What follows is a slightly revised excerpt of a paper I presented at a conference hosted by Prof. Matthew Ward of the University of Dundee in July 2009. In my original presentation I argued that land speculation in the Scioto River Valley generated lawlessness and disorder during the frontier stage of the region’s development. Clashes over the location of seats of justice and county boundary lines often illumined partisan divisions in the region, as well as nationally. ~ ALF
The nearly three-year long struggle over the location of the Adams County seat (1797-1799) helped precipitate what historian Donald J. Ratcliffe has called the “Ohio Revolution of 1800,” wherein a popular surge in Jeffersonian Democracy found its expression in a statehood movement that successfully toppled the regime headed by Federalist Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair. When Adams County’s largest landowner, Nathaniel Massie, battled Governor St. Clair over the location of the county’s seat (as discussed in the previous post), Massie’s primary interests were becoming increasingly tied to the development of the town of Chillicothe, which was located in the northeastern corner of the county. St. Clair’s greatest fear was the possibility of the creation of a new state government under the control of Jeffersonian Democrats, with its capital located at Chillicothe. To avert such a development, St. Clair launched a campaign to have Congress divide the North-West Territory, ensuring that Chillicothe would not be located at the center of any future state of Ohio.
|Nathaniel Massie, founder of Manchester and Chillicothe, Ohio|
While St. Clair worked his network of Federalist members of Congress and Adams administration officials, the Virginians worked their congressional allies. Federal intervention, it now appeared to Massie and others, could be used to secure their investments and larger fortunes. Congress could block St. Clair’s boundary division plans, fix the seat of a new territorial government at Chillicothe, and authorize the formation of the State of Ohio, encompassing the eastern portion of the larger North-West Territory.
If St. Clair was going to use his federal authority to thwart the interests and fortunes of settlers in the Scioto Valley, Massie and others, having previously benefitted from the actions of the Federal government in the acquisition of their land, would also use their influence at the federal level to forward their interests. The contest would boil over in the streets of Chillicothe. The contest over county seat locations became tied to the larger issues of whether St. Clair would succeed in establishing the Scioto River as a new territorial boundary, slicing Ohio into two new federal territories, and whether the new territorial seats of government should be located in Cincinnati in the West and Marietta in the East, two cities that included powerful Federalist factions.
|Northwest Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair|
The fortunes of Chillicothe and the other county seats in the Scioto Valley hung in the balance. The region had attracted skilled artisans and merchants; farmers, large and small, had begun to clear and fill the hinterlands of VMD towns. Personal interest in these matters cut across class-lines, from the hardworking black smith and penniless, but ambitious tenant farmer, to the young lawyers and wealthy land speculators – all had a personal interest in the larger fortunes of their region and the location of their seats of government. Many of the new settlers had gambled on a bright, prosperous future in the valley; they had staked their all in establishing farms and businesses in these frontier towns and the surrounding fertile lands. Support for statehood was truly a popular phenomenon, shared by the leading politicians of the Scioto valley and the overwhelming majority of their constituents. It truly was a popular republican revolution.
Although St. Clair had vetoed the Adams county seat bill at the first session of the Territorial Assembly, representatives from the VMD succeeded in having William Henry Harrison (another Virginian) elected as the territory’s first non-voting delegate to Congress. Massie along with others, who would become known as the Chillicothe Junta, would also send Chillicothe resident, Thomas Worthington to Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the Federal government, to lobby on their behalf. Worthington had immigrated from Virginia to Chillicothe in 1797, had served as a Justice of the Peace with Massie in Adams County, and had recently been appointed Surveyor-General of the North-West Territory, where he would oversee the sale of federal lands outside the VMD, on the east side of the Scioto River. Finding allies among Democratic-Republicans, Harrison, with the assistance of Worthington, succeeded in blocking St. Clair’s division along the Scioto and instead secured passage of the Virginians’ plan to divide the larger Northwest Territory into two districts at the western boundary of the Greenville Treaty line. The two men also succeeded in having Congress move the capital of the newly drawn eastern district from Cincinnati to Chillicothe. Harrison and Worthington had accomplished all they had set out to do.
|Thomas Worthington, future governor of Ohio|
St. Clair and his Federalist allies feared the actions of Congress would lead to the creation of a state government covering the whole new eastern district, which would fall under the control of Democratic-Republicans. At the next meeting of the Territorial Assembly in December 1801, the Virginians found themselves out-voted. St. Clair, as historian Donald J. Ratcliffe writes, “bought off some opposition leaders by offering them jobs, appealed to the self-interest of different power centers in the territory, and thereby ensured that the … assembly would be more amendable to his wishes.” The new Federalist majority in the assembly revived St. Clair’s division plan. The assembly passed a resolution on December 21st that called on Congress to divide the new eastern district into two future states, with the Scioto River as the dividing line. St. Clair and the Federalists were attempting to drive a stake into the fortunes of the Scioto Valley and the ensuing anger in the Virginia Military District quickly boiled over.
It was this vote that led a mob of settlers to take to the unpaved streets of Chillicothe for two nights, culminating in a doorway confrontation with Governor St. Clair in the halls of a local tavern, where the Governor had taken up temporary residence. On the first evening, Thomas Worthington attempted to restrain the mob’s leader, a young lawyer, Michael Baldwin. The fiery Baldwin was a native of Connecticut, who had familial ties in the American South (his older brother was a US Senator from Georgia). With a letter of recommendation addressed to Nathaniel Massie, Baldwin quickly aligned with the Virginian partisans. To some he was a demagogue of the worst stripe. To his supporters, who he affectionately called his “Bloodhounds,” Baldwin was the champion of the common man. In a confrontation outside one of the town’s taverns, and witnessed by numerous people, Worthington told Baldwin that if he attempted any violence on the Governor that he would “prevent it at the risque of his life, and would go and fetch his weapon, and if said Baldwin went there, he would kill him the first person.” This warning apparently worked, but the following night, Baldwin was again at the head of a drunken and enraged mob and this time he and others forced open the Governor’s door. Jonathan Schieffelin, a St. Clair ally from Wayne County who was boarding with the Governor, pulled out a pair of “loaded pistols and drove them back into the street.”
The clash between the “Bloodhounds” and the Governor has drawn the attention of a number of historians. Most recently, Andrew Cayton remarked that: “These incidents were not simply some episodes of frontier violence or rowdiness; rather, they were symptomatic of the profound confusion in the Ohio Country over the nature of social relationships and political processes. In the absence of legitimate (meaning widely accepted) authority, all persons or groups were left to assume that role themselves.” While Cayton appears to differentiate the clash in Chillicothe from a simple “episode of frontier violence,” his explanation – the absence of legitimate authority – is one of the primary conditions that helped generate episodes of frontier violence and disorder. The Chillicothe mob was both revolutionary in character – taking place during the so-called “Ohio Revolution,” and the result of conflict rooted in the frontier character of the Scioto Valley.
The unruly actions of the Chillicothe partisans led the Federalist majority in the Assembly to introduce a measure that would move the territorial capital back to Cincinnati, a town (with its own record of drunkenness, violence, and disorder) that many Federalists nevertheless viewed as more refined, civil, and orderly. Before adjourning, the Federalist majority also succeeded in electing Judge William McMillan of Hamilton County, as the new Congressional delegate. The Chillicothe Junta’s ally, William Henry Harrison, had resigned to become the new governor of the Indiana Territory. McMillan soon left for Washington to lobby Congress to approve St. Clair’s Scioto division. Chillicothe interests held a public meeting and raised money to once again send their own team of lobbyists to the national capital. They chose an unlikely pair, considering recent events.
Thomas Worthington found himself traveling eastward on horseback along the new Zane’s Trace with the Michael Baldwin at his side. Their mission was to have the new Republican controlled Congress, once again, reject St. Clair’s proposed division and, instead, authorize the calling of a special convention in the recently shrunken North West Territory, to be held at Chillicothe, wherein the inhabitants of the territory would vote on whether to create a state government. If the delegates voted in favor of statehood, Congress would authorize the convention to adopt a state constitution. McMillan did his best, but his arguments in favor of the land division found few supporters in Congress. Meanwhile, back in Ohio, Federalist control of the Territorial Assembly proved short-lived; their attempt at thwarting the interests of the settlers in the Scioto Valley would fail. The Virginia Congressional delegation would champion statehood legislation for an Ohio that would have Chillicothe as its first capital. And they would be victorious.
Statehood, however, did not bring an end to the county seat wars. As we will see in the next post, speculation in Virginia Military District lands would be the source of conflict in the newly created Highland County. And, this time, rather than the interests and plans of Nathaniel Massie, it would be those of his younger brother, Henry Massie, which lay at the heart of the controversy.