Ohio History Journal

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edited by

edited by






James Kilbourne:

New Light on his Story



James Kilbourne played an important, if not widely known, role in

the settlement and development of Ohio. Born in Farmington, Con-

necticut in 1770, Kilbourne became a prosperous merchant and land

owner as well as a lay reader and clergyman in the Protestant Episco-

pal Church. He was a man of stature in both the business and spiritual

affairs of central Connecticut by the turn of the century.

In 1800 Kilbourne conceived of a plan for western emigration. Af-

ter two exploratory trips to western New York, he turned his attention,

at the suggestion of his father-in-law, John Fitch, to the Northwest

Territory. After first exploring much of central Ohio, he led a group

of New England farmers and mechanics to Worthington in 1803 and

there founded a community dedicated to prosperity, virtue, educa-

tion, and self-sufficiency. In essence, Worthington was a haven for

Episcopalians as well as a bit of New England in the wilderness.2

Kilbourne's importance for the history of Ohio far transcends the

founding of a single frontier community. At various times he served as

a colonel of the frontier militia, land agent and organizer of numerous

immigrant groups, a state and national legislator, college founder,

trustee, and president, a leading officer in local and state Masonic so-

cieties, and a prime mover in the establishment of the first Episcopal

diocese west of the Alleghenies. He was also the founder and princi-

pal agent of the Worthington Manufacturing Company, one of the



Paul C. Bowers, Jr., is Assistant Professor of History and Goodwin F. Berquist,

Jr., is Professor of Communication at The Ohio State University. Research funds to

make this study possible were jointly provided by the College of Humanities and the

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.


1. Paul C. Bowers, Jr., and Goodwin F. Berquist, Jr., "Worthington, Ohio: James

Kilbourn's Episcopal Haven on the Western Frontier," Ohio History, LXXXV (Summer

1976), 247-53.

2. Ibid., 258-61.