In the early settlement of the south part of this county, the pioneers were considerably embarrassed for a market for their surplus grain and other farm products. The ports on Lake Erie, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans were the principal markets. To reach the lake by teams, over the rough, new-cut roads, was toilsome and difficult, as well as quite expensive; while wheat, flour, and corn commanded a low price. In consequence of the inferior markets on the lake, at Zanesville and Pittsburgh several enterprising pioneers had boats constructed, which were loaded and conveyed to New Orleans.
In the spring of 1823, Lewis Oliver and John Davis, of Green Township, purchased of Nathan Dehaven, a flat-bottomed boat, which had been built at the mouth of Honey creek on the Black fork, by Mr. Dehaven, near the modern site of his sawmill. The boat was fifty-five feet long and fifteen feet wide, with rounded bows and a steering apparatus, and cabin. It was so covered as to protect its lading. This boat was conveyed up the Black fork to near the residence of Mr. Oliver, where it was partly loaded with wheat, flour, pork, whiskey, and chickens.
About the sixteenth of March, the new vessel passed slowly down the Black fork to Dehaven's, and the Loudonville mills, where a large amount of sawed cherry lumber and other articles were place on board, to be conveyed to a southern market. The Black fork was a slow, tortuous stream, though the water was quite deep. Navigation was considerably impeded in consequence of the lodgment of driftwood in its winding course to the Walhonding. These difficulties were overcome by moving slowly and guarding the boat against accident.
The crew of the boat consisted of Lewis Oliver and John Davis, proprietors, and Amos Harbaogh and Timothy Wilson, as hands. On the seventeenth, "all hands aboard," the boat was floated leisurely down the Black fork to its junction with the Lake fork; then down the Walhonding to its junction with the Tuscarawas at the town of Coshocton; thence down the Muskingum to the city of Zanesville. There were on board, two skiffs, so that if the boat should be snagged, or otherwise injured by driftwood, the proprietors and hands could have means of escape. When the stream was sluggish and current slow, the boat was urged forward by setting-poles.
Upon their arrival at Zanesville, a formidable obstacle to their further advance was presented. The dam across the Muskingum at that place was difficult to pass. It was seen at a glance, that it would require an experienced pilot to conduct the boat over it in safety. Mr. Oliver went ashore to procure the services of a suitable guide. An individual representing the craft presented himself and offered to conduct the boat safely over the dam. On being asked his price for the job, he blandly informed Mr. Oliver it would be cheap at ten dollars. Mr. Oliver thought the charge rather extravagant. The valorous pilot feeling certain that he would ultimately get the job, declined to take a cent less.
Here was a quandary. Mr. Oliver returned to the boat and reported the result of his mission. After some consultation, Mr. Davis concluded they could conduct the craft over the dam without the aid of a professional pilot. By this time a large crowd of spectators has assembled on the riverbank to see the fun. The fall over the dam was about ten feet, and the current was very rapid. Some fifteen or twenty rods below the dam, the Buckingham Bridge, since the bridge of the national turnpike, supported by large stone piers, spanned the Muskingum River. If the boat moved straight forward, it would pitch upon its prow and be crushed of capsized; and if it escaped such a disaster, might strike a pier.
In this crisis Jersey wit and ingenuity triumphed. Mr. Oliver placed himself as steersman, at the stern, while Mr. Davis and the hands, by united efforts, swung the boat around so that it would pass obliquely over the dam, and strike and rise on the rolling current below, without stoving or capsizing. They held its course steadily, until it reached the dam, when it shot over like an arrow, rose and floated on the current, and narrowly escaped the pier. At this achievement, the large assemblage on shore, gave a tremendous shout, and declared a "Jersey Yankee," was equal to any emergency, and capable of any daring.
The boat floated slowly down to Duncan's falls, nine miles below Zanesville, where it was again compelled to encounter new dangers. They were less formidable, however, than the dam over which the boat had just passed. A point where the channel was deepest was selected, and the little vessel cleared the falls in safety, and moved onward to Marietta, and entered the Ohio River. The hills and bluffs along its banks, covered with pine and other timber, rendered the voyage novel and interesting. The buds of the trees were just opening into leaf, and the banks of the river were lined with spring vegetation and flowers. Thus they glided toward the far south, where they were to find new and strange scenery.
They passed Cincinnati, now the queen city of the west. How great has been the growth of that beautiful city since 1823! Its markets were then easily glutted. Messrs. Oliver and Davis were compelled to go further south to dispose of their produce. Their little boat was shoved from the wharf into the main current of the Ohio, where it moved rapidly toward the falls at Louisville. On their way they overtook a stranded emigrant boat, which was unable to move, in consequence of the driftwood. There were several families, with their goods on it, en route to southern Illinois and Iowa. Seeing the situation, the owners of the boat from the Black fork volunteered their aid to relieve the emigrants.
On arriving at the falls, the boat passed through without accident, and the light-hearted owners pushed onward to the Mississippi, and down its dark-rolling current to New Orleans, the great southern market of that period. Here they found a ready market for their cherry lumber, at two dollars and twenty-five cents per hundred feet, and thirty-seven and one-half cents per gallon for their whiskey--a better article than now sells for five dollars per gallon in the same city. Times change, men change, and prices necessarily fluctuate. Our county and its wealth are much more potent now than they were fifty-two years ago, and hence a greater value is attached to "fire-water." The pioneers are pretty generally of the opinion that the article manufactured fifty years ago was much purer and less harmful in its effects than modern "fire-water."
Finding no demand for their wheat, flour, and pork, they concluded to transfer those articles to a schooner and proceed to Richmond, Virginia, for a market. This transfer was made, and, as soon as completed, the "wharf rats" of New Orleans captured and concealed the boat. It was never seen again by its owners. About the first of April they sailed for Richmond. Their voyage was a pleasant one. They coasted around to the Chesapeake Bay, and passed up the James River to Richmond. They arrived there about the seventeenth of April. The grand outline of the southern coast, with its attractive scenery, was constantly under their gaze, and was the subject of many remarks and much admiration. As they passed up the James River, the ancient homes of the colonists frequently hove in view and excited comment. Along the banks of that now classic stream, nearly three hundred years before, the colonists contended with the "fierce red man," for a home.
On reaching the market, they obtained one dollar and thirty cents per bushel for their wheat, and eight dollars per barrel for salt pork. These prices were such as would reward them fairly for their toil and perseverance. They felt amply compensated.
After spending a few days in Richmond, they prepared for returning to the wilds of the Black fork. They had separated from their hands at New Orleans. Their route, from Richmond, was through Goochland, Louisa, and Albemarle counties, and over the Blue Ridge mountains to Harrisonburgh, in Rockingham county; thence across the Great North mountain, to Moorefield, in Hardy county; thence to the Old Fort Redstone, in Pennsylvania; thence to Wheeling, West Virginia; thence by Zanesville, Newark, and Mount Vernon, to the Black fork, making a journey of about nine hundred miles on foot They met with no accident or incivility on their way, and arrived at home about the first of July.
Mr. Oliver is now about eighty-seven years of age, is quite active, and in the possession of all his faculties. He looks younger than many men of sixty-five. He informs me, that during the haying season of 1874 he drove a team and rode on the mowing-machine several days, and felt none the worse for it. Very few men, at his age, would think of performing any labor. He has always been noted for his integrity, industry, and uprightness, and says, "he feels better to keep moving." He owns and resides upon the old homestead of his father, Allen Oliver, and has resided in the same locality sixty-four years.