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A Brief History of Defiance

Defiance County has a long history of change and growth. From 1820, when the Ohio Legislature converted ceded Indian lands into fourteen districts, to March 4, 1845, when the bill establishing the present day County became law. The people of Defiance County, both then and now, have always dealt with the many challenges of establishing boundaries and local government.

Present day Defiance county is composed of twelve townships, Adams, Defiance, Delaware, Farmer, Hicksville, Highland, Mark, Milford, Noble, Richland, Tiffin and Washington cover 412 square miles. There are three incorporated villages, Hicksville, Ney and Sherwood, and the City of Defiance. There are a number of unincorporated areas.

Defiance County has always been a major transportation area. In 1845, a sophisticated canal system was completed, connecting Defiance County with Toledo, Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Railroads later replaced Defiance County boasts over 1,000 miles of quality paved county, city, village, township and state roads.

Today, Defiance County offers a variety of cultural opportunities from it's large, enclosed shopping and strip malls to the many quaint family-owned specialty shops. People come from all over the United States and Canada to enjoy the pleasant rural rolling farm land setting. From the rivers and waterways to the many church and community festivals, Defiance County offers a great family environment for residents and visitors alike.

The Great Black Swamp

The early settlers discovered that the area was as forbidding as its name indicated. It was covered roughly some 2,000 square miles and included parts of present-day Defiance County.

"The early settlers faced numerous hardships, not the least of which were the dense droves of disease-carrying mosquitoes. It is said that "swampland mosquitoes would settle on the back of a person’s neck so thickly that, in the process of shoving them away, he would draw back a bloody hand." In addition to the mosquitoes and the diseases they caused, early pioneer families faced other dangers. Wild wolves roamed the area in large packs. Few were fortunate enough to venture out alone without encountering one. Poisonous snakes abounded in the forests as well as other wild animals." Defiance City Historic Preservation Handbook

"A greater part of this county is covered by the famous "Black Swamp." This tract reaches over an extent of country of one hundred and twenty miles in length, with an average breadth of forty miles, about equaling in area to the state of Connecticut. It is at present thinly settled, and has a population of about 50,000; but, probably less than a century when it shall be cleared and drained, it will be the garden of Ohio, and support half a million of people. The surface is generally high and level, and "sustains a dense growth of forest trees, among which beech, ash, elm, and oak, cotton wood, and poplar, most abound. The branches and foliage of this magnificent forest are almost impenetrable to the rays of the sun, and its gloomy silence remained unbroken until disturbed by the restless country to travel through. The perfect uniformity of the soil, the level surface of the ground, alike retaining and alike absorbing water, has given to the forest a homogeneous character: the trees are all generally of the same height, so that when viewed at a distance through the haze the forest appears like an immense blue wall, stretched across the horizon. It is yet the abode of wild animals, where flocks of deer are occasionally seen bounding through its labyrinths. Throughout the swamp, a mile or two apart, are slight ridges of limestones, from forty rods to a mile wide, running usually in a westerly direction, and covered with black walnut, butternut, red elm, and maple. The top soil of the swamp is about a foot thick, and composed of black, decayed vegetable matter, extremely fertile. Beneath this, and extending several feet, is a rich yellow clay, having large quantities of the fertilizing substances of lime and silex. Lower still is a stratum of black clay of great depth. The water of the swamp is unpleasant to the taste, from containing a large quantity of sulphur; it is, however, healthy and peculiarly beneficial to persons of a costive habit, or having diseases of the blood. The soil is excellent for grain and almost all productions- garden vegetables and fruit thrive wonderfully. We were shown an orchard of apple trees, some of which had attained the height of twenty inches, which when first planted, five years since, were mere twigs, but a few feet in height, and no larger than one’s finger." Old Edition. Howe’s History of Ohio, 1846

Early Indian Councils

"AuGlaize and Grand Glaize were names given by the French to this place; and it is known by these names in all written and historical accounts relating to it, prior to the erection of Fort Defiance, Anthony Wayne, in August, 1794.

One of these early historical accounts speaks of a great council of all the Indian tribes being held at AuGlaize, in October 1792, and says it was the largest Indian council of the times. That the chiefs of all the tribes of the Northwest were here; and representatives of the Seven Nations of Canada, and of Twenty-seven Nations beyond Canada. That Cornplanter and forty-eight chiefs of the Six Nations of New York repaired thither. That three men of the Gora Nations were in attendance, whom it took a whole season to get there. "Besides these," says Cornplanter, "there were so many nations we cannot tell the names of them."

The question of peace or war was long and earnestly discussed, the chiefs of the Shawnees being for war, and Red Jacket, the Seneca Chief, for peace.  This convention represented a larger territory than any convention we have an account of before or since, being held on the American Continent. It seems to have been a natural intuition that led the red men of the forest to see that this was the strategic center of North America. And when the "Monroe Doctrine" shall extend our National Domain from the Artic Circle to the Isthmus of Darien, we will expect alike appreciation by the modern white men of that generation. In the year 1782, a remnant of the Moravian Christian Indians took refuge at Defiance after the massacre on the Muskingum. The good seeds sown by these Christians at that early day may in part account for the estimable habits and character of those Delawares, with whom young Brickell made his home, whilst in captivity; as well as for the Christian virtues that afterward distinguished so many living in that vicinity.

Blue Jacket, a noted war chief of the Shawnees, who held a commission as Brigadier General in the English Army, with a village of his people, was living on the east side of the Auglaize, and one mile from its mouth, in 1794. But Wayne’s triumphal march here and victory, on the 20th of August, 1794, gave the knell to all the villages clustered here, and they soon went to ruin."  1883 History of Defiance County

Oliver M. Spencer’s Description of Confluence 1792

"O.M. Spencer, the eleven-year-old Cincinnati boy, was taken in 1792, while a little way from home, by two Indians, His captor was a Shawnee, but he shortly transferred his rights to his companion, Wah-paw-waw-qua, or White Loon, the son of a Mohawk chief. At their arrival at the confluence of the Auglaize and the Maumee, after disposing of their furs to a British Indian trader, they crossed over to a small bark-cabin near its banks, and directly opposite the pint, and leaving him in charge of its occupant - an old widow, the mother-in-law of Wah-paw-waw-qua - departed for their homes, a Shawnee village, on the river about one mile below.

Cooh-coo-che, the widow in whose charge young Spencer had been left, was a princess of the Iroquois tribe. She was a priestess, to whom the Indians applied before going on any important war expedition. She was esteemed a great medicine woman.

The description of the settlement at that time is from the narrative of Spencer:

"On this high ground (since the site of Fort Defiance, erected by General Wayne in 1794), extending from the Maumee a quarter of a mile up the Auglaize, about two hundred yards in width, was an open space, on the west and south of which were oak woods, with hazel undergrowth. Within this opening, a few hundred yards above the point, on the steep high bank of the Auglaize, were five or six cabins and log houses, inhibited principally by Indian traders. The most northerly, a large hewed log-house, divided below into three apartments, was occupied as a warehouse store and dwelling by George Ironside, the most wealthy and influential of the traders on the point. Next to his were the houses of Pirault (Pero), a French baker, and M’Kenzie, a Scot, who, in addition to merchandising, followed the occupation of a silversmith, exchanging with the Indians his brooches, ear-drops, and other silver ornaments, at an enormous profit, for skins and furs. Still farther up were several other families of French and English; and two American prisoners, Henry Ball, a soldier taken at St. Clair’s defeat, and his wife, Polly Meadows, captured at the same time, were allowed to live here, and by labor to pay their masters the price of their ransom; he by boating to the rapids of the Maumee, and she by washing and sewing. Fronting the house of Ironside, and about fifty yards from the bank, was a small stockade enclosing two hewed log houses, one of which was occupied by James Girty (brother of Simon), the other, occasionally, by M’Kee and Elliott, British Indian agents, living at Detroit.

From this station I had a fine view of the large village more than a mile south, on the east side of the Auglaize, of Blue Jacket’s town, and of the Maumee river for Several miles below, and of the extensive prairie covered with corn, directly opposite, and forming together a very handsome landscape."

Young Spencer was redeemed from captivity on the last day of February, 1793, and through the solicitation of Washington to the governor of Canada. The latter instructed Col. Elliott, the Indian Agent, to interpose for his release. He was taken down the Maumee in an open pirouge, thence paddled in a canoe by two squaws along the shore of Lake Erie to Detroit. His route thence was by Lake Erie in a vessel to Erie, Pennsylvania to Cincinnati. The distance was 2,000 miles, and such the difficulties to be overcome that two years were consumed in the journey; but for the protecting auspices of those highest in authority it could not have been accomplished at all." Howe’s History of Ohio, 1889

Biographical Sketch of General Wayne

"General Anthony Wayne was born at Waynesborough, Chester County, Penn., January 1, 1745. After his school days were over he became a surveyor and paid some attention to civil engineering. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War he became a member of a committee of safety, and raised a regiment of volunteers, of which he was appointed colonel. His regiment was sent to Canada, where he covered the retreat of the Porvincial forces at Three Rivers. He commanded at Ticonderoga until 1777, when he was made a Brigadier General. He rendered valuable services throughout the war, and particularly distinguished himself at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. His storming and capture of Stony Point, a strong fortress on the Hudson, July 15, 1779, was a most brilliant exploit. After the Revolution he engaged in farming and building roads and canals until 1792, when he was commissioned a Major-General and called to take charge of the expedition heretofore described in these pages. His success over the Indians on the Maumee and the treaty of Greenville, in August, 1795, are said to be the crowning acts of his life. On the following year he was appointed sole agent or commissioner on the part of the United States to treat with Indians of the Northwest and to give up. This important duty having been promptly discharged, he started for his home, but was taken suddenly sick and after a few days’ illness, died December 14, 1796; aged 51 years, 11 months and 13 days. In a little grass-grown and shaded nook, near Lake Erie’s lonely shores, with much sorrow, the mortal part of Anthony Wayne, the founder of Fort Defiance, was laid to rest. The remains were exhumed some years later afterward and re-entered in the family cemetery near his childhood home." Indian Wars

The Indian Wars, 1790-1795

"When American pioneers attempted to settle the area north and west of the Ohio River, following the Northwest Ordinance (1787), the Indians, aided by the British of Canada, fought valiantly and fiercely for their homes in the Ohio County. They set the frontier aflame and it required the efforts of three American armies to break the Indian resistance to American occupation. The first Army (d1790) under General Josiah Harmar met defeat at the Miami Town (Fort Wayne, Indiana). The second (1791) under Gov. Arthur St. Clair was surprised and repulsed with severe losses on the banks of the Wabash (Fort Recovery, Ohio). Finally, in 1794 under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne victory was achieved at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which resulted in the Treaty of Green Ville (August 3, 1795) placing Indians under the control of the United States.

During the spring and summer of 1794 Wayne’s Legion had a difficult march north thru Indian towns on the Maumee River. On August 8, 1794, they arrived at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee rivers. Here vegetables of every kind grew and no less than one thousand acres of corn. The land was level and the river navigable. On August 9, 1794 work was started on the Fort and completed by the 17th. Wayne surveyed the land and declared to Gen. Scott; " I defy the English, Indians, and all the devils of hell to take it." This area became Fort Defiance. Even with a variety of hardships the fort was an active place until after the signing of the Treaty of Green Ville. Eventually it was regularly visited by many traders. The confluence was a white man’s reservation in Indian territory.

Though constructed in eight days, and with such rude implements and materials as were at hand, engineers have pronounced it by far the strongest fort built during the many years of Indian warfare. The annexed description is found in the memoranda of Benjamin Van Cleve, having been communicated to the American pioneer by his son, John W. Van Cleve, of Dayton. "At each angle of the fort was a block-house. The one next to the Maumee had port holes on the three exterior sides, and a door and chimney on the side facing to the interior. There was a line of pickets on each side of the fort, connecting the block-houses by their nearest angles. Outside the pickets, and around the block-houses was a glacis, a wall of earth eight feet thick, sloping upward from the foot of the pickets, supported by a log wall on the side of the ditch, and by fascines, a wall of fagots, on the side of the ditch, on the side next to the Auglaize. The ditch, fifteen feet wide and eight feet deep, surrounded the whole work, except on the side toward the Auglaize. The ditch, fifteen feet wide and eight feet deep, surrounded the whole work, except on the side toward the Auglaize; and diagonal pickets, eleven feet long and one foot apart, were secured to the log wall, and projected over the ditch. There were two gateways; there was a falling gate or draw bridge, across the ditch, which was raised and lowered by pulleys. Two lines of pickets converged toward a ditch eight feet deep, by which water was procured from the river without exposing the carrier to the enemy. Within the fort were officers’ quarters and store-houses." Defiance County History, 1883

Fort Defiance

"For the 100th anniversary of Fort Defiance, a replica of the original fort was built. It was a log fort and farmers, individuals, organizations and business firms sponsored logs to go into the restoration. All together 553 logs were donated. The blockhouses and barricades were restored in exact duplication of the old fort that stood there in 1794. John H. Kiser, of the firm of Cowin and Kiser, was superintendent of construction. After the centennial the blockhouse stood on the fort grounds for several years but too much vandalism made it necessary for it to be torn down. All that remains now are the embankments.

The Fort Defiance ground were chosen in 1904 as the site of the Defiance Public Library. Action of property owners on the west side of Washington Ave. in 1925 resulted in the city’s acquisition of Auglaize River frontage from the fort point to the Fort Winchester Bridge, including a portion of the ground covered by Fort Winchester. The concrete retaining wall around the point was constructed in 1925-26 by the State of Ohio at a cost of $26,000 as a means of halting erosion, which had greatly reduced the original area.

A granite marker with bronze plaque was placed on the fort grounds in 1925 by the Daughters of the American Revolution and in 1937-38, city and county park boards cooperated in placing a number of smaller granite boulders with inscriptions indication the positions of outstanding features of the fort. In 1940, a granite boulder was placed marking the location of the original Fort Defiance flagstaff, used as the starting point for surveying all land north of here to the international boundary. The Fort Defiance Chapter of The D.A.R. placed a large plaque on the fort grounds in 1953; it contains the history of the fort and the Indian War 1790-95." Defiance County History, 1976

The Canal

"Talk of canals in Ohio has begun with news of the first successes of the Erie Canal in New York State. After much surveying and discussion the decision was made by the State Legislature to build two main canals. The most westerly was to be known as the Miami and Erie and would connect Cincinnati with Lake Erie. By 1837 it was known in Defiance that the route would pass through the village proposed by Wabash and Erie Canal of the Indiana system. There was great rejoicing and many proud boasts of future growth although this proved somewhat premature as canal building was a slow process. Hundreds of men dug and chopped and wheeled earth about, but it was not until 1843 that the waterway was opened by Toledo to Ft. Wayne and not until 1845 that the section south of Junction was completed through dense stands of trees. In that year it was possible for a Defiance resident to take a boat to Toledo, Ft. Wayne, Dayton, or Cincinnati. Truly the city was now connected to the rest of the world. Defiance found great benefits from the new canal. While it was being built quite a number of villagers were employed to cut timber south of town for the six locks in or close to town. Most of the locks in the early years were wooden being replaced with stone in later years. Some citizens built and/or operated boats in the canal. Because of the length of time it took to lock boats through at Defiance, local tavern keepers prospered as boat crews had liquor breaks. Industry began to appear along the canal also. The available water power stimulated industrial growth in most canal towns. Furthermore, farmers brought their produce from miles around to be shipped by canal and new warehouses were built to hold this trade. The waterway through the heart of the city became the liveliest part of town. The major drawback to canal operation was the winter weather, which brought a halt to navigation. In spite of this the canal was good for Defiance. Population went from a little over 400 when the canal opened in 1842 to around 1000 by 1860, and business and industry expanded at an even greater rate. Yet it was only about a ten year period that the canal alone really caused this boom. A newer and faster means of transportation was to appear in the 1850’s. The railroad era was at hand.

The new railroad quickly took almost all of the passenger traffic from the canal and much of the freight. Yet the waterway continued in use for years as a carrier of bulk products, rafts of logs and as a source of water power of industry. The latter use gradually yielded to steam and the aspect of the canal grew drearier as the years went past. By the turn of the century, very little business moved by the canal and towns people were complaining of the waterway as an open sewer and an inconvenience. Yet the canal era wasn’t quite over. In 1908, for a number of reasons, the state legislature authorized the expenditure of $500,000 to refurbish the system and get it back into operation. In Defiance that meant the bed and some repair work on the "mule" bridge over the Maumee. Within a year the work was completed, but very little business returned, only a few rafts of logs came down and perhaps one or two boats. The flood of 1913 wrote the finish to the system in Defiance and throughout the state. In 1917, the bridges over the waterway were removed and the work filling the old canal beds was begun. There are few evidences of the existence of the canal in downtown Defiance today unless one looks carefully.

Only two of the four Canal Locks within the City of Defiance are available to public access. One may be viewed from South Jackson and the other from Terrawanda Drive. The southern support for Canal Mule Bridge across the Maumee River may be viewed from the Clinton Street Bridge. The other two locks have been covered over by parking lots.

The Lock Keeper’s House from South Jackson Street may be seen at the AuGlaize Village Farm Museum.

State Route 424 and the Independence State Dam Park affords the best viewing of a section of water thatfilled Miami & Erie Canal. The State Park contains a canal lock and has a three mile hiking along the canal tow path." Defiance’s Colorful Past by Dr. Robert B. Boehm

Fort Winchester 1812

"October 15th, 1812, General Winchester simply noted in a letter to Governor Meigs, "At this place a picketed post with four block houses, two stone houses and house for the sick, will be finished this day."

Fort Winchester was styled a beautiful fort by William Atherton who was present at its construction. It was built along the high, steep, west bank of the Auglaize River. Beginning about at First Street (south of the ruins of Fort Defiance), Fort Winchester extended southward to, or beyond Third Street, over six hundred feet, its east line approximately in Washington Street, and its west side approximately in Jefferson Street, the palisades enclosing three acres or more of land. Strong two story block houses stood at each of its four corners, at midway at each wall was a large gate topped with a sentinel house. All were connected by a 12 to 15 foot high wall of pointed upright logs. Under the northeast corner block house a cellar and passage extended on to the rockbed of the Auglaize River. The passage was protected by logs and opened on the river.

Fort Winchester was commanded by Generals Winchester and Harrison during the War of 1812 and abandoned by United States troops in the spring of 1815.

As late as April 1, 1825, when seventeen families arrived at Defiance by wagon, some used the fort as their first home." Louis A. Simonis

Johnny Appleseed French-Indian Apple Tree

Johnny Appleseed was born in Leominster, Mass., and died in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he is buried. With flowing hair, burlap coffee bag dress and thin pan hat, he was a picturesque frontier figure as he distributed apple seedlings and Swedenborg religious tracts. He had a nursery along the north bank of the Maumee River. Near by is a granite marker, erected by the Defiance Parks Board. The inscription to "Johnny Appleseed Chapman-Benefactor" gives the life span of the eccentric pioneer’s life, 1774-1845, and the years during which he made Defiance one of his principal headquarters, 1811-28.

When the famous tree planter reached the Maumee country from central Ohio. He found a row of giant apple trees already growing on the north bank of the river, opposite the mouth of the Auglaize. These trees were planted by French missionaries and traders during the French dominion on the lakes, and cared for afterwards by the Indian trappers and traders. The fruit of these trees was better than that of the so-called natural trees of the present time; they grew larger, and had a more agreeable taste. The stocks were more like the forest trees; higher to the branches and longer to the limbs. The "County History" of 1883 stated, "Defiance has been famed for the possession of a monstrous apple tree. Strangers have seldom failed to visit it, to measure its proportions, and speculate upon its age and origin. It stands on the narrow bottom, on the north side of the Maumee, and nearly opposite the old fort. It has never failed, in the knowledge of present settlers, in producing a crop of very excellent apples." This proved that the soil was good for apple trees, so Johnny established a large nursery close by. For shelter he used a hollow sycamore tree—13 feet in diameter-in the adjacent Shawnee Glenn.

One of Johnny’s biggest nurseries was a mile west of the first, along the Tiffin river, near its confluence with the Maumee. From this nursery in 1828 he transplanted several thousand seedlings to land opposite Snaketown (now Florida) ten miles east along the Maumee. Most of the early orchards in Defiance, Paulding, and Henry counties were started with seedlings from Appleseed nurseries along the Maumee.

Johnny Appleseed was accepted by the white man as an eccentric benefactor and by the Indians as a medicine man. The red men believed his head had been touched by the Great Spirit, so he was to be protected against all harm. And a medicine man he was, for besides apple trees, he planted mint, garlic, pennyroyal and other medicinal herbs, which to this day can be found growing wild along the streams near his nurseries. The famed apple tree was destroyed by a gale in the fall of 1886. It was judged to be 150 years old, and had in some season produced 200 bushels of apples.


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