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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan


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

Beginning of a Town in an Unbroken Forest.

An Account of the Adventures of the First Settlers and the Cutting Down of the Trees for the First Log Cabins in One of the Oldest Towns in Warren County.

October 24, 1907

We have a fuller account of the beginnings of Waynesville than of any other town in Warren County. It is one of the three oldest towns in the county, Deerfield (South Lebanon) and Franklin being the other two. These three places were projected and settlements in them began in the Northwest territory, six or seven years before Ohio became a state.
Waynesville was named, its site agreed upon, and perhaps its streets laid out as early as February, 1796. The first settlers arrived at the place for the purpose of building the first houses on March 8, 1797. The reason we have the full account of the beginning of the town is that an intelligent English traveler was Francis Baily, then twenty three years of age, and afterward an eminent English astronomer and president of the Royal Astronomical Society. He rode up from the Ohio and out of curiosity to see how a new settlement in the American forest was commenced. The account is found in Francis Baily's "Journal of a Tour in the Unsettled Parts of North America in 1796 and 1797," which was published in London in 1856, twelve years after the death of the author. I have never seen but one copy of his work and its rarity will be my apology for the copious extracts made from it in this article.

The Founder.

Samuel Highway--some of his descendants spell the surname Heighway--the founder of Waynesville, was a native of England, a man of means and enterprise, who arrived in America about 1795. Wayne's victory over the Indians drew attention to the Miami country and many contracts for land were made with Judge Symmes who had bought the land between the two Miamis. Highway, having explored the country, on February 3, 1796, in connection with Rev. John Smith of Columbia and Dr. Evan Banes, a physician recently from Pennsylvania, contracted with Symmes for some 30,000 or 40,000 acres on the Little Miami at the site of Waynesville, agreeing to pay $1.25 per acre. In an agreement concerning this land signed by Smith, Highway and Banes, dated February 22, 1796, mention is made of "the town of Waynesville lately laid off in said purchase."
As Symmes failed to get a patent from the government for this land the deeds for lands about Waynesville were not obtained from him but from Congress. The original proprietors of Waynesville, Franklin and Dayton laid the towns on lands which Symmes had contracted to sell them and for which he was never able to give deeds.

Down the Ohio.

Samuel Highway returned to Philadelphia and in September, 1796, made his arrangements to remove to Waynesville and begin the building of the town. He was accompanied by Francis Baily, and five other persons, all of whom were from England. Highway went to Baltimore where he bought a lot of goods, hauled them to Pittsburg, where he purchased a boat 12 feet wide, 36 feet long, and drawing 18 inches of water, and loaded into it over ten tons for the voyage until November 24, and the journey was commenced the next day. The travelers were well equipped for the winter boat ride. Highway had purchased every necessary in the new settlement. He had on board good furniture, three or four feather beds and plenty of bed clothes, with beef, mutton, flour, bacon and other provisions. He also had on his boat four horses, a large lot of implements of husbandry and articles intended for barter with the Indians.
The impressions of the Englishmen on the Ohio as a navigable stream could not have been favorable. They were delayed in starting from Pittsburg for several weeks by low water, and after getting a little below Wheeling were stopped again by the ice the river being frozen to so great a depth as to bear up loaded wagons. In less than two weeks the river rose, the ice broke with a great noise and the voyagers were compelled to leave their beds in the darkness and seek safety on the shore in the wilderness with the thermometer 17 degrees below zero. The ice stove in and destroyed the boat, but most of the cargo was saved. Another boat, 40 feet long and 13 feet wide was obtained and on February 20, 1797, the voyagers started again down the river and reached Columbia on February 27, having been, through unforseen difficulties and delays, nearly six months on the journey from Philadelphia and over three months on the Ohio from Pittsburg.
The boat was put into the mouth of the Little Miami and Highway took a canoe and went down the Ohio a mile to see a gentleman in the town of Columbia. The founder of Waynesville was now, notwithstanding his delays and hard- ships in good spirits. He sold his boat and prepared to go up to the new town he was to establish. He told Baily that he asked $2.00 an acre for his farming land and $6.00 for half acre lots in Waynesville. The purchasers of the lots were required to build a house within a specified time.

Cutting a Road to Waynesville.

Highway hired two wagons to take a part of his goods to Waynesville. We here begin our quotation from Francis Baily's Journal:
"On March 4, 1797, the two wagons started accompanied by a guide to conduct them through the wilderness and three or four pioneers to clear the road of trees. And, on the 6th of March Dr. Bane and myself started about noon, accompanied by several others in the neighborhood, some of whom were tempted by curiosity and others with a prospect of settling there. We were mounted on horses and had each a gun, and across our saddles we had a large bag containing some corn for our horses and provisions for ourselves, as also some blankets. We kept the road as long as we could, and, when that would not assist us any farther, we struck out into the woods and toward sundown found ourselves about twenty miles from Columbia; here having spied a little brook running at the bottom of a hill, we made a halt, and, kindling a fire, we fixed up our blankets into the form of a tent, and having fed both ourselves and our horses, we laid ourselves down to rest, one of us by turns keeping watch, lest the Indians should steal our horses. The next morning, Tuesday, March 7th, as soon as it was daylight, we continued our journey, and the middle of the day overtook our friend Highway almost worn out with fatigue. His wagons had been overturned twice or thrice--in fact, he related to us such a dismal story of the trials, both of patience and mind, which he had undergone, that I verify if the distance had been much greater, he either would have sunk under it or formed his settlement on the spot. We encouraged him with a prospect of a speedy termination and the hopes of better ground to pass over, and with this his spirits seemed to be somewhat raised.
"We all encamped together this night and made ourselves as happy and comfortable as possible. My friend Highway also seemed to put on the new man, and from this and from his being naturally of a lively turn, we found that it was a great deal the want of society which had rendered him so desponding and out of spirits, for, after we had cooked what little refreshment we had brought with us and finished our repasts, he sang us two or three good songs (which he was capable of doing in a masterful style), and seemed to take a pleasure in delaying as long as he could that time which we ought to have devoted to rest.
"The next morning, Wednesday, the 8th of March, by daylight, our cavalcade was in motion and some of the party rode on first to discover the spot, for we were traveling without any other guide than what little knowledge of the country the men had acquired by hunting over it. I could not but with pleasure behold with what expedition the pioneers in front cleared the way for the wagons. There were but three or four of them and they got the road clear as fast as the wagons could proceed.

A Negro Returns to Slavery.

"While we were proceeding at this rate, we observed at some distance before us, a human being dart into the woods, and endeavor to flee from us. Ignorant of what this might mean, we delayed the wagons, and some of us went into the woods and tracked the footsteps of a man for some distance, when suddenly a Negro made his appearance from behind some bushes and hastily inquired whether there were any Indians in our party or whether we had seen any. The hideousness of the man's countenance (which was painted with large red spots on a black ground) and his sudden appearance startled us at first, but soon guessing his situation we put him beyond all apprehension and informed him that he was perfectly safe. He then began to inform us that he had been a prisoner among the Indians ever since the close of the last American war, and that he had meditated his escape ever since he had been in their hands, but that never till now had he been able to accomplish it. He asked us what course the nearest town lay from us, and, after telling him, he said that the Indians no doubt had been pursuing him ever since they had missed him, and that he intended to escape to the first town for protection. He said that they had used him remarkably well ever since he had been with them, treating him as one of their own children, and doing everything in their power to render his situation comfortable. They had given him a wife and a mother (it is their usual practice to put white people whom they wish to encourage to come among them, under the protection of some matron who is called his mother) and plenty of land to cultivate if he chose it, and the liberty of doing everything but making his escape. With all these inducements, he said he could not give up the idea of never seeing again those friends and relatives whom he left in his early days. This man, when he was taken prisoner, was a slave to a person in Kentucky, and, though amongst the Indians he enjoyed liberty and all the comforts which can be expected in a state of nature, and which were more (I may safely pronounce) than when he tasted of the bitter cup of slavery, yet was this man who so lately enjoyed all the blessings of heaven, going to render up a voluntary slave to his former master; for what? That he might there once more embrace those friends and relatives from whom he had so long separated. We could but look upon the man with an eye of pity and com- passion, after giving him something to pursue his journey with, and desiring him to follow our track to Columbia, we separated.

The Town's Beginning.

"About 3 or 4 o'clock the same afternoon we had the satisfaction of seeing the Little Miami River, here we halted for it was on the banks of this river that the town was laid out, and we were soon joined by our other companions, who had proceeded on first, and who informed us that they had recognized the spot about half a mile up the river. We accordingly went on and got the goods out of the wagons that night, so that they might return again as soon as they thought proper; and here we could not but congratulate our friend Highway upon his arrival at the seat of his new colony. He appeared heartily glad that his journey was at an end, and he seemed to eye the ground and the country about with that degree of secret pleasure which a man may be conceived to take in viewing a spot which, in point of cultivation, was to be the work of his own hands; he seemed to anticipate his labors and fancy; he saw fruitful corn fields and blushing orchards in every object he beheld, and expressed a secret satisfaction in thinking he should end his days in this delightful country.
"The next morning nothing was to be heard but the sound of the ax resounding through the woods. Every one who was expert at that art was gone out to cut down trees to build our friend a house, and before night they had got several of the logs laid and the house raised several feet. They all joined in cheerfully in this work.

A Bear Hunt.

"While the major part were engaged in this necessary employment, Dr. Bane and myself and two of the men took our guns and a couple of axes and went bear hunting. We had discovered marks of several in coming along and we were now going to see if we could shoot some of them in order to furnish ourselves with provision. It is easily discoverable whether a tree has a hole in it, and it may also be easily ascertained whether there is a bear in it or not, for in climbing up the trees they scratch off the bark in such a manner as to leave an indelible track through the whole winter; when, therefore, the hunters have found one of the trees in which they imagine a bear to be lodged, they set about cutting it down, which those who are used to it will very soon do, and, three of four of the party, with loaded rifles will plant themselves at a little distance off, and in the direction where they expect the tree to fall. As soon as the tree comes to the ground, bruin starts from his hiding place and endeavors to flee into the woods, but the person who stands nearest to the course which he is going to pursue, immediately aims his piece and most probably kills him; however, if he should only wound him, the bear will generally turn upon his attacker, and, in this case, the others come to his assistance and put an end to the contest by shooting him through the head.
"This being a new species of diversion to me, I embraced with pleasure the opportunity of going with them to enjoy it. We had not proceeded far in the woods where we discovered a hole in the top of a lofty oak, whose diameter was upward of three feet at the bottom. These immense trees are generally those to which bears fly-in fact, no others of a smaller size could contain them at a height of sixty of seventy feet from the ground. We saw evident traces of his claws on the bark of the tree, and it was soon resolved that the tree should come down. Accordingly, our two men set at it, and when they had nearly got through we took our appointed stations to watch the egress of the tyrant of the woods. In a short time, the immense trunk began to give way, and, carrying all the lesser trees before it, fell with a tremendous crash upon the ground; bruin, finding his habitation in motion, began to look out before it reached the ground, and, with a sudden spring, arrived there first. Immediately Dr. Bane leveled his piece and shot him through the body, but only so as to wound him, and the bear began to turn on him. This afforded me time to come round to Dr. Bane's assistance, when I shot the animal through the head and put a period to his existence. After that we left him to our men to carry to our camp, whilst we went to discover the haunts of some others, and in this expedition we killed two or three deer and saw a great quantity of wild turkeys, so that we had not any prospect of extreme want whilst we were here. After this, we returned home and received the thanks of our party for supplying them so sumptuously with provision. This diversion I pursued as often as the weather favored almost every day I was here.
"Friday, March 31, 1797--I had now been with my friends near a month, during which time I had an opportunity of observing the steps which are taken in first settling the country. It opened quite a new field to me, as it must to every one who has never been witness to it."

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