Recollections of Pioneer Life

This recollection was taken down by Charles Devol Curtis from the recollections of his uncle Walter Curtis who participated in the experience.

I was born in the town of Warren, Litchfield County, Connecticut, September 20, 1787. On the 8th of September, 1791, my father, Eleazer Curtis, and my mother, Eunice (Starr) Curtis, with five children; Stephen Guthrie, wife and one child, with three unmarried men, viz: Truman Guthrie [brother of Stephen], Lysander Curtis [brother of Eleazer]; and (____ ) Tollman, started from Warren Township, Litchfield County, Connecticut. The transportation outfit consisted of two wagons, one drawn by two horses, one by four oxen.

Our destination was Marietta, Ohio. We crossed the Hudson at the town of Hudson, using poles to push our scow, which held the wagons and party. We forded the Susquehanna at (near) Carlisle, the wagons jolting over the boulders in the bottom of the river.

In Carlisle, I was placed upon a rocking-horse and was so interested with the toy that the party left me and sent back to find and bring me on the journey.

After leaving Carlisle, we upset one of the wagons and further up the mountains, we found a large rattlesnake, over which we drove our wagons to destroy it.

After a tedious journey of several weeks duration, over new and almost impassable roads, we finally reached the headwaters of the Ohio at a point on the Youghiogheny, then known as Simrell's ferry, now McKeesport.

At this place we sold the horses and one yoke of oxen with one wagon. We purchased a flatboat about fifty feet long, half-covered, in the bow of which we placed one yoke of oxen and some fat hogs. Aft, under cover, were the families and furniture. This boat was rowed by oars projecting from the inside.

As we journeyed down the river one cold day in November, we drifted in too close to the Virginia shore [now West Virginia], when a tree hanging over the bank caught one of the projecting studs, and tore a plank off and the water rushed in, when my father caught up a feather bed and stuffed it into the hole. Stephen Guthrie cut the stock loose and knocked off a plank so they could jump into the river. The women and children were put out through a hole made in the side of the boat for dipping up water, and placed in a canoe by Lysander Curtis. Tollman, becoming frightened, jumped upon the tree and being heavily clothed, fell into the river and was drowned. The day was cloudy and cold. The boat swung around to the shore without sinking. Colonel [Ebenezer] Zane, who was below at Fort Wheeling, hearing of our distress, came up with men and took all down to the fort Where every thing was done for our comfort.

Having repaired the boat, the next object was to hunt up the stock which had strayed off into the woods; this caused a delay of nearly two weeks; we all re-embarked and floated down to Marietta. [They arrived late in November.] Here we left our boat and went into the garrison on the river (Picketed Point). The winter was cold and dreary.

The point being flooded [March 1, 1793], my father moved to a point back on high ground, now called McKee's addition, where we lived in the cabin of William Hart. After residing two winters here, my father moved to the garrison at the foot of Blennerhassett Island, called "the lower garrison" (Goodale's garrison). My father went into a blockhouse with Major (Oliver) Rice where the people all had the smallpox. [Epidemic was in September, 1793.] Here we were all sick from the effects of what was then called inoculation; my brother Benajah never recovered fully from the effects of this sickness. Here Horace was born [August 7, 1793].

When the early settlers came to this country there was peace. When the Indian war broke out, they left the location where they intended to live and constructed garrisons. One of these was opposite Newbury Island-this name was given by persons from Newburyport, Massachusetts...

After the massacre of a family at Newbury [March 15, 1792], it was thought the frontier too extended for defense, and the one at Newbury was abandoned, the pioneers distributing themselves among the other garrisons. After the lapse of about two years, a number of young men having come from the east, it was thought best to occupy again the abandoned garrison, which the Indians, contrary to expectations, had not burned...

The abandoned garrison was reoccupied by several families; among them were those of Stephen Guthrie and Eleazer Curtis (29); Truman Guthrie was one of the "single men." These three men had farms on Newbury bottom and living in the garrison they could now work on them.

The garrison was in the form of a parallelogram, containing about an acre. It was situated on the banks of the river, the long side fronting the river The river side was defended by high pickets, placed on the verge of the bank and leaning out. In the center was a gate and passage leading down to the river; in the corners were two blockhouses two stories high, with port-holes, enabling the occupants to sweep the fronts with their guns. The residences were one-story buildings placed in a straight line on the back of the grounds, with interstices filled with pickets.

From this enclosure the men went forth to their work in companies, with their implements and their guns. Their work was on the lands constituting the first bottom; their sentinels were on the second.

My father was custodian of ammunition. I frequently saw him distribute it, but do not know where it was obtained. [Perhaps it was here that Eleazer Curtis was given the title of "captain," a courtesy title, which is on his gravestone]

After the treaty of Greenville [by General Wayne on 5 August 1795], the pioneers remained in the fort until the following spring, when they went on their farms. Now commenced the hardships incident upon the settlement of a new country.

The hominy block and the handmill were the only means of crushing the grain for bread... The cooking was done before the open fire of the cabin... The clothes in those days were made principally of deerskin and flax. . . The woolen cloth was made by washing and carding by hand, spinning on the big wheel and weaving in a hand loom. . . The tables were made by splitting timber into slabs and dressing it into boards, and making these into the desired shapes. The bedsteads were made by placing low posts on the floor and laying slats from these to a crack in the side of the cabin. A board, placed upon pins in the logs, was the receptacle for the pewter dishes and wooden trenchers. The gun was hung upon hooks fastened to the wall. The floor was of puncheon or boards and was destitute of carpet.

The shoes were made by placing the foot upon a rawhide, with, the hair side up, when, the skin was cut round and the sides gathered upon the instep and secured by a thong; these were brogues. The mocassin was made of dressed deerskin and a beautiful covering for the foot, but unfit to wear except in the forest.

Amid these privations there was much social enjoyment. During the garrison life, parties went in canoes from one to the other, and amused themselves by dance and song. The repasts were of wild turkey, deer and bear...

Eleazer Curtis came down to the farm (from Newbury garrison), in the spring [1796], for the purpose of making [maple] sugar. He built his cabin at the east end of where the residence now stands. He moved [the family] down in the same spring. It was not then certain that the Indian war was over.

He built his house in 1798. [This was] the second house [one built near the river by Bull brothers, of whom Curtis purchased, was the first], was eighteen feet wide and twenty four feet long, was made of poplar logs which were hewn after the building was put up. It was two stories high, three windows of twelve lights, eight by ten glass, in the front of the upper story and two in the lower. The chimney was of brick and in the west end. The door was at the east end and opened into a hall, and the stairs near the door. The upper story was divided into two rooms. This was one of the best houses in the settlement. It was chinked with stone and pointed with lime mortar. Here the family lived happily as in a palace.

The old farm was cleared up as best they could. The logs rolled up with a long chain and yoke of oxen; these were of great use and value to the family. They were turned out at night and driven over to Mustapha Island where they pastured; they became so accustomed to this that finally, they went voluntarily and were found there in the morning and driven back. This saved the time and trouble of hunting for them in the forest...

About the year 1798, my father was clearing land back of the hill. I was sent to the spring near by for drinking water; while dipping up water, I heard an animal walking in the woods, looking up, I saw a beautiful bay mare going towards the east. I ran and told my father, who went across the hill and caught her; this was the first horse owned in Newbury. Two or three days later she disappeared and could not be found, until one day she was discovered in Truman Guthrie's cave, having fallen in and could not get out. About two years after, she swam the Ohio River and was taken up on Hughes River in Virginia [now West Virginia], and brought back to Newbury. The mare had undoubtedly been stolen by Indians near Clarksburg [West Virginia], taken out near Chillicothe [Ohio], and was endeavoring to reach her old home. It was one of the remarkable cases of animal instinct, when we remember that Ohio was at that time a vast wilderness.

Sickly Season, 1801

There was a large pond on the Joel Oakes farm (in Newbury) ; around this was a thrifty growth of trees. These were felled into the pond, and during the warm summer, bred a miasma that prostrated the whole neighborhood with bilious fever. Mr. Isaac Morse, who was a Revolutionary soldier and had built a cabin on the hill back of the Curtis farm, made himself especially useful to the Curtis family, by nursing the sick and bringing pure water from the spring near his cabin. He washed the infected clothes. Eleazer Curtis (29) died the first of September. His physician laughed at his remark that he should die, which was made as he walked the floor looking at his purpling nails. He died at the age of forty-two years...

Our grandfather and mother were members of the Congregational Church and entertained the minister. They maintained family worship. [This doubtless refers to Major Eleazer Curtis, Warren, Conn.]

Joseph Guthrie made the tombstones for our grandfather, Major Eleazer Curtis, which were displaced by the modern marble. [This was in the Warren, Conn. cemetery. Joseph Guthrie, of Litchfield County, Conn., and Athens County, Ohio, was the grandfather of Almira Guthrie, the wife of Walter Curtis; he was also the father of Truman and Stephen Guthrie, members of the party from Connecticut to Ohio.]

This recollection appears in 'The Curtis Family' by Laura Guthrie (Curtis) Preston, 1945