AN ACCOUNT OF PIONEER LIFE AND EXPERIENCE
(told by) Abraham Thomas, Miami County, Ohio
[Extracts from the Troy Weekly Times, March 27 and April 3, 1839]

The first of my recollections go back to the time when I was a chunk of a boy, sent out by my father, in company with an older brother, from Culpepper County, Virginia, to drive a flock of sheep to land purchased by my father at the mouth of Ten Mile Creek, above old Red Stone Fort, distant about 150 miles [In Pennsylvania, below Fort Pitt]. We remained there alone through the winter, living as best we could, principally from our own resources; some of our relations having before settled in the neighborhood [his sister, Margaret, who married Everhard Hupp]. The Indians often came to our cabin, and behaved civilly enough, as we were then at peace; but I both feared and hated them, for my young mind had thus early been alarmed and irritated by tales of their thieving and bloody barbarities within our frontier settlements.

Early in the summer of 1774, that preceding the Revolutionary War, the Indians had made a new treaty at Ft. Pitt, but the settlers from their surliness of manner, dreaded some outbreak with them.

The next year, 1775, the station fort and settlement about Wheeling was threatened from the Indian territory.

The same year, or the next year, we were again called out for the defense of Grave Creek Station near the Ohio. That part had been for some time threatened and numerous predatory parties had come in with great caution and for some days lurked among the weeds and behind logs. For many hours together, they would watch an opportunity for a shot, but seeing us many and well provided for defense, made no open attack. When I became impatient of confinement with the stockade and ventured out some distance from the fort for blackberries, I succeeded in getting out early in the morning, undiscovered, but while I was busy with one eye on the berries and one looking out, saw at a distance five or six Indians, they caught sight of me at the same moment, gave the whoop and came on in full pursuit, of course I did my best and having gained a good path under me and never been beaten in a foot race, I felt quite at ease, the Indians on finding the race a hopeless one, stopped, gave me a few shots that threw up the ground about my feet, but I got safe into the fort, with a bountiful treat of blackberries for the girls, and this was no indifferent present, since in those stations for weeks together, we lived on hominy, broken corn and fresh meat without salt, and was thankful enough for this diet. After five or six weeks, the Indians having turned their attention to Kentucky, our party returned home.

From 1776 to 1779 the Revolutionary war was raging and the frontier inhabitants were in constant apprehension from Indians and Tories. Those two enemies, equal in vindicativeness and ferocity, gave full occupation to each settlement in taking care of itself. Between those periods, a formidable conspiracy was discovered or supposed to be on foot, among the Tories to bring in a large party of Indians to break up our settlement; upon this, everyman young and old took to his arms, when a general Tory hunt commenced, in which all that did not escape, was either shot, hung or drowned. In a later month of the year 1775, being then nineteen years old, I was married and set up for myself, as that time, this or an earlier age, was deemed suitable for this interesting connection.

The whole country was now ringing from one end to the other of the beautiful Kentucky and the banks of the pleasant Ohio; those who had been there, gave the most enticing accounts of its beauty, fertility and abundance of game. The Buffalo, Elk, Deer and Bear were said to be rollin fat and weary for the rifle shot. The minds of the young settlers, on the Monongahela and elsewhere, became no less excited by stories of Kentucky bravery, in resisting the predatory incursions of the savages. And early in the spring of 1780, forty of us prepared a flat boat and descended the Ohio to the falls, where General Clark had established a strong fort and garrison. The voyage was attended with imminent resque, many boats had been plundered and the passengers murdered by the Indians but we were strong, full of heart (. . .and . . .) showed a bold front and passed down in safety. We left our families at the Falls and proceeded to the interior in search of a home, where we proposed to erect our cabins, plant corn and then return for our families. We directed our course towards Fisher's Station [named after Stephen Fisher of the Germanna community who was a very early settler in Kentucky and a second cousin of Abraham Thomas] on Dicks River. One evening as we were traveling unconscious of danger, scattered along our path a mile and a half from front to rear, myself and two others going before in search of a suitable camping ground for the night, three of our companions in sight, who were driving stock were fired upon by a party of Indians concealed in the woods, two of them were killed , one ran with the Indians after him, they could not come up with him and threw a tomahawk, which just grazed the side of his head and fell before him, he picked it up and escaped in to the bushes. The Indians were too many for us, we gave them a shot and scattered each man for himself; in the course of the night, our party all got into Fisher's Station and in the morning went back to the scene of our defeat, collecting our cattle and brought our two dead companions into the station. We remained here until our shanties were built and corn planted, when we returned to Louisville for our families, brought them out and settled them in safety.

[In the] year, 1782, after corn planting, I again volunteered in an expedition under General Clark, with the object of destroying some Indian villages about Piqua on the great Miami River. On this occasion nearly one thousand men marched out of Kentucky by the route of the Licking River. We again crossed to the Ohio side at the present site of Cincinnati; where our last year's stockade had been kept up and a few people there residing in log cabins. We proceeded immediately onward.. . . . . . . .

Ours, [Fisher's Station] was often beset and several killed out of it. One evening at dusk, when everything had been for sometime quiet, several of our girls, left the confinement of our fort to recreate themselves; they were sitting on a log under the fence, chatting and laughing, when an Indian mounted the fence just behind them; the girls happened to see him and sprang up, one of them, Patty Smith, afterwards the wife of Capt. Barbee (now living among us) seized a stake and threatened to strike him, on this the Indian retreated and the girls escaped into the Fort.

It would be difficult to give the present generation a faint idea of the virgin beauty of the West, the ground everywhere was light and friable, the whole country was an endless field of wild rye and pea vines, on which our domestic cattle became rolling fat, the earth was filled with nutritious roots on which fine swine rooted at their pleasure, presenting at all times a lusty carcass for the knife. Vast patches of cane gave winter sustenance to herds of wild animals, such as the Buffalo, Elk, Deer and Bear, that could at any time be obtained by the hunters; while the soil abundantly rewarded the industry of its cultivation. It is true we had our cares and vexations, but they were conquerable by high hopes and determined spirits; we had also our pleasures; among them a warm hearted and generous population.

A station was an area inclosing from a half to an acre of ground built around on the four sides with cabins of logs fronting the center, there was no floor  or window on the outer or back wall. These cabins were connected together on their outer side by pickets or stockades of split timber, set firmly in the earth and rising from ten to twelve feet above it. There was usually one large gate, sometimes two, occasionally small sally gates for the passage of a single man. All the inhabitants lived within this enclosure or retreated to it on the approach of danger and sometimes cattle were driven into it. Our household establishments were on the most simple footage, all had good beds but puncheons and benches served us for chairs - trenches or plates - wooden noggins or gourds' shells for drinking and milk vessels and cane fashioned to a point for forks; usually these were of each man's manufacture or fabricated by some genius within the station. Our diet was parched or bruised corn, fashioned into the shape of a hoe cake, dodge or ash bread, or sometimes the more luxurious hominy; this with milk and forest game, garnished at the proper season with dish of nettles or other salads, furnished our repasts. These were eaten without the ordinary condiments of the kitchen and sometimes without salt but our supply of this latter article was tolerably well furnished from the natural salt licks in the country; our sugar was from the forest. Coffee, tea and chocolate and the spices of India were never thought of or scarcely known. Yet, we were healthy and contented.

[ Editor's notes.] The author, Abraham Thomas, was the son of Michael Thomas and an unknown wife. Michael Thomas was the son the 1717 immigrants, John Thomas and his wife Anna Maria Blankenbaker. Abraham was born about 1756 in the Robinson River area of Virginia. The exact year that Abraham and his brother drove the sheep to southwestern Pennsylvania is unknown; it would be of interest to know how old he was when he did this. Abraham's first wife and the mother of his children was Susannah Smith. She was the daughter of Adam Smith and Elizabeth. Adam was the son of (John) Michael Smith, Jr. and Anna Magdalena Thomas, the sister of Michael Thomas above. Thus Abraham and Susanna were first cousins once removed. The Patty Smith mentioned in this account was Mary Smith, the sister of Susannah.

The account here is available in the Draper Manscripts 27CC31-37. These were compiled by Lyman Draper and are in the Wisconson Historical Society but they are available on 123 reels of microfilm.

This account was published in Beyond Germanna, vol. 4, n. 1, p. 185 with additions on pages 193 and 264.

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