Friday, April 20, 2012

Living Soldiers of the War of 1812

The Marietta Semi-Weekly Register, May 13, 1884

Tecumseh's First Battle Ground - Isaac and Rebecca Williams - The First Oil Wells in Ohio.

Almost 70 years ago, the 18th of February, 1815, peace was proclaimed between the United States and Great Britain and the soldiers of the war of 1812 were disbanded.

One beautiful day last autumn we drove to the home of two or three of these old warriors to talk with them and find out what manner of men they produced in those early days of the century.

Crossing the Ohio river we were soon driving up the West Virginia shore and in an hour or so found ourselves at the comfortable farm house of Mr. John Sharp, one of the veterans of the war of 1812. The room in which we waited for the old gentleman was such a typical country parlor, that I can not but describe it. The floor glowed with a brilliant rag carpet, representing many days of steady work.  On one side of the room stood what was probably regarded as the piece de resistance, a black hair cloth sofa, slipper as ice, stiff, dignified, cold, repellant, while opposite were three great, rollicking, split bottom rocking chairs, plebeian, but oh, so comfortable.  Over the mantlepiece was an eight day Yankee clock, and upon the lower part of its glass door appeared a gayly dressed young lady with a very remarkable waist, leaning her head upon the blue-coated shoulder of a white trousered young gentleman, who appeared well pleased with the arrangement.  Over the sofa, enclosed in home made frames of brown and white straw, were a number of faded photographs of ladies and gentlemen, all standing up extremely straight with their heads securely fastened in the iron clamp, gazing a great ways off with a stony glare and such an unhappy expression as if ordered to instant execution, that it quite made me sad to look at them.  In a corner out of common observation was a pathetic little piece of worsted work, faded and old, representing a weeping willow, under it a green grave, a ewer, a napkin, while below in beautiful clear characters, were the words: "In memory of my mother - Died April 3d, 1825."  Mother and daughter had long since passed to dust, the tree was a curious specimen, the ewer an awkward shape, but it went to my heart for it showed that some one had gone through with a terrible grief and I could imagine how often the hot tears of agony had watered that poor old tree as the designer bent over it.

Mr. Sharp I found to be eighty-eight years old, tall, slim, a little bent, "not much the matter with me," he said, "excepting that I was born in the last century."  After a while, seeing how interested I was, the old man told me the simple story of his life, wonderful in its self-sacrifice.  When twenty-one years his old mother died, leaving his father dis-spirited and delicate, with eleven children, the oldest of whom only numbered thirteen years and the youngest two.  The last words his mother spoke to him were: "John, come home and look after your father and the children, my son - Don't ever get shet of em John, but stand by em straight along."  He promised that he would "and I did," he exclaimed, "I stuck by em straight through till Joel, and Hanner, and Zekiel was married and little Joe, the youngest, was eighteen years old, and then I married Zidony who had been waiting for me three years, though we haint either one on us said a word, but I'd just kept company with her o' Sunday evenings and I knowed she'd wait for me, and she knowed I'd come just as quick as I could."  Mr. Sharp said once he dispaired, the time seemed so long.  So he left home and hired a little piece of land, intending to start out for himself, but his father came to him "lookin' so kinder white like and trembly, that I had 'em all come to me.  You see, pap asked me," he pathetically said, "and I couldn't say no, and I haint ever been sorry."

Mr. Sharp went out in the war of 1812 and was ordered with Captain Steed's company to Norfolk, Virginia, five hundred miles away.  It was the coldest winter ever known in Virginia. The river at Norfolk froze over, and the snow fell to a depth of six inches.  The company was engaged in putting up breastworks and suffered intensely from the cold.  A more insidious foe than Englishmen attacked them in the form of measles and very great numbers died of the disease.  As soon as a soldier was taken sick, he was marched through snow and sleet and mud to the hospital, most of them took cold and death was the consequence.  "I pulled through," Mr. Sharp remarked, "because the Doctor he took down just as I did, so I never peeped, but just laid still in my hut and got well.  There wouldn't a been no John Sharp to-day, Mum, if that ere Doctor hadn't a took it."

Mr. Sharp's pay was eight dollars a month, just what he gets now as a pensioner, "but seems like it goes a heap furder now than it did then," he remarked meditatively.  Mr. Sharp is one of the old residents of Virginia, as he came to the place near where his handsome farm is now situated, when, as he remarked, "there was nothin' here but bears and wolves and woods, and there were only six cleared farms about here."  Hill land then was worth twelve and a half cents an acre while cleared farms, now bringing a hundred dollars an acre, easily sold for seven dollars.

Mr. Sharp would not hear of our departure till he had taken us to see an historic spot, the place where the celebrated chief Tecumseh, then only sixteen years old, tried his maiden tomahawk in helping to shed the blood of five white persons.  Nicholas Carpenter, his little son ten years old, Jesse Hughes, George Legit, John Payne and two other men named Barnes and Ellis, after a trip to Clarksburg, Virginia, were returning with cattle for the settlers at Marietta, from which point most of the beef used at this first settlement of Ohio, was obtained.  This was in 1791 the first and worst year of the terrible Indian war.  These unhappy men, having reached the lovely spot to which Mr. Sharp guided us, on the bank of a little run only six miles above the settlement at Williamstown, Virginia, opposite Marietta, the evening of the 3d of October, laid down to rest, weary with the long day's march.  The evening of the beautiful Autumn day was fresh and cool and a bright fire being built, the weary men feeling perfectly safe so near the settlement, having seen no trace of Indians, wrapped in their blankets were soon lying around the cheery blaze, to spent in careless sleep their last hours on earth.  At early dawn they rose, Mr. Carpenter calling them, first of all, to morning prayers, little realizing that only a few yards distant Tecumseh and six Indian warriors behind a fallen tree, were watching them with cruel eyes.  Just as Mr. Carpenter was repeating a well known hymn, the Indians rose, fired and rushed upon them with their terrible yell.  Their guns were stacked against a tree some distance off, the poor fellows were only half dressed and half awake and were taken so utterly by surprise that Tecumseh and his men were upon them before they had the least realization of what was happening.  Ellis fell at the first fire crying "O, Lord, I am killed."  Hughes and Paul escaped by their fleetness of foot, but Leggit and Barnes after a fierce struggle were killed and scalped.  Carpenter was without his gun, had his little son with him and was lame.  He slipped behind some willows in the bed of the stream hoping to escape.

But alas, no.  Though he surrendered no attention was paid to the little lad's cry for mercy or to the father's passionate appeal for his son's life.  They were taken to the hill near by, which overlooked the Ohio now sparkling gayly beneath the glances of the rising sun, and there under the blood red leaves of Autumn, the grass grew red as well, with the life blood of father and son.  At such a time as this how cruel nature seems.  The little brook tinkled as merrily over the stones in its path, the birds sang as gayly, the autumn trees flaunted their scarlet, green and golden banners as proudly as ever, when these brave men were done to death under the lazily drifting clouds.

We looked in vain for any traces of their last resting places, which Mr. Sharp said in other years had been quite plainly visible, but this same nature with her leveling rains and penetrating snows and wild winds had followed these poor fellows still, and devastated even the little mounds of earth which the people of Marietta sadly reared above their comrades.  This spot is historically interesting from the fact that this was probably the famous Tecumseh's first bloodshed, and his only onslaught in this part of the country.  The little brook ever since this cruel 3d of October, 1791, has been known by the name of Carpenter's Run.

Shaking old Mr. Sharp's cordial hand we drove on, reaching in two hours time, the handsome country home of Nathan Rolston, Esq., another soldier in the war of 1812.  We soon found that Mr. Rolston also was in Captain Steed's company, and served with Mr. Sharp and twenty thousand others at Norfolk under Col. Booth.  "Ha!" cried the old man contemptuously, "the soldiers now a days have easy times.  They go by cars and five hundred miles isn't much more than a good day's travel for them.  We went on foot most of the five hundred miles to Richmond and carried Uncle Sam's heavy musket too, and a big load besides.  It took us nearer six weeks than one day I can tell you.  The soldiers now have their new fangled tents and their fashionable uniforms, and their silver forks for all I know.  We hadn't a tent of any kind and after we'd walked most of the way to Norfolk we worked through the hard winter in the snow and the ice, putting up huts and breastworks."  I had rather hoped that Mr. Rolston, like Goldsmith's soldier friend, would insist upon shouldering his crutch and showing how fields were won, but he couldn't for two reasons.  In the first place he didn't have any crutch and in the second place there weren't any fields.  These twenty thousand troops were stationed at Norfolk, and the three forts were built there to prevent the entrance of the British at this point.  "It was an ugly place" said Mr. Rolston, "the British ships would come sailin' along, give us a real good look and shy along past, for they didn't seem to think somehow that we looked hospitable.  Very soon after Captain Steed's arrival at Norfolk a keen eyed soldier with a strong glass discovered a British spy, in a tree about two miles distant, trying to discover what he could in regard to the number of the soldiers and the strength of the forts.  This was reported at headquarters.  One of the cannons was turned in that direction and the poor fellow never knew what hurt him.  "They wanted to help him down," said the old soldier with grim irony, "they wanted to help him down so they fired the cannon at him, and he didn't report much about our condition."

"What did the people think of the war, Mr. Rolston," we asked.  "The blue skinned Yankees did not like it much but the old Vaginny went into it hot and heavy."  About six months after Mr. Rolston's enlistment the war closed and the troops were disbanded.

The most interesting reminiscences of Mr. Rolston were in regard to Isaac and Rebecca Williams, the first settlers of Williamstown, Virginia, in 1786.  Isaac Williams had been employed as Indian spy when only eighteen and had served under General Braddock in his pitiful, terrible defeat, so he knew all about the Indians.  So also did Rebecca, his wife, as her life also had been spent upon the western frontiers and her first husband killed by the savages.  Before their marriage, as early as 1771, Rebecca had lived with her brothers at Grave Creek, Va., and in return for her services and care they settled upon her four hundred acres of land in Virginia, opposite the mouth of the Muskingum, where was made on the Ohio shore the first settlement of the North West Territory in 1788.  To this land, when Fort Harmar on the Ohio side was finished in 1786, moved Mr. and Mrs. Williams and lived there till their death.  To the settlers at Adelphi, as Marietta was first called, the kindness of these good people was constant.  Mr. Rolston mentioned with much feeling the conduct of Mr. Williams during the famine of 1790, "the starving year," as it was called.  The corn crop at Marietta failed.  Mr. Williams had a very fine supply.  Speculators had their existence then as now, and coming to the old man of sixty, offered him a large price, a dollar at a quarter a bushel, for his entire crop, but Mr. Williams indignantly refused the offer, selling his corn as the Marietta settlers came for it, so many bushels according to the size of the family, so that each might get his share at the uniform price of fifty cents a bushel.

Old Mr. Williams once, while roving through the woods alone, came suddenly upon three Indians sitting upon a fallen tree trunk.  Mr. Rolston said Mr. Williams would never admit that he had shot the Indians, but when speaking of the occurrence as he often did, he always rubbed his hands with great glee, exclaiming, "that was the best powder I ever had, the very best powder I ever shot with."  Isaac Williams was always a great trapper and hunter and even in his old age used often to take his old sorrel horse, Bob, and going to the Hughes River, trap the otter and beaver, and said old Mr. Rolston, contemptuously, "he'd kill a deer easier, and think less of it, than the young men nowadays do of shooting a pigeon."  Mrs. Williams was always kind to the sick and many were the herb teas and healing lotions which, like her namesake in the story of Ivanhoe, she gave to the sick pioneer and wounded hunter.  "She was a fine woman," said Mr. Rolston, "to anybody she took a liking to, a fine woman, but if she didn't take a liking" - an expressive grimace finished the sentence.  Though so far away from the busy marts of men, in the seclusion of their quiet farm, the death angel did not forget to call Isaac and Rebecca Williams home.  At another time we visited their graves about a mile from Williamstown, upon the farm they so long owned, upon the very spot Mrs. Williams herself picked out, who said: "I want to be buried here where I'll have plenty of room.  I have always had plenty of room and I don't want to be jostled at the resurrection."  It is a beautiful spot upon a little eminence under a wild cherry tree, with the hurrying river's murmur almost in hearing and the spires of Marietta in sight, while "the circuit of these summer hills" bounds the vision.  But alas!  The cows were standing upon the graves and the tombstones thrown down and almost illegible.  As nearly as we could decipher the ancient stones they read as follows:

"In memory of Isaac Williams,
Who died
September __, 1823, (or 1820)
In the 83rd year of his age."

"In memory of Rebecca Williams,
Wife of Isaac Williams,
Who died
April 13th, 1823, (or 1825)
Aged 7_ years."
(Last figure indistinct.)

"In memory of Drusilla Henderson,
Wife of John G. Henderson,
Who died
July 12th, 1810.
Aged __."

This lost tombstone keeps alive the memory of the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Williams, who died almost when yet a bride.

Mr. Rolston is a wealthy farmer and stock raiser, worth at least sixty thousand dollars, which he has dug from the rich acres upon which he has lived since 1804.  When he first came to West Virginia with his parents, seventy-nine years ago, the country was a vast wilderness.  He has shot with his own hands three bears upon his farm.  He remembers well the first steamboat upon the Ohio, "the Washington," in 1816.  May the early settler, the old soldier, the wealthy farmer, the firm friend live many years and prosper.

Crossing the hurrying river sixteen miles above Williamstown, we wended our way up Newell's Run, as we wanted much to see Jacob Newland, another of these old soldiers.  We followed in the rocky bed of the little stream, now narrow and attenuated, sometimes after rains a roaring torrent, sweeping all before it.  On one side and the other rose bleak hills, with occasionally a corn field slowly and painfully climbing the eminence.  Here was a portable saw mill frightening the rabbits and quail and wakening a hundred echoes with its shrill whistle.  Very often there appeared through the green woods the grim arms of oil derricks, the unlaid phantoms of many a fortune buried beneath them.  The road grew intolerable, the bumps over the immense bowlders in the bed of the stream incessant, the hills narrowed down to the very verge of the little brooklet through which we drove, and the nodding ferns upon the precipitous sides peered curiously into our carriage.  No backward path was possible, and even had our courage failed us, there was nothing for it but a brave face and a forward march.  After an hour of this exercise we spied a little house pitched upon the rocky hillside.  "Does Mr. Newland live here?" we queried with much earnestness.  "Yes," replied a rustic, "George Newland lives here."  "It is Jacob Newland we want to see."  "What, my father!!  Bless you, he died nigh eleven years ago!"

We gazed at one another piteously.  After all our trouble to have it end like this.  Mr. Newland asked us to alight, as his mother was still living, and we did so.  My first view of old Mrs. Newland, aged eighty-five, was as we climbed the hill.  She was standing in the door of the log cabin, certainly the most curious specimen of gentle woman it has ever been my lot to see.  Her calico dress was short enough to display a black yarn stocking and low cow-hide shoe, while it was also sufficiently curtailed at the top to be what is known as half high, and her poor old skinny neck and collar bone were plainly visible.  Her face was thoroughly seamed with every variety of wrinkle, parallel, horizontal and diagonal, forming angles, rhomboids and hexagons.  The poor old lady looked as if she had inherited wrinkles from all her ancestors to the third and fourth generation and then done nothing else all her eighty-five long years but industriously add to her stock.  Despite the wrinkles, you noticed her chin was a determined one, her blue eyes kindly and sagacious, and that she held tightly in her mouth a clay pipe, at which she was puffing vigorously and which I afterwards noticed she filled every half hour.  Over her grizzled locks she wore a thick white cap with a gathered ruffle on the edge a finger deep, which gave her a very curious look.

Entering the funny little old log house, hardly large enough for two people, we were met by children of every age and variety.  They swarmed at the gate, they gathered at the step, they came from behind the doors and through the windows and out of the wide, old-fashioned fire-place (in which benches were placed in summer), they were under your feet on the floor and over your head on the rafters, and none of them were clean and all were eating bread soaked in ham fat grease.  They seemed to worry the old lady greatly and she called out viciously and often:  "You, Alexander Selkirk, you, Idy Marier, stop your squabbling or I'll break your heads."  Finally the infants were "shooed" out of the apartment and we sat down for a little quiet talk with the old lady.  We seemed to grow acquainted soon and it was not long before she was telling me of her aches and pains, her hopes and sorrows.  Her greatest hope was that we could get the government to raise her pension, and she seemed to think if we only exerted ourselves sufficiently, that would be all that would be necessary.  Her greatest sorrow was Jakie's death, as she called her husband.  "Ah, Honey," she said, "do you know the very first time I seen my ole man I was that dumb-founded, I fainted clear away?  You see this was how it happened.  Pap, he went to bore for salt wells on Little Muskingum some sixty-seven year ago, and I went with him to take care o' the shanty and cook for him and Solomon and David and Hezekier Mitchell.  Well, Honey, ole Miss Newland, she lived only a mile from the shanty and I used often to go over and see her, a kinder cheery sort o' a chunky woman and she were allers talkin' about her Jakie, that was off ter the east fork of Duck Creek, workin' for Urier Stebbins.  One mornin' she sez to me , sez she, 'Sairy, I've got a boy . . . you when he comes home," sez she.  I kinder laffed and said: 'O Miss Newland, I'll see him afore I buy, I guess," sez I, 'I don't never kick till I'm spurred," sez I, and then I laffed agin, 'cause Hezekier Mitchell had been kinder tryin' to keep company with me and I knew I could have him if I jist looked sideways at him.  So, Honey, one mornin' as I was standin' in the kitchen a scourin' the mush kittle, I heerd a strange voice, and, Honey, that voice went straight through me like a streak o' lightnin' and cum out at my toes, and I felt that weak and I knowed some way that it was Jakie.  He were a sayin' to Hezekier, "Stranger,' sez he, I'd thank ye lots for a drink o' water,' sez he, fer I'm orful dry,' sez he, and jist then he looked inter the winder, and, Honey, I jist fainted dead away and fell over on ter a cheer.  He and Hezekier, Honey, they both cum in and I ris up, perlite as ye please, and sez as how I'd stubbed my toe, but Jakie, he went right out and seed Pap and he hired with him that ere very hour fer eight dollars a month and his vittals, fer three months.  Well, honey, some way it seemed to go straight through us both, like the measles through a family, that we was made fer one another.  When his three months was up (and Hezekier Mitchell that sulky all the time because he seen right away that his fat were all in the fire), he telled me he'd be to my home on the west fork of Duck Creek in three week, and he lit out for somethin' else he 'lowed to attend to, which were, Honey, to build us a leetle cabin all to ourselves.  So in nineteen days I sez to pap, sez I 'pap siz I, I aint agoin' to stay roun' these dirty, reasy, nasty ole diggins no more,' siz I, fer you see honey, instead o' gittin' any salt well, they got nothin' but the nastiest, smellenist stuff yer ever seed in all your life honey, it was this same ile they've been a pumpin up since all around here, but we didn't have sense enough to know it were, so I jist lit out cause I seen pap was a ruinin' his self a payin' Solomon an' David an' Hezekier Mitchell.  Still I wouldn't a stayed no ways, if he'd been a diggin' gold dollars when Jakie wanted me, so I jist cut for home.  Hezekier Mitchell was that disgruntled, he wouldn't do nothin' or say nothin' but kinder groan like when I said good bye to the gawk that was white and like a ghost.  So I jist streaked it off and that was a Saturday in Oct., 1816, and a Monday Jake cum a walkin' in and we two was married and I want never sorry honey, never.  I don't know what makes me tell you all this honey, cept it's jist now the season o' the year when I fust seen Jake and though its come sixty-seven year, it don't seem longer ago than yesterday and I can jist see myself a trim lass jist come eighteen year old, jist as I looked that ere mornin' in my yaller caliker when I was a scourin' the mush kettle, and Jake jist how his eyes all kinder seemed to beam and shine and go all through me and I jist felt it wouldn't be no use to say no and I didn't want to say no."

What an astonishment it was to come upon such a bundle of romance and devotion done up in the curious person of this old woman in the depths of the country on the banks of Newell's Run.  Historically also Mrs. Newland was interesting, as she decided a mooted point viz.: the exact date of the sinking of some oil wells which were undoubtedly the first put down in the country, and at a spot which proved itself in '64 and '65 to be rich in the fluid which in the excitement of those years made and lost so many fortunes.  Dr. S. P. Hildreth speaking of these wells in one of his invaluable histories of the first settlement of the North West Territory puts the date at 1822, but I have no doubt that the old lady was correct in her statement, everything about that summer seemed so vividly recollected.

I asked her presently as the door being opened unadvisedly, the children came trooping in, why she did not live with a son who had fewer of them.  "Ah, honey," she said, "Jakie died in this here very room and I sed to him sez I, Jakie, sez I, just afore he died, sez I Jakie if you are carried out o' that ere door, I'll be carried out o' that ere door," so you see honey my time's a'most come.  Jakie's bin gone nigh eleven year but I'll see him soon now, and I mean ter keep my word ter him."

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