"In December, brother Benjamin shot a huge bear which when whole, without the intestines, weighed a few pounds over four hundred pounds. The dogs were fighting him in the little brook north of where Mr. Griebling's barn now stands."
The following was provided by, James McCluer
descendant of James R. Gass,
and Gass family researcher.
William Gass was the first settler in Troy Township, arriving with his family on April 21, 1812. His son James R. Gass, who was just 13 years old at the time, was in later years to write a vivid history of the family and the events that they experienced. Gass wrote the account in 1869, about the time the original Richland County Historical Society was formed. Gass was the vice president for Troy Township.
The complete story has never been published although part of it was used in Graham! History of Richland Co. It is rare to find a document that narrates the exploration and development of a new country and still provide the backdrop of daily events and family ties. Gass built a stone house on the family land about a mile north of Lexington and it, like his history, stands as a monument to this pioneer family.
The earliest account I can obtain of the Gass family is that they lived along the banks of the River Bonn, in County Antrim, in the northeast part of Ireland. And that the first of the known to have emigrated to America were two brothers, who, in their youthful days, landed in Philadelphia some time in 1690. They were fullers and followed that business in Philadelphia. Their names were Benjamin and William Gass, one of whom was my father's grandfather, but I don't recollect which one.
My own grandfather, Benjamin Gass, was born in Franklin County, Pa. in 1744. He also learned and followed the clothing business. The maiden name of my grandmother was Mary McClain, a native of Chester County, Pennsylvania, also of Irish origin. They raised a family of six sons and two daughters, whose names in order were Margaret, William, Benjamin, Richard, Mary, John and James. I have understood that grandfather
owned and sold a good farm in Pennsylvania and when the last payments were due had to take them in Continental notes were then legal tender, but had depreciated so that a dollar only passed for one cent. This nearly broke him up, and he then moved with his family over the mountains about 1789. He the fulling business in mills owned by until he finally settled in Brooke County,
Patrick Gass was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania on the 12th of June 1771. He joined the excursion under Captains Lewis and Clark to explore the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. They started from St. Louis traveled slowly all summer with several small water craft until they camped for the winter what is now the northern part of Iowa where they remained until the spring of 1805, and there that winter, then started for home in the spring of 1806, and arrived at St.Louis that autumn. He was in some hard battles during the War of 1812. Married a
Young wife, when he was over sixty years old, raised three sons and three daughters and died at the home of his son-in-law (J, S. Smith) in Brooke County West Virginia, in April 1870, nearly ninety-nine years old.
Uncle Benjamin married a Miss Cochran. He built a fulling mill on Peter's Creek in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania where he followed the trade of his fathers. He and his wife and their sons died many years ago, though their two daughters may be living yet.
Uncle Richard learned and followed the cooper trade, went south, worked a while on Island of Trinidad. Report had it that he was married there and was killed in a skirmish with the Spanish. Do not remember of ever of seeing him, but remember well of seeing a letter written by him to my parents in a beautiful hand.
Uncle John followed the seas for some years, was Captain of a vessel, but nothing certain was heard of him, since it was known he was
a prisoner by the British for some months in Nova Scotia during the War of 1812. I can remember of seeing hi m only once when I was
Uncle James was here on a visit in the winter of 1818-19. He died near Steubenville, Ohio, I think in 1832. He was never married.
My father, William Gass, was born in Franklin County, Pa. on February 14, 1769. lived with his parents a few years after they
moved out west of the mountains, working around at rough carpenter work in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, He then went
east to his native place and farmed with some of his relatives a year or two. He and my mother had been acquainted in their youthful
She was the oldest daughter of James Rea, a native of Ireland. Her mother was Elizabeth Simmons, an English woman. Mother was five or six years older than father, at the time of their marriage was the widow of Richard McClain, who was father's uncle. Although father and mother were riot of to each other previous to their marriage, yet according to the Presbyterian orthodoxy at that time it was considered unlawful for them to marry, and their union was a great grief to their parents and relatives. They made all preparations for moving west, were married I think in September 1793, and forthwith commenced their tedious journey over the mountains. After some weeks wagoning they arrived at my grandparents in Brook County, West Virginia. Bought a small piece of wild land, built their first log cabin and commenced housekeeping in the neighborhood where Bethany College is now. Their first child, Benjamin arrived on the 12th June 1794.
1 was born on the 8th of August 1796. 1 have now advanced the narrative of our family until my own time. Now what follows is after my own recollections began to dawn.
In the spring of 1799 some of our neighbors removed to the Northwest Territory, as this region was then called, and settled on the Tuscarawas River. Father visited them that summer, staid with them a few days and was highly pleased with the rich looking country, and thought he would make it his home, but a long and heavy rain produced so great a freshet as to overflow their corn fields, and inundated so much of their rich bottom lands that he abandoned the idea of living there. He still had a desire to see more of the Territory, so in the autumn of 1799 he started on foot to what is now Fairfield County, Ohio where he had an old neighbor living. Jacob Vanmeter who lived three miles east of New Lancaster which was then laid out, and had a few villagers living hopefully in their log cabins. My father was pleased with the prospects there and determined to cast his lot among the adventurous pioneers then beginning to settle along the tributaries of the Hocking Creek. So in the spring of 1800 he sold his rough Virginia farm (in which Uncle Patrick was joint owner with him) and in the fore part of June we took our departure for the western wilderness. Our team was a sorrel horse and an old bay mare with a white face. All the household goods and provisions were stowed away in a small wagon. Our family consisted of father, mother, a bound boy about ten or twelve years old named Stephen Bruce, and our own three boys, for brother John was born June 12, 1798. We had a few cattle, sheep and hogs to drive. I think it strange that I can't recollect the trying moment of leaving our native home, for I remember distinctly of us calling at a mill in the neighborhood of Buffalo Creek and taking on some flour, and more distinctly do I remember of arriving at the Ohio River.
I was much terrified at the sight of its turbulent waters and great width and also at seeing our numerous neighbors and friends who had kindly assisted us thus far, forcing the cattle and hogs to swim the river, which they did. I think the sheep and a few young hogs were taken into the ferryboat with the team. The old mother sow after reaching the western shore heard her pigs squeal as they were about landing, and in mistake thought they were on the east bank of the river, so she pitched into the deep again and paddled back to Virginia, landed some distance down stream, very tired, was driven up to the ferry, became convinced of her mistake, for her pigs were forced to keep up a squealing on the western shore, so with some urging she launched again and floated down stream a good distance, but landed safely in the Northwest Territory. Our crossing must have taken some hours. The ferry was a short distance below Wellsburg, so when all were safely landed our kind relatives and neighbors with many expressions of sympathy and good will, hopes and fears left us to our lonely fate. We were now only five or six miles from the home we had left. We then took our new departure alone through the Territory, finding a pioneer cagin, perhaps one a day. The road we soon got into had been opened a short time before from near Wheeling, West Virginia to Chillicothe, Ohio by Jonathan Zanes of Wheeling, who was employed by the government for that purpose and received for compensation a quarter section of land at the crossing of the Muskingum River at Zanesville. It was a miserably poor, narrow, muddy road, cut through the wood merely wide enough for a wagon to pass, bridged only over the small brooks and worst mudholes with rough logs Father drove through all successfully, did not stall any lace either in the quagmires or on the hills during the whole difficult route. We were not much annoyed by high waters until we came to Will's Creek, in what is now Guernsey County. It was a deep dirty stream.
Some adventurer lived in a cabin at the crossing and kept a boat large enough to take on our wagon and team, the cattle, hogs and sheep swam over safely. The third day after crossing we arrived at two old smoky looking cabins on the east bank of the Muskingum River where the city of Zanesville now stands. I think the town was then laid out by Jonathan Zanes and others, but the two cabins aforesaid were all the buildings then visible. They were occupied by two brothers named Groves, who kept there a regular ferry. Our wagon and team, and I think the sheep, were taken on the boat, the cattle and hogs swam over safely.
This was the last deep water we had to encounter. In one of the two days of hard traveling through the wilderness we reached the cabin of Mr. Atkinson who, with his good wife, kindly entertained us. He lived near Jonathan's Creek in what is now Perry County. Their mother took violently ill, compelling us to remain with them a few days. I remember that while we remained at Mr. Atkinson's, brother Benjamin became six years of age and John two, which was on the 12th of June 1800. As the country is now so thickly settled it is hard to realize how lonely and wild the wilderness was through which we passed. I think we struck fire in the woods and camped out more nights than we found cabins to lodge at. One evening after we had made a fire and the sheep were pasturing only a few rods from us at dusk a hungry wolf pitched in among them and killed one. Our bound boy saw and scared him away before he got a meal of our mutton.
When at Mr. Atkinson's we were only twelve or fifteen miles from OUT destination. As soon as mother's health permitted, we resumed our journey. In one day's drive we reached Van Meter's (where we were cordially received) who was an aged Marylander with a large family, some of them married and living near him. After remaining with them a few days, Father selected a location nearly a mile north of them, beside a good spring on the main road from Zanesville to New Lancaster where he constructed a camp by setting strong forks in the ground twelve -or fifteen feet apart and placing two poles on them, one end on each fork, the other end standing back some sixteen or eighteen feet to the descending ground, then cross poles enough to sustain the clapboard roof, the floor was also made of clapboards. In the back part of the shanty our household goods and provisions were stored, the family occupied the front part. A fire was generally kept up before, the wide door for cooking and also for smoking off the gnats and mosquitoes which were very annoying. In that we harbored some weeks until we got our first log cabin raised. The land was surveyed into sections of one-mile square, but not yet open for purchase. In the autumn of 1800 it was proclaimed ready for sale, and a half section was the least that could be bought in one tract. The land was all to be put up at public sale, which took place at Chillicothe so Abram Bright and his son, Nimrod Bright, Moses Powell and Father put their small sums together to buy the half section on which they had all built their cabins. The government price was $2.00 per acre, but might be bid up o any amount at public sale. When the time for selling came they all handed Father their several lots of hard cash and sent him to the sale to secure their purchases, all anxious to get their land at the lowest figure, but fearful that some of the numerous speculators would bid up their lot above their scant means and take their small possessions. Father expostulated with some of the sharpers at the sale which lasted several days, and when his lot was reached had the pleasure of bidding it off without opposition at $2.00 per acre, paid his money and came home to report his pleasing success to the waiting neighbors. Then the half section was divided among the owners in proportion to the sums paid by each. My Father's share was 105 acres. All hands could then labor in better heart, knowing that their improvements were their own. Father soon built a larger house of hewn logs and cellar under it which was quite ahead of the times in our neighborhood. As there was much traveling of immigrants and other along the road on which we lived, we kept public entertainment for two years. There must have been great difficulty in obtaining the indispensables of life in that thinly settled wilderness. My only sister, Elizabeth, was born in that cabin on the 21st of September 1800 and brother William, the 25th of September 1803. My sister was kicked in the head by a colt on the forehead in the fall of 1805 of which she died in about one month from the accident.
Our first school was taught by Thomas Sidney who lived in our neighborhood in 1805. Brother Benjamin and I were among the small pupils. Our schoolhouse was a small log cabin without a floor, about two miles north of where we lived. We also went the summer of 1804 to Thomas Russell, a New England man, and the winter of 1805-06 to John Anderson, an elderly Marylander. These three short terms completed our schooling in Fairfield County. There was a gristmill erected by Mr. Shelenbarger on Hocking Creek a few miles below Lancaster as soon as people had any grain to grind, and another soon afterwards near town, by David Carpenter.
While we lived in Fairfield County father entered a quarter section of land on Walnut Creek some eight or ten miles northwest of our residence with which he was much pleased, by paying only $80.00 on it which secured it for five years. After keeping it for two or three years he sold it to G. R. Bishop making a handsome profit on it.
In the spring of 1806, a Virginia gentleman named Josiah Bell came along and fancied our farm, brought his wife to see it, she was well pleased with the appearance, so he and father soon agreed upon $12.00 per acre, one half to be paid down, the balance in two or three years with immediate possession, except the dwelling house which we were to occupy a few weeks.
Our parents were in quite a quandary for they had no idea where they were to move. Father rode through the country some days seeking a location, but could not be suited. Had heard of Owl Creek some fifty miles north of us and the little town of Mt. Vernon, which had then five or six inhabitants, so he traveled out there., was pleased with that portion of new and wild country, and soon selected two quarter sections of Congress land one half mile east of the village. Came home and hurried to the land office at Chillicothe to make his entries, which he soon accomplished. He then went out to Mt. Vernon and hired Jesse Severn to build a cabin on his land, 18 feet square, clapboard roof, no floor or loft. It stood close to a beautiful spring of pure soft water. I think Father paid $22.00 for building the house and $1.00 for opening a road from town to the new residence. Soon after arriving home he hired a Mr. Pugh of Fairfield County with his wagon and four horse team to haul our household goods to our new residence.
We left our Hocking home the latter part of May, 1806, were nearly four days traveling, had no stock but a few horses and cattle, reached our premises late Saturday night but our wagon stalled in a mud hole on twenty or thirty rods from our cabin and had to be unloaded so we had to trudge on foot to our new home, spread some bed clothes on some chips in our rustic house, lodged there that night, and rested through the Sabbath. Early Monday morning, Father procured his wagoner to haul a load of lumber from Wm. Douglas's saw mill which had been in operation a short time. It was built on Owl Creek (now Vernon River) some three miles north west of our residence. Our family then consisted of Father, Mother and we four boys. Our bound boy, Stephen Bruce, had left us suddenly three years previously to go home to his relatives in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. All hands now applied themselves to improve our wild premises, procured some hired help and cleared off perhaps an acre lot and planted it with corn, but there was not an ear of it fully matured, all having been killed by the early autumn frosts which were much harder here than at our Hocking home. We saw pretty hard times the next winter, which was a pretty hard one. I think it was December 1806, that Uncle Patrick called on us on his way home from his long journey up the Missouri and down the Columbia River with Captains Lewis and Clark. This was the first time I can remember seeing him. He was riding on an elegant red and white spotted horse and was steering for his parent's home in Brook County, West Virginia, and remained with us for some eight or ten days. A few neighbors had settled on Owl Creek below Mt. Vernon previous to our arrival, within from one to five miles from us, and a number more within the year, so within a year we had a good, intelligent, pious neighborhood, mostly Pennsylvanians and Virginians.
All that part of Ohio was then attached to Fairfield County for election purposes, as Knox County was not organized and county seat established until 1808. Our two quarter sections were adjoining lots, one lying south of the other, but were separate entries, think Father paid only $80.000 on each which secured them for five years, but payments all due in four years. Owing to the failure of the man who bought his Fairfield farm to pay up promptly, Father had much trouble to accomplish his last payments. We lived on the south lot so he got it paid off first, but had to sell the north lot in 1811 to save it from being forfeited to the U.S. We had a cornfield on it of about eleven acres. Very fortunately a stranger by the name of Mayers came along and bought it for $4.00 an acres and this enabled Father to pay it off, so he lost no time in riding to the land office at Chillicothe for that purpose. Think at the same time he entered two other quarter sections paying $80.000 on each some two or three miles east of our residence. There were good upland lots but so brushy that we did not highly prize them. Several years previous to this time, 1811, a few of our neighbors moved north twenty or thirty miles onto the waters of the Mohican which district was then called "The New Purchase."
Mansfield was laid out in 1808 by Jacob Newman and others and was expected to be the metropolis of some great future country. The aforesaid neighbors were frequently back to Knox County and were often at our home.
They generally gave flattering accounts of the new purchase. Their names were Andrew Craig, Samuel Lewis, Archibald Gardiner, George Coffinberry and Jephtha Middleton. The two latter settled in Mansfield and were acquainted with Father in Fairfield County.
In October 1811, Father, Uncle Francis Mitchel and Joseph Mitchel prepared for camping out a few nights and determined to explore a part of the new purchase. They were gone some three or four days and were so well pleased with the wild country that Father selected the west half of Section 12, township 20, and range 19, and Francis Mitchel, the southwest quarter of section 11. The land office was then at Canton, Stark County, Ohio, to which place Father hurried and entered his half section and also the quarter section for Francis Mitchel. These were the first entries of land made in this township. We were all anxious to see our land in the new purchase, so on the last day of October 1811, brother Benjamin and I were each mounted on a two year old colt, Father riding an older mare, all furnished with a few days rations, blankets, axe and guns, and posted off to Mohican. Night overtook us soon after crossing the creek near where Bower's gristmill stands. So we struck fire, tied up our horses, and camped out for the night in an old vacated wigwam. Early in the morning of Nov. 1, 1811, we pursued our journey through the woods but along an Indian trail and halted to warm, as it was a cold cloudy morning, at an Indian village of some six or seven families. An Indian trail from there to Upper Sandusky passed through our land so we followed it until we arrived at our premises, then halted and built up a large fire some two or three rods north of where A. O. Easton's saw mil now stands. Father was desirous of seeing the south east quarter of section 11, on which O.C. Gass now lives, so he tied the fore feet of the old mare closely together and turned our ponies out to pasture along the run bottom - left me to keep camp while he and Benjamin steered off west to view the land, calculated to buy it if it suited. The day seemed long and dreary to me, as it was cold and snowy. They returned in the afternoon much pleased with the land, so we brought up our horses and camped there for the night. Saturday morning, November 2, 1811, a clear frosty morning, after feeding our horses a few ears of corn which we brought with us we took an early start for home, quite well pleased with our wild premises. We steered east into what is now Washington Township until we reached the State road from Mt. Vernon to Mansfield, which was then opened so that wagons could barely pass, then south to where Bellville now is.
Mr. James McClure then owned that quarter section and lived there. He was uncle of our Samuel and James McClure. We had dinner there and arrived home late at night and gave a good report of our new purchase. Father then sold his two brushy lots in Knox County, getting only his $80.00 refunded on each lot and hired a neighbor, Mr. William Marquis, to go to Canton and enter for him the aforesaid land. Father could not go himself as that fall he was elected to the legislature, which convened at Zanesville the first of December 1811. Must here digress so far as to tell of my first ear hunt - think it was the autumn of 1808 that the raccoons were numerous and destructive on our cornfield a half mile distant. Upon arriving there the dogs soon began to pursue something quite furiously, they ran out into the woods some sixty or eighty rods, when they had started a fierce barking and I knew they had something larger than a coon, so when I got in sight I found it was a bear about twenty feet up a large ash. It had no limbs to rest on and was quite uneasy. I kept myself a respectful distance, know that Father would hear the dogs and soon would be there with his gun. Father ran up quite close and bruin began to scramble down holding fast to the tree but a well timed shot brought him down to the ground where the dogs seized him and he soon breathed his last.
Mother was well pleased with our neighbors and home in Knox County and preferred staying there but Father and the boys were desirous to sell out and move to Mohican. So in the spring of 1812 he sold our farm for nine hundred dollars to Mr. John Adams who had recently moved into our county from Virginia. He was a native of Ireland, grandfather of Judge John Adams of Mt. Vernon.
Immediately after selling out, Father hired a man to go with us and took Benjamin and me with a three horse wagon load of tools, provisions, etc. and started to build a cabin on our Mohican land. We left home in the afternoon and were part of three days on our journey. A Mr. McMichael of Knox County had got out before us and built his cabin on the farm where old Mr. Hamilton died a few years ago. From there we had to cut out a road through the woods some two and a half miles until we arrived at the spring near which our home was to be. We then struck a fire, built a temporary hut to shelter us while we were cutting logs and erecting our cabin - cleared off a site and soon laid the foundation for our new home, 14 feet square. Our cabin was built three or four rods west of where Mr. Hainer's house now stands. In a few days of hard labor without assistance we had our small unhewn logs raised into a rustic house. We had a frow with us but had no cross cut saw. Cut down a large read oak, chopped off our clapboards into four foot lengths and soon had a roof on our new edifice, but no floor. Brought a door with us made by a carpenter of Mt. Vernon which we hung on wooden hinges - must have been about a week in building. This was the middle of April. The wild pasture was so plentiful that our horses could live well without any feeding. Having completed our lonely habitation and gathered our property into it we nailed it up securely and at noon, took our departure for home. After traveling for three or four miles we met two cousins, Solomon and Samuel Walker. They were two young men who Father had engaged to work for us. We had some flour, bacon, sugar and other provisions stored up in the cabin which Father directed how to find, also where to make rails, telling them that before they split two thousand we would be back with the family. They said they could easily cook for themselves that long and cheerfully trudged on to their new scene of operations, and we wagoned on to Mr. James McClure's where we put up for the night.
The next day we arrived safely at home, but owing to wet weather and numerous troubles did not get started back as soon as we wished. After several disappointments and delays we got two large Pennsylvania wagons, belong to two neighbors, loaded full of house hold goods, five horse teams hitched to each, and on Tuesday, April 21st, 1812 bade adieu to our Knox County home and took our departure for our wild Mohican habitation, staid at Mr. Casper Fitting's the first night, about ten miles from Mt. Vernon. The second night we camped at the woods on the bank of the Mohican one mile above where Bellville now is. Next afternoon we reached Daniel McMichael's and had to cut our road much wider from there for our long teams. We traveled slowly as the roads were soft and deep, arrived at our solitary little cabin about noon on Thursday, the 23rd of April 1812.
We found our Walker boys hard at work, they had split their two thousand rails and commenced clearing a cornfield. We brought with us five head of horses, some cattle and sheep, left our hogs to be cared for and fattened for one half by Mr. Adams.
Our family consisted of Father, Mother, a bound girl, Charlotte Hedric, about thirteen years of age, and we four boys. Our first work was putting a puncheon floor in the house and building an addition to the west side of it, also putting up a small stable. Then we applied all our force to clearing off a cornfield. In a week or two, Nathan Magers came. We all labored hard a chopping and burning logs, got about ten acres party cleared off so that we began to plant about the latter part of May and finished the eighth or tenth of June; but towards the last, only ran one furrow and crossed it with the plow before planting, broke up the middle afterwards. Also fenced in our field after planting.
The ground was mellow and rich so that our corn grew rapidly but so many green trees were left standing that it could not produce much or mature well but made good fodder. Our two Walker boys left us in May, then Nathan Magers. The McWilliams remained until the last of June. Father paid the me all 50 cents per hundred for splitting rails and $4.00 acre for clearing, they chopped all under a foot thick, cutting up the logs and burning the brush, and 50 cents per day when they assisted by the day. After the first of June we were left alone for the balance of the summer. We cut down a number of green trees after planting, burnt the brush around the standing ones, and jumped the shovel plow over the logs when plowing corn.
In the summer of 1812, war was declared against Great Britain and a number of Indians became hostile. This made dangerous times on the frontier and stopped emigration to the New Purchase. When General Hull surrendered Detroit in August 1812, many of the families near Lake Erie fled south as far as Knox County. The residents of our township, were then Amariah Watson, his brother Samuel, Elisha Robbins (brother-in-law to the Watsons), Calvin Culver, Francis Mitchel (who had his cabin built and his family there only a few days) and ourselves. We all held possession and labored in much dread until the Seymour family and Ruffner were killed on the Blackfork. We then thought it too dangerous to remain longer, and all pulled stakes and retreated to Knox County where all had previously resided. In a few days after our departure, the Copus family and some six or eight soldiers who were with them were attacked by Indians early in the morning. Mr. Copus and one soldier were killed, several others were wounded and borne away by their companions.
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