Tragedy on the Muskingum River
by Henry Robert Burke
Copyright 1998. Henry Robert Burke "Window to the Past"
According to a deposition made by Joseph Tomlinson in Chancery Court at Clarksburg, in the spring of 1771, he and his brother Samuel Tomlinson returned to land opposite the Muskingum. At the present day site of (Williamstown, Wood County, West Virginia), they cleared four acres of land, erected a log cabin believed to have been located at the foot of Dodge Avenue in Williamstown, and in Joseph's own words "We planted the first corn...raised by civilized man on or about the area opposite the Muskingum." The Tomlinson cabin was the only white man's habitation between Grave Creek and Vincennes. During this trip the brothers took with them a supply of salt and bread. Soon their supply was exhausted and the brothers turned to the land for food.In 1800 there were a total of 61 slaves in Wood County, Virginia, and 257 slaves in Ohio County, Virginia.
In 1804, two Joseph Tomlinson's slaves, Mike and an unidentified slave ran away while working at Williams Station. The two slaves crossed the Ohio River and traveled about thirty-five miles to fourty miles north on the Muskingum River at the mouth of "Owl Creek" (in present day Morgan County , Ohio), where they stayed at a cabin owned by William Craig. The fugitive slaves reportedly had been staying at William Craig's place for some time when Joseph Tomlinson received information of their location from a traveler who had come down the Muskingum River by canoe, stopped by the Owl Creek cabin of William Craig, and while there had passed conversation with the two errant slaves.
As soon as he got the word, Joseph Tomlinson, along with four of his sons, Thomas, Carpenter, Ezekiel and Benjamin, set out for Owls Creek to retrieve their fugitive slaves. William Craig saw the Tomlinson party arriving and quckly gave the alarm call to the two fugitive slaves. The slaves immediately took off running, but young Thomas Tomlinson was swift of foot and soon overtook Mike. Thomas knocked Mike to the ground by using his rifle as a club. When Mike regained his feet, Thomas again knocked him to the ground. Thomas and Mike, who were the same age, had been raised together at Grave Creek, the rough treatment from Thomas understandably upset Mike. After repeatedly being knocked to the ground, Mike pulled a knife from his belt and fatally stabbed young Thomas Tomlinson.
The other fugitive slave took advantage of the situation and made good his escape, but Mike was captured by Joseph Tomlinson and his other three sons. The Tomlinsons took Mike and started across country, heading for Grave Creek. They camped at Negro Run about three miles west of Cumberland, Guernsey County, Ohio. (This is an area along the present Morgan-Noble County, Ohio line that later had a lot of Underground Railroad traffic.) There they encountered a Mr. Reeve and Mr. Cockain who were on their way to Kentucky on business. Both men witnessed the Tomlinsons execute and partially bury the slave named Mike. Mr. Reeve and Mr. Cockain reported the murder to authorities in Muskingum County, Ohio and a coroner's inquest was held by Henry Smith, Esq. of Putnam, part of present day Zanesville, Muskingum County, Ohio.
Ohio's Governor, Edward Tiffin, sent written notice to Virginia's governor for Joseph Tomlinson to be extradited back to Ohio for deposition, but the request was denied by Virginia's Governor. Mike was never given permanent burial, his bones eventually lay scattered around the area where he had been killed, according to Mr. Reeve, who claimed to have seen the bones often.
So in the very early days of slavery in the Mid-Ohio River Valley, tragedy needlessly struck down two young men before they had even begun to experience life. The deaths of the two young Americans signaled the beginning of "Ohio's war against slavery". The Ohio River Mason-Dixon Line was the front line of that war!