Captured by Native Americans as a child, Jonathan Alder grew up in the Ohio Country when herds of buffalo still roamed the Pickaway and Darby plains of central Ohio.
Flocks of pigeons were so great that their passing sometimes blotted out the sun. The clear-as-crystal streams teemed with so many fish that a pole was unnecessary to catch one.
It was a pleasant place for a young boy. But it also could be a dark and deadly place as the conflicts between Native Americans and colonial forces of Britain, France and Spain grew more frequent and more violent. It was a world that, once entered by white children from the colonies, saw few of them returned. They either died along the way from violence, disease or deprivation, or they became one with their captors.
Alder was part of the latter group -- and when the chance arose to leave, he stayed.
Alder was born in Gloucester, New Jersey, in 1773 and moved with his family to Wythe County, Virginia, in 1775. His father died a year later. Alder and his siblings were raised by his mother, Hannah Alder.
In 1783, when Jonathan Alder was 8, he was sent with his brother, David, to find some runaway horses. Instead of the horses, the boys found a Shawnee war party from what is now central Ohio.
David Alder tried to flee but was captured, killed and scalped. Jonathan Alder was taken with some other recent captives on a long trek back to Ohio. Eventually, they reached a large Shawnee village near what is now Chillicothe, and from there, Jonathan was taken north to a village near what is now Bellefontaine.
There, he was examined by an aging Mingo leader who had lost his son and was seeking someone to replace him. After successfully surviving a gauntlet run and proving his strength and courage, Alder was adopted and was accepted into the local Native American community.
Alder spent the next several years learning the language, customs and manners of his new family. When he was old enough, he was given a musket and learned to hunt and fish. At one point, a local trader offered to exchange him for a Shawnee prisoner and permit him to return to Virginia. Alder refused the offer and stayed in his new home.
By 1786, Alder was living in the principal village of the Mac-A-Cheek clan of the Shawnee near what is now West Liberty. The village was attacked and destroyed by Col. Benjamin Logan and a thousand colonial volunteers.
Alder joined Shawnee war parties that raided into Kentucky, stealing horses and dealing in death. In 1794, he joined Shawnee leader Blue Jacket in opposition to Gen. Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and in a later unsuccessful attack on Fort Recovery.
Wayne invited representatives of the diverse tribes to meet him at Fort Greenville. The resulting Treaty of Greenville in 1795 opened the southern two-thirds of what is now Ohio to settlement.
By this time, Alder had married and decided he wanted to return to the world he had left behind. He settled in Jerome Township, about 5 miles north of what is now Plain City. He was the first permanent white settler in what is now Madison County.
Alder built a small cabin and became a breeder of horses, cattle and hogs. He sold butter and milk to Native Americans and horses to nearby settlers while relearning English from his new neighbors.
After a time, Alder and his wife decided their marriage would not work. He left his home and most of his property to her and returned to his family in Virginia.
While in Virginia, Alder married Mary Blont and returned with her to Ohio in 1806. He built a new cabin along the Big Darby Creek. After service in the War of 1812, he lived there for the rest of his life. He and Mary had 12 children from 1808 to 1830.
Over the years, he would visit the village of Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers, where he met with town founder Lucas Sullivant and other friends from the days when Ohio was the frontier. Sullivant's son, Joseph, later remembered what Alder told him about early Ohio.
"There were three Indian encampments or villages in this vicinity, one on the high bank near the old Morrill House ... one at the west end of the Harrisburgh Bridge; and the principal one on the river below the mouth of the Whetstone (Olentangy), near the Penitentiary (now the Arena District), where formerly stood Brickell's cabin ..."
Alder died in 1849. He is buried in Foster Chapel Cemetery in Madison County. His cabin has been preserved by the Madison County Historical Society in London.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.