Thursday, March 12, 2020

Rollin' on the River

When we research our families from the early 1800s in the nascent United States, we can easily see when they came from one location and, eventually, landed in another, more western location. But how much thought do we give to the consideration of how these people moved their families hundreds of miles? It is not hard to stumble upon references in history books about the lack of roads or, in the case of their existence, how awful those trails could be. In the case of many of our ancestors as they faced such conditions in their migrattion westward across the North American continent, they did have an alternative: river travel.

In puzzling over my mother-in-law's great-grandmother, Elizabeth Stine, I can see from historical records that she was born somewhere in Pennsylvania, yet she lived her adult life in Perry County, Ohio. Of course, my main question is: with whom did that young, unmarried woman make that wilderness trek of hundreds of miles? It helps, in delving into that question, to see what options were available to her migrating family.

The same scenario likely played out in the case of her husband-to-be, Jacob Snider, whose family also came west to Ohio from Pennsylvania. I have it from other Stine and Snider researchers I connected with, decades ago—back when online genealogy was in its infant stages—that the Stine family may have come from Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and that the Sniders removed from neighboring Adams County. With both of those counties pressed firmly against the southern border of the state, and facing the challenging route of crossing the Appalachians to their west, one option for migration in those early years was to hit the road.

The road, however, was often a co-opted ancient trail used by native populations long before the arrival of European settlers, and certainly not built to accommodate the wagons or stagecoaches preferred by the emigrants. Such would be the "road" leading through the land which eventually became Perry County. Known as Zane's Trace—after Ebenezer Zane, from whom nearby Zanesville took its name—it afforded a westward-bound settler one route to central Ohio.

A more reasonable route, in those days before established roads in the Northwest Territory, was to take to the waterways. With this choice of transportation, a migrating family need only haul their earthly belongings westward on the less-than-desireable roads of central and western Pennsylvania until they could reach Pittsburgh or another suitable jumping-off place. From there, they could purchase a flatboat to move their goods down the Ohio River.

The Ohio, being a tributary of the Mississippi River yet possibly the main stream of the whole Mississippi River system, could move people and their goods down river to lands in Kentucky and beyond—eventually, even to the Gulf of Mexico, if one wished. Our families migrating to the Perry County area, though, need only travel the Ohio River as far as the newly-established town of Marietta, where the Ohio met the mouth of the Muskingum River.

From there, the Muskingum could—depending on the season and the year's level of rainfall—bring a family northward to tap into a system of rivers and creeks circling the north and east of Perry County.

No matter which way the Stines or the Sniders chose to travel from south central Pennsylvania to the middle of the new state of Ohio, there were, indeed, options on how to arrive there.

But the key question to ask is not just how they got to Perry County, but why they decided, in those early years of our country, to go through all the trouble to get there.

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