Friday, February 11, 2011

On Bloody Ground

Abraham Covalt is my ancestor of the 9th generation, through my mother's father. I found this story of the settlement of the Terrace Park, Ohio area (close to Cincinatti) that references him and several of my other family members.

Pioneer settlers and Shawnee Indians fought and died for possession of what is now Terrace Park. The Indians almost won.

Five settlers were killed in little more than a year after Abraham Covalt, a Revolutionary War captain, established fortified Covalt Station here in January, 1789. The Indians lost only one. Two military expeditions suffered dismal defeat, and Covalt Station had to be abandoned over the winter of 1791-92. Of the Covalt Station men who joined the second military expedition, only [my great-uncle] Chenaniah Covalt returned.

The menace continued throughout the Miami area until an army under General "Mad Anthony" Wayne won a victory and then a peace treaty in 1795. But in the years between, four other men had been killed here. Four more were carried off as prisoners, and only one was ever heard of again. The usual lot of Indian prisoners was to be burned at the stake.

For a time, indeed, the land between the two Miamis was called "the Miami slaughterhouse." So harassing were the Indian raids that a committee of citizens of Columbia and newly-founded Cincinnati once offered rewards for Indian scalps "with the right ear attached."

 Early travelers enthusiastically described the Miami area as a forested Eden, but the settlers faced instead a struggle for existence. In summer, those clearing land or working in their tiny fields needed constant guard against attack. At sunset, all retreated to their forts, leaving nothing of value behind. In winter, they survived on what meat could be won by hunters in constant peril of ambush, and on what corn they had been able to save. Even in more populous and better-defended Columbia, the settlers at times faced starvation. There was the winter when, said pioneer Luke Foster:
"...being harassed, & pent up by the Indians, that we could take no wild meat, and our corn was so frosted that it would not sprout, neither would a hungry horse eat it....but what was still worse there was not enough of it for everyone to have a little there were, perhaps, in Columbia near 200 persons, of all ages & sexes; & I believe not one pound of pork; or any other kind of salted or other meat; & but little milk, and no flour. In fact, our subsistance was an insoficiency of such poor corn ground by hand, or boiled whole; & the roots of bargrass [beargrass], which was found on the rich bottoms, boiled, mashed up & baked, sometimes with, & somtimes without a mixture of our hand mill meal; but then it was good. I don't know how it would eat now."
Things were not much better years later. Francis Bailey, a young Englishman, visited in 1797. He reported:
"It must be observed that in all these new settlements fresh provisions, both in meat and vegetables, are at some seasons very scarce, particularly at the time we were there. The inhabitants live a great deal on deer and turkeys which they shoot wild in the woods, and upon bacon, which they keep by them in case of need; and as to vegetables, they are seldom to be procured except in summer. The bread which is made here is chiefly of Indian meal; it is a coarse kind of fare, but after a little while it becomes not all unpleasant."
There was little room for social niceties. Said Bailey:
"Such is the force of example that very few of the emigrants who come into this kind of half-savage, half-civilized, state of life, however neat and clean they might have been before, can have resolution enough to prevent themselves from falling into that slovenly practice which everywhere surrounds them."
Covalt left Pittsburgh on January 1, 1789, with 45 people and "some 200 head of cattle, swine and sheep, and seven horses, the best that ever came to the West." Jammed aboard two flatboats, one 55 feet long, the other 40, they reached the mouth of the Little Miami River on January 19, only five weeks after Benjamin Stites had established the first settlement, Columbia. They had spent almost three weeks on the Ohio River in bitter cold that made floating ice a constant hazard. Once, said Covalt's daughter Mary, one boat stuck fast in the ice, and it took the efforts of all the men to break it free.

Once at Columbia, they threw up tents to house the women and children while the men pushed up the Little Miami to what is now Terrace Park. Working furiously, within a week they had put up temporary housing for their families, spending the rest of the winter in clearing ground for crops and expanding the settlement into a fort known variously as Covalt's Station or Bethany Town, in the vicinity of present-day St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

It was a big fort--too big, some said later, to be adequately defended. There is no description, but a contemporary ground plan shows it to have been rectangular, with a blockhouse at each corner. It enclosed some 40,000 square feet--almost as big as Fort Washington, a military post established at the east end of what is now Fourth Street in Cincinnati. Triangular pens at each end sheltered livestock brought in for safety each night. In the pattern of frontier forts of the time, each of its 17 cabins most likely had a large room below and a loft above. The cabins formed most of the outer walls of the fort, with palisades filling any gaps between. Roofs sloped to the inside of the fort, to present outer walls and wide eaves that could not easily be scaled. Uncaulked chinks between logs provided air and light in the place of windows. Only one gate led to the hostile outside world. In the nearby creekbed was a small grist mill, using millstones Covalt had brought from Pennsylvania. The stream was "Mill Run" until recent times, when it became Red Bird Creek.

A family record says Covalt scouted the territory a year before. Whether he had or not, he had bought Section 30 and parts of Sections 22,23,and 28 from Stites, who had obtained 20,000 acres from land speculator John Cleves Symmes. Symmes had bought a million acres--at 66 cents an acre--of the land between the two Miamis from the Continental Congress of which he was a member. The east side of the Little Miami River remained in the Virginia Military District, reserved for distribution among that state's Revolutionary War veterans. Some of it, right across from Terrace Park, was among the 40,000 acres acquired by George Washington.

How Covalt amassed the means to make the purchase and finance his expedition is unknown. Born in New Jersey in 1743, he had moved to Bedford, Pennsylvania, soon after he married Lois Pendleton in 1763. There he fathered six sons and four daughters, and had become enough of a figure to be elected captain of the company that Bedford sent to fight in the Revolution. Twelve years after the war ended, he was able to persuade others to join him in his Ohio venture.

Mary Covalt listed them as the families of Robert McKinney, Jonathan Pittman, John Webb, John Hutchens, David Smith, Z. Hinkle and [8th generation ancestor] Timothy Covalt. With them, according to other sources, were Forgerson Clements and his wife and nine children, Levi Buckingham, Joseph Beagle, and others identified only as Fletcher, Murphy, Coleman and Gersten.

Under Clement's leadership, some of them built a small fort of their own, Round Bottom Station, at the opposite end of present-day Miami Avenue from Covalt Station. Recruits from Columbia evidently joined both parties. The two groups worked in concert, however--so closely that past histories have treated them as one. Only recent research has established that Round Bottom Station did exist, and in Terrace Park.

Stites had found the Indians friendly at first, but relations deteriorated rapidly. Mary Covalt records that "five days after we landed we had five horses stolen, valued at one hundred dollars apiece." Except for the later theft of a hog, Covalt Station was unmolested during the summer. But in the fall, an Indian stole another horse, was pursued, shot and killed. His hunters "scalped him and took his gun, tomahawk, cap and knife, and brought them back to the fort."

With first blood drawn, the hit-and-run battle was on.

Indians did besiege some of the other stations which sprang up throughout Hamilton County. Mostly, though, they struck from ambush. Only once was there a half-hearted attack on Covalt Station. A military guard was decoyed away by shots heard in the woods, and Indians swooped down on the undefended fort. Braving musket shots, Mary Covalt slammed and barred the gate and the Indians pressed no further.

Twenty-one-year-old Abraham Covalt Jr. was the first to die at Indian hands. In late January of 1791, he and three others--his friend Abel Cook and Buckingham and Fletcher from Round Bottom--went hunting upriver toward Miamiville. Young Covalt and Fletcher became separated from the others and were ambushed. Shot through the chest, Covalt fell, urging Fletcher to "run for your life, for I am a dead man."
Within a month, Cook was killed similarly while journeying from Columbia to Covalt, and an unidentified settler and a soldier were killed near Round Bottom. Alarmed, the settlers petitioned General Josiah Harmar at Ft. Washington for help:
"We the inhabitance of Bethany Town and Else where do once more ettampt to solicite the Most Honorable General Harmer Commander in Chief in the Western territory to whome we your humble petetioners are in Duty Bound Shall Ever Pray That your Excellencey would take our situation into your most Serious Consideration and Send us some few Troopes and suffer us not to Brak up for we dont do our Selves a kindness by keeping our garesn but the Collumbia people and your Town also by our mill in supplying them in bread and if we move from hear our mill is useless Either to our Selves or to the Entirer Part of the inhabitans."
Cook had been killed only the day before.

If any soldiers were sent, they were ineffective. "What can you expect for $3 a month," Stites asked on one occasion. Less than a month later, Indians struck again as Captain Covalt, Joseph Hinkle and others were cutting wood near the base of Indian Hill. Shot in the chest and one arm in the first volley, Covalt ordered the others to run, and ran himself until he fell dead across a log. Hinkle was run down and almost beheaded by the sweep of a tomahawk, and both were scalped.

The subsidiary outpost at Round Bottom suffered loss of its leader as well. Shot from ambush, Clements was hit in the thigh and bled to death as he struggled to safety. A soldier guarding a woodcutting party was killed when an Indian band seized three Round Bottom men--Beagle, Murphy and Coleman--and carried them off as prisoners. Beagle returned home three months later. His companions were never heard of again. Mary Covalt tells of a youth named Pelser being caught when he strayed from a party plowing a field, but says nothing of his fate.

A narrative by Joseph Martin, one of the founders of Garrard Station, tells of two deaths at Round Bottom, one by accident and one presumably by Indian attack, but neither identified. (It was to Garrard Station, near present-day Lunken Airport, that the Covalt people fled when they abandoned the fort in the winter of 1791-92.) James Newell of Columbia was killed, too, as he plodded upstream to have his corn ground at the Covalt mill.

The last victim was Major William Riggs, a newcomer from Delaware. He had gone into the woods with Timothy Covalt in search of strayed horses, and was gathering pawpaws when he was shot down and scalped. Covalt, trailing behind following a horse track, made his escape.

General Wayne's victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and the peace treaty that followed, finally broke the Indian menace. "Now," said Mary Covalt, "the inhabitants began to disperse and the woodman's axe was heard in every direction."

Covalt Station itself was soon abandoned. Only a small cabin and a fenced-in field remained of the Covalt family property in 1796 when Chenaniah Covalt sold the last 40 acres--including a Little Miami island. Survivors of Forgerson Clements clung to 40 acres surrounding Round Bottom Station until 1804. Most of what was left of Covalt Station burned in 1810.

Samuel Heighway, an English Quaker who founded Waynesville in Warren County, bought the last piece of Covalt property for $200, selling it for $959 in 1806 to Christian Rue and others of that family. Some of the tract ultimately passed to early developers John Pattison and J. B. Iuen of Milford. They in turn sold a plot for $500 in 1903 for the site of St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

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