Thursday, July 29, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 4)


The War of 1812 is often called the Second War for American Independence. It was fought on several fronts, including the Ohio frontier and the Great Lakes.

When the War of 1812 began, the U. S. Army joined local militia protecting settlers in and around the tiny frontier community of Mansfield, Ohio. A diary kept by an American soldier on a march through northern Ohio tells about a visit to Beam’s Mill while his company was camped at Mansfield. 

The entry for November 20, 1812, reads: “We got orders to march and got ridy (sic) and orders was countermanded we went to Beam's mill to press corn and got it by paying 62 1/2 cents per bushel then returned to camp.”

This may have been war profiteering, or perhaps Nissenson got a detail wrong in his novel, The Tree of Life. Nissenson has his protagonist pay Beam about 30 cents to mill 300 pounds, which is around 5 1/3 bushels of shelled corn. If both accounts are accurate, then Beam was charging the U.S. Army more than 10 times the going rate.

Assuming "press" means the same as "mill" or "grind," that is. If it meant something more like "get," then perhaps 62 1/2 cents per bushel was a fair price.

Whichever it was, the Army in those situations typically 'paid' with promissory notes, not gold, and the U.S. government’s promises weren’t as good then as they might be considered today, so perhaps both sides were indifferent to the price being charged as neither expected any actual money would ever change hands.

Arriving as he did in November, the diarist missed the most significant war-related events involving the Beam settlement.

A few miles southeast of Beam’s Mill was a small Indian village known as Greentown. It was close to where Perrysville is today. The inhabitants were mostly Delaware but a few were Mohawk and Mingo. Although the Greentown Indians were considered peaceful, there were concerns about rising tensions, exacerbated by British agents.

American policy in the region was to concentrate the Indian population as much as possible. Late in August of 1812, the people of Greentown were ordered to relocate about 140 miles to the southwest, to Piqua (near present day Dayton) “for their own good.”

The people of Greentown had been assured that the relocation was temporary but immediately after they left, U. S. troops torched the village. The inhabitants were still close enough to see the rising smoke and realized they had been deceived. 

No one can say for sure if what happened next was retaliation for that betrayal, but it always has been assumed that it was.

A few weeks after the torching of Greentown, 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. Although it was known that Zimmer had some personal conflicts with local Indians, it was assumed that the Zimmers, their daughter, and a neighbor were killed because of the destruction of Greentown. Maybe not, but their deaths caused many settlers to flee 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 the danger had passed.

He was wrong.

That night, Indians attacked the farm killing three soldiers and one settler, and wounding several others. The event, known as the Copus Massacre, is commemorated with a small stone monument at the site. Most kids who grow up in Mansfield go there on a field trip at some point. 'Massacre' is probably an overstatement, as the settlers were well-armed and fought back. 'Skirmish' may be closer to the truth.  

There is nothing to mark the graves of approximately twelve soldiers who died of disease while stationed at Beam's Mill. The exact location of their remains is unknown.

After the war, things settled down at Beam's Mill. The blockhouse was taken down and grain milling became the principal activity there. The Beams sold it and after several owners it became known as Campbell's Mill. In the 1840s, a new mill building was constructed on the original foundations. It continued until the 1930s. Today the property is Hattery & Chatlain Nursery. Nothing marks the site today, but that is really where Mansfield began.

Descendants of Jacob Beam still live in the Mansfield area.

Next time, in Part 5, we will meet one of Mansfield's favorite and most famous native sons.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 3)


The blockhouse, a basic log cabin with a distinctive overhanging roof, was a common type of fortification on the early 19th century American frontier. (This one is at Fort Ouiatenon in Indiana.)

Near the time Rev. Bowman preached his sermon at Beam’s Mill, Beam and his neighbors erected a blockhouse at the site. Blockhouses were an indispensable part of frontier defense during the run-up to the War of 1812 and throughout the war itself.

Blockhouses are fairly simple; a square, two-story cabin made of hewn logs. Their one unique feature is that the second story overhangs the first on all four sides. There are firing positions on all four sides and both levels, and through openings in the overhanging floor.

Beam’s Mill needed a blockhouse because despite the 1783 treaty that officially ended the Revolutionary War, the British--working from Canada--had continued to harass American settlers in Ohio and other parts of the vast frontier territory. Usually they acted through their Indian allies. The Indians, of course, had their own issues with the Americans. Conflicts increased as the settler population steadily grew and was one cause of the 1812 conflict.

Most of the defense for people living on the frontier was self-provided through local militia organizations. Because people were so spread out, on farms often miles apart, designated places were needed for mustering the militia. Strengthening the defenses of those places also seemed prudent.

Whenever folks sensed trouble, they rushed to the nearest blockhouse.

In the countryside around Mansfield there was a blockhouse every few miles. The next nearest one to Beam’s was in the center of Mansfield, about three miles away.

The downtown blockhouse stood for many years and, after the war, it became the town's first courthouse. In a desire to preserve it, the building was moved a couple times until arriving where it stands today in Mansfield's South Park. The first floor consists of wood from the original building, the second floor was augmented with lumber from another period cabin. The building, an important part of Mansfield's identity, got a facelift in 2007.

No trace of the Beam's Mill blockhouse remains.

Once the War of 1812 began in earnest, U. S. troops in the area made use of the blockhouse network because in addition to being defensible, blockhouses usually were part of a larger settlement where soldiers could re-provision, gather intelligence, and take care of other needs.

Soldiers back then considered whiskey an essential provision. At the siege of Fort Meigs, about 100 miles from Mansfield, the Americans were short of shot for their twelve pound guns. Their commander, future president William Henry Harrison, offered a gill of whiskey (about 4 ounces) to any man who retrieved one of the enemy’s twelve-pounders and delivered it to the magazine keeper.

Harrison got the ammunition he needed and it only cost him 30 gallons of whiskey.

Next time, in Part 4, the Ohio Beams play a major role in two early tragedies of the War of 1812.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 2)


The Tree of Life, by Hugh Nissenson, was published in 1985. It was a small sensation in Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, because it is set there around the period of the War of 1812. 

When I read it back then, I knew about Jacob Beam of Kentucky, ancestor to all the whiskey-making Beams, who according to family tradition was a miller and distiller, and sold his first barrel of whiskey in Kentucky in 1795.

As Nissenson's novel includes a character named Jacob Beam, I assumed the author had appropriated the name and profession of Kentucky's Jacob Beam, relocated him to Ohio, and created an otherwise entirely fictional character. My assumption was wrong. Although they cannot be the same person, Ohio’s Jacob Beam was just as real as the Kentucky one. He was a miller, as was Kentucky's Jacob, and Ohio's Jacob was most likely a distiller too. 

Beam's homestead and mill were about three miles southeast of Mansfield, on the Rocky Fork of the Mohican River, near what is today the intersection of Ohio Route 39 and Interstate 71. The Beams were among the earliest settlers in the area. Jacob Newman, the first European-American settler in what became Richland County, arrived there in 1806. In 1809, Newman built a sawmill and followed that with a gristmill in 1810. In 1811, he sold the entire operation to the Beams (some accounts give the purchaser’s name as Michael Beam, others as Jacob Beam) and it would be known as Beam’s Mill thereafter.

Just like the Kentucky Beams, the Ohio Beams came from western Pennsylvania. We know the Kentucky Beams went back east to Maryland before joining a group of Catholics who were migrating to Kentucky. Another Catholic family making that Maryland-to-Kentucky trek was mine, the Tuckers. (My paternal grandmother was a Tucker.)

These Catholics (along with the Mennonite Beams) would lay the foundations for Kentucky's whiskey industry in what came to be known as the Kentucky Holy Lands.

Back in Ohio, Beam’s Mill was the first in Richland County, but milling would come to be a key part of the local economy. At its zenith, Richland County had more than 180 gristmills, sawmills and linseed oil mills. Initially, Beam’s grist mill ground only corn, not wheat, although it too was grown in the area.

Beam could afford to specialize because in the beginning his was the only mill for miles around. During his busiest times, customers might have to wait 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 have to assume whiskey was also available to help pass the time. Frontier millers like Beam were typically paid for their services by keeping five to seven percent of the grain they milled for customers. But since everyone grew grain there wasn't much market for it, so most millers either kept livestock or distilled, or both. From what we know about this sort of frontier outpost, it probably offered a little of everything, serving both the sparse local community and travelers who might come through.  

We know whiskey was produced in the Mansfield area from the earliest days. Some of the evidence for that comes from an unlikely source.

Many of the early settlers in Richland County were Methodists and a Methodist preaching circuit was established in Ohio in 1802. While working that circuit in 1811, Rev. Elisha W. Bowman preached a sermon at Beam’s Mill, the first sermon preached in Richland County. Years later, Jacob Newman’s son recalled that, “in all there were about eight or ten persons including work hands” in attendance.

Later another circuit rider, Lemuel Lane, visited Mansfield and chose for his meeting place the town’s largest building, which happened to be William’s Tavern, “where they sold and drank whisky very free,” he recalled. Lane preached among the revelers for several nights but on Sunday morning he locked them out, much to their consternation.

Mansfield wouldn't get a dedicated house of worship until 1815, after the war. It was built by Rev. William B. James, a Methodist, and stood at the corner of North Adams and East Third Streets. Among the settlers who contributed to its construction were members of the Beam family.

Next time, in Part 3, Beam's Mill will play a role in the War of 1812.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 1)

The Blockhouse, South Park, Mansfield, Ohio (2009)
(This post, and several others to follow, will be more personal than usual and only peripherally about bourbon. You have been warned.)

I grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, the seat of Richland County. After college I moved away but visited often while my parents were alive, so until 2010. I still have friends and family there. 

In the summer of 2019 I attended my 50th high school reunion, at which I met the spouse of a classmate who just happened to have a notable surname: Beam. "No relation," he assured me. As I told him then, I knew there had been Beams in Mansfield in the early 19th century, but I didn't know if any were still around. I have subsequently learned that he is descended from the Beam family member the rest of this post is about.

Because this is a story about Jacob Beam, but not that Jacob Beam, the one who founded the Kentucky Beam distilling dynasty in the late 18th century. This is about Mansfield's Jacob Beam.

In his 1985 novel, The Tree of Life, Hugh Nissenson tells a story of the American frontier during the War of 1812. He set it in Mansfield, Ohio, and did extensive research to make it as historically accurate as possible. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. I recommend it. It is a quick read (159 pages in the edition I have) and satisfying on many levels.

The novel is in the form of a diary kept by one of the settlers, a former New England minister named Thomas Keene. In his book, Nissenson skillfully melds actual and fictional history. One of his minor characters is named Jacob Beam, one of the tiny community’s principal landowners and, more importantly, its sole miller. The protagonist, Keene, and the miller, Beam, are also two of the town’s distillers. The first page of Keene’s journal is an inventory of his possessions, followed by their worth, which includes:

1 hammered copper Still, well-tinned, of 27 ½ gall. ...................14.30
1 hammered copper Head, with pewter charging pipe, etc ...........4.30
1 set of maple Worm tubs, hickory hoops .....................................0.90
2 vials for testing whisky’s proof ..................................................0.30
6 bushels of malt ...........................................................................0.30

Later he adds: Bought of Barr & Keys, Chillicothe, 1 copper Worm, 6 convolutions, 2 ½ ft. long... $3.00

In another entry, Keene pays 28 cents to the Beam Mill for cracking 300 pounds of his corn into grist suitable for whiskey mash. Keene visits Beam’s Mill often. Selling whiskey he makes from the corn he grows is Keene’s principal occupation. He is also his own best customer. Many of his diary entries are the date and one word: “drunk.”

When relations with local Indians deteriorate, a defensive structure called a blockhouse is built at Beam’s Mill. 

When I read the novel, I assumed the author had picked the most famous frontier distiller and dropped him into Ohio instead of Kentucky. I was wrong. Both Jacob Beams were real. More about the Ohio one in Part 2.