Adams County History & Genealogy

Adams County, Ohio History

The Pioneer Story: Reminiscences


The first settlers were attacked with a skin disease which produced a terrible itching. All newcomers to the settlement became afflicted with this disease. It was attributed to the water. Sore eyes prevailed to a very great extent, and influenza was a frequent scourge in the early spring of each year. It was then believed to be caused by the melting of the snow in the mountains. Fevers prevailed along the river bottom and the valleys of the larger streams due to the rise of creek and river water, there being no wells, and to the decay of vegetable matter in the newly cleared lands. For this reason the highlands were occupied by the pioneer in preference to the rich bottoms which could be purchased at the same price per acre, as the uplands. The bloody flux prevailed at frequent periods in the early settlement of the country, produced by bad water and excessive use of green vegetables, and unripe fruit, especially wild plums which grew in great abundance in the bottoms of all the streams. The poorer classes of women went barefoot most of the year to which was attributed cases of obstruction of calamenia and hysteria.


There were few, if any, physicians in the early settlement. In cases of fractures, some one in the neighborhood more skilled than others did the setting and bandaging. Cuts and bruises were simply bound tip, and nature did the rest. Cases of childbirth were attended by the elderly women of the vicinity. The ills of children were colds, bowel complaint and worms; horehound, catnip and the worm-wood were the remedial agencies. Among the other standard roots and herbs were senna serpentaria virginia. tormentilla, stellae, valerian, podophillum peltatum (may apple), percoon, sarsaparilla, yellow root, hydrastis canadensis, rattleweed, gentian, ginseng, magnolia (wild cucumber), prickley ash, spikenard, calamint, spearmint, pennyroyal, dogwood, wild ginger (coltsfoot), sumac and beech drop.


In the early days of the country all classes used whiskey as a medicine and a beverage. "Old Monongahela double distilled" was a staple article. Old and young, men and women drank it, and there was but little drunkenness. After the settlements were made in the interior, there were hundreds of little copper stills set up along the spring branches, and much of the grain grown was consumed in making "Old Monongahela" or something "just as good." The whiskey and brandy in those days had one recommendation-they were not adulterated. But even then "the appetite" of some overcame their discretion, and they became sots, and eyesores to the community. An early Methodist preacher gave as his reason for not becoming a member of a Seceder congregation that he had seen one of the elders carried home drunk and the next Sabbath he again saw him at the communion table. The preachers in those days expected the black bottle with spikenard, dogwood buds, and snakeroot, in the whiskey to be passed as an "appetizer" before meals. Many were not averse to taking it "straight." Of the early prominent families, nearly all got a start in the world in the whiskey business, in either its distillation, or by keeping "tavern" or "grocery" where the chief source of profits was from the liquor sold. But then, it was "fashionable", and fashion rules the world.


The first great flood in the Ohio, over thirty miles of which borders Adams County, is that of 1765, which swept the Shawnee village "Lower Old Town" from the high bottoms near the old site of Alexandria below the mouth of the Scioto. In 1808, the Ohio in this region again became higher than ever was known before, and the great flood in 1832 was thought to be the limit. In 1847, there was a December flood that almost equalled that of 1832. In 1867, there was a June freshet that caused great damage to crops, and swelled the Ohio to the "great flood" mark. In the winter of 1883, the record was broken in the "great floods" of the Ohio, 66 feet and 4 inches above low water mark at Cincinnati; which is 2 feet and 6 inches above bed of the channel. The flood of 1832 reached 64 feet and 3 inches at Cincinnati. But the greatest flood came 14 Feb 1884, when the Ohio reached the height of 71 feet and 3/4 inch above low water mark at Cincinnati. At Manchester, the waters reached the Hotel Brit, from which skiffs took and returned guests. Backwater came up Brush Creek to the vicinity of the Sproull Bridge. In 1832, the backwater came up Brush Creek to forge dam.


The first great gathering of the people, and one of the largest considering population and means of travel at that period, was at the hanging of Beckett at West Union in 1808. It had been a noted trial in many respects and the crime committed by Beckett had been discussed throughout Southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and western Virginia, from which regions people came in great numbers to witness the execution. Among those from a distance was Capt. William Wells, a noted frontiersman and the founder of the town of Wellsville, Ohio.

The next great meeting of the people was at the great Vallandigham rally at Locust Grove 04 Sep 1867. Political excitement was at highest pitch and people from Brown, Highland, Pike and Scioto counties, came in wagons, on horseback and some on foot to attend this great rally . The roads leading to Lucus Grove were lined with campers the night before, who had come from a distance to be at the meeting the next day. It is said that 15,000 people -- men, women and children -- attended this meeting.

The third and last, and greatest outpouring of the whole people of Adams County, practically, was at the Centennial meeting at West Union, 04 Jul 1876. The crowd has been conservatively estimated at 20,000 people, while others put it much higher. It took one line two hours and forty-five minutes to pass the old toll-gate on the Manchester pike. There were present Maj. Joseph McKee, aged 87; William Jackson, aged 85; William Brooks, aged 79; James Umble, aged 85; James Little, aged 83; and Andrew B. Ellison, aged 81; survivors of the War of 1812. Thomas J. Mullen delivered the address of welcome. W. H. Pennywitt, Reverend I. H. DeBruin, John W. McClung and others addressed the assembled people.


In 1808, the crops of corn were greatly injured and in many places destroyed by myriads of gray squirrels. They seemed to be migrating from the north to the south. Hundreds could be seen crossing the Ohio River where it was nearly a mile wide. In this attempt, thousands were drowned. They were greatly emaciated and most of them were covered with running ulcers made by worms of the grub kind. By the first of January they had mostly disappeared. Afterwards woodmen in cutting into hollow trees would find them filled with the bones and skins of squirrels, some trees containing as many as forty or fifty. From this it would seem that they died of disease and not of famine. This was the season that fever and influenza ravaged the country. The Legislature passed an act requiring each male over twenty-one years of age to produce to the County Clerk 100 squirrel scalps or pay three dollars cash.


In the early history of the county and as recently as 1865, great flocks of wild pigeons came into the county in the seasons when there was much mast. These would fly in such numbers as to darken the sky overhead, and in lighting in the timber would crash the branches and limbs like the force of a hurricane.


After the Civil War, a class of refugees came into the eastern portion of Adams County and the western border of Scioto, and committed many petty crimes. Some of them were accused of horsestealing. A number of prominent citizen formed a kind of league, known as the "Regulators", who punished and drove out the most offensive of the refugees. The "Regulators" held annual public reunions for years.


Many of the steep hillsides bordering the streams are covered with dense thickets of red brush, which in the early springtime, when the buds are fully blown, appear like clusters of lilacs, or huge bouquets of violets. They have a charm that never tires. On the headwaters of Beasley's Fork, near West Union, is a glen noted for the beauty of its redbud coves and the number of it, redbird inhabitants. Years ago, Judge Mason, noting the particular charms of the locality and the number of its scarlet plumed dwellers, named it Redbird, which others (mistaking the name to refer to the thickets of "red brush") called Redbud. Noting this fact, the writer spent a pleasant afternoon in the month of May, in company with the judge, along this charming glen, to determine which name should go down in history. The decision favored both. And so it shall be "Redbud", "Redbird", and its charms shall be perpetuated in the following lines by an unknown author whose name deserves to be enrolled among the immortals:

The Redbud and the Redbird

The redbud thicket by yonder stream,
Shines forth with a roseate purple gleam
As if from the sky at eve,
A sunset cloud had deserted the blue
To join with the green its brighter hue,
Brought down from the azure heaven.

And out and in, on his crimson wing,
With a note of love that be only can sing,
The redbird gaily is flitting;
As if a cluster of bloom from the tree
Had started to life and minstrelsy
Its beauty to melody fitting.

Sweet tree-sweet bird! Such a pair I ween,
In the month of beauty was never seen
Nor heard in so sweet a duetto;
Where blossom and bird have equal part,
And where each raptured, listening heart
May furnish its own libretto.

One sings in color, one blooms in song,
Both making sweet harmony all day long
In the pleasant vernal weather --
A charming music, or seen or heard
For the redbud and the redbird
Ever blossom and sing together.

Redbud: ceris canadensis.
Redbird: Tanagra aestira.

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]