Source: Memoirs of the Miami Valley (1920)
edited by John Calvin Hover, Joseph Daniel Barnes; Volume 2, pages 17-20;
Transcribed by Marla Zwakman
The success of Gen. St. Clair as governor of the whole Northwest Territory was doubtful inasmuch as his type of mind refused to grasp new conditions and meet new emergencies. The antagonism of politicians and land speculators with whom he had been compelled to deal inflexibly added to his conservative attitude in a country where only the opposite attitude was possible to advancement, spelled his rail. Ohio felt she needed the standing of a state and although the territory did not have the requisite population of sixty thousand measures were set in motion to that end. Gen. Worthington and Gen. Baldwin went to Washington to use their not inconsiderable influence, with the result that on April 30, 1802, congress passed the necessary enabling act to render Ohio a state. On November 1st of the same year, the first constitutional contention met at Chillicothe and adjourned on the 20th of the same month, having accomplished their object. The new constitution provided for the widest individual liberty and the least governmental power. It forbid slavery and proclaimed religious liberty. On March 1, 1803, the first state legislature met at Chillicothe and Ohio became a political area and a political fact. She was the seventeenth in the sisterhood of states and began her history with boundaries substantially the same as at present. Charles Willing Byrd discharged the duties of governor until the first regular state election took place.
Montgomery County was in 1804 the largest of the divisions in the Miami lands. In it were included the present counties of Preble, Darke, Mercer, Allen, Van Wert, Paulding, Williams, Fulton, Henry, Defiance, Putnam, Auglaize, Shelby and Miami . As the census increased and county business increased new boundaries had to be made and new county seats set up. At the time of the emergence of Ohio as a state, Montgomery County was six or seven times as large as it is now, taking in the areas of fourteen of our present counties. The sixth section of the Act of Congress which establishes Ohio as a state contained this clause: "The temporary seat of justice of Montgomery County shall be held at the house of George Newcom in the town of Dayton,” and thus established Dayton not merely as the geographical but the judicial center of the then great west As at present constituted Montgomery county is divided into fourteen townships, viz.: Washington, organized 1801; Miami, 1829; Van Buren, 1841; Mad River, 1841; Wayne, 1810; German, 1803; Jackson, 1814; Jefferson, 1805; Harrison, 1841; Madison, 1890; Perry, 1820; Butler, 1817; Randolph, 1804; Clay, 1825.
Of the areas of this county half of two townships and a fraction of a third drain to the Little Miami while the other parts of the county slope to the Great Miami.
The story of the settlement of Montgomery County has been often told and printed. In this place a mere condensation will suffice. When finally the peace treaty signed at Greenville following the victory of Gen. Wayne's forces over the Indians had given security to this valley the settlers began to push in search of homes. In the winter of 1795-6, after the preliminary survey by Dunlop and Van Cleve, a party was made up in Cincinnati to establish and occupy a town at the mouth of Mad River. In the spring, the party was divided in three parts, two of which started north with their wagons through the woods in the path surveyed by Dunlop, and one by river in a pirogue. All three arrived about the same time, the river party debarking at the head of Jefferson Street and proceeded to build a shack out of the remains of the boat and make themselves otherwise at home. This was April in 1796. Among these pioneer families were the Van Cleves, the Newcoms, the Thompsons, the Hamers, the Mercers, and the Davises, sixty in all. For five or six years the history of Dayton was the same as that of all pioneer settlements, hard living in a rough country, no roads, heavy woods to be felled, danger from wild animals and Indians, ague, cold winters and hot summers, work from sunrise to sunset and no money. The greatest difficulty did not arise from physical hardship but in that of uncertain title to property. At one time there only six families left in Dayton, the rest having moved away to where they could be sure of ownership to their homes, Daniel Cooper was the man who saved the day in early Dayton. He bought almost all the land there was in the new settlement and gave his purchasers good titles, then went to Cincinnati and settled it with the government at his own risk.
Then things began to move. In the winter of 1797 Dayton Township was formed. The name Dayton was given because, next to Symmes, Gen. Jonathan Dayton was the most prominent man in the negotiations that led to the original purchase. Its boundaries embraced all the territory between the Miami rivers from an east and west line through the middle of Washington and Miami townships to the Indian boundary line, including several whole counties and large portions of other counties. In March, 1803, the legislature enacted a law by which seven new counties were formed, four of them being taken from Hamilton and Ross counties, namely: Butler, Warren, Montgomery and Greene. Gen. Richard Montgomery, for whom the county was named; was an Irish officer in the British army and came to America in that capacity in 1754. When our troubles with the mother country began Gen. Montgomery took the part of the colonists, was commissioned by Congress, and had an honorable career in the Revolutionary War. In 1807 Montgomery County was reduced in size by the formation of Miami County out of its northern area. In 1806 it suffered a further reduction by the organization of Preble County.
Thus, while Montgomery county was at the time of the Dayton settlement a part of Hamilton county and later became the parent of three other entire counties, her boundaries were successively rearranged until they preserved approximately their present state.
The officers appointed for Dayton Township in 1799 were, Samuel Thompson, constable; J. McGrew, assessor, and John Ewing, collector. A new office was created for Dayton township— that of justice of the peace—to which D. C. Cooper was appointed. His docket, beginning Oct. 4, 1799, and closing March 15, 1803, is the earliest local official record in existence. The assessments for Dayton Township for 1799 were $233.72; of which the amount collected was $224.64.
In 1800 Jerome Holt was appointed constable of Dayton township, his duty being to "list the free male inhabitants of twenty-one years of age and older," for which service he was paid $19.50. In 1801 Benjamin Van Cleve was appointed surveyor for Dayton township, and took in $576.62 1/2. This tax list proved conclusively that as the population was increasing so rapidly Dayton township should be reorganized, which was done by a meeting at the house of George Newcom on the first Monday in April, 1802, when the first election was held. It resulted in the selection of a town clerk, several trustees, two overseers of the poor, three fence viewers, two appraisers of houses, and several road supervisors and constables. These officers served until the organization of Montgomery County, which took place, as has been told, the following year.
When Dayton became the county seat the entire population consisted of seven or eight men, six women and eight children, a total of a little over twenty persons. Of the scattered families living up and down the valley there is no record whatever. After the land question was satisfactorily settled the town increased rapidly.
The act of the legislature creating Montgomery County passed March 24, 1803, and on June 21 the first election was held, the occasion being that of deciding upon the first member of Congress from the new state. The candidates were Jeremiah Morrow, William McMillan, and William Goforth. The winning name was Jeremiah Morrow, who for the next ten years was Ohio's only representative in Congress and was one of the ablest public men of his day. The election was followed shortly by the convening of the Common Pleas court. Hon. Francis Dunlevy of Lebanon, president of the first judicial district, opened court with Benjamin Archer, John Ewing and Isaac Spinning as associate judges. The next year county commissioners were appointed and held their first session in June, 1804. In 1805 the town of Dayton was incorporated by an act of the Ohio legislature bearing the date Feb. 22, 1805. Credit for this was due to the activity of D. C. Cooper who was a member of the assembly at that time. The charter provided for the election of town officials, including a select council, provided for the place of meeting and ordered fines for anyone refusing to act as a city officer if elected. That same year the first court house was built on the site of the present one, the first jail was erected, the Dayton Library society was incorporated, and a flood eight feet deep swept over the center of town. In 1806 the first school was established, and in 1808 the Dayton academy was incorporated. In 1809 Robert Patterson built a fulling mill, and D. C. Cooper installed a carding machine. By this time there was one two-story brick store and dwelling on the corner of Jefferson and First streets belonging to H. G. Phillips; there was one drug store, one blacksmith shop, a cooper shop and a carpenter shop.
From such small beginnings has Montgomery county grown in the century and more since its settlement. At the present time within its four hundred and eighty square miles of territory it has a population estimated on the increase since the last census as two hundred thousand, with Dayton, its county seat, at one hundred and sixty thousand; with property valued at $261,824,700.