The First Pioneers of Knox County

early American farmer Around 1790, the first pioneers of Knox County settled the land along a winding river which the Indians called Owl Creek. They cleared away heavy timber, erected log houses, and plowed a few acres to plant grains and corn. Some early settlers, drawn by new economic opportunities further west, sold their cleared plots to newcomers, who added fencing and expanded the fields to create established farmsteads. Farmers often built on an original log structure to complete a finished house, which became the family homeplace, passed on through the generations. Before choosing a plot of land to clear and build a home on, the settlers would look at several wilderness sights or partially cleared farms. After choosing a plot the pioneer would bargain for the land and then begin the long process of land clearing.

There were two common forms of land clearing that were used during this time, and both were extremely tedious. The "Southern method" involved the deadening and girdling of trees and shubbery, a method that had traditionally been used by the Indians. Although using this method meant that crops could be planted almost immediately, the stumps that were left on the land were often dangerous to livestock. The alternative, known as the "New England method" involved cutting down trees as well as burning them. Either way, most settlers were able to clear only two or three acres per year. Most of the farms were about one hundred acres, and so completion of the land clearing process took several years.

Most pioneers had only enough resources for the first year or so upon their arrival. They had arrived on wagons and had few possessions. John Melish, a British traveller, observed of an Ohio pioneer's family in 1811 that "Their only visible substance was a tent, a wagon, a horse, a cow and some bedding." Similarly Timothy Flint travelled through Ohio in 1815, observing that it "seemed to have been their impression, that if once they could arrive at the land of milk and honey, supplies would come of course."

pioneers The settlers endured many hardships, including the Indian wars in 1791-1795, which made clearing and planting extremely dangerous. Malaria from stagnant water was a major health threat to the settlers. Wolves often destroyed livestock, while pigeons, turkeys and squirrels destroyed grain.

In the years following the Indian wars, there were no local markets in Ohio, so the farmers in the area began to trade with the New Orleans market. Pickney's treaty in 1795 gave Americans free navigation of the Mississippi River. In 1801, 514 flatboats travelled downriver to New Orleans filled with barrels of flour, salt pork and distilled spirits, the only products of Ohio which could be preserved in these barrels. Unfortunately, Ohio farmers had many other products that they wanted to sell. Additional problems with this trading system included the danger of the cold winter icing in the boats, spoiled cargo and yellow fever. There were many problems and inconsistancies between the New Orleans market and the general agricultural evolution in the region.

When a farmer of the 18th and early 19th century arrived on Knox County to begin a farm, he took farming traditions from his previous homeland, or even those of his particular ethnic background, along with him. The Pennsylvania Dutch, for example, believed strongly in the effects of the moon on farming, and therefore practiced "almanac farming" in Knox County. This and other such beliefs, brought into the county by different groups, have not entirely disappeared.

Early Ohio farmers were often criticized for being a century behind Britain in terms of agricultural technology. One writer argued that these new settlers did not have the luxury to practice intensive agriculture as did the British. He wrote that it is "not so much, what crop will tend most to preserve the fertility of the soil, but, what crop do I most need? and then, how can I obtain that crop with the least labour?" As land was cheap, it was practical for Knox County farmers to find ways to best economize labor.

Many of the early farmers did not own their own farms. Often large landholders owned much of the region, and the farmers were tenants. For many this was a means of acquiring enough funds with which to purchase land. Usually if a man worked hard as a sharecropper, he could buy his own land within five years.

Not all of the first pioneers in Knox County were farmers. Many were hunters, or perhaps only part-time farmers with other jobs off of the farm. Carpenters, masons, plasterers, and blacksmiths were common professions of pioneers. The lives of all of the pioneers were filled with year-round hard work, no matter what their profession.

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