Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
				Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

Slavery in the Ohio River Valley

by Henry Robert Burke

Copyright 1994. Henry Robert Burke - "Emancipation Stations"

The Flats of Grave Creek

It is helpful to know a little bit about the history of western Virginia along the Ohio River, which is the geographical location discussed in this selection. The Ohio River, one of the chief rivers of North America, flows more than 450 miles along Ohio's southern and southeastern borders. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is at mile post 0 on the Ohio River, and Marietta, Ohio and Williamstown, West Virginia are located at mile post 191. The northern bank of the Ohio River once formed the boundary between the slave state of Virginia and the free states of the Northwest Territory. Many bluffs from 200 to 500 feet high rise along the river, which winds through a valley this is in some places less than 2 miles wide.
Before the U.S. Corp. of Engineers constructed the modern locks and dam system on the Ohio River, during times of drought, at some places along the Ohio river, the evel of the water would drop to as little as 5 or 6 inches. Many fugitive slaves from Virginia simply waited until a dry spell came along, then they simply waded across the river to Ohio. This may have been the case with the fugitive slaves from the Tomlinson Plantation who crossed the Ohio River and followed the Muskingum River north in 1804.

The Tomlinsons

Three Tomlinson brothers, Joseph ( II ) Samuel and James accompanied the party led by Colonel Ebenezer Zane when he founded Wheeling in the winter of 1769-1770. There were three generations men named Joseph Tomlinson who lived in the Ohio River Valley. There was Joseph Tomlinson ( I ), the father, who was brought to the Ohio River Valley by his sons, at a rather advanced age. Then there was Joseph ( II ), who is the slave owner discussed in this article. Finally there is Joseph Tomlinson (III), a son of Joseph Tomlinson (II). The Tomlinson family settled in the Ohio River Valley before the U.S. Government opened the North West Territory for settlement . In 1770 the Tomlinson brothers filed Tomahawk Claims at Grave Creek, Virginia and further down stream on the Ohio River, across from the mouth of the Muskingum River, at William's Station.
Joseph Tomlinson ( I ) died at the Flats of Grave Creek, Virginia in 1797 at the age of 85. Joseph Tomlinson (II) died at the Flats of Grave Creek in 1825 and Joseph Tomlinson (III) who lived in Williamstown, died there sometime after the American Civil War. The Tomlinson brothers were among the earliest "white" settlers along the Ohio River in western Virginia. In fact, the Tomlinsons had settled in the Mid-Ohio Valley, along with their slaves, a good five years before Daniel Boone established Boonesboro, Kentucky.

Joseph Tomlinson started his plantation at the Flats of Grave Creek, a few miles down river from Wheeling, Virginia, in 1770 before the beginning of the American Revolution. Later in 1770, Joseph II and Samuel Tomlinson traveled down the Ohio River, reaching a point opposite the mouth of the Muskingum River at William's Station. There they hacked their initials on a beech tree, and thereby established a 400 acre Tomahawk Claim and a 1000 acre Preemptive Claim. It is an interesting side note that this land was claimed by Tomlinsons before George Washington made his famous exploratory trip along the Ohio River.

George Washington, on his journey along the Ohio in 1770, also made extensive land claims for himself and some of his friends under the Proclamations of 1754 and 1763, which granted lands to veterans of military service in the French and Indian Wars. During his explorations Washington left the Little Kanawha River and proceeded on foot to a point opposite the Muskingum where he spent a stormy night in November 1770. Then Washington and the Tomlinson's, both parties filed claims under the same provisions of the French and Indian War, got into a land dispute, and Tomlinsons were awarded a much smaller claim than they had originally filed.

According to a deposition made by Joseph Tomlinson II in Chancery Court at Clarksburg, Virginia in the spring of 1771, he and Samuel had returned to the land opposite the Muskingum River and cleared four acres of land, erected a Log cabin, and in Joseph's own words "planted the first corn...raised by civilized man on or about this area." The Tomlinson cabin was the only white man's habitation from Grave Creek to Vincennes. During this trip the brothers took with them a supply of salt and bread. Soon their supplies were exhausted and they turned to the land for food.

Joseph II owned slaves at the Flats of Grave Creek when the American Revolution broke out in 1776. He had several children born at Grave Creek during and right after the American Revolution, and there also were several slave children born there during this same period. One slave born there was named Mike.

So as our story unfolds, we find Joseph ( II ) owning the plantation at the Flats of Grave Creek, and also owning some land at William's Station. Joseph Tomlinson ( II ) used his slaves to farm at both locations, taking them up and down the Ohio river as needed. In 1800 there were 61 slaves listed in Wood County, Virginia, and 257 slaves in Ohio County.

In 1804 while working at William's Station two of Joseph Tomlinson's slaves ran away. They crossed the Ohio River at Marietta, and traveled about thirty-five miles north on the Muskingum River to Owl Creek, where they stopped at a farm 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 man traveling down the Muskingum by canoe, who had visited with Craig and the two errant slaves. So Joseph Tomlinson II took along four of his sons, Thomas, Carpenter, Ezekiel and Benjamin, and they went up the Muskingum River to retrieve their fugitive slaves.

William Craig saw the slave owners coming and gave the alarm. The two slaves started running away, but Thomas Tomlinson was very 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 were the same age, and had been born and raised together at the Flats of Grave Creek. The treatment that Mike was receiving from Thomas, who had always been friendly, enraged Mike. After repeatedly being knocked down by Thomas, Mike pulled a knife from his belt and stabbed young Thomas Tomlinson. Thomas ran back to his father and cried out, "Father he has killed me", then he died!

The other fugitive slave, who remains unnamed did manage to escape, but Mike was captured by the Tomlinsons. After burying Thomas, the Tomlinsons took Mike and started back across country headed for Grave Creek, Virginia. The first night, they camped three miles west of Cumberland at Negro Run, where they encountered two travelers, Mr. Reeve and Mr. Cockran, who were on their way to Kentucky on business. Both men witnessed the Tomlinsons execute Mike at Negro Run. Mr. Reeve and Mr. Cockran reported this murder to authorities in Muskingum County, Ohio and a coroner's inquest was held by Henry Smith, Esq. of Putnam. Ohio Governor, Edward Tiffin, was notified and he sent a written notice to the Virginia Attorney General for Joseph Tomlinson II to be extradited back to Ohio for deposition, but the request was denied. Mike was never even given a proper 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 scattered about on many later occasions when he camped at the same spot.

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 Underground Railroad.

Williams' Station

Joseph Tomlinson II was brother of Rebecca Williams, wife of Isaac Williams, after whom Williams' Station is named. He was also the grandfather of Elizabeth Ann Tomlinson who married George Washington Henderson and founded Henderson Hall Plantation. George Washington Henderson attended school classes in Marietta, Ohio and later graduated from Ohio University Athens, in 1818. Henderson Hall was built on land deeded to Elizabeth and George W. Henderson by Joseph Tomlinson III. The plantation mansion still stands at Henderson Hall Historic District, Route 2, Box 103, Williamstown, WV 26187.. The mansion and grounds are listed on National Register of Historic Places.
Three children of Joseph Tomlinson II, along with his sister Rebecca Tomlinson Martin Williams', settled in Wood County, Virginia. Some other early slaves in the Mid-Ohio River Valley, were those brought here by Isaac Williams, around 1785, when he founded the settlement of Williams' Station, in Wood County, Virginia. Isaac Williams had married Rebecca Tomlinson, a sister of Joseph II and Samuel Tomlinson. For her service as her brother's housekeeper at their home base at Grave Creek during the early years, the two adventuring Tomlinson brothers deeded some land at Williams' Station to Rebecca.

Isaac Williams was an experienced frontiersman who had at one time served as a scout for George Rogers Clark in the Virginia Militia before the American Revolution. Shawnee Indians were still bitterly contesting the encroachment of white settlers on their tribal lands. The main Shawnee village was located at "Old Chillicothe" on the Madd River just north present day Dayton, Ohio. The white encroachment along the Ohio River caused the Shawnee to increase their scouting patrols in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Indian opposition caused the progress of establishing a settlement at Grave Creek to slow down. The threat of Indian attacks at Grave Creek, had prompted Isaac Williams to move further down river to the land given to Rebecca by her brothers. This land lay along the Ohio River, opposite the mouth of the Muskingum River, which empties into the Ohio River. On the north side of the Ohio River, Fort Harmar, now part of Marietta, Ohio, had recently been completed and the American Militia offered this area some protection from Indians raids.

As reported by early documents, Williams came down river to Williams' Station in the early spring of 1785. He brought a few slaves to clear land and plant crops to sustain them through the next winter, then returned to Grave Creek for the winter. On March 24, 1787, Isaac Williams again returned to Williams' Station where he and his wife Rebecca settled in for good. The permanent settlement of Williams' Station, Virginia, included Isaac's slaves along with twelve white tenant families.

For the next few years, Williams kept a number of slaves working at clearing and planting his land, while Williams himself spent at least some of his time at his old profession of scouting and tracking Indians. On one occasion he followed a scouting party of Shawnee that had abducted a teenage white girl from a family that had settled nearby. According to historical accounts, Williams and five other settlers traveled down the Ohio River to present day Little Hocking. He searched west along the Hocking River for ten miles before he found and killed the Indians, rescued the girl and after hiding from another band of Indians for two days, finally returned the girl to her family.

Williams is also credited with saving the settlement of Marietta during the hard winter of 1788-89, by selling them corn. In this case, the labor of the Williams' slaves saved the settlement of Marietta from starvation and/or abandonment. In 1789 Isaac Williams received a franchise from the State of Virginia to install and operate a ferry across the Ohio River between Williams' Station and Marietta, and his slave Frank Wycoff often worked the line that pulled the ferry back and forth. Early on, slaves were very active in the development of the Mid-Ohio Valley. After1790, several plantations sprang up in Wood County, "western" Virginia. Most of the planters who settled in western Virginia, during that time, were from wealthy families in eastern Virginia. When these planters moved across the mountains from "eastern" Virginia to the Mid-Ohio River Valley of "western Virginia", they brought slavery with them.

In October of 1791, a scouting party of Shawnee Indians under the leadership of young Tecumseh were patrolling along the Ohio River in Wood county, Virginia. The Shawnee still claimed the "western" region of Virginia. Tecumseh (1768?-1813), the Shawnee leader, who fought against United States expansion into the Midwest in the early 19th century, was born at "Old Chillicothe" on the Madd River. He was the son of a Shawnee warrior who was killed fighting white settlers in the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore's War (1774), which Isaac Williams also had fought in.

In 1790, seven miles north of Williams' Station, Tecumseh, aged 16, and a Shawnee patrol encountered and captured Isaac Williams' young slave named Frank Wycoff. Frank had been searching for horses that had wandered off near Kerr's Island (presently Buckley's Island). The Indians had traveled with their captive for seven miles north to Bull Creek where they spotted Captain Nicholas Carpenter and five soldiers, driving a herd of toward Fort Harmar. Fort Harmar obtained its military supplies from the US Army Supply Depot at Clarksburg, Virginia (West Virginia). There had already been several cattle drives over a crude road that traveled from east to west along Bull Creek to the Ohio River, then down stream along the Ohio River to William's Station where they were ferried across the Ohio River to Fort Harmar.

It was growing dark when Captain Carpenter reached Bull Creek, so he decided to set up camp and wait until the next morning before continuing on to the ferry crossing. Even though there had been signs of Indians in the area, there had been no hostile acts for months. Perhaps this was why Captain Carpenter did not post a sentry at his camp that night. That was his last mistake. Tecumseh discovered Captain Carpenter's camp just before dark and decided to attack on the early the following morning! At the crack of dawn, young Tecumseh and his small band of warriors left Frank Wycoff tied to a tree some distance away while they crept up and surprised the unwary soldiers. Meanwhile, Frank Wycoff had managed to untie himself and rush back down to Williams' Station to get help! By the time that Isaac Williams and a party of would be rescuers managed to get up to Bull Creek, about three hours had elapsed. Captain Carpenter and four of his men were already dead; one trooper was still alive, but badly wounded.

In 1792, Tecumseh was only around 16 years old. This was Tecumseh's first recorded killing of white settlers. Two decades later in 1813, Tecumseh , who by then had become a great Shawnee warrior chief, , was killed at the Battle of the Thames River in Canada by Richard M. Johnson.

Joseph, Samuel and James - Sons of Joseph Tomlinson (II), born at Grave Creek and later lived at Williamstown, Virginia, across the Ohio River from Marietta, Ohio. (See Tomlinson House, Williamstown, West Virginia.)

Founded by Isaac Williams around 1785, (present day Williamstown, Wood County,West Virginia.) believed to have been located at the foot of Dodge Avenue in Williamstown.

Marshal County, West Virginia where Grave Creek was located was part of Ohio County Virginia until 1830.
Located in Morgan County, Ohio. - This is an area along the present Morgan - Noble - Guernsey County, Ohio lines about three miles west of Cumberland Ohio, part of present day Zanesville, Muskingum County, Ohio.

Henderson Hall founded in 1834 by Elizabeth and G.W. Henderson, is a situated along the Ohio River about three miles below Williamstown, West Virginia.

Fort Harmar was a fort at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers, built in by the United States Government in 1785-86 to protect future settlers of the Northwest Territory.

Please send inquiries or comments to Henry Burke at:


Category: Slavery | Subcategory: Articles | Tags: henry burke , southeastern ohio , ohio
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: 1754, 1763, 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1774, 1776, 1785, 1787, 1788, 1789, 1790, 1791, 1792, 1797, 1800, 1804, 1813, 1818, 1825, 1830, 1834, 1994, Civil War, Elizabeth, Henderson, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Railroad, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, WV,