PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JIM WITMER DAYTON DAILY NEWS
Settler Benjamin Van Cleve's journal entry saying `landed at Dayton,' is superimposed over the present-day image of the landing site.


The settlement of Dayton,
April 1, 1796

By Benjamin Kline
Published: 4-1-96
   It was a Friday when Benjamin Van Cleve, a 23-year-old native of Monmouth County, N.J., wrote it down in his journal:
April 1st 1796 - Landed at Dayton after a passage of ten days. Wm Gahagan & myself had come with Thomson & McClures families in a large pirogue.
  The new town had been laid out by Israel Ludlow of Morris County, N.J., on Nov. 4, 1795. There were 280 buildinglots, 100 feet wide and 200 feet deep, and east of today's Patterson Boulevard, 54 "outlots" of 10 acres each.
   During the winter of 1795-96, 46 men signed up in Cincinnati for the privilege of receiving a free lot in the new settlement - provided they would clear and fence the land. When the time came to go forth, only 19 men answered. In addition to the lots provided by Ludlow and the other three proprietors of the Dayton purchase, each settler was entitled to buy 160 acresat about $1.13 per acre.
   What they found after their 60-mile trip down the Ohio and up the GreatMiami from Cincinnati was not the neat looking group of buildings and spaciouspavements one sees today from their landing place at the head of St. Clair Street. "They'd been told they would find the town of Dayton ... at the mouth of the Mad River," Charlotte Reeve Conover wrote many years later. "Yet where was the town? Just several blazed trees along the bank, one marked 'St. Clair,' another 'Jefferson' and another 'Ludlow'. Yes, this must be the place
   M.E. Curwen, in an 1850 account, described the virgin site as a basin with a narrow strip of prairie sweeping around the foot of the densely forested hills, thickly covered with hazel bushes, wild cherry and scrub oak. A gully five feet deep crossed diagonally northwest to southeast at Third and Main streets. The Great Miami River, untamed by the dams, levees and channelling oflater years, carried in its current and its very name the fear inspired by thenative Americans' ferocious efforts to protect their homeland from the white intruders.
   "The Miami Slaughterhouse," people called the area. Benjamin Van Cleve knewthat too well. His father, John, a blacksmith, had been stabbed to death and scalped by Indians while plowing a field at Cincinnati in June 1791. Van Cleve, only 18 years old, thus became the breadwinner for his widowed mother and her younger children.
   Then peace came. "I take your hand," Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne told the Indian leaders at Fort Greene Ville in August 1795. The defeated tribes signedover 25,000 square miles of land. It was no coincidence that Cleveland, Centerville, Chillicothe, Franklin, Wooster, Youngstown and Dayton were founded in the following year.
   This is what we know about the first Daytonians, as they were described in local histories.

In the Pirogue on the Great Miami

  
  • Samuel Thompson , originally from Pennsylvania. He and the widowed Catherine Benham Van Cleve, Benjamin's mother, married and came here with daughter Sarah, 2, baby Matthew, age 3 months, and Mary Van Cleve, age 9. Little Mary was said to be the first person to step ashore.
      
  • James, John, Thomas, Kate and Ann McClure. Their mother the widow McClure - we cannot find her name - was from Pennsylvania. She had lost her husband in St. Clair's defeat by the Indians in 1791. Her sons were all under 25. The family later moved to Honey Creek in Miami County.
      
  • William Gahagan, an Irishman from Pittsburgh. He came to Cincinnati with Wayne's army in 1793, serving through 1795. On the historic river journey he was a poleman . He later married Nancy Hamer, another settler's daughter. He died at Troy about 1845.
      
  • Benjamin Van Cleve, educated as a surveyor, came west with his family to Washington, Pa., in 1785, arriving at Cincinnati five years later. He became Dayton's first schoolteacher, postmaster and clerk of courts. He was an incorporator of the library, the first school and the first bank, and a trustee of Ohio University. He married Mary Whitten. From the Van Cleves were descended several influential Dayton citizens. Benjamin died Nov. 29, 1821.
  • By Land: the Newcom Party

  • George Newcom, a native of Ireland, came to America with his parents in 1775, age 4. He lived in Delaware, then western Pennsylvania. His overland party included his wife, Mary Henderson Newcom, his father George Sr., "a veryold man," his brother William Newcom, the Thomas Davis family, the William Chenoweth family, William Van Cleve, James Morris, John Dorough family, DanielFerrell family, Solomon Goss family, John Davis and Abraham Grassmire. Col. Newcom later became sheriff, state senator, member of the Ohio House. He lived long enough (1853) to be photographed. His log house survives today at Carillon Historical Park.
      
  • William Van Cleve, just under 20, was a farmer.He commanded the Dayton Riflemen in the War of 1812. He moved to the "bluffs" of Van Buren Twp., married Effie Westfall and two other women, and died in 1826.
      
  • William Newcom, George's younger brother, was about 20. He married Charlotte Nolen (or Nolan) of Kentucky and they had a son, Robert. William died from exposure during the War of 1812. *Daniel Ferrell, over 50, was from western Virginia. He left a daughter whose descendants lived at Honey Creek.
      
  • Thomas Davis, a native of Wales, was a former Revolutionary soldier, married to Jane Henderson. He settled near the bluffs, three miles south of Dayton. One of his sons, Owen Davis, was among the first settlers of Yellow Springs.
      
  • John Davis, Thomas' brother, settled on the west side of the river, southof Dayton. In 1799 he was crushed to death while trying to chop ice away from the water wheel at Cooper's mill - Dayton's first accidental death.
      
  • Solomon Goss. Little is known of him. He was gone by 1799.
      
  • Abraham Grassmire, a young unmarried German, was a weaver. He made looms for the settlers so they could make their cloth, linen and blankets. He moved to Honey Creek about 1802-03.
      
  • William Chenoweth, about 35, was a blacksmith, probably from Kentucky. He moved to Greene County in 1803.
      
  • John Dorough, between 20 and 30, was a married man, a miller. He operated a small mill off East First Street in 1820, after Daniel Cooper's mills burned. Later he acquired property on the Mad River, five miles northeast of town.
      
  • James Morris , a soldier under Gen. Josiah Harmar in 1790, was a farmer. In 1809 his "wife left" him, a very unusual event then. He married again but died childless.
  • By Land - The Hamer Party

       William Hamer was born in Maryland about 1750. He and his family came westin 1792. Their Dayton party - the last to arrive - included his wife, Mary, and children, Solomon, Thomas, Nancy, Elizabeth, Sarah and Polly; and Jonathanand Edward Mercer.
       Hamer, a Methodist lay preacher, settled on land east of Dayton that was later known as Tate's Point. A son born there Dec. 9, 1796, was the first white child born here. The parents named him Dayton Hamer. Other Hamer children were among the first settlers of Greene County. William died about 1825 of an accident of some kind while en route home from Cincinnati.
       Jonathan and Edward Mercer settled on prairie lands several miles up the Mad River, claiming to be the first white people to live in Greene County.