History of Jefferson Township, Ross County, OH

From: The County of Ross
Henry Holcomb Bennett, Editor
Published by Selvyn A. Brant
Madison, Wis. 1902


THIS is the southeast corner township of Ross county. The Scioto river forms the western boundary, which, taking a southeasterly course, gives a river boundary of about six and a half miles. Jefferson was one of the original townships in the county, established, probably, as early as the beginning of the last century. It was subdivided in 1812, and Harrison township was erected from the territory originally embraced within Jefferson. The eastern boundary is five and one third miles, and the northern is seven and a half. Territorially, it is the smallest township in Ross county. The land is considerably broken, and not as fertile as some other portions of the county, yet generally productive, except in the most hilly districts. The valleys of the Scioto, and other streams in the interior, are not wide, hence the general topography of the township is undulating, and in some localities quite hilly. Pilot Knob is an eminence of considerable elevation. It is located in the eastern part of the township, near the Jackson county line. Sight seers and picnicking parties make this a frequent rendezvous in summer time. While there is some excellent land, and fine farms and improvements, it cannot be said that Jefferson is specially rich or valuable territory. Salt creek is the principal interior stream, and this divides the township into nearly equal parts, running from northeast to southwest, and emptying into the Scioto. This is a stream of considerable magnitude, affording abundant water power, and was formerly navigated by flatboats, which carried produce from Richmond to the Scioto, thence to distant markets. It derives its name from the saline nature of its headwaters in Jackson county, and in early days salt was produced from its waters by evaporation. Entering it from the south are two small streams, having their sources in the adjacent hills, while Walnut creek enters from a northern direction. These, with the numerous spring branches, afford the drainage and water supply of the township. There seems to have been an unusual mortality from drowning in Jefferson township, due, no doubt, to the treacherous condition of the fords on Salt creek before the days of bridges. From 1821 to 1847, there were twelve deaths from this cause, two of the victims being unknown; the others were Captain Levi Hicks, Lorenzo Moffit, Mr. Dawson, John Hagans, Mr. Martin, Peter Burr, two children of J. Tomlinson, Anson Graves and Daniel Bailey.

The Detroit and Ironton division of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton railroad traverses Jefferson from the northwest to the southeast, Richmond Dale being the only station within the township, though Vigo, a station on the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern, is located on the north line, in the southern extremity of Liberty township. This road crosses the northeast corner of Jefferson, and leaves the county at West Junction. Ample shipping facilities are thus afforded, and the railroad accommodations are superior to most other rural districts in the county. The country is traversed by well kept turnpikes, which add to the comfort and convenience of interior travel. Richmond Dale, the only town or trading point in the township, was laid out in 1811, by John and Joshua Moffitt. Some time later, Jeremiah Moffitt joined in the proprietorship, and the town was known by the various names of "New Richmond," "Moffitt's Town" and Richmond. But in 1816, when the post office was established, there being another Richmond in the State, it was designated as Richmond Dale, a name which the village has since borne, except in very old legal documents. But long before the existence of this town the Salt creek valley was settled, principally by Quakers from North Carolina, among whom were the Cox, Hinson and Moffitt families. These came about the year 1798. The erection of a large grist mill on the west side of Salt creek, during the first decade in the last century, was the beginning of the town. To the Moffitt family is due the credit of this enterprise.

The agricultural interests of the township are varied and extensive. The northern half embraces the largest land holdings, and consequently is not as populous as the southern portion, where the farms are smaller. Stock raising and fruit culture are profitable accessories to the raising of grain and vegetables. Much land is devoted to grazing purposes, to which it is admirably adapted, by reason of the abundance of pure water, and successful growing of all kinds of grasses. That portion of the township embraced within the Scioto bottoms is excellent farming land, a characteristic which holds true of that noted valley throughout its entire length. The river front of Jefferson township is no exception. The Salt creek valley is generally narrow, bounded bye sloping hillsides or abrupt bluffs.

The township is not rich in prehistoric relics, and some of those that did exist have been destroyed, and the material largely appropriated to the use of the inhabitants. Near the county bridge, on land formerly owned by Smiley Caldwell, was once a stone mound about four rods square, which was no doubt of prehistoric origin. The stone of which it was constructed appeared to have been assorted with great care, thus giving the impression of having been dressed. These have been utilized by adjacent residents in the construction of walls, and nothing remains except a mass of debris, which, to this day, defies the aggressions of the plow. Near Richmond Dale, leaden balls in considerable quantities, were once found, which were thought to mark the spot of some unrecorded conflict between unknown combatants. It is said that there were at least a peck of these leaden missiles, of crude form, apparently cut instead of moulded. Numerous Indian graves have been opened, where were found charcoal, parched corn, and bones of various animals, besides human skeletons, broken pottery, arrows and pipes. The old Indian trail from Kanawha to Chillicothe and other Scioto towns, passed through Jefferson township; and that was the regular thoroughfare in reaching the salt works at Poplar Row (now called Jackson). This township was especially valued as a hunting ground, game of all kinds being found there in great abundance.

Besides the three families of North Carolinians previously mentioned, a considerable colony of Connecticut people came soon afterward. These include the Meekers, Strattons and Minears. Anthony Rittenour brought his family from Frederick county, Md., in 1803, and located on a fertile tract north of the present town of Richmond Dale. He erected a stone barn in which the Rev. Peter Cartwright held religious services as early as 1805. This was probably the first effort of the pioneer ministers in Jefferson township. Mr. Rittenour served his country in the war of 1812, and was the last of the old pioneers to pass away.

Benjamin Short was an early settler and served in the war of 1812. He lived to a ripe old age. The Moffitt family removed from the State many years ago. The family name is not represented in the township. Henry Hinson ended his days in Jefferson. His farm descended to his son John, who also spent his life there. He was born in the township in 1810. Eli Stratton, one of the earliest settlers, lived in the same house for fifty three years. He died in Richmond Dale at the age of eighty nine years. Numerous descendants still live in the county, some of whom have held responsible positions through political preferment.

Jefferson township is justly entitled to the credit of having produced the tallest man who ever lived in Ross county. J. A. Stancliff was the individual, who measured six feet seven and a half inches. John Griffis was an early settler. He was a tanner; operated a plant established in 1825, and lived in Richmond Dale for more than fifty years. Capt. James Hampsen was a very early settler of the township. He kept the first tavern on the Chillicothe and Richmond Dale pike. Other early settlers were Ned Dawson and his son Leonard, who settled at the site of the present county bridge across Salt creek; Adam Sell and Jacob Aid, two young men who came with the Rittenour family, and became permanent settlers. Jacob Sigler and his son George came from Frederick county, Md., and settled south of Salt creek, and Daniel Boyer located in the same neighborhood.

John Boots was probably the first blacksmith in the township. John Griffith became a resident of the township in 1815. He established the tannery business in 1825, and owned and operated it for many years, subsequently selling the business to John Griffis, as before intimated. John, Joshua and Richard O'Dell were among the pioneer settlers. The Ray, Ward, Graves and Peppers families were settlers in the early days.

The last lingering relic of by gone days, connecting the past century with the present, and transmitting the traditions of early settlement to the inquiring minds of the present generation, was Uncle Jacob Rittenour. He was a son of Anthony Rittenour, and though the third in order of birth, in a family of seven, he outlived them all, and well nigh rounded out a full century of existence He was a boy of seventeen when he accompanied his parents to Jefferson township. His brothers and sisters were named Henry, George (Jacob), Eva, Frederick, William and Margaret. These married, and raised families, descendants of whom still live in the county.

The early political history of Jefferson township is very obscure, and reliable data is not procurable. John Ratcliff was an early justice of the peace who served many years in that office, beginning in 1811. His descendants are numerous in Jefferson and adjoining townships, and some of them have attained to positions of prominence in the county. John Graves was also a justice of the peace as early as 1812.

The various industries of commerce and manufacture were early established, and prosecuted with intelligence and success. One prominent industry here, as every where, in the early day, was the still house. J. W. Vanmeter writes of that industry as follows: "In the first settlement of this township, we had the social evil in the shape of still houses. We had three in town, and nine within a mile of the place (Richmond Dale). My informant says he has seen nine fights withen half an hour, where the blows fell fast and furious; when all was over, the parties would scramble up with mashed noses and black eyes, repair to the first dogzery, and drink 'friends' until the next meeting. With all this we have had but one person sent from this township to the penitentiary, and none hung as yet" (Pioneer Record of Ross County, p. 95.)

This statement must be taken with a grain of tolerance, since in the early days referred to, liquor drinking was almost universal, and its manufacture was not controlled by law. Any man could own and operate a "still," with as much freedom from legal restraint, as he could run his fanning mill. Liquor was a staple article of trade, in some localities the "circulating medium." The surplus grain of the farms for which there was no market except the local demand, was casually made into whiskey, either by the owner, or some neighbor, who worked it up "on. the shares." Corn whiskey was often the motive power which lifted the heaviest log at railings or log rollings, and graced all social functions with the "balm of good fellowship."

Richmond Dale is a prosperous little town, with the usual business houses and shops. Many of the present day citizens and business men are descendants of the early pioneer settlers, who have left their impress upon the succeeding generations. Considering the age of the town, it has not made rapid strides in growth, or in the accumulation of wealth, though the people are generally well to do and progressive. Some of the mercantile establishments would be creditable to a much larger town, and business is carried on with ample capital on the basis of solidity and permanence. The population of the village, according to the census of 1900, is three hundred and eight.

A fine graded school serves the educational interests of the town and adjacent country, while the district schools of the township are in keeping with the high standard of excellence maintained throughout the county.

The Methodists were the pioneers in the religious history of the township, and have a good church, and numerous following, in the town of Richmond Dale.

Garfield lodge, No. 711, I. O. O. F., is the only secret society represented in the village, and is in a flourishing condition.

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