In the late 18th century, central Ohio was the heart of what was then the "Unknown West."

It was a fearful place of dark forests filled with large vicious animals. But at the same time, it was the "New Land" of clear rivers, immense forests and rich soil.

In the end, it was the dirt that made the difference. Many New Englanders had grown up in a world where the primary crop was rocks. Travelers to the East today note the picturesque stone fences along every road. Most of the stones came from the fields farmed nearby.

Similarly, the fields of Maryland, Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania had been farmed to death by the late 1700s after a century or more of cultivation.

To all of these people, the lands north and west of the Ohio River, where the topsoil was 6, 12 or even 20 inches deep, seemed like a place close to heaven.

So they came -- but not at once.

In 1795, a young surveyor named Lucas Sullivant came north into the Scioto River valley with a survey team. Sullivant's task was to survey the land west of the Scioto, which was part of the Virginia Military District set aside for Virginia veterans of the American Revolution.

The new nation had burdensome debts, unpaid veterans and a lot of new land west of the Appalachians. The decision was made to pay the veterans in land rather than money.

Sullivant took his pay in land as well. Eventually, he ended up owning thousands of acres.

As he surveyed, Sullivant looked for a place to lay out a town in which to live. He laid out towns near what are now Plain City and Bellepoint. But the place he liked best was at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers.

In 1797, Sullivant established a town there and called it Franklinton. It grew slowly at first. Among its first residents were Adam and Elizabeth Brotherlin. Many years later, their daughter, Ann Eliza, at the age of 82, remembered some of their story:

"My father, Adam Brotherlin, a Pennsylvanian of German parentage, came to Ohio in 1787 and to Franklinton in 1812, where he married Elizabeth Crawford, daughter of a long line of physicians. Not until she had had quite a romance however. Two gentlemen were in love with her and fought a duel over her."

In time, the Brotherlins came to live in the great house Sullivant had built for his family before his death in 1823. After his death, the house passed into the hands of his oldest son, William.

"When Mr. William Sullivant's first wife died, my family leased the Sullivant house for two years until Mr. Michael Sullivant, who was going to be married, wished the house and bought the lease," Ann Eliza Brotherlin recalled. "In the home the fireplace in the kitchen was big enough to hold a cord of wood. This was where we cooked. We never had a cooking stove until after we moved into the Gibson house and what a thing it was. It had no oven so everything had to be cooked on top. I preferred cooking in the fireplace. We had no cranes in those days. The chimneys were made of sticks and mortar and a pole was laid across with hooks at the upper end from which a chain with large links dropped so that they could be lifted or lowered and on which you could put any number of kettles or tea kettles. We baked bread in loaves as large as a pillow.

"When Mr. William Sullivant moved, we bought from him a set of tableware, a complete set from beginning to end, tureen, soup plates, platters, etc. In those times, it was something new to have a whole set of plates alike."

A later account continued the story. Elizabeth Brotherlin "could remember when her father, who was a manufacturer of hats, used to go to Detroit on horseback to buy beaver and other furs for his business. She could boast also that Dr. (James) Hoge (pastor of the First Presbyterian Church) performed the marriage ceremony for her, her younger sister, her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother. How, you say, could any one man have married great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and daughter? By officiating at the third wedding of my great-grandmother and the second of my grandmother ... "

It's said that in frontier America, the land often brought forth survivors as much as victors in the struggle to make a new life in a new place.

Perhaps the Brotherlins were a bit of both.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.