told by Hough himself, and relates the happenings of his life and travels.
Joseph Hough was born on a farm in western Pennsylvania near Brownsville on February 26, 1783. When but fifteen his father died leaving virtually no support for the family. Resolving not to draw his livelihood from his widowed mother, Joseph apprenticed himself to his brother-in-law, Israel Gregg of Brownsville.
As an apprentice, he undertook the trade of silversmith and clock and watchmaker until the age of twenty-one, or about six years.
A letter written in 1852 tells of his early manhood. Mr. Hough writes:
"When I had served my allotted time, I found myself twenty- one years old, a free man and out of debt. Notwithstanding I was without a dollar, I did not despair for a moment.
"I felt as independent as I have at any time since. I asked neither advice nor aid from any one. Knowing well I had no time to idle, before the expiration of my apprenticeship, I had engaged to work at my trade with another clock and watchmaker at Brownsville.
"On the first morning after my time was out I commenced journey-work, and continued to work at my trade for about two years. During that whole time I lost (Sundays excepted) only two days.
"In these two years I earned and saved, over and above my expenses, about one thousand dollars and was debtor to man."
With this thousand dollars, quite a substantial amount in those days, Hough, with his hard earned money, sought the partnership of his older brother, Thomas, who had previously experienced for some time the selling of goods on commission rates.
Joseph's idea was to purchase a moderate supply of merchandise, travel to Lebanon, Ohio, and establish a store in the new town.
It seems that neither brother had ever traveled to the "Far West," but both men had heard the success stories of many other enterprising young men who had ventured to the new Miami country.
The small town of Lebanon at this time certainly held no significance as to excessive growth, and there was little evidence that the town would amount to much.
Purchasing their goods in Philadelphia, the Hough brother's next step was transportation. They met with many trials on their trip over the rough roads and steep mountains ascents to Brownsville.
Here, their merchandise was loaded onto a flat boat, and on June 1, 1806, they started on their voyage down the Monongahela and the Ohio to Cincinnati.
Neither of the brothers had any previous river experience. Both rivers were unusually low causing their boat to be grounded almost daily on bars. Unsticking the boat proved quite annoying and difficult with their patience growing notably thin. They finally reached Cincinnati after twenty-five long tedious days.
The merchandise was now to be transported overland for nearly thirty miles from the Ohio River bank to Lebanon. Teamsters and wagons were hired, the merchandise loaded, and they were on their way.
For some time the train experienced a delay, which forced the Hough brothers to follow on foot. They clearly expected to overtake the wagons near where Reading now is, but, with night approaching, they missed their route and sometime after dark they found themselves at Jacob White's mill on Mill Creek, some nine miles above Cincinnati.
Mr. White proved to be a hospitable host. He had been an early settler in the Miami Valley and had established, in 1792, White's Station, near where Carthage now stands.
White learned of the Hough brothers undertaking and informed them that no structure of this type was for sale in Lebanon. He advised them to go to Hamilton as John Wingate had just abandoned the business of store keeping. Here, they no doubt could acquire the room he had relinquished.
White seemed to be quite knowledgeable concerning the progress of the settlements around Cincinnati. The brothers decided to follow his advice, starting the next morning to overtake the wagons. Having arrived just in time, they turned toward Hamilton by the old Deerfield Road. (There was no direct road from Lebanon to Hamilton at this time.)
The Hough brothers traveled the narrow Deerfield Road with their goods and finally reached Hamilton on July 1, 1806. The brothers rented the log building that John Wingate had vacated; the only other store in Hamilton was that of John Sutherland.
Hamilton had first been named Fort Hamilton, it being one of the defense positions against the Indians; it was accordingly a much older town. The first settlers of Hamilton had suffered much from fever and ague, many of them being repulsive soldiers. This class of people was not the class best contrived to support rapid improvement of a town, while the first settlers in and around Lebanon were men of a superior character.
The Hough brothers experienced quite a successful business in Hamilton when just a little more than two months after their arrival, the older brother was attacked with the billious fever. This was a critical disease in the Great Miami River valley, especially around Hamilton.
Thomas Hough died on September 17, 1806, and just four days later, Joseph was stricken with the same disease; he recovered after a prolonged illness of five weeks.
He continued in the mercantile business at Hamilton and acquired a considerable fortune. One of his finest paying ventures was that he headed a business of purchasing wheat, having it ground into flour, and taking it to New Orleans.
For many years he went south in the fall and returned to Butler County in the spring. He made 29 trips to Vicksburg and died in that place April 23, 1853, in his seventy-first year.

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