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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

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Ohio's First Settlement  - (11/29/2015)

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Ohio's First Settlement
By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 29, 2015

This fall, I was a presenter for the Academy for Lifelong Learning, providing a one-session program on the History of Steubenville.


As I prepared the presentation, my plan was to present things about the history of Steubenville that were different from the mainstream topic usually provided.


I promised the audience that I wouldn’t reveal some of my topics to others until after the Academy program; so now I can discuss some of my program topics.


I was first interviewed for the position of Director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County on March 17, 1983.  A committee of the Library Board was doing first interviews of the candidates.


About 5 minutes into that interview, the late John Maltese, a long-time member of the Library Board, suddenly commented, “So, I see from your resume that you are a native of Marietta?  You know that Steubenville is older than Marietta who always claims to be Ohio’s first City.”


This didn’t seem like the time to argue history, but any student of the Marietta City School System who took the required “History of Marietta” course in the 7th grade can tell you that Marietta was settled on April 7, 1788.


My response was simply, “Oh, that’s interesting.”


Mr. Maltese continue to note that the “County History” has two entries noting the early settlement of Steubenville and that settlers to Marietta passed by on the Ohio River on their way to that city.


The topic seemed to be “better left alone” for the time being, but later after being hired, Mr. Maltese continued the subject.


Several people mentioned the topic to me if they knew I was a Marietta native, so I began reading local histories to see what was behind this historical question.


The issue of Ohio’s first settlement relates to the question that is being asked.


Military outposts are different from civil settlements, and someone living in a particular area differs from an established settlement.


The first established military outpost in Ohio was Fort Laurens in Bolivar, constructed in 1778 to assist with American supply lines between Fort Pitt and the Detroit area.  It survived for only a year.


Fort Harmar was constructed in 1785 at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, which would be the site of Marietta, and continued operations until 1790.


Soldiers from Fort Harmar came upriver to establish Fort Steuben in 1786, and it operated into 1787.


There were Settler’s Forts up and down the Ohio River, and the military continued to remove settlers from the “Ohio side” of the river where settlement was not permitted until it was surveyed and established for sale.


Of course, Native Americans lived in the Ohio Country for centuries before American colonization of the area.


The civil establishment of Marietta took place in New England, before the settlers came to the Ohio Company of Associates tract of land.  Beyond that 1788 settlement, “Belle Prairie” today called Belpre claims a 1789 settlement, and Cincinnati has 1789-90 as its establishment.


Gallipolis was established in 1790.  You will notice that all of these cities are Ohio River communities, as that served as the highway into the Ohio Country.


Steubenville is an important city, with the town appearing in 1797 thanks to Bazaleel Wells and James Ross, and it quickly became one of the four largest cities in Ohio.


This designation continued until 1830 when the rest of the state began to open with roads and canals.


Today, I have lived in Steubenville much longer than that city downriver, and I appreciate its deep history more than ever.  The more I have read, the more I understand that in Ohio history, Steubenville has gotten the “short end of the stick” from a historical perspective, and next week I will tell you why.