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Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
published in the Madison Weekly Courier – Feb. 25, 1874
Having noticed several articles contributed by pioneer settlers of the county in your columns, I have thought it not out of place to ask the favor of publishing a few incidents, that have occurred to my mind bearing upon this same subject, hoping it may be a matter of interest to a portion of your numerous patrons.
My story begins April 1, 1817, this being the date upon which I first set foot upon the soil of Jefferson County. Being a native of Kentucky, and somewhat actuated by the prevalent feeling among the Corncrackers, at that time, to seek new homes across the expanses of the Ohio River, I in company with other members of the family, got our small effects together, traveled, and sought for the same object.
And just here we will stop to give a faint description of Madison as I viewed it upon our passage through it. After crossing the river at what was called Marquis’s Ferry, above the town, my first object of attraction was the Old Buckeye Jail, situated at the upper end of Main Cross Street, which was a building probably 16 × 24 feet in dimensions, and deriving its cognomen from the kind of wood used in its construction. Next was the Hotel de Hunt, built in part of framework and the other logs, this being considered a fine edifice. There were no other buildings of note, although many other structures of the place wore an air of brightness. Pretty much all the ground west of the hotel was covered with heavy forest, and in the most improved part of the town, stumps could be seen in great numbers. After obtaining a view of the town our course was directed towards the northern portion of the county. In our ascent up the hill the Old Mt. Pleasant Church building gave evidence that Christianity was keeping pace with other marks of civilization. The Rev. Jesse Vawter being the pastor and of the Baptist faith. I am not certain as to this being the first Baptist church in the county although it may have been.
While at this point of my journey I will speak of the prominent characters of Madison and those interested in its prosperity. Richard Talbott, then acting as Clerk, Auditor and Recorder was quite an efficient businessman. Mr. Floyd, the first Circuit Judge, was a man of fine legal abilities and was somewhat identified with the great western expedition of Lewis and Clark spoken of in history. Col. John Paul was a leading spirit in many enterprises in and about the town. Jeremiah Sullivan, Williamson Dunn, Wm. Hendricks, David Hillis, Milton Stapp, James Wallace, all men of fair ability, and did much for the county’s interest and some of them became noted in their profession. Mr. Dunn was considered a great reformer on account of his earnest labor to get the Sunday mail stopped.
As former contributors have given a better sketch of Madison than I could perhaps do, I will pass to other portions of the county, which at that time was very sparsely settled, on our journey through what is now called Lancaster Twonship. But few permanent settlers were noticed upon the route. They were Thos. Stribling, living near or upon the site of Presburg; Mr. West at Wirt; James McCall, a mile or so further west; Mr. Dunlap on Middlefork, Aaron Rowlinson on Turkey Branch, and James Blair on the western slope of Big Creek near where the J.M. & I. R.R now crosses. My father selected and entered a small tract of land at this point, upon which he began improvements, such as building a rude log cabin and cutting off the forest timber.
There were other settlements throughout different portions of the county, of which I will now attempt to give their location, and the names of the persons who formed them. The first was in the neighborhood of Kent with the following names of leading characters constituting it; the Wileys, Ramseys, Blankenships, and Chambers, and at an earlier date, a man by the name of Jones. Here the frontiersmen erected a blockhouse.
A few miles north of this were the Kinnears, Eddlemans, Marshalls, Neavilles, and Longs; and also the site of a town called Danville, which has long since been extinct.
Still to the north of this at the junction at Middlefork and Big Creeks, now known as called College Hill of Lancaster, were James Hays, the pioneer miller, commonly called Old Jimmy; Thomas David and W. Hughes; Allen, Marshall, Steadman and Davis.
There was at this time a small remnant of a tribe of Indians, I think called Delawares, camping upon the grounds now called Marble Creek; they were peaceable and somewhat domestic in their character, hunting being the principal occupation of the males. The females worked considerable at basketmaking, and bartered them to the white settlers for such articles of food as they needed. Their sojourn was not long after the whites began settling near them.
I believe I have spoken of the principal settlements of the county at that time. I will now allude to the matters concerning our progress for the first few trying years, which many of yours readers know something of. After selecting a site to locate, the first thing in order was to erect a log cabin to live in, but we could not then enjoy the hard-cider appendage which at a later date was given it. After this, the green forest trees had to be removed to make room for a patch of corn, potato peas & c. The main dependence for clothing was the flax-lint manufactured into cloth and worn both by women and men. Boots and shoes were costly articles, and only enjoyed by the most favored settlers to any extent. Moccasins being a very popular covering and ornament for the foot, they were made principally from the deer-skin tanned in a wooden trough. Venison was not considered such a luxury as at the present day, although being the principal meat used. A large fine fat buck only brought, after taken to Madison, one dollar. Corn was made into meal by hand process, such as pounding,& c. Flour was not thought of.
There were but three small mills in the county. They were John Paul‘s on Crooked Creek, near the present corporation of Madison; James Hays’ at Lancaster, and a Mr. Smith’s in the eastern portion of Smyrna Township. The first two were water mills and worked about half of the year, the latter was a horse power and was driven almost day and night when there was not water sufficient to run the former. It was with great difficulty that roads were opened from one settlement to another to allow intercourse, between them.
Educational interests had to be neglected, but after a few years, each settlement began the work of erecting their log edifices for the advancements of literature. There were but few books of any kind to be had; newspapers, like angels visits, were few and far between.
As this sketch has been more extended than I first intended, I will allude to matters of Lancaster Township, and conclude my story, having been a permanent citizen of the same for fifty-seven years, and witnessed many of the ups and downs of pioneer life in that period of time. The first officer of the Township was Perry Magnus, he being chief magistrate or justice of the peace, but not having proper ability to discharge the duties of the office soon resigned, and a man by the name of Dunlap chosen to fill the place. The first town laid out was on the western side of Big Creek, upon the farm now owned by C.K. Lard, our present County Commissioner, opposite the well known Byfield residence, and was called Lancaster, but the principal founder, James Stott, became somewhat discouraged over its future prospects, abandoned the enterprise, and turned the town plat to farming purposes.
The first schoolhouse was built of round logs, the floor laid with puncheon, a door cut in the side, and opposite to that a log the entire length of the building was left out and the space covered with greased paper, which served to admit the light. The seats constructed by splitting small logs through the center, turning the flat side up and putting wooden pins or legs under it. The chimney in one end being partly built on stone and finished at the upper part with what was called in those days, cat and clay. William Hughes had the honor of dedicating it to educational purposed, by organizing and teaching the first term of school.
James Bland, who many years since died, was the first settler. Then followed Benjamin Badgely, Jacob Minton, James Hays, Moses Allen, Membrance Williams, Sen, Delap, Rowlinson, and others. There are few now, however, of them to be seen, only four or five I can call to mind. Those are Robert Williams, Aaron Rowlinson, Mrs. John Abbot, and Lacy Reynolds, the latter having been the first person to start and drive a dray in Madison.
The prices of produce at that time may be an item of interest especially to those agriculturists who we almost every day hear complaining of hard times and low prices of grain & c. and I will have state the range of market for such products: Wheat was not quotable on account of none being grown. Corn was nominal at 10 to 15 cts. Oats about the same. Pork $1.50 to $1,75 . Potatoes 10 to 15 cts,, according to quality. Chickens 50 to 75 cts per doz. Turkeys 10 to 15 cts each. I have packed oats on horse-back a distance of 12 miles at 10cts. per bushel. The first market for wheat opened at 371/2 cts. and remained at the figure two to three years.
Deputy, Jefferson County, Ind.
JEFFERSON COUNTY PIONEERS
This was a series of articles that appeared in the Madison Courier. Some were first hand accounts by the early settlers and others were taken from autobiographies from other sources. They are reproduced in their entirety by the Jefferson County Historical Society and with their permission we offer them on our website.
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