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
Published for the Author by
Globe Printing & Binding Company
Parkersburg, West Virginia
CHAPTER IX -
AFTER THE INDIAN WAR.
THERE is always a
glamour of romance about the commencement of a new enterprise,
as for example, the construction of a railway. There is
the scouring of a charter, the survey, the grading, the laying
of the first rail, and the running of the first train; every
specific event is full of interest, to all concerned but when
the road is complete and trains run on regular schedules the
romance gives place to reality, and the history of a passing
year is very nearly like that of the preceeding years.
This illustrates the experience of one who attempts to gather
material for the history of a new settlement like that of
Belpre. The beginnings of this history are full of
romantic interest; there was the survey, and the discovery of
this locality specially adapted to agriculture, the forming of
an Association and decision to take up their claims and
establish their homes here, the clearing of a few acres of land,
the building of temporary cabins, raising the first crops, the
building of a garrison for defense, the Indian war with constant
danger of attack, every event was full of interest to all the
people, and was preserved in journals and letters, which are
available to the historian. But when the danger of attack
by Indians had passed and families could leave the garrison and
all could live in safety on their own farms, their experiences
were very similar from year to year, for the romance had given
place to a routine which made history of each year little more
than a repetition of the past, and it became more difficult to
discover and record items of special interest.
We have already seen that the pioneers of Belpre were
characterized by intelligence, enterprise, and industry.
They were not in search of easy lives or soft snaps. They
were accustomed to hard work and expected to continue active.
They had selected Belpre as the place for their homes because it
was adapted to agriculture, and it was their purpose to develop
an agricultural community. It was not their intention to
establish manufacturing beyond
what was needed for their own convenience. The years which
followed the return of families to their farms were years of
great activity. T hey cut down the giant forest trees, removed
the stumps, and prepared the land for cultivation. They
built larger and more permanent homes and such buildings as were
required for their more extensive farming. They were also
obliged to increase their stock raising which had been neglected
by the danger of Indian attacks, also to raise horses of which
there were very few in the town at the close of the war.
There was also the necessity of building roads and bridges,
where they had previously traveled in trails and forded the
streams. Such employments as these occupied the men during
the two decades after the Indian war. The women were equally
occupied, besides the increased labor in the performance of
domestic duties, from the smallness of their cabins and lack of
utensils and conveniences there was the spinning of wool and
flax, weaving it into cloth and making garments for their
increasing families. They must also provide woolen
blankets and linen sheets for beds and perform the many and
constant duties of the household besides giving constant
encouragement, hopefulness and good cheer to fathers, husbands,
sons and brothers. In the construction of their buildings
there was no machine work. Everything was hand make even
to the nails hinges and door latches. We are able to give
a copy of a contract for the construction of one of the earliest
houses in what is now Belpre Village.
Belpre, March 1, 1797.
Know all men by these
presents: I, Johnson Cook, carpenter and joiner,
of Marietta do engage to cut and hew the timber, and frame a
house of forty-two feet in length and thirty-feet in width, the
lower story to be nine, ye upper eight feet between joists and
with a stoop all round the house six feet wide, to finish the
outside of the house compleat, make and hang all the doors in
the lower story, put up the petitions, lay the lower and chamber
floors, case the windows, make the sashes and set the glass, and
to lath and plaster all the lower part of the house,—for
Israel Putnam of Bellepree, who is to find the
materials for finishing the house at the spot, and vittle the
people while doing it and for the labor to pay to Johnson,
three hundred and
ninety-five dollars, the work to be done in six months, and
fifty dollars to be paid by the first of May, and one hundred
dollars by the first of July, and the remainder when the work is
In witness whereof we have herein set our
This was long known as
the Benedict house and stood on the river bank in
front of the Cook house It was very much injured by
the flood of 1884, and soon after demolished.
During these years the farmers tested a considerable
variety of products such as cotton, upland rice and silk worms.
Considerable quantities of hemp and flax were raised during
those years. The hemp was used in the rope works at
Mareitta and the flax made into cloth as shown by the record
given by Dr. Hildreth in a previous chapter.
Quite a number of pioneers brought their families and
goods from the east by ox teams, and also drove some other
stock. Colonel Israel Putnam, Major Nathan Goodale, and Benjamin
Miles brought some choice varieties of stock. Some of these were
killed or stolen by Indians but what remained were increased and
valued for many years.
In a letter written to Dr. Hildreth
several years later Colonel Battelle says:
"I think sheep were introduced into Belpre by
Grifiin Greene Esq., who had a small flock
given him by a friend in Charlestown, Virginia in 1792 or 3.
Cotton was raised in very small quantities in our gardens, and
was picked by hand and spun into stocking yarn. Upland
rice was also planted in drills in our gardens but the red birds
came in for a large share of it. In 1795 a good cow could
be purchased for $25.00 though there were but few to be had,"
(We do not read that the price was raised on account of the
"Merino Sheep were brought to Zanesville by Seth
Adams in the summer of 1805 and I think by Messrs.
Fearing and Oilman the same year."
The fruit trees planted in the early years grew rapidly
in the fertile soil and were grafted by scions from the choicest
varieties known in the eastern states."
Mr. Thaddeus M. Harris made a tour into the
territory west of the Alleghany mountains in 1805, and writes in
his journal concerning Belpre and its orchards as follows:
"The situation of Belpre is pleasant and beautiful.
The houses are built upon the high banks of the river which
opens a fine prospect. The upper settlement is opposite
the mouth of the Little Kanawha and a small town on the Virginia
shore. The middle settlement commands a view of the
elegant mansion and buildings of Mr. Blennerhassett
on an island of more than one hundred acres possessing all the
beauty of a well cultivated garden. In the upper and lower
settlements are some of the largest peach and apple orchards I
saw in the country. They flourish luxuriantly and are
already in bearing order. Interspersed among the well inclosed
and highly cultivated plains back of this charming town they
contribute to decorate and enrich the landscape."
The soil on these river terraces was fertile and crops
as well as fruit trees grew luxuriantly and before many years
the farms produced grain, vegetables, and fruit beyond what was
needed for home consumption. At first a market was found
for this surplus on the passing boats; as these products
increased flat boats were loaded and floated down the river
sometimes as far as New Orleans.
The peach trees began bearing within a very few years
and the fruit was larger and more abundant than in later years.
As this fruit was perishable and there were no fast freight
trains or cold storage warehouses, most of the peaches were sent
to market in a liquid state. Many of the leading farmers
had stills on their premises; they were not moonshiners, for the
era of high tariff on luxuries, and prohibition laws had not
arrived. "Belpre Peach Brandy" became known and prized in the
towns down the river. Some of it also was consumed at home.
At that time nearly all classes of people used some form of alcholic
beverages. Even Clergymen had "refreshments" at
ecclesiastical gatherings, and in naming these luxuries Peach
Brandy was a little more refined than whisky. We do not
find accounts of excessive intoxication in Belpre in those
days, and in later years Belpre has become one of the most
emphatically prohibition towns in the state.
In 1795 Peregrene Foster established a
ferry opposite the mouth of the Little Kanawha, having obtained
a franchise from the State of Virginia.
This ferry continued under a succession of owners until
the autumn of 1918 and was a large asset to the business and
prosperity of Belpre and the farmers who did business in Belpre
and Parkersburg. The owners have always served the
interests of their patrons. After the construction of the
suspension bridge the ferry continued business for several
months until the Bridge Corporation purchased the franchise and
abandoned the ferry.
Only a few years after the building of the Benedict
house it was occupied as "Cook's Tavern"
which for many years was a stopping place for travelers who
crossed the ferry and were on their way to settlements farther
Belpre villages not only did not exist during these
early years; it was not even forseen as a future
The subject of slavery was an important one, even in
those early years. A considerable number of the settlers
in that portion of southern Ohio, west of the Ohio Companies
purchase, were from slave states and desired to bring slavery
with them into Ohio.
When the Constitutional Convention met at Chillicothe
in 1802, notwithstanding the prohibition of slavery in the
northwest territory by the Ordinance of 1787, many of the
delegates desired to allow slavery in the new state at least for
a limited time, and President Jefferson was known
to favor that admission. The man who did more than
any other member of the Convention to defeat that movement was
Judge Ephraim Cutler of Washington County,
the son of Rev. Manassah Cutler, who
secured the clause in the Ordinance of 1787 prohibiting slavery.
He labored faithfully on Committee claiming that the prohibition
was a condition on which the land was purchased and the
settlement made and ought to be considered a perpetual compact,
and he succeeded in making this prohibition a part of the
constitution of Ohio. Had he failed in this effort and
Ohio been recognized as a slave state, even with a time limit,
probable the condition of slavery would have been continued. Had
that been true no one can now tell what would have been the
result of the Civil War or the present condition of the country.
We should not forget the work of men who served our state so
faithfully in those formative years.
Judge Cutler was in the State Legislature
for several succeeding year and always an advocate of efficient
school laws and such legislation as promoted public
improvements. It is an interesting fact to be remembered
that Judge Cutlers home on the Ohio river was
within the limits of Belpre township until the organization of
Warren township in 1810 the latter township was named in honor
of Gen. Joseph Warren who perished in the
memorable battle of Bunker Hill.
These were active years in the political history of the
Country. Conditions were changing from colonial
governments, owing allegiance to the mother country, to those of
an independent republic. The amount of self control which
had been exercised by the colonies had in a measure prepared
them for a government of the people, for the people, and by the
people, and yet there were many things respecting the new
government which could only be learned by experience.
The whole people were studying and discussing the
principles which were crystalizing into the platforms of the
great parties which have alternated, irregularly, according to
the decisions of the people, in controlling the nation.
The citizens of Belpre were intelligent students of principles
and current events and like their fellow citizens in other
places were divided in sentiment; though a majority were
Federalists, the party of Washington and Hamilton.
CONDITIONS COMPARED WITH THE PRESENT.
It may be interesting
to us and gratifying to our curiosity to institute a comparison
between the implements and conveniences of the pioneers and
those enjoyed at the present time. Each of the men who
landed at the mouth of the Muskingum, April 7th, 1788, had an
axe and a hoe transported in the Company's wagons. There
is no mention of other tools, though other things were doubtless
brought by them and those who followed them during the summer.
It is probable each of the forty eight men brought with him that
universal yankee implement a pocket knife in addition to his gun
and a limited amount of ammunition. Nearly all the farming
tools at that time were made by carpenters and blacksmiths and
were comely or clumsy according to the skill of these important
mechanics. The axes came into immediate use in cutting the
forest trees and a large portion of the land on which the first
crop was raised, was mellowed by hoes only, as plows could not
be conveniently used among the stumps and roots.
The first plows were rude wooden instruments, the
shares shaped by axes to which beams and handles were fastened
with wooden pins. It required the full strength of the
holder to keep these plowshares in the ground, and often it was
necessary for another to ride on the beam. The soil was
turned very imperfectly but the ground was partly stirred and if
they succeeded in making it look "dirty" it was considered
successful plowing. The harrow was a triangular instrument
in the form of the letter A, with eleven teeth. At first these
were made of hard wood Most of the farm work was done by oxen
and clumsy two wheeled carts. In some cases the wheels
were sections of large logs or hewn into shape from wide planks.
When the soil had been stirred by plows or hoes, and imperfectly
mellowed by these rude harrows grain was sown broadcast by hand.
When matured it was reaped with hand sickles, threshed with
flails, winnowed by the wind, ground in hand mills, later
between milstones, baked before the open fire, later in
brick ovens, and hard work created an appetite.
At the present time a farmer rides over his field on a
buggy plow, mellows the soil with quite a variety of improved
cultivators and harrows, the drill sows the seed, with the
fertilizer evenly in rows; the reaping and binding are done by
harvesters; it is threshed and winnowed by steam power, ground
between patent rollers and masticated with artificial teeth.
In those days the farmer sheared the wool from the
sheep. His wife carded the wool by hand and spun it on the
old spinning wheel, by the music of which many of the children
of that day were lured to sleep. After this yarn had been
carefully dyed it was knit into honest woolen stock-
ings, or woven into the homespun web. This web was cut and
made into garments by the neighborhood tayloress who went from
house to house plying her trade, and even with such garments the
active boys often wore patches to cover the rents. Flax
and tow were spun by frugal housewives and woven into linen for
sheets, towels, and kerchiefs which furnished the bridal outfit
for many of our fore-mothers.
Now after shearing his sheep the farmer stores his wool
until he thinks there will be no increase in price when it
passes into the hands of "middle men." If these can
command sufficient money or influence, and are skillful in
pulling wool over other peoples eyes, they will create "a
corner" to increase the price. The wool finally reaches
the factory, where it is carded, spun and woven by the busy
fingers of ingenious machines. The cloth is taken to other
establishments where it is cut into a great variety of garments
which are stitched together amid the clatter of scores of sewing
machines. The garments are distributed to retailers by
means of "drummers" and finally reach the men and boys, who may
not wear as many patches as the boys of a century ago, but the
cause of this is not because the cloth is stronger or more
endurable or the garments better made than in the days of the
Hides taken from domestic animals were tanned for them
by the nearest tanner and made into boots and shoes by the
itinerating shoe maker. Now by the aid of improved
machinery 100 men in a factory can make as many shoes in a day
as 500 could by the old hand process.
Friction matches were not in general use until well
into the nineteenth century. The pioneer housewife
preserved her fire through the night by burying coals in the
ashes. If these were found to be entirely extinguished in
the morning the best way to build her fire was to secure a pot
of coals from a neighbor. If for any reason this was
impracticable fire was produced by what was called a tinder box
in which sparks, produced by the contact of steel and flint,
were dropped into highly inflammable matter. In other
cases a tow string was laid across the pan of a flint lock
musket, this string was ignited by the flashing of powder and
the string was used to kindle inflammable matter. If the matrons
of the present day could spend a week in one
of those pioneer kitchens they would realize how much we owe to
so small a thing as a friction match.
The first fires of the settlers were bonfires in the
open, where they heated water and cooked their first meals.
When their log cabins were built they were provided with fire
places and a few years later these were furnished with iron
cranes on which were hung the pots and kettles. Wood was
plenty and could be easily supplied in abundance. Their
bread, pines, beans, and meat were roasted before the fire or in
After cabins were erected they were usually provided
with brick ovens in which "fireless cookers" our fore-mothers
did their baking for half a century or until cook-stoves came
into general use. Only a very limited amount of furniture
was brought here by the settlers. Many of the tables were
made of a wide board or plank in which three legs were inserted.
Their chairs were stools made in a similar way, with or without
backs. Bed steads were at first the ground, then elevated
by slats extending from a post to two sides of the room.
Later a great improvement was made in the rope bed stead of
which the present generation know very little. Some very
nice crockery was brought on by pioneer of which a few specimens
are still preserved, but this was very limited. Wooden
plates and even spoons and forks were frequently used, though
many brought with them pewter spoons and iron forks. While
using the primative articles our ancestors were thankful
that they had so many comforts. As soon as they were
provided with tallow, candles (tallow dips) were their best
lights when these could not be secured pine knots were used to
give them cheer during the winter evenings, and many an
enterprising youth studied his lessons, or read books from the
library, lying prone before the fire place perhaps often
replenishing the fire with a fresh knot to increase the light.
In some of the first cabins oiled paper was used instead of
glass in the windows. Skins of animals were often used for
bed covers during the cold winter nights and dressed deer skins
were made into clothing for quite a number of years. At the time
which we are describing and for a number of years later the
people of Ohio had no gold or steel pens, no iron safes, safe
cabinets, or yale locks, no circular, jig, or band saws,—no com
shellers, butter work-
ers or sausage grinders, no automatic apple parers, cherry
pitters, or egg beaters,—no clothes wringers, incubators, or
fruit evaporators,—no condensed milk, canned goods, or sugar
trust,—no buterine, oleomargarine, or Standard Oil Company,—no
umbrellas, rubber goods, or vacuum cleaners, no daily
newspapers, dime novels; or natural gas,—steam was just
beginning to be known as a power and had hardly commenced to be
made useful, and a knowledge of electricity was confined to
experiments in a very few laboratories. Travel was
performed on foot, horseback, or in very rude vehicles.
Carriages with springs were unknown. In the summer of 1788
two homesick young men walked from Marietta to Boston in
twenty-six days, which was considered a very quick trip ; the
same summer Dr. Manassah Cutler made a journey from
Boston to Marietta most of the way with horse and sulky and a
month was required for the journey each way. Now a person
can eat dinner in Belpre and dine in Boston on the evening of
the following day. As late as 1835 a Boston paper stated
that a person could travel from Boston to St. Louis, a distance
of nineteen hundred miles, all the way in a public conveyance,
in fifteen days. This was then considered a remarkable
achievement in the matter of travel. Now (1918) a person
can travel from Boston to St. Louis in thirty-six hours and
enjoy the conveniences of a first class hotel all the way
without leaving the train. A century ago we had no
steamboats, railways, or locomotives,—no ocean steamships,
dreadnaughts, or submarines,—no telegraphs, telephones, or
wireless telegraph,—no photographs, phonographs or pullman
cars,—no bicycles, automobiles, or aeroplanes,—no electric
lighting, trolley cars, or twenty story sky scrapers.
There might be added a multitude of improvements and
conveniences which the minds of men had not even conceived a
century ago. A writer about the beginning of the
nineteenth century stated that so great improvements had been
made in inventions during the eighteenth century that there
seemed but little to be left for future advance, and yet at the
close of the nineteenth century there was scarcely a machine in
use which was used at the beginning of the century. We may
now think that we have reached about the acme of inventions and
improvements but our descendants a century hence will wonder as
much at the crudeness
of our present civilization as we now do at the imperfections of
our ancestors of one hundred years ago.
In 1797, an
Irish nobleman, by the name of Harman Blennerhassett,
settled on what has since been known as Blennerhassett's
Island. He was a gentleman of wealth and culture who had
married his niece, Miss Margaret Agnew, a
beautiful and refined lady. The relatives were not pleased
with this marriage and to remain in their native country meant
for them family ostracism, which is supposed to have been the
reason for their emigration to America. After visiting
some of the eastern states they crossed the Alleghany mountains
to Pittsburg and sailed down the Ohio river to Marietta.
They were so much pleased with the country and the people that
they decided to locate in the vicinity. After examining
some of the neighboring hills with a view of erecting a castle
on a hill top, like so many in the Rhine valley, they finally
abandoned that plan and purchased the eastern half of the
beautiful island opposite Belpre. Here they erected a
stately mansion with an appropriate group of outbuildings, laid
out pleasant lawns and flower gardens, planted a large variety
of fruit and ornamental trees and prepared the land for
cultivation. They brought with them an extensive library
with apparatus for scientific experiments. Also musical
instruments and works of art. They soon made their home
and grounds the most beautiful and costly in the valley.
They found their neighbors in Belpre both enterprising and
intelligent and very intimate social associations grew up
between them, which continued for about eight years. This
was in the early and formative period of our political history.
Aaron Burr was one of the most talented and ambitious men
of that period, and desired to reach the Presidency. In 1801 he
and Thomas Jefferson each had seventy-three
electoral votes. This threw the election into the House of
Representatives and on the thirtieth ballot Thomas
Jefferson was chosen president and Burr,
Vice-President. In 1804 he was democratic candidate for
governor of New York, but was defeated and the same year he
mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel
which brought to him the most intense hatred from the friends of
that gifted Statesman. Though a dissapointed man he was
bitious. In the Spring of 1805 after the close of his term
as Vice-President he made a tour down the valleys of the Ohio
and Mississippi rivers the object of which is given by Judge
William H. Safford as follows :†
(1) To ascertain the sentiment of the people of the
west upon the subject of a separation from the Atlantic States.
(2) To enlist recruits, and make arrangements for a
private expedition against Mexico and the Spanish provinces in
the event of a war between the United States and Spain, which at
that time seemed inevitable.
(3) In the event of a failure of both of these
measures, to purchase a tract of land of Baron Bastrop
lying in Louisiana on the Washita river. Upon this he
contemplated the establishment of a colony of intelligent and
wealthy individuals where he might rear around him a society
remarkable for its refinement in civil and social life.
That each of these stupendous enterprises was
determined on, is clearly inferable from the evidence afterwards
adduced against him."
He examined the ancient monuments at Marietta and, in
company with a friend, passed through the grounds of the Island
estate, although the family were absent at the time.
A correspondence followed between Mr. Burr
and Mr. Blennerhassett and this resulted in
another visit of Mr. Burr to the island in August,
1805. At that visit Mr. Burr laid
before his host plans for an expedition which must have embraced
some at least of the specifications already quoted. Mr.
Blennerhassett had sufficient confidence in his
distinguished guest to enlist himself and invest at least a
considerable part of his fortune in the enterprise, but it also
created the hope of large honor and wealth in the future and it
is also evident that Mrs. Blennerhassett entered
very heartily into the plan. The ostensible object of the
enterprise as given to the public, was the establishment of a
colony on the Washita river though at least some of the
adventurers enlisted with the understanding that it embraced a
campaign against Mexico.
Almost immediately a contract was made with Joseph
Barker to construct, at his ship yard on the Muskingum,
fifteen large batteaux, with a total capacity of carrying five
hundred men. One of these was to be fitted with several
rooms to accommodate Mr. Blennerhassett's
family; also a keel boat sixty feet long to be loaded with
munitions, provisions, flour, whiskey, pork, and com meal which
was to be kiln dried so that it would be preserved in a warm and
moist climate. For these boats and provisions Mr.
Blennerhassett became responsible and he was to go down
the river with these boats in December. Other men and
supplies had already been provided for in Penn. and Mr.
Burr proceeded down the river to secure volunteers and
supplies in Kentucky.
The preparations were to embrace fifteen hundred or two
thousand armed men with corresponding supplies of provisions.
December 7 Comfort Tyler and Israel
Taylor, in the employ of Col. Burr, arrived
at the island from Beaver, Penn. with four boats and about
thirty-two men. Only eleven of the boats ordered at
Marietta were completed but orders were given to have these and
the provisions sent immediately and if any of the covers of
boats were not complete that work might be done as they floated
down the river.
Meanwhile President Jefferson had been
informed that a military expedition was in preparation against
the dominions of Spain, and on Nov. 27th he issued a message
warning all persons against participating in such criminal
enterprises and commanding all officers, civil and military, to
bring the offending persons to punishment. The matter was
also considered by Governor Tiffin of Ohio and the
Legislature, then in Session at Chillicothe, immediately passed
an act entitled "An act to prevent certain acts hostile to the
peace and tranquility of the United States within the
jurisdiction of the State of Ohio."
Under this act Governor Tiffin ordered
out the militia in the adjoining territory, under command of
Major General Buell with instruction to take
possession of the boats and stores not only in the Muskingum but
also of all of a suspicious character descending the Ohio.
Under this order the boats and provisions on the Muskingum and
ietta were placed under the guard of the militia. Owing to
these orders a considerable number of volunteers abandoned the
enterprise. Several young men at Belpre, who desired to
participate in the expedition and were ambitious for adventure,
resolved to make an effort to secure these boats. One dark
night they went to Marietta for that purpose. While
loosening the boats from the banks of the Muskingum they were
discovered by the militia and a somewhat ludicrous but bloodless
scrimage followed in the darkness; as a result the young
men succeeded in getting one of the boats into the Ohio river in
which they floated down to the island. Under the authority
of the proclamation of President Jefferson the
Militia of Wood County, Virginia was called out and Dec. 10th
Mr. Blennerhassett was informed that Colonel
Hugh Phelps was expected to proceed to the island
on the next day to take possession of the persons, as well as of
boats and stores. Alarmed by these reports Mr.
Blennerhassett and his followers resolved to leave the
island that night. Hasty preparations were made and
although the cold was intense, the flotilla with about forty men
and a considerable supply of arms and provisions cut loose from
the island about midnight and floated down the river, expecting
to receive additional recruits at the mouth of the Cumberland
river and to be led forward in the enterprise by Aaron
Burr. The Governor of Kentucky had also been aroused
by the proclamation of the President and Mr. Burr
was compelled to hasten his departure so that the flotillas,
when united, consisted of only four boats. This flotilla
proceeded down the Ohio and also a considerable distance down
the Mississippi but in the end proved a complete failure.
The men were scattered, Mr. Burr and Mr.
Blennerhassett were both arrested for treason and a trial
was held the next year before the Supreme Court of the United
States at Richmond, Virginia. The trial was one of the
most celebrated in the annals of that Court. The result
was an acquittal as the evidence was not considered sufficient
to convict them. Both men however suffered severely in the
loss of property and reputation. The Blennerhassett
family never returned to their island home. Later
the property was sold to pay debts and the buildings were
destroyed by fire. It seems to be the verdict of
historians that Mr. and Mrs.
Blennerhassett were captivated by the allurements of
Aaron Burr. They were
made to believe that their endowments fitted them for much
larger things, than could be realized on their island home, but
that a state might be created in which they would be leaders.
Their property was involved and the enterprise inaugurated to
gratify that ambition with no real intention of any treasonable
purposes against the government.
As before stated the ostensible object of the
expedition, as given to the public, was the establishment of a
colony on the Washita river.
It has been the opinion of historians from that time to
the present that something much more extensive than this was
contemplated by Aaron Burr. The reasons for
this opinion certainly seem very conclusive. One of these
is that the plan of preparation involved the enlistment of
fifteen hundred or two thousand men, armed and equipped with
implements of war, and provisions for a considerable campaign in
a warm, moist climate, with no preparations for surveying,
clearing, or cultivating land or for removing or settling
Again Colonel Burr was a man of so large
and so selfish ambitions it is not thought likely that he would
make so large preparations for an enterprise which did not
promise larger emoluments either of honor or wealth than could
be expected from a colony in a wilderness. Then, when they
feared arrest by the civil authorities, they did not attempt to
explain their real object, but hastened away secretly. It
was well known that the representatives of Spain had put forth
strenuous efforts for nearly a score of years to prevail upon
the states bordering on the Mississippi river to secede from the
union and become a part of the Spanish province of Florida.
Many public men in these states were in favor of that movement.
Among these was General James Wilkinson
who, while holding a position in the United States Army, had
been for many years an agent for Spain and received an annual
stipend from that government. Subsequent
revelations have provided abundant evidence of the extent of his
treason. It is known that Burr was in secret
consultation with Wilkinson on each of his trips down the
valley, and that he also held a cypher correspondence with him.
General Wilkinson so far turned States evidence
that he was one of the principal witnesses against Burr
on the trial for treason.
No one will doubt that in giving his testimony he would
avoid all statements which would criminate himself. This
fact connected with the well known sentiment of many western
politicians at that time may be one reason why the verdict of
"not guilty" was rendered at the trial of Colonel Burr.
In a letter written by Mr. Blennerhassett
a few years later to Governor Alston, a son-in-law
of Colonel Burr, and a partner in the enterprise
he speaks of making known the facts "relative to Mr.
Burrs designs against New Orleans and Mexico." These
words so far confirm the evidence already mentioned that they
seem to justify the conclusion that Col. Burr
contemplated a conquest of the Spanish Floridas, or uniting with
them the western States in a new nation, or a conquest of
Mexico, or perhaps in case of a war with Spain, which was at
that time thought imminent, the accomplishment of both schemes
and the founding of a great Southern Empire under the leadership
of Burr, Blennerhassett, and Wilkinson.
While this enterprise and its results are only remotely related
to the history of Belpre a considerable number of young men from
Belpre enlisted in the expedition and, owing to the locality,
the mere mention of Belpre suggests to many minds the account of
At the time there was a ludicrous as well as a serious
side to the affair which gave rise to certain parodies in the
newspapers as well as practical jokes on the militia.
Thinking other boats laden with men, arms, or provisions might
come down the river a guard was stationed at the foot of Greene
Street in Marietta with a loaded cannon. One dark night,
when the river was nearly closed with ice, a light was seen
slowly moving down the river among the ice cakes. This was
carefully watched and when opposite the guard house a challenge
was given in most approved nautical terms. This was repeated
three times and no response having been made a torch was applied
to the six pounder and immediately the surrounding hills
reechoed the sound. This arroused the sleeping
citizens in all the region, who supposed the war was actually
begun, and rushed out in all conditions of dress to learn what
was the occasion for the alarm. Next morning an old boat
was found lodged in the ice in which were the remains of a fire
which had been kindled in it the previous night.
END OF CHAPTER IX.