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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

George Washington and the Ohio River Valley

The George Washington we know was an accomplished person in so many ways - surveyor, military and civic leader in Virginia, Commander-in-Chief in the Revolutionary War, and first President of the United States. He was also an astute businessman who owned large amounts of land, including tracts in the Ohio River valley, some within 20 miles of Marietta. His lifelong primary interest and passion was the land: surveying, farming, investment, and development.

Below are two advertisements to lease or sell the Ohio River tracts. 

The first, published in 1784, sought to lease the land. There were three Ohio River tracts with a total of 10,000 acres located below the Little Kanawha River. One of those is still referred to locally as “Washington Bottom.”

Image from Marietta College Special Collections. Click here for a more detailed view:

The lease advertisement offered an incentive for the lessee to build a home and farm the land. He offered three different - and unusual by today’s standards - lease terms: ten years with no renewal, ten years with renewals of ten years “for ever,” and 999 years. The lessor could specify the acreage to be leased. There was an elaborate rent schedule; the amounts varied by term. The mode of payment included a "Spanish Milled Dollar of the present coin and either gold and silver in that proportion." Payment could also be in the form of barter items such a "staple commodity....if the parties....can agree upon a medium value for it." 

George Washington or whoever wrote the ad was skilled at marketing verbiage, delivered with just the right combination of practical facts and hyperbole. His description of the land: “....the whole of (the land) is River low grounds, of the first quality...a great deal of it may be converted to the finest mowing ground imaginable, and uncommonly profitable for flock(s).”

The second advertisement is dated February 1, 1796; he was still President at the time. This ad had two sections: 

The first part was to lease parts of the Mount Vernon Estate and was the lead headline on the ad: 

TO BE LET, and Possession Given in Autumn.
The farms appertaining to the Mount Vernon Estate, in Virginia; four in number; adjoining the Mansion house farm. Leases will be given for the term of fourteen years to real farmers of goodreputation and none others need apply. 

Punctuation was exactly as it appeared in the ad, including italics. Note that the words “real” and “good” are not italicized, apparently for emphasis. He plainly wanted only good neighbors on farms adjoining his mansion farm.  

Image from Marietta College Special Collections. More a more detailed view, click here

The second part of the ad, “FOR SALE; the following Lands, viz.,” listed for sale the four Ohio River tracts, plus others. The tract listed as “SECOND” was “3 or 4 miles” below the Little Kanawha River, and “about 12 or 15 miles below “Mariette (sic).” The ad invites potential purchasers to “examine them critically,” presumably for full disclosure. He also includes some beneficial attributes:
  • “...they may be considered as the cream of the country in which they lye (sic), being the richest interval lands on the two rivers......(and) are unquestionably among the most valuable on the Western waters...” 
  • “That all of (the tracts) are patented in my name, many years’ ago...and, that the titles to them are indisputable.” This was a true benefit. Land at that time often had uncertain titled ownership. A “Patent” (similar to a deed documenting ownership of land acquired by grant or claim) was the most reliable evidence of ownership. 
  • The land had been surveyed, and inquirers could see the survey reports.
Terms for the purchase: one fourth of the price up front “when the bargains are concluded,” and balance paid as a mortgage loan over 5 years “with interest, annually, and punctually paid.”

Most of these lands were never sold and ended up in his estate. A few deals fell through for lack of payment. George Washington died in 1799; his estate listed 52,195 acres of land in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley.  

Some background helps understand George Washington’s interest in land and land development. George Washington was educated mostly through home schooling - and life experience -  at a very young age. He did not have a formal school education; much of what he learned was from acquaintance with woodsmen and plantation foremen. 

His father died when George was eleven years old, and he became the ward of his half-brother Lawrence Washington. He likely helped his mother manage Ferry Farm where they lived. By his early teens, George Washington had learned tobacco farming, surveying, and raising farm stock. 

Lawrence’s marriage to Anne Fairfax of the well-to-do Fairfax family opened valuable contacts for young George. He accompanied George William Fairfax on a surveying party into western Virginia at age 16. The following year through the sponsorship of Lord William Fairfax he gained an appointment as the official surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia. noted, “This experience (as a surveyor) made him resourceful and toughened his body and mind. It also piqued his interest in western land holdings, an interest that endured throughout his life with speculative land purchases and a belief that the future of the nation lay in colonizing the West.”

Washington eventually became a wealthy man, partly from his marriage to Martha Custis, but also from land that he acquired and managed throughout his life. His half-brother Lawrence died of tuberculosis in 1752. George inherited one of Virginia’s most prominent estates, the Washington family lands which became Mount Vernon. He was 20 years old. Land holdings at Mount Vernon eventually grew to about  8,000 acres.

He made his first land purchase in 1752, 1459 acres along Bullskin Creek in Frederick County, Virginia. Over the next 50 years, he continued scouting for and buying or claiming land.  A major land opportunity for Washington was the availability of “bounty land” for military service in the French and Indian War. A 1754 proclamation issued by Virginia Governor Dinwiddie offered land as an inducement to enlist. Washington himself had served in that conflict (some say his actions actually started the war) as commander of a Virginia militia regiment. 

The war ended in 1763, but a royal proclamation prohibiting the grants west of the Appalachian mountains stalled the land grant process. Washington began a nearly 20 year campaign to have the grants issued for those who had served under him - and for himself. He began quietly scouting out potential land tracts with Colonel William Crawford , a surveyor friend of his, saying in a letter to Crawford:

I can never look upon the proclamation in any other light (but this I say between ourselves) than as a temporary expedient to quiet the minds of the Indians.....(The proclamation must be rescinded), of course, in a few years....Any person who neglects hunting out good lands, and in some measure marking and distinguishing them as his own, in order to keep others from settling it will never regain it. 

He encouraged Crawford to begin secretly exploring the land and making claims. He even gave Crawford a cover story if his actions came under suspicion: “All of this can be carried on by silent management.....under the guise of hunting game...” As opportunities were uncovered, Washington directed Crawford to “...advise me of it....and I will have the land surveyed to keep others off and leave the rest to time and my own assiduity.” The two men continued to collaborate until Crawford’s death* in 1782.

Finally, in 1769, Washington obtained approval to identify lands for granting. He conducted an exploratory trip in 1770 down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to the Kanahwa River. For more on this expedition from another blog post, click here: “Washington Was Here.” 

Fortunately, Washington documented this Ohio River trip in a journal. It is fascinating reading. His observations were astute and practical. He pointed out potential sites for mills (mills powered by water were an essential power source for early settlements), farming, grazing, and other activities. 

They passed the Marietta on October 26 and 27, 1770, as noted in these journal excerpts - spelling and punctuation as in the journal:
“Friday 26th......we Incampd just above the mouth of a creek (Little Muskingum River)and just above an island (Buckley Island).
Saturday 27...we came to the mouth of the Muskingham...This river is abt 150 yards wide at the Mouth; a gentle stream runs out of it, and is navigable a great way into the Country for Canoes.” Washington knew that the Muskingum River was a substantial waterway, apparently from Indian contacts. 

Washington was constantly vigilant for land grants as they were offered by the Commonwealth of Virginia. In the letter below he asks for more details about an upcoming land grant and requests that eligible veterans be given sufficient opportunity to attend the meeting and benefit from the distribution of land. He also sought to buy or trade with veterans to acquire land for himself. Here is the wording of the letter to surveyor John West who was involved with the land grant issuance: 
                                                                                    Mount Vernon Sept.12.1773 
Dear Sir: By two letters just come to hand from Col. Stephen and Capt. Hog, I conclude you are returned. These letters appear to have come by you, and refer to a copy of the Resolves entered into at Winchester, which I should be obliged to you for the perusal of; and to know what method you have adopted to give the absentees notice of your meeting on the Kanawha the 20th of October as the time, to those who live at a distance & are to get notice of it yet…to prepare, if they had any other business upon hand to engage them. The reason of my desire to be informed in this matter is on Muse’s account, who I would wish to be early advised of the meeting since he rely upon [it] for the conduct of his part. I should be glad also to know whether you propose to attend the division of the land yourself, and as near as you can guess, the time you will set off.
                                                                   I am D Sir
                                                                                    Your Most Obed. Serv.
                                                                                            G Washington

Washington was ultimately not as successful as he had hoped with the Ohio Valley land. Attempts to lease or sell it were mostly unsuccessful. Yet he remained fervent in his belief of the future potential of the Ohio River region. Christopher Coleman captured Washington’s fervor for western expansion, including a quote from Henry Cabot Lodge:

He had been the protagonist of western expansion  long  before he dreamed of independence. When the latter had been won “the thought that engaged his mind most was of the best means to give room for expansion, and to open up the unconquered  continent to  the forerunners of a mighty army of settlers. For this purpose all  his projects for roads,  canals, and surveys  were formed and forced into public notice. He looked beyond the limits of the Atlantic colonies. His vision went far over the  barriers of the Alleghanies; and where others saw thirteen infant  States backed by the wilderness, he beheld the germs of a great empire.”

He supported the efforts of Rufus Putnam and others to settle the Ohio Country and expand the United States westward. About the settlement at Marietta in 1788, Washington said: 

No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum (River). ... If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life and had a family to make provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation...

*Colonel William Crawford was brutally tortured and killed in 1782. He was captured after leading a failed expedition against Wyandot and Delaware Indians near Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Delaware chief Captain Pipe helped defeat the “Crawford Expedition” and was present at Crawford’s torture and death. Pipe later became more cordial in dealings with white settlers, including those at Marietta. He was often present at Fort Harmar and was reportedly a dinner guest in Rufus Putnam’s home. Putnam, who knew of Pipe’s connection to the Crawford execution, remained wary of Captain

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Dean of Hollywood

You may not know that a prominent movie star, producer, director and industry leader was born in Marietta. I didn’t until I learned about Hobart VanZandt Bosworth. Few people have heard of him, except maybe historians and long time Hollywood residents. That’s because Hobart was active in stage and silent movies in the early 1900’s. He was a prolific actor as well as a producer, director, and movie company owner - including part owner of the early Paramount Pictures studio. This guy was amazing; his own life would make an inspiring and entertaining movie.

Publicity portrait circa 1920

He was born in Marietta in 1867, the son of Daniel P. Bosworth, Jr. and Clara VanZandt Bosworth. He proudly traced his ancestry back to Massachusetts colonists Miles Standish and John and Priscilla Alden on his father’s side, and New York’s Van Zandt family, the first Dutch settlers in the new world, on his mother’s side. 

The Bosworth family are descendants of Marietta founder Rufus Putnam. Hobart’s grandfather Daniel P. Bosworth was a prominent Marietta merchant whose name appeared on the Bosworth-Wells building built in 1840 at 155 Front Street. Hobart’s great uncle was Sala Bosworth Jr., a well known Marietta artist. Marietta Times columnist Joan Pritchard noted that because of their lineage “great things were expected of Hobart Bosworth and his younger brother Welles.”

But “great things” often start from humble beginnings. Not much is reported about his early life in Marietta. His mother died when he was 6. His father remarried, but Hobart developed an intense dislike for his step mother. The family lived on Fourth Street; his name appears in 1880 census records. Hobart stated to an interviewer in 1914 that he was “ill-used and cruelly treated” and ran away from home at age 11 to New York City.  Yet he later admitted, “I know, now that I can look back dispassionately, that my stepmother really treated me well, better than I deserved.”

His unlikely path to stardom begins at sea, as a cabin boy on the clipper ship SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS out of New York. He recalls that on his twelfth birthday, the ship was right off Cape Horn. That voyage ended five months later in San Francisco.  There were two Marietta connections that he made then. Just after the voyage while sleeping on a park bench near Trinity Church, he remembered hearing organ music from the church. A Captain Roberts told him later that Hobart’s uncle was the organist. Hobart never mentioned his name of if he met him. The same Captain Roberts also told him that Hobart’s grandfather had built the ship MARIETTA* and had sailed her to San Francisco.

He spent three more years at sea, later explaining that "All my people were of the sea and my father was a naval officer." He then worked numerous odd jobs. By age 21, he had worked as a stevedore, miner, a boxer and wrestler, rancher, stage hand, and eventually stage actor. He became an expert horseman as a ranch hand. Love of horses became one of his signature interests later in life.

Another of his lifelong interests was painting. “I was always interested in art,” he said later, “and felt I might make a success as a landscape painter.” On the advice of a friend, he got work as an extra at the California Theater in San Francisco to pay for art instruction. “I suped** and painted,” he said. Life was good. 

Landscape Painting by Hobart Bosworth. Setting and time period not known. Bosworth created many works, though few seem to be in the public domain. Viewed at where this painting was offered for sale.

He was given a few bit speaking parts, piquing his interest in acting. Hobart signed on with a touring company and then the Alcazar Theater. By age 21, he had played most of the famous Shakespearean roles, though he admitted “with truth and sorrow, I was the worst exponent of Macbeth the stage has ever known.” An illustrious acting career was underway. And he continued painting, especially later in life, and produced numerous art works. 

Bosworth in costume, early in his career. From

His early career featured mind-boggling twists and turns. He moved on from San Francisco - perhaps because he was broke. Bosworth: “I got stranded and took a Denver and Rio Grande train by the underneath route and landed in Park City, Utah.” Underneath route - maybe his term for hitching a ride hobo-style on the train? He worked pushing an ore wagon in a mine to raise money. To escape the mine, he found a job with magician Hermann the Great as an assistant. They toured in Mexico. 

During this time, he saw his father for the first time in eleven years; the occasion is not reported. Hobart recalled, “He looked at me and said, ‘Hum! I couldn’t lick you now, son.’” He never saw his father again. There must have been an estrangement. I found nothing further in Hobart’s public comments making reference to his family or his roots in Marietta.

He returned to New York and worked for ten years in theater playing in Shakespeare plays, mostly in minor roles. He finally gained lead roles in Julia Marlowe’s acting company. Just as he was emerging as a star in the New York theater world, he was stricken with Tuberculosis sometime around 1900. He was forced to withdraw from the theater. Tuberculosis (“TB”) was a scourge at the time. There was no known cure; it was often fatal. Rest was thought to be the only way to survive. Hobart rested for a while but soon came back to the theater. He worked harder than ever. “Harrison Gray Fiske featured me in Marta of the Lowlands, and I became a broadway star,” he recounted later. But the end was in sight. He was forced to retire again after losing 70 pounds.

Eventually he moved to the drier climate of Tempe, Arizona. There he did odd jobs, rested, painted, and worked on recovery . “I kept fighting, fighting, fighting,” he exclaimed,  “And I won out.” The quote is from an article about Bosworth in Movie Pictorial, a popular movie fan magazine which interviewed Hobart in 1914. He had just started the Jack London*** series of movies. The article was titled “A Jack London Hero: Hobart Bosworth and his Fighting Career.” It began with an overview. “Hobart Bosworth’s life reads like one of the stirring (movie) tales he produces. If there ever was a fighter, he was one....Mr. Bosworth has had to fight that most insidious of all enemies, disease. Again and again, physicians (and those) who knew him have given him up. But he never gave himself up. His passionate will to live has (saved his life and helped him) in achieving success.” 

Back to his story: He moved on from Tempe to San Diego which was said to have the best climate in the country. There in 1909 his career received a fortuitous boost: involvement in the fledging movie business. After resurrecting his theater career at the respected Belasco Theater Company in Los Angeles, TB forced him to give up that job. Meanwhile, William Selig, whose Chicago company Selig Polyscope produced short feature films, had set up a makeshift studio in Los Angeles. It is was the first movie studio in California. Francis Boggs, Director of Selig Polyscope, offered Hobart Bosworth the leading role in a short movie. Hobart’s reaction to Boggs’ offer was surprising: “I was heartily indignant,” Hobart recalled. He believed acting in the unproven film medium would be demeaning for an accomplished theater actor. Boggs was persistent, declaring that film-making was an honest and reputable activity. He even offered to withhold Bosworth’s name from the credits. Bosworth’s concern seems amusing now, but then movies were totally new, unproven medium.

Bette Hart and Hobart Bosworth in The Roman made in 1910, one of the very first movies made in Hollywood, from

Hobart Bosworth accepted Boggs’ offer and starred in the short film “In the Power of the Sultan,” considered by some as the first movie made in the western U.S. Hobart found the movie-making process awkward and tedious compared to the theater. But soon he was hooked. He realized movies allowed him to continue his passion - acting - in a way that accommodated his tuberculosis limits. Actual filming was done in short bursts with long rests in between. He could work in the open air since movie sets then were outdoors to capture ambient light. And these were silent movies; no speaking was required, so his TB weakened lungs and voice were not a limitation. Bosworth later reflected, “I believe that...motion pictures...saved my life. How could I have lived on and on, without being able to carry out any of my cherished ambitions? What would my life have meant?”

Montage of Hobart Bosworth images from a Google search. There are hundreds of these in Google search and other sources. During his career, his image appeared in thousands of photos, posters, and movie scenes

Soon he was acting in other movies. Not only that, he was writing and directing many of them. He claims that during his time with Boggs, he wrote 112 films and directed many of them himself. Granted, many of the early films were short, not feature length. Yet this is an example of what impresses me so profoundly about Hobart Bosworth: he was so versatile, creative, and hard working. In this case, he was just learning about acting in the fledgling movie art form. Then he immediately leaped forward to writing screen plays for, and directing, additional movies.

He formed his own production company, Hobart Bosworth Productions Company, in 1913 to produce several films based on Jack London novels. He produced, directed, and acted in most of the films, among them, The Sea Wolf, The Valley of the Moon, and John Barleycorn. In 1916 Bosworth’s company was absorbed in to the famous Paramount Studios. He remained a part owner of Paramount for a time, along with early movie moguls such as Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldwyn, and Cecil B. DeMille.  Bosworth Productions Company and it’s successors produced 31 films, most of which starred Bosworth.

Publicity booklet for The Sea Wolf, produced by Bosworth’s production company in 1913, viewed at

After he sold to Paramount, his leadership role in the movie industry faded. His health may have been a factor in this change. Plus, he was in his fifties by then. From the late 1910’s, he transitioned to acting only - usually in supporting roles, often as prominent characters in secondary “B” movies. But he kept active, appearing in dozens of movies through the 1920’s  He was often cast as a fatherly type in roles like governors, clergymen, fathers, sheriffs, and judges. His roles over his career were phenomenal in variety: Jack London and Shakespearean characters, Kit Carson, George Washington, Braveheart, Robert E. Lee, Wizard of Oz, Jesus Christ, Spanish Explorer Cortez, Davy Crockett, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Kaiser Wilhelm. He played cowboys, Indians, royalty, explorers, sea captains, politicians, soldiers - often with elaborate costumes. 

Hobart Bosworth as Jesus Christ in Business is Business (1915) and a clergyman in The Scarlet Sin (1915). Viewed at It is bizarre that these photos showed up on a dating website, announcing that “Hobart Bosworth is possibly single.”

He made the transition to talking pictures, and his voice recovered. His later roles in the 1930’s were often cameo roles or bit parts, probably due limited demands for an actor over age 60. But he kept at it. His last film appearance was in 1942, the year before his death.

Bosworth became a fixture in Beverly Hills. He was active in the community and built his “dream home” on Hillcrest Road. Bosworth was known for riding his horse Cameo around town and talking to everyone. He helped fund construction of the Beverly Hills equestrian trail which ran along the median on Sunset Boulevard. It opened in 1926; Hobart served on the trail’s board. 

Grand opening of the Beverly Hills equestrian trail in 1926

He was active in civic groups and good friends with neighbor Will Rogers. He was affectionately called the “Dean of Hollywood” for his pioneering role in the movie industry. Hobart Bosworth was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6522 Hollywood Boulevard.

Photos of Hobart with his horse and autograph message (above) and at his “dream home” on Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills (below)

Bosworth was a prodigious actor, director, and producer. He is credited with appearances in over 250 movies from 1908 to 1942, directing 44 from 1911 to 1915, writing screenplays for 27, and producing 11 movies from 1911 to 1921. His actual count might be many more. And that was after a stage career that spanned nearly 20 years. How many movie stars of today can cite numbers like that? He certainly passed the “great expectations” test predicted from the accomplishments of his Marietta ancestors. Hobart VanZandt Bosworth truly was a star.

Walk of Fame star on Hollywood Boulevard

*Without further information, it is hard to verify this statement and identify which MARIETTA vessel it might have been. There were several.
** A supernumerary (“supe”) was a theater extra - a person with a nonspeaking role or part of a crowd.
***Jack London was a popular author of rugged adventure stories published in the early 1900’s. Hobart Bosworth was a pioneer in introducing well known novels to the movie screen.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Black History Month: 3 African American Pioneers

These are profiles of three African American men from our early history. Each distinguished himself with a life of courage and perseverance. Each had the opportunity to live as a free man in the Northwest Territory or Ohio where foresighted leaders had adopted laws to prohibit slavery.

Christopher Malbone aka “Kitt Putnam”
Kitt Putnam panicked as the flatboat started to sink crossing the Ohio River in 1793. He was helping Aaron Waldo Putnam and Major Robert Bradford move cattle from Belpre, Ohio to Virginia. Drowning was a common risk on the early frontier because waterways were often used for transportation. Kitt was an African American servant in the household of Israel Putnam Jr. of Belpre.

He was frightened because he could not swim. The canoe sent to rescue the men could only take one at a time. One version of the incident said that the two white men with him insisted on being rescued first. Israel Putnam Jr., in whose home Kitt served, encouraged him to bounce on his tip toes to stay above water. He also admonished Kitt to not to disgrace the family name by showing any fear. There was no context with the latter comments, but the impression is one showing little empathy or encouragement.

Kitt Putnam's given name was Christopher Malbone. He was one of the first Blacks to live most of his life in Washington County. He was a servant of General Israel Putnam, then his son Colonel Israel Putnam Jr. Kitt came to Washington County from Connecticut with Israel Putnam Jr. in 1789 and lived at The Farmer’s Castle stockade in Belpre as a teen. He was described as friendly, athletic, a hard worker, and kind. He was an excellent worker and sentry, standing watch to warn those working in the fields of danger.

Kitt achieved distinction as the first Black person to vote in Ohio and maybe the Unites States. He voted in the 1802 selection of delegates from Washington County to the Ohio constitutional convention. Ironically, the Constitution, while it prohibited slavery, denied Blacks the right to vote in the State of Ohio.

This image shows a list of voters for delegates to the Territorial Convention, District of Marietta, dated second Tuesday of October, 1802. Christopher Malbone, a.k.a. Kitt Putnam, the first person of color, to vote in the new territory, is listed on line 133 (fourth from the top) as Christopher Putnam. Photo courtesy of Marietta College’s Local Government Records and Legal Documents collection. 

This actor portrayal of Christopher Malbone voting, from the documentary film “Opening the Door West,” can be seen as part of the “Pathways to Freedom” exhibit at the Campus Martius Museum. (Photo by Erin O'Neill). Copied from Marietta Times article February 7, 2018.

At age 21, Kitt Putnam became a free man* and could seek other employment. He started working for Captain Devol who lived near the Muskingum River helping clear fields and tend the floating mill. He died unexpectedly in 1802; there was great sadness at his passing. The cause of death is unknown. It is also not known if he had a family or where he is buried.

*The nature of his servant status is not clear. He was not a slave but may have been an indentured servant under a contract which expired on becoming an adult at age 21.

Bazaleel** Norman
This man was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Blacks served in the war, starting in 1777. There were reservations at first about their bravery and whether military training and access to weapons might tempt them to rebel. Blacks were also fighting for their own independence. Some also had to decide which side, America or Britain, would give them the best chance for freedom. Blacks in the Continental Army served with distinction. They also provided needed manpower, especially at crucial times of low enlistments in general. The Black soldiers served for an average of 4.5 years, more than 8 times the average white soldier.

Bazaleel joined the Continental Army in 1777. Most Army units then were integrated. Bazaleel Norman likely fought alongside white soldiers to gain freedom for country - and for African Americans. He served in Captain Richard Anderson’s company in seventh regiment of the Continental Army Maryland line. His service included the battles of Monmouth, Camden, Cowpens, Gilford Court House, and Eutaw Springs. He served the entire war until the Maryland line of the Continental Army was disbanded in 1781.

After the war, in 1782 he married Fortune Stephens in Frederick County, Maryland. They had six children. Sometime before 1819, they moved to Roxbury Township*** in Washington County, Ohio. There he farmed.

Bazaleel was granted a pension in 1818. An affidavit required to continue his pension was filed in 1820 with the Washington County Common Pleas Court. It listed his war service and also included a list of his assets and debts. Many veterans, especially African American, were poor and relied on the pension for survival. Here is a partial list of his assets: 

100 acres of land third rate, two old Horses the one 14 & the other 17 years old. One Cow 14 years old one spring calf, one two years old Heifer, two yearling calves, two sheep & two Lambs, one Sow & Eight Pigs. Three old Kitchen chairs without bottoms, one old Crock. 4 Pewter plates, 4 old Knives & Forks one old Bucket one shovel Plough. 1 old broken Pot 1 Log chain. One 7 gallon Kettle one small broken Bake Pan 4 old pewter spoons. an old drawing Knife. and old handsaw. two old Chissels. One small fire Shovel. one old axe. one old hoe. one worn wedge

Some of the debts included: “One Hundred & Twenty five dollars to Joel Adams. Thirty Six dollars to Dudley Woodbridge. Fourteen dollars & Seventy dollars to Augustus Stone...” Woodbridge and Stone were merchants in Marietta, quite a distance by horse or on foot from where Bazaleel lived in western Washington County. 

Pension certificate for Bazabeel Norman - image from National Archives viewed at

Bazaleel’s 1820 affidavit plaintively stated: “I am by occupation a farmer, but owing to age and infirmity I am unable to do very little toward supporting myself.” His signature appeared as “Bazaleel his X mark Norman.” He was signing with an “X” likely indicating that he was illiterate.

Bazaleel Norman died in 1830. His wife Fortune applied for the survivor pension benefit in 1832. It listed Bazaleel’s cause of death as “falling from a rock...his family found him dead at the foot of a precipice” after he had been missing for a day. Another application was made in 1837, and the pension was finally granted - only four years before she died. For some reason, the pension had been delayed or denied for nearly five years. Fortune Norman died on February 3, 1841.

**His name also appears elsewhere as Bezael, Basil, and Bazabeel

***Roxbury Township was an early township that was dissolved in 1851. Parts of it went to Palmer Township, Morgan County, and Noble County.

William Peyton
Washington County resident William Peyton, “Uncle Billy,” was proclaimed the oldest person in the United States in 1912 at age 120. He lived until 1919, dying at age 128, still thought to be the oldest person in the country. He was born as a slave in 1792 in Prince William County. William was bought for $333 as a child by George Creel, an early settler in Wood County, Virginia. He remained with the Creel family for generation after generation. He left them in 1868 and moved to Decatur Township in Washington County where he lived for the rest of his life - another nearly fifty years.

Uncle Billy was one-of-a-kind in many ways. He was described as a “large man with a splendid physique” who loved work. On his eightieth birthday he set a local record by splitting 320 fence rails in a single day. His long life was remarkable because “he used liquor, chewed, and smoked tobacco.” He had an excellent memory and could recall events when Thomas Jefferson was president. His fitness was legendary; he would often walk to Marietta or to Wood County to visit the family of his former masters. Emancipation Day on September 22, 1916 was the fifty- third anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves. There was a county-wide celebration - said to be the largest in the State of Ohio. The Marietta Register-Leader newspaper reported that William Peyton was the parade honoree.

Collage of information about “Uncle Billy” Peyton from Facebook post 2/21/2021 on Harmar Village - Marietta, Ohio page. CLICK TO ENLARGE

“Uncle Billy” died on December 26, 1919. Peyton’s headstone is at the Decatur United Methodist Church, reading: “William Payton, Sept. 2, 1792, Dec. 26, 1919, 127 Y. 3 M. 24 D.”  His wife was forty years his junior and died in 1900. He was survived by one son and a granddaughter. Judge L. N. Tavenner of Parkersburg reviewed his birth records and substantiated his year of birth as 1791, a year earlier than the date on his gravestone. He had lived through the administrations of twenty-eight presidents from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson.

Burke, Henry Robert, “Lest We Forget” website, “William ‘Uncle Billy’ Peyton 1792-1919” viewed at

Dennis, James L., “Washington’s Darker Brother, 100 years of Black History in Washington County, Ohio 1788-1888,” published 1967 by the author

Hildreth, Samuel, Biographical and Historical Memoirs of the Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, Cincinnati, H. W. Derby & Co., 1852

Historical Marietta blogpost, August 6, 2016, “53 Years of Freedom to be Celebrated” article from the Register-Leader, August 19, 2016

Marietta Times article, “Black History Month: First to Vote,” February 6, 2018, article by Erin O’Neill

National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application File W. 5429, for Bazabeel Norman, Maryland, viewed at 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Wood County Pioneer: Alexander Henderson, Jr.

 A duel was fought in Belpre, Ohio on October 8, 1805. That caught my attention. I had never heard of this or any other duel in the Ohio Country. It seemed out of character with practices of that time, though the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had taken place just a year earlier. The duel combatants were Alexander Henderson, Jr. and Stephen Wilson, both of Wood County, Virginia (now WV). Here is a newspaper account from the Virginia Argyle on December 4, 1805, likely reprinted from the Ohio Gazette:

We understand that a Duel was fought on the 8th (of October, 1805) in the settlement of Belpre, Ohio, by Stephen R. Wilson and Alexander Henderson both of Wood County, Virginia. The distance agreed upon was fifteen steps, and to wheel and fire; when the word was given, they both advanced, the one in a deliberate walk, the other at full speed, till when within an arm’s length of each other, when they both fired and fell side by side. Mr. Wilson received a ball in his knee which shattered it to pieces. Mr Henderson a ball in his thigh near the upper joint, which it was feared would deprive him of his life; but we understand that they both are in a fair way of recovery. - Ohio Gaz

I discovered this curious and underreported event while reading The Hendersons: One Family’s Legacy by Pamela Brust. This book chronicles the fascinating story of the Henderson family of Wood County, West Virginia. Alexander Henderson, Jr. was an early area pioneer with numerous Marietta connections. I was captivated by his life of pioneering successes sadly intermingled with tragic low points. Alexander Jr. was known by his nickname (shared with his father), "Sandy." He was described as "fair, blue-eyed, handsome with a most cheerful and genial disposition."

Alexander achieved a number of pioneering "firsts" in his Wood-Washington County community:
  • One of the first settlers in what is now Wirt County WV, then a remote wilderness
  • Fought in the first (and probably last) recorded duel in Ohio
  • One of the first area settlers who successfully overcame a permanent disability
  • Was a Captain in the first Wood County militia
  • One of the first magistrates in Wood County
  • One of the first, with his brother, to alert President Thomas Jefferson of Aaron Burr’s allegedly treasonous plot
  • A charter member of the first Washington/Wood County Agricultural and Manufacturing Society board
  • Worked as cashier at the first chartered bank in Ohio - the Bank of Marietta
  • Was one of the first members and vestrymen at St. Lukes Episcopal Church in Marietta

Also, he had or learned many skills: farmer, hunter, land broker and developer, civic leader, socialite, banker, judge.

But there were devastating low points with life-changing impacts.
  • The duel which inflicted permanent physical injury, making him “a cripple for life.”
  • The deaths of two of their children as young adults in the bilious fever epidemic of 1823.
  • Bankruptcy in 1826, requiring all of his assets to be sold to meet debts, from which he never recovered.
The Henderson family American patriarch, Alexander Henderson, Sr., was a wealthy businessman and politician from Dumfries, Virginia. He was a close friend and associate of George Washington - on whose advice Henderson Sr. purchased land in western Virginia. Washington also owned land in the area, including the “Washington Bottom” area of Wood County. Three of the Henderson sons, John G., Alexander Jr., and James settled on Henderson land located in today’s Wood, Wirt, and Pleasants Counties. John G. was the first arrival, in 1797; Alexander Jr. followed in April, 1799. They brought slaves from Dumfries to help them clear land and raise cabins.

Life was rough and dangerous on the Western Virginia frontier. The early days of their habitation were challenging. John Glassford Henderson, Alexander Jr.'s brother, mentioned numerous setbacks and financial losses in his journal - horses lost, damage from windstorms, livestock killed by bears, illness and injury of their slaves. There was the constant threat of disease: malaria, smallpox, and similar epidemics were commonplace.

With the help of his brother and their slaves, Alexander Jr. carved out a homestead known as "Beech Park" near Burning Springs along the Little Kanawha River. He returned to Dumfries and married Jane Hutchinson Lithgow, known in the family as "Hutchie," on May 21, 1801. The wedding was performed by Mason L. Weems, author of the "Life of Washington" and creator of the well known George Washington cherry tree tale. He was also pastor of the Pohick Church where Alexander Henderson Sr. attended and was a vestryman along with Virginia luminaries George Washington, George Mason, and others. Sandy and Hutchie returned to their wilderness home at Burning Springs on August 28, 1801. 

Beech Park: Copy by author of image from The Hendersons, One Family’s Legacy, by Pamela Brust

They settled in. Before moving west, Hutchie had sought a neighbor's help to learn the pioneer skills of spinning and weaving. Author James Callahan includes a quaint description of her adaptation to frontier living: “It was a new experience for her. She had been reared in luxury and was a petted beauty, unused to any kind of hardship. She took up the duties of life (in the wilderness) with good cheer and resourcefulness, and in her cabin in the wilderness, five miles distant from a neighbor, learned to spin and weave......” She became quite skilled in making coverlets, quilts, and other adornments which later became family heirlooms. 

She gave birth to their first child, George Washington Henderson, in 1801. He grew up to be quite successful and established Henderson Hall plantation. Two other children, John Alexander (1803-1823) and Mary Page (1805-1823) followed but died as young adults from a malaria epidemic which swept the area in 1823. 

Alexander, Jr. and his brother John G. were active in civic activities and social life of the area. Early accounts mention their involvement in land brokerage. Alexander was appointed as a captain in the militia. He is listed as one of several Justices in Wood County, Virginia in an 1811 document. They were acquaintances of Harman Blennerhassett, prominent socialite, owner of the island Blennerhassett Mansion, and associate of Aaron Burr in the “Burr Conspiracy.”

Alexander’s life took an unexpected and tragic turn in 1805 when he fought a duel with Stephen Wilson. The two had been at odds for some time. Observers noted that Wilson was the primary instigator of ill will. Alexander called Wilson a “paltroon and coward” in response to an accusation from Wilson. Wilson then challenged Alexander to a duel to be fought on a bluff overlooking the river in Belpre, Ohio. That location in Ohio was probably selected since dueling was prohibited in Virginia.

It’s likely that Henderson’s family and friends tried to dissuade him from dueling. He had three young children and was otherwise well established in the Wood County community. Why risk his life answering a spurious accusation from a scoundrel like Wilson? His granddaughter-in-law, Anna Rosalie Henderson, years later voiced eloquent dismay at his choice to duel: “From the wound inflicted by this duel...., a hearty young man 27 years of age was made a cripple for life.......What unspeakable folly of theirs, handicapped for such a trifle? What a trial it must have been to his wife, what ceaseless regret to himself.”

The report of the duel suggests that they were almost face to face when shots rang out. I thought that duelers stayed some distance apart. Both were seriously wounded but survived. Alexander was thought near death at one point but gradually recovered. Sadly, he was left with permanent disability, unable to walk without a crutch. He could ride a horse but only with a side saddle; some of those saddles remain at Henderson Hall.

This article appeared directly under the newspaper report of the Henderson duel. It recounts a threatened duel from 1753 in Massachusetts. The would-be duelers were arrested and pleaded guilty. Their sentence was “to be carried with a rope about their necks to the gallows in a carat and to sit on the gallows with the rope about their necks for the space of an hour and afterwards to be committed to jail...for twelve months...” Apparently the judge - and the editor of this newspaper decades later - were serious about making a public statement to discourage duels.

Disability did not slow Alexander Henderson Jr. down. He resumed his business, family, and social activities. Shortly after his recovery, he was in the national spotlight with his brother John G., testifying at the trial of Aaron Burr. Harman Blennerhassett, a friend of Alexander and his brother, had tried to recruit the Alexanders in late 1806 to the Aaron Burr project. The Hendersons were shocked at Blennerhassett’s description and apparent endorsement of Burr’s treasonous-sounding plan. They contacted their father Alexander Henderson Sr., who in turn alerted President Jefferson. Jefferson dispatched John Graham, Governor of the Orleans Territory and a person known to Alexander Sr., to the Ohio Valley to learn of Burr’s plans. Graham talked to the Alexander brothers and Blennerhassett himself. He then left to alert Ohio governor Edward Tiffin, urging action to thwart the planned actions of Burr and his agents.

A few years later, Alexander Jr. and his family moved to Marietta to take advantage of educational opportunities there for the children. He lived at 126 Second Street in a brick house. While in Marietta, he worked at the Bank of Marietta from 1815-22 and was treasurer of Marietta schools. In 1819 served on the first board of “Agriculture and Manufacturing Society of Washington County, Ohio and Wood County, Virginia.” It was set up to encourage and support farming activity in the area. He was also a faithful member and vestryman of the St. Luke’s Episcopal church in Marietta.

Alexander and his brother John G. developed a substantial farm at Cow Creek in 1806 near Willow Island in Pleasants County Virginia. The family referred to it as the Cow Creek farm. Lewis Summers kept a journal of his visit to the area in 1808. He mentions the Henderson farm: “this farm contains 2,000 acres, about 200 in corn, expect to make 2,000 barrels. They work 30 hands. Stock of hogs, cattle, and horses fine.” Henderson built a home there in 1814 which still stands today, used as an office by Solvay Technology Solutions.

Cow Creek Farm home built about 1814, at Willow Island, now in use as an office

Alexander Jr.’s family lived there when tragedy struck in 1823. Their son John Alexander and daughter Mary Page died within days of each other of “bilious fever” (believed to be forms of Malaria and Yellow Fever) in December of 1823. There was a substantial epidemic at the time. Read more about it by clicking here. Their oldest son George Washington (GW) Henderson was studying law in eastern Virginia at the time and escaped the illness.

Loss of children from illness was common in those days. It must have been devastating. GW and his wife Elizabeth Tomlinson Henderson would lose seven children to illness decades later. Elizabeth wore a brooch  with locks of her deceased children’s hair and often experienced bouts of depression. Her journals mention her faith as a major support. Such must have been the experience of Alexander Jr. and his wife Jane.

Their woes were compounded as financial setbacks occurred in the 1820’s. He had purchased land near Cow Creek from relatives thinking he could pay for them over time. But he could not. There were also land ownership disputes with other parties. His son GW returned to the area from law school to recover from the financial problems. Such efforts failed. All of his property and possessions had to be sold in September of 1826 to settle debts. Apparently there were bitter accusations from his some of his siblings. 

Alexander sadly recorded his thoughts in a notebook: “I am 49 years of age, and we are about to stripped of all that we have....The prospect is gloomy indeed. I have struggled hard, have endured great privations...I came to Wood County 27 years ago last April when it was nearly a wilderness and assisted not a little to open farms for my brothers and sisters benefit. Far from meaning to act dishonestly toward my brothers and sisters I have, as I live, done the best in my power to advance their interest. More might be said on this subject but I forbear.” 

It was an embarrassing, disappointing outcome for such a talented and capable leader. Thereafter he lived with or near his son George Washington Henderson. Despite the setback, Alexander and John’s pioneering efforts assured that the Henderson family would continue to be an economic, social, and political force in the area for many years to come.

Brust, Pamela Douglas, The Hendersons, One Family’s Legacy, Bloomington IN, AuthorHouse, 2019

Callahan, James Morton, History of West Virginia, Old and New, Volume 3. Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1923

Cunningham, Connie, “Echoes from Henderson Hall: The History of One Pioneer Family Settling in the Ohio Valley,” a master’s degree thesis, Marietta College, 2005

Henderson Hall website, history section,

House, John A, “Pioneers in Wood County, WV”, a paper document published in 1936, viewed at, searches for reports of the 1805 duel, Alexander Henderson (Sr.) (1737-1815), Alexander Henderson Jr. (1778-1838)

Williams, H. Z., History of Washington County Ohio, Cleveland, H. Z. Williams and Bro, 1881

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

What do Rufus Putnam and Ohio State Football Have in Common?

Never thought I’d see Rufus Putnam, venerable pioneer and founder of Marietta, mentioned in college football playoff hype. The occasion was the build-up to the College Football Playoff  (“CFP”) semi-final game between Ohio State and Clemson on New Years Day, 2021. Ryan McGee, ESPN Sports Network Senior Writer, wrote an article for ESPN titled “Ohio State vs. the world: How the Buckeyes and their fans feed off perceived slights.”

He observed that the Buckeyes were being “disrespected” by all manner of  coaches, sports pundits, and fandom realms who questioned their selection for the 2020 playoffs. The Bucks had played only 6 games because of COVID issues. Plus, some said their schedule was weak, and they floundered at times against worthy opponents. Several major head coaches had ranked them below the top four. Most egregiously,  Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney ranked them 11th in his voting.

All of this aroused Buckeye Nation to indignation, anger, and frustration. McGee noted that this attitude towards Ohio State football - and the State of Ohio (“the fly-over state”) in general - seems be endemic in the national psyche. It also, he said, brings out passion and pride from Ohioans. He then eloquently noted the state’s pioneer heritage and proud spirit. He had indeed done his research, breaking into what I am calling an Ohio Pride cheer in this excerpt from his article:

.....This is a state that was founded by Rufus Putnam, a Massachusetts man who was so angered by the British march into Lexington and Concord that he joined the Continental Army the very next day and rose to become one of George Washington's right-hand men.

This is the state that got so fed up with the federal government in the early 19th century that it said, "We're out of here," and it moved to secede in 1820, a full four decades ahead of Fort Sumter.

This is the state that has birthed eight presidents, more than any other, including Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union to victory in the Civil War. Not to mention, Grant's sword that cut through the South, William Tecumseh Sherman. From the Wright Brothers, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Jack Nicklaus, Paul Newman and Steven Spielberg to Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Annie Oakley ... you think this state is going to produce people who are going to sit back and take lip out of Paul Finebaum and that damnable Dabo Swinney?!

"It's pride, pure and simple. There is something about this land that it just becomes a part of who you are, so you are going to love it and you are going to defend it if you feel like it's being disrespected by someone outside of Ohio," explains Columbus attorney Alex Hastie, producer and host of the "Ohio V. The World" history podcast.

Rufus Putnam is referred to in Wikipedia as the "Father of Ohio." He was a prime mover in the initial settlement of Ohio starting at Marietta. He also a delegate from Washington County at the constitutional convention for Ohio statehood. 

Putnam was a true Renaissance guy. Here are just a few of his attributes. Full disclosure: your author is an unabashed admirer of Putnam.
  • Was largely self educated; he scrounged money as a youngster to buy books because his step father did not allow him to attend school.
  • Multi-talented: was a farm manager, millwright, surveyor, military engineer, civil servant and leader in the early Ohio settlements.
  • Served four tours of duty in the French and Indian War and for the entire Revolutionary War. He was a breveted Brigadier General.
  • A tireless advocate for veterans, donating countless hours and lengthy travel to make sure that veterans got what was due them.
  • Leader in the settlement at Marietta in 1788, the first city under American government beyond the original thirteen states.
There is more, but this gives you an idea about this remarkable man. Learn more about him at Campus Martius Museum, an Ohio History Connection site, in Marietta. You can also read The Pioneers, a book by historian author David McCullough.

Painting in Capitol Rotunda, viewed at
Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York, 17 October 1777 metal print by John Trumbull. Rufus Putnam is seen in profile, the third person to the right of General Gage in the center.

Back to the ESPN article. I really enjoyed it, especially the light-hearted tone and the “right on” comments about Ohio State, Buckeye Nation, and Ohioans pride. Rufus Putnam was a worthy example of that pride. Thanks to Ryan McGee for reminding his readers of Ohio’s rich heritage. 

The condescending comments about the Buckeyes football team, especially the Dabo Swinney put down, had a predictable effect. It helped propel the Buckeyes to a 49-28 rout of Clemson.

Read the full article here (it may not be accessible after a certain date):

Go Bucks! OH-IO!

Sidebar notes:
  • Ryan stated that Ohio seceded from the Union in 1820. That did not happen. However, the Ohio General Assembly passed a “Nullification” law in 1820, nullifying all laws and authority of the United States in the state. It was an act of brazen rebellion against the Federal government that lasted for several years. Most of us are unaware of it because, as one historian noted, “ is a piece of buried and forgotten history.”

  • "Dabo Swinney" is not a typical name. Spell check lit up every time I keyed it in.

  • Rufus Putnam actually opposed statehood for Ohio as originally proposed. He favored a different state boundary that he thought would be better for southeast Ohio. But he was an active participant in the Ohio constitutional convention.

  • There is a football connection between OSU and Marietta, Rufus Putnam's Ohio home. The Buckeyes played the Marietta College Pioneers eight times between 1892 and 1902. The Bucks won the series 6-2. It's still impressive that Marietta won two games from Ohio State, though the game was much different then. Go Bucks! Go Pios!

  • One last poignant note: In a photo (see below) of the January 6, 2021 U. S. Capitol violence, I noticed the large painting in the background of the Capitol Rotunda. It looked familiar. It is the painting mentioned above which includes Rufus Putnam. I was not aware of its presence in the Rotunda - and relieved that it was not damaged. Putnam’s accomplishments and character make him worthy of being present and representing Ohio in the U. S Capitol.

  • Capitol Riot: Five Startling Images from the Siege BBC News
    Creator: Win McNamee/Getty Images