As it were

Columbus’ first mayor was a man of many interests

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In the bicentennial year of the city of Columbus, it would be nice to publish a picture of our first mayor. Unfortunately, there is no known surviving image of Jarvis Pike. He is not alone.

Joel Wright was appointed by the Ohio General Assembly to be Director of Columbus and lay out the new capital city. Assisted by Joseph Vance, the Franklin County surveyor, he did just that. There is no known portrait of either of them. And the man who gave Columbus its name, Gen. Joseph Foos? There is no extant portrait of him, either.

Of the four men who were the original Proprietors of Columbus, portraits can be found for Lyne Starling and John Kerr — although John Kerr’s grave is lost. But as for James Johnston and Alexander McLaughlin — at least for now — the images of those two Proprietors are not to be found.

In an age when we can now take photographs with one simple touch on our cellular telephones, it may strike some people as odd that we lack pictures of more than a few of our founding fathers — and mothers, too, for that matter.

Perhaps it should not be all that surprising. Most of these people lived well before the invention of photography in 1839. To have one’s image survive meant one had to sit for a portrait, and portraits were not cheap. Many people could not afford them. Others, like prosperous Quaker surveyor Joel Wright, felt them to be pretentious and almost sacrilegious.

Ohio in the early 1800s was on the edge of a frontier that was almost constantly on the move. Many of the people who passed through central Ohio in those years were on the move as well. And even the people who stayed were often far too busy with the business of staying alive to bother with the frivolity of a picture.

It was only when the frontier began to fade into memory and Ohio moved more into the center of things that many of the frontiersmen finally had their pictures taken.

John Brickell was one of the first settlers in central Ohio. Captured by Native Americans, he had been brought to a camp at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers as a child. He returned in the 1790s and settled near the place where the Federal District Courthouse is now. But it was not until 1844 that he had his picture made by “fotographie.”

By that time, Jarvis Pike had been dead for several years. Even if we do not have his picture, it might still be well to remember his story. It is representative of many other men who came here in the early days of Columbus.

At the end of the American Revolution, the newly formed United States found itself inheritor of half a continent and an army that had not been paid in some time. Being almost completely without funds, the Congress of the new nation solved this little problem by paying its veterans in land rather than money.

Among those receiving payment was Gen. William Floyd, who ended up owning several hundred acres in what is now Oneida County, N.Y. Reputedly the first settler in what later came to be called Floyd’s Corner’s, N.Y., was Capt. Benjamin Pike, a relative of Zebulon Pike of Pike’s Peak fame. Being an enterprising sort, Capt. Pike and his family took a corner lot in the middle of a town that did not yet exist and opened a tavern. It apparently was a success.

By 1800, Jarvis Pike, a son of the good captain, was elected as a town supervisor and held the post for 11 years, serving as both an arbitrator and administrator. In later years, he would be known as Judge Pike.

Then in 1811, for reasons that are not fully clear, three of the sons of Capt. Pike — Benjamin, George and Jarvis — left New York for the Ohio Country. They probably left for the same reasons hundreds of others were moving to Ohio in those years: The land in Ohio was fertile and rich, it was cheap, and there was a lot of it.

The Indian Wars were generally over in Ohio and it seemed like a good place to start a new life.

The Pikes settled initially in Madison County in a place called the Glade, but soon were attracted to the new state capital of Columbus. On June 18, 1812, the first lots in the town were sold. The Pikes bought several of them.

In the next few years, the War of 1812 swept across Ohio. But Jarvis Pike stayed in Columbus and made the city his own.

In 1814, Pike and several other men hoisted a liberty flag on a large pole in front of Statehouse Square. Overnight, anonymous persons — obsessed by wit, alcohol, or both — removed the flag and the pole. Outraged, Jarvis Pike organized a citizens committee to put up a new flag and protect it. It was not attacked again and Jarvis Pike became something of a public figure.

When Columbus organized itself into a borough in 1816, its first council elected Jarvis Pike to be its mayor. Pike took the oath of office from Councilman Michael Patton, then administered the oath to the rest of the council.

Shortly thereafter, the mayor entered into a contract with the state to fence Statehouse Square. When the state did not pay for the fencing in a timely way, Mayor Pike sued Gov. Thomas Worthington. The parties settled out of court and Jarvis Pike farmed Statehouse Square for the next several years.

Jarvis Pike only served as mayor for two years. During those years, he welcomed a visiting President James Monroe to the capital and presided over a council that passed a number of important pieces of early legislation.

But by 1818, Jarvis Pike was ready for something new. He bought the Yankee Tavern at the corner of High and Main streets and operated it for a few years. He then went into the stagecoach business with William Neil for several years and later became the chief Midwest promoter of the Thomsonian System of Botanical Medicine. He was still active in that work when he died in 1836 at the age of 69.

The gravesite of Jarvis Pike, the first mayor of Columbus, is not known. My best guess is that he was buried in the Old North Graveyard near his longtime colleague, John Kerr, Proprietor and third mayor of Columbus. His gravesite is lost as well. Both are probably in the midst of what is now the Old North Market.

Jarvis Pike spent most of his career striving to be in the center of things. Perhaps he still is.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

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