A History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County, Ohio
Butler County History: Pages 16 - 20
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The Spencer referred to in General Wilkinson's letter was Oliver Mr. SPENCER, of Cincinnati, who was then a boy of eleven years of age. His father lived in Columbia, and young Spencer had been on a visit to Cincinnati, to spend the Fourth of July, and, having stayed until the 7th, set out in a canoe with four other persons who were going to Columbia. About a mile above Deer Creek, one of the men, much intoxicated, made so many lurches in the canoe as to endanger its safety, and Spencer, who could not swim, becoming alarmed, was, at his earnest request, set on shore, as was also the drunken man, who was unable to proceed on foot, and was, accordingly, left where he landed. The three in the canoe, and Spencer on shore, proceeded on, but had progressed only a few rods, when they were fired on by two Indians. A Mr. Jacob LIGHT was wounded in the arm, and another man killed on the spot, both falling overboard, the man on shore tomahawked and scalped, and Spencer, after a vain attempt to escape, was made prisoner, and carried if by the savages and taken out to an Indian village at the mouth of the Auglaize River, where he remained several months in captivity. The tidings of these events were taken to Fort Washington by Light, who swam ashore a short distance below, by the aid of his remaining arm, and Mrs. COLEMAN, the other passenger, who, though a woman of sixty years of age, and, of course, encumbered with the apparel of her sex, was unable to make any effort to save herself, but whose clothes, floating on the surface of the river, buoyed her up in safety. It is certain, at any rate, incredible as it may be thought by some, that she floated down a considerable distance, and came safely to shore. Spencer, after remaining nearly a year among the Indians, was taken to Detroit, where he was ransomed, and finally sent home, after an absence in various places of three years, two years of which he passed among his relatives in the State of New Jersey. He resided, subsequently, in the city of Cincinnati, became a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was for many years cashier in the Miami Exporting Company Bank. He died in Cincinnati, in May, 1836, leaving several sons, who subsequently held offices of honor and trust. A narrative of Mr. Spencer's captivity was written by himself,and published in 1836.

In his next letter Captain Armstrong says:

                               "Fort Hamilton, July 8, 1792,
                                         Half-passed 12 o'clock P.M.
    "Dear Sir,- Your letter by express was this moment
handed me. I am truly sorry for the misfortunes of
Colonel Spencer's family, and much obliged to you for
the early information and advice. The convoy moved
this morning, at which time the spies were detached in
the direction mentioned in my letter of yesterday.
If they discover no fresh tracks, they will not return. Be
assured every exertion on my part will be made, not only
to save my men, but to procure as much hay as possible.
The weather for some days past has been unfavorable to
our hay parties. The horse will be detached for you the
moment Captain Peters arrives.
    "Yours, with due respect,
                                        "John Armstrong.
    "General James Wilkinson."

Spirituous refreshments were regarded then as necessary,and General Wilkinson provided them for the garrison at Fort Hamilton:

                              "Fort Washington, July 10, 1792.
     "Dear Sir,- I send you by Captain Peters ten gallons
of port wine, and five gallons of brandy, which please
accept. The wagons are hired at twenty shillings per day
and found. You know how to get the pennyworth out
of them. Drive later and early and make short halts; at
the same time, keep your scythes steadily at work. We
shall soon complete the three hundred tons, and the sooner
the safer and better. I wish you to send me an escort of
twenty horses on Friday, that I may join you. Last night
I received an express from Major-general WAYNE, the
purport solely to prohibit offensive operations on our part.
This express costs the public one hundred dollars, for
what? The shoes and belts are sent to you. Mr. MILLER
is to do duty while he continues with you.
        "In haste, I am yours, etc.,
                                        "James Wilkinson,
   "J. Armstrong, Esq., Captain Commandant."

To this Captain Armstrong replied:

                              "Fort Hamilton, July 14, 1792,
                                            "8 o'clock P.M.
     "Dear General,- Your letter of this morning, by
Sergeant Armstrong, came duly to hand. I send you the
two men mentioned therein, as also a letter to Colonel
Johnson, on private business, which I will ask you to
forward by your express. My hay and bullocks are safe,
and, I conceive, much more exposed when grazing than
when in the pen. Captain Peter's company will on the
morrow encamp on the parade, as well as the men of
Lieutenant HARTSHORN's troops. I am willing to believe
were you here they would remain on the ground they at
present occupy.
    "Believe me, sir, I am conscious of our exposed
position, and well know we have been reconnoitered by the
enemy, who will probably, with three hundred, attempt a
stroke at this post- I mean the haymakers. In two days
more I shall have my hay home; and Mr. MILLER, who
has been particularly useful to me, and a judge of the
quantity, says there will be an hundred and fifty tons.
This is man than I calculated on. The remaining one
hundred and fifty can easily be procured, and as much
more, if wanted, and workmen, guards, etc., can be
furnished. Two or more carpenters are wanted, to assist.
    "With due respect,
                                      "John Armstrong.
  "General James Wilkinson."

General Wilkinson writes to Captain Armstrong, dated July 12, 1792:

    "I have this moment received your letter, by Sergeant
Policy, and sent out Sergeant ARMSTRONG and a party of
the horses for the two prisoners who have escaped from
the enemy.
    "You will mount them on two of the quartermaster's
best horses, and let them move under cover of the night.
I can not leave this post until I take their examination,
and transmit it to the Secretary of War, and therefore
the sooner they arrive the better.
    "Should the enemy attempt to pull down your bullock-
pen, or to fire your hay during the season of darkness,
Captain Peters and a sub, are to sortie with fifty
men, and with or without flints, as you may judge proper.
The gates to be instantly shut, and your works manned
in the most defensive manner your forces may admit.
I go upon the probability that circumstances may induce
you to have his command somewhere or somehow within
your walls.
    "Captain BARBEE is not to move before he receives
further orders, but is daily to keep out light reconnoitering
parties, on foot or horseback, in every direction."

On the 17th, Armstrong sends the following:

"Brigadier-general James Wilkinson:
     "Dear General,- Your letter of yesterday came
duly to hand. The distressed situation of the settlers
on the Little Miami, and, in short, everywhere on the
frontiers, calls loudly for the aid of the government. It is
not probable that you may be authorized to call into service
from Kentucky a body of horse sufficient to justify
an enterprise against some of the Indian towns- perhaps
that at Auglaize River, or at its mouth. The savages are
certainly very poor, and the destroying their corn-fields
would make them more so. This, in my opinion, would
have a better tendency to bring about a peace than to
expend dollars in presents at a treaty. Some
of Captain Barbee's men being sick and their horses lame,
the greater part of the infantry being on fatigue, was I
to detach any part of the former, who are employed for
the safety of the workmen, the objects you have in view
could not be accomplished in due season; and, indeed,
with all my exertions, unless additional workmen are
sent forward, it will be Winter before the house I have
commenced will be finished. Two carpenters, two sawyers,
with whips and files, could be employed to public
    "Inclosed you have return of Captain Barbee's
troops, who are daily employed as patrols. With me
there is no doubt but the enemy are contemplating a
stroke at our advanced posts. If intended against this
place and ST.CLAIR, policy would justify the peaceable
disposition they have sworn toward both, as it might, in
their opinion, throw us off our guard; but be assured I
shall leave as little chance as our situation will admit of.
    "Inclosed you have an account against those spies, for
articles furnished by Mr. EWING, for the payment of
which I am held responsible. Please to direct the
stoppages to be made, and paid to Mr. BUNTON in behalf of
the contractor. All is well here.
                     "Yours,                    John Armstrong."

On the 19th General Wilkinson wrote:

    "Dear Sir,- Mr. Hartshorn has this day returned
from Columbia, and I expect to leave this post (if nothing
material intervenes) on the 2d, with sixty-eight fresh
pack-horses; in the mean time you will be pleased to
send back all the hired teams you can spare, as they are
expensive, under an escort of infantry taken from your
garrison, say twenty or twenty-five men. I gave the
horse, the riflemen, and Captain Peters's company for a
march forwards, and shall take form you all but two of
your scythes. This may happen about the 24th; in the
mean time, make hay.
            "Yours,                           James Wilkinson.
    "J. Armstrong, Captain Commandant."

There seems then to have been a long gap between the letters. Armstrong writes in November:

                        "Fort Hamilton, November 15, 1792.
    "Dear General,- Your letter of the 12th inst. came
duly to hand. From the unfinished state of the building
you have ordered to be erected we could not possibly spare
a second team from the fort, and the one sent in was of
little worth. Every exertion is used to complete the building
as soon as possible; but unfortunately for us, we have
lost two days this week in consequence of the wet weather.
Our mason is sick, and one other of the sawyers, so that
both saws are idle, the cellar unfinished, as also the
plastering your rooms; the doors are hung just finished finished, floor
laid; and partition up, so that you can lodge therein.
The building for the reception of forage is also up; and
on Monday we shall raise the rafters, but plank will still
be wanting. The magazine is finished, excepting the hanging
doors and underpinning. Nothing further has
been done to the stables. The meadow has been cut and
the hay in stack. Major SMITH has, no doubt, mentioned
the circumstances of a boy being fired in and chased at
his post; also an attempt to carry off the cattle by
removing pickets. Captain Barbee will, no doubt, inform
you of the rencounter between one of his men and
a savage. The villains are doubtless watching the road; it
will, therefore, be very unsafe for Major STORY's express
to keep it any part of the way; if they do, it should be
in he night time. I have thought it proper, sir, to detain
at this post four of the Columbia militia, whose terms
have not expired, to serve as spies to apprise us of the
approach of our enemy, who, being disappointed in their
favorite object (stealing horses), would embrace a secondary
one, that of taking scalps. The number of small
parties employed daily in the woods will, I hope, justify
the measure."

The building mentioned in the foregoing letter was erected for the quarters of the commanding officer of the fort, and commonly called General Wilkinson's house. It was situated on the west side of the fort near the bank of the river, a little further than the west line of John W. SOHN's house. It was a frame building, weatherboarded, fifty feet long by twenty feet wide, and two stories high. It had a heavy stone chimney in the center, and was divided into two rooms on each floor. On the west was a covered porch or piazza to the second story, supported by wooden posts extending the whole length of the upper rooms. From this piazza was a fine prospect extending up and down the river. The gate of the fort was hung to the southwest corner of the house, and there was a space of fifty or sixty feet between the west side of the fort and the river bank. The kitchen on the north was a rough, one-story log building, with an open space of about eight feet between the kitchen and the house. When the fort was abandoned in 1796, this building was occupied by William MCCLELLAND as a tavern for a number of years. It stood till about the year 1812 or 1813, when it was pulled down and removed.

The building marked F in the interior of the fact was called the officers' mess-room. After the county of Butler was organized, it was the room in which the Court of Common Pleas and Supreme Court were held for several years.

The magazine stood in the south-east angle of the fort. It was a building about fourteen feet long, made of large logs hewed square, and laid close together, with a floor and ceiling of heavy logs hewed and laid in the same manner. The roof was hipped on all four sides, coming to a point in the center, where it was surrounded by a round hall of wood.


Not long after this, and before the close of the year, Captain Armstrong was succeeded in the command of the fort by Major Michael RUDOLPH, a brave Maryland officer, who had served both in Lee's Legion and elsewhere, with credit, during the Revolutionary War. The best remembered fact of his command was the punishment of three deserters. The story rests upon hearsay largely, and the character of Major Rudolph would exclude any gratuitous cruelty. Desertion had become common, and it was found necessary to make an example. We find the narrative on HOWE's "History of Ohio," and it rests upon a manuscript in the possession of Mr. MCBRIDE. It is necessary, however, to say that Mr. McBride, in his later years, would not assume the responsibility of vouching for it. It is as follows:

"Late in the Fall of 1792, an advance corps of troops, under the command of Major Rudolph, arrived at Fort Hamilton, where they wintered. They consisted of three companies of light dragoons, one of rifle, and one of infantry. Rudolph was a major of dragoons, from lower Virginia. His reputation was that of an arbitrary and tyrannical officer. Some time in the Spring, seven soldiers deserted to the Ohio River, where, procuring a canoe, they started for New Orleans. Ten or fifteen miles below the Falls of the Ohio, they were met by Lieutenant (since General) CLARK, and sent back to Fort Hamilton, where a court-martial sentenced them to be hung, two to run the gauntlet, and the remaining two to lie in irons in the guard-house for a stipulated period. John BROWN, Seth BLIN, and -------- GALLAHER were the three sentenced to be hung. The execution took place the next day on a gallows erected below the fort, just south of the site of the present residence of James B. THOMAS.

"Five hundred soldiers were drawn up in arms around the fatal spot, to witness the exit of their unfortunate comrades. The appearance of the suffers at the gallows is said to have been most prepossessing. They were all young men of spirit and handsome appearance, in the bloom of life, with their long hair floating over their shoulders. John BROWN was said to have been a young man of very respectable conditions, who lived near Albany, New York. Early in life he had formed an attachment for a young woman in his neighborhood, of unimpeachable character, but whose social standing did not comport with the pride of is parents. He was forbidden to associate with her, and required to pay his addresses to another. Broken-hearted and desponding, he left home, enlisted in a company of dragoons, and came to the West. His commanding officer treated him so unjustly that he was led to desert. When under the gallows, the sergeant acting as executioner inquired why the sentence of the law should not be enforced upon him. He replied, with emphasis- pointing to Major RUDOLPH- 'that he had rather die nine hundred deaths than be subject to the command of such a man,' and was swung off without a murmur. Seth BLIN was the son of a respectable widow, residing in the State of New York. The rope being awkwardly fastened around his neck, he struggled greatly. Three times he raised his feet, until they came in contact with the upper part of the gallows, when the exertion broke his neck.

"Immediately after the sentence had been pronounced on these men, a friend hastened to Fort Washington, where he obtained a pardon from General WILKINSON. But he was too late. The execution had been hastened by Major RUDOLPH, and he arrived at Hamilton fifteen minutes after the spirits of these unfortunate men had taken their flight to another world. Their bodies were immediately committed to the grave, under the gallows. There, in the dark and narrow house, in silence, lies the son of a widowed mother, the last of his family. A vegetable garden is now cultivated over the spot, by those who think not nor know not of the once warm heart that lies cold below.

"The two other deserters were sentenced to run the gauntlet sixteen times, between two ranks of soldiers, which was carried forthwith into execution. The lines were formed in the rising ground east of the fort, where now lies Front Street, and extended from Smithman's corner to the intersection of Ludlow Street. One of them, named ROBERTS, having passed eight times through the ranks, fell, and was unable to proceed. The attendant physician stated that he could stand it no longer, as his life had already been endangered.

"Some time after, General Wayne arrived at the post, and, although frequently represented as an arbitrary man, he was so much displeased with the cruelty of Major Rudolph, that he gave him his choice to resign or be cashiered. He chose the former, returned to Virginia, and subsequently, in company with other gentlemen, purchased a ship, and went on a trading voyage to Europe. They were captured (it is stated) by an Algerine cruiser, and Rudolph was hung at the yard-arm of his own vessel. I have heard some of those who were under his command, in Wayne's army, express satisfaction at the fate of this unfortunate man."

To inflict the cruel punishment of death for the crime of desertion was at first so abhorrent to the feeling of officers (many of whom were in the army for the first time) that it was difficult to procure a conviction. Even if a deserter was sentenced to by a court-martial, he was got off by some scheme or device, or perhaps the use of some such pitiful tales as that just related.

The wife and children of General James WILKINSON accompanied him to Fort Washington when he joined the army as second in command in 1792. Three deserters were under sentence of death and were to be shot within two or three days after their arrival. But Mrs. Wilkinson employed her importunities to such advantage that she procured from the commanding general a pardon for those criminals. The usual preparations were, however, made for their execution, and on the appointed day they were brought on the parade-ground in full view of the whole army. But while the sentence of the court-martial was being read by the adjutant, General WAYNE rode up and stopped the proceedings, and stated, among other things, that he had been induces, chiefly for the gratification of the lady of General Wilkinson, to grant a reprieve for those deserters. "But," said he, in loud, clear, and emphatic manner, "the first man, and every man, who shall hereafter be found guilty of the crime of desertion shall surely die, so help me God." The successful interposition of this lady caused her name to be imprinted as an angle of mercy on the hearts of every soldier in the army. Two if the poor fellows, on returning to their quarters, after being released, ejaculated, "Thank God!" at every step; the other (an Irishman) inquired, "Why don't ye thank Lady Wilkinson? I am sure the general said it was her that saved us."

A story published by a writer in the 'Southern Literary Messenger' that Major RUDOLPH, after his leaving the army, went to Europe, entered the French army, and afterwards became as famous as Marshal NEY. It affords another ingenious example of literary myths which surround distinguished men. We have had the Dauphin of France among us, and it is no more than right that we should return the compliment by giving the French one of the bravest and most dashing generals of modern times.

In the month of September, 1793, the army of General Wayne marched from Cincinnati to Fort Hamilton, and encamped about half a mile south of the present High Street, on the edge of the prairie mentioned preciously. They did not march on the same paths that St. Clair had used, nor did they encamp at the same places. They did not even cross the river at the same ford. At the point we mention a breastwork was thrown up, of which the marks were visible until a few years ago.

That Summer General Wayne caused an addition to be made to Fort Hamilton, by inclosing with pickets an area of ground on the north of the fort erected by General St. Clair. This addition extended up the river to about the north line of Stable Street. Near the northwest angle were erected artificers' shops, and the residue of the space was mostly occupied by stables for the dragoons' horses and barracks for the men.

On leaving Fort Hamilton, General Wayne detailed a strong body of men for its defense. The command of the place was given to Major Jonathan CASS, father of General Lewis Cass. Major Cass was a brave officer of the Revolution. He joined the cause of the struggling colonies immediately after the first gun had been fired at Lexington, and participated in the battles of Bunker Hill, Trenton, Princeton, Germantown, Saratoga, and Monmouth. He was a native of New Hampshire, of which his ancestors were pioneers. He remained in command at this place until after the treaty of Greenville, a period of two years. We do not know who was in charge after him, but it is probable that the troops were lessened gradually, until in the end they were all withdrawn. The treaty of Greenville was signed on the 3d of August, 1795; but six months before this Israel LUDLOW had laid out the town of Hamilton, and a little settlement was springing up around the walls. Some of the buildings were still standing in 1813.

Much of the success obtained by our army in 1794 was owing to the experience gained by the spies, who were active, vigilant woodsmen, and watched the movements of the savages with unceasing vigilance. It is to be wished we could have had the names of those who thus acted, as well as of the garrison in the fort, but they are no longer preserved. Some of them have been left to us, however, and are given in the following paper:


"We, the subscribers, having engaged as spies, scouts, and messengers in the service of the United States to be stationed at Fort Hamilton, St. Clair, and Jefferson, do covenant, bind, and oblige ourselves to receive, obey, and, as far as may be in our power, carry into effect all the lawful commands which may from time to time be given us by the commandant of the post where we may respectively be stationed, for and in consideration of which we are, by agreement with Lieutenant-colonel Commandant Wilkinson, to be subsisted with a Continental ration per day to each of us, and are to receive one dollar for every day of our service, from the time of muster until discharge.

"As witness our hands, at Fort Washington, the 12th of May, 1792.

                 "Daniel GRIFFIN,  
            John FLETCHER,
                      "Daniel CAMPBELL, 
        Josiah CLAWSON,
                      "Resin BAILEY,    
          Joseph SHEPPERD."

The enlistments, discharges, and appointments of non-commissioned officers were as follows:


"I, Arthur CONWAY, do acknowledge myself to be fairly and truly enlisted in the service of the United States of America, and in the First United States Regiment, to serve as a soldier for the term of three years, unless sooner discharged; and to be obedient to the order of Congress and the officers set over me, agreeable to the establishment of Congress, passed the 13th of April, 1789. As witness thereof I have set my hand this twenty-second day of February, 1794.

"Witness: Arthur Conway.

"Adam YOHE."


"By Josiah HARMAR, Esq., brigadier-general in the service of the United States of America, and commanding the troops in the Western Department.

"These are to certify that the bearer hereof, Casper SHEETS, private soldier in Captain David STRONG's company, and in the First Regiment, having faithfully served the United States for the term of two years, eight months, and three days, and not inclining to re-enlist upon the establishment of the 30th of April, 1790, he is hereby honorably discharged the service.

"Given at the head-quarters at Fort Washington, this fourth day of December, 1790.

"Attest: Josiah HARMAR,

"William PETERS, Lieutenant, Acting Adjutant."


"This may certify that Casper SHEETS, late a soldier on my company, was appointed corporal first day of April, 1788, and was reduced the 17th of September, 1790.


"Captain First United States Regiment.

"Fort Washington, May 13, 1791."


The red man was almost everywhere in the tickets around Fort Hamilton, lurking for the scalps of the enemy, and many a gallant spirit met an untimely grave in the vicinity. The life of a white man, unprotected, out of the reach of gun of the fort, was not safe for a moment. The road from Cincinnati to Fort Hamilton was narrowly watched; the murders do frequent upon it that when cases of the kind were reported in Cincinnati they scarce obtained a passing remark, unless some person of distinction had fallen.

In the Summer of 1792, two wagoners were watching some oxen which had been turned out to graze on the common below Fort Hamilton. A shower of rain coming on, they retired for shelter under a tree which stood north of where the Columbia bridge now is. The Indians, who had been concealed in the adjoining underbrush watching them, crept silently up, and, rushing violently upon them before they were aware, killed one and took the other prisoner. The one taken prisoner was Henry SHAFOR, who, several years after his return from the Indians, settled in Butler County, on the west side of the Miami River, two or three miles below Rossville, where he lived until near 1840. So stealthily had the Indians approached, that the murder was unknown to the men of the garrison until evening, when they went out to look after the men and oxen, although the transaction had taken place within one hundred and fifty yards of the pickets of the fort.

In the Summer of 1792 a large body of Indians surrounded Fort Jefferson. Before they were discovered by the garrison, a party of them crept up and secreted themselves in the underbrush and behind some log near the fort. Knowing that Captain SHAYLER, the commandant, was passionately fond of hunting, they imitated the noise of turkeys with great exactness. The captain, not dreaming of decoy, hastened out with his son, fully expecting to return loaded with game. As they approached nearer the place where the sound came, the savages rose and fired. The son, a load of fine promise, fell. The captain turned, and fled to the garrison. The Indians pursued him closely, calculating either to take him prisoner or to enter the sally gate with him in case it should be opened for his admission. They were, however, disappointed; though at his heels, he entered, and the gate was closed at the instant they reached it. In his retreat, he was badly wounded by an arrow in the back. Had this been the only penalty of his temerity, he might have blessed his patron saint; but the loss of a favorite child, sacrificed by his rashness and folly, rested on his memory, and inflicted a punishment as bitter as malice itself could invent or desire to impose.