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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Early Settlers And The Customs They Adopted

Dallas Bogan on 6 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Not a more hardier, energetic, robust, nor rugged individual has graced this great country of ours than the pioneer and his faithful family. These folks who traveled to the new country in the West, as the area west of the Alleghenies was called, lived largely by the hunt at first.
Their life began anew in a dense wilderness filled with gigantic trees, which quickly allowed the pioneer to be highly skilled with the ax.
The older travelers to the West were rarely destitute of some money. However, the working ability sustained the younger men. Many of these young giants were mostly absent of any monetary funds. Their strong hands and backs provided critical relief for the older folks.
Roads and bridges were absent and so a visionary observation of the bark of the trees, the stars, the breaking of twigs and bushes, along with the position of natural markings, all became necessary for their survival.
Sometimes entire neighborhoods would gather and discuss a strategy for removal to the new country. And off they went.
Some eastern churches would elect their deacons and other officers and take up their line of march to their new homes. The congregations would drive their teams by day, suspending travel by night. They unfailingly offered prayers at bedtime and at meals. At daybreak, they would resume their march. Sunday was a day of rest and worship.
The new land buyers in the Miami country were given a somewhat flowery description by the projectors. All the positive adjectives in the dictionary were used.
Joel Barlow, the poet, represented the Scioto Company in Europe. He spoke of the lands north of the Ohio as an enchanting place to live. A circular was distributed in Paris, which read:
"A climate wholesome and delightful, frost even in Winter almost entirely beautiful, and a river called, by way of eminence, the Beautiful, and abounding in excellent fish of vast size; noble forests, consisting of trees that spontaneously produce sugar, venison in plenty, the pursuit of which is interrupted by wolves, foxes, lions, or tigers.
"A couple of swine would multiply themselves a hundred-fold in two or three years without taking any care of them. No taxes to pay; no military services to be performed."
Judge John Cleves Symmes and his associates were not so much in stretching the truth in the selling of their lands. Much of these land sales took place in New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. Most buyers never intended to come to the new territory as they more-or-less speculated for profit.
The first visitors, aside from the original explorers, were undoubtedly the armies of St. Clair and Anthony Wayne. Because of the military fort, these folks most assuredly settled the city of Hamilton.
As the first roads became visible the great covered wagons started their journey westward. A laborious task was placed upon the many families. Movement over the mountains with their stock was drudgery beyond belief. However, the first glimpse of the "promised land" was their goal.
Pittsburgh was the center of attraction for all northeastern folks who had purchased land and intended to settle in the Wild West. They mingled in this great hub for a spell, meeting up with those who had already traveled to the land beyond.
This was also a place of departure, where dealers with all sorts of implements, clothing, and household articles stood to make as good a living as could be found anywhere.
Here boats could be bought and plans for departure to the great Ohio River were begun. The watercraft, initially called a flatboat, was of a simple design. Its load capacity could well hold six or eight tons.
Floating down the river was a new experience as well as a pleasure, unless high water or marauding Indians plagued them. Houses were almost extinct along the river, one being spotted every twenty or thirty miles.
After finding their land, their first step was to clear it. Many settlers welcomed other adventurers to keep them company for a spell until they had taken their first step in clearing the forest. Many trees were three to four feet in diameter, and some much larger.
The chosen home site was generally located near a spring. A comfortable tract was selected and the axes soon made their chomping sound in a symbolic rhythmic pattern. Within a short time the homesite was cleared, the first log being laid upon the ground opening where the cabin was to be.
Notches were cut near the ends, and one at time the logs were stacked until the dwelling had reached its calculated height. A roof was then installed which was covered at first with branches and bark. The final touches included the doors and windows.
Each household faced a real challenge. With no roads, and scarcely a visible path, much difficulty was faced as the settler and his family likened for a means of trade. With nothing more than a garden spot at first, the farmer utilized what he had raised.
Excellent farmers they were. They also made their own shoes, tanned their own leather, fabricated their own household implements, and schooled their own children without the assistance of learned educators.
Flax was made into cloth in his own house. Wool from the sheep was woven into fabric for the family. Sheep, however, were scarce because of the ever-present wolves and bears.
The hunting gun proved invaluable. Many animals such as bears, deer, raccoons, foxes, wolves, opossums and squirrels were all a necessity to the early pioneer's livelihood.
The family keeper would many times leave home before daybreak and, before noon would return with an enormous amount of venison or wild turkeys.
Every pioneer had a good credit rating, with pay taken in almost everything to be found in the wilderness. Later on, merchandise articles included potash, hides and furs, cattle, tobacco, and sometime later, wheat and oats.
Fruit was grown in abundance. The quality of the apple, pear and plum trees were of a rather poor quality at first. Insects were not dominant in times past as they are today.
Strawberries, raspberries and the currant grew wild, but the melons were cultivated and found in abundance in several different varieties.
Rotation of crops was unheard of. Scarcely any surface draining or manuring was done. By the time one field was worn out another was ready for planting.
Sheep were rare but hogs were plentiful, they being a more lean type than the breed of today. Chickens and turkeys were abundant, the holiday meal always finding one on the table.
Pork was the essential meat. The ever-present hog could be driven from home to the market, eating its way there.
The farmer rarely hired any help, except at harvest. He, along with his wife and children, labored on year after year without any assistance.
A cow or two was always present, with the duty of milking and making butter falling within the wife's responsibility. She was also depended upon for making the garments for the entire family, that is, until the young ladies were grown enough to help with this chore.
The head of the household made the shoes, except when there was a roving shoemaker seeking shelter and a few days work.
A clock was out of the question. Crude dials were used for the timepiece in the daytime, but at night they guessed at the time.
Ovens were quite large and in them they would bake whole turkeys or sheep. Their fireplaces were also built on a large scale. Occasionally a Dutch oven would appear in the more prosperous home.
The average household did not have monetary means to buy luxuries for the home or for themselves. The neighbors frowned upon these more expensive items, and so, the shopkeepers did not keep these objects on hand. Crockery consisted of unattractive yellow ware; finer crockery was not to be seen unless it was brought from the pioneer homes in the East.
The farmer himself made the tables and chairs at first. The first beds were built in the house with strips of deer extended across from side to side. On these strips was a tick, filled with oat-straw. The high framework was surmounted by a feather bed, loved by all who came in contact with it.
Upon this cradle of comfort were sheets of linen woven at home, and a quilt or coverlet carefully fastened together with many different patterns of cloth.
If a cradle was needed it was fabricated at home, perhaps from half a barrel cut lengthwise, which was provided with rockers. Sometimes it was constructed from a hollowed-out-log, the latter perhaps being made by a neighboring handyman.

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This page created 6 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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