A log cabin, depicted in a 19th-century print. Library of Congress

On the first day of 1890, Hannah Plummer died in her home on Plum Creek in Kansas.

Plummer had been a faithful wife, loving mother and a soul about whom “gossip has naught to say,” the Phillipsburg Herald noted in its next edition.

Born in the town of Phillips in Franklin County, Maine, Plummer moved west to Ohio before journeying on to Iowa, then Nebraska and, finally, settling for good in Kansas.

“Her lot was cast with the vanguard of civilization in its constant westward march,” the newspaper said. Her life, it said, “has been that of the pioneer.”

Plummer’s odyssey matched one chosen by tens of thousands in the first half of the 19th century who headed west in search of a better life on the frontier, where both risks and rewards were substantially higher than the hard life they knew in New England.

For five years, just before Maine became a state in 1820 and for a couple of years afterward, something residents called “the Ohio Fever” swept through many communities, with whole families packing up and heading off with high hopes toward the western wilderness.

As many as 15,000 Mainers joined the exodus, observers estimated. That was about 5% of the Pine Tree State’s population at the time.

The weather had a lot to do with it.

A drawing from Massachusetts in 1816 of children dressed for cold in the summertime. Bowdoin College

A late-season snowstorm in Maine on May 19, 1815, pushed back planting season sharply, crimping harvests, while 1816 brought the legendary “year without a summer” in the wake of the explosion of Mount Tambora in present-day Indonesia.

The volcano’s debris blocked off the sun to such a degree that ice formed on the apple blossoms in May, freezing temperatures lasted well into the summer, and winter returned in early October with a major storm, leaving a disturbingly short growing season.

A log cabin in 19th-century America. Library of Congress

When 1817 started off cold and gloomy as well in Maine, lots of frustrated farmers began seriously eyeing newly available land in Ohio. They’d had enough.

Many in Franklin County, especially from farms in New Sharon and Phillips, decided to get out for good, according to a history of the county written by Francis Gould Butler in 1885.

Some of the most successful farmers left “to follow the westward star of empire,” Butler said, and sold their farms, packed their goods and said goodbye to friends far and near who came to wish them well.

Tannery owner Jonathan Hopkinson, for example, was 38 and a much-esteemed resident of Franklin, where he’d lived since he married Sarah Tufts in 1805.

That year, the pair packed up their possessions and “standing by the side of his wagon, whip in hand,” Hopkinson said goodbye to weeping friends and family.

His wife’s stepmother, Hettie Tufts, tried to cheer everybody up.

“Well, I suppose Hopkinson may as well go to heaven by way of Ohio as any other way,” she said, according to Butler’s history.

MAINEVILLE, OHIO

It should surprise nobody, given its name, that the tiny Ohio town of Maineville was settled by folks from Maine.

A 1950 history of Maineville by Robert Brenner and Ruth Moss Greely noted “the early settlers of the town left Maine because they were tired of shoveling snow seven months of the year.”

Maineville village flag adopted by the Ohio village in 1994.

“The memory of the severe winters” back in Maine “was reflected in the construction of enclosed passageways between house and barn” that was perhaps unnecessary in southern Ohio, Brenner wrote.

The village of Maineville, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, is today “a sleepy little town now on the edge of suburbia,” current resident Eric Minamyer told the Sun Journal recently.

Doug Moore, a 78-year-old resident, said the village itself has “remained the same in appearance” his entire life, though the surrounding area has grown as people come for its school, churches, sports and nearby King’s Island amusement park.

Over the years, Moore said, Maineville has been blessed with leaders who have proven “willing to make difficult choices,” perhaps a legacy of early settlers who “set a tone of hard work and vision,” including their “good decision on their location to settle.”

Moore said when he travels, people never know anything about Maineville, which doesn’t bother him at all.

“Anonymity can be a blessing,” he said.

MAINE PIONEERS IN OHIO

The area’s first settlers arrived in 1815, with the initial log cabin erected by a blacksmith named Carr who specialized in making axes, a helpful tool in a region that consisted mostly of trees.

That same year, a Free-Will Baptist minister, Elder Moses Dudley, moved in as well, bringing his family with him from Phillips, including his wife, the former Sarah Greeley from Hallowell. Dudley owned 300 acres south of what became Maineville Road and constructed the first frame house in the town.

Three more families arrived in 1819 from Maine, including Seth and Jane Greeley from Farmington. Their eldest son would one day serve as Maineville’s first mayor.

An ox team pulling a wagon in the 1800’s. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

They must have liked what they found in Ohio because three years later, Dr. John Cottle, who had practiced in Farmington for eight years, decided to follow his former neighbors to the new state. By 1821, he’d built the first brick house in Maineville from the hard clay of the region, dug on his own property.

In 1822, Benjamin and Mehitable “Hettie” (Greeley) Tufts also arrived from Phillips and built a Cape Cod-style house across the road from Dudley. With them were three sons and three daughters.

They settled on “a rather sorry-looking tract” full of swamp bushes and hazel that required extensive work to remove, said Jay Franklin Tufts in a family history book self-published in 1963. They were able to farm the land but also manufactured bricks to sell with some success.

People arrived there in those early years from the Maine towns of Phillips, Leeds, Gray, Winthrop, Farmington and more. Many of them were related to one another by kinship or marriage.

In memory of the settlers’ native state, the growing little village called itself Yankeetown or Maineville. When formally incorporated three decades later, its residents chose the name Maineville.

Many of those pioneer families still have descendants in Maineville, Minamyer said, though he thinks their ancestors came for the fertile soil rather than escaping winters, since he thinks Ohio’s “are not much better.”

Maineville was hardly the only spot that attracted fleeing Mainers. Nearby towns also attracted plenty of them.

Hopkinsville, where Jonathan and Sarah Hopkinson settled, is just a mile to the north of Maineville — so close that a boardwalk connected the two towns during mud season so people could avoid the muck and roaming hogs.

Snowbound farm in Ross County, Ohio, not far from Maineville. Library of Congress

CREATING A HOME IN OHIO

Trying to create a home in the wilderness was easier said than done.

An 1882 history of Warren County, Ohio, where Maineville is located, said the labor involved in “opening a farm in a forest of large oaks, maples and hickories was very great and the difficulty was increased by the thick growing spice bushes” that dotted the region.

“Not only were the trees to be cut down,” it said, “the branches were to be cut off from the trunk and, with the undergrowth of bushes, gathered together for burning.”

Tree trunks were sliced into sections, rolled into heaps and set ablaze, the book said, such that hard labor by a single settler could clear and burn about an acre every three weeks.

“It usually required six or seven years for the pioneer to open a small farm and build a better house than his first cabin of round logs,” it said.

After Samuel Cain, another pioneer from Maine, got established in Ohio, he drove the same wagon and oxen team he’d used to reach the frontier back to the Pine Tree State to fetch his young wife. The round trip took him four months, the Maineville history volume recorded.

When the Greeleys made a trip back to Maine once, they brought back a teen named Dudley Moss, the book also noted, who saw so many wild squirrels on the journey that he feared they would attack the travelers’ horses.

A pioneer home in southern Ohio in the early 1800s. The History of Warren County, Ohio

TUFTS IN MAINE

When British troops occupied Boston in 1775, Francis Tufts fought at Dorchester Heights as part of George Washington’s new army, serving three short tours of duty after the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord – including marching north with Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec.

Signing on later for the war’s duration, Tufts kept the orderly book for the Massachusetts 8th Regiment, now in New York’s Huntington Library, from 1778 until the British surrender in Yorktown, apparently serving as the commander’s adjutant at Valley Forge and at battles across New Jersey and New York.

But in between, in 1776, probably after the English sailed away from Boston in March, Tufts and his wife, the former Sarah Blunt, left Massachusetts and headed with several other families to Nobleboro, Maine, in Lincoln County, determined to make a new life for themselves a little further from the chaos of the Revolution.

At war’s end, Tufts wound up in Farmington, exploring the woods until he found a place nearby that he liked enough to buy the land and build a log cabin, a little place far from the rumble of cannons or the scrambling of crowds. He lined it with elm bark.

Writing years later, Butler said that Franklin County’s pioneers “were generally men in the prime of manhood’s strength, and with vigorous blows leveled the forests and brought under cultivation a virgin soil, the fruits of which furnished abundant sustenance for all.”

“Amid the curling smoke and dying flame, they erected their log cabins and hovels, and thither conducted in triumph through the wilderness their wives and children,” he said.

After Tufts prepared the way, his wife soon joined him, with their children safely ensconced in carriers made of willows and reeds. They brought little more than their bedding, Thomas Parker wrote in his 1846 history of Farmington.

They all knew that dangerous, difficult work lay ahead if they were to survive in what was still wilderness.

The town of Phillips’ website said that farming “was the principal occupation of the first inhabitants of this region” and life “extremely hard. Clearing the primeval woods, erecting cabins for shelter, and persuading the land to yield enough annually to sustain the family through the winter was indeed rugged work.”

“The most successful settlers,” it added, “were those who brought plenty of help along.”

Tufts became one of the area’s richest men, farming at first and then erecting a mill at Farmington Falls in 1788. Seven years later, the Free Will Baptist Church in Farmington ordained him as a minister.

In 1800, he put up a combination saw and gristmill at the lower falls of the Sandy River in Phillips. By 1810, he had a 2.5-story, brick, Federal-style mansion that’s now on the National Register of Historic Places whose walls were constructed from bricks he fired himself.

The Francis Tufts house in Farmington. Maine Historic Preservation Committee

One of the rooms inside is reputed to have been set aside for “Old Caesar,” a “gentle and faithful” old man of African descent who had spent much of his life enslaved by the family until a Massachusetts court ruling in 1783 set the stage to free him. He stayed with the Tufts until a falling tree killed him in 1817, according to Jay Franklin Tufts’ research.

Tufts continued to live in Farmington until after the death of his second wife in 1830, when he began thinking of joining a daughter and two of his sons in Maineville.

GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE

Getting from Farmington to Maineville is a 16-hour drive today, slowed only by occasional highway congestion and the necessity of pit stops for gasoline and sustenance.

But in those days, traversing a thousand miles took quite a bit more than following the directions offered by a cellphone app. Before trains, planes and automobiles, weeks of hard travel faced anyone wanting to make the trip.

Brice Hilton, depicted in “Addresses, Memorials and Sketches Published by the Maumee Valley Pioneer Association,” published in 1899.

Late in his life, Brice Hilton described the journey he made as a boy with his family from Maine to Ohio in 1817 in an account preserved by the Maumee Valley Pioneer Association.

His family owned a grist and a sawmill in Somerset County, he remembered, but a flood wiped them out that spring, the second time it had happened in just a few years.

Discouraged, Hilton’s parents decided they might have better luck in Ohio. Besides, Hilton remembered, his father got bad sore throats each winter and he worried he might die from one, as his own dad had.

Hilton’s parents, their five children and a handful of others departed in September in a wagon pulled by three horses. They took almost nothing with them except clothing, Hilton said.

Along the way, his brother fell in front of the wagon and its wheel cut right across his arm, he remembered, a potentially fatal error. Fortunately, the road was so muddy it merely pushed the arm down into the mud without severe injury.

Another time, after their silver coins had run out, Hilton said, his father tried to buy oats from a farmer with foreign gold coins. But when neither of them could figure out the gold’s worth, the farmer decided to give away the oats since he didn’t really need them.

The family sheltered in farmhouses and taverns along the way, Hilton said, never needing to camp outdoors.

When Tufts decided to quit his longtime home in Maine, he made the journey on horseback in the company of a friend, millwright Samuel Knowlton, whose father planted the area’s first apple orchard.

The two men, along with Knowlton’s family, departed on Sept. 1, 1831. They had two one-horse wagons and a two-horse one, along with clothing, bedding and utensils.

On the road, they saw an enormous number of logs floating down the Androscoggin River, fine oxen in Saco, some troublesome fords on mountain streams in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and much more.

Traveling daily except on the Sabbath, when Tufts often preached at nearby churches, the settlers arrived near Maineville more than five weeks after they set out.

Knowles wanted to stop for the night a little short of their destination, but Tufts pleaded to continue.

“I’ve come almost a thousand miles to see my family,” he told Knowles. “I am most anxious to continue, if agreeable to you folks. This fine moonlit night is hard to resist.”

Sometime after midnight, Tufts knocked on the door of his son’s home, where a joyful reunion followed on Oct. 13 after 39 days of travel.

A sign welcoming people to Maineville, Ohio. Maineville’s Facebook page

TUFTS IN MAINEVILLE

In Maineville, Tufts must have told stories, caught up with family and friends he hadn’t seen in years and watched settlers in Ohio follow a pattern that must have seemed familiar to him from his own efforts decades earlier.

When the old soldier who helped forge two communities in Franklin County finally died at the age of 89 in Maineville, he was laid to rest in the cemetery of a church his children helped create.

A carved slab of stone erected over his grave identified him as the Rev. Francis Tufts, gave his age, and then added one more crucial fact about him.

Though raised in Medford, Massachusetts, the state where he married and for which he fought in the long, bloody war, the tombstone showed what mattered most to him.

It said, speaking to eternity, “A native of Maine.”

A button issued by the Village of Maineville for its bicentennial celebration in 2015.


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