As it were

Joseph Vance's service bears remembering


One of our more important holidays is celebrated each year in November. On Nov. 11, 1918, the guns of World War I were silenced as one of the deadliest conflicts in human history came to an end. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 to be the first annual commemoration of Armistice Day. For a number of years thereafter, Armistice Day was celebrated with parades and other public events. An Act of Congress in 1938 made Armistice Day a legal holiday.

Recognizing the service of millions of American men and women in World War II and Korea as well as in peacetime service in many parts of the world, Congress passed Public Law 380 which changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day on June 1, 1954. Since that time, Veterans Day has generally been celebrated on Nov. 11 to honor all of the people who have served their country in the military services.

In the past, I have written about how America in general and Columbus in particular has celebrated Veterans Day over the years. But today, I would prefer to focus attention on one of the earliest veterans in the history of Franklin County, a man who is largely forgotten today.

Like many, many other veterans, he deserves to be remembered.

Joseph Vance was born in 1775 and came into the Ohio Country after the American Revolution when most of the land north and west of the Ohio River was being opened to settlement. It was a dangerous time when confrontation between Native Americans and the new settlers was frequent and often violent.

In 1797, Lucas Sullivant, employed to survey land in the Virginia Military District between the Scioto and Miami Rivers, found a place a he particularly liked at the Forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. He laid out a town on the west bank of the Scioto at the Forks and, being an admirer of Benjamin Franklin, he called it Franklinton.

Trained as a surveyor as well, Joseph Vance arrived in Franklinton in the early years of settlement, liked what he saw and decided to stay. In 1803 Ohio became a state and Franklin County was established as well. In that same year Joseph Vance became the first Surveyor of Franklin County. He would hold the job for more than 20 years.

But like many people in the early history of Franklin County, Joseph Vance had many other responsibilities as well. Married with children, Vance carved out a home for his family in the forested center of the state. He was actively involved in the politics and society of the new state.

And he was a soldier.

America's armies through much of its early history were volunteer armies. A small corps of trained professional officers relied on the unselfish service of citizen soldiers to make up the forces needed when major conflicts came. Critical to the success of these armies were local militia companies whose regular muster days were designed to provide the training and discipline needed by citizen soldiers.

Such was the case with the Franklin Dragoons. Capt. Joseph Vance took special pains to insure that his company had the drill and discipline necessary to be a ready fighting force if and when it was needed.

In 1812, the "High Banks opposite Franklinton" were designated to be the new state capital of Ohio. The name of the new town was Columbus and a man named Joel Wright was designated to be the man to survey and lay out the new town. In reality, much of the actual field work in laying out the streets and public spaces was done by his assistant -- Joseph Vance of Franklinton.

During the War of 1812, the Franklin Dragoons served in a number of the major campaigns of the war in the west as Franklinton served as a mobilization and training center. In 1816, President James Monroe set out to see the states north and west of the Ohio River. His party arrived in Columbus after having traveled down High Street from Worthington in the company of Capt. Vance and the Franklin Dragoons. President Monroe, the first President to visit Columbus, complimented the "infant city" on its bright prospects and continued on his way.

As the president's party approached Columbus from Worthington, the travelers would have passed the place three miles north of the city where Joseph Vance would make a home for his family. The Vance farm of several hundred acres was an impressive place and was greatly admired by a young man named William Neil when he was a guest in 1818.

In 1824, along with a number of other prominent citizens of Franklin County, Joseph Vance died of a malarial fever that passed through the area. He was buried in the old Franklinton Cemetery. He is still there.

William Neil acquired his farm after his death. It later became the campus of the Ohio State University. I like to think Joseph Vance would have been pleased.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.