Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Remembering The War Of 1812's Zimmer And Copus Massacres.

September 10 and 14 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Zimmer and Copus massacres, significant incidents in the War of 1812.

That this year's observance of the War of 1812 Bicentennial has been tepid at best is perhaps a subject for another time. This post involves a sequence of events that took place in and around my hometown of Mansfield, Ohio. Although they preceded my birth by 139 years, it is fair to say I grew up with them.

Watch how I work bourbon into it.

American settlement of the so-called Northwest Territory, including what is now Ohio, began in earnest in1788. Ohio became a state in 1803. Mansfield was founded in 1808. By 1812, it was a small town encircled by many remote farmsteads.

Native Americans were still resident in the area. They co-existed with the settlers most of the time, but northwestern Ohio was still very much the frontier, and the British—who controlled the Great Lakes—were constantly testing the borders and harassing settlers, usually through Indian surrogates.

My father’s family was in southeastern Ohio at the time. My mother’s family was still a few decades away from their relocation from northern Europe to Cleveland. We were mid-20th century arrivals to the Mansfield area.

One of Mansfield’s first settlers was a miller named Jacob Beam. No, not that Jacob Beam. He and his were in Kentucky by then. This Jacob Beam may have been a relative, however, since he practiced the same crafts (corn milling and whiskey-making) and came to Ohio from western Pennsylvania.

Beam’s homestead and mill were about three miles southeast of Mansfield, on the Rocky Fork of the Mohican River. There would eventually be more than 180 gristmills, sawmills and linseed oil mills in Richland County, but Beam’s was the first. Because Beam was always busy, farmers might have to wait hours, even days, to have their grain processed.

While they waited, Beam’s wife, known familiarly as ‘Mother Beam,’ fed them her famous corn-cakes, corn-dodgers, and other specialties. We assume whiskey was also available to help pass the time. Not surprisingly, Beam’s Mill became a popular gathering place for the otherwise isolated farmers.

When the British started to make trouble in the area, in the run-up to 1812, Beam’s Mill also became important for local security. A defensive structure, known as a blockhouse, was built, one of several in the area. Everyone knew to head to the nearest blockhouse at the first sign of trouble.

On September 10, 1812, troops bivouacked at Beam’s Mill were patrolling the area and discovered the bodies of four dead settlers at the nearby farm of George Zimmer. As word of the killings spread, settlers fled to Beam’s Mill for the security of its blockhouse and bivouacked troops. Four days later, a small detachment of soldiers was dispatched from Beam’s Mill to the nearby farm of James Copus as a precaution. Captain Martin, who was in command of the troops at Beam’s Mill, promised to send more the next day, but his scouts failed to detect any Indian presence, so he concluded that the danger had passed.

He was wrong.

Indians attacked the Copus farm, killing three soldiers and one settler, and wounding several others. The attacks were widely publicized and blamed on the British, and thus played a role in the propaganda wars attendant to the shooting one.

I recall being hauled out to the Copus Monument many times as a child and told the hair-raising tale. After these tragedies, Beam’s Mill and the Beam surname rarely appear in Mansfield history. Perhaps the family simply moved on, as so many did. In the southwestern part of Ohio, in Clinton County, other Beams built a large mill that still operates to this day, known as the Joe Beam and Sons Mill. Then, of course, there are those Beams who wound up further south, in the area around Bardstown, Kentucky.

On the Rocky Fork today, nothing remains of Beam’s Mill or its blockhouse, although ‘Beam’s Mill’ as a place name continued to be known into the early 20th century. The remains of a similar blockhouse, on Mansfield’s town square, were used to reconstruct a full-size replica which stands in the city’s South Park today (pictured above).

1 comment:

Damon said...

Thanks for the history. I think "tepid" might be an overstatement to the observance of this war. Out here in California we've heard nothing. But with Canadian in-laws living near Amherstburg, I get some news. In my much more amateur blog I also linked whiskey and the war of 1812. It is a stretch but it is there. You can check it out at:
It is not much of a surprise that whiskey is a supporting character of the after learning what was distributed to the troops.
Keep up the great work.
(p.s. I'm enjoying the AH Hirsch book)