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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

A Monument And An Autograph.

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 13 September 2004
Source:
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's book, "The Pioneer writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

November 22, 1923

After writing five articles on the earliest settlements of the Miami country I received an invitation to the celebration of the 135th anniversary of the first of these settlements and the dedication of a monument over the grave of Major Benjamin Stites in the Columbia Baptist Graveyard on November 18, 1923. It was on Wednesday morning November 18, 1788, that twenty-six persons including three women and two girls, landed on the north bank of the Ohio and founded the town of Columbia, now a part of Cincinnati.
The grave of the leader of the band which made the first white settlement between the Miami rivers has been without a monument and James P. Orr, President of the Potter Shoe Company, furnished the means for the one now erected. Several business men of Cincinnati have financed the celebration. As a writer for a weekly paper, this article on Benjamin Stites must be ready for the printer before the celebration and before I can read the address of Major Robert Ralston Jones at the dedication of the monument.
The inscription on the monument follows:

"Major Benjamin Stites born at Scotch Plains, N.J., 1734. Died August 30, 1804, in Columbia, now a part of Cincinnati.
"A Revolutionary soldier.
"Was a pioneer in this section having brought the first boatload of pioneers down the Ohio River. Landed on the bank near this spot and founded the town of Columbia on November 18, 1788.
"It was Major Benjamin Stites who induced Colonel John Cleves Symmes to purchase the land between the two Miami Rivers. Major Benjamin Stites is entitled to the credit of being the originator of the settlement of Cincinnati and Hamilton County."

A Pioneer of Pioneers.

The word pioneer was first a military term applied to one of a company who marched before an army clearing the way of obstructions and was afterward applied to any- one who goes before and prepares the way for others coming after. In its original sense Major Stites was truly the pioneer of the Miami settlements.
He was the first explorer of the Miami country who made known to prominent men of his native state of New Jersey, the wonderful excellence of the Miami lands. In the summer of 1786, he was on a trading expedition to Limestone, Ky., and joined a party of Kentuckians in pursuit of some Indians who had stolen horses. The thieves were traced down the Ohio and far up the Little Miami. The horses were not found but Stites saw for the first time the rich Miami Valleys. This led to an association in New Jersey for the purchase of the lands between the Miamis.
He became the owner of ten thousand acres on the Ohio below the mouth of the Little Miami and on this land he laid out Columbia, the oldest town between the Miamis. He brought down the Ohio the first boatload of pioneers and they made the first settlement of white men in this part of Ohio.
He deeded to the Baptists of Columbia township the ground on which was erected the first house of worship in the Miami country in 1792, and where are still to be seen the gravestones of many pioneers.
For a few years Columbia grew in population more rapidly than either of its two rivals, Cincinnati and North Bend, and its first settlers were of a better class than those at Cincinnati where there was a military force stationed at Fort Washington and idleness, drinking and gambling prevailed both among officers and men. Soon after Wayne's treaty of peace, however, Major Stites saw his town almost depopulated by its settlers moving to farms up the Miamis and Cincinnati because the chief town of Ohio and finally absorbed Columbia.
It is proper to state here that while the recently dedicated monument is the first erected over the grave of Major Stites, on July 4, 1889, a monument was erected on the site of the First Baptist church at Columbia on which were inscribed the names the twenty-six pioneers who landed to make the first settlement and at the head of the list was Major Benjamin Stites.

An Autograph.

It will be thus seen that in the achievements of Benjamin Stites the word "first" is to be written more frequently than of any other pioneer of the Miami valley.
In making a large collection of autographs of Ohio men and chiefly of those prominent in the early history of the Miami valley, I found only one of Major Stites and this I placed first on my collection. Fortunately this autograph is not a deed or legal document written by a lawyer and signed by the pioneer, but the paper is a "holograph," that is, wholly in the handwriting of the signer. It is dated less than a year after he came to Columbia and is a receipt for the purchase money of two lots in the town he founded.
The following is an exact copy:

August 8d, 1789
then resevid of John Wick-
ersham one pound ten shilings
for one sold lot No 487 and
one donashen lot No 514 in the
sity of Columbia I say received
by me.
Benjamin Stites

The word "donashen" in this receipt is evidence that in founding the first town between the Miamis lots were given to those who would clear and build upon them, a custom that was nearly universal in the settlement of early western towns.
The original shows that the pioneer could do more in the way of writing than sign his own name; he could write a legible hand which was more than many of his associates could do. He was not a good speller, five words being misspelled in this receipt. In a facsimile of a few lines written by Stites in 1787, I find "Desember," "litle miami" and "fractnel," the last being intended for "fractional."
But Benjamin Stites could both write and spell better than the most distinguished pioneer of Kentucky whose name has been placed in the Hall of Fame for great Americans.
A facsimile of a brief letter of Daniel Boone's before me shows that his hand writing was not good and that he misspelled forty words.


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This page created 13 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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