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Monday, November 15, 2021

Two Gems

Valley Gem..... the name has a nice ring to it, especially since Marietta, Ohio is nestled in two valleys. Today’s VALLEY GEM sternwheeler cruise boat has been operated at Marietta for nearly fifty years by the Sands family. That boat’s namesake was a Muskingum River steamboat, also named VALLEY GEM.    Captain J. J. Sands explained that the VALLEY GEM was suggested by riverboat expert Frederick Way because that boat had the longest service on the Muskingum River without an accident.

She (sorry guys, but female pronouns are typically used for boats) was built at Marietta’s Knox and Sons boat yard in 1897. She was large enough to carry 300 passengers and 150 tons of freight but small enough to fit through the smaller lock chambers on the Muskingum River. Newton Price of McConnelsville was the captain and part owner of the VALLEY GEM.

VALLEY GEM  steamboat image on a postcard from

VALLEY GEM was one of over two hundred steamboats which ran on the Muskingum River. These boats were an integral part of the culture and economy of Southeast Ohio. They moved freight, farm products, passengers, and provided entertainment in the 1800’s up to about 1920. Many of them were built at Marietta’s Knox Boat Yard.

For steamboat enthusiasts, the original VALLEY GEM engineering details are as follows: She was a wooden hull sternwheel packet boat 125.4 feet long by 26.5 feet wide with 4.2 feet of draft. There were two boilers, 43 inches in diameter and 20 feet in length. The two steam engine cylinders had a 13 inch bore with a 5 foot stroke. That all added up to a state of the art steamboat which would touch the lives of thousands over nearly 20 years. She ran on the Muskingum River, mostly in the McConnelsville - Zanesville trade, from 1898 to 1917. 

The VALLEY GEM’s maiden voyage was on Friday, February 18, 1898. There were 99 passengers on board. The Zanesville Times Recorder was effusive in its description of the VALLEY GEM. Excerpts:

The steamer is indeed a gem. She is provided with each and all requirements of the United States government. The entire boat is lit up with electric lights. Her cabins and staterooms are elegantly furnished throughout. In all details and respects she is an A-1 steamer....Captain Price received many congratulations and high compliments upon his success in bringing out such a fine packet steamer.

Very laudatory verbiage, eh? How often today can a newspaper article also be your marketing message? All went well until the boat approached Zanesville. She suffered a “slight breakdown” in one of her engines, drifted downstream, and was “detained until a late hour last night” with necessary repairs. The passengers had to be offloaded from the boat. “The excursionists returned home by the steamer JEWEL and Zanesville and Ohio rail line.” It was not the ideal finish to a maiden voyage.

Steamboat VALLEY GEM at landing in Zanesville, Ohio circa early 1900's, from Muskingum Valley History Facebook page

Steamboat VALLEY GEM at unidentified location, viewed at

She ran a regular schedule from McConnelsville to Zanesville. There were also excursions and events on weekends. Captain Price entertained his Sunday School class on the boat in 1905. Crowds of 200-300 were typical for excursions; seems like a lot for a 125 foot long sternwheeler, smaller than today’s VALLEY GEM. 

There were often unexpected situations that the VALLEY GEM - and other steamboats, too - had to contend with. Examples:

3/2/1904. Riverboats usually tied up during winter. In 1904 the boat restart was delayed by ice in the river lasting 92 days, the longest stretch in 20 years. 

8/6/1899. Passengers were terrified by a severe electrical storm during a cruise. Many became hysterical; a pastor circulated and offered prayers.

9/3/1907. Two unidentified men opened fire on VALLEY GEM passengers with shotguns. Several were injured; none seriously. 

3/4/1898. The VALLEY GEM collided with a rival riverboat JEWEL. There was “ill will” from Captain Webster of the JEWEL who claimed the incident was intentional. Some area steamboats were heated rivals with the VALLEY GEM. They often raced each other to the same locks. It’s not clear if the VALLEY GEM was always the instigator. 

5/13/1899. VALLEY GEM collided with steamer ZANETTA as they raced to the Philo locks. The latter boat was heavily damaged. The two were especially bitter rivals. In 1901, the same two boats raced for the drawbridge at Gaysport. The VALLEY GEM was slightly ahead but the ZANETTA charged forward and ran into the VALLEY GEM. 

Circa 1900. A Mrs. Fanny Richardson of Malta, Ohio, recalled another racing episode between the same two boats. She hailed a ride on the ZANETTA from a country landing, unaware that the two boats were racing. Honoring river tradition, the ZANETTA reluctantly stopped and picked her up. But the boat’s crew was irate because they lost position in the race. She was shunned by all on the rest of the trip. These rivalries sound like a steamboat-era version of today’s road rage.

7/4/1908. A July 4 church excursion from Zanesville to McConnelsville on a very hot day did not turn out well for the 277 passengers. A mechanical problem delayed departure for two hours. On the return trip, several young people fainted from heat exhaustion after running to a McConnelsville baseball game and back to the boat. Others overdosed on ice cream and cold drinks and got sick. A Dr. Trout boarded at Philo to care for the afflicted passengers. Phone calls requesting doctors to meet the VALLEY GEM at Zanesville resulted in a panicked crowd of 400 jamming the wharf there.

Image and caption from Images of Marietta, White, Larry Nash Ph. D., and Emily Blankenship, Arcadia Publishing, 2004, viewed at

The VALLEY GEM’s long run on the Muskingum River ended in 1917. The boat was sold to another company which operated her on the Monongahela River. The stated reason was Newton Price’s health, though declining business was likely a factor. Times were a-changing as automobiles, trucks, and trains were permanently disrupting life on the river. For the first time in 93 years the Muskingum River had no steamboat operating on it, though other boats later ran intermittently.

Sadly, the venerable VALLEY GEM sank in early 1918 when it was caught up in an ice jam at Morgantown WV and could not be salvaged. There was a sheriff’s sale and her equipment removed and sold. 

Image from WV History: 

The wrecked VALLEY GEM from the stern. Notice the name plate: VALLEY GEM of 
McConnelsville Ohio.” The owner kept the boat's original name. New owners often gave their boat a new name, wiping out its previous identity.

Today’s VALLEY GEM sternwheel cruise boats were built and operated by Captain James E. Sands and his family. From the Valley Gem website:

Our History...
All of us like to dream about what we would like to do with our lives, but few of us have the determination to carry our dreams to completion. Captain James E. Sands, Sr., and his wife Peggy were an exception to the rule. After much personal sacrifice, they managed to put their first 98 passenger sternwheeler into operation in 1973. With the assistance of Capt. Fred Way, they named the boat Valley Gem, after a historic packet boat that plied the Muskingum River between Marietta and Zanesville, Ohio during the previous century. It was an immediate success. For more than ten years, he and his oldest son Jimmy Sands, also a licensed pilot, brought pleasure to thousands of passengers with trips on both the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers.

Captain Sands always felt he could improve upon the design of the Valley Gem. He spent several years designing a brand new boat. With the assistance of his friends, master welder Ivan Arnold, electrician Charles Shockey and mechanical engineer Tom Hudson, he completed the new Valley Gem Sternwheeler in 1989. It was designated the Flagship of the Muskingum Navy, with Captain Sands as Commodore. Sands specifically designed the boat for the Muskingum River.  It has two decks so that it can clear the low bridges. It is not wider so that it fits in the hand-operated locks. It is a well maintained all-weather boat with a heated or air-conditioned lower deck for passenger comfort. Then, in 1990 on the day of the Sternwheel Festival Races, tragedy struck the Sands family. Jimmy, at 32 years of age, died after a prolonged illness. Captain Sands, his wife Peggy and their son J.J. carried on.

Captain James Sands passed away in 1998, after living his dream of being a riverboat captain for 25 years. He knew and loved the rivers, and enjoyed sharing river stories with the passengers. His wife Peggy retired from the business in September 2003. She handled reservations for the boat for almost thirty years. Their son, Captain J.J., and his wife, Captain Heather now continue the family tradition, and you can meet them and enjoy a wonderful trip on an authentic sternwheeler here in historic Marietta throughout the year. They look forward to seeing you and extend a heartfelt welcome aboard.

The first VALLEY GEM was 70 feet long by 18 feet long and could hold 98 passengers. Captain James E. Sands, a former contractor then 45 years old, built the boat with a friend. “We worked on the boat for nine months and put 32 tons of steel in it.” The steel was acquired at no cost from a truck accident. Cruises in 1974 departed daily at 1, 2, 3, and 4 pm.  Fares were $1.50 for adults, 1.00 for children.

Captain Jim Sands first VALLEY GEM launched in the fall of 1973. Postcard from Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University Library, Oxford OH, Bowden Postcard Collection Online

Captain Jim Sands piloting the VALLEY GEM pictured in a September 21, 1974 in a Dayton Journal Herald newspaper article.

Your author talked with Captain Sands when the VALLEY GEM started service. I was active in the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce at the time. We were thrilled to see another tourist attraction added to Marietta’s historic attractions. I asked him if the boat would operate on a limited schedule, naively thinking that this would be part time and that there would not be enough demand for full time operation. I was wrong. He was all in. This was now his livelihood; the VALLEY GEM would operate every day (seasonally). It’s been like that non-stop for almost 50 years.

Captain Jason (“JJ”) Sands recalled that former President George H. W. Bush rode aboard the first VALLEY GEM during a stop at Marietta in the 1988 presidential campaign.  The campaign motorcade came to the VALLEY GEM boat landing. JJ’s late brother Jimmy was Captain of the VALLEY GEM for the cruise. Candidate Bush briefly piloted the boat “flawlessly.” 

Advance arrangements were quite thorough. Secret Service agents took possession of the VALLEY GEM during the visit. The boat was inspected for weapons. Divers went under to check the hull for munitions. The Secret Service set up portable armor plates in pilot house for protection. Several agents with sniper rifles were on board during Bush’s cruise.

The current VALLEY GEM is 157 feet long by 25 feet wide and weighs 100 tons - much larger than the first boat. She can carry up to 296 passengers. The paddle wheel is powered by a Diesel engine and a chain drive rather than the steam engine propulsion common until 100 years ago. 

Building this new and improved VALLEY GEM was an adventure. Since this was a larger “K boat” it required Coast Guard approval. Most vessels of this type were built by boat building companies familiar with the procedures. JJ explained that this bureaucratic process was a challenge for  “amateurs building a boat in a hayfield.” 

He said that the plans for the new boat had to be sent in three different times to Coast Guard officials who then failed to respond, claiming the plans didn’t exist.  Those plans were “discovered” and approved only after the Sands asked Charlie Bacarisse, then an advisor in the Bush 41 White House, to intervene.  Bacarisse had been a former deckhand on the VALLEY GEM and was present when candidate Bush visited Marietta. The construction site was an open field along the Ohio River below Marietta. A Coast Guard inspector with an attitude visited the site one day and stated dismissively, “there will never be a boat built here.” He was wrong.

Today’s VALLEY GEM which began service in 1989

The current VALLEY GEM has been in service now for over 30 years, carrying tens of thousands of visitors. Recently, the Discovery Plus cable TV channel was on board filming a segment. The episode host was Clint Harp, the carpentry artisan who often appeared on the Fixer Upper program on Home and Garden TV (HGTV) cable channel series featuring Chip and Joanna Gaines.

JJ remembered an impromptu rescue operation on a VALLEY GEM cruise with the Marietta College baseball team. A john boat transporting 3 crew members to shore from an Ohio River towboat. It was a very windy day; whitecaps and sizable waves kicked up on the river. The boat gradually took on water from the waves and capsized. Two of the guys on board climbed on top of the capsized boat. The lady passenger on the john boat would not let go of the bag with her belongings and nearly drowned. Luckily, the VALLEY GEM was passing by on a cruise and rescued all of them using the landing ramp.

The VALLEY GEM is a family operation run by James and Peggy’s son, Jason, and his wife, Heather. In an Ohio Magazine  article this spring, Heather Sands explains: “Jason is a mechanic, I do marketing, and our family friend Don Sandford is an electrician. (And) we all captain the VALLEY GEM. It is all personal and thoughtful. We want to make sure it is a family-oriented place because we are family.” You can learn more about the VALLEY GEM tours, events, and food service at

The Sands family’s two VALLEY GEMS, and the original VALLEY GEM, each have their engineering pedigrees, stories, and events.  But they were all about people - people living, working, and having fun on the river.

  • Steamer RUFUS PUTNAM made the initial Muskingum River steamboat voyage in January 1824 - going from Marietta up to the Putnam community near Zanesville. It was a daring voyage since there were no dams at the time. The trip had to be made when water levels were high and the current was swift and potentially dangerous. Read more about that voyage here:
  • The Muskingum River Navigation System was one of the first lock and dam systems in the country, placed in service in 1841. All of the locks and dams are still operational today with limited hours for recreational craft. Consult the Muskingum River State Park website for schedules and updates.

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. Author 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 Pipe.

Abbott, W. W., “The Young George Washington and His Papers,” February 11, 1999, at
Cleland, Hugh, George Washington in the Ohio Valley, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1955, viewed at
Coleman, Christopher, “George Washington and the West,” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol 28, No 3, September, 1932
DiSarno, Nicole, George Washington University, “The Kanawha Tracts,” mount
“George Washington,”
George Washington Estate, Enclosure: Schedule of Property July 9, 1799, viewed at:
Gardner, Andrew G., “How Washington Made His Millions,” CW Journal, Winter 2013, viewed at 
Hart, Lorna, “Washington in the Ohio Valley,” Pomeroy OH Daily Sentinel, October 28, 2020. 
National Archives, Founders Online, “From George Washington to Samuel Lewis 1 February 1784,” viewed at
Redmond, Edward, Senior Reference Librarian, Geography and Map Division, “Washington as Land Speculator, “ George Washington Papers Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, viewed at 
“William Crawford (soldier),” Wikipedia.

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