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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Oldest Town In Warren County Is South Lebanon; Formerly Called Deerfield

Dallas Bogan on 28 September 2004
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

Beginnings of the First Town on the Little Miami Above Columbia--Town Lots Given to the First Settlers--Strenuous Efforts to Become a County Seat--First Methodist Preaching in the Town.

November 7, 1907

Major Benjamin Stites was one of the first men to explore the lands on the Little Miami, and was a leader in the earliest settlements between the Miamis. He was originally from Essex county, N.J., but afterward resided in Western Pennsylvania. In 1786 or 1787 he descended the Ohio with a flat boat load of flour and other articles to Maysville. While in Kentucky a party of Indians stole some of his horses and other articles and he organized a pursuing party and followed the trail down the Ohio and up the Little Miami to a point a few miles north of Xenia. He was unsuccessful in securing his stolen property, but on his return down the river he had a good opportunity to observe the beauty and fertility of the country.
Some time afterward he met Judge John Cleves Symmes, of New Jersey, and he became interested with him in the grand speculation of purchasing all the lands between the two Miamis. The name of Stites does not appear as one of the contracting parties in the purchase of the land but it was from him that Symmes received much information concerning the Miami country. Major Stites became the owner of 10,000 acres near the mouth of the Little Miami on which he established Columbia, the oldest in the Miami Country. He also became the owner of about 10,000 acres in Warren county lying in the vicinity of the towns between these points. He was the owner of the land on which the eastern part of Lebanon and all of Deerfield (South Lebanon) were laid out.

Stations on the Little Miami.

The deed of Major Stites for his large tracts in Warren county was dated May 14, 1795. On the third day of the next month Wayne's treaty of peace with the Indians was concluded and the lands on the Little Miami could be opened up for settlement without any block-house or fortified stations. The Indians had prevented the settlement from extending up the Miamis except in the neighborhood of the block-houses. The fortified stations above Columbia along the Little Miami were as follows:
Cavolt's Station, at Round Bottom, twelve miles up the river from its mouth, and a little below the present site of Milford. It was erected by Abraham Cavolt, in 1789 or 1790, and is believed to have been the first station, properly so called, erected in the Miami valley.
Gerard's Station, sometimes called Gerard and Martin's Station, was about two miles from the mouth of the Little Miami, and was erected about 1790.
Clemens' Station was on Round bottom, about one half mile below Cavolt's.
The last of the stations about Cincinnati are believed to have been McFarland's, near the site of Pleasant Ridge; and Bedle's Station, near the site of Union Village. The former of these was erected in the spring of 1795, and the latter in the autumn of the same year.
Mounts' Station, as the settlement of William Mounts above Deerfield was sometimes called, was not a fortified station.
Waldsmith's Mill was attended by early settlers of Deerfield and vicinity. It was not far from Maineville, and built by a German named Christian Waldsmith, who emi- grated from Pennsylvania in 1796. The mill was so far completed in the Autumn of 1797, that Waldsmith started one run of stones for grinding, and two copper stills, for making whiskey.

The Town Laid Out.

A town on the large tract Major Stites had purchased in Warren county would add to the value of all the lands in its neighborhood and soon after the date of his deed for these lands the town of Deerfield was projected. The three original proprietors of the town were Maj. Benjamin Stites, Jr., and John Stites Gano. The date of the survey of the town cannot be ascertained but it was probably in autumn of 1795, and the first families were brought to the town early the next spring.
The town was laid out on a fine tract of bottom land on the north side of the river, thirty miles above its mouth and was the first town laid out on the Little Miami above Columbia. The new town contained 144 lots of one-half an acre each. The lots and streets together must have comprised about 100 acres. Four of the lots were given to the public; these were no doubt intended as sites for county buildings should the town become a county seat.
It was customary for the proprietor of new towns in the Northwest Territory to offer to give a lot to any settler who would make a clearing and build a cabin upon it. This plan was followed in establishing Deerfield as it had been before at Columbia and Cincinnati. The plat of Deerfield was not placed or recorded until April 23, 1802, and in it the numbers of twenty-nine lots are given as those which had been given to the first settlers of the town.
Several years ago I had the privilege of examining the only complete file of "The Centinel of Northwest Territory," from 1793 to 1796, the first newspaper printed northwest of the Ohio. This file was highly prized and was then kept safely guarded in the private safe of Julius Dexter, through whose kindness I was kindly permitted to examine the old newspapers at my leisure. The following is the first mention of the town of Deerfield I saw in the file:
"That the number of lots in the town of Deerfield which was to be given for building a house or cabin is now complete, there being twenty-five houses or cabins finished and thirty-five lots taken that we first proposed as an encouragement to form the settlement. We hereby forbid all persons whatever from entering upon, cutting down timber on any lot or lots in said town except they purchase.
"John S. Gano & Co.
Cincinnati, Jan. 25, 1796."
The old file of newspapers from which this notice was copied now is the property of the Ohio Historical Society at Cincinnati. I notice that many of the papers had the name of Nathan Kelley written upon them and he appears to have been the subscriber who preserved them and to his care we are indebted for the only complete file of the papers now in existence. Nathan Kelley was one of the prominent citizens and early settlers at Deerfield. He emigrated from Pennsylvania in 1791 and settled at Deerfield in 1797. He died July 6, 1844, aged 84 years, 10 months and 6 days.
The earliest deeds for lots in Deerfield were executed by John Stites Gano as follows: On April 14, 1797, to John Kreker, lots 70 and 107; to Peter Keever, for lots 71 and 118; to Elnathan Cory for lots 47 and out lot; to Thomas Cory for lot 32 and one outlot. The consideration expressed in all these deeds is $2. On the same day, Gano executed to Isaac Lindley in consideration of $10 a deed for lots 65 and 66 and one outlot of four acres; and to Martin Keever, in consideration of $10 a deed for lots 105 and 111 and two outlots. On June 20, 1797, James Cory received a deed for lots 22, 26 and 27, consideration $5. Some of these persons who received deeds did not become permanent residents of the town.
At the beginning of the last century Deerfield was the most important place on the Little Miami above Columbia. It was made a stopping place for many of the early settlers in different parts of the county. Early emigrants frequently left their families at Deerfield while the first improvements were being made on their new farms.

Striving to be a County Seat.

In 1797, while Hamilton County was a part of the Northwest Territory, the town was made the voting place of a large township called Deerfield. This large township embraced all of the present county of Warren except 44 sections about Franklin. The township also included much territory now in Clinton county, in which few settlements had as yet been made. Several efforts were made to have a new county established with Deerfield as its county seat.
In 1799 a petition was presented to the territorial legislature asking for a division of the county of Hamilton and that Deerfield should be made the seat of justice of the new county. At that time the governor and the legislature each claimed the power of establishing new counties and nothing was accomplished. On April 22, 1801, a large and respectable meeting of the inhabitants of the township of Deerfield was held in the town of Deerfield in the interest of a new county. William Wood was chairman and .John T. Hall secretary. An address to Governor St. Clair was unanimously agreed upon setting forth the remoteness of the inhabitants of Deerfield township from the seat of justice, the expense and time in attending courts as suitors, jurors or witnesses being burdensome, and the fact that Deerfield township was already thickly populated. A new county with Deerfield for the seat of justice was earnestly prayed for.
A committee of seven leading citizens of the township was appointed to present the address to the governor. The names of the committeemen were Rev. William Wood, Robert Benham, Jeremiah Morrow, Nathan Kelley, Ignatius Brown, Ephriam Kibbey and John T. Hall. When the territory legislature met next in session the question of the formation of a state government occupied so much time and attention that no division of the county of Hamilton was made.
After the formation of the county of Warren by the first state legislature of Ohio, the contest for the seat of justice continued for two years. Lebanon and Deerfield were the principal contestants. Deerfield was the older and more important town; Lebanon had the advantage of a more central location. It also had been designated as the temporary place of holding courts. The contest was finally settled in favor of Lebanon by a special act of the legislature passed February 1, 1805. The house of representatives was nearly equally divided on the passage of this act and a motion to reject the bill was lost by the casting vote of the speaker. Thus the last hope of Deerfield to become a county seat was lost.
On January 1, 1805, Deerfield was made a post office and Ephriam Kibbey was appointed the first postmaster. On account of another Deerfield in Ohio the name of the post office was afterward changed to Deerfieldville. In 1871 the name of the post office was changed to South Lebanon, which is now the name of both the village and post office.

First Methodist Preaching.

The first sermon in Warren county by a regularly ordained Methodist preacher was preached at Deerfield by Rev. John Kobler on August 9, 1798. Before this Francis McCormick, a local preacher, who had settled near the site of Milford, may have preached within the limits of the county. Mr. Kobler's journal gives an account of his first visit to Deerfield and the difficulties he had in obtaining a place to preach. He set out on August 7, 1798, from Mr. McCormick's house to form a two weeks circuit. Under the date of August 8, 1798, he writes:
"In the afternoon rode some miles up the Miami river to a small village called Deerfield, where I suppose there might reside ten or fifteen families. On arrival there was invited into a house to see a sick man, whom I found to be a Quaker. Asked if I should pray with him and his family. He said 'No.' Reasoned with him on the necessity and propriety of prayer, and enforced the words of St. James--'Is any afflicted, let him pray;' but he would hear no reason, said he was raised among the Friends and that I should not pray. Had with me a letter of introduction to a man who resided in the place who was supposed would receive the Gospel in his house. When this was presented to him, he treated both the message and messenger with utter contempt, saying his house was no place for preaching. Here I went from house to house making inquiry; at last heard that the man above mentioned had a son living in the place, and that his wife was actually a Methodist--hastened on to the son's house, but found that the old man had been there before me, and given them their charge, by using his utmost influence to bolt and bar every door and heart against me. Indeed this son had sent word, I afterward understood, that if any of our preachers came through these borders, he wished them to be sent to his house. Finally I heard of a Baptist in the place to whom I applied, who received me cordially--his name was Sutton. Lord grant that he and his family may find mercy at that day for when I was a stranger he took me in hungry and he fed me, I was thirsty and he gave me drink. Next day, at an early hour, his house was filled with attentive bearers to whom I shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God."

David Sutton.

Gen. David Sutton was an early settler and for many years the best known citizen of Deerfield. He was a native of Hunterdon county, N.J. The date of his settlement at Deerfield is unknown. He kept one of the first taverns at that place, and at his house elections for Deerfield township were appointed to be held, both under the territorial and early state governments. On the organization of Warren county, he was appointed the first clerk of court, and held that position for twelve years, from 1803 to 1815. He was a representative in the legislature in 1816, 1818 and 1823. At the commencement of the war with England in 1812, he left the duties of his office as clerk of court to the charge of John Grigg, afterward a distinguished book publisher of Philadelphia, raised a company and went into the service of the government as captain in the first army that was raised in Ohio. He was soon afterward elected colonel at Urbana. He was for many years a general of the militia. In politics he was originally an Anti-Federalist or Jeffersonian Democrat, and on the formation of new parties in 1828, he became an adherent of the Jackson party. At the time of his death he was the Democratic candidate for state senator from Warren county. He died September 15, 1834, in the sixty-eighth year of his age, and was buried at Deerfield.

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