A Part of Genealogy Express

Welcome to
Washington County, Ohio
History & Genealogy


History of Belpre, Washington Co., Ohio
By C. E. Dickinson, D. D.
Formerly Pastor of Congregational Church
Author of the History of First Congregational Church
Marietta, Ohio
Published for the Author by
Globe Printing & Binding Company
Parkersburg, West Virginia



[page 8]
     IN the winter following the landing of the first pioneers at Marietta, the directors of the Ohio Company sent out exploring parties to examine their purchase, which was as yet a terra incognita.  The main object of these committees was to select suitable places for the formation of their first settlements.  Among the earliest and most desirable locations reported was a tract on the right bank of the Ohio river, commencing a short distance above the mouth of the Little Kanawha, and extending down the Ohio four or five miles, terminating at the narrows two miles above the Little Hocking.  About one mile below the outlet of the latter stream, the river again bent to the south enclosing a rich alluvion extending two or three miles in length and one mile wide, where was formed another settlement called Newbury, or the lower colony, but included within the boundaries of Belpre.  The main body of the New Colony's tract was divided into two portions known as upper and middle settlements.  The lands on the river were of the richest quality; rising as they recede from the Ohio on to an elevated plain thirty or forty feet higher than the low bottoms, and extending back to the base of the hills.  The plain was in some places more than half a mile in width, forming, with the bottoms, alluvions nearly a mile in extent.  The soil on teh plains was in some places a fertile loamy sand; in others inclined to gravel but everywhere covered with a rich growth of forest trees, and producing fine crops of small grains.  About one mile below the Little Kanawha this plain came into the river presenting a lofty mural front of eighty or one hundred feet, above the surface of the water.  This precipitous bank is continued for half a mile and on its brow and for some distance back is stocked with evergreens, chiefly different varieties of cedar.  That portion of the plain is known as the bluff and is located near the head of Blennerhassett's Island.

[page 9]
close by the landing and the crossing place to the mansion erected a few years later by this celebrated man.  The bluff divides the upper settlement from that below.  The upper lay on a beautiful curve of the river which formed nearly a semicircle, the periphery of which was about one and one-half miles, and rose gradually from the banks of the river on to the second bottom by a natural glacis, the grade and beauty of which no art of man could excel.  From the lower end of the bluff the plain gradually receded from the river leaving a strip of rich bottom land about three miles in length and from one-fourth to one-third of a mile in width.  This distance, like the preceeding, was laid off into farms about forty rods wide, and extending back to the hills, which rise by a moderate slope to an elevation of one hundred feet above the surface of the plain and were clothed with oak and hickory to the top.  This charming location was named Belle Prairie or Beautiful Meadow, but is now generally written Belpre.  The settlement was composed of about forty associates, who formed themselves into a Company and drew their lots, after they were surveyed, and platted in the winter of 1788-9.

Character of the Settlers. - Assassination of Captain Zebulon King - Famine. - Abundance of food - Two boys killed at Neal's Station - Mill on Little Hocking


     The larger portion of the individuals who formed this association had served as officers in the Revolution, and when the army was disbanded retired with a brevet promotion.  To a stranger it seemed very curious that every house he passed should be occupied by a commissioned officer.  No settlement ever formed west of the mountains contained so many men of real merit, sound practical sense, and refined manners.  They had been in the School of Washington and were nearly or quite all personally acquainted with that great and good man.  A contemporary writes:  "IN this little community were found those sterling qualities which should ever form the basis of the social and civil edifice, and are best calculated to perpetuate and cherish our republican institutions.  Some of them had been liberally educated, and all had received the advantages of common New England schools in early life.  They were habituated to industry and economy, and brought up under the influences of morality and religion.  These men had been selected to lead their countrymen in battle and to defend their rights, not for their physical strength as of

[page 10]
old, but for their moral standing and superior intellect.  In addition to these advantages they had also received a second education in the army of the revolution where they heard the precepts of wisdom and witnessed the examples of bravery and fortitude; learning at the same time the necessity of subordination to law and good order, in promoting the happiness and prosperity of mankind"
     The Belpre associates who had passed the winter in Marietta commenced moving on to their farms early in April; several families however did not occupy their farms until the following year.  Log houses, mostly small, were built near the bank of the river, for the convenience of water and a free circulation of air; into these the families moved.
     Then commenced the cutting down and girdling the immense forest trees which covered the rich bottoms and lifted their lofty heads towards the clouds.  A fence of rails was built on the back side of their fields, next the woods to protect their crops from the cattle, but the grounds were left open on the river bank.  Paths between the neighboring houses ran through the fields or on the outside of the fence in the margin of the woods.  In several places springs of pure water gushed out under the banks of the river and ran in gentle rills to the Ohio, affording a rich treat to the fortunate neighbor in the heat of summer, when compared with the warm and often turbid water of the "Belle Riviere."


    Soon after the pioneers had commenced laboring on their lands their ardor was for a while paralized, and their hope of undisturbed and quiet possession of their new hope of undisturbed and quiet possession of their new homes greatly weakened, by the murder of Capt King by the Indians.  His land lay in the middle settlement and while he was busily engaged in chopping on May 1st he was shot and scalped by two Indians.  It was thought at the time they were Indians who had escaped from confinement in Fort Harmar, where they had been detained since the outrage, at Duncan's Falls the previous summer.
     Captain King was from Rhode Island, where his family yet remained.  He intended to move them after he had

[page 11]
prepared a house and raised a crop for their support.  He had been an officer in the United States Army and was a most excellent man.  His loss was deeply felt and lamented by all his fellow pioneers.


     Owing to the laborious task in preparing and fencing the land, it was past the middle of June before all the corn was planted.  Though late, if the sun could have penetrated the thick branches of the girdled trees and thoroughly warmed the earth, pushing forward the growth of the corn, as it does in an open sunny exposure, there might have been a tolerable crop, but while the tender ears were still in the milk, a frost, early in October, destroyed the hopes of the husbandmen, leaving then with a scanty allowance for the Winter, and the prospect of great suffering before another crop could be raised; and although two or three hundred acres and has been planted in the settlement the amount fit for use was very small.  The calamity was general throughout the region west of the mountains and was the more severely felt as Indian corn was their only source for bread.  In the earlier settlements at head water there was a tolerable crop of wheat, and on the older and early planted fields the corn had ripened before the frost, so that those who had money could purchase bread for their families, but few of the new settlers had the means of doing this, their cash having been spent on the journey and for provision since their arrival.  By the middle of February scarcity of bread stuff began to be seriously felt.  Many families had no other meal for their bread then that made from mouldy corn and were sometimes destitute even of this for several days in succession.
     Such portions of the damaged grain as could be selected hard enough for a meal sold for nine Shillings (or $1.50) a bushel; and when ground in hand mills and made into bread, few stomachs were able to digest it or even to retain it for a few minutes.  It produced sickness and vomiting.  The late Charles Devoll, Esq., one of the early settlers, then a small boy, used to relate with much feeling his gastrinomic trials with this mouldy meal, made into a dish called sap porridge, which, when composed of sound corn meal and fresh saccharine juice of maple afforded

[page 12]
both a nourishing and savory food.  The family had been without bread for two days when the father returned from Marietta just at evening with a supply of mouldy corn.  The hand mill was put into immediate operation and the meal cooked into sap porridge, as it was then the season of sugar making.  The famished children eagerly swallowed the unsavory mess, which was almost immediately rejected, reminding us of the deadly pottage of the children of the Prophet, but lacked the healing power of an Elijah to render it salutary and nourishing.  Disappointed of expected relief, the poor children went supperless to bed, to dream of savory food and plenteous meals unrealized in their waking hours.
     It was during this period that Isaac Williams, a plain hearted honest backwoodsman, who had been brought up on the frontiers, and lived on the Virginia side opposite the mouth of the Muskingum, displayed his benevolent feeling for the suffering colonists.  He had opened an extensive tract for corn land three years before, and being enabled to plant early, had raised, in1789 a large crop of several hundred bushels of sound corn.  With a liberality which should ever make his name dear to the descendants of the pioneers, and to all who admire generous deeds, he now in their most pressing necessity, distributed this corn among the inhabitants, at the low rate of three shillings, or fifty cents a bushel, the common price in plenteous yeas; when at the same time he was offered, and urged to take, a dollar and a quarter by speculators, for his whole crop; for man has ever been disposed to fatten on the distress of his fellowman.  Turning from them with a blunt but decided refusal, he not only parted with his corn at the moderate rate, but also prudently proportioned the number of bushels, according to the number of individuals in the family.  An empty purse was no bar to his generosity  or the wants of the needy applicant, but he was equally supplied with him who had money; and a credit given until a ore favorable season should enable him to pay the debt.  Such deeds are rare in a highly civilized community, and were more numerous in the early settlement of the country than since.  The coarse hunting shirt and rough bear skin cap often inclosed a tender benevolent heart and covered a wise thoughtful head.  Hospitality was one of the cardinal virtues with the early settler and no people ever practiced it

[page 13]
more heartily and constantly than the pioneers along the borders of the Ohio.  The corn of this good man supplied their wants for a season, but was all expended long before the crop of 1790 was fit for use.  Articles of food were found in the natural productions of the earth which necessity alone could have discovered.  Only a small portion of the inhabitants had salted any meat in the preceeding autumn; there being but a few hogs or cattle in the country, except here and there a cow or a yoke of oxen, brought on by the colonists from New England.  Their animal food, therefore, was mainly procured from the woods and consisted of venison, with now and then the flesh of a bear.  The wild animals were scarce however in all the surrounding country, as the Indians had killed them, as they said to keep them from the whites.  (In the Spring the wild deer are very thin and poor and their flesh of an inferior quality.)  The river afforded an abundant supply of fish; but it so happened that but few of the inhabitants were skilled in the art of taking them.  Salt was also so scarce and dear, being eight dollars a bushel, that it could hardly be afforded to cure them, so that what were caught one day must not be kept longer than the next.  Fortunate was the family that had been able to save a few pounds of salt pork or bacon to boil with the native growth of esculent plants that began early in the spring to appear in the woods.  Of these the nettle furnished the earliest supply, which in some places grew in large patches and whose tops were palatable and nutritious.  The young juicy plants of the Celandine afforded also a nourishing and pleasant dish.  It

[page 14]
sprang up about the old logs and fences around the clearing, especially where brush had been burned the year before, with astonishing luxuriance; and being early in its growth, afforded a valuable article of food before the purslane was of sufficient size for boiling.  This later vegetable, however, was their main dependence at a later period.
     Wherever the soil had been broken by the planters and exposed to the sunshine, a luxuriant crop of this nutritious plant sprang up from the virgin soil where the seeds had been scattered ages before by the Creator of all things, and lain dormant in the earth.  In spots where not a single plant of purslane was seen while covered with the forest, and probably not a shoot had grown for ages, it now sprang up as by magic.  When boiled with a small piece of venison and a little salt, it furnished the principal food of the inhabitants for six or eight weeks, although many lived on it without any meat for many a day.  Toward the close of their suffering so great was the scarcity that, in one of the most respectable and intelligent families which happened to be rather numerous, the smaller children were kept on one boiled potato a day and finally were reduced to half of one. The head of the family had held the office of Major in the army of the United States, and was one of the most worthy and excellent men in the Colony.
     His children, with their descendants, now rank among the first for influence and wealth in the state of Ohio.  The mother of these half starved children did all she could for the comfort of those around her.  Among her other multifarious engagements, she had consented to cook for a young man who owned a lot adjacent to that of her husband, tho he ate in his own cabin.  The bread was made of poor, musty meal, and while it was baking she always sent the children away to play and immediately locked it up in the young mans chest lest they should see it, and cry for a piece of that she had no right to give them.  (This young man was from Boston and educated at Cambridge.)  When a few kernels of corn were dropped in grinding, in the hand mill, the children picked them up like chickens and ate them raw.  A few of the inhabitants had cows for which the forest, in summer, afforded ample supplies of food.  Their milk assisted greatly in the support of their owners and especially their children.  In the latter part of the Winter the Sap of the sugar tree, boiled down with meal, made a rich, nourishing food.  This tree was so abundant that great quantities of sugar could have been made to enlarge their scanty store of food; but the want of kettles prevented their profiting from this prolific magazine which the God of nature has stored up for His children.  By the middle of July the new corn was in the milk and fit for roasting and boiling; this with the squashes and beans ended their fears of actual starvation.  So urgent was their necessity, however, that they could to wait for the vegetables to attain their usual size before they were deemed fit for eating, but the beans, as soon as the pods were set, and the grains of corn formed in the ear, were gathered and boiled with a little salt and meal, if they had any, into a kind of

[page 15]
vegetable soup, which was eaten with great relish by the half starved children and their parents.  As the season was remarkably favorable the sight of the rich crop of corn was hailed as a jubilee to only by man, but by the domestic animals, some of which had suffered equally with their masters.  Even the dogs fell upon the young and tender corn at night and devoured it with eagerness.  It was some time before they could discover this depredator of their crops.  By watching they caught the dogs in the act of pulling down and eating the corn, and were compelled to tie them up at night until it became too hard for them.
     During the whole Summer a great scarcity of animal food was felt.  In August the family of one of the most enterprising and worthy men of that suffering community had been without any meat for several days.  Having one of those long barrelled fowling pieces which he had been accustomed to use along the shore and inlets of Rhode Island, he walked out into the woods with little hope of success.  Directly he came across a fawn, or half grown deer, and at the first shot brought it to the ground.  While in the act of cutting its throat, and he felt sure that all the meat was his own, he said his heart and affections ran up in a glow of gratitude to the Almighty, such as he had never felt before for this unexpected and striking interposition of his Providence in this time of need.  This man had been several times in battle, and escaped without a wound; and yet no event in his previous life had awakened his gratitude like this.  It was the first and only deer he ever killed.  The meat served to supply their wants for several days.


     The bountiful crop of the following Autumn soon made amends for their long lent, of more than three times forty days continuance.  The deer and turkey, that now  came around their fields in numerous flocks, supplied them with the greatest abundance of animal food, causing them to forget the sufferings of the past and lift their hearts in gratitude to that God, who had thus bountifully spread a table for them in the wilderness.  Like the quails about the camp of the Israelites, the turkeys came up to their very doors in such multitudes, that none but the most skeptical could fail of seeing the hand of a Kind Providence, driving

[page 16]
them from their coverts in the forest so near their dwellings that they could be killed or taken within their fields.  They were so abundant and so little accustomed to the sight of man, that the boys killed many of them with clubs and the aid of their dogs.  This year terminated their trials and sufferings from the want of food.  All the subsequent years were crowned with abundant crops and their greatest troubles were from the danger of being killed by the Indians while cultivating their fields.  But habit soon inured them to trials of this kind, and they went forth to their labors with the consciousness that they were better able to contend with and overcome the savages than to strive against the allotments of Providence.


     In August the settlement was alarmed by the killing of two boys by the Indians, at Neils Station, a small stockade on the Little Kanawha a mile from its mouth and in the immediate vicinity of Belpre.  It was alarming as it manifested the hostility of the Indians, who might at any time fall upon and kill the inhabitants when they least expected it, and for which they were not prepared, as they pretended to be at peace with the whites.  The boys were twelve and fifteen years of age, and belonged to a German family that lived in the small cabin about forty rods above Neils blockhouse.  They had been down to the Station, Saturday afternoon, and just at night, on their way home, went into the edge of the woods on the outside of a corn field to look for the cows.  The Indians were lying in ambush near the path and killed them with tomahawks without firing a gun.  The goodies were not found until the next morning, but as they did not come home, their parents were fearful of their fate.  That night the Indians attempted to set fire to the block house by inclosing a brand of fire in dry poplar bark and pushing it through a port hole.  It was discovered and extinguished by a woman who lay in bed near the port hole, before it communicated to the house.  In the morning the alarm was given, and a party of armed men went out from Belpre and assisted in burying the two boys.  The Indians departed without doing any other damage.


[page 17]
     In the Spring of 1790, the necessity of building a grist mill became so apparent that some of the enterprising inhabitants, among them Griffen Green, Esq., and Robert Bradford, entered into the laborious and expensive undertaking of building a mill.  Their bread stuff thus far had been ground in the hand mills.  Two mill wrights from Red Stone by the name of Baldwin and Applegate, who had assisted at the mill on Wolf Creek were employed as builders.  The Ohio Company made a donation of one hundred and sixty acres of land at the mill site to encourage the work.  The dam was erected and the timbers prepared for the mill by January 1st following, when the Indian war broke out, and the work was suspended, and not again resumed until after its close.  The spot chosen was on a southern bend of the stream where it approaches within a mile and a half of the Ohio.  A broad low gap in the river hills made it easy of access from the settlements.  The check put to the work by the war was a sad disappointment to the inhabitants who had still to labor at the hand mill, until the autumn of the following year when the floating mill built by Captain Devoll relieved them of one of their most grievous burdens.  At the close of the war the work was completed, and the site has been occupied by a mill to this day, (1848).



Notes from Judge Barker

This Webpage has been created by Sharon Wick exclusively for Genealogy Express  2008
Submitters retain all copyrights

CLICK HERE to Return to
CLICK HERE to Return to