Journal-News , Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002
Louisiana Purchase important in Butler County in 1803
By Jim Blount
Next year will mark the bicentennial of three events -- Ohio statehood, the formation of Butler County and the Louisiana Purchase. If residents of this county in 1803 could have voted on the development they considered most important, it probably would have been the latter, the acquisition of a vast unknown area that cost the United States $15 million.
The Louisiana Purchase promised to erase one of the major obstacles to the economic health of the new state of Ohio and its immediate neighbors. The "Mississippi Question" had been a concern on the Ohio frontier from the late 1780s until President Thomas Jefferson's administration completed the purchase treaty with France April 30, 1803.
That question was: "Who will control the Mississippi River -- Spain, France, Great Britain or the United States?"
It appeared settled in the treaty ending the American Revolution, when the British agreed that the Mississippi River from its source to the Gulf of Mexico would be open to U. S. citizens.
In 1790, during the second year of his presidency, George Washington declared that "we must have and certainly shall have the full navigation of the Mississippi."
The importance of the issue to citizens west of the Appalachians wasn't immediately evident to political leaders east of the mountains. Gaining their attention was a gradual process.
The rivers were vital transportation arteries for the western region. The Appalachian mountains formed a barrier making it almost impossible to transport Ohio agricultural products directly east. The most practical route was an indirect one.
For residents of western Pennsylvania and areas that became the states of Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois, the only affordable outlet for their goods was over the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries. At New Orleans, western products -- tobacco, pelts, meat, grains, whiskey, etc. -- could be loaded onto ocean-going ships and sent to eastern U. S. markets and Europe.
Before the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans had been owned by either Spain or France. Its European owners often imposed prohibitive fees or demanded bribes from Americans who traveled on the Mississippi and brought their goods to New Orleans.
The young U. S. government negotiated treaties that seemed to assure the right of Americans to use the Mississippi and trade at New Orleans, but those agreements seemed to be temporary arrangements, not permanent solutions to the "Mississippi Question." Left unresolved, the matter promised dire consequences.
So strong was the feeling in the western territories and states that some frontier business and political leaders weighed the possibility of breaking away from the U. S., either forming an independent nation or allying with a European owner of the Mississippi River -- which formed the western border of Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as the United States at that time.
Another possibility was military action -- raising troops west of the Appalachians to take control of the river and New Orleans from either Spain or France. That aggression could have led to a war that would threaten the continued existence of the United States.
The province of Louisiana had passed from France to Spain in 1762. In a secret treaty Oct. 1, 1800, Spain had returned the area to France. Before the transfer, Spanish leaders had closed the Mississippi River to Americans and canceled their right to trade at New Orleans.
A few months later, the critical problem was dumped in the lap of a new president, Thomas Jefferson, who had recognized the seriousness of the situation about 14 years earlier.
"I have great opportunities of knowing the character of the people who inhabit that country; and I will venture to say that the act which abandons the navigation of the Mississippi is an act of separation between the Eastern and Western country" of the United States, Jefferson wrote in 1787.
Jefferson's 1803 settlement will be the subject of this column next week.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2002
Jefferson answered critical 'Mississippi Question'
By Jim Blount
When Thomas Jefferson moved into the White House March 4, 1801, resolution of the "Mississippi Question" was high on his agenda. The new president, as early as 1786, had declared the necessity of acquiring the river and the port of New Orleans. It was an economic priority for Ohioans as they progressed from territorial status to statehood.
After the American Revolution -- as American settlement began along the Ohio River -- the Mississippi River and New Orleans were Spanish possessions.
In the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Congress promised that "the navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same, shall be common highways and forever free . . . without any tax, impost or duty."
Extending that navigation guarantee to the Mississippi -- plus free access to trading at New Orleans -- dominated frontier politics during the 1790s as western residents moved quickly from subsistence farming to the urgency of finding markets for their agricultural surpluses.
In 1794, only 5,400 barrels of flour from western American territories had passed through the port of New Orleans. Eight years later, trade in that commodity alone amounted to 12,000 barrels for local consumption and 70,000 barrels deposited for export, according to the Encyclopedia Louisiana.
A petition to Congress in 1798 emphasized western desperation over Mississippi rights. "If Congress refuses us effectual protection, if it forsakes us, we will adopt measures which our safety requires, even if they endanger the peace of the Union and our connection with other states. No protection, no allegiance," the petition threatened.
In a secret treaty Oct. 1, 1800, Spain transferred the area to France. Despite the transaction, Spanish leaders retained control and closed the Mississippi River to Americans and canceled their right to trade at New Orleans.
In February 1803 -- while Ohioans were preparing to establish a state government at Chillicothe -- Congress signaled its determination by appropriating $50,000 for gunboats that could be deployed if France refused Americans rights to the river and the port. Jefferson opted to negotiate first.
Ohio statehood was effective March 1, 1803, and three weeks later the Ohio General Assembly formed Butler County on land taken from Hamilton County. A week after Ohio statehood, Jefferson sent James Monroe to France, authorized to offer $2 million for New Orleans.
Instead, on April 30, France offered to sell New Orleans and all of Louisiana to the U. S. for $15 million, or about three cents an acre. The agreement was accepted and signed by Madison and Robert Livingston.
"We had not been unaware of the danger to which our peace would be perpetually exposed while so important a key to the commerce of the western country remained under foreign power," Jefferson reminded Congress in an Oct. 17 message. Three days later, the treaty -- which had been signed May 2 -- won Senate approval.
Nov. 30, Spain formally yielded Louisiana to France, and Dec. 20 the transfer from France to the U. S. was completed, doubling the size of the nation.
Besides free navigation of the Mississippi and access to the port of New Orleans, the Louisiana Purchase added about 800,000 square miles. It would be divided into all or parts of 13 states -- Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Montana.
As Butler County took shape, its leaders honored a Pennsylvania senator who had been at the forefront in the legislative battle to resolve the "Mississippi Question" to the satisfaction of Ohioans and other westerners. He will be the focus of this column next week.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2002
Ross named for popular Pennsylvania senator
By Jim Blount
Ross, an unincorporated community, and Ross Township are named for a Pennsylvanian who endeared himself to the earliest residents of Butler County. James Ross supported Ohio statehood, liberal land laws and free navigation of the inland rivers, especially the Ohio and Mississippi, before and during his nine years in the U. S. Senate.
As a young man, Ross -- born in York County, Pa., July 12, 1762 -- was a Latin instructor at McMillan's Academy (now Washington and Jefferson), a college in Washington, Pa. In 1782, he began the study of law at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). In 1784, he was admitted to the bar and opened a practice in Washington, Pa.
As a lawyer, he specialized in land cases. Later, as a senator, he chaired the committee responsible for land legislation -- an issue important to the disposal of federal land and development of western territories, including Ohio.
Ross was a delegate to the Pennsylvania state constitutional convention in 1789 and 1790. Four years later, President George Washington appointed him to a three-man commission to negotiate a settlement to the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania.
Also in 1794, Ross, a Federalist, was elected to fill a U. S. Senate vacancy. Later, he won election to a full six-year term and served from April 24, 1794, until March 3, 1803, two days after Ohio began operating as the 17th state. He had supported the Ohio enabling act that won congressional approval April 30, 1802.
He also had invested in Ohio when it was a territory. In 1797, Ross and Bezaleel Wells had founded Steubenville and offered lots for sale in the community on the Ohio River.
Ross moved to Pittsburgh in 1795 while in the U. S. Senate and eventually served 17 years as a Pittsburgh councilman. After leaving Congress, Ross resumed his law practice and was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 1799, 1801 and 1808. He died in Pittsburgh Nov. 27, 1847, at the age of 85.
With land taken from Hamilton County, the new Ohio General Assembly formed Butler County in March 1803 -- the same month James Ross left the U. S. Senate.
Ross Township -- named for the former Pennsylvania senator -- was one of the five original townships established May 10, 1803, in Butler County. The others were Fairfield, Lemon, Liberty and St. Clair.
Ross Township was about twice its present size until March 10, 1811. On that date, Morgan Township was formed by land detached from the western half of Ross Township.
The community of Ross -- in the southeastern corner of the township -- wasn't created until 1817, and acquired its present name even later. It was laid out by Dr. Benjamin Clark in 1817 as Venus, named for the mythical Roman goddess of love and beauty.
Jan. 15, 1819, a post office was created nearby as Dick's Mills. That site -- also known as Dick's Ford or Dick's Crossing -- was on the Great Miami River in Section 34 of Ross Township, below the mouth of Indian Creek. It was first called Shaw's Ford or Shaw's Crossing after one of the original land owners (1801). It became Dick's Crossing or Dick's Mill after the 1805 sale of the land to Samuel Dick.
There was a Dick's Mill post office until July 31, 1834, when it was moved to Ross. It was relocated after the first Venice Bridge was built southwest of Dick's Mill. Despite the PO designation of Ross, the crossroads community was commonly known as Venice during much of the 20th century.
The Pennsylvania leader also was remembered in 1804 when a new town was laid out on the west bank of the Great Miami River, opposite Hamilton. That community -- which was merged into Hamilton in 1855 -- was named Rossville.
Butler Countians weren't the only Ohioans who honored Ross. In 1798, Ross County (Chillicothe) was created and named for the champion of liberal land laws and guardian of the right to use rivers as "common highways . . . forever free."
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2002
Jay's Treaty favorable to settlement on Ohio frontier
By Jim Blount
In 1794 and 1795, the few residents on the Ohio frontier, including those around Fort Hamilton, had plenty to celebrate. One was a controversial diplomatic agreement. Because news traveled on horseback, it took months for details of Jay's Treaty to reach the region.
The U. S. Army led by Gen. Anthony Wayne defeated Indians in the Battle of Fallen Timbers (near Maumee, Ohio) Aug. 20, 1794. That victory led to the Treaty of Greenville signed by Gen. Wayne and Indian leaders Aug. 3, 1795. Congress ratified the pact Dec. 22, 1795.
That sequence of 1794-95 events encouraged settlement in the area around Fort Hamilton. The sense of security caused the army to close the fort, which had been part of its supply line in the four-year campaign against Indians in the Northwest Territory.
For land owners and the few settlers in the Symmes Purchase -- the area north of the Ohio River between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers -- a major concern remained the failure of Great Britain to comply with some terms of the Treaty of Paris. In that 1783 agreement ending the American Revolution, the British had promised to vacate their forts south of the Great Lakes. But British troops remained in the region as Wayne's army triumphed.
Also in the early 1790s, British ships were raiding and seizing American vessels, especially those engaged in trade with the French West Indies. From the British perspective, this represented aid to France, then Great Britain's enemy. Spain and Britain had declared war on France Feb. 1, 1793.
With the young United States caught in the middle of the European conflict, President George Washington decided that American interests would be served by resolving problems with the British government.
To conduct negotiations, Washington chose John Jay, a New York native with outstanding credentials. The graduate of King's College (now Columbia) had been a member of the Continental Congress, chief justice of the New York Supreme Court and U. S. minister to Spain before joining John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in formulating the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
He had been secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation, the first form of U. S. government. Jay supported the new Constitution written in 1787 and was a delegate to the New York convention that narrowly ratified the document in 1788.
In 1789, as President Washington appointed the first U. S. Supreme Court, Jay was named chief justice. He took leave from that post in April 1794, arrived in England in June and signed a treaty Nov. 19, 1794, three months after Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers.
Jay's Treaty "was the dominating foreign and domestic policy event of 1794," said historian Bernard A. Weisberger, but it "nearly tore the whole country apart."
The text of Jay's Treaty was revealed in Philadelphia, the nation's capital, in April 1795, setting off political fireworks. Jay was hanged in effigy by treaty opponents, who accused him of giving away American rights. Coastal states protested omission of protection for American seamen from British seizure, and the failure to gain U. S. trading rights in British ports. It also failed to include compensation to Americans for slaves that had been taken by the British.
Much of the blame for the flawed treaty fell on Washington, who was in his second term as president. Critics depicted the agreement as switching U. S. allegiance from France -- the ally during the American Revolution -- to Great Britain -- the enemy.
Had they known, residents of the Ohio frontier would have hailed Jay's efforts. The treaty decreed that British troops leave the region by June 1, 1796. Also welcomed would have been provisions that allowed unrestricted navigation on the Mississippi River, and permitted free trade between American and British possessions in North America.
The treaty went before a special session of the U. S. Senate June 8, 1795, and, with some reservation, wThis is an example of a permanent button as ratified June 24 -- less than six weeks before Gen. Wayne concluded the Treaty of Greenville in Ohio.
Washington signed the treaty in August, but the turmoil over Jay's Treaty continued for several months. It wasn't until April 30, 1796, that the U. S. House of Representatives approved appropriations putting into effect the treaty that boosted settlement in Ohio.
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