In the wake of the American Revolution, much of the territory north and west of the Ohio River was opened to settlement by residents of the newly formed United States.
Because the land that later became Ohio was closest to the Appalachian Mountains and the passes through them, the Ohio Country, as it was then called, became the location of numerous land grants. Among these grants was a large tract set aside for Revolutionary War veterans from Virginia and anyone else who was looking for inexpensive land. The tract was called the Virginia Military District and extended from the Miami River in the west to the Scioto in the east, forming a huge wedge in the Northwest Territory.
A surveyor of the district named Lucas Sullivant took his pay in land. The land he ended up liking best was at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. In 1797, he laid out what was then the most isolated village in the territory and called it Franklinton.
It was a rough sort of town. Sullivant laid out the streets, returned to Kentucky to retrieve his wife and returned with her, as well as his horse, his dog and several freed slaves. Slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory, making it an attractive place to live if one was freed.
This was a society composed of people adjusted to living on the edge of a moving frontier. It was a society dominated by men of little formal education but with a lot of knowledge of woodcraft. Relationships between men and women formed quickly and often ended just as quickly.
Consider Arthur Boke. Boke was a frontiersman and acted as a hunter and scout for Sullivant during his surveying trips into the Virginia Military District. After Franklinton was founded, he came to the town from time to time and formed a bond with an ex-slave in Sullivant's employ.
The woman found herself with child, had a baby boy and died. But Boke was nowhere to be found. He had tired quickly of town living and returned to the forest, never to be seen again in Franklinton. Boke's Creek in west central Ohio was named for him by Sullivant. Perhaps the creek is his best cenotaph.
Arthur Boke Jr. was raised by Sarah Sullivant as part of the Sullivant family, and in time, he became the lifetime manservant of one of Sullivant's sons. He is buried in the family plot in Green Lawn Cemetery.
With the arrival of towns and commerce, frontier Franklinton and the newly created capital city of Columbus across the river also saw the arrival of churches, doctors, lawyers and judges. With them came a renewed respect and commitment to the institution of marriage.
Some of the woodsmen did not like what they saw and faded into the forest. Most of the early settlers stayed, and with the founding of the first church in Franklinton in 1806, marriages became common.
An early history of Columbus noted what it called some "connubial felicities and infelicities." A newspaper called the Freeman's Chronicle in 1814 noted:
"Married: On the 20th ... in Montgomery Township, by Percival Adams, Esq., Mr. Josiah Williams to the agreeable Miss Comfort Weatherington.
"Hail wedded love, supremely blest, where heart meets heart reciprocally soft.
"Married: On the 24th ... in Truro Township by John Stevenson, Esq., Mr. William Cornell to the agreeable Miss Milly Inks, both of Truro.
"On Tuesday evening, in this town, by the Rev. Mr. Hughes, Mr. Samuel Barr, merchant, to the amiable and accomplished Miss Rachel Jamison."
While marriages became more common, some of the customs associated with the celebration of matrimony drew some criticism.
A note from 1826 takes issue with the practice of "charivari," or exuberant celebration during and after weddings:
"Matrimony should ever be held sacred and the greatest respect paid to the institution. Every moral and every married person of the community must feel pained at the foolish conduct of our youth in this town whenever there is a wedding in the place. Such hooping and drumming and ridiculous conduct should be put a stop to."
It was not only the young whose activity was observed by local newspapers. A notice in 1834 was posted:
"In this city, on the 29th instant by W.T. Martin, Esq., Mr. Joseph Mapes, a Revolutionary pensioner, to Mrs. Eleanor Swordon; each seventy-three years old, and only three months difference in their ages."
In 1855, the Ohio Statesman newspaper reported:
"A couple were married in this city on Wednesday morning, the bride being seventy-one and the groom seventy-three years of age. The old codger asked the parson whether it 'was a sin,' to which the parson responded that he did not think it was a sin before God, but it was hardly worthwhile for the time it would last."
Apparently the "old codger" thought this marriage was worth a try.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.