Adams County History & Genealogy

Adams County, Ohio History

The Pioneer Story

The present generation has but little conception of the environments of the pioneers of Adams County, and of the hardships and dangers endured by them. When the first settlement was formed at the "Three Islands," what is now Adams County, as in fact with two exceptions, all of the present State of Ohio, was a vast wilderness, inhabited by tribes of hostile savages, and filled with ferocious beasts and venomous serpents. There was not a white man's domicile in all the Virginia Reservation, and there was not a fort nor a single company of soldiers in all that vast region to shelter the pioneer who ventured within its limits, or to stay the course of the bands of murderous savages that roamed the forests. For the most part, the entire region was in unbroken forest, and the stately monarchs of the woods, the oak leviathans, whose lofty tops towered the heavens, formed a canopy of green that was but dimly penetrated by the summer's sun, and the creeks and streams were overhung with foliage that shut out the sunlight and cast deep shadows over the surface of the waters. There was not a road nor a path through this wilderness except those made by the herds of buffaloes in their travels from one feeding place to another. There were no means of travel through this vast wilderness except on foot or on horseback and these were fraught with the greatest dangers to life and limb. With such surroundings and under such conditions was the first white settlement begun in the Virginia Reservation.


In the year 1790, Nathaniel Massie, a young land surveyor, who was interested in locating land warrants in the Virginia Reservation northwest of the Ohio River, as an inducement to found a colony there, offered to each of the first 25 persons who would join him in making a settlement one inlot and one outlot in a town he proposed to lay off, and one hundred acres of land in the vicinity of the new town. In accordance with this proposal the following written agreement was drawn up and signed by the parties interested:

Articles of agreement between Nathaniel Massie, of the one part, and the several persons that have hereunto subscribed, of the other part, witnesseth: that the subscribers hereof doth oblige themselves to settle in the town laid off, on the northwest side of the Ohio, opposite the lower part of the three islands; and make said town or the neighborhood, on the northwest side of the Ohio, their permanent seat of residence for two years from the date hereof; no subscriber shall be absent for more than two months at a time, and during such absence, he shall furnish a strong able-bodied man sufficient to bear arms at least equal to himself: no subscriber shall absent himself the time above mentioned, in case of actual danger, nor shall such absence be but once a year; no subscriber shall absent himself in case of actual danger, or if absent, he shall return immediately. Each of the subscribers doth oblige himself to comply with the rules and regulations that shall be agreed on by a majority thereof for the support of the settlement.

In consideration whereof, Nathaniel Massie doth bind and oblige himself, his heirs, etc., to make over and convey to such of the subscribers, that comply with the above conditions, at the expiration of two years, a good and sufficient title unto one inlot in said town, containing five poles in front and eleven back, one outlet of four acres convenient to said town, in the bottom, which the said Massie is to put them in immediate possession of; also one hundred acres of land, which the said Massie has shown to a part of the subscribers; the conveyance to be made to each of the subscribers, their heirs or assigns.

In witness whereof each of the parties have hereunto set their hands and seals this first day of December, 1790. (signed)

Nathaniel Massie. John Ellison
John Lindsey Allen Simmeral
William Wade John [X] McCutchen
John Black Andrew [X] Anderson
Samuel [X] Smith Mathew [X] Hart
Jessie [X] Wethington Henry [X] Nelson
Josiah Wade John Peter Christopher Shanks
John Clark James Allison
Robert Ellison Thomas Stout
Zephaniah Wade George Wade

Done in the presence of John Beasley, James Tittle.

It has been said that this agreement was drafted and subscribed at Kenton's Station near the town of Washington, Kentucky. It is probable that it was drafted at Limestone and subscribed there. However, the settlement was begun immediately, the town was laid out into lots and named Manchester, after Manchester England, the home of the ancestors of its founder. The new settlement was known for years as Massie's Station.

"This little confederacy, with Massie at the helm (who was the whole soul of it)," says McDonald, "went to work with spirit. Cabins were raised, and by the middle of March 1791, the whole town was enclosed with strong pickets, firmly fixed in the ground, with block-houses at each angle for defense. [The situation of the stockade was opposite the lower end of the large island and extended to the river bank.] Although this settlement was commenced in the hottest Indian war, it suffered less from depredations and even interruption from the Indians, than any settlement previously made on the Ohio River. This was no doubt owing to the watchful band of brave spirits who guarded the place, men who were reared in the midst of danger and inured to perils, and as watchful as hawks. Here were the Beasleys, the Stouts, the Washburns, the Leedoms, the Edgingtons, the Dinnings, the Ellisons, the Utts, the McKenzies, the Wades and others who were equal to the Indian in the arts and stratagems of border war.

"As soon as Massie had completely prepared his station for defense, the whole population went to work, and cleared the lower of the three islands, and planted it in corn. The island was very rich and produced heavy crops. The woods, with a little industry, supplied a variety of game: deer, elk, buffalo, bears and turkeys were abundant, while the river furnished a variety of excellent fish. The wants of the inhabitants were few and easily gratified. Luxuries, were unknown except old Monongahela double distilled. This article was in great demand in those days, and when obtained was freely used. Coffee and tea were rare articles, not much prized nor sought after, and were only used to celebrate the birth of a newcomer. The inhabitants of the Station were as playful as kittens, and as happy in their way as their hearts could wish. The men spent most of their time in hunting and fishing, and almost every evening the boys and girls footed merrily to the tune of the fiddle. Thus was their time spent in that happy state of indolence and ease, which none but the hunter or herdsman state can enjoy. They had no civil officers to settle their disputes, nor priests to direct their morals; yet amongst them crimes were of rare occurrence. Should any one who chanced to be amongst them prove troublesome or disturb the harmony of the community, his expulsion forthwith would be the consequence; and woe be to him if he again attempted to intrude himself upon them."


The pioneers of Adams County as a class were honorable and moral men and women. They represented some of the best families of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey and the Carolinas. They were a hardy, industrious, and frugal people, who had come determined to make a home for themselves and their generations in the Great Northwest. They were the daring, spirited and brave element of the older settlements east of the Alleghenies. It is true there were in the early settlements as there is in every community today, a rough, immoral, indolent element; but look into the history of any of the early settlements in the county, and it will be seen that each was dominated by moral, industrious and intelligent families. The pioneers were not, as is the popular opinion, giants in stature and of herculean strength, but they were hardy and vigorous as a result of plain living and an active outdoor life. As a matter of necessity, every man and boy devoted a portion of his time to the chase. It afforded the principal subsistence of the early settlers, and wild meat without salt or bread was often their only food for weeks. They were a generous-hearted and hospitable people, whose welcome was plain and outspoken. There was none of the deceit veiled in hollow formalities that prevails in society today. "Our latchstring is always out" meant a genuine hearty welcome to the humble home of the pioneer.


We make the following extracts from Life in the Backwoods, by Reverend James B. Finley, a pioneer in Adams County:

The first settlers cold not have sustained themselves had it not been for the wild game that was in the country. This was their principal subsistence; and this they took at the peril of their lives, and often many of them came near starving to death. If they obtained bread, the meal was pounded in a mortar or ground in a handmill. Hominy was a good substitute for bread, or parched corn pounded and sifted, then mixed with a little maple sugar and eaten dry, or mixed with water was a good beverage. On this coarse fare the people were remarkably healthy and cheerful. No complaints were heard of dyspepsia; I never heard of this fashionable complaint till I was more than thirty years old; and if the emigrants had come to these backwoods with dyspepsia, they would not have been troubled Iong with it; for a few months living on buffalo meat, venison, and good fat bear meat, with the oil of the raccoon and opossum mixed with plenty of hominy, would soon have effected a cure.

Their children were fat and hearty, not having been fed with plum pudding, sweetmeats and pound-cake. A more hardy race of men and women grew up in this wilderness than has ever been produced since; with more common sense and enterprise than is common to those who sleep on beds of down, and feast on jellies and preserves; and although they had not the same advantages of obtaining learning that the present generations have, yet they had this advantage: they were sooner thrown upon the world, became acquainted with men and things, and entirely dependent on their own resources for a living. A boy at the age of sixteen was counted a man in labor and hunting, and was ready to go to war: now, one of that age hardly knows the road to mill or market.

Their attire was in perfect keeping with their fare. The men's apparel was mostly made of the deer's skin. This, well dressed, was made into hunting shirts, pantaloons, coats, waistcoats, leggins, and moccasins. The women sometimes wore petticoats of this most common and useful article; and it supplied almost universally the place of shoes and boots. If a man was blessed with a linsey hunting-shirt and the ladies with linsey dresses, and the children with the same, it was counted of the first order, even if the linsey was made from the wool of the buffalo. On some occasions the men could purchase a calico shirt: this was thought to be extra, for which they paid $1.50 or $2 in skins or furs. And if a woman had one calico dress to go abroad in, she was considered a finely dressed lady. Deer's hair or oak leaves was generally put into the moccasins and worn in place of stockings or socks. The household furniture consisted of stools, and bedsteads made with forks driven into the ground and poles laid on these with the bark of the trees, and on this beds made of oak leaves, or cattail stripped off and dried in the sun. They rocked their children in a sugar trough or pack-saddle. The cooking utensils consisted of a pot, dutch oven, skillet, frying pan, wooden trays and trenchers, and boards made smooth and clean. The table was made of a broad slab. And with these fixtures there never was a heartier, happier, more hospitable or cheerful people. Their interest were one, and their dependence on each other was indispensable, and all things were common. Thus united, they lived as one family.

They generally married early in life, the men from eighteen to twenty-one, and the girl from sixteen to twenty. The difficulties of commencing the world were not so great: and as both parties were contented to begin with nothing, there was no looking out for fortunes, or the expectations of living without labor. Their affections were personal and sincere, which constituted a chief part of their domestic happiness, and endeared them to home. The sparkling log fire in the backwoods cabin, the gambols of half a dozen cheerful, healthy children, and the smiles of the happy wife and mother, made an earthly paradise. [The early records of Adams County contain but few divorce cases. In commenting on this fact, a judge in this judicial district once remarked that there is not a case of divorce on the records where the courting was done in a flax-patch or sugar camp; at a quilting or apple cutting. And we might add or "while bladin' cane", according to the observation of Judge Mason.]

Nothing could produce more hilarity than a backwoods wedding. Most generally all the neighborhood, for miles around, were invited; and if it was in the winter, there would be a log-heap or two somewhere near the cabin. Around these fires the men assembled with their rifles; the women in the cabin; and if there was a fiddler in the neighborhood he must be present at an hour stated. The parson, if one could be had, if not, the Justice of the Peace, called the assembly together, then the couple to be married. After the ceremony was over, and all had wished the happy pair much joy, then, if it could be had, the bottle passed round; the men then went, some to shooting at a mark, some to throwing the tomahawk, others to hopping and jumping, throwing the rail or shoulder stone, others to running foot races; the women were employed in cooking. When dinner was ready, the guests all partook of the very best bear meat, venison, turkey, etc. This being over, the dance commences, and if there is no room in the cabin, the company repair to or near one of the log fires; there they dance till night, and then they mostly return home; yet many of the young people stay and perhaps dance all night on a rough puncheon floor, till their moccasins are worn through. The next day is the infare; the same scenes are again enacted, when the newly married pair single off to a cabin built for themselves, without twenty dollars' worth of property to begin the world with, and live more happily than those who roll in wealth and fortune.

I recollect when a boy to have seen a pair of those backwoods folks come to my father's to get married. The groom and bride had a bell on each of their horses' necks, and a horse-collar made of comhusks on each horse to pay the marriage fee. The groom had a bottle of whiskey in his hunting shirt bosom. When they had entered the house, he asked if the parson was at home. My father replied that he was the parson. "Then" said the groom, "may it please you, Mary McLain and I have come to get married. Will you do it for us?" "Yes," replied my father. "Well, then," said the groom, "we are in a hurry." So the knot was tied, and the groom pulled out his bottle to treat the company. He then went out and took the collars off the horses' necks and brought them in as the marriage fee; and soon after they started for home in Indian file, with the bells on their horses open, to keep the. Younger colts which had followed them together.

The chimneys of the cabins were built on the inside by throwing on an extra log, three feet and a half from the wall. From this it was carried up with sticks and clay to the roof and some two feet above it. The whole width of the cabin was occupied for a fire-place, And wood ten or twelve feet long could be laid on; when burned in two in the middle, the ends could be pushed up, so as to keep a good fire through a long winter's night.

When there was but one bed in the cabin, it was no sign that you could not have a good night's rest, for after supper was over, and the feats of the day about hunting were all talked over, the skins were brought forth, bear, buffalo, or deer, and spread down before a sparkling fire, and a blanket or buffalo robe to cover with; and you could sleep sweetly as the visions of the night roll over the senses, till the morning dawn announced the approach of day.

There were no windows, and but one opening for a door. This was generally narrow, and the door was made of two slabs, or a tree split in two and then hewed to the thickness of six or eight inches, then set up endwise and made with a bevel to lap over. The fastings consisted of three large bars fastened to staples on the inside walls. The floor, if not of earth, was of hewn slabs, and covered with clapboards. These cabins, if there was some care taken in putting down the logs close together, and they were scutched, would make the sweetest and healthiest habitations that man can live in. They are much healthier than stone or brick houses; and I have no doubt there is a great deal more health and happiness enjoyed by the inmates of the former than the latter.

All the mills that the early settlers had was the hominy block, or a hand mill. The horse-mills or water-mills were so far off that it was like going on a pilgrimage to get a grist; and besides, the toll was so enormously high, one-half, that they preferred doing their own milling.

Almost every man and boy were hunters, and some of the women of those times were experts in the chase. The game which was considered the most profitable and useful was the buffalo, the elk, the bear, and the deer. The smaller game consisted of raccoon, turkey, opossum, and groundhog. The panther was sometimes used for food, and considered by some as good. The flesh of the wolf and wildcat was only used when nothing else could be obtained.

The backwoodsmen usually wore a hunting shirt and trousers made of buckskin, and moccasins of same material. His cap was made of coon-skin, and sometimes ornamented with a fox's tail. The ladies dressed in linsey-woolsey, and sometimes buckskin.

One great difficulty with the pioneers was to procure salt which sold enormously high, at the rate of $4 for 50 pounds. In backwoods currency, it would require four buckskins, or a large bear skin, or sixteen coon skins to make the purchase. Often it could not be had at any price, and then the only way we had to procure it was to pack a load of kettles on our horses to the Scioto salt lick, and boil the water ourselves. Otherwise we had to forego its use entirely. I have known meat cured with strong hickory ashes.

I imagine I hear the reader saying this was hard living and hard times. So they would have been to the present race of men, but those who lived at the time enjoyed life with a greater zest, and were more healthy and happy than the present race. We had not then sickly hysterical wives, with poor, puny, sickly dying children, and no dyspeptic men constantly swallowing the nostrums of quacks. When we became sick unto death, we died at once, and did not keep the neighborhood in a constant state of alarm for several weeks, by daily bulletins of our dying. Our young women were beautiful without rouge or cosmetics, and blithesome without wine. There was then no curvature of the spine, but the lassies were straight and fine-looking, without corsets. They were neat in their appearance and fresh as the morning in their homespun.

We spun and wove our own fabrics for clothing; the law of kindness governed our social walks; and if such a disastrous thing as a quarrel broke out, the difficulty was settled by a strong dish of fisticuffs. No man was permitted to insult another without resentment; and if an insult was permitted to pass unrevenged, the insulted party lost his standing and cast in society. It was seldom we had any preaching, but if a traveling minister came along and made an appointment, all would attend, the men in their hunting shirts with their guns.

The Pioneer Story Continued: Reminiscences

An Encyclopedia of the state: History both general and local, geography with descriptions of its counties, cities and villages, its agricultural, manufacturing, mining and business development, sketches of eminent and interesting characters, etc., with notes of a tour over it in 1886.
The Ohio Centennial Edition
- Henry Howe, LL.D. [© 1888]