Pioneers

In 1788, 18,000 men, women, and children made their way downriver fromPittsburgh.

John and Elizabeth Denton Ferris and their children left Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1789.  The first leg of the journey took them down the Hudson River to Long Island Sound, and from there to New Jersey.  They crossed the Allegheny Mountains through Pennsylvania on Braddock’s Road and traveled downriver on a flatboat.  The Ferris family settled in Columbia before moving in 1791 onto land purchased from John Cleves Symmes of the Miami Purchase.   (History of Blue Ash, Ohio, 1791-1991 by Mary Lou Rose)

The land north of the Ohio River was unsettled and the Indians hostile. The late eighteenth century pioneers left families they might never again see.  What awaited these pioneers on their journeys into the unknown of the frontier and into the clearings on which they built their log cabins?  For answers, we turn the pages of An Island Called Eden, by Ray Swick, historian of WV State Parks, © 1995.

Roads were narrow, often muddy, paths through the woods, making river travel all the more attractive.  Imagine the river lower than the banks on either side.  Then imagine tall trees firmly planted and towering over the river.  The Ohio River is now 20 feet deeper than it was two centuries ago, leading Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke to say the Ohio River was “frozen one half of the year, and dried up during the other!”  Dr. Ray Swick tells us what the pioneers encountered on their journey and at their destinations.  Excerpts from An Island Called Eden:

What dominated and shaped the physical appearance of the West were its forests and the rivers that flowed through them.  The Ohio Valley’s timber was centuries old.  The Indians’ need to cut down trees was small compared to the white settlers who followed them.  Consequently most of the trees had grown to a huge size, some becoming monsters of their kind.  For example, one sycamore that stood on an Ohio River island twelve river miles above Marietta in the late eighteenth century measured 19 ½ feet in diameter. 

Enormous wild grapevines, as ancient as the trees around whose trunks they twisted in their upward growth, formed an interwoven roof ~ or “crown canopy” in botanical terms ~ over the treetops in many sections of the valley.  This, and in other places, the interlocking branches of the trees, kept sunlight from reaching the forest floor year-round.  The result was perpetual night, even at noon on a summer’s day, a darkness accompanied by an eerie silence that disconcerted settlers and travelers alike.  It was not unusual for settlers of both sexes, living on isolated farms miles from their nearest neighbors and having left their families behind them in the East, to fall victim to nervous breakdowns.  Thus many pioneers, especially women, feared and then grew to hate the great trees around them.  Men hated the forest because it was so hard to destroy: wild grapevines, running riot over the treetops and exerting the strength of steel cables, held up trees even when their trunks were chopped through. Eventually settlers learned to send boys, armed with hatchets, aloft to cut the jungle-like tangle of vines so the trees, when axed at their base, could fall.

The valley’s wildlife appeared so abundant, ranging from squirrels to bison, that it seemed well-nigh inexhaustible….When passenger pigeons, in flocks numbering millions of birds each, flew over an area, they plunged it into darkness for hours by screening out the sun.  Each fall, waves of migratory squirrels ranged south through the valley devouring crops in their paths….

We dedicate this page to the pioneer families who settled in Blue Ash two centuries ago. 

 

 

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