Ohio History Journal







Butler County, Ohio, the eighteenth county established in

the seventeenth state of the Union, can present many points of

interest, archaeological and historical. Chief among these is

Fort Hamilton, the first of a chain of forts established by

the Government, in the Miami valley, for the protection of the


In compiling this sketch of Fort Hamilton the writer, a

resident of Hamilton for fifty years, has had access to the offi-

cial records, the manuscript of that early historian, James Mc-

Bride, and this, together with his personal information gathered

from the lips of the leaders in this community in the first half

of the nineteenth century, still living, in the young manhood days

of the writer, such men as Judge Chas. K. Smith, Elijah

Vance, Jesse Corwin, Nehemiah Wade, John Knox, Fergus An-

derson and Wm. N. Hunter, and in later days the personal rem-

iniscences of Hon. Wm. R. Cochran, John M. Millikin, Thomas

Millikin, Jacob Stillwaugh, Samuel Shafer, Joshua Delaplane,

Augustus Breitenbach, Thomas Moor, Henry S. Ehrhart, George

W. Tapscott and Stephen D. Cone. The writer has spared no

pains, and here furnishes as complete and exhaustive a history as

is possible to compile at this day.




That an ancient race once inhabited the site of old Fort

Hamilton, and the Miami valley, and in fact the central portion

of what is now the United States, there is no doubt. They left

no written history. All that we can gather is from their monu-

ments, consisting of earth-works, mounds, and implements, evi-

dences that they possessed certain degrees of civilization, and

were a peaceable people. According to the book Oahape pub-

Vol. XIII-7.            (97)

98 Ohio Arch

98        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


lished in Mexico whence they migrated, they were short in

stature, white, and were religious, had a profound respect for

woman, almost looked upon her as a goddess. They permitted

no towns of over 3,000 population, presided over by a father, in

order that all might know each other, considering large cities

a curse to mankind. They were called Ihuans, and the country

Guatama. Following this people came the Tollects, and they

were driven from their homes by warlike tribes from the north,

and took refuge in Mexico in 596. When the white man first cast

his eye on this locality, it was covered with dense forests, and

inhabited by the Shawnee and Miami tribes of the Red man.

LaSalle in 1660 first explored this region. In 1750 Christopher

Gist and George Croghan, explorers, left Fort Duquesne, now

Pittsburg, crossed the country to the Maumee, to the village of

the Ottawas, held a counsel with the chiefs and secured their

friendship, and proceeded south to the village of the Piquas, se-

cured their friendship and separated, Croghan going to the Scioto

and Gist passed down the Miami, then up the broad waters of the

Ohio to Pittsburg.

In 1780 during the revolutionary war Col. Bird with a de-

tachment of 600 Indians and Canadians, with four pieces of ar-

tillery, left Canada, passed up the Maumee over to Laramie

creek, thence to the Miami, down the same, passed the site of

what eleven years later was Fort Hamilton, all a wilderness, to

the Ohio, up the Ohio to the Licking, reduced several American

frontier stations and returned by the same route with prisoners

and plunder.

Peace being declared in 1783 and congress having provided

land bounties to every soldier or his family if slain by the enemy,

Cen. Putnam at once sent a memorial to Gen. Washington for

numbers of such claims. He approved them, but owing to con-

flicting claims of the various original states to Ohio territory

nothing was done until 1784 when congress acquired the title to

all lands northwest of the Ohio river. Thomas Hutchins, a

noted geographer, was appointed surveyor general, to proceed at

once. The Indians, although ceding the territory, were bitterly

opposed to its survey and settlement, and became so hostile that

nothing could be done until the spring of 1786, when military aid

History of Fort Hamilton

History of Fort Hamilton.              99


was secured from Gen. Harmar, and hostilities on the part of

the savages were somewhat abated, and work again began in

1787. John Cleves Symmes in the meantime contracted with the

government for one million acres of land lying between the two

Miamis. On the 15th of May, 1788, the contract was closed,

and Judge Symmes at once appointed Israel Ludlow to survey

the land thus bought. Harrassed by the Indians the occupation

of Ludlow was all but pleasant.

From this time on a continuous flow of adventurous immi-

grants, coming down the Ohio in flat bottomed boats, settled in

these wilds. But so hazardous did this become, owing, to the

continued hostility of the Indians, often successful and inflicting

terrible barbarities against the early settlers, that on April 18,

1790, General Harmar with 301 Kentucky volunteers marched

to the Ohio and again for the time secured safe navigation.

Fort Washington, in the meantime, being established, an army of

1400 men was organized in the fall and marched against the

Indians. They however, were defeated in two successive en-

counters and lost over 300 men. The frontiers men became

alarmed and panic-stricken. In 1791 congress ordered an army

of 3,000 men, General St. Clair commander, for the protection of

the pioneers. On September 8th he left Fort Washington with

2,300-men with General Richard Butler second in command,

Col. Darke leading the advance. On the 17th they reached a

point twenty-five miles from Fort Washington, latitude 39 de-

grees, 26 minutes and longitude 7 degrees, 29 minutes.  Here

they halted and erected the first chain of forts and named it Fort

Hamilton. The circuit of the fort was about one thousand feet,

through the whole extent of which a trench was dug three feet

deep to set the pickets in, of which it required about two thou-

sand to enclose it. The trees were tall and straight and from

nine to twelve inches in diameter. To secure this particular size

they were compelled to go over considerable space of woodland.

When found they were felled, cleared of their branches, and

cut into lengths of about 20 feet. They were then carried or

dragged by oxen to the ground - but the woods being so thick

and encumbered by underbrush they found the former to be the

most expeditious method. Thus, the labor of building the fort

History of Fort Hamilton

History of Fort Hamilton.              101


was most entirely done by the men. These logs were then but-

ted, that they might be placed firm and upright in the trench,

with the ax or saw. Some hewing was necessary, for some

trees were not perfectly straight, and when stood upright their

sides had to be made to come together. A thin piece of timber

called a ribbon, was run around it all, near the top of the pickets,

to which every one was pinned with a strong pin. The earth

was returned to the trenches and well packed, to keep the pickets

firm. On the outside about three feet distant, a trench was dug

to carry off the water and prevent the removal of the pickets by

rain. About two thousand pickets were set up, on the inside,

one between every two of the others. The work was then en-

closed. The fort was built on the first bank east of the Miami


But there was another bank where the court house now

stands, and used by the garrison for a graveyard, that was much

higher, within point blank shot, which rendered it necessary to

make the pickets on the land side higher, sufficient to prevent the

enemy from seeing into the area of the fort. There were four

bastions or block houses erected, one on the river front and three

on the land side. In the one at the southeast corner, and the

one at the southwest corner a platform was set made of trunks of

trees, and a cannon placed in each. They were thus enabled to

cover the land on the east and command the ford on the west.

Planks were sawed for the platforms and the gate which opened

to the ford. The ford was at what is now the foot of Ross and

Court street. A barracks was built in like manner for one hun-

dred men, a guard room, two storehouses for provisions and a

magazine, and all this was done in two weeks.

September 30th it was named Fort Hamilton in honor of

Alexander Hamilton, who was then secretary of the treasury in

Washington's cabinet.

General St. Clair's army being defeated on November 4th

near Greenville, Darke county, they retreated to Fort Hamilton,

with a loss of over 600 men, including Gen. Butler and Col.

Darke, and a number of women, wives of officers, who accom-

panied the army and dared to suffer the hardships of this perilous

campaign. Capt. Armstrong had been left in command at Fort

102 Ohio Arch

102       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


Hamilton, and most of the fortifications and interior buildings

were erected under his superintendency, and the wounded were

here provided for until they could reach their homes. A portion

of the Garrison, was sent out at once to hunt and assist the

wounded who were unable to reach the fort. Gen. St. Clair

feeling the odium resting upon him, resigned, January 8th, 1792,

although congress upon investigation had relieved him of any

blame. Gen. Wilkinson was appointed to succeed him.

On the 28th of January General Wilkinson with 200 regu-

lars, and two companies of militia, left Fort Washington for the

battlefield to bury the dead and recover what he could of ar-

tillery, tenting and supplies. John Reily, was one of these, so,

also, Wm. H. Harrison, then an ensign in the regular army, and

later President of the United States.

They arrived at Fort Hamilton next day, crossed the river at

this point and followed the trace road cut through the forest by

Gen. St. Clair's army, evidences of which can yet be seen. They

returned on February 5th, having recovered 78 bodies and one

piece of artillery.  General Wilkinson ordered Captain Arm-

strong to have another flatboat built with utmost dispatch to

facilitate transportation of men and horses across the river. On

the 15th of March he was here again, but left next day to es-

tablish an intermediate fort between Forts Hamilton and Jefferson.

This became a matter of extreme necessity in order to shorten

the distance for the men, who, upon swift horses, carried dis-

patches from one fort to another and known as the "express."

The express was always considered a matter of great peril, and

many a gallant soldier lost his life serving in that way.

Fort Hamilton at this time was in a perfect state of defence.

On the 17th of March they began the digging of a well, which is

still in existence situated on Water street about fifty feet south

of High and for years known as Sohn's well. At this well often

appeared Gen. St. Clair, Gen. Wayne, Gen. Wilkinson and Lieut.

Wm. H. Harrison later Gen. Harrison. On the 19th of March

Gen. Wilkinson sent word to Capt. Armstrong that he had suc-

ceeded in establishing a fort 25 miles north of Fort Hamilton and

named it Fort St. Clair. He furthermore ordered Capt. Arm-

strong that when Col. Elliott came up the river with supplies of

History of Fort Hamilton

History of Fort Hamilton.            103


provision for Fort St. Clair to detail a sergeant and twelve men

to meet him at Dunlap station and act as an escort. He was

also instructed to build houses for one thousand barrels of pro-

vision for the fort.

On the 26th of April Capt. Armstrong informed Gen. Wil-

kinson that the enemy were lurking in the neighborhood and again

on May 7th that James McDonald whom he had sent to Fort

Washington with dispatches, a week ago, had not returned, and

he feared that he had been captured or killed by the Indians.

On the 6th an escort from Fort Washington with provisions

consisting of a drove of bullocks arrived at the fort destined for

St. Clair. Indians were again seen on the west side of the river

for several days. Capt. Armstrong detached Lieut. Gaines with

20 men five miles on the road to Fort St. Clair with directions to

re-cross Four mile, then Joseph creek and form an ambuscade

until the party with provisions had passed.  Express (Serg.

Brooks) arrived on the 9th from Fort St. Clair. He reported

seeing an Indian half mile north and upon the Indian discovering

him, he gave a yell and four others appeared. A raft on which

three or four might have crossed the river, floated by the fort in

the afternoon and the horse on which McDonald was sent, on the

23rd of April returned without its rider to the post, the rider

therefore must have been slain by the Indians. On May 11th

two experienced woodmen, Reason Baily and Joseph Shepherd

were added to the post and two to each of the others, for the

purpose of reconnoitering and scouting. An order was also is-

sued by Gen. Wilkinson, awarding $20 for the apprehension of a

deserter, and if found making for the enemy, he was to be shot,

and his head brought in and set on a post on parade day. June

28th, General Wilkinson visited the fort again. The garrison

were fearing an attack any day by the Indians. On the 27th of

July, Captain Peters with his company and six wagons arrived

as reinforcement.  The savages were becoming bolder and

bolder as the days passed, and the hardy frontiersman fled in

terror to the fort.

On the 15th of November a soldier was fired upon at his post

and an attempt made to steal the cattle, by removing some pickets.

In December Captain Armstrong resigned his command of Fort

104 Ohio Arch

104      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


Hamilton and Major Michael Rudolph succeeded him. He ar-

rived on the 10th with three companies of light dragoons, one of

riflemen and one of infantry, re-inforcement to the post. The

depredations of the Indians were becoming more and more fre-

quent. A general alarm seized the pioneers, whose exposed sit-

uation was inviting conflagration, massacre, and untold cruelties

at the hands of the revengeful savages. Scarcely a week passed

but what the incendary blazing fagot, the deadly rifle the mur-

derous tomahawk and dreaded scalping knife had been wielded

by the stealthy, unpitying, vindictive savage. The government,

however, took prompt action and proceeded to inaugurate vigor-

ous and effective measures, looking to the early, adequate and

permanent support and security of the frontier.  President

Washington appointed General Wayne as commander-in-chief

and ordered him to raise an army of five thousand men, to the

end that an everlasting tranquility might be established in the

Miami country. Gen Wayne began recruiting at once, Decem-

ber, 1792. April 20, 1793, he moved his legion from winter

quarters to Fort Washington and in a few days visited Fort Ham-

ilton, having heard of the cruel treatment of seven deserters of

Rudolph's command and although General Wayne was consid-

ered a most stern and arbitrary officer, he was so displeased with

Major Rudolph's cruelty, that he gave him the choice of resign-

ing or being cashiered. He resigned and left for his home in

Virginia. The circumstances connected with the desertion of

seven of Rudolph's soldiers were most distressing. Smarting

under Rudolph's cruelty, they deserted early in March of this

year. They were captured near the falls of the Ohio, where they

had gone in a canoe and returned to Fort Hamilton. Major Ru-

dolph sentenced two to be put in irons, two to run the gauntlet

and three to be hung, namely Bliss, Brown and Galager. They

lie buried in the southwest side of the fort, where the gallows

stood, and where the United Presbyterian church now stands.

The depredations of the Indians continued unabated. In June

of this year A. W. Prior, business partner of John Riley, in com-

pany of two others, set out on a trip to convey provisions from

Fort Washington to Fort Hamilton. They encamped for the

night at Pleasant Run, six miles below the fort. The Indians fired

History of Fort Hamilton

History of Fort Hamilton.            105


on them, killed Prior, the other two making their escape to Fort

Hamilton. A few weeks later a brigade of wagons transporting

provisions from Fort Washington to Fort Hamilton, guarded by a

detachment of forty men, was attacked by the Indians with a

galling fire about where Prior was killed. They charged upon

the Indians and made them retreat, but lost eight men. October

15th Lieutenant Lowry with ninety men, was attacked by a party

of Indians and defeated with a loss of fifteen men and seventy

horses carried away. Late in December an express on his way to

Fort Hamilton from Fort Washington was waylaid near Symmes

Corner. The Indian was concealed behind a forked oak near the

ministerial corner. In the spring of 1794, Col. Robert Elliott,

contractor for supplies to the U. S. army, on his way to Fort

Hamilton, was waylaid and killed near the county line at the big

hill. The servant made his escape riding at full speed, Elliott's

horse following, arriving at Fort Hamilton safe. The Colonel

wore a wig and the Indian in his haste to scalp him tore it off to

his utter astonishment. The next day a party left Fort Hamilton

with a coffin, and the servant with them to the scene, and se-

cured Elliott's body. After traveling a mile or so, they were

again attacked, the servant killed and the others fled. The In-

dians broke open the coffin, thereupon the soldiers rallied, re-

took the body and proceeded on their journey. Early in July of

this year, 1794, a soldier was despatched to Fort Jefferson as an

express from this post. He was tomahawked and scalped near

Two Mile, not far from Deloraca's house where Blum's shop is

now located, although within sight of the fort. They knew

nothing of it until informed by Col. Mathew Huston, who the

previous night lodged in a camp, nine miles above and came to

the fort next morning. He said the Indians were concealed on

the side of the road in a bush and sprang upon their victim as

he passed. Early in November following, an escort of dragoons

who were guarding a party taking provisions from Fort Wash-

ington to Fort Hamilton were attacked at the big hill at Pleasant

Run. Eight men were killed and a number wounded; the In-

dians burned the corn and carried away the horses.

Several days later the Indians killed and scalped two pack

horsemen near Bloody run on their way to Fort Hamilton-two

106 Ohio Arch

106      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


of the wagoners escaped. In December eight pack horse men on

their way from Fort Hamilton to Fort St. Clair encamped for the

night near Seven mile on the west side of the creek. Early next

morning they were fired on by the Indians. Seven were killed

and one escaped to Fort Hamilton. A party of soldiers went

next day to bury the dead.

General Wayne in July, 1793, visited Fort Hamilton and had

an addition built to the fort on the north side. Artificers' shops

History of Fort Hamilton

History of Fort Hamilton.             107


and stalls for horses of the dragoons were erected on the west

side of the addition and barracks for the men.

On the 8th of September General Wayne with his army left

Fort Washington and marched to Fort Hamilton.  October 7th

General Wayne took up his line of march to the north, leaving

Major John Cass in charge of Fort Hamilton. He took a differ-

ent route from what General St. Clair did in order to take the

Indians off their guard, and crossed the Miami at what is known

as old river, the river having changed its course during the flood

of 1805. He arrived at the St. Clair battlefield December 25th,

erected a fort and named it Fort Recovery. General Wayne dur-

ing the winter tried to treat for peace with the Indians, but they

having been promised Brittish aid, were defiant. He sent Chris-

tian Miller, who had been naturalized by the Shawnees, as a

messenger of peace, but the olive branch was rejected.  He

therefore made arrangements for the final blow. On the 20th

of August, 1794, the decisive blow was struck, known as the

"Battle of Fallen Timbers." The Indians were commanded by

Blue Jacket, the Shawnee chief. The charge of Mad Anthony's

troops with their glistening bayonets was complete. The In-

dians fled in dismay.

The Canadians and English were their allies and the woods

were full of them, dead and wounded.

Gen. Wayne's loss was thirty-three killed and one hundred

wounded. General conflagration and devastation of Indian vil-

lages marked the track of the return of the victorious army.

They arrived at Fort Hamilton October 28th. The Kentucky

volunteers preceded them several days. The major part entered

winter quarters at Fort Greenville. The year 1795 came with

the fair prospects that the white winged messenger of peace

would hereafter hover over the Miami valley. Major Jonathan

Cass was still commander of Fort Hamilton.

Judge Symmes and his associate, Jonathan Dayton, had re-

ceived his patent for 248,540 acres of land and Israel Ludlow had

surveyed it. Darius C. Orcutt, a soldier of St. Clair and

Wayne's army, who shortly before married Sallie McHenry, the

second marriage at this post, erected the first log cabin beyond

the confines of the fort at the north end. It stood there and was

108 Ohio Arch

108      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


inhabited as late as 1865. Jonathan Dayton sold to Israel Lud-

low the site and surroundings of Fort Hamilton, who thereupon,

appointed D. C. Orcutt to lay out and contract, with purchasers.

Among these were John Greer, Isaac Wiles, Benj. Randolph and

John Torrence. In June Wayne's volunteer army was disbanded,

and quite a number of officers and men came to Fort Hamilton for

their permanent abode. Numbers purchased lots and began to

build. John Torrence built a house near the northwest corner of

the fort, which still stands, and opened a tavern, the hotel of that


August 3d the treaty of peace was signed between the

United States represented by General Wayne and the twelve

tribes of Indians, represented by their respective chiefs. John

Southerland, who had been a packhorse man in St. Clair and

Wayne's campaign, settled here in the spring and opened a store

just beyond the north end of the fort, in the house where Mrs.

Dr. McNealy now lives. General Wayne ordered Fort Hamil-

ton to be vacated in the fall of this year. The public property,

and stores were sold at public auction, and the fort abandoned.

Archibald Talbert built the first log cabin on the west side

of the Miami near the corner of Park avenue and B streets and

established a ferry, and a few years later Isaac Falconer, father

of Dr. Cyrus Falconer, erected a building and opened the first

public house now occupied by Dr. Wm. C. Miller as a drug store.

The two store houses built by Gen. Wilkinson for the ac-

commodation of the officers together with the stables just north

were sold to Wm. McClellan, who opened a tavern in it, and at

the organization of the county it was used as a clerk's office, of-

fice of the common pleas and supreme judges, treasurer, coroner,

surveyor and postoffice. The clerk's desk used in this building

was later purchased by Jesse Corwin and is now in possession of

Dr. Miller. John Reily was the first postmaster.

It was the general rendezvous of the picked men of the

town, the headquarters where the best society spent their even-

ings and leisure hours.

The court was held in one of the buildings of the fort for-

merly used as a mess room and occupied as such until 1810.

History of Fort Hamilton

History of Fort Hamilton.            109


The following year the Rev. W. G. Wallace opened a school

in the building, also organized a Presbyterian church.

All the buildings of the fort had been constructed of sound

hickory logs with the bark peeled off except the magazine, a

building about fifteen feet square constructed of heavy logs,

hewed square and laid close together, having a hipped roof, and

a blue ball on top. In 1803 the magazine was converted into a

jail. The door was of heavy two-inch oak plank and driven full

of spikes and nails with a hole in the center in the shape of a half-

moon for the admission of light, air and food for the occupants.

it was fastened with an iron hasp and padlock on the outside.

The old soldiers of St. Clair and Wayne, residents of Ham-

ilton and vicinity, formed themselves into military companies.

Whenever there were any prisoners in the jail a detachment of

ten or twelve of one of these companies would be employed by

110 Ohio Arch

110       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


the county commissioners to guard the prison. John Wingate

was captain of one of these companies, James Blackburn another,

and John Gray another. April 8th, Captain Gray was paid $14

for himself and ten privates of his company for guarding the jail

in January. June 10th, Captain Wingate received $27.75 for

himself and company, and Captain Blackburn received $6.75 for

the same for his company. The building stood opposite to where

the United Presbyterian church now stands.

After its abandonment as a jail in 1810, it was used as a

house of worship for some two years.   Here Loronzo Dow

preached a sermon in 1824. It was there after 1828 until 1840

used as a school house, and then again as a magazine for the two

political parties, Whigs and Democrats, where they kept their

cannons to celebrate their victories. Amongst these was a

mounted, six-pounder brass, the property of Capt. Nathaniel

Reeder, given to him as a prize for valiant service in the United

States Navy. It was turned over to the government in 1861.

In 1849 this last relic of Fort Hamilton was removed from

its original location and turned into a dwelling house. As such

it continued to be until 1902, when it was about to be torn

down. The Daughters of the American Revolution secured it;

the city authorities granted them within the confines of the old

fort a location in the heart of the city. The patriotic citizens

contributed liberally to its restoration, and to-day situate upon

the banks of the Blue Miami, in the city of Hamilton, Ohio may

be seen the only relic of Fort Hamilton. The Fort that had to

contend with the Miami Indians, who as LaSalle two hundred

years ago said "were the most civilized of all Indian nations, neat

of dress, splendid of bearing, haughty of manner, holding all

other tribes as inferiors." Of all the Indians of America, the

Miamis approached nearest to the ideal of an American aborigine

than all others.

Little Turtle was their greatest chief in the days of Fort

Hamilton. It was he who formed that powerful confederation of

six nations to resist the pale face, and inflicted the crushing de-

feat to General Harmar, October 19, 1790, and to General St.

Clair, November 4, 1791. As a warrior, statesman and orator,

he was only second to Tecumseh the Napoleon of the Red man

History of Fort Hamilton

History of Fort Hamilton.             111

one hundred years ago. After the treaty of peace at Greenville

a young chief of the Miamis went east to see the great father.

He was a young man, noble in bearing, brave, just, generous and

scrupulously honest. His intention was to adopt the ways of the

white man. Alexander Hamilton took an interest in him and

presented him with his seal, a mark of great honor in the early

days. He had adopted the name of James McDonald. Had

become a classical scholar, and about 1825 returned to the home

of his childhood, the Miami valley. Here he entered the law

office of Jesse Corwin at Hamilton, then Prosecuting Attorney

of Butler county, and brother of Tom Corwin, one of Ohio's

illustrious sons. McDonald lived with Mr. Corwin until 1833,

when one day, filled with fire water, his savage nature all came

up, and with one great war whoop he jumped into the Miami

river and was drowned. The writer, a son-in-law, of Jesse Cor-

win, now has in his possession at the old Corwin homestead, an

oil painting 1Ox20, of one of this last chief of the Miamis, to-

gether with all his books, nearly all of a classical nature, Greek

and Latin.

Francis Godfrey, another of Miami's chiefs, next to Little

Turtle as a warrior, was known and honored by all the dis-

tinguished men of his day, but never as a scholar, as James Mc-

Donald. To Mrs. W. C. Miller, Regent of the John Reily Chap-

ter D. A. R, and her associates, the Mrs. C. W. Gath, Lou

Beauchamp and Charles Huntington must be given the credit of

the preservation and restoration of the last relic of Fort Hamil-

ton. To O. M. Bake, all honor is due. It was he who gave

these patriotic women a clear title to the property. It will be

used by these noble and patriotic women as a place of meeting,

and the second floor as a repository for all revolutionary relics.

All honor to the Daughters of the American Revolution.