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Grandmother Brown's Hundred Years

1827 - 1927



AMESVILLE, or "Stringtown," as it was sometimes derisively called in honor of its one street, was a straggling village on the banks of Federal Creek, when Daniel Truesdell Brown brought home his bride, Maria Foster, in the fall of  1845.  When it rained hard, that one street was a sea of mire.  "I remember parties at the little hotel in rainy weather." said Grandmother Brown, "when the girls had to be put on a horse and taken across the muddy street that way.

But, rude as was the landscape, the Township of Ames was one of the most progressive of the early Ohio settlements.  Nearly a half century had now elapsed since the first white settlers had cut their way thither from the banks of the Muskingum through twenty miles of virgin forest.  Three hardy men they were who had thus adventured.  One of them was Daniel's grandsire, Captain Benjamin Brown of Massachusetts, an officer of the Revolution who had been attracted by the Ohio Company's advertisements of lands for old soldiers.  Coming to Waterford in the spring of 1797, he had made there the acquaintance of Ephraim Cutler of Connecticut - the oldest son of our old friend, Dr. Manasseh Cutler - and of Lieutenant George Ewing of New Jersey, who, like himself, was an impecunious officer of the Revolution.  Together these three fared into the wilderness.  All were men of sterling quality.*

*It may be interesting to note that great-grandsons of these three men have been associated, in recent years, in the executive work of the Federal Government; Charles G. Dawes, formerly Vice President of the United States, is the great-grandson of Judge Cutler; Thomas Ewing, formerly Commissioner of Patents, is the great-grandson of Lieutenant Ewing; and Herbert D. Brown, Chief of the United States Bureau of Efficiency, is the great-grandson of Captain Brown.

"Yes, the Browns were identified with Ames from the first," affirmed Grandmother Brown, "though Dan'l's branch of the family had moved away from there to Albany before he was born and he himself had passed most of his youth in Athens.  But his cousins were as thick as peas around Ames.  In setting up a store there, he and Aut Dickey were going back to the neighborhood from which they sprang.  You see, Dan'l's  grandfather, old Captain Benjamin Brown, who had led the family in from the East, was the father of nine children when he brought them over the Pennsylvania mountains and down the Ohio River.  Naturally, his descendants are numerous.  Here, you can tell a good deal about them if you'll reach down Dan'l's Family Bible and look over the births and marriages and deaths that are recorded there."

I pored over the records in the old leather-bound book.

"I know a lot about Benjamin, Grandmother, because his neighbors, Judge Ephraim Cutler and Senator Thomas Ewing, son of Lieutenant Ewing, have both left accounts of those early days which I have been reading.  The I've dug around among War Department records and been able to follow him through practically every day of his four years in the Continental Army.  The different witnesses all testify to the same thing:  that he was a man of exceptional vigor, physically, mentally, and morally.*  But I can't find out a thing about Jean Thomas, the girl he married."

*Relating the story of Captain Brown's capture, almost single-handed, of Major Butler, the famous Tory leader, and his party, Hildreth speaks of Brown as "a man of great strength and activity."  Praising him and his brother John, he says:  "These two old pioneers may well be compared to the oaks of our forest, which nothing but the terrible tornado that levels all before it, can overthrow."

Grandmother pointed to the Bible record open before us.  "Isn't that enough?  A baby every other spring - except when her Benjamin was absent in the war.  Shows she had good vitality."

"That's so,"  I pondered, beginning to figure a little and put my wits to work on what the historians call constructive criticism.  "By the time she was thirty-eight, Jean Thomas was the mother of nine children.  When the family set out for the Northwest Territory in 1796, she must have been forty-two years old, but, in 1798, to signalize her complete adaptation to the new world in which she found herself, she brought forth at Waterford, on the banks of the Muskingum, a tenth child, her son Archibald, who himself lived more than ninety years."

Grandmother Brown's testimony as to the vigor of her husband's forebears is supported by what the historians tell us about them.  Captain Benjamin Brown's father, John, for twenty successive years represented the town of leicester in the Massachusetts legislature.  Earlier he, too, had won the title of "Captain" for service in the French wars.  One is not surprised to learn that he had four sons in the Continental Army.

Of the four, Captain Benjamin alone came through unscathed.  Perley was killed at the Battle of White Plains; William died in a hospital in New York; John's foot was completely shattered at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  "Embattled farmers" in the fighting on Lexington Green, the brothers tarried on and enlisted in Colonel William Prescott's regiment.  They were all engaged at Bunker Hill.  And after John was disabled and Perley and William were dead, Benjamin fought on, not off duty a single day in the campaigns of '75 around Boston and New York and the campaign of '77 along the Hudson.  He helped to raise the siege of Fort Schuyler; he captured Major Walter Butler, most notorious of Tory leaders; he was in all the battles around Saratoga, and it was he who there "drove the enemy from the works, and closed this important day in triumph."*   Invited to become an aide to Baron von Steuben, he refused because "he thought his military knowledge inadequate."


After four years, Captain Benjamin Brown asked to be discharged from the army.  The year 1779 was one of acute financial distress, and he was forced to return home to provide for his "age Father, Seventy-five years Old and entirely Helpless," and his "Large Family," and his "Considerable Farm" that would be "almost useless" if he was longer absent, as he wrote his General.  We find him joining the westward movement in 1787.  In Washington County, New York, he tarried for nine years.  Then, in 1796, exhilarated, like so many others, by news of General Anthony Wayne's victory over the Indians, he harnessed up his ox team once more, and set out for Ohio.  In February 1797, twenty-three persons of various ages - according to Walker - descended the river to Marietta under his direction.

"It was on that trip that Dan'l's father and mother began to make up to each other,"  reflected Grandmother Brown.  "His father must have been quite a young man by that time."

"Seventeen," I told her, consulting the Bible record.  "And Polly was fourteen."

"Big for her age, probably," continued Grandmother.  "Tall and angular, dark-complexioned and strong-featured.  My lizzie is a good deal like her.  Rather serious-minded always, they said; she certainly was when I knew her.  Much given to argument, even when young.  Some of my children take after her."

Thereupon I read to Grandmother extracts from Judge Cutler's memoirs* with the idea of stirring to life what hearsay of early Amesville days might be buried in her consciousness.  Together we retraced the steps of Captain Benjamin Brown as he went from Marietta to Waterford, making the acquaintance of Judge Cutler and Lieutenant Ewing and joining with them in a trip of exploration to the banks of Federal Creek.

*Life and Times of Ephraim Cutler, by Julia Perkins Cutler.

The lively account interested her.  Judge Cutler tells how the furniture of the two families had to be taken by waterway in pirogues.  "What are they, Grandmother?"  I asked.

"Canoes made of hollowed tree trunks," she told me.

"Well, it was Captain Brown's task - with the help of some me hired for the occasion - to steer those canoes down the Muskingum and Ohio to the mouth of the Hocking, then up the Hocking to where it joins Federal Creek, then up Federal Creek to within a couple of miles of the clearing, where Judge Cutler and two men, assisted by Samuel Brown, the Captain's third son, had been busy that spring cutting down an acre of tres and making ready the logs for cabin building.  From the creek to the clearing they had to cut a road through the woods and brush and haul their furniture over it."

"Why, that's a long journey!" exclaimed Grandmother.  "All that roundabout way to go such a little distance!"

"Yes, the water trip was about eighty miles.  In the meantime, Cutler undertook to get the horses, women, and children across country through twenty miles of pathless woods.  Since their arrival in Waterford, two babies had been born to the Cutlers and one to the Browns, so that the cavalcade of children must have ranged from tenderest infancy on up to adolescence.  It was anything but a picnic excursion.  But, as the Judge said, 'a gracious Providence' preserved them."

And so we followed the Brown family to the shores of Federal Creek.  There, in 1802, Ames Township was incorporated.  "See, Grandmother, here in the History of Hocking Valley,"  I told her, "you can read that of the thirty-two men listed at that time six were Browns - Captain Benjamin and his two married sons, his brother the crippled John, and John's two sons, one of them Polly's father."

"That second married son of Captain Benjamin's must have been William, Dan'l's father," remarked Grandmother.  "I know he married young."

"Yes, it was," I said, studying the marriage dates in the Family Bible.  "William was twenty-one and Polly seventeen.  It was now three years since they had made that memorable trip down the Ohio.  They were married by Judge Cutler."

"And then the young couple set up home in the wilderness near the old Captain's," remarked Grandmother.  "They lived there about twenty years.  Their nearest neighbors were the Cutlers and Ewings and the family of Judge Silvanus Ames."

"Did you ever hear Grandfather's people tell of their privations in the early days of Federal Creek?"  I asked.

"Oh, yes.  I know they had it pretty hard at first - harder than the people in settlements along the big rivers.  They had a good deal more to fear from Indians, for one thing.*

*Judge Cutler tells how his wife was frightened once by Indians who suddenly appeared at her doorway while he was away in Marietta attending court.  The two hired men caught up their guns and ran over to Captain Brown's, leaving her unprotected.  One of the Indians threatened Mrs. Cutler with his tomahawk, pointing to a decanter of brandy upon the cupboard.  She was afraid that if they once had liquor she would be in danger, so she seized the fire shovel and ordered them to set down the bottle.  To her surprise, the Indians called her "Brave squaw" and left just a few minutes before Captain Brown came running in to help.

"Then it was a lonely life,"  Grandmother went on.  "Neighbors few and far between.  I've heard Dan'l tell how his father and mother rode over to Marietta once, two on a horse, to go to a dance.  And then they had hardly any comforts.  Even their food must have been monotonous.  As for clothes - well, I know the boys wore moccasins and pants made of sheepskin.  With horns for fastenings!"

"But, despite all their deprivations,"  I reminded her, "the people of Ames Township do seem to have had schools, a library, and public worship almost immediately.  The people of Ames evidently had high ideals."

The first school established on Federal Creek was described by Judge Cutler as one of "an elevated character."  It was taught by capable Harvard graduates.  Five of the twenty pupils were children of Captain Brown.  At an exhibition at the close of the term when the children recited pieces for the occasion, Tom Ewing and John Brown spoke the dialogue of Brutus and Cassius.

As early as 1802, thanks to the good marksmanship of the young men of Ames Township, a circulating library was established, the so-called "Coonskin Library."  As all the settlers ere poor, the question was how they could raise money enough to buy books.  Esquire Samuel Brown - Polly's father - was going East in a wagon and would undertake to bring the books back, but how were they to be paid for?  Finally, Mr. Josiah True of Sunday Creek Settlement had a brilliant idea.  Let people make their subscriptions in the form of peltries which Esquire Brown could sell in Boston for cash and convert into books!  Tom Ewing contributed ten raccoon skins - "being all my hoarded wealth," he writes, and one of the Brown boys, at considerable risk to himself, contributed a bear skin.  Judge Cutler tells how the young man had crawled into the bear cave expecting to dispatch the animal as Bruin lay sunk in his winter sleep.  Bur he wounded the bear without killing him.  Bruin made a rush for the outside air, and young Brown had no other recourse except to lie flat on his face and let the animal crowd out over him.  Another hunter shot him through the head, and Brown crawled out afterward, covered with blood.  "Pretty hard squeeze," he said.  Esquire Brown set out, finally, with about a hundred dollars' worth of skins.  In Boston, Dr. Manassch Cutler and the Reverend Thaddeus M. Harris helped him to select the books.  He brought back about sixty well-chosen volumes.  Senator Ewing tells in his Autobiography of the excitement in the settlement the night they were brought from Marietta in sacks on horseback and emptied out on the floor at Captain Benjamin Brown's cabin.  "The library of the Vatican a mere trifle in comparison."  Eventually several hundred volumes were accumulated.  Different members of the Brown family served steadily as managers, directors, librarians, and treasurers of this historic "Western Library Association," as it was called.  I like to think that, living in the wilderness, Polly Brown had some chance to gratify her taste for reading, and that riding double to a ball at Marietta was not the only escape she had from her hard round of pioneer duties.

As for church service, that too was early provided.  

"The Sabbath was observed as a day of rest,"  writes Judge Cutler, "and meetings for public worship were held."

"Yes, there were always refined and enterprising people in and around Ames,"  Grandmother commented.  "Both among Dan'l's kin and other families.  I suppose that even in the earliest days they got together for good times.  I've often heard about the log rollings, house raisings, corn huskings, and quilting bees that they used to have.  By the time Dan'l and I came to live there nearly a half century had passed since Dan'l's grandfather had chopped his way through the wilderness.  The land had been cleared by that time.  Farms had been developed, a village established.  It was a prosperous countryside, but Dan'l and I were both so busy, those years, that we stuck pretty close to home and didn't do much visiting.  Except for occasional drives over to Athens.

"I was held down by my housework and babies, and Dan'l had a full life in the store, with exciting trips South to New Orleans to sell produce and East to Philadelphia to buy goods.  Dan'l always liked to keep a store.  Many of the young men of that day were interested in hunting and fishing.  He never was.  He use to say that men who toted a gun never amounted to much.  I think that one reason he liked being a merchant was because, in those days, the village store was a meeting place for everybody who came to town.  People talked things over there.  And Dan'l was always interested in politics.  He like to argue about public questions.  He was like his mother in that respect.  Always reading the papers.  He never took any part in public office life, never held an office, but he followed the activities of government with interest and knew what was going on.  His mother died about three years after we were married, so I didn't have much chance to hear her arguing with Dan'l."


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