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200 Years at ‘The Fort’ PDF Print E-mail
Monday, July 30, 2012 8:18 AM

Fort Jennings, one of the earliest permanent settlements in Northwest Ohio is celebrating the 200th Anniversary of its founding by Col. William Jennings during the War of 1812.

The Bicentennial celebration will take place Aug. 17-18-19. Many special events have been planned.
The War of 1812
The war of 1812 was actually the second war for independence for the USA.  The British were trying to regain control of the colonies. They were blockading our harbors along the Atlantic and on the Great Lakes.

On 1 June 1812 President James Madison sent a message to congress, describing the reasons for war. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the war and President Madison signed the Declaration of War on 18 June 1812.
The War of 1812 played an important role in the shaping of west central and northwestern Ohio.

Several forts had been set up along the Auglaize River, including Fort St. Mary’s (aka Fort Barbee), Fort Amanda, Fort Recovery and Fort Defiance. Forts were also located along the Blanchard, the Sandusky, the Maumee and the St. Mary’s Rivers.

Col. William Jennings, a Kentucky native, had fought with Gen. William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana Territory.  After the battle he returned home but was called back to duty in 1812. Harrison commanded Jennings to take a group of Kentucky Volunteer Militia and build a supply fort about midway between Fort St. Mary’s and Fort Defiance.

Col. Jennings and his band of militiamen arrived at their chosen site on the Auglaize River in the fall of 1812. The road between St. Mary’s and Fort Defiance was one continuous swamp, often leaving pack horses knee-deep and the wagons up-to-the hub in mud.
When the Colonel and his men arrived at this bend in the river they began building block houses and then built the wall around the fort.  During the building of this fort, the men slept in tents.

In October of 1812, General Harrison and his approximately 3,000 men spent the night at Fort Jennings, giving the residents of Fort Jennings the right to say “One of the US presidents slept her.” Since Gen Harrison became Pres. William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the USA.

The War of 1812 ended in December 1814 with the Treaty of Ghent, but the news did not reach Fort Jennings until four weeks later. The fort was abandoned in 1815.

The area evolves
When the early settlers arrived in Northwest Ohio they found themselves in the midst of a dark swamp with a very thick forest and many wild animals, and many fish in the rivers. The Great Black Swamp covering nearly all of Northwestern Ohio. It evolved following the Great Ice Age, when glaciers covered over three fourths of Ohio. As the ice came down from Canada, it created hills and valleys, bringing with it the huge granite boulders that have since been dug up by farmers and contractors. People use these rocks and boulders for landscaping.

The ice gradually receded, eventually creating the 5 Great Lakes. It receded gradually, leaving ridges and beaches along the way. The very southern edge of Jennings Township has some of the best (or most productive) soil on earth. It was once the beach of old Lake Maumee. The Lincoln Highway in Allen and Van Wert Counties and Route 12 through Putnam County ride the ridge of the old lake. Another ridge is located near Leipsic.

Between the ridges the retreating ice left the land so flat that water couldn’t drain off the land. This created swamp land, which made up the Black Swamp. Murky water trying to escape formed rivers and streams such as the Maumee, Auglaize, Blanchard, Ottawa, Hog Creek, Jennings Creek and others. The drop to Lake Erie was very minute.

Migrating Indians began using the Auglaize River for their canoe routes through the swamp.  In drier seasons, the sandy ridges nearby were passable and became a path along the river.

The Miami Indian tribes at one time occupied all of western Ohio. Other tribes, looking for food and fleeing white men, gradually intruded and formed settlements, laying claim to some of the territory once inhabited by the Miamis. Wyandot and Ottawa tribes lived in what is now Putnam County and Shawnees were found nearby in Allen County.

In a letter to U. S. War Department in 1812, General William Henry Harrison wrote that the Shawnees claimed the Auglaize River area (settlements made immediately after the 1795 Treaty of Greenville). However the Wyandots also claimed lands south and east from the Lower Michigan border.

Gen. Harrison said Northwestern Ohio territory was once the property of the Miamis, and he considered the Miamis the real owners of the land. He wrote, “The Miamis are a poor, miserable, drunken set, diminishing every year. Becoming too lazy to hunt, they feel the advantage of the (government) annuity. The fear of other Indians has prevented their selling to the United States.”

Following Indian routes along the rivers and streams, French and English fur traders, often accompanied by Catholic missionaries, came from the north into this area.  The French explorer, Robert Cavelier, Sieur deLaSalle is believed to have been the first white man to reach what is now Ohio in about 1670.

The French first claimed Ohio, but gave up all claims in North America to Great Britain in 1763. When the French and English entered this virgin country, they lived much the same way as the Indians and did not change or destroy the forests.
However, when American pioneers took over the land, they cut down forests and cultivated the land. This did not sit well with the Indians.

Many Native Americans were living in Putnam County and lived among the early settlers, even though most of them were confined to reservations. Tawa Town (now Ottawa) was an Indian reservation.  Many early settlers of the county told interesting stories about life among the Indians in the 1820s and 30s. Sometimes a group of redskins would arrive at a pioneer cabin for coffee and breakfast. They ate heartily.  Many boys told of running foot races or shooting target with the Indian boys.

Since most of the Indians were confined to reservations in the 1820s, the United States Government began offering the land for sale.  The land now in Putnam County was called “Congress Lands.”  When a canal through the area was proposed later, the land was sold as “Canal Land” with proceeds of the sales going toward building the canal.

After the war the Indians were forced to leave their lands in the East and sent to reservations in the western states.  The Ottawa tribe departed from the reservation near Ottawa for Missouri Territory, now Franklin County, Kansas in 1835-36.  The departing remnant, destroyed by disease and intemperance, little resemble the once proud Ottawa nation.  A few stragglers remained in the vicinity of Fort Jennings.  The 1915 History notes that an Indian was buried in the Fort Jennings area in 1839.

As settlers began to arrive in the 1820’s after cheap land became available, they had to cut their way through the forests and often pull their wagons through mud over the wheels.

Effective on 12 February 1820, the Ohio Legislature created 14 counties from lands ceded by Indian tribes, including Putnam County.  Putnam was attached to Wood County for governmental purposes.

Placed under the jurisdiction of Williams County in 1824, Putnam County was organized on 3 January 1834, with its own officials.  But the original boundaries of Putnam County were changed later.

A Delphos Herald article from May of 1853 follows:  “The commissioners of Allen and Putnam Counties have agreed upon a sum of 3,848.76 due Putnam County for territory taken from that county and added to Allen County.” (The change occurred because a new county, Auglaize, was formed from portions of Allen and other counties.)  Putnam County lost these lands as a result of an act passed on 14 February 1848 by the Ohio Legislature.

The transferred land included some of the best improved lands of Putnam County, containing the towns of Bluffton, Beaverdam, West Cairo, Gomer and the part of Delphos situated east of the Miami and Erie extension Canal.  Originally the Putnam County line reached nearly to the area of State Road.  It also included Scott’s Crossing.

As a result of this act, Putnam County also gained some land which was mostly swamp, however, from Van Wert County.
Jennings and Jackson Townships were involved in this land swap. Eighteen sections of the south end of Jennings Town ship, or one-half of the townships, were relinquished to Allen County and twelve south sections of Jackson Township were transferred to Jennings Township.  Again in 1850, when Monterey Township was formed, western sections of Jennings and Jackson Townships were given to Monterey Township.

The county boundaries, as designated in 1850, have remained the same to date.

Settlers began arriving in Jennings Township and the rest of Putnam County in the 1820s. Perry Township was the first to be settled at the confluence of the Auglaize River and the Blanchard River. Some of these early pioneers were veterans of the War of 1812. They included: Thaddeus Harris, James Thatcher, William Cochran, Jim Cochran, Elias Wallen, Ellison Ladd and Andrew Russell.

On 7 August 1821, Andrew Russell purchased 19 ½ acres, the northwest fraction of the northwest quarter of section four in Jennings Twp.  Russell had served at Fort Jennings under Lt. Col. Jennings in the War of 1812.

Russell also purchased the land where Fort Amanda was built.  He and his family lived in the block house in the southeast corner of that fort. The family had emigrated from Montgomery Co. near Dayton and settled in Fort Amanda in 1814.  Russell died of “tubular consumption” and was buried at Fort Amanda.

Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Russell married Samuel Washburn, the first white settler in Jennings Twp., Putnam Co.  For some time, the Washburns remained in Jennings Twp.
Washburn became manager of the Russell estate about 1832. Wanting to lay out a village at the Fort Amanda site, Washburn moved his family to that location.

The 1830 Census listed 245 persons living in Putnam County. They resided in 46 households. Most were American born, of English decent. All lived along rivers and streams. Most of these families settled along the Auglaize River.

Some moved onto the land and lived there without buying the ground, while others had purchased land early.
A Putnam County Sentinel article, dated February of 1880, reported that the Pattons were the first inhabitants to clear some land and build a cabin on section 16 of Jennings Township. There was a John Patton listed in the 1840 Census of Jennings Twp. Another mention of Patton is by George Skinner in Pioneer Reminiscences 1887.  Here he mentioned that Walliam Patton settled 14 miles south of where David Murphy lived at the mouth of the Blanchard in 1824. That would put him near Scott’s Crossing, which was in Putnam County in 1824.

Most sources agree that Sam Washburn was the first white settler who purchased and cleared land. The first land transfer (SE fr. Of SW ¼ of sect. 33, now Jennings Twp.) to Washburn was dated 1824.  He bought another piece of land (SW fr. SE ¼ sect. 21, then Jennings Twp.) in 1825.

Thomas Washburn, born in 1828 to Washburn and his wife, was the first white American born in Jennings Township. In that same year, the elder Washburn sold his second farm to Isaah Clawson and William Cochran.

Other settlers soon followed.  According to county histories, those in the area before 1834 were:  William Berryman, Thomas Berryman, Henry Bode, Thomas Carder, Rufus Carey, Isaah Clawson, Joseph Closson, William Cochran, George Comer, Joseph Comer, Phillip Comer, John Discher, Thaddeus Harris, William Harris, John Harter, John Hedrick, James Hill, Edward Ladd, James Martin, Conrad Raabe, William Scott, Daniel Sunderland, William Sunderland, Joseph Sutton, James Thatcher, Elias Wallen, John Welch and Jeremiah White.

Other sources names John and James Cochran; John and Aaron Harter, David Thatcher and John Patton as early settlers. There were also women and children living with these men but you notice; only the men were named.  Also mentioned was an old Revolutionary soldier (unidentified except he had a son named Aaron), who lived north along the river where he had about 10 acres of cleared land.

He lived near the Virginia Dutchman, Henry Bode.

Professor Horstman and John Kahle said when they passed through Fort Jennings on their way to Glandorf; they spoke to a Mr. Samuel Meyers. He is not mentioned elsewhere.

In February, 1833 the Raabe and Discher families, along with John Hedrick, settled at Fort Jennings. They were the nucleolus of the Lutheran parish in the community.  According to the 1984 Parish History, Jim Thatcher lived near the Fort and had about 30 acres cleared when the German Lutherans arrived. The Raabe family lived at the Thatcher cabin for a short time..

Henry Joseph Boehmer, Ferdinand VonDerembse and  J. H. Wellmann arrived in Fort Jennings in 1834.  Boehmer was from Vechta, Oldenburg, Germany and Wellmann was from Langfoerden. They landed in Baltimore in December, 1833, after a rough two month voyage on the Leontine. They proceeded to Cincinnati. Wellmann had arrived in Cincinnati a couple days earlier.  Boehmer, Von Derembse and young Wellmann immediately started searching for their home in the wilderness. They walked through Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio before choosing Fort Jennings as the location of their community in the new world.

Boehmer wrote several letters to his family and the newspaper back in Germany describing their search for a home. He chose Fort Jennings, the site of the old fort because “it lies on a nice river 60 to 80 feet wide—called the Auglaize River and on a mail route from Cincinnati to Fort Defiance, and about one and one half miles from the new Ohio Canal.”  He said the land where the fort stood was high and dry and  “produced the best of green growth, with an abundance of springs with clean, pure drinking water — the river has as good water as I have found in Germany. There are also plenty of stone. The wood growth here is as luxurious as I have seen anywhere — and all varieties of trees that you would expect from good land — as sycamore, white oak, white and black walnut trees, wild grapes, and in such abundance as I have not seen anywhere on our tours. Enough, I can say that I have not seen a pleasanter place for the establishment of a town in any of the states that we traveled; and English as well as Germans like the place.”

The Boehmer letters note that in 1834, he and companions purchased from a private party, who lived twenty miles away, 92 acres of land including that where Fort Jennings stood. The total land of Fort Jennings owned by Andrew Russell and Sam Washburn was 91.99 acres, as recorded in the original land purchases.

Of that acreage, the larger portion was located east of the river.  Nineteen and a –half acres in the extreme northwest corner of section four of Jennings Twp was west of the river.

Histories, soldiers’ diaries, and Gen. Harrison’s correspondence confirm the fort was located on the west bank of the Auglaize.  Therefore the fort was more than likely within this 19 ½ acres.

Others who came with Boehmer were B. H. Biester and his daughter, O. Deters, Dina Wilberg, Henry Frederick Wellmann, Agnes VonDerEmbse and Mary Wellmann

Soon after came Ferdinand Gerking (King), Christopher Helmkamp, Casper Gerker, Calvelage and VonLehmden.  Gerkings were from Steinfeld also. Other early settlers were Frederick Hemme, Francis Badenhurst and Jacob Freund. The Rekart family arrived in Ohio after spending 10 years in Pennsylvania. The Freund first settled south of Fort Jennings on the Auglaize but there was a flood problem at that location so they moved to a higher spot north of Fort Jennings in Jackson Township. When Boehmer arrived the Ladd family moved to Cloverdale. Ed Ladd was a faith healer.

Oliver Tolbert was another early pioneer in Jennings Township. He told his story to Putnam County Reminiscences in 1878. He was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on 31 October 1792. He settled in Jennings Twp. On northeast quarter, section 12 in January of 1835. He died in Kalida in 1878. This book gives the day to day experiences of the early settlers in their own words. The following story was told by Mr. Talbert.

I arrived on my land, in the woods on 26th of January, 1835, and went to work and fenced in ten acres and cleared five acres, and got three acres of it in corn, and one more acre in timothy and turnips. I cleared the other five acres the next fall and put it in wheat and had enough wheat for my bread. The next year I fenced in twelve acres more, and had a good crop of wheat in the fall of 1887.  I took a load of wheat to Portland (now Sandusky City) on the Bay, and got $1 per bushel for it, and bought salt at $1.25 per barrel, while in Kalida it was worth $8 per barrel. It took 10 days to make a trip, and we camped out every night and slept in our wagons. In 1838 I again went to Portland with wheat and got $1.25 a bushel for it, and bought salt for $1.25 a barrel. I bought six barrels, and sold it at Fort Jennings for $5 a barrel. In 1839 I spent my time in killing deer and getting out timber for a barn. I put up one of the best barns in the country.  I again went to the lake with a load of wheat, and brought back a load of salt, and took five barrels of it to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and sold it for $11 a barrel. During these trips I saw hard times.  Sometimes I traveled through mud knee deep; sometimes through rain and snow, and sometimes on ground froze so hard that it would almost bear up a man.  Mud, rain or snow never stopped me, and I took it all patiently.

I spent considerable time hunting. One morning my friend Chamberlain came over to go hunting and I had to go with him. We had not gone 20 rods from the house when we saw five deer, and we followed them in the afternoon. It was very cold. I told him it was too cold but he thought not and so I told him to keep the track and I would try and head them off, and in trying to do so I got lost. I heard some one strike three licks with an ax, and I started for home, but crossed my tracks again and again. It was getting dark, when I heard a bell, and broke for it. It was an old mare with a bell on. I caught her, took her to a log and mounted upon her back. I had no bridle, and did not know but what she would run off and break my neck. I gave her a kick and let her go. I then heard some one chopping wood and I started her in that direction. I saw two men, either going to or from mill. I ran her until I got so close that I might see them. I soon got into the path and got off the mare and looked around for a hollow tree to camp in, but could find none. Directly I heard the horns begin to blow and the guns begin to shoot. A man shot off his gun close to me and I told him it was too late, when he let his gun fall and trembled like a leaf.  I then went on to find Chamberlain. He was at work in his shop. I knocked at the door and he told me to come in. I opened the door and stepped in and the jack-plain fell out of his hand. The horns soon stopped blowing and then it was after nine o’clock.


Last Updated on Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:43 PM

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