From The New England Magazine, New Series, Vol. 21, Issue 6, published by the New England Magazine Co., Feb. 1900, Boston. (P. 695) Elder Maurice Witham, said to have been a native or transient resident of Standish, Cumberland county, Maine, and sometime chaplain to Congress, was the promoter of a great uprising in the Saco valley in the years 1798 and 1800, and became the Moses of the Hard-shell Baptists of that period, who led the once contented and prosperous inhabitants from their peaceful homes through the wilderness to the Promised Land known at the time as the "Virginia Reserve" or Northwestern Territory, and now in the state of Ohio. This man made a journey on horseback to the West in 1797- 98, and purchased or somehow became possessed of a large tract of land in Little Miami county, now within the corporate limits of Cincinnati; but for reasons that do not appear, he abandoned this and secured title to one thousand acres in the present Clermont county, some ten miles east of Columbus, then in the "Virginia Reserve", so called. This tract, one of the first to be settled in the great Northwest, was surveyed in November, 1787; and in 1798 the first settlement was made, headed by Elder Maurice Witham. In the autumn of 1798 he returned to the Saco valley as he went, on horseback, accompanied by a half-breed Indian named John Whales, (The mother of this John Whales was a full-blooded squaw, belonging to one of the western tribes, and John's early years were spent among the Indians. In a moment of anger he had killed one of the savages, and fled to escape the vengeance of the tribe. Being hunted by dogs, he eluded them by taking to the water. While he was secreted on the bank of the Ohio River, he discovered several of his dusky pursuers approaching in a canoe and headed directly toward his hiding place; and as soon as they were within range he sent bullets through three of them. Aware that there would never be any safety for him in the West, and having found the new settlement and formed the acquaintance of Elder Witham, he procured a horse and accompanied him to the East. He built a cabin on the bank of what has since been called "Whales Pond" where he lived as a "squatter" burning lampblack and stealing his neighbors' sheep, until he was detected and driven away. He removed to Cornish and continued his lawless course. He was once discovered in a store in the night, having removed a shutter, and the owner tried to secure him, but, seeing the gleam of the long knife with which he was armed, allowed him to escape. He married a woman of respectability, and many of his descendants are now living in western Maine, who show some characteristics of their Indian ancestors.) and brought back such a glowing account of the rich bottom lands and prairies, of the salubrious climate and pure water, the beautiful forests and valuable timber, plantiful game and mineral resources, that he induced two or three families to dispose of their farms and stock and, the following spring, to follow his "star of destiny" westward. According to a description given the writer by one who remembered the event, Elder Witham might have been (p. 696) seen dressed in a well worn suit of black, under a broad-brimmed hat, on an old "heaving" yellow mare, riding from neighborhood to neighborhood up and down the Saco valley in Newbury- Narragansett (now Buxton) and Little Falls Plantation (now Hollis), halting here and there, surrounded by groups of sturdy yeomen, while he enlarged, in vivid description, upon what he had seen in the great West. He told of corn, growing from soil as black as gunpowder and of unknown depth, higher than the tallest of men; of natural grasses for pasturage growing on broad blossoming prairies, upon which cattle became for for the shambles in a few weeks; of inexhaustible fountains of purest water, which he predicted would prove to be an elixir of life; of tall chestnuts from which rails could be split as true as a line by an axe stroke; of cedars from which shingles and clapboards could be made that would never decay: of unfailing streams that could be utilized for water powers and prove a source of wealth to such as had a predisposition to engage in the lumber trade. Mohawk potatoes would grow, he affirmed, as large as Caleb Kimball's foot which had long been the unit of measurement for large solid bodies in the Saco valley; and by this allusion to a familiar object he enabled his hearers to form a ready estimate of the size of the tubers. Was he not a minister of the gospel, this Elder Maurice Witham, and, consequently, a man of truth? The fact was, he was a man of superior intelligence, eloquence of language, and speculative temperament, who could preach the doctrine of predestination with power, and successfully embark in business ventures, as a "side line", at the same time. He believed that the saints should inherit the earth, had no doubt about his being one of the elect, and wished to secure his share of the best land before the available territory was absorbed. He was a Hard- shell Baptist of the ultra stamp, a rigid close communionist, who wished to establish a colony where he could live without any interference from the other sects. As we survey the movement in retrospect, aided by the testimony of excellent characters, both in the East and West, who were personally acquainted with Maurice Witham, some of whom followed him from New England to Ohio, it appears that he had cherished the hope that, when settled down upon his claim in the West, surrounded by a cluster of families isolated from other communities and free from any denominational intrusion, he could build up a little theological kingdom of his own, all of one stripe. The inception and execution of his plans, so far as they were executed, was no haphazard thing, but a well arranged scheme, which bid fair to materialize in organized form. Evidence of this was found in the manner of surveying, allotment and disposition of his lands among those who followed him to the West. Here he exhibited his ingenuity and forethought. All lots assigned to settlers radiated from a common centre, and extended backward for half a mile, like the openings between wheel spokes. A suitable plot was reserved at the hub for a church, school. burial ground, blacksmith's shop and stores. Each owner was required to erect his homestead upon the narrow end of his land; and thus they formed a compact hamlet in neighborly association. In the autumn of 1799 Elder Witham returned to New England the second and last time, for the purpose of moving his own family, and of inducing other families to follow him to the West. Having waited for those who had first emigrated to gather a harvest from the new lands, like the faithful spies from the land that "flowed with milk and honey", he brought of the fruits of the new country "the grapes of Eschol" in his saddlebags to prove the truthfulness of his statements when on his first (p. 697) homeward journey. There were potatoes surely of enormous size, but not as large as Caleb Kimball's foot; there were ears of corn of tremendous length, but not as long as common flail swingles; and there was a braid of grass wound about the neck of his mare, of luxuriant growth, but not as tall as giants. With these specimens he rode through the Saco valley settlements and exhibited them to the wondering inhabitants. As further proof of the fertility of the soil, he brought letters from the families who had first removed to his lands for their kindred in the East. These epistles, one of which I have seen, were as high colored in descriptive phrase as the meagre education of the writers would admit. In one, it was stated that the potatoes grew so large that while the writer was using his pen, his brother was sitting on one end of the Mohawk, or Shenango, eating potato and butter, at the same time that the other end was roasting in the embers at the fireplace. Another wrote that the corn grew to such enormous size that the kernels had to be cracked with a sledge-hammer before they could be ground between millstones. This was hyperbole with a vengeance. - of which there was very much in those old days when New England began to go into the West. They also wrote of mild winters, long, temperate summers, a climate salubrious and delightful. Such letters, written by the pioneers on the "Virginia Reservation", contained the bacteria of an early western fever that spread through the Saco valley until many families became hopelessly infected. The excitement became so contagious that the industrious farmers, whose domestic necessities required their attention at home, neglected their daily work and assembled in groups of dozens to mature plans for selling out and removing to the West. As a result of this early craze, those who owned good lands and comfortable buildings, whose expanding fields and pastures were ornamented with abundant crops and decked with goodly herds and flocks, who, having passed through the preliminary struggles of cutting away the forest and subduing the soil, were just entering upon an era of agricultural prosperity, were so swept away from a coll estimate of the sacrifice they were making, that they sold their farms and stock in haste at ruinous prices, pulled up stakes, turned their backs upon their native region and kindred and anticipated the advice of Horace Greeley to go West. Many of these farmers expended nearly every dollar they had received for their land and stock for large horses, wagons and harnesses, and in other preparations for their journey. All the cordwainers in the Saco valley were called into commission to cut up all the sides of leather in the tan pits of Ben Burnham and Dan Hopkinson, and make harnesses for the big horses, while wheelwrights and joiners were hewing, sawing and slashing to build the great lumbering wagons of capacity sufficient to accommodate the families and household gear to be transported toward the setting sun. It was indeed a sad hour when the time of parting came; and as we look backward and try to appreciate the whole transaction and all that this westward movement involved, we can hardly understand the strength of the motive that was sufficient to impel a family connection living together in a peaceful neighborhood to turn away to untried scenes and circumstances; and we naturally ask whether they were possessed of the finer sensibilities of kindred attachment and filial affection, thus voluntarily to isolate themselves from so many associations that should have bound them to the homes of their childhood. The settlements where they had lived on the Saco were nearly all made up of their own relations, and they had become masters of the means of securing a livelihood. On their estates there was an abundance of valuable timber that could be turned into ready money and (p. 698) family supplies; and there was no necessity behind to stimulate their removal. The war of the Revolution was over; they had secured valid titles to their land, had built commodious farm buildings, were provided with schools, with mills for sawing lumber and grinding corn, and their harvests were ample to supply them with wholesome food. I was satisfied when visiting the West and conversing with old men who, having been among those who removed in 1800, were able to give me accurate information, that much was sacrificed and nothing gained by this precipitate exodus. It is true that the new lands were all that could be desired for a new colony; and so were those they abandoned in the East. Many who followed Elder Witham were united in amity with those left behind and carried away with them much that had made life enjoyable in their old neighborhood; and they left behind them the remnants of broken families and the bleeding hearts of those who loved them; and they knew the separation would be final, so far as this world was concerned. From the lips of two venerable men, one in the Saco valley and his cousin in southern Illinois, at whose prairie home I was visiting twenty years ago, I wrote down some reminiscences of the parting scenes and the journey, as the two remembered them. It was, they said, a balmy morning in "flax-bloom time", when those composing the emigrating party took leave of their friends and kindred and turned their faces away from their childhood homes. On the evening previous, fathers and mothers had gathered their children around them and knelt for the last time at their hearthstones to pray. Mothers went from room to room to take a last look at the homely walls and ceilings hallowed by toil and domestic peace. Fathers strolled once more over the acres they had cleared and brought to fertility. With quivering lips these heard the familiar click of the door latch for the last time. Then they turned away and went to pass the night with their aged parents down the river. Before daybreak all was bustle with the final preparations for the journey. Old, white-haired men sat at their chimney-sides with bowed he adds brushing away the tears that trickled down the furrows of their cheeks. Venerable mothers, who had spent their stregnth in childbirth and the bringing up of their children, were now, with many a sigh, assisting them to depart. Brothers and sisters had journeyed from the back towns to say farewell to those who had been nursed on the same maternal bosom and rocked to sleep in the same cradle. More distant relatives, indeed every family in the community, had assembled to see the west-bound train depart. When the great wagons had been loaded, and the horses brought from the barns and hitched up, Elder Ebenezer Lewis, widely known as "Uncle Eben" in the Saco settlements, called the families together and delivered a brief and practical address, in which he admonished all to remember the counsel of their early years and the God of their fathers; then he knelt upon the green turf-the very spot has been pointed out to me-and in a most solemn and pathetic prayer commended the whole company to an all-merciful and covenant-keeping Providence. Afterwards, amid falling tears, the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, fondly embraced each other. One by one the children were handed up to the great covered wagons. "Farewell, Abram" said a patriarchal father with faltering voice, as he stood with uncovered head, his snowy locks tossing in the breeze. "Good by, Patience", sobbed a poor old wrinkled mother, as she held the hand and looked into the face of her first born for the last time. "Good by, grandpa and grandma", cried a quartet of little voices from the wagon. Then crack went the great leathern whips, (p. 699) and one by one the slow, heavy-laden teams moved away down the bank of the Saco. Long and sadly did those gathered about the dooryard stand and watch the departing teams. Not a word was spoken, for every heart was full. When the last white covering of the wagons disappeared below the hill, these neighbors silently separated and pensively went their way. Back to their hearthstones, where they had reared their children, went the aged parents, and sat down forlorn. A cloud, dark and heavy, had gathered over the old home, and they sighed: "O Abram, O Patience, how can we give thee up!" "O Maurice Witham, ye have bereaved us of our children. Would we had died for them!" This is no fancy picture, but the cold attempt to delineate what actually took place, as related substantially by those who were eyewitnesses of the sad even t when their young minds were impressionable and their memories retentive. Nor does the account apply simply to one family, to the separation of one kindred band: it applies to many. There were twenty families in the train when all had come together, and those who moved down the Saco River from the plantations of Little Ossipee and Little Falls were witnesses of what transpired at other homes as the caravan was augmented on the road. At Salmon Falls, the rallying point for all, the saintly Parson Coffin, of precious memory, had come down to bid adieu to those families baptized and united in marriage by him. While the long train of white-covered wagons was drawn up in the highway, he called together those who lived in that vicinity, many of them members of the church founded by him in the wilderness, and reverently prayed with them. That was a memorable day in the Saco River settlements, of which much was afterwards told around the firesides in the years that succeeded. Many heart woulnds were made that never healed: many an old mother's tears fell upon her knitting work; and many a father brushed from his cheek, fissured by the plough of Time, the dews distilled by an aching heart, as they remembered those who were torn from their arms on that sad morning. Cooking utensils, such as were used at the time, were carried in each wagon; and when night came on, the train was formed into a circle, the horses were tethered to hubs driven into the ground, and watched in turns by their owners, while the women were preparing food for the supper. Seeing their fires, the people living in the neighborhood of the emigrant camp came out to see them and often brought refreshments for them. Jovial seasons were enjoyed around those evening camp fires. One of the young men, with musical inclinations, had taken his fiddle along to beguile the hours of their loneliness; and in spite of Elder Witham's remonstrances, the young men and maidens whiled away an evening with dancing and merrymaking. These social pastimes were often participated in by the youth who came to the emigrant encampment from the homes along their route. I was also informed that a pleasant incident of a romantic character occurred on the journey. The horses wore wooden hames without collars or padding, and when the train reached Pennsylvania the poor creatures were so badly chafed that it was necessary to halt for two weeks while the sore shoulders healed. Being in a Dutch settlement, the men of the emigrating company engaged in threshing grain with flails, and their wives in spinning flax, for the kind families whose hospitality they shared, to pay their keeping. It was while they thus tarried that a young Dutchman became passionately enamored of a beautiful daughter of one of the Saco valley families, and as she reciprocated his affections they were loath to part. After a delay of sixteen days, some of the horses were still too (p. 700) sore to be harnessed, and these were exchanged for sound ones, with the Dutch farmers. "My father", said my old informant, "traded one of hit big horses for a tight-bitted mare, and found afterwards that she would bite like a sarpint, and kick like a mu-el." As the emigrants resumed their journey, there was a touching scene when the young Hans took leave of the damsel who had so struck his fancy. The sequel proved that some rather sacred promises were made by the two before they separated; for so powerful was the feminine magnet, that on the second day after leaving the Dutch settlement the young man joined the emigrants and journeyed with them to their destination. This accounts for the wedding in the colony of New England families between Hans Frelinghusen and Pattie Woodman, the first there united in wedlock by the founder of the settlement, Elder Witham; and a record of his contract should be preserved in Clermont county, Ohio, until this day. The women, from the day the families had decided to emigrate, had employed every spare moment in spinning woollen yarn, and were busy with their knitting work while on their journey, in the wagons and arjound the fires when encamped; and many a little foot was kept warm during the following winter with stockings their mothers had knitted while on the way to 'Hio. I asked my old friend one evening, while sitting on his porch at Webb's Prairie, whether Elder Witham himself took any of the "Oh, be joyful" while on the trip. He answered "Sartinly! Sartinly! Why, everybody took the ardent when they could get it in them days. I remember him well. He would swallow a little and then snap his eyes and smack his lips smartly, as if he took kindly to it." There were some lively encounters on the road. When they reached a broad highway, they raced horses "ontil the waggins rumbled like an airthquaker, and the dust rose like a heavy cloud." "My soul! How the pots and kittles rattled!" said Uncle Sam as he threw his head back and laughed. "Speaking of dancing," he said, "I could tell you that my mother was an all- killin' powerful dancer, and could tucker down any man who dared to take the floor agin her." Elder Witham constantly rode in advance, on his yellow mare, and guided the long winding caravan slowly westward. He had covered the trail as many as four times, and was familiar with every inch of the track. When he said, "Advance," the train moved forward; when he rode back and said, "Halt," they went into camp. There were no hosts led on behind by Pharaoh, no rumblings of chariot wheels to fear, and they took their time. When they reached the Alleghany Mountains, the ascent was so steep that the emigrants found it necessary to double up their teams and draw the heavy wagons up by stages, one at a time; and men walked behind with billets of wood to trig the wheels when they allowed the horses to stop and rest. In descending, long withes were twisted into the hoops of their wagon covers, and these, held by men who walked on the upper side of the uneven road, prevented the wagons from capsizing. When going down a very steep hillside, a young horse on which one of the lads was riding stepped upon a loose stone, stumbled and fell, throwing the rider upon a ledge and breaking his arm. The teams could not be stopped, and the lad was put into one of the wagons, where he suffered excruciating pain until the foothills were reached; then they laid him upon a quilt at the roadside and his fractured limb was bound up between two rough "splints" cut from a cedar sapling for the purpose; then he mounted the colt again, but suffered terribly from the jolting motion over the flinty road. At Redstone Creek a halt was called, and the whole company waited until great timber flatboats were constructed (p. 701) upon which to transport the families, horses, wagons and gear down to the place of landing. Here a stranger fell in with them, who said he was on his way to the Northwestern Territory to prospect for land. As he appeared to be honest, and his objective point was the same, he was permitted to take a pair of the horses down the river by land. This would reduce the cargo and help the traveler on his way. The passage down the river was uneventful. Frightful stories had been heard about hostile Indians skulking along the shores to waylay emigrants; and as a precaution the flatboats were anchored every night some distance from the banks, where they remained, guarded by armed sentinels. The arrival of the settlers had been anticipated, and at the landing place the party was greeted with acclamations of joy by their kindred, who had followed Elder Witham to the settlement a year before. The stranger did not appear with the horses as promised, and after waiting for several days, the owner went back in search of them. One was found where it had been turned out to care for itself; but, being too poor and weak to drive, it was exchanged for a two-year-old heifer and a note of hand, which was never paid. The other horse, a valuable one, was never found, nor was the adventurer to whom it had been intrusted ever afterwards heard of. "How long were you on the journey?" I asked my old friend. "We left Saco valley at flax-bloom time, and reached our destination and roast-ear time," was his prompt reply. They were on the road, including the two weeks in the Dutch settlement, about three months. Some of the families were permitted to spend their first winter in the cabins of their kindred who had preceded them; others made haste to cut down trees for log houses, and in a few days were sheltered from the storms under a bark roof and living upon a ground floor. The family of which "Uncle Sam" was a member passed their second winter in a rude hut of puncheons roofed with great squares of chestnut bark. There was but one small room, one door, and no window. A store of meal and potatoes was laid in; but all the meat the family had was brought to them by two Dutch hunters, named Van Eaton, who came occasionally to tarry for a night. These provided some fore quarters of venison and wild turkeys to pay for lodgings, which were very acceptable. In this cabin a family consisting of the parents and four children were sheltered; and a fifth child was born there during the winter. Meanwhile the father and his eldest sons were splitting rails for Elder Witham, to pay for their land. There was none ill, they were contented, and "came out as fat as woodchucks in the spring." "Nothing to do but build a log meeting-house as soon as we got fairly landed," said my old friend. It was a sanctuary in the wilderness, a small, rude building, twenty by thirty feet, laid up with rough logs and warmed in cold weather by a stone-cobbled fireplace. When their first winter in the West had passed, the men united in building houses for those who had lived in the cabins of their kindred; and then the settlement, named "Witham's Settlement", began to assume some resemblance to a village. Strong arms, nerved by resolute wills, hewed down the forest, and domestic peace prevailed. On Sabbath mornings the families assembled within their "parish church" and sat on timber seats to hear Elder Witham preach; and the year after their arrival a powerful revival was experienced and many were baptized and gathered into a church. And here for seven or eight years this Moses, who had led his people through the wilderness between New England and the great Northwestern Territory, held sway as ecclesiastical head. Thus far his plans had materialized, (p. 702) and he could "sit under his own vine and fig tree with none to molest or make him afraid." But ambition often hurls headlong those who become her votaries. Elder Witham was not satisfied with his achievement, and expanded his plans. His ideals of a colony on church- extension lines were broad and high. He must have more land. Mounting his mare, he left his brethren and sisters and his family to go East and purchase more territory. Whether Washington or Chillicothe was his objective point we do not know; but he died in a tavern in the latter town, and before his son could reach the place had been buried. As in the case of the earlier Moses, the place of his grave is not known unto this day. Thus ended the earthly carreer of the speculative preacher, colonizer and founder of the village which today bears the name of Withamsville. His horse was found and brought back to his home; but the money supposed to have been on his person was not recovered. Few particulars concerning his last hours could be obtained, and many believed he had been foully dealt with. Had he survived and secured another concession of land adjoining his original purchase, there is no reason for doubting that he would have made another journey to New England with strings of stories about the land that flowed with deer and wild turkeys, drumming up recruits to enlarge his colony and church membership.-an undertaking that would have caused the abandonment of twenty more hearthstones and deep wells, like those I know in the Saco valley, that mark the desolation which followed the emigration to Ohio, one hundred years ago. Around the old log meeting-house in Withamsville a burying ground was laid out, and some of the early dead were interred there, as proved by bones that have been unearthed. This spot was used for this purpose but a short time, and no stones were set to mark the graves. Another lot was laid out, which is now enclosed in the public cemetery, where many of the fathers of the hamlet sleep, and where may be seen to-day the old sunken slate headstones that bear the familiar names of our old Saco valley families. Here stands the chaste monument erected at the grave of Hannah Bragdon Witham, widow of Elder Maurice Witham, bearing the dated 1750-1818. Many of these old graves are not marked by an inscribed monuments: but there stand two on which the names of Gibbens Bradbury and Abigail Bradbury are still distinct. In this ground the members of well known Saco valley families named Bennett, Bragdon, Bradbury, Elden, Edgecomb, Haines, Holms. Lane, Ridlan, Rounds, Palmer, Townsend and others rest in unmarked graves. Some of the descendants still linger in the vicinity; the Withams are numerous and the lanes not a few. But the most have removed farther west and are scattered over the prairie farms and through the cities and towns of many new states. Grandsons of Abraham Townsend, who followed Elder Witham to the West in 1798, were living not many miles from Cincinnati, on "Townsend's Hill". Twenty years ago. Elder Witham divided a large tract of land among his eleven children, giving to each of his four sons a hundred and fifty acres, and to his seven daughters each a hundred acres.
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