A tangible connection to my ancestors

I visited the federal land office in Steubenville in September and stood in a building where my ancestor bought his land. It was the first federal land office west of the Appalachians, and it still stands, behind the rebuilt Fort Steuben in downtown Steubenville, within sight of the Ohio River. The roof and floorboards have been replaced, but the structure otherwise is the original. I experienced no sense of connection to departed ancestors in that building, but it was meaningful to visit it. How often can a person stand in the same building a great-great-great-great-great-grandfather visited?
Three brothers, Joshua, Joseph and Caleb Whitacre, came to Columbiana County, Ohio, from Virginia in 1806 and 1807. They were members of the Society of Friends and came to Ohio from Loudoun County, Virginia, across the Shenandoah River from Harpers Ferry, having moved to Virginia from Bucks County, Pa. Joshua and Joseph purchased land at the federal land office — their land was located in Hanover Township near or under what is now Guilford Lake, which was built in 1834 as a reservoir for the Sandy and Beaver Canal and was enlarged in the 1930s. Caleb bought land near Lisbon, on Beaver Creek, north of the bridge on present U.S. Route 30 and west of town, from private citizens. Because Rachel Whitacre, granddaughter of Joseph, married her second cousin Caleb, grandson of Caleb, Whitacre brothers Joseph and Caleb are my great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers.
The land office is decorated with historical items of the time and a few items relating to land sales. The rebuilt Fort Steuben is a replica of the fort that was built in the late 1780s to protect surveyors who were laying out the Seven Ranges, the first part of Ohio to be surveyed, into townships and sections. The fort features a museum displaying a wealth of information on Indians, Ohio history, and the Lewis and Clark expedition, which passed Steubenville on the Ohio River on Sept. 6, 1803, on the way west. The fort is a square stockade with four blockhouses and several buildings that visitors can tour. It was named in honor of Baron Friedrich von Steuben, the Prussian Revolutionary War officer who drilled Continental soldiers into fighting shape, and the city was named for the fort. The fort hosts Ohio Valley Frontier Days in June, featuring reenactors, speakers, soldiers and musicians. See http://www.oldfortsteuben.com.
The land on which my house sits was also sold at the land office in Steubenville. When we refinanced our house in the 1990s, we were given the abstract, a document on legal size paper that shows the entire sales history of our lot from the first white settler to subdivision of the farm in the 1950s through all the owners of our house. The abstract states that Jacob Sell bought the deed for the southeast quarter of Section 11, Township 11, Range 8 in Stark County, which was signed by President Thomas Jefferson on Oct. 3, 1805, at Steubenville. I always wonder if presidents signed all those deeds or if they had an authorized secretary or a mechanical signature stamp to imprint deeds. I saw such a stamp from the mid-1800s recently at a museum, so it’s possible.
In 1854, Jacob Sell sold the land to John Sell for $2,100. John and Elizabeth Sell sold it to Mary Bard in 1865, except for three small tracts owned by others. Samuel and Mary Bard sold it in 1868 to John T. Warner, and John T. Warner sold it in 1873 to Abraham Welty. Abraham and Elizabeth Welty sold it to Manias Welty in 1874, and Manias Warstler sold it to Peter Graber in 1878 (a Graber owns a farm across the street). The abstract continues through decades of sales, including family squabbles, and records the J.C. Steiner Co. of Canton buying the land and the first owners of my house, a couple named Young, buying the lot from the J.C. Steiner Co. in 1959. I assume that Steiner was the company that developed the allotment.
What were the Youngs like? Were they a young couple embarking on a life together or buying their first new house? I can picture the new allotment when it was devoid of trees, when the sound of hammer and saw rang through the neighborhood as new houses were being built. I see it as a farm in the 1800s, when the main road was dirt, horses worked the farm and pulled wagons, and cows grazed by the creek. I see the land when the Sell family arrived, perhaps in a farm wagon, to confront a thick hardwood forest and a creek flowing through dense trees. And I see the federal land office in Steubenville where they bought their land, when Virginia lay across the Ohio River, the river crossing was made by boat, and my ancestors, a year after the Sells, headed into the new state of Ohio to become some of Columbiana County’s earliest settlers.

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