Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Adams County Seat Fight

What follows is another revised section of the conference paper I presented at the University of Dundee in July 2009. We pick up the story of the role land speculation played in generating frontier lawlessness in the Lower Scioto Valley. The signing of the Greenville Treaty of 1795, opened the era of American settlement in the valley and led to a series of conflicts over the location of seats of government. Here we turn our attention to the county seat fight in Adams County. In future posts, we will examine the dispute over locating the territorial and state capitals in Chillicothe and the Highland County Seat Fight, which culminated in a bloody melee in the streets of New Market. ~ ALF

Following the Greenville Treaty of 1795, the rapid settlement of Chillicothe and its environs, along with the further settlement of Manchester (Massie’s original town speculation in the Virginia Military District), and the founding of Alexandria at the mouth of the Scioto River, necessitated the creation of local territorial government in the Lower Scioto Valley. With the lands on the eastern side of the Scioto closed to sale by the US Congress, the Scioto Valley was cleaved in half, with settlement and economic development first concentrated on what became known as the “West Side” of the Scioto. Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the territorial governor had the power to establish the boundaries of new counties and the location of their seats of justice. These executive powers quickly became the source of conflict in the years following the Greenville Treaty.

The Creation of Adams County

In July 1797, Winthrop Sargent, the Territorial Secretary, acting in place of Governor Arthur St. Clair, who was absent the North-West Territory, proclaimed the creation of Adams County, which encompassed much of the eastern section of the Virginia Military District, along with lands on the eastern side of the Scioto. The county included the first three major settlements in the valley – Manchester and Alexandria on the Ohio River and the booming town of Chillicothe to the north. The fortunes of the settlers and speculators of the new Adams county now turned on the establishment of seats of government and locating of new county boundary lines.

The Adams County Seat Fight: Manchester Partisans versus the Up-River Faction

When creating the county, Sargent also appointed all of the county officials – from the Justices of the Peace, to the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas to the County Sherriff, among other lesser offices. Sargent’s proclamation authorized David Edie, the Sherriff, to choose a temporary seat for the court’s inaugural session in September, after which the Territorial Governor would establish a permanent location. Thus, according to Edie’s order, the first meeting of the court was held in Manchester on 12 September 1797.

Thanks to Google Earth, here's a satelite image of modern day Adams County, with the locations of Adams County's various county seats.  West Union became the permanent seat in 1804.

Just prior to this first meeting, Sargent appointed a special commission to select the permanent site. Chosen from the county’s newly appointed officials. Nathaniel Massie (Justice of the Peace and Justice of the Court of Common Pleas), John Beasley (Justice of the Peace and Justice of the Court of Common Pleas), John Belli (Justice of the Peace, Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and County Recorder), and John S. Wills (Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas and Clerk to the Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace), four of the region’s largest land speculators, were given the authority to select the site, operating under certain restrictions. Sargent expressly forbid the selection of Manchester, Chillicothe, or Alexandria, indicating a preference for a site at or up-river from the mouth of Ohio Brush Creek. Except for Massie, the commissioners were all Federalists. John S. Wills, a lawyer and land speculator who lived in Cincinnati, led the so-called “Up-River” faction.

The Town of Adamsville

On the 26th of December, 1797, based upon what Sargent described as the “majority” opinion of the special commissioners, he issued a proclamation establishing the permanent seat of justice, up-river from Manchester, at the mouth of Stout’s Run. The town’s official name was Adamsville, but the Manchester faction would call it “Scant,” for the lack of any structural improvements, excepting a hastily constructed log cabin courthouse. Massie and his allies viewed the selection of Adamsville as a transparent attempt to thwart their interests and undermine the influence of Virginians in the Scioto Country.

When the Court met for the first time in Adamsville, in December 1797, the Massie faction boycotted the meeting. By the June 1798 meeting of the Court, the various Justices of the Peace who favored Manchester had settled upon their strategy; they would introduce a motion to accept offers of land for the erection of a courthouse and jail. Five offers were made and after much debate, a majority of the JPs voted to accept Massie’s offer of one acre of land in Manchester. Thus, a new and broader majority of county officials voted to return and fix the county seat at Manchester.

Governor St. Clair Intervenes

The fight over Adams county’s seat of government had really only just begun. When news of the Court’s decision reached Governor St. Clair, he was incensed. He quickly wrote a letter to Massie, who had served as the presiding judge during the June meeting. “The power of fixing the places where the courts are to be held in every county is exclusively in the Governor,” explained St. Clair. “It is an exercise of executive authority of which no other person or persons is or are legally capable; and it is important to the people that the places where they have been appointed to be held should not be subject to wanton change.” The capital investments and the hard earned fruits of settlers’ labor -- their larger fortunes -- were at stake. “When the people lay out their money in improving county-towns,” St. Clair continued, “it is in confidence of their stability; and, when the courts are removed from those towns their importance is lost, and the property of the adventurer sinks with it, and it is to them a real breach of public faith.” He accused Massie and other Adams County JPs of “a most unwarrantable assumption of power and contempt of authority by the justices, which might subject them to prosecution.”

St. Clair charged the Manchester JPs with pursuing their own private interests. “In the situation of a county town a Governor can have no private interest of his own to serve, but,” explained St. Clair, “it is very possible that even a majority of persons who may have been appointed justices may have such interests, and be disposed to prefer them to those of the public at large.”

The Town of Washington

In September 1798, due to Adamsville’s tendency to flood and a pending lawsuit involving the title to the land upon which the town had been located, St. Clair overruled the Court’s decision in favor of Manchester and ordered the courts to meet at a new location at the mouth of Ohio Brush Creek. There, another new town would be platted on the lands of Noble Grimes, and named Washington. Grimes and his family had immigrated to Ohio from Pennsylvania in 1796. He had purchased title to a thousand acres at the confluence of Brush Creek and the Ohio, and emerged as a leading Federalist and opponent of the Manchester faction.

Massie and others balked at St. Clair’s orders and their outright defiance led the Governor to strip Massie and another JP, William Goodin, of their judicial commissions in October 1798. St. Clair and Sargent claimed that the two men “had Misdemened themselves in the execution of their office by attempting to disturb the regular administration of Justice by adjourning the sessions of the said Courts ... to meet at Manchester where they had been duly & regularly appointed to be held thereafter at Washington and fixed at that place by a Proclamation of the Governor.” Stripped of his local governmental power, Massie did not give up on his Manchester speculation. He, along with his allies in the VMD, would seek redress in the new Territorial Assembly and, if necessary, from Congress. The issues involved in the struggle over the location of the Adams County seat would be at the heart of the controversy between Republican forces in the VMD and Governor St. Clair and his Federalist allies.

The First Territorial Assembly and the Clash Over County Boundaries and Seats

The rapid growth in population in southern Ohio led to the creation of the first Territorial Assembly in 1799, through which Nathaniel Massie and other Virginians attempted create new county boundaries and seats of local government. The focus of Virginian interests in Ohio now shifted to the new Territorial Assembly. The election of the first Assembly in 1799 allowed frontier Ohioans to assert local government powers that had previously been claimed by the Territorial Governor. While the governor continued to have the power to create new counties and appoint the locations of their original county seats, the new assembly claimed that they had the power to redraw existing county boundaries and relocate existing county seats. As Andrew R. L. Cayton has argued, the devolution of power to the county officials or to the new Territorial Assembly would “forfeit all the efforts of the Federalist hierarchy to increase the power of the national government in the Northwest Territory.”

In October 1799, the Assembly, to which Massie had been elected, passed a resolution fixing the Adams county seat at Manchester. St. Clair then vetoed the bill and hatched a plan to divide the territory in such a way that the speculative schemes of Massie and others in the VMD would be forever ruined. Frustrated at the local and territorial levels, the Virginians and their allies would turn to the US Congress to block St. Clair’s plans and thereby advance their own interests.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nathaniel Massie and the Paint Creek Fight of 1795

The story of Nathaniel Massie, which I began in the last post, is picked up here in another excerpt of the paper I presented at the University of Dundee in July 2009. Additional excerpts of this conference paper will be posted in the coming weeks. ~ ALF

Surveying the lands of the Scioto Valley may have been legal under American law in the spring of 1795, but the Shawnee and others, at the time, did not recognize American surveying rights to these lands. The pan-Indian alliance of Ohio Indians that had recently been defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers had yet to sign a peace and land cession treaty. Leaders of the Indian nations, however, were in council with American Indian commissioners at Ft. Greenville. General Anthony Wayne had proclaimed a truce for the purposes of negotiating a treaty, allowing the representatives of the different parties to travel unmolested to and from Ft. Greenville, the location of the council.

The only known illustration of the Paint Creek Fight was published in John McDonald's Biographical Sketches in 1852.

In late May of 1795 towards the end of the council, Virginia land speculator Nathaniel Massie led an expedition aimed at surveying lands on Paint Creek, a major tributary of the Scioto River. Massie planned to locate the site for a new town, which would become known as Chillicothe. Massie and his men, however, ran into a band of Shawnee who were camping on Paint Creek, an area that had long been a popular Indian hunting ground.

Massie and the other leaders of their party decided to attack in a surprise and pre-emptive manner. In their attack, Massie’s party killed a handful of Indians and then pillaged their camp grounds. Massie and his men quickly looted all the Shawnee possessions they could carry and then began a rapid retreat back to Manchester. Once safely back in their stronghold, Massie and others piled their treasure into boats and floated down to Maysville, Kentucky, where they auctioned off $500 worth of booty to the highest bidders in broad daylight. In retaliation for the fight on Paint Creek, the leader of the Shawnee who had been attacked, a man named Pucksekaw – known in English as the Jumper – led warriors into the mountains of western Virginia, where they carried out raids on new settlements, ultimately taking four Americans captive.

The Paint Creek Fight occurred near Bainbridge, Ohio, at what became known as Reeves' Crossing in Ross County, Ohio.

Massie’s attack on Paint Creek and Pucksekaw’s retaliatory raids threatened to derail the peace negotiations that were then underway at Ft. Greenville. Chief Blue Jacket, himself, and a handful of other prominent Shawnee leaders agreed to temporarily leave the negotiations in order to track down Pucksekaw and return him and his captives to Ft. Greenville. Blue Jacket’s efforts were successful; Pucksekaw agreed to bury the hatchet and return his newly acquired captives. Massie, however, had earned the wrath of Arthur St. Clair, who served as the Governor of the North-West Territory. St. Clair considered prosecuting Massie for his actions, but the matter was soon dropped, when St. Clair found it difficult to secure witnesses willing to testify against Massie. With the peace finally secured, Massie’s speculation ultimately paid off; the lands at the confluence of Paint Creek and the Scioto would end up in his hands; his major town speculations would now involve Manchester in the southern region of the Virginia Military District and Chillicothe in the eastern section of the District.

The new frontier town of Chillicothe, located amidst the ruins of ancient Indian earthworks in a bend of the Scioto River, was on the very eastern edge of the Virginia Military District, surrounded by fertile Scioto River bottomlands, which beckoned American settlers from Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Chillicothe, named after the Shawnee word for their principle town, was also centrally located within the lands ceded by the new Greenville Treaty; Nathaniel Massie’s newest town speculation was quickly perceived far and wide to be the future center of frontier life in Ohio.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Land Speculation and Lawlessness

This past July I presented some of my recent research on the history of the Lower Scioto Valley at an international conference, hosted by Dr. Matthew Ward at the University of Dundee in Scotland. The Conference was entitled, “From Borderland to Backcountry: Frontier Communities in Comparative Perspective” and the title of my talk was “Land Speculation, Lawlessness, and the Establishment of Seats of Government in Ohio’s Scioto Country, 1783-1807.” The conference captured the renaissance of international scholarly interest in Ohio Valley frontier history and brought together scholars from as far away as South Africa, Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, including three other historians from state universities in Ohio (Cleveland State, Kent State, and Ohio State).

I’d like to thank Tim Scheurer, Dean of Arts & Sciences, and Shawnee State University’s Faculty Enrichment Fund Committee for funding the research and presentation. Martin McCallister of the Natural Areas and Preserves Division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources also deserves special thanks for facilitating a “research” hike to Raven Rock.

Below is the introduction to my talk; excerpts from the paper will follow in future posts.


Land Speculation and Lawlessness on the North American Frontier

In the 1780s and 1790s, in the newly independent United States of America, Virginians possessed long-standing, as well as newly awarded land bounties, issued at various times as compensation for colonial or revolutionary era military service. Virginians looked to the Scioto Valey in south-central Ohio as their Promised Land, where their family’s fortunes were to be made and their independence and liberties secured. Many obstacles, however, stood in their way. First and foremost, the determination of the Shawnee (and other Ohio Indians) to maintain possession of their lands north and west of the Ohio river posed the most immediate hindrance to the designs of Virginia veterans and other land speculators who sought their fortunes in the Scioto Valley.

Only the extinguishment of Indian land claims to the region would allow for the legal (though not necessarily orderly) survey, sale, and settlement of the region. In frontier regions, where new administrative boundaries were being run and seats of government located, large land and town speculators, with the backing of yeoman farmers and other urban settlers, sought the powers of local, state, territorial, and national governments to secure their community’s fortunes and forward their own speculative ventures.

Land speculation’s role in the development of the American West has long been a subject of debate amongst historians. The western land jobber has been cited as a primary factor in the inequitable distribution of land, which stifled social mobility and frustrated economic development. The speculator, however, has also had his champions, those who view these businessmen as the main drivers of economic development. Still others have argued that large landowners had their speculative schemes frustrated by liberal federal land policies, which ensured that middling settlers could purchase smaller tracts of land at affordable prices and with generous credit options. Historians have been primarily interested in the speculators’ role in the development or frustration of democratic institutions and their role in the emerging national market economy. Although Woody Holton and others recent work has drawn scholarly attention to the role of Virginian land speculation in the Ohio Valley in generating conflict between Indians, colonists, and British officials, greater attention to the role speculation played in generating episodes of frontier violence and lawlessness is needed. Attention to the relationship between frontier speculative ventures and lawlessness suggests that Indian-settler violence, as well as settler-on-settler violence, sprang from a rapidly growing American population’s pursuit of personal gain, which manifested itself in a thirst for cheap, productive land.

Speculative ventures, large and small, in the Trans-Appalachian West combined with the weakness of governmental authority on the frontier to generate significant lawlessness and violence, and, paradoxically, the same interests in personal gain also led frontier settlers and eastern speculators to seek the powers of government in order to pass laws protecting and promoting their investments. The high stakes nature of frontier land and town speculations, however, meant that local, state, and national authorities found it difficult to always maintain law and order and restrain conflict to the orderly confines of governing institutions.

The Virginia Military District, established in 1784

Thanks to the influence of Virginians in the Confederation Congress, the veterans of Virginia, along with allied land speculators, succeeded first in securing their prior land claims north of the Ohio River through the creation of the Virginia Military District (VMD) in 1784. The cession of Virginia’s larger land claims in the region and the federally guaranteed reservation of millions of acres of lands in an Ohio VMD unleashed the speculation of thousands of Virginians and generated a new round of lawlessness and disorder. Virginians and their allies would go on to harness the powers of the new federal government to officially extinguish Indian land claims in the region. Federal troops with the assistance of frontier state militia forces defeated the Shawnee and other Indian nations, forcing, at the barrel of a gun, the cession of their lands in southern Ohio. It was then, in the 1790s, that speculation-related struggles over new administrative boundary lines and seats of government began to generate still another stage of lawlessness and disorder in frontier Ohio.

Although lawlessness and violence are found in all societies and eras of history, scholars studying the development of the United States have long cited lawlessness and its offspring – violence – as a central characteristic of frontier life. Indeed, a central part of the telling of the story of western settlement has been the violent struggle to establish the supremacy of law and the authority of civil government.

Nathaniel Massie, Pioneer Land Speculator

Let us start with Nathaniel Massie, the largest land and town speculator in the Virginia Military District. The VMD had been promised to Virginians who had fought in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Virginians had signed up and fought against the British and their Indian allies for various reasons, but one of these was in order to establish land speculations on lands that were still controlled by Ohio Indian nations. Through their representatives, Virginians agreed to give up much of their larger claim to lands in the trans-Appalachian West in exchange for clear titles to claims in the Scioto Country. And they did this at a time when the Indians of the region had not yet ceded these lands to the new United States of America.

Nathaniel Massie (1763-1813)

In 1783, at the age of nineteen, Nathaniel Massie set off for Kentucky in search of his fortune. With the assistance of his influential father -- a large slave and plantation owner, Anglican vestryman, captain of the militia, and a Justice of the Peace in Goochland County, Virginia – Massie would eventually secure a clerk’s position in the office of Gen. Richard C. Anderson, the Surveyor-General for Virginia military lands in the Appalachian west. Operating out of the Louisville, Kentucky area, Massie would soon join in the surveying of Virginian lands in the Scioto Valley.

After the 1784 cession, but before the new American government had established peace treaties and land cessions with the Indian nations of Ohio, squatters from Virginia and other eastern states began settling on the northern side of the Ohio River, at the mouths of the various tributaries of the Ohio River. Federal troops were dispatched to ward off the squatters and burn down any of their buildings in an effort to secure peace negotiations with the Shawnee, who still inhabited and claimed the Scioto country as theirs. In 1785, American Indian Commissioners threatened a handful of Shawnee leaders with the “destruction of your women and children” if they would not sign a treaty extinguishing Shawnee land claims in southern Ohio. Moluntha, an aged civil chief, prevailed upon his fellow Shawnee to accept the treaty; in fear of their destruction, they signed what became known as the Treaty of Ft. Finney. Colin Calloway has written that many of the Shawnee “who did not attend the conference were outraged by the terms, scorned those who accepted them, and repudiated the treaty.” A year later, in 1786, after what Americans considered Shawnee violations of the treaty, a militia force from Kentucky crossed the Ohio destroyed Shawnee villages and killed the peaceful Shawnee leader Moluntha. Then, the following year, in June of 1787, acting on intelligence that pointed to an impending Indian raid into Kentucky, three hundred Kentuckians, under the command of Col. Robert Todd, invaded the Scioto Country in search of marauding bands of Shawnee warriors. Todd’s forces briefly engaged a group of Indian warriors on Paint Creek, leading many Indians to evacuate the larger Lower Scioto Valley.

Indian resistance to the American settlement of southern Ohio continued; the Ft. Finney peace treaty lay in Moluntha’s grave and a state of war now largely existed between the United States and an alliance of Indians nations who no longer or who had never recognized the legitimacy of the Ohio land cession treaties.

In the wake of Todd’s Campaign, the first official land surveys in the Virginia Military District were completed in the late summer and fall of 1787. At this time, it appears that Massie conducted his first surveys at the confluence of Paint Creek and the Scioto River, the future site of his greatest town-speculation, the city of Chillicothe. In July 1788 Congress suspended the surveying of the VMD over the objections of Virginia’s congressional delegation. The suspension had the backing of New England and New Jersey land speculators, who had invested capital in lands on either side of the VMD – the Symmes Purchase area centered around Cincinnati in the west and the Ohio Associates’ Purchase centered around Marietta in the east. The surveying and sale of lands in the VMD undermined the financial interests of those speculators involved with Symmes and the Ohio Associates, as well as the new Federal Government, which sought much needed revenue in the sale of Western lands.

After three years, the surveying suspension was lifted in August 1790. The surveying activities of the Virginians, along with other encroachments on to lands claimed by Ohio Indian nations, would then become the primary cause of Indian attacks on American surveyors and settlers in the late 1780s and early 1790s. The Indian raids involved extreme physical violence, hostage taking, and horse thefts, which, in turn, generated a series of military operations against the Indian inhabitants of the larger Ohio Country.

View from Raven Rock, Scioto County, Ohio (June 2009)

In March 1790, four months before Congress re-opened the VMD, a band of Shawnee and Cherokee warriors set up camp near the mouth of the Scioto River. From their lookout atop Raven Rock on the West Side of the Scioto’s mouth, the warriors could look up and down the Ohio River for a dozen miles. The vantage point gave the Indian warriors time to set up ambushes at the confluence of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers. Much property was taken and numerous men, women, and children were killed or taken captive (some accounts place the number over 100).

In response to these and other “provocations” in the larger Northwest Territory, the Washington administration would order federal military operations against the Indians of the Northwest Territory in the 1790s. The first major campaign launched against the Ohio Indians by the new federal government was aimed at eliminating the Indian threat in the Scioto Valley and at its mouth, to ensure the safety of American settlers headed to Ohio and Kentucky and beyond, down into the Mississippi Valley. In April 1790, in a largely forgotten campaign, Secretary of War Henry Knox authorized a military operation against the Indians at the mouth of the Scioto. Led by Gen. Josiah Harmar, the first Federal campaign into the Scioto Country did not lead to any great victory or defeat. By the time US forces arrived in the Scioto Valley, the Indian warriors had abandoned their position and retreated from the area.

Attacks at the Mouth of the Scioto appear to have stopped following Harmar’s Scioto Campaign, thus clearing the way for Virginia surveyors and speculators to enter the VMD. In April 1791, a group of immigrants, drawn largely from Kentucky, established the first American settlement in the VMD. The settlement, planned and organized by Nathaniel Massie, originally entailed a stockade and was known as Massie’s Station. Under what they believed to be the constant threat of Indian attack, Massie and his associates launched clandestine surveying parties deep into the Scioto Valley. As more settlers arrived, Massie would survey lots and plat a town; nearby lands would be cleared for farming. Massie’s Station would become the town of Manchester.

While Massie and his assistants surveyed the VMD, a confederation of Indian nations fought a series of battles with the forces of the US Army and regional state militiamen. The culmination of this fighting came in 1794 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, where American forces under the command of General Anthony Wayne defeated the Indian alliance. Many of the future settlers of the Scioto Country saw service in these campaigns and when the peace had been secured they and thousands of others from Virginia and other eastern states descended upon the Scioto Valley like a host of locusts.

Some Virginians, however couldn’t wait for the treaty to be negotiated and signed. In their minds, after Fallen Timbers, all that was left undone was the legal rigmarole of a peace treaty council. Much of the best lands in the VMD had not yet been surveyed. Future town sites had not yet been platted. During the lengthy council, which was held at Ft. Greenville in western Ohio, all sides in the conflict had proclaimed a truce. The peace process, however, was nearly derailed when Virginian surveyors led by Nathaniel Massie violated this truce.