Ohio History Journal






It is as Ohio's first historian that Caleb Atwater is best

known. But had he never written his History of Ohio, his

efforts to provide an educational system for the state and the

record he made in Archaeology might in themselves be sufficient

reason for placing his name in "Ohio's Hall of Fame."

Caleb Atwater was a versatile, peculiar, eccentric and vis-

ionary individual.  From  the world's material point of view

his life might not be reckoned a success. He never accumu-

lated any property.  He lacked that power of concentration

which alone gives success in a pursuit. But he was not lazy.

He worked hard on things that were congenial to him. He

was a close observer of nature. He had his ideas and theories

and it seems he spent much time in formulating them.

His versatility expressed itself in his being a minister,

lawyer, educator, legislator, author and antiquarian. He was a

pioneer in more senses than one. And since a pioneer is ever

a brave man we can forgive Mr. Atwater his inclination to be a


It was on Christmas day in 1778 at North Adams, Massa-

chusetts, that Caleb Atwater was born to Ebenezer and Rachel

(Parks) Atwater. He was a direct descendant of David Atwater

one of the original settlers of New Haven. On the maternal side

he inherited Welsh blood. His mother died when he was five

years old. The child was placed in the home of a Mr. Jones in

North Adams, where he remained until his eighteenth year.

About this time Williams College was founded and young At-

water was sent by his guardian to this school. He completed

his studies here and received the degree of Master of Arts.

I wish to express my thanks to Miss May Lowe, Librarian at Cir-

cleville;  Miss Wilder, Assistant Librarian; Mrs. L. G. Hoffman, of

Circleville, and Rev. Dr. Brown, of Indianapolis, for courtesies extended

in the preparation of this article.              C. L. M.


248 Ohio Arch

248       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


Upon his graduation he went to New York City and opened

a school for young ladies. While thus engaged he studied

theology and in due time entered the Presbyterian ministry. He

now married a Miss Diana who lived only about a year. On

account of his health he gave up the ministry and began the

study of law. His preceptor was Judge Smiley of Marcellus,

New York. After a few months reading he was admitted to the

bar. He married a second time. His wife was Belinda, a daugh-

ter of Judge Butler.

It seems that now he entered into some business arrange-

ments that proved disastrous. What this business was is un-

known but it left him impoverished.

He had determined to go West. It could hardly be said that

he wished to "grow up with the country" for he was now thirty-

seven years old. He came to Circleville, Ohio, in 1815, and

there made his home until his death fifty-two years afterward.

The first six years of his residence in Circleville was de-

voted to the practice of law. In 1821 he was elected to repre-

sent the Pickaway-Hocking District in the Ohio Legislature. One

of the great issues before the American people at that time was

the question of "internal improvements." Governor De Witt Clin-

ton of New York had begun his Erie Canal. Roads were de-

manded. Better facilities to get the produce of the land to

market were asked for. As usual the people were divided.

Mr. Atwater upon his entrance into the General Assembly

aligned himself with the friends of "improvement."  He had

not been a member long until he had an opportunity to defend

his position. A bill had been introduced to abandon for a year

the usual road tax. Mr. Atwater opposed the measure in the

following speech.

"The people of Ohio are an enterprising people and they are

as patriotic as they are enterprising and will not thank you

for giving up the road tax. Does the public voice call for the

abandonment of the road tax? Sir, the spirit of the age remon-

strates against this bill in the strongest language and he must

be deaf indeed who does not hear its voice and perverse indeed

who disobeys it. There is not a single state over the mountains

that is not up and doing. In New York besides a vast number of

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  249


turnpikes running in all directions through the state the patri-

otic Clinton and his friends are cutting a canal, three hundred

and fifty-eight miles in length connecting the Great Lakes with

the ocean. Virginia and North Carolina have each their Boards

or Public Works busily and successfully engaged in these improve-

ments. Shall this young State lose all the benefit of example so

praiseworthy? 'But the pressure of the times.' Great minds

rise under every pressure. The sages who on the Fourth of July,

1776, declared us an independent nation did not sit down to

inquire where our armies were, where was our navy, where our

money was to be obtained, to carry on a war with the most

powerful civilized nation in the world. Had they done so we

had not been as now, here legislating for a respectable state.

"Shall we throw dollars and cents into one scale, against a

great system of internal policy in the other? From such legisla-

tion I devoutly pray to be delivered on this and all other occa-


Mr. Atwater was a friend to the Canal System. He was a

great admirer of Governor Clinton of New York. That fact is

evidenced when it is noted that he named a son after the great

New York champion of canals. Many Ohioans, including Mr.

Atwater, had kept in close touch with Governor Clinton during

the years the Erie Canal was building. His advice to the Ohio

people was valuable. Accordingly when the friends of "in-

ternal improvements" were ready to strike they were not entirely

ignorant of the best methods to be followed. It is significant

that the friends of roads and canals were also friends of public


On the 6th of December, 1821, the initial canal bill was

introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives. Mr. Atwater

supported the bill as a member of the Legislature but he

did more than that. There was a popular opposition to overcome.

The people had to be educated. During these years of debate

and agitation the pen of Caleb Atwater was busy in writing for

the press. The files of the Circleville newspaper of the time show

many articles that are evidently his. While they are signed, usu-

ally, as was the custom of the time by a high sounding Latin

pseudonym, yet to a person who is but meagerly acquainted with

250 Ohio Arch

250       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

Mr. Atwater's style, but little difficulty is found in recognizing the


These articles are vigorous and the arguments are telling.

There is no doubt that they had considerable influence in molding

the public opinion of the section.

But it is in the cause of popular education that Mr. Atwater

deserves to be held in fond memory by the people of Ohio.

Coming from the halls of an eastern college as he did he soon

saw the need of an educated proletariat. In expressing his views

of the stability of our Republic he said, "To effect this object

universal education is the only remedy." He had full confidence

in the function of the school master. He did not doubt the po-

tency of an efficient system of education.

On the same day that the Ohio Canal Bill was introduced

in the General Assembly, Mr. Atwater set the educational wheels

revolving by presenting a resolution asking for a committee on

"schools and school lands."

The part taken by Mr. Atwater is best told in his own words

which are taken from his History of Ohio.

"The congress of the United States, by several acts, usually

denominated 'the compact,' gave the people, of all the territory

northwest of the Ohio river, one thirty-sixth part of the land,

for the support of common schools. No small portion of these

lands were occupied, at an early day, by persons who settled

on them, without any title to them, than what mere occupancy

gave them. These occupants, made no very valuable improve-

ments, on these lands, but they contrived in time, to obtain various

acts of our general assembly, in favor of such squatters. Such

acts increased in number every year, until they not only had cost

the state large sums of money for legislating about them, but

some entire sessions were mostly spent, in such unprofitable legis-


"In the meantime, scarcely a dollar was ever paid over to the

people, for whose benefit these lands had been given, by congress.

"Members of the legislature, not frequently, got acts passed

and leases granted, either to themselves, to their relations, or,

to warm partisans. One senator contrived to get, by such acts,

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                   251


seven entire sections of land into, either his own, or his chil-

dren's possession!

"From 1803-1820, our general assembly spent its sessions

mostly, in passing acts relating to these lands; in amending our

militia laws; and in revising those relating to justice's courts.

Every four or five years, all the laws were amended, or as one

member of the assembly well remarked in his place, 'were made

worse.' At a low estimate, this perverse legislation, cost the

people, one million dollars. The laws were changed so frequently,

that none but the passers of them, for whose benefit they were

generally made, knew what laws were really in force. New laws

were often made as soon as the old ones took effect.

"During these seventeen years, there were a few persons, in

different parts of the state, who opposed this course of legis-

lation. And here we introduce to the reader, Ephraim Cutler,

of Washington county, near Marietta, who was one of the

framers of our state constitution.  He had succeeded in his

motion, so to amend the original draft of that instrument, as to

make it the imperative duty of the general assembly, to support

religion, morality and knowledge, as essentially necessary to

good government.' And the constitution goes on to declare

'that schools and the means of instruction, shall forever be en-

couraged by legislative provision.'  This provision remained

a dead letter until in December 1819, Judge Cutler, its author,

being then a member of the general assembly, introduced a

resolution for that purpose, and was appointed chairman of a

committee on schools. He introduced a bill into the house of

representatives, for regulating and supporting common schools.

This bill after being much injured by amendments, passed the

lower branch of the legislature, but, was either not passed in

the senate, or so modified as to render it useless. This state of

things continued, until, in December, 1821, the house of repre-

sentatives appointed five of its members, to wit: Caleb Atwater,

Lloyd Talbot, James Shields, Roswell Mills, and Josiah Barber,

a committee on school lands. To that committee was referred

a great number of petitions from occupants of school lands,

in almost every part of the state. This committee devoted nearly

252 Ohio Arch

252       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


all its time to the subjects submitted to its charge. All the acts

of the legislature, relative to the school land were carefully

examined, and this committee came to the conclusion, that,

inasmuch as the legislature were the mere trustees of the fund

set apart by congress, for the support of common schools, not

a few of these acts were void, because they were destructive

to the interests of the people whose children were to be educated

by this grant. The trustee, the committee believed, had the power

to so manage this fund as to increase its value; but, the trustee

had no power to destroy the fund. The committee saw all the

difficulties which surrounded the object of their charge; as well

as the delicacy of their own situation, sitting as members with

those who had possession of more or less of the school lands.

They weighed in their minds all these things and finally adopted

a plan and the only one which to them seemed feasible, which

was, to recommend the adoption of a joint resolution, authoriz-

ing the governor, to appoint seven commissioners of schools and

school lands, whose duty it should be, to devise a system of law,

for the support and regulation of common schools. Their chair-

man who writes these lines, immediately after this decision,

drew up, and presented to the house of representatives, the

following report.

'The committee to whom was referred so much of the gover-

nor's message, as relates to schools and school lands, have had

these subjects under their consideration, and now beg leave to


"That in the opinion of the committee, the education of our

youth, is the first care and highest duty of every parent, patriot

and statesman. It is education which polishes the manners,

invigorates the mind and improves the heart.  If it has been

encouraged even by despotic governments, how much stronger

are the motives held out to induce the Republican statesman to

promote this object of prime importance? Shall Louis XVIII

of France, support from the national treasury, learned professors,

in every branch of science and learning, in all the celebrated

schools in his kingdom; and will the legislature of this young,

rising and respectable state, neglect to provide for the education

of her youth? The committee presume not.

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                   253


"It will be recollected by the house, that many of the best

scholars, warriors, philosophers, and statesmen, whom this nation

has produced-men who have shone as lights in the world;

who have been blessings to their own country and the world at

large; who have been applauded by the whole civilized world,

for their learning, their genius, their patriotism and their virtues

in public and private life, were many of them when young, poor

and destitute as to property, and yet through their own exer-

tions, under the genial influence of the Republican institutions of

our elder sister states, were enabled to raise themselves from the

lowest circumstances, to the heights of fame and usefulness.

"The name of the illustrious Franklin will occur to every

mind. Are there no Franklins, no Monroes, no Wirts in the log

cabins of Ohio, who possess not even a cent of property, who

have no knowledge of the rudiments of a common education.

and are deprived of a father's advice and protection, and even

without the benefit of a mother's prayers? Is it not the duty

of the legislature, to lay, in season, a foundation on which to

build up the cause of education? Ought not a system of edu-

cation to be founded, which would embrace with equal affection

the children of the poor and the rich?

"It has been said that 'a little learning is a dangerous thing.'

This may be true in monarchical governments, where the extremes

of wealth and poverty, power and weakness, exist, but never

can be true in a republic like ours. Where universal suffrage

is the birthright of every citizen, learning enough to enable the

elector to become acquainted with his own rights and his ruler's

duty is necessary for him to possess. In a moral point of view,

learning enough to enable every rational being to fully under-

stand his duty to himself, his neighbor and his Creator, is abso-

lutely necessary. Without education and morality, can a republic

exist for any length of time? The committe presume not.

"A great philosopher has said that 'knowledge is power.'

It is that power which transforms the savage into civilized man,

surrounds him with a thousand comforts, unattainable through

any other medium, and exhibits man as he ought to be, at the

head of this lower creation, and the image of his Maker. It is

an acquaintance with letters which enables man to hold a corre-

254 Ohio Arch

254       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

spondence and become acquainted with his fellow man, however

distant they may be from each other. Through this medium

all the ideas of the warrior, the statesmen, the poet, the philoso-

pher and the patriot are conveyed from age to age and from

country to country.  Through this medium    the treasures of

learning and science are brought down to us, from the remotest

ages past. Through this same medium, these treasures are accu-

mulating, as they are borne along down the stream of time, will

be conveyed to the remotest ages yet to come.

"Gratitude to those who have gone before us, for their labors

in the field of learning and science, duty to ourselves and to those

who are to come after us, call on us for a system of education

for common schools, so framed that genius, to whomsoever given,

by the all-wise and beneficent Author of our existence may be

drawn forth from its abode however exalted or however humble

it may be to enlighten mankind by a divine radiance.


"Full many a gem of purest ray serene,

The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear,

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air."


"Is it not the duty of the legislature to explore the recesses

of the ocean of distress and poverty and to draw forth the gems

of genius and place them before the public eye? Ought not the

field of learning to be so far extended as to enclose within its

limits, those beautiful wild flowers of genius which are now

wasting their sweetness on the desert air?

"But it may be asked, how shall we effect this desirable ob-

ject? Where are our means of doing it? The committee answer,

that nearly one-thirty-sixth part of our territory has been granted

by congress, (for a fair equivalent it is true) to the state in trust

for the support of common schools. Had this fund been prop-

erly managed, the committee are of the opinion, that a great

permanent one would have been created, the interest of which

would have done much toward the support of common schools.

The committee deeply regret that the school lands have been

in many instances, leased out for different periods of time, to

persons who in numerous instances seem to have forgotten that

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  255


these lands were granted to the state (for a fair equivalent by

congress), for the support of education and for the benefit of

the rising generation.

"From all the committee have been able to learn it would

seem that more money had been expended by the state in legis-

lation concerning these lands, than they have yet or ever will

produce, unless some other method of management be devised

than any hitherto pursued. The committee refer the house to

acts concerning these lands on the statute books and to the fact

in numerous instances, the lessees are destroying all the valuable

timber growing in these lands. The committee are impressed

with the belief that unless these lands are soon sold and the

proceeds thence to be derived invested in the stock of the United

States, or in some other permanent and productive stock, no

good and much evil will accrue to the state from the grant

of these lands by congress. Shall we proceed on, legislating

session after session, for the sole benefit of lessees of school lands,

at the expense of the state? Or shall we apply to the general

government for authority to sell out these lands as fast as the

leases expire or are forfeited by the lessees? Or shall we en-

tirely surrender these lands to present occupants, with a view

to avoid in future the perpetual importunity of these trouble-

some petitioners? The committee are of opinion that in order

to collect information on subjects committed to their considera-

tion, commissioners ought to be appointed to report to the next

general assembly, a bill to establish and regulate common schools,

accompanied by such information on the subject, as they may

be able to collect. Should the general assembly authorize the

governor to appoint such commissioners, a judicious selection

would doubtless be made, with a reference to the local interests

of the state, as well as to the cause of learning among us.

"Such commissioners ought to take into their consideration

the propriety or impropriety of obtaining leave of the general

government, of making such a disposition of the school lands

of the state, by sale or otherwise as may best comport with the

original intention of the grantors.

"It is our sincere wish to incite into activity the learning,

the talents and patriotism of the state, so that the attention of

256 Ohio Arch

256       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

our constituents may be immediately turned toward the subjects

committed to us.

"The following resolution is respectfully submitted to the

consideration of the house:

"Resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio:

That the governor shall be authorized to appoint seven com-

missioners whose duty it shall be to collect, digest and report

to the next general assembly, a system of education for com-

mon schools, and also, to take into consideration, the state of the

fund set apart by congress for the support of common schools,

and to report thereon to the next general assembly.

"This report and this resolution being read, at the clerk's

table, were ordered to be printed and on the 30th day of Jan-

uary, 1822, they passed the house without a dissenting vote.

The joint resolution for the appointment of commissioners passed

the senate, January 31st, 1822, without opposition.

"In the month of May following, Allen Trimble, Esquire, the

then governor of the state, appointed seven commissioners of

schools and school lands, to-wit: Caleb Atwater, the Rev. John

Collins, Rev. James Hoge, D. D., N. Guilford, the Honorable

Ephraim Cutler, Honorable Josiah Barber, and James M. Bell,

Esquire. The reason why seven persons were appointed, was be-

cause there were seven different kinds of school lands in the

state, viz: section number sixteen in every township of con-

gress lands; the Virginia military land; United States mili-

tary lands; Symmes' purchase, in the Miami country; the Ohio

company's purchase, on the Ohio river; the refugee lands, ex-

tending from Columbus to Zanesville; and the Connecticut West-

ern Reserve land.

"Caleb Atwater was appointed for congress lands; John Col-

lins, for the Virginia military lands; James Hoge, for the

refugee lands; James M. Bell, for the United States military

district; Ephraim Cutler for the Ohio company's lands, N. Guil-

ford, for Symmes' purchase, and Josiah Barber for Connecticut

Western Reserve school lands.

"All the persons appointed commissioners, accepted of their

offices, as it appears, by referring to Governor Trimble's mes-

sage to the legislature, in December, 1822. Five of these com-

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  257


missioners, to-wit: Caleb Atwater, John Collins, James Hoge,

Ephraim Cutler and Josiah Barber, entered on the duties of their

appointment and assembled at Columbus the seat of govern-

ment, in June 1822. They organized their board, appointed

Caleb Atwater chairman, and inasmuch as N. Guilford and

James M. Bell did not appear nor act, the five who were present

and acting informally appointed Caleb Atwater, to perform the

duty assigned to N. Guilford; and James Hoge was appointed

to supply the place of James M. Bell.

"This board, thus organized, ordered their chairman, to ad-

dress a circular letter, to all such persons as had the charge

of the school lands in the state soliciting information as to those

lands; what was their value, how they were managed, how,

and by whom occupied, and finally, all the information necessary

to be possessed by the commissioners.

"Each commissioner agreed to exert himself in obtaining all

the information in his power relating to these lands. After an

active session of seven days, the board adjourned to meet again

in August the next.

"Five hundred letters were addressed to persons in various

parts of the state and fearing that unless the postage were paid,

these letters would not be attended to, by those to whom they

were addressed, the author of them  paid the postage.  His

time was devoted almost wholly to this business, until in August

following, the board met again at Columbus. At this meeting,

which lasted seven days, the chairman was directed to prepare

three pamphlets for the press: first, a pamphlet showing the

actual condition of the school lands; second, a bill proposing

a system of law, regulating common schools; and thirdly, an

explanatory one, of the school system to be proposed.

"The chairman was directed to collect all the school systems

in use in all the states; and to consult by letter or otherwise,

all our most distinguished statesmen, scholars, teachers and

jurists on this matter. In pursuance of this order, he opened

a correspondence with not a few such men, in all the old, and

many of the new states. This correspondence occupied nearly

all his time, during the three following months of September,

October and November, and until early in December 1822, the

Vol. XIV.- 17.

258 Ohio Arch

258      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


board again assembled at Columbus. During all this time not

a dollar had been advanced by the state to this board, nor was

there a dollar in the state treasury to spare for any object.

"Two of the commissioners had been elected members of

the general assembly, to-wit; Ephraim Cutler and Josiah Bar-

ber. The other three, Messrs Atwater, Collins and Hoge de-

voted up their whole time to this service. Occupying a room in

a public house, it became a center of attraction for all the lovers

of learning who visited the seat of government, during that ses-

sion of the state legislature. In this legislature were many in-

fluential men who were opposed to a school system; to a sale

of the school lands; and to internal improvements. Calling

occasionally at the commissioners' room, these enemies of all

improvement, discovered the commissioners discussing the merits

of the different school systems which they had collected. These

opposers as it now appears, with the intention of swindling the

commissioners out of what would be justly due them for their

expenditures of time and money, requested the chairman to

let them see what the postage on his official correspondence

amounted to, and they would pay it. This being acceded to,

and that being found to be seventy dollars, these legislators

framed a report in the senate that it would appear that all the

services had been finished and paid for, nine weeks before the

commissioners concluded their session.

"The board proceeded in their labors, day after day, and

week after week, and prepared for the press and printed the three

pamphlets aforesaid, at the expense of printing and paper -paid

for by the chairman, and never fully remunerated to this day by

the state! Fifteen hundred copies of each, or four thousand

five hundred copies, after an absence from home on that business,

of eighty-two days, were printed and done. up in handsome

covers. They were circulated over the whole state in the spring,

summer and autumn of 1823.

"On the assembling of the legislature in December, as soon

as that body were properly organized the report of the com-

missioners was presented to the general assembly which they

accepted, thanking, but not paying anything for their labors and

expenditures. This session had a majority in both houses, op-

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  259


posed to the school system and the sale of the school lands,

and all that was done by them, was to quarrel about these sub-

jects. They finally broke up in a row and went home. During

the next summer and autumn, the contest about the sale of the

school lands, the school system, the canal, and an equitable mode

of taxation, was warm and animated, but the friends of these

measures, triumphed over all opposition at the polls in the Octo-

ber election of 1824. Large majorities were elected in both

houses, friendly to these highly beneficial measures. These meas-

ures were carried through the general assembly and the greatest

revolution, politically, was effected that our history offers to

the reader. That legislature was the ablest in point of talents

and moral worth that we ever had in the state.

"They gave us a system of education for common schools;

changed the mode of taxation; created a board of fund com-

missioners who were authorized to issue stock and borrow

money on it, wherewith to make canals. They passed many other

wise, morally, healthful and useful acts. These measures effected

more for us than all others, ever originating with the people,

and carried out into execution by the legislature.

"Our domestic policy thus established, has never varied

since that time, and this new state has as fixed a policy as any

other state in the Union."

In Mr. Atwater's term as a legislator a bill for the education

of the deaf and dumb was introduced. Mr. Atwater opposed the

measure in no uncertain terms. He said:

"When we have established a system of schools throughout

the state; when we have respectable academies in every county

and one college at least, well endowed and supplied with the

necessary qualified instructors, then our means could not per-

haps be better applied.  But until provision is made for the

proper education of those not deaf and dumb it would be divid-

ing our attention and diminishing the means necessary for this

object by applying them to other objects of much less import-


In 1822 Mr. Atwater was a candidate for Congress. He was

defeated by Duncan McArthur for whom he had a warm friend-

ship. It was this friendship that prompted him to dedicate one

260 Ohio Arch

260       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


of his books to McArthur, who had in the meantime been elected


Mr. Atwater's ideas of education were not theories alone

but he aimed to put them into practice. Naturally he began in

his own town, Circleville. In 1823 he presided at a meeting of

the citizens who had met to elect school trustees. He himself was

elected to the board and it is to be expected that he was the most

active member. The duties devolving upon these trustees were

multiform. They included the examination and employment

of teachers, erection of buildings and the supervision of the


It was about this time that Mr. Atwater conceived the idea

of editing a paper of his own. It was to be published in Chilli-

cothe under the name of "The Friend to Freedom." In a notice

published in a Circleville paper the editor advanced his platform.

The paper was to promote the best interests of the country, in-

ternal improvements and a good system of education for common

schools. It would contain nothing "unfriendly to religion or

morality, and modesty will find in it nothing to condemn." There

were to be essays both literary and scientific. For the benefit of

the people living beyond the mountains," the editor himself who

has for several years been collecting a mass of information on

the antiquities and natural history of the Western states will

present his essays on these topics. But three numbers of "The

Friend to Freedom" were ever published. It failed for lack of

support. For this failure Mr. Atwater was, to use his own

words, "maligned by evil disposed persons." His financial con-

dition was certainly not the best, for in a short time the sheriff

levied upon his personal property to satisfy a creditor.

The presence of many prehistoric earthworks at Circleville

was partly, at least, responsible for Mr. Atwater's interest in that

class of Antiquities which he is pleased to call them. Already

in 1820 he contributed to the American Antiquarian Society his

observations. In 1833 he produced a volume on "Western An-

tiquities."  This book contained all he had previously written

with much additional matter. There is no doubt that he knew

more on this subject than any other man of his time. His per-

sonal knowledge extended over many years of investigation from

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                   261


New York to the Tennessee valley. Many of the places he per-

sonally visited, others he knew only by what he could glean

secondhand. Of course his methods would not bear the criticism

of modern scientific investigation. Yet his theories of the use

for which the various earthworks were designed tallies very well

with those of our "up-to-date" archaeologists. In comparing the

generalized, superficial statements of Atwater with what has

more recently been produced we find that many who followed

him in point of time have also trod in the "beaten paths." Be-

sides the descriptions of the principal earthworks at Newark,

Glenford, Marietta, Circleville, Paint Creek, Portsmouth, Fort

Ancient, etc., maps of the inclosures are also presented. They

were evidently not surveyed yet they show a decided degree of

accuracy.  Throughout Mr. Atwater's descriptions he draws

his conclusions from his knowledge of Roman customs. For

instance the parallel walls at Fort Ancient suggest the probability

of their use for foot races. One thing Mr. Atwater did do for

archaeologists and that is he furnished descriptions of many

mounds that were destroyed before a more systematic study

of them began. It is singular that the Serpent Mound in Adams

county is not mentioned. Certainly Mr. Atwater had never

heard of it or he would have included it in his descriptions.

Yet before he published the last edition of his work it is definitely

known that he passed within a few miles of the famous "Snake."

This was on the occasion of his journey to Prairie Du Chien

which was the next important event in his life.

It was in May, 1829, that President Jackson commissioned

Caleb Atwater as one of three commssioners to treat with the

Winnebago Indians concerning some land near the junction of

the Wisconsin and the Mississippi rivers. The start for Prairie

Du Chien was made at once. Mr. Atwater in a book published

in 1831 gives a minute account of this trip. His decriptions of

the mode of travel and the towns and country through which

he passed makes intensely interesting reading. His first descrip-

tion is of Maysville, Kentucky. After dilating upon the progress

of the town and the hospitality and general intelligence of the

people, he concludes by wondering why map makers had never

placed upon their maps such an important place.

262 Ohio Arch

262       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

Cincinnati with 30,000 people receives encouragement to the

effect that it will easily reach 50,000; that it will continue to be

the largest town in the state unless surpassed by Zanesville or

Cleveland. A four days' stay in Louisville awaiting a boat

gave Mr. Atwater ample time for a lengthy "write up" of the

town. He went into details. After giving some of the history,

he proceeded to tell the plan of the streets, the nature of the

buildings, churches, schools, theater, market houses, and then

at some length, the facilities for manufacturing. He appended

a list of the various steamboats and tonnage of each. He recog-

nized Kentucky chivalry and hospitality and believed the state

to have been unjustly slandered.

The trip down the Ohio and up the Mississippi opened a

new world to our traveler. For the first time he realized the great

possibilities of the West. He anticipated the building of rail-

roads and with words that are almost prophetic says:

"When locomotive engines are brought to the perfection,

experience and ingenuity will soon bring them, goods and pas-

sengers can pass between the two seas in ten days. That this

will be the route to China within fifty years scarcely admits a

doubt. From sea to sea a dense population would dwell along

the whole, enliven the prospect with their industry and animate

the scene. The mind of the patriot is lost in wonder and admira-

tion when he looks through the vista of futurity at the wealth,

the grandeur and glory that certainly await our posterity."

"As he looks upon the map of this country where is the

man whose mind is not expanded with the extent of this vast

national domain? How is the heart of the patriot, the statesman,

the philanthropist, the lover of liberty filled with joy unutterable,

when he looks with prophetic eye over this vast field of future

happiness, grandeur and glory, yet in reserve for the human race?

Here one language will prevail over a great extent of country

and be used by over three hundred millions of people."

A part of Caleb Atwater's prophecy has been fulfilled. It

was one of his characteristics that wherever he went his mind

penetrated into the potentialities of the region. He saw the

possibilities of commerce, agriculture and manufacturing and in

his judgment he was scarcely ever mistaken.

Caleb Atwater, 263

Caleb Atwater,                  263

He remained in St. Louis for three weeks. During this

time he was acquainting himself with his duties as Indian Com-

missioner. He also succeeded in getting well acquainted with

St. Louis. One thing in particular attracted his attention; it

was the democratic spirit of its people. This was so noticeable

that he alluded to it in these words, "There was but one tinner

in the city and he was noticed- taken into the best society in the

place and was making a fortune by his business."

Of his trip up the Mississippi he has much to say of the

country on both sides of the stream. His description is minute.

He expatiates upon the beauty and fertility of the country. The

trip was a long tedious one and he had plenty of time at his

command for observation.

Arriving at Prairie Du Chien the work of treating with the

Indians began. Several weeks were taken to reach a satisfac-

tory agreement. On the 1st of August, 1829, the final treaty was

concluded. The tribes interested were the Chippewas, Ottawas,

Pottawotamies and Winnebagoes. The land ceded to the national

government contained about eight million acres, and extended

from the upper end of Rock Island to the mouth of the Wis-

consin-from latitude 41° 30' to latitude 43° 15'.

Mr. Atwater in his book then proceeded to give his impres-

sions of the Indians. He discusses the red man from every point

of view. He inquires into his origin; he notices his language,

customs and government; he looks at his social status and makes

some interesting remarks upon family life. The character and

influence of Indian women receives a fair share of attention.

He discovers a propensity for gambling among the braves but he

admires the eloquence and the poetic instincts of the forest chil-

dren. He recognizes that there is an Indian problem and goes

into a full discussion of the subject. The final extinction of the

red man he suggests can be prevented only by making him a

civilized man. The Indian must be taught to build houses,

to give up the chase and cultivate the earth. The Indian youth

should be taught the mechanical arts and schools for that purpose

should be established.

264 Ohio Arch

264       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

Mr. Atwater was a deep sympathizer with the Indian and

he already saw in the treatment accorded him that "Century of


"As the tide of emigration rolls westward our red brethren

will be driven from river to river, from mountain to mountain,

until they finally perish. My heart is sick of the idea. My poor

veto against the wasteful and villainous expenditure of millions

of dollars under the hypocritical pretensions of benevolence and

piety and even charity is of no avail against the united efforts

of a corrupt set of men who contrive to plunder the treasury

every winter under the solemn sanctions of law. I feel ashamed

of my country and I conclude by reminding our rulers and our

people that the red man is on our borders -that he is wholly

in our power, either to save or destroy him - that the whole

civilized world of this day and all posterity, will judge us im-


A Dictionary of the Sioux language occupies some space in

the book. Whether this was the result of original investigation

on the part of the writer, can not be determined. Certainly it

forms an interesting chapter on the Indian language.

Mr. Atwater's return trip to Ohio is described with the

same degree of care as his outward journey. From Prairie Du

Chien to Louisville he traveled overland. Sickness overtook him

and he was obliged to halt for several days. His conveyance

was by light wagon and by stage. Nothing along his route re-

mained unnoticed. The Wisconsin snow-birds, the prairie hen,

the Dodgeville lead mines, the pure atmosphere, the falls in the

streams where mills might be erected, the soil, the species of fish,

the flowers, the trees,- all are jotted into the omnipresent note-


Of the future of the country Mr. Atwater was optimistic.

In speaking of the Northwest he says: "This vast region in its

present state is of little value, but the time will certainly arrive

when it will be covered with farms and animated by countless

millions of domestic animals. There golden harvests will wave

before every breath of air that moves ever its surface; there

great and splendid cities will rear their tall and glittering spires

and millions of human beings will live and move and display

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  265


talents that will ennoble man and virtues that will adorn and

render him happy."

"The longest, the most durable and the best rivers in the

world intersect and pass through this country, standing on

whose banks there will yet be some of the largest cities in the

world. Comparatively speaking but few persons in the world

have ever beheld this country. No tongue and no author have

described it, but it is there."

From Louisville to Cincinnati the trip was quickly made

by boat and according to his own statement he was glad once

again to set foot on Ohio soil. Anxious to get to Circleville,

he started at once and completed the journey in three days. His

route lay by way of Lebanon, Wilmington and Washington. The

fertility of the soil and hospitality of the people of the Miami

valley are not forgotten. Interested ever in education, he informs

us that there is a University at Oxford, rising in reputation and

usefulness but sadly in need of funds. Then he pauses long

enough to say, "There is an unreasonable prejudice against our

colleges. They are considered by ignorant people as nurseries

of aristocracy; whereas they are exactly the reverse. These

colleges furnish competent teachers to our common schools, lo-

cated near every poor man's door in which his children can be

well educated. The college is the poor man's best friend and I

regret that they are not looked upon as such by every man in


After visiting a few days with his family at Circleville, Mr.

Atwater started for Washington to deliver his treaty to the

President. The first day he traveled to Zanesville by way of

Lancaster and Somerset, a distance of fifty-eight miles. He

stopped long enough to discuss the geology of the country and

then hastened on to Wheeling toward Washington. At a tav-

ern he was compelled to remain some time. This gave him an

opportunity to present his views on the Allegheny mountains

which he proceeded to do at some length and since he had

ample time and for fear he might forget it he even discoursed

on the Rocky mountains also.

Upon his arrival in Washington he waits upon General Jack-

son and breakfasts with the President and his family. For several

266 Ohio Arch

266       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


weeks he is in frequent consultation with the President and the

Secretary of War. The details of the treaty were gone over

apparently to the satisfaction of both officials. This was in

October. The treaty could not be ratified until after the con-

vening of the Senate in December. During this interim a visit

was made to Philadelphia. Here many prominent citizens were

met. They impressed themselves most favorably upon the visitor

for he can hardly find words sufficient and adjectives strong

enough to express his ideas in the superlative degree.

By the opening of Congress Mr. Atwater had returned to

Washington and was present at the first session of the Senate.

A committee was elected to consider his treaty and he met

with it twice a week. A most favorable report was made. Then

the Senate confirmed, the President approved and Mr. Atwater's

official life was closed. Before returning to Ohio he attended

the first levee of President Jackson. With much Naivete he

tells how the Mrs. Donelson and Miss Easton of the President's

family and Mrs. Eaton, wife of the Secretary of War were

dressed "in American calico and wore no ruffles and no orna-

ments of any sort."

It appears that this dress was donned out of deference to

the western idea of simplicity, for Mr. Atwater continues, "As

a western man, I confess, I could not help feeling proud that

they were born and wholly educated in the west. The simplicity

of their dress, their unaffected manners, their neatness, their ease,

grace and dignity, carried all before them.  The diamonds

sparkled in vain at that levee and western unadorned neatness,

modesty and beauty bore off the palm with ease."

"Our western ladies had felt some uneasiness before the levee,

about the result, but their friends of the other sex, assured them,

correctly enough, that republican simplicity would triumph over

all the crosses and diamonds that the east would bring into the

field. No time and no circumstance can ever efface that night

from my memory. It was a splendid triumph for the Mississippi


It was in 1838 that Mr. Atwater published his History of

Ohio. He had planned the work twenty years before and much

of the material was gathered when first originated. It was his

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  267


intention to publish the work in two volumes but the author

evidently changed his mind. The book was well received and

hearty encouragement was given it by the best people of the

day. Among the original subscribers are to be found state

and county officials, ex-governors and men of all professions.

It is gratifying to see how well the geological formations are

treated, when it is remembered how limited was the accurate

information obtainable. The first Geological Survey of Ohio was

published in 1837, but since much of Mr. Atwater's manuscript

had been written years before publication it is quite probable

that what he has to say of Ohio Geology are his own deductions

from his own observations. In the treatment of this part of his

work he is almost wholly utilitarian. It is Economical Geol-

ogy that he discusses. What practical use can be made of a

stratum of sand rock or clay or limestone is the important ques-

tion. He saw the possibilities of Ohio River Freestone and

Scioto Valley Limestone for building purposes; the iron ores

of southern Ohio, the clays of Zanesville and the coal fields of

the Hocking Valley.

The rivers of Ohio are described from an agricultural and

a commercial viewpoint. He utters a faint prophecy of the

Monroe county oil fields by observing that on Duck Creek in

boring for salt water, petroleum was found; that many such

springs were reported to be in existence and that the oil was

being burned in lamps and used for lubricating purposes in

manufactories. The chief utilization of the product, however

was the bottling of "Seneca Oil" or "American Oil" and selling

it for medicinal uses. Mr. Atwater thinks that if some "water

doctor" would take hold of it a large fortune would be made

as a result. Subsequent history in many ways is a fulfillment of

Mr. Atwater's prophecy.

The fauna and flora of the state are not neglected. Especi-

ally is the botanical feature well discussed. Not only are the

native trees and their habitat pointed out but their preservation

is urged for economical purposes. It is interesting to note in

these days when the cry of "Save the forests" is heard on every

hand, that our author raised a warning voice almost seventy

years ago. Mr. Atwater's position on the question is undoubtedly

268 Ohio Arch

268       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


the correct one and had his words been heeded, there would

not now be that periodical, sentimental wail of "Save the forests"

when there are no forests to save.

"Most of our timber trees will soon be gone and no means

are yet resorted to, to restore the forests which we are destroying.

In many places even now woodlands are more valuable than

cleared fields. It is true that in the northwest part of the state

we have vast forests yet, but it is equally true, that their majesty

is bowing before the woodchopper's axe, and will soon be gone.

We do not regret the disappearance of the native forests, because

by that means more human beings can be supported in the state

but in the older parts of Ohio means should even now begin to

restore trees enough for fences, fuel and timber, for the house-

builder and joiner."

Unlike Irving who begins his History of New York with

the creation of the world, Atwater begins his with La Salle's

discovery of the Ohio River. The treatment accorded to the vari-

ous events down to the close of the War of 1812 is full and vivid.

His conclusions on the Dunmore War do not vary greatly from

what more recent writers have concluded. The land claims, the

first settlements, the organization and admission of the state, the

various treaties with the Indians, come in for their share of atten-

tion. Ohio's attitude and share in the second war with England

is especially well handled. Mr. Atwater was a genuine Ohioan.

He was not a Jingo by any means but he loved his state and

believed in its citizens. He knew what every other fair minded

student of history knows, that the War of 1812 meant more to

the people of Ohio than to the people of the east. That while

the locked doors protected the participants in the Hartford Con-

vention, there was little protection to the frontiersmen, from the

tomahawk and firebrand in the hands of a ruthless savage,

urged and abetted by English influence. It is for this reason no

doubt, that Ohio's part in that war is described with such minute-

ness by Mr. Atwater.

The period subsequent to the War of 1812 is passed over

hastily except those times when the schools and "internal im-

provement" agitations were at their height. The opening of the

Ohio Canal was certainly a great event in the opinion of our

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  269


author. Governor Clinton of New York had been invited to

Ohio and his journey through the state was a continual ovation.

Mr. Atwater has, most probably, given us the best and most

authentic account of the ceremonies. Interested as he was, and

also active in urging the digging of the canal, there surely was

no one better qualified to leave the people of Ohio its history.

The book closes with a brief account of the condition of Ohio

at that time. Schools and colleges with their respective faculties,

churches, with the growth of religious denominations, trade and

commerce, banks and banking, newspapers, societies and cities

and towns are described in the most optimistic manner.

On the question of slavery Mr. Atwater's attitude was some-

thing of a compromise. He thought it impracticable and impo-

litic to interfere with the institution. He believed that slavery

ought to exist at least, a hundred years. Yet slavery had passed

away before he himself died.

It were fitting after Mr. Atwater's long career as agitator for

a public school system or the establishment of one, that his last

literary work should be done along the line of his favorite theme.

It was an appropriate climax. At the time of its writing, 1841,

our common schools had been established. Yet there was much

to be done for their betterment. In "An Essay on Education,"

a plea is made for efficiency; better school buildings, better

teachers and broader curricula are demanded. His ideal of what

a school ought to be was years in advance of his time. His

essay makes good pedagogical reading even at this time.

The subject of music he places as one of the requirements of

a complete education. He argues for its place in the course of

study both as a cultural and utilitarian branch. He believes in

the education of women on the same equality as men; that the

future wives and mothers should be conversant not only with the

elementary studies but with the higher education as well. He

is a champion of co-education. He believes that women should

be trained for their duties as well as men and that this training

should be the same in kind.

He pleads for better teachers. He emphasizes the import-

ance of a teacher in a country and asks for a higher degree of

professionalism. He has little sympathy for the teacher who

270 Ohio Arch

270       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


makes his work a stepping stone to something else. He places a

high moral responsibility upon the teacher. He wants him to be

an example for good in a community.

He goes into the subject of text-books. The histories in

vogue he unmercifully criticises. He asks for a better arranged

text and then goes into detail on the value of history as a school

study. His reasons breathe the highest degree of patriotism.

He wants the rising youth to know how our nation has been built

and the fundamental principles underlying our government.

He thinks that the books ought to be written by an American and

that American should be Washington Irving. He deplores the

lack of authenticity in our geographies.  They contain such

meagre information concerning the New West. Their descrip-

tions and maps are so indefinite. They are made by eastern book

makers who evidently do not know their subjects, for they speak

of "Missouri Territory" and "other districts" in a vague uncer-

tain way.

Another argument Mr. Atwater cites for popular education

is adduced from the fact of the foreign immigration to our

shores. The people should become acquainted with American

institutions. He speaks in a commendatory way of the many

Germans and Irish who were then settling up the middle west.

They were the kind of people wanted and it only needed the

school house to make of them ideal citizens because of their in-

dustry and thrift.

Mr. Atwater's essay occupied high ground. It was in every

way worthy of the man. It shows him to be of broad sympathies

and a noble nature. While it was not the most popular it was

certainly the best thing he ever wrote.

Mr. Atwater was an admirer of the classics. His writings

show a thorough acquaintance with both the Latin and the Greek

authors. He was fond of quoting from them and his allusions

to the writers of antiquity are numerous.

The career of Caleb Atwater was an uneventful one. He

worked hard for others and he deserves to be remembered for it.

He was the father of six sons and three daughters, all of

whom are dead, except his youngest daughter, Lucy Brown, who

lives in Indianapolis, with her son, an Episcopalian minister.

Caleb Atwater

Caleb Atwater.                  271

He died at the home of a daughter in Circleville on the thir-

teenth day of March, 1867. He had been a familiar character in

the village for years, yet when he died the local paper barely men-

tioned the event. It added, however, that at one time he had been

a prominent citizen. It might also have said, and said it truly,

that he helped to give their city its first school and their state

its first system of education.

In Ohio's "Hall of Fame," let us place the name of Caleb


New Lexington, Ohio, April 25, 1905.