A History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County, Ohio
Pages 164 - 169
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The Associate Reformed Church in Hamilton might have esteemed itself fortunate in its pastors. The Word of Life has rarely been anywhere set forth with more clearness, or its conclusions urged with more thoroughness, than by its first, or by the one who succeeded him, and whose name is at the head of this biographical notice. Their influence was not confined to their own congregations, but extended throughout the entire county, and beyond its limits.

The Rev. William DAVIDSON was born on the 2d of October, 1817, in Brooke County, West Virginia. He received little education at schools during his early boyhood, but had the assiduous care and watchfulness of his parents, who grounded him in the most necessary portions of learning. When he had arrived at the age of thirteen he was sent away from home to Liberty, Pennsylvania, where he stayed two years. He then went to Franklin College, New Athens, Ohio, where he completed a regular collegiate course. As he was designed for the ministry he received in addition instruction form the Rev. J. O. NEAL, pastor of a Church at Short Creek, Virginia. Here he spent his days and nights over the Bible, acquiring a wonderful knowledge of it, and ever after being able to quote from any portion with telling effect. The Bible and a few other explanatory works constituted the whole of his text-books.

The denomination to which Mr. DAVIDSON belonged was the Reformed Dissenting Church, and to that body he applied for reception, being licensed by the presbytery in 1840, at a meeting held in the old "Tent Church," near the place of his nativity. To this whole denomination there had never been more than four ministers at one time, and they were scattered far apart. Few instances of societies of this size have been met with, but they are not altogether unknown. The Old Dissenters, in Scotland, were without a preacher from 1690 to 1706, although they had a number of congregations. Mr. DAVIDSON took earnestly hold of the work which he found to do, and at once began preaching in south-western Ohio and south-eastern Indiana. His labors were not confined to churches, but he discoursed in school-houses, barns, dwellings, and in the open air, meeting with much success.

He was married on the 28th of June, 1842, in Greene County, Indiana, to Mrs. Elizabeth REYNOLDS, and for some time after lived near the State line between Ohio and Indiana. He had congregations at Vienna, Indiana; at College Corner, which is in both States, and at Carthage and Piqua, Ohio. To these places he rode on horseback, the farthest being fifty miles, and two of the others not less than thirty. He counted no labor too severe to reach them, and to expound the Scriptures to those who might be gathered. He frequently stopped by the way and held services in addition to those at his four regular places.

In May, 1843, he found that he was weakened by his inability to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's-supper, and he returned to West Virginia so that he might be ordained. This was done by the presbytery, and he soon returned to his Churches, where he labored until the close of the year 1847. His health had not been good all of the time, and his physical strength seemed at times overtasked, but he did not desist on that account. He was a man of eloquence, and his burning, fiery words will long be remembered in these places, as well as his shining example.

In 1848 Dr. MACDILL had grown weak, and determined to remove to Illinois from Hamilton. Mr. DAVIDSON was chosen his successor, and came to this city to live in March of that year. He joined the Associate Reformed Church, leaving the Reformed Dissenting, and ever after was a preacher in the Associate Reformed and United Presbyterian Churches, the latter being the successor of the former. Dr. MACDILL had served this congregation since 1816, and it was no light task to attempt to fill his place. In this, however, Mr. DAVIDSON was successful, and the Church was never more prosperous. He toiled assiduously to strengthen the cause. No labor was too great to be undertaken for his divine Master. He did not content himself alone with his pastoral labor. He went wherever he was called. He did not refuse to visit those in sickness who when well had never listened to him, and he pronounced the solemn words of the Gospel at the grave of those who, when alive, attended no Church. The seed was sown everywhere.

He was not a mere sectarian. He labored for a union of all Christians in essentials, believing that the saving of souls was of more importance than the promulgation of creeds. Yet, on the other hand, he never uttered any of those phrases which are now so common--phrases which admit every act and every person. The kingdom of heaven was not to be attained without striving for, and its laws were firm and immutable. He compromised with no form of sin, nor did he withhold statements of his own belief because it might be unpopular. Slavery was properly characterized, even in those days before the war, when the truth could hardly be endured in pro-slavery Butler; intemperance and the use of intoxicating drinks were denounced, although this was common; nor did his tongue fail to reprove and condemn the other vices of that day and this. He gave an ardent and thorough support to the war, believing it to be the cause of Christianity. He addressed the volunteers as they were going, preaching discourses replete with the soundest patriotism, but saying nothing that was not also tinged by a deep religious feeling. It must not be disguised that the war was not popular here, but was looked upon with disfavor. He fought this tendency, and lost no opportunity of showing the monstrous ingratitude and injustice of those who supported rebel cause.

Mr. DAVIDSON was well equipped for such a struggle, or for the work of the ministry generally. His mind ranged its knowledge systematically, and when he desired to call up any fact or to pursue a chain or reasoning founded upon that fact, it could be found at once. He spoke well extemporaneously. His arguments, although usually prepared beforehand, did not necessarily require this. The stream never ran turbidly. He had an excellent knowledge of the Scriptures; he had read and studied much besides; he was familiar with the statements of those who sought to overturn Christianity, as well as with those who explain and gloss the whole away. He was familiar with their whole armory, and feared no weapon they could draw from it. It is the modern phase of infidelity that is dreaded by the truly devout clergyman, not the ancient. VOLTAIRE and PAINE do not undermine so insidiously as STRAUSS, RENAN, or HUXLEY.

He was attacked, on the 14th of February, 1873, by paralysis, recovering somewhat from it, and preaching a few times afterwards; but his bodily powers were so much lessened that he knew it was time for him to set his house in order. In February, 1874 he gave up his charge, and the pastoral relation was dissolved by the presbytery in April of that year. After that, he prepared for the final hour. In June of 1875 he was confined in-doors, dying on the 21st of July. He had been patient and considerate even in this, his last sickness.

A volume of his sermons was published in 1876 by the Western Tract Society, under the title of "Sermons on the Parables." It contained, in addition, an essay on Mr. DAVIDSON as an orator, preacher, and pastor, by the Rev Dr. John Y. SCOULLER, and an excellent biographical sketch by David W. MCCLUNG, who was for many years an attendant upon his ministrations.

Joseph HOUGH

Among the earlier merchants of Hamilton Joseph HOUGH is, perhaps, best known. He carried on the largest establishment, and his operations were conducted with a vigor unusual at that day. He did not inherit this trait from his parents, who were Quakers, but it seemed entirely the offspring of his own genius. He was born on a farm near Brownsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, on the 26th of February, 1783. In 1788 the family removed to Washington County, at the extreme south-west part of the State, where Mr. HOUGH died, in 1798 and his wife eighteen months later. Joseph HOUGH then resolved to learn the watchmakers' trade from his brother-in-law, Israel GREGG, who afterwards also became a resident of Hamilton, and stayed with him till he was twenty-one. Immediately upon completing his majority he engaged with another watchmaker and silversmith in Brownstown, and wrought as a journeyman for two years, saving in the course of that period over one thousand dollars. At this time his brother Thomas, who had acquired some capital, proposed to Joseph that they should unite their capital, buy a stock of goods, and go West. The suggestion seemed good to him, and the two young men joined their forces and came out to the Miami country, intending to settle at Lebanon, Warren County. They bought their goods in Philadelphia, wagoned them over the mountains, and on the 1st of June, 1806, committed them to the Monogahela River. The water in that stream was very low, as was also the Ohio, and the journey was slow and tedious. Cincinnati was reached in twenty-five days, and from that place they hired wagons to take on their goods to Lebanon. Saddle-horses were scarce, and from the river they followed their wagons on foot. These had started first, and the HOUGH brothers expected to overtake them near Reading, but missed their way, being obliged to stop over night at the house of a friendly miller, Jacob WHITE, about nine miles from their starting-place. Mr. WHITE questioned them as to their intentions, and on learning that they meant to go to Lebanon advised against it. There was, he said, no good building to be obtained there; but in Hamilton there was. John WINGATE had just given up business in the latter place, and the HOUGHS could, no doubt, obtain his house. They thanked him for his friendly advice, and determined to follow it. Early in the morning they started out and overtook the wagons, which they turned in the new direction.

They had been just one month on their journey when they reached this town, on the 1st of July. No difficulty was experienced in obtaining the house which Mr. WINGATE had used, and they immediately commenced selling goods. Their stand was on Front Street, near the corner of Basin, on the ground now covered by the Catholic church. It was of logs. There was then no other store here, except John SUTHERLAND's, on the east side of Front, between Stable and Dayton Streets. Business went well with them; but in September Thomas was attacked with bilious fever, which was then epidemic, and died on the 17th of that month. Four days after his death the surviving brother was taken with the same disease, and for some days his life was despaired of. On his final recovery he settled up the estate, giving to his younger sisters his share of his brother's estate, and still continuing the trade.

The next Spring he entered into partnership with Thomas BLAIR, Robert CLARK, and Neil GILLESPIE, of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, under the firm name of HOUGH, BLAIR & Co. After a time he erected a frame building on the other side of the street, to which he removed. His partnership with BLAIR, CLARK, and GILLESPIE lasted until 1811. He then, in partnership with James MCBRIDE, who was a little younger, but had come to Hamilton the same year, began to buy wheat, which was ground into flour, and then taken to New Orleans to be sold. He understood thoroughly the method of doing this, and he and Mr. MCBRIDE each reaped handsome returns. These journeys were long, and attended with considerable danger. Often when a young man left this neighborhood to go down the Mississippi, he called on all his friends, shook hands, and bade them good-bye, as he now would to go to Australia. Mr. HOUGH gave, in 1852, an account of the obstacles he met with:

"The difficulties connected with the mercantile business of that early period can not be realized by the merchants of this day. We had to travel on horseback from Hamilton to Philadelphia, a distance of six hundred miles, to purchase our goods. We were exposed to all kinds of weather, and were compelled to pass over the worst possible roads. When our goods were purchased, we had to engage wagons to haul them to Pittsburg, a distance by the then roads of three hundred miles. Their transportation over the mountains occupied from twenty to twenty-five days, and cost from six to ten dollars per hundred. Our goods being landed at Pittsburg, we usually bought flat-boats or keel-boats, and hired hands to take our goods to Cincinatti, and we were able to have them hauled to Hamilton at from fifty to seventy-five cents per hundred. We were generally engaged three months in going East, in purchasing our stock of goods and getting them safely delivered at Hamilton. These three months were months of toil and privation, and of expense of every kind.

"In illustration of the truth of the above remark, I may state that, in one of my trips from Pittsburg to Cincinnati, I was thirty-nine days on a keel-boat, with six men besides myself to man the boat. The river was then as low as has ever been known on many of the ripples in the deepest channel, if channel it could be called where there was scarcely a foot of water. My boat drew one foot and a half, after taking out all such articles as we could carry over the ripple in a large canoe, which was the only kind of lighter we could procure. Consequently, we had to scrape out channels at the low ripples of sufficient width and depth to float our boat. We usually found out the deepest water on the ripple, and all hands would engage in making the channel. When we passed such a ripple we reloaded our goods and proceeded to the next, where the same labor had to be performed and the same exposure endured. The extent of the labor which had to be performed in order to pass our boat can be best understood when I state that we were frequently detained three days at some of the worst ripples.

"At that early day the road from Philadelphia to Pittsburg was exceedingly bad. It was only graded and turnpiked to Lancaster. The residue of the road in many places was very steep and exceedingly rough. From thirty to thirty-five hundred pounds was considered a good load for a good five-horse team. There was only a weekly line of stages from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and the time occupied in going from one place to the other was six days.

"After the receipt of our goods at Hamilton, our difficulties were by no means all overcome. In order to sell them we were compelled not only to do the ordinary duties of merchants and to incur its ordinary responsibilities and risks, but had to become the produce merchants of the country. We were compelled to take the farmers' produce, and send or take it to New Orleans, the only market we could reach. It was necessary for the merchant to buy pork and to pack it, to buy wheat, have barrels made, and contract for the manufacture of wheat into flour, and then to build flat-bottomed boats, and with great expense and risk of property commit the whole to the dangers of the navigation of the Miami, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers. The difficulties of the trip were not overcome when we had safely arrived in New Orleans. In returning home we had either to travel eleven hundred miles by land, five hundred of which was through the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee nations of Indiana, or else go by sea either to Philadelphia or Baltimore, and thence home by land. I have descended the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, before steamboat navigation could be relied on to bring one to Louisville, fourteen times. Thirteen trips were made on flat-boats and one on a barge. I traveled home by land eight times, and we were usually about thrity days in making the trip. The first two trips I made by land; there were neither ferries nor bridges over any water-course from the Bayou Pierre, at Port Gibson, in the Mississippi Territory, to George COLBERT's ferry over the Tennessee River. When we came in our route to a water-course which would swim our horses, we would throw our saddle-bags and provisions over our shoulders, and swim our horses over. We were compelled to camp without tents, regardless or rain or any other unfavorable weather, and to pack provisions sufficient to last us through the Indian nations. Notwithstanding the difficulties and dangers of these trips, our spirits never flagged. The excitement incident to the trips sustained us, and we were always ready to enjoy a hearty laugh whenever the occasion provoked it.

"The first time I descended the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, I left Cincinnati on December, 1808, with five flat-boats, all loaded with produce. At that time there were but few settlers on the Ohio River below the present city of Louisville. The cabins were few and far between, and there were only two small villages between Louisville and the mouth of the Ohio. One was Henderson, known then by the name of Red Banks; the other was Shawneetown. The latter was a village of a few cabins, and was used as a landing-place for the saltworks on the Saline River, back of the village. The banks of the Mississippi, from the mouth of the Ohio to Natchez, were still more sparsely settled. New Madrid, a very small village, was the first settlement below the mouth of the Ohio. There were a few cabins at Little Prairie, a cabin opposite to where Memphis now is, and on the lower end of the bluff on which that city is built there was a stockade fort, called Fort Pickering, garrisoned by a company of rangers. Cabins were to be seen at the mouth of White River, at Point Chico, and at Walnut Hills, two miles above where the city of Vicksburg now is. From this place to Natchez there were cabins at distances from ten to twenty miles apart. The whole country bordering on the Mississippi, from the mouth of the Ohio to Natchez, might be regarded as an almost unbroken wilderness. The Indians seldom visited the banks, except at a few points where the river approached the high lands.

"The bands of robbers who had infested the lower part of the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers had not been entirely dispersed, and were yet much dreaded by the merchant navigators of those rivers, so that the men on the boats were well armed, and during the night, when lying at the shore in the wilderness country, a sentinel was kept on deck to prevent surprise."

Mr. HOUGH descended these rivers shortly after the earthquake which so violently convulsed a great portion of the Mississippi Valley, in the Winter of 1811-12. Many boatmen who had lost, or in their fright abandoned, their boats, were returning home in despair, giving frightful accounts of the dangers they had encountered. Mr. HOUGH, however, persevered in his trip. On entering the Mississippi and approaching New Madrid, the effects of the earthquake became apparent. On the west side of the river, for a long distance, the cottonwood and willows that lined the shore were bent of prostrated up-stream, showing that the current had rushed violently in that direction, contrary to its natural course. The town of New Madrid suffered severely. At Little Prairie, about thirty miles below New Madrid, where had been a small settlement, a large portion of the bank had sunk into the river, including the burying-ground. Not a house was left standing, and the inhabitants had all fled. The surface of the ground was fractured in many places, leaving deep and wide chasms. In other places circular holes, or depressions, resembling sink-holes, remained, from which had issued water and sand, the sand forming an elevation round the margin of the holes. Where these had occurred under large trees they were often riven and split up for ten or twenty feet, and so remained standing. Other trees in the forest were shivered and broken off as by the effects of a great tornado. Large masses of the banks, sometimes many acres in extent, had sunk so as to leave only the tops of the high trees above the surface of the water. Occasionally shocks were still felt, preceded by a rumbling sound like distant thunder, agitating and convulsing the shores and waters of the river, and jarring the boats as though they had grounded on the bottom. An island below Little Prairie had totally disappeared. In some places the bottom of the river had been elevated, and numerous boats were wrecked on the snags and old trees brought near the surface. So numerous were they in some places that they presented the appearance of an overflowed field covered with old deadened timber. On several occasions the boats had to be tied up while Mr. HOUGH went forward with a skiff to explore for a passage. The earthquake was also felt in Butler County.

"I was in New Orleans, in the Spring of 1816, when Captain Henry SHREVE, of Brownsville, Pennsylvania; was at the wharf of that city with the steamboat Washington, a new boat of one hundred and fifty tons burden. She was preparing for her trip to Louisville. The price asked for a cabin passage was one hundred and fifty dollars, and for freight five dollars per hundred pounds. I regarded the charge most exorbitant, and, in preference, bought a horse, and went home by land. Captain SHREVE made his trip at that time in twenty-five days, and on his arrival at Louisville the citizens gave him a public dinner for having made the trip in so short a time. In a few remarks he made on the occasion, he told them he believed that the time would come when the trip would be made in fifteen days. He was regarded as being insane on the subject; the event was regarded as impossible.

"Those engaged in steamboat navigation of the great rivers at the present day know but little, if any thing, of the difficulties that were encountered by Captain SHREVE and other pioneers in steamboat navigation. Wood could not be obtained as now; no wood-yards had been established. The officers were often compelled to take their crews into the woods, and cut and haul a sufficient quantity to last the usual time of running. The wood thus obtained was necessarily green, and but little suited of r making steam. The officers had every thing to learn in relation to their business. Engineers had no science, and but little experience in operating an engine. Pilots were generally flat-boatmen, who knew the channels of the river imperfectly and nothing about the management of a steamboat. In fact, Captain SHREVE labored under so many difficulties that it was not to be wondered at that he should have occupied twenty-five days in making the trip.

"My first trip on a steamboat from New Orleans was made in the Spring of 1819, with Captain Israel GREGG (the person to whom I bound myself as an apprentice), on board the steamboat General Clark. We were nineteen days in making the trip, and perfectly satisfied with the result."

In March, 1815, Mr. HOUGH made a partnership with Samuel MILLIKIN, and afterwards with Lewis WEST, and continued in the Orleans trade until 1825, when he removed to Vicksburg, where he conducted a store until 1828. His landed property in Hamilton was not disposed of, and he used to come up to this place in the Spring of the year, returning in the Fall. He owned a valuable farm in the southern part of the county, where, for many years, he raised choice fruit. In 1853 he was attacked with typhoid fever in Vicksburg, which ended his life on the 23d of April, being then seventy years old. His remains were brought to Hamilton by his son-in-law, Major John M. MILLIKIN, and were interred in Greenwood Cemetery, on the 3d of May, 1853.

Mr. HOUGH had but one child, Mary Greenlee HOUGH, now the wife of Major MILLIKIN. She was the daughter of Jane Hunter, whose father was Joseph HUNTER, a well-known farmer in this county. Mr. and Mrs. HOUGH were married on the 27th of December, 1810, the wife dying in 1840. She was an excellent Christian woman, and was highly respected and loved.

The character of Mr. HOUGH was eminently practical. He saw instantly what was to be done, and the way to do it. He was not deterred by obstacles, and he was so methodical and punctual that the failure of any enterprise, if it depended upon these qualities, was impossible. He was kind-hearted and generous in his intercourse with the poor, and he did not turn aside from those who were unfortunate, when ill-luck was not the consequence of negligence or bad faith. He was affectionate and kind in his family, and his loss was deeply felt by those who knew him best.


Fergus ANDERSON died early in April, 1880, at his residence in Venice, from general debility, aged eighty-three years. His death had been expected for some time, as he had gradually become very weak. The life of Fergus ANDERSON stands out prominently in Butler County history. His period of greatest activity in political affairs extended from 1828 to 1840. These times are beyond the recollection of men now approaching middle life, but are not forgotten by hundreds of our older citizens, who are more identified with the past than the present.

Fergus ANDERSON came of good stock. His father was Issac ANDERSON, mentioned elsewhere in this book. Fergus was the second oldest son, and was born in Cincinnati June 14, 1797. He was married to Miss Mary DICK, daughter of Samuel DICK, an old associate pioneer of Isaac ANDERSON, June 28, 1821. Fergus was brought up to the business of farming, and after he was married settled on a farm on Indian Creek, near the residence of his father. In 1828 he was sent to the Legislature. He served two years, and was then elected to the senate, where he stayed the same length of time. In 1835 he was chosen a justice of the peace in Ross Township, in which office he served until he was elected associate judge of Butler County by the Legislature. This office he retained seven years. For many years he was also president of the board of trustees of Miami University, and a member of the county agricultural board. In all these varied capacities he served the public faithfully and well.

In middle life Mr. ANDERSON was a wealthy man, but he gave much money to his married sons, and two of them dying, many thousands of dollars went out of the home estate, and he finally found himself in embarrassed circumstances-principally through these means.

In disposition his principal characteristics were his kindness of heart and gentleness. Enemies he had none, while his friends, especially among the older generation now living, could be numbered by hundreds.