A Journey to Ohio – Part 2

In 1860, when Benjamin Franklin Stone was seventy-eight years old, he began writing an autobiography which included his recollections of the journey he made to Ohio when he was eight years old. Young Benjamin had been part of a group of 26 people, which included members of the Putnam, Burlingame and Stone families. As described in  A Journey to Ohio – Part 1, they set out for Ohio in September of 1790.  In his account, Benjamin Stone writes: [1]

I remember the morning of our starting for Ohio. Mr. Burlingame’s family (and I was one of them) went to General Putnam’s the evening before. The next morning, after family prayer and breakfast, they began to tackle up the teams, and Sardine, with my mother’s wagon and the family and grandmother Barrett, came along. Here my grandmother took leave of us all …

It seemed, even to the old folks, a vast enterprise to go 800 miles into a savage county, as it was then called!

The party traveled from Rutland to Springfield, MA, and then to West Hartford, CT. After traveling across Connecticut to eastern New York and crossing the Hudson River near West Point, they progressed through New Jersey, across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

Crossing a river by rope ferry. Illustration from “Benjamin of Ohio,” a children’s book by James Otis. Although a work of fiction, it describes experiences similar to those of young Benjamin F. Stone.

As the group travelled westward across Pennsylvania they encountered a variety of difficulties. The Stone’s cow became sickly with what Stone referred to as “hollow horn.” [2]  Fortunately, they were able to find a blacksmith willing to take the cow in exchange for a promise of seven axes to be delivered later to Ohio. The greater misfortune, though, was the loss of a bag containing a large number of stockings that Lydia Stone and her daughters had knitted, knowing that wool would be hard to come by in their new frontier home.

After reaching Carlisle, PA the group traveled on the Forbes Road, a rough military road that would take them over the Appalachian mountains. To make the uphill climbs less taxing for the oxen, those who were able to walk did so. Walking was also safer than riding in the swaying wagons as they moved uphill on rutted roads. It was the steep downhills, though, that were most dangerous. Various methods were used to keep control of the wagons, but in spite of these there were mishaps. As Benjamin Stone recounts:

Once, when one of the wagons tipped and seemed on the point of oversetting, — when the teamster (Samuel Porter) cried out in despair, “It’s going!” Charles Mills sprang to the off side, set his shoulder to the upper part of the wheel, and braced with all this strength and poised it back. It was a daring and a noble act. The road here was on the edge of a precipice. If the wagon had gone over, it would have been instant death to the team, and total destruction to the loading.

At another place, one of Putnam’s wagons did upset; but it was on comparatively level ground, so no injury was done to the team nor much damage to the loading.

When the group reached Simeral’s Ferry, the building of their flatboats was nearly complete. Rufus Putnam had commissioned these during the summer when he passed through on this way to Massachusetts. These boats were large enough to transport wagons and livestock, as well as provide living quarters for the passengers while they relied on the river currants to take them along the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers to the Ohio river.

If they had arrived at Simeral’s Ferry some months earlier, they would have been obliged to wait until autumn rains raised the water level. Even so, according to Benjamin Stone:

It was slow, tedious work on the river, — often getting aground, when all the men from both boats had to unite to shove the boat over the shoal place. Some of our party, writing to their friends in Rutland, informed them of our getting aground on the fish-dams, above Pittsburgh, but carelessly left out the word dams, — so it read, “got aground on the fish.” The answer came, “You must have very large fish in the Ohio.”

On the morning of November 5, the group reached Marietta, Ohio, with the Stone family going on that same day to the nearby settlement at Belpre. For the Putnam, Burlingame and Stone families, this was the end of a strenuous two-month journey and the beginning of the new challenges of life on the frontier.


[1] From Rutland to Marietta: Leaves from the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin StoneNew England magazine. (1884). (OKS Print.) Boston: J.N. McClintock and Co. [etc.] pp. 210-224.  Access via Google Books.

As Benjamin Stone explains in his autobiography, in 1790 he was living with the family of Christoper Burlingame, who had an interest in taking him on as an apprentice in the trade of hat making. Benjamin’s father, Israel Stone, was already in Ohio with some of his older children. The remaining members of the Stone family joined the Putnam and Burlingame families in the journey described here.

[2] It is now recognized that the horns of all members of the ox family are hollow by nature, and that the lethargic condition of cattle sometimes attributed to “hollow horn” prior to the 20th century would have been caused by some other disease not well understood in those earlier times.

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