Miami County's Century of Change
By Judy Deeter
It has been said that events of long ago shape our world today. A timeline for Miami County confirms that is true. Dramatic changes came to the area starting about 1750. Local historical timelines show that beginning in the mid-18th century and continuing over the next few decades, just about everything changed: residents of the land, government, the natural environment and transportation. The area went from being a wilderness to a place of busy commerce centers and farms.
In the mid-1700s, the local population consisted of Native Americans, along with a few French and English traders. The Native Americans were of a variety of tribes. Most local history stories are about the Miami, Potawatomi and Shawnee tribes, but people of the Delaware, Ottawa, Seneca (Mingo), and Wyandot tribes were here too. Both England and France claimed this part of Ohio as their territory.
In the late 1740s, the Miami tribe established a village north of Piqua that they named Pickawillany. (The founding date varies in historical sources from 1747 to 1749). The Miamis allowed English fur traders to have a trading post at the village, which angered French government officials.
The book Sesquicentennial Celebration, Piqua Ohio says, “So powerful was this stronghold of the Miamis in the control of the fur trade of this section that it became the center of a contest between the French on the north and the English on the east.”
On July 21, 1752, it was attacked by a French expedition led by Charles Langdale that included 250 Ottawa and Ojibwe tribesmen. In the battle, Miami Chief Memeski “Old Britain” was killed, along with 14 Native Americans and a trader. Other British traders were taken to the French stronghold at Detroit as prisoners. Pickawillany was left in ruins, though it did continue to exist. The French and English, with their Native American allies, fought there again in 1763.
Pickawillany was the first English settlement in Miami County; some historians consider it the first English settlement in Ohio. William Rusk Kinder wrote in his book Historic Notes of Miami County, “Miami County’s first settlement beyond doubt was the settlement at Pickawillany in 1749. This was a trading post, or British outpost, which existed for forty-six years before it was (completely) destroyed; therefore, we see no reason why it should not be considered a settlement.” Kinder said that if Pickawillany was a settlement, “…it was the first settlement in Ohio; Marietta (known as Ohio’s first town) was not settled until thirty-nine years after its founding.” A carved rock historical marker placed by the Piqua Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution stands near the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency Historical Site in Piqua says that Pickawillany was the “First English Settlement and the most important trading post in the west.”
Today, the name Miami is used for a variety of places in honor of the Miami tribe. Yet very few people know the meaning of the name. According to the book Ohio Genealogical Guide, Third Edition by Carol Willsey Bell, C.G., in the language of the Ottawa tribe, it means “mother.”
This map from Wikipedia Commons shows the route followed by Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville along the Ohio River in 1749. "La Demoiselle" (seen on the left side of the map) shows where Pickawillany was and where present day Piqua is today.
From 1775 to 1783, American colonists fought the American Revolutionary War to win their freedom from British rule. After the Americans won the war, the land of Ohio was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Four years later, the American Confederation Congress passed a law known as the Northwest Ordinance, which provided for administration of the western territory until states were formed. Ohio became part of the what was known as the Northwest Territory—the United States’ western frontier.
During the 1780s and 1790s, several American military expeditions came through Miami County. They were led by Gen. George Rogers Clark, Gen. Arthur St. Clair, Gen. Josiah Harmar, Gen. William Henry Harrison and Gen. Anthony Wayne. Wayne built forts throughout western Ohio, including two in Miami County. One, known as Fort Rowdy, was built along the Stillwater River near Covington; the second was at Piqua. (NOTE: Later, during the War of 1812, American Gen. William Hull also led military forces through Miami County.)
On August 3, 1795, a peace treaty was signed at Fort Greene Ville (now the city of Greenville) between Native American tribes and the army of Gen. Wayne. Many well-known people witnessed the signing, including 1,130 Native Americans from nine tribes.
Following the signing of the treaty, Miami County land was open for settlement. A community named Livingston was established at the mouth of Honey Creek just months after the signing in 1796 or 1797. Its founders were Samuel Morrison, David Morris and a third gentlemen whose name was Livingston.
Miami County’s third settlement came into existence around 1797 or 1798. The founders were the families of Henry Gerrard, Benjamin Hamblett, John Tilders, John Knoop and Daniel Knoop. They built and lived inside a stockade near where Staunton (east of Troy) is located today. The stockade consisted of a row of cabins that were surrounded by three walls of eight-foot logs driven into the ground. They named their settlement Dutch Station. The Knoop family had come from Pennsylvania where some residents of European origin were referred to as “Dutch.”
Early residents of Miami County were fur traders, former soldiers or surveyors. Several were veterans of the American Revolutionary War, or their children. Perhaps the best-known of the Revolutionary War soldiers to migrate to Miami County was Pvt. Lewis Boyer, a bodyguard to General George Washington (read more about Boyer HERE) who moved to Miami County in about 1810. When the United States Bicentennial was celebrated in 1976, a brochure was published listing the names and biographies of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Miami County. Copies of the brochure are still available for review at local museums and libraries.
In his book Troy the Nineteenth Century, Thomas Bemis Wheeler wrote a bit of trivia about a Miami County Revolutionary War soldier named Andrew Dye. Wheeler said, “The Revolutionary War soldier, Andrew Dye, the patriarch of the Dye family, came to Staunton Township about 1803. When he died in 1837 at the age of 93, he had 500 descendants spread over five generations. He outlived 140 of them, and 360 were alive at the time of his death. One grandchild, born in 1813 (during the War of 1812) when General William Henry Harrison was leading the United States army against the British and Indians, was named in full after the general—William Henry Harrison Dye."
In 1800, Federal Land Offices were opened in Cincinnati, Steubenville, Chillicothe and Marietta. The Ohio Genealogical Guide says, “Ohio is unique because it was the FIRST area of the United States to have its land sold through Federal Land Offices.” Government surveyors platted the land so that buyers could identify the land parcels they wanted to purchase. The state of Ohio was divided into several land groups. Miami County was located in what was known as the Congress Lands. Federal regulations placed restrictions on the minimum number of acres an individual could purchase. Prospective buyers or their representative rode to Cincinnati on horseback to buy land at $2 an acre. Most buyers chose fertile land suitable for farming or where water from a river or stream could be used to operate a business such as a mill. A.B. Graham wrote in his book History of Lena-Conover Community, Miami County, Ohio, “…later comers (in buying land) pushed eastward from Piqua, northeast from Troy and westward from Urbana.” Once the land was paid for, buyers were given a patent signed by the President of the United States.
When Ohio became a state in 1803 and Miami County started as a county in 1807, laws and legal jurisdictions changed in the transition period. It is interesting to note that at one time, Miami County was much larger than it is today. An 1812 map shows the county extended all the way north to Michigan.
The first Miami County court case was heard in Staunton at the home of French trader Peter (Pierre) Felix on June 22, 1807. That same year, a new town named Troy was laid out on the other side of the Great Miami River to be the “seat of justice” for the county. Piqua residents were very upset that their town was not going to be the county seat. Piqua was already an established town (at that time it was known as Washington). Nevertheless, Troy was laid out to be the county seat. It was surveyed by Andrew Wallace, grandfather of Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace, who wrote the classic novel Ben Hur, a Tale of Christ. In September 1808, the first county court cases were heard in Troy. Court sessions were held in a second-floor room at Benjamin Overfield’s tavern. For over 100 years, officials and residents of Troy and Piqua argued over which town should be the county seat. Even though the current Miami County Courthouse opened in Troy in 1888, and it remains the county seat, rivalry between the towns continues.
War of 1812
Migration to Miami County slowed—nearly stopped—during the War of 1812 when both the British and their Native American allies returned to Miami County. Local residents became very fearful and were cautious. The 1966 Pleasant Hill Centennial book describes the fears of those living there during the war. It says that a block house was built on land owned by Nathan Hill west of Pleasant Hill. “…(it) consisted of palisades erected around several small cabins where settlers could spend the nights. Their fears proved groundless since there was never an attack made upon them.”
As the War of 1812 was being fought, friendly Native Americans were given protection by Federal Indian Agent Col. John Johnston at his Piqua farm (pictured above from Wikipedia Commons). Historical records indicate as many as 6,000 Native Americans once stayed there, which sometimes put Johnston’s life at risk. The book Settlement of the Old North-west Bethel Township by Marion “Bud” Clark says, “…several plots were contrived to assassinate him. His life was in the utmost danger. He arose many mornings with but little hope of living until night, and the friendly chiefs often warned him of danger, but he was planted at his post; duty, honor and the safety of the frontier forbade his abandoning it. His faithful wife stayed by him; the rest of his family, papers and valuable effects were removed to a place of greater security.” After the War of 1812, a second peace treaty at Greenville was signed on July 22, 1814. On-hand for the second signing were representatives from the Delaware, Miami, Shawnee and Wyandot tribes, as well as General William Henry Harrison and Governor Lewis Cass. Migration to Miami County began again after the treaty signing.
While the Miami and Erie Canal (seen below in the early 20th century) showed much promise for bringing prosperity to Miami County in the 19th century, and it certainly did help, it was soon overshadowed by the arrival of the much more efficient railroad. Photos from The Troy Historical Society.
People came to Miami County for a variety of reasons, including the issue of slavery. African-Americans came as freed slaves or runaway slaves while white people of faith settled here because they disliked living where slavery was permitted. The book West Milton, Ohio 1807- 2007 by The West Milton Lions Club says, “Between 1830 and 1865, the population grew. Large groups of people such as Quakers (also known as Friends), Methodists and Presbyterians left North Carolina and South Carolina because of their religious objections to slavery in the South. Sometimes a whole congregation would join a wagon train and come north.”
One Quaker family who came to West Milton was that of John and Sarah Hoover. There, they were members of the West Branch Meeting of Friends. In 1853, several individuals of the West Branch Meeting of Friends moved to Iowa. Among those who relocated was the Hoover’s son Eli and his family, which included Eli’s 7-year-old son, Jesse Hoover. Jesse Hoover was the father of the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. Pres. Hoover was born in Iowa. When the West Milton Quakers moved to Iowa, they named their new town West Branch, which was the old name for the Stillwater River in Miami County.
A secret system was set up to assist runaway slaves heading north. It was known as the Underground Railroad. In Miami County it came through the Quaker area of West Milton and then north through Troy. Some sources say it came through the county as early as 1825. The West Milton history book says, “Because of the Quakers, this area became a safe place for escaped slaves and they were given food, shelter and clothing before they journeyed to the next station.” Stops along the Underground Railroad were known as "stations.” A tunnel under the First Presbyterian Church in Troy is believed to have been an Underground Railroad tunnel. Miami County sites of the Underground Railroad are documented in the book Miami County of Ohio Underground Railroad by West Milton historian Rachel Ann Minnich and Vita Marie Saluke.
Another local story relating to slavery has to do with hundreds of freed slaves that had belonged to owner John Randolph of Roanoke, Virginia. Randolph is reported to have been a cousin of President Thomas Jefferson. Under the terms of Randolph’s 1819 will, his slaves were to be freed upon his death. When he died in May 1833, however, his family members contested the will; the slaves were not set free until 1837. The freed slaves were given $8,000 to purchase land in Ohio. Will administrator Judge William Leigh purchased 36,000 acres of land in Mercer County for them. The land was near a previously established African-American community named Carthagena. In 1846, the freed slaves traveled on the Miami and Erie canal to Mercer County.
There, they were met by local farmers with axes and pitchforks. They were not allowed to settle on the land purchased for them. The canal boats took the freed slaves back south to Sidney, Piqua and Troy. Three settlements were established for them in Miami County: Rossville east of Piqua, Hanktown west of West Milton and Marshall- town in Newton Township. Maps and stories of these settlements are in the 1982 book History of Miami County Ohio by E. Irene Miller, Editor.
Water travel on the Great Miami River was always difficult. In the early 1880s, there were no bridges over the river. Ferries took passengers and animals across the river at Piqua and Troy. Ferries were operated by Miami County ferrymen and rates set by County Commissioners. It has been said that there were 100 islands between Dayton and Troy. The islands made river travel hard when the water was low and difficult when the water was high.
Water transportation changed in Miami County with the opening of the Miami and Erie Canal. It was started in Cincinnati in 1825 and completed to Dayton in January 1829. In 1830, the Ohio Legislature passed a bill authorizing the canal to extend through Miami County north to Defiance, Ohio. Construction north from Dayton began in 1833. Canal contractors hired local farmers and new immigrants to build it. Many canal laborers were immigrants -- Irish, German or French. On July 4, 1837, the first canal boat, Clarion, arrived in Troy. On board were prominent residents of Dayton and Gen. William Henry Harrison. Harrison gave a speech for the canal opening at Troy’s new Episcopal Church. Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans formed a bodyguard for Gen. Harrison as he walked to the church. Water in the canal was not high enough for the Clarion to go on to Piqua so General Harrison and the Dayton citizens rode on horseback to Piqua the next day where another celebration to open the canal was held. Gen. Harrison spent some time in Piqua with his old friend Col. John Johnston.
This image from the Troy Historical Society shows workers laying railroad track in downtown Troy. The railroad brought jobs and growth to Miami County.
Railroads began coming to Miami County the 1850s. There is an interesting story about the first train to arrive in Troy. It came on March 28, 1851. People from surrounding areas and Troy residents gathered to welcome it. Unfortunately, however, the train brought a crowd of “rowdies” from Dayton. For an unknown reason the rowdies began throwing stones at the gathered crowd. Those gathered threw rocks back at the Daytonians. After about three hours, the train and its passengers returned to Dayton.
As years went passed, railroads greatly expanded.
Both the canal and railroad expanded Miami County markets for Miami County goods. Local products went to faraway places. In 100 years Miami County had greatly changed. In the mid-18th century, it was mostly dense woodland populated by Native American tribes. As settlers came from other parts of the United States and the world, Native Americans moved away. New settlers cut trees and cleared lands. Trees became lumber for homes, businesses, schools, and churches; the cleared land became farmland. Paths through wooded areas made by Native Americans, military troops, and animals became roadways for new settlers. The Miami and Erie Canal was built near the Great Miami River. Goods once moved slowly by horses or oxen, moved at a rapid speed by canal boat or oxen.
Residents of the mid-18th century would not have recognized the Miami County of the mid-19th century. Everything had changed!
For further information about this story, contact The Troy Historical Society at (937) 339-5900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.