Ohio History Journal







What student of Ohio history would have dreamed

that it would eventually be proved that Arthur St. Clair

was not the first resident governor to exercise the duties

of that high office over the white inhabitants of the

territory that now forms the domain of the Buckeye

State? Who would have thought that for almost one

hundred and fifty years there has existed in the columns

of the Pittsburgh Gazette a paragraph that is convinc-

ing evidence of the fact that for probably two or more

years before St. Clair arrived at Marietta in July, 1788

there lived, a few miles below what is now Steubenville,

a governor of a nameless commonwealth elected to that

office by the popular voice of his squatter constituents?

Consider this strange note taken from the Pittsburgh

Gazette of September 29, 1787:

[Marriages.] Mr. Henry Hogland, son of governor William

Hogland, west of the Ohio, was married to the highly amiable

Elizabeth Carpenter, eldest daughter of John Carpenter, esq.

landlord of Norristown, west of the Ohio. The marriage was

celebrated at the governor's hall, on Friday, the twenty-seventh

day of May, at twelve o'clock, and the evening was most agree-

ably spent in dancing, firing of guns, and drinking of toasts for

the success of the new state, and prosperity to the new and first

married couple in it. . . . Capt. Swearingen and the governor

were seated at the head of the table."

The history of this squatter commonwealth and its

squatter governor is most elusive. Only here and there

Vol. XLIII--18          (273)

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before 1787 are there to be found furtive allusions to

their existence. It must be remembered, however, that

as early as 1776, the birth-year of American independ-

ence, evidence of squatters' claims had begun to appear

on the west side of the Ohio River in the general vicinity

of Wheeling and of what is now Steubenville. Thus

late in 1776 or early in 1777, a memorial to Congress

of the "Inhabitants of the Country West of the Alle-

ghany Mountains" was drawn up that sought to call

the attention of Congress to certain violations of the

Indian right to the land west of the Ohio. The inhabi-

tants declared in their petition that land jobbers had

"of late proceeded so far as . . . to make encroachments

on the Indian Territorial Rights by improving, laying

Warrants & Officers Claims on & Surveying some of

the Islands in the Ohio and Tomahawking (or as they

term it) improving in a variety of places on the Western

side of said River, to the great imminent & manifest

danger of involving the Country in a Bloody, ruinous,

and destructive War with the Indians."1

The next time that squatters are heard of west of

the Ohio is in the year 1779. On October 26 of that

year Colonel Daniel Brodhead, continental command-

ant at Fort Pitt reported to General Washington:

"I rec'd a letter from Col. [David] Shepherd, Lieut., of Ohio

County [Virginia], informing me that a certain Decker, Cox &

Comp'y with others had crossed the Ohio river and committed

trespasses on the Indians' lands wherefore I ordered sixty Rank

and File to be equipped, & Capt. [John] Clarke of the 8t Pen'

Reg't proceeded with this party to Wheeling, with orders to cross

the River at that part, & to apprehend some of the principal Tres-

1 Boyd Crumrine, ed., History of Washington County, Pennsylvania,

187 (Philadelphia, 1882).

Ohio's Squatter Governor 275

Ohio's Squatter Governor            275


passers and destroy the Hutts.--He returned without finding any

of the Trespassers, but destroyed some Hutts. He writes me the

inhabitants have made small improvements all the way from the

Muskingum River to Fort McIntosh & thirty miles up some of

the Branches."2

It is evident that in 1779 the population west of the

Ohio was extremely numerous. It is further evident

that it was as useless for military officers to destroy

their cabins as it would have been to attempt to stem

the flow of the Ohio River. Cabins could be rebuilt

almost as quickly as they were destroyed. Thus with

the close of the Revolutionary War the tide surged up

with increasing force. General William Irvine at Pitts-

burgh reported to President William    Moore of Penn-

sylvania on December 3, 1781, "There have been sundry

meetings of people at different places, for the purpose

of concerting plans to emigrate into the Indian country,

there to establish a government for themselves."3

This is the first mention of the establishment of

squatter governments in connection with the trans-Ohio

migration. It gradually took on more definite form. On

April 20, 1782, General Irvine wrote to Washington,

"Emigrations and new states are much talked of. Ad-

vertisements are set up, announcing a day to assemble

at Wheeling, for all who wish to become members of a

new state on the Muskingum. A certain Mr. J--is

at the head of this party." According to Irvine this

Mr. J., who was an Englishman, had actually drawn up


2 Pennsylvania Archives, first series, 12: 176 (Philadelphia, 1856)

at least one and probably two more detachments were sent squatter-hunting

later in the fall of 1779. Ibid 188.

3 C. W. Butterfield, ed., Washington-Irvine Correspondence, 231 (Mad-

ison, Wis., 1882).

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a constitution and was engaged in purchasing artillery

and other stores in the East for the venture.4

This is the last that appears in the record concerning

this particular enterprise. Indian hostilities were not

yet over in the West and it is probable that the terrible

toll of the bloody year of 1782 on the frontiers put an

effective end to Mr. J's political aspirations. But the

lesson of the butcheries of the Moravian massacre, of

Crawford's defeat, and of the Battle of the Blue Licks

was quickly forgotten when, in October of 1782, the

news reached the upper Ohio that preliminary peace

terms had been agreed upon with Great Britain. On

October 30, Lieutenant Edward Cook of Westmoreland

county in Pennsylvania informed General Irvine, "I

hear of a great many more going to improve lands on the

north of the Ohio. It is a matter of speculation among

some gentlemen learned in the law whether those im-

provements may not make a title, or rather lay the

foundation for one; as there is no express law prohibit-

ing the settlement, and no retrospect laws can be made.

If it be so, I think your officers and soldiers ought to go

and mark by thousands; as the only way to fight a

rascal is by his own weapons."5

It is evident that serious attempts were being made

to justify legally this squatter invasion, and that Con-

tinental authorities were making no effort to stop the

emigrants. On September 22, 1783, Congress, having

been officially informed by General Irvine of what was

going on, issued a proclamation forbidding "all persons

4 Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Correspondence 109, 244, 267. "Mr.

J." referred to in the article is "Mr. Johnson."

5 Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Correspondence, 339.

Ohio's Squatter Governor 277

Ohio's Squatter Governor        277

from making settlements on lands inhabited or claimed

by Indians, without the jurisdiction of any particular


But this proclamation had no more effect than King

Cnut's fabled command to the waves. During 1784 emi-

gration proceeded so rapidly that in the spring of 1785

a new movement for the erection of a state appeared that

eventually led to the election of William Hogland as

governor. By January, 1785, settlement had spread

down the Ohio as far as the mouth of the Wabash.7

Hence on March 12, under the signature of John Emer-

son a notice was "given to the inhabitants of the west

side of the Ohio River" of an election for the "choosing

of members of the convention for the framing a consti-

tution for the governing of the inhabitants." The elec-

tion was to be held on April 10 at four places, the mouth

of the Great Miami, the mouth of the Scioto River, "on

the Muskingum," and at "the dwelling-house of Jonas

Menzons" in what is now Belmont county, Ohio. The

convention was to meet at the mouth of the Scioto on

April 20. The whole procedure was based on the as-

sumption that "all mankind, agreeable to every consti-

tution formed in America, have an undoubted right to

pass into every vacant country, and there to form their

constitution, and that from the confederation of the

whole United States, Congress is not empowered to for-

bid them, neither is Congress empowered from that con-

federation to make any sale of the uninhabited lands to

pay the public debts, which is to be by a tax levied and

6 United States Continental Congress Journal 25: 602.

7 Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Correspondence, 196.

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lifted [collected] by authority of the Legislature of each


Before the day set for the meeting of this squatter

constitutional convention, Continental troops, operating

from Fort McIntosh had endeavored to disperse some

of the squatters. Continental commissioners Richard

Butler, Arthur Lee and George Rogers Clark had as-

sembled at Fort McIntosh on December 2, 1784, to nego-

tiate a land cession from the Indians. On January 21,

1785, their work had been completed by the well-known

treaty of Fort McIntosh, and the land on the west side

of the Ohio was thus ready for Continental survey pre-

paratory to sale and settlement. Hence on January 24

orders were issued by the commissioners to Colonel

Josiah Harmar to "employ such force as he might judge

necessary in driving off persons attempting to, settle on

the lands of the United States."9

But the result is but another demonstration of the

truth of the statement of Edmund Burke, "If you drive

the people from one place, they will carry on their annual

tillage, and remove with their flocks and herds to an-

other." The agent entrusted by Harmar with this task

of destruction was Ensign John Armstrong, who, with

a party of twenty infantry and fifteen days' supply,

set out on March 31 from Fort McIntosh. He was able

on this tour to get as far down the Ohio as a point across

the river from Wheeling. He encountered six settle-

ments: two in what is now Columbiana County at Little

Beaver Creek and Yellow Creek, two in what is now

8 William Henry Smith, The St. Clair Papers, 2:5 (Cincinnati, 1882).

9 Commissioners for Indian Affairs to Harmar, January 24, 1785,

Harmar Papers, Draper Collection, State Historical Society of Wisconsin,

vol. 1, p. 40.

Ohio's Squatter Governor 279

Ohio's Squatter Governor            279

Jefferson County at Mingo Bottom and "Norris's

Town"; and two in what is now Belmont County at

"Haglins [Hoglands] Town" and "at a point opposite

Wheeling." It is not likely that he destroyed many

cabins, but left those standing whose occupants would

promise to leave within a reasonable time. At several

places, notably at Norristown, the squatters had or-

ganized to resist him with fire-arms. If he had begun

to burn cabins it is possible he would have had a battle

on his hands. What probably happened in all six set-

tlements was the same as what happened at Norristown.

When Armstrong entered he found waiting for him

forty armed men, to whom he read his instructions and

who thereupon agreed to move off by April 19. A series

of petitions were sent to Congress asking for indulgence.

In the meantime Armstrong turned back to Fort McIn-

tosh where he arrived on April 12.10

Armstrong was thoroughly disillusioned about the

whole affair. He was quite conscious of the futility of

attempts to restrain squatter settlement. He reported

to Harmar on April 13,

"It is the opinion of many sensible men (with whom I con-

versed on my return from Wheeling) that if the honorable the

Congress do not fall on some speedy method to prevent people

from settling on the lands of the United States west of the Ohio,

that country will soon be inhabited by a banditti whose actions

are a disgrace to human nature. . . .

"I have . . . taken some pains to distribute copies of your

instructions, with those from the honorable the Commissioners

for Indian Affairs with almost every settlement west of the Ohio,

and had them posted up at most public places on the east side

of the river, in the neighborhood through which these people pass.

10 Armstrong to Harmar, April 12, 1785, Harmar Papers, Draper

Collection, vol. 1, p. 44-47; Smith, St. Clair Papers, 2: 3, 4.

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"Notwithstanding they have seen and read those instructions,

they are moving to the unsettled countries by forties and fifties.

"From the best information I could receive, there are at the

falls of the Hawk Hawkin [Hockhocking] upwards of three hun-

ded families, at the Muskingum a number equal.

"At Meravens [Moravian?] Town there are several families

and more than fifteen hundred on the rivers Miami and Scioto.

From Wheeling to that place there is scarcely one bottom on the

river but has one or more families living thereon."11

It is evident from this that Armstrong had visited but

a small fraction of the squatters west of the Ohio.

Did the constitutional convention ever meet ? It can-

not be said with positive certainty that it did, and it is

to be hoped that somewhere, possibly in the files of the

papers of the Continental Congress, a definitive state-

ment may some day be found. For the present there is

available only indirect evidence that it met. Armstrong,

in his letter to Harmar just quoted, said, "In conse-

quence of the advertisement by John Amberson [Emer-

son], I am assured meetings will be held at the times

therein mentioned. That at Menzon's or Haglins [Hog-

lands] Town . . . the inhabitants had come to a resolu-

tion to comply with the requisitions of the advertise-

ment." The other evidence is the marriage notice already

quoted from  the Pittsburgh Gazette of September 29,

1787, with its reference to the existence of Governor

Hogland and of the State over which he governed. It

seems likely that some kind of a convention met although

at what time cannot be said. Following the creation of

the state at the convention an election of state officials

was probably held and William Hogland chosen for that

office. How long he ruled, whether he had a legislature

11 Smith, St. Clair Papers, 2:4.

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Ohio's Squatter Governor               281

and a cabinet, where his capital was located, must for

the present remain a mystery.12

One thing is certain. The squatters could not be

permanently dispersed by Continental troops. Expedi-

tion followed expedition during 1785 and 1786 but still

the cabins reappeared. First there was Ensign Ebenezer

Denny in August of 1785. Then there was Commis-

sioner Richard Butler, who, on October 4, 1785, wrote

from  Wheeling that he had warned the squatters off,

but had given them permission to save their crops. "I

observe," wrote Butler "it is with a degree of reluctance

[that they comply], and that they are fond of construing

every indulgence in the most favorable and extensive

manner for themselves, and seem to hint that saving

their crops includes feeding their cattle on the ground

the ensuing winter, and of course give them a footing

in the Spring, and so on." Next there came Major John

Doughty in November who reported to Harmar from

the mouth of the Muskingum, "I destroyed by fire every

house I could meet with on the Federal territory,

amounting to forty in all. Notwithstanding which I am

firmly of opinion that many will be re-built, for the poor

devils have nowhere to go. Many of the houses that

were destroyed last spring, I found re-built and inhab-

12 Two other evidences of William Hogland's residence in this squat-

ter commonwealth have been found. One is an entry in Commissioner

Richard Butler's Journal for October 2, 1785. On this day Butler, who

was on his way to hold a treaty at Fort Finney, called at the settlement

of "one Capt. Hoglan" a few miles above Wheeling and warned him off.

"Journal of General Butler" in The Olden Time, 2:438 (October, 1847).

The other is a petition to Harmar by "William Hoagland" and John

Nixon on August 30, 1785 "in behalf of the inhabitants on the western

side of the Ohio" asking for permission to stay on their lands long

enough to gather their crops. Harmar Papers, Draper Collection, vol. 1,

p. 88-91.

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ited." And in the summer of 1786 Captain John Francis

Hamtramck was stationed at Mingo Bottom with one

hundred and sixty men "to make diligent search for"

squatters and to "destroy their dwellings." On August 5

one of Hamtramck's officers reported the destruction of

one corn-house, twelve hundred rails, over twenty five

acres of corn and nine houses.13

There was only one thing that could disperse the

squatters of the upper Ohio. That was the Indian war

that was brewing in these years and that finally broke

upon the country after the treaty of Fort Harmar in

1789. Then and then only did this nameless state cease

to exist as its citizens fled, some back to Pennsylvania

and Virginia, others down the Ohio to the fertile lands

of Kentucky. Perhaps upon the return of peace some

returned to their former dwellings to become citizens of

a new state and constituents of a new governor.

But this and other facts in this strange mystery must

be determined by another chronicler who can trace the

details of this lost commonwealth and its forgotten gov-

ernor through that near oblivion into which they have

long since disappeared.


13 Ensign Ebenezer Denny to Harmar, August 23, 1785, Harmar Pa-

pers, Draper Collection, vol 1, p. 85-87; Richard Butler to Harmar, Octo-

ber 4, 1785, Harmar Papers, Draper Collection, vol. 1, p. 99; Major John

Doughty to Harmar, November 30, 1785, Harmar Papers, Draper Collec-

tion, vol 1, p. 105; Harmar's Diary, entry for July 19, 1786, Harmar

Papers, Draper Collection, vol. 1, p. 161; Captain Mercer to Captain J.

F. Hamtramck, August 5, 1786, Harmar Papers, Draper Collection, voL

1, p. 181; Smith, St. Clair Papers, 2:14.