The beautiful country between the Miamis had been so infested by the Indians, that it was avoided by the whites, and its settlement might have been procrastinated for years, but for the discovery and enterprise of Major Benjamin STITES, a trader from New Jersey. In the summer of 1786, SITTES happened to be at Washington, just back of Limestone, now Maysville, where he headed a party of Kentuckians in pursuit of some Indians who had stolen some horses. They followed for some days; the latter escaped, but STITES gained by it a view of the rich valleys of the Great and Little Miami as far up as the site of Xenia. With this knowledge, and charmed by the beauty of the country, he hurried back to New Jersey, and revealed his discovery to Judge John Cleves SYMMES, of Trenton, at that time a member or Congress and a man of great influence. This result was the formation of a company of twenty-four gentlemen of the State, similar to that of the Ohio Company, as proprietors of the proposed purchase. Among these were General Jonathan DAYTON, Elias BOUDINOT, and Dr. WITHERSPOON, as well as SYMMES and STITES. SYMMES, in August of next year, 1787, petitioned Congress for a grant of the land, but before the bargain was closed he made arrangements with STITES to sell him 10,000 acres of the best land.
The North Bend settlement was the third within the SYMMES Purchase, and was made under the immediate care of Judge SYMMES. He called it North Bend because it is the most northerly bend on the Ohio west of the Kanawha. The Judge with his party of adventurers left Limestone January 29, 1789.
The party, on their passage down the river, were obstructed, delayed and exposed to imminent danger from floating ice, which covered the river. They, however, reached the Bend, the place of their destination, in safety, early in February. The first object of the Judge was to found a city at that place, which had received the name of North Bend, from the fact that it was the most northern bend in the Ohio river below the mouth of the Great Kanawhia.
The surface of the ground where the Judge and his party had landed was above the reach of the water, and sufficiently level to admit of a convenient settlement. He therefore determined, for the immediate accommodation of his party, to lay out a village at that place, and to suspend, for the present, the execution of his purpose, as to the city, of which he had given notice, until satisfactory information could be obtained in regard to the comparative advantages of different places in the vicinity. The determination, however of laying out such a city, was not abandoned, but was executed in the succeeding year on a magnificent scale. It included the village, and extended from the Ohio across the peninsula to the Miami river. This city, which was certainly a beautiful one, on paper, was called Symmes, and for a time was a subject of conversation and of criticism but it soon ceased to be remembered—even its name was forgotten, and the settlement continued to be called North Bend. Since then, that village has been distinguished as the residence and the home of the soldier and statesman, William Henry Harrison, whose remains now repose in a humble vault on one of its beautiful hills.
The three principal settlements of the Miami country, although they had one general object, and were threatened by one common danger, yet there existed a strong spirit of rivalry between them—each feeling a pride in the prosperity of the little colony to which be belonged. That spirit produced a strong influence on the feelings of the pioneers of the different villages, and produced an esprit du corps, scarcely to be expected under circumstances so critical and dangerous as those which threatened them. At first it was a matter of doubt which of the rivals, Columbia, Cincinnati or North Bend, would eventually become the chief seat of business.
That, however, lasted but a short time. The garrison having been established at Cincinnati made it the headquarters and the depot of the army. In addition to this, as soon as the county courts of the territory were organized, it was made the seat of justice of Hamilton county. These advantages convinced everybody that it was destined to become the emporium of the Miami country
North Bend is situated sixteen miles below Cincinnati and four from the In-diana line, at the northernmost point of a bend in the Ohio river. This place, which was of note in the early settlement of the country, has in later years derived its interest from having been the residence of Gen. Wm. H. HARRISON, and the spot where rest his mortal remains. The family mansion stands on a level plat, about 300 yards back from the Ohio, amid scenery of a pleasing and retired character. The eastern half of the mansion, that is, all that part on the reader’s right from the door in the main building, is built of logs; but the whole of the building being clapboarded and painted white has the same external appearance. The wings were alike: a part of the southern one was destroyed by fire since the decease of its illustrious occupant, memento of which disaster is shown by the naked chimney that rises like a monument over the ruins. The dwelling is re-spectably though plainly furnished, and is at present occupied by the widow of the lamented HARRISON, long distinguished for the virtues which adorn the female character.
About a quarter of a mile south of the family mansion, and perhaps half that distance from the river, is the tomb of HARRISON. It stands upon the summit of a small oval-shaped hill, rising about 100 feet from the plain, ornamented by a few scattering trees, and commanding a view of great beauty. The tomb is of brick, and is entered by a plain unpainted door on its western end. There is no inscription upon it, nor is any required to mark the resting-place of HARRISON.
About thirty rods, in a westerly direction from the tomb of HARRISON, on an adjacent bill, in a family cemetery, is the grave of Judge SYMMES. It is covered by a tablet, laid horizontally upon brick-work, slightly raised from the ground. On it is the following inscription:
Here rest the remains of JOHN CLEVES SYMMES,
who, at the foot of these hills, made the first settlement between the Miami rivers.
Born on Long Island, State of New York July 21, A.D. 1742
Died at Cincinnati, Feb. 26, 1814
Mr. SYMMES was born at Riverhead, on Long Island, and early in life was employed in land surveying and in teaching school. He served in the war of the Revolution, and was in the battle of Saratoga. Having removed to New Jersey, he became chief justice of the State, and at one time represented it in Congress. As early as 1787, and at the same time with the agents of the Ohio Company, he made application to Congress, in the name of himself and associates, for the purchase of a large tract of land lying between the two Miamis. “The price was sixty-six cents per acre, to he paid in United States military land warrants and certificates of debt due from the United States to individuals. The payments were divided into six annual installments. His associates were principally composed of the officers of the New Jersey line who had served in the war of the Revolution. Among them were General DAYTON and Elias BOUDINOT, LL.D. His first contract was for one million of acres, made in October, 1788, but owing to the difficulty of making the payments, and the embarrassments growing out of the Indian war, the first contract was not fulfilled, and a new one was made for two hundred and forty-eight thousand acres, in May, 1794, and a patent issued to him and his associates in September following.” Meanwhile, in the spring of 1789, Judge SYMMES had located himself at North Bend, where he laid out “Symmes’ City,” the last of which has already been stated. The residence of Judge SYMMES stood about a mile northwest of his grave. It was destroyed by fire in March, 1811, and all his valuable papers consumed. It was supposed to have been the act of an individual, out of revenge for his refusal to vote his as justice of the peace. At the treaty of Greenville, the Indians told him and others that in the war they had frequently brought up their rifles to shoot him, and then recognizing him, refrained from pulling the trigger. This was in consequence of his previous kindness to them, and speaks volumes in praise of his benevolence.
On the farm of the late Wm. Henry HARRISON, Jr., three miles below North Bend, and two from the Indiana line, was a settlement made at the same time with North Bend. It was called the Sugar Camp settlement, and was composed of about thirty houses. The settlers there erected a block-house, near the Ohio river, as a protection against the Indians. It is now standing, though in a more dilapidated condition than represented in the engraving. It is built of logs, in the ordinary manner of block-houses, the distinguishing feature of which is, that from the height of a man’s shoulder, the building, the rest of the way up, projects a foot or two from the lower part, leaving, at the point of junction between the two parts, a cavity through which to thrust rifles on the approach of enemies.
In my original visit to North Bend, in 1846, I passed a day or two with the HARRISON family, and was there the guest of Col. W. H. H. TAYLOR, whose wife was daughter of Gen. W. H. HARRISON. While preparing these pages for the press, I unexpectedly got a letter from him; he learning I living only a few days before its day–June 25, 1889. As I saved no memoranda of my old-time visit, I thereupon wrote a request for his reminiscence of that visit, together with a ground plan of the HARRISON mansion so famed in history His reply together with an engraving from his plan, is annexed. This gentleman is a Virginian by birth; was in the civil war Colonel of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry, and his two eldest sons in the Union army—one in the Eighteenth U. S. Infantry and the other on the staff of Gen. W. T. SHERMAN. Col. TAYLOR is now State Librarian for Minnesota, residence St. Paul. When he wrote me, he stated that he was in his seventy-ninth year, and was able to attend to business, although much troubled with rheumatism contracted in the army.
When you visited us at North Bend in 1846, Mrs. Gen. W. H. HARRISON was living there, and you saw her at meal times. I was managing the farm for her. My first wife, her youngest daughter, and seven children where there. You remained two nights with us. The day after your arrival you and I walked down the Ohio river bank to the old block--house four miles below the Bend, of which you made a sketch; then we went a mile farther, and took dinner with the Hon. John Scott HARRISON, the father of the present President, then a lad of thirteen years of age.
After dinner, in company with Mr. HARRISON, we visited Fort Hill, which was on his farm, overlooking the three States of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. You examined the fort thoroughly, and I think made a drawing of it, and we then walked back to North Bend. The next day you viewed the ruins of the house of Judge John Cleves SYMMES on the Miami, the first settler in the Miami valley, and the father of Mrs. HARRISON. You then left us and, I think, returned to Cincinnati. [Yes; was carried thither by a canal boat.]
I send you a ground-plan of the noted log cabin of 1840, which I occupied when you visited us, and in which I was living on the 25th of July, 1858, when it was set on fire by a she-devil of an Irish woman and burned to the ground; myself and family getting out with our night robes only, leaving everything in the way of clothing, furniture, library and all the relics of 1840, of which we had a great many and many that had been in the family for two hundred years.
The widow of General HARRISON is distinct in my memory. She was of rather slender, delicate figure, with dark eyes and modest, quiet manners; then seventy years of age. She was born at Morristown, New Jersey, in the year of the Declaration of Independence, and soon after her mother died. Her father Judge SYMMES, then a colonel in the Continental army, was so anxious to place her with her grandmother, then residing at Southold, Long island, that, when she was near four years of age he assumed the disguise of a British officer’s uniform, to enable him to pass through their lines with her on his way thither, a perilous undertaking. Incidents of that journey she remembered to her last years.
Mrs. HARRISON lived to the advanced age of eighty-nine, dying in 1864, and leaving the sweetest of memories. Rev. Horace BUSHNELL, the blind preacher of Cincinnati, long her pastor and friend, preached her funeral sermon from a text she had selected for him years before—“Be still, and know that I am God.” She lies buried beside her husband at North Bend.
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