Saturday, July 11, 2009

HISTORIC CROXTON'S RUN




Every history has a starting point, and for Toronto, Ohio, it began at the mouth of Croxton's Run where the currents of time have eddied sometimes as violently as the jaded green currents flowing before it.
The stream defining Toronto's northernmost city limit was named after Abraham Croxton, a quaker and acquaintance of William Penn.  The colonial governor himself granted Croxton 400 acres on both sides of the Ohio River, part of which is present day new Cumberland where Croxton settled.  He and his wife Esther Dwyer had three children on the eastern shore of the Ohio, most notably son William, born in 1768.
The family remained in what was then Brooke County, Virgina, where young William grew up with ambition.  Across the river at the stream bearing the family name, William tapped into the abundance of virgin alluvial forest, dominated by silver maples several feet in diameter, their crowns towering more than 100 feet.  Although the red and sugar maples produce the best quality sap, the silver produces an acceptable one from which syrup (then called molasses) is made as well as sugar, candy and even alcoholic drink.
Croxton took his harvest across the river to his Black Horse Tavern, then a log cabin and one of the sites along which Indian agent and fur trader George Croghan stopped on his journeys down the Ohio River during the 1700s.
"We stopped at William Croxton's tavern, the sign of the Black Horse on the Virginia side," Croghan wrote in his journal,  "and got a bowl of excellent cider oil.  This is stronger than Madeira and is strained from the cider by suffering it to freeze in the cask during the winter, and then drawing off and barreling up the spiritous part which remains liquid."
The origin of the name Black Horse is uncertain.  One theory is that Black Horse is derived from Moses Morse, who was a painter of signs, all of which were known for having the image of a black horse on them, printed from a design cut in pasteboard.  The Morse story back then said that his road out from New England to the Ohio River could be traced all the way by the tavern signs he had painted, paying his traveling expenses.  Law back then required publicans and inn keepers to have emblems painted in fair letters suspended beside every business.
Croxton also had a sawmill and a gristmill on the Northwest Territory side of his property, these enterprises fraught with peril from indigenous tribes, who sometimes sought to slake their thirst from the cool spring bubbling from the hillside less than a quarter-mile from the Ohio River, the present day Spring Street eventually being named after the aquifer.
In his book, Greater Toronto 1899, G.H. Stoll wrote: "A further evidence that this section was a favorite hunting place as well as battle ground for numerous tribes of aborigines is the fact that thousands of flint arrow heads, battle axes and other weapons of warfare have been found here and can yet be found without difficulty."
As recently as 2008, excavation for a new home at the mouth of Croxton's Run produced Indian projectile points.
In 1787, a battle ocured there between 14 hunters from Fort Steuben seeking buffalo, and a band of Shawnees.  Ambushing at night, the Shawnees killed and scalped four hunters.  The surviving whites managed to reach their canoes at the mouth of Croxton's Run and escaped down the Ohio to the fort.
Three years later while a family and friends boiled sap at the sugar camp, two Wyandots and Mowhawk killed a Mr. Martin, abducting his nieces, Mary and Margaret Castleman, bartering and dispersing them to Indian villages bordering Lake Erie.
In 1792--the Indians escalating their bloody forays along the upper Ohio Valley--settlers organized to thwart the menace.  One of the outcomes of the Committee of Holliday's Cove (present day downtown Weirton) was the erecting of blockhouses at strategic points.
"Blockhouses are already erected, we mean, Sir, at Yellow Creek, Croxton's Run and the mouth of Herman's Creek," James Campbell of Holliday's Cove wrote Colonel Baird of the Virginia Militia.  "Men placed in these stations would, in our opinion, be the best mode of disposing them and most agreeable to the inhabitants."
The duration and fate of the Croxton's Run blockhouse is unrecorded, but most likely burned or disassembled for wood by the time Michael Myers assumed ownership of the property as a reward for his services as an Indian scout during the Revolutionary War.  In 1795, Croxton lost his property to Myers because he had failed to secure tenure and a land grant by notifying the government.
In addition to the natural resources on the Northwest Territory side, often referred to as the "right bank," the scenery itself was an attraction as written by Fowler.  "Croxton's Run has been treated kindly by nature and is a beautiful resort in summer, cooling breezes always floating down its valley, and this combined with its grassy bottoms, dense foliage and cozy corners, make it an ideal idling place."
Undoubtedly, Croxton and Myers knew each other.  During the war, Myers scouted the area from Mingo Bottoms to Yellow Creek.  Myers had to have known the local terrain well and his selection of the Croxton's run acreage was not a haphazard guess.
In 1774, Myers dispatched two Mingoes with his long rifle "Limber Jinney" at nearby Hollow Rock and a couple of days later fired upon a bateaux full of Indians crossing the Ohio River to investigate the massacre of Chief Logan's people at the mouth of Yellow Creek.  Myers also dropped an Indian sipping at Poplar Spring, located at the heart of downtown Toronto, and another at Deer Rock, at water's edge below the head of Brown's Island.  Obviously, Myers knew the local terrain well so that his selection of the Croxton's Run acreage was not a haphazard guess.
Scion's accounts of Michael Myers report that the patriarch and founding father of Toronto predecessor Newburg constructed grist and saw mills and a log cabin on the property opposite Gamble's Run, which, incidentally was the maiden name of William Croxton's wife Mary.  Myers also operated a ferry and a wharf opposite Croxton's Black Horse Landing.  Whether the two families competed, cooperated or became antagonistic to each other can only be a matter of speculation, although from the right bank the property was seldom called Croxton's Run, but rather "the Myers Mill down at the river, Sugar Camp and even "opposite Rambles Run," the last an obvious slur at the Croxton's in-laws.
The Croxton claims and competition eventually ended.  Mary Croxton left husband William and their six children for John Campbell, leading to an 1809 divorce.  Two years later, William Croxton resettled at Monroeville, Jefferson County, 15 miles northwest.
Two and one-half centuries after his father Abraham arrived, the Croxton name continues flowing through time as does its historic stream.  At the mouth is a large gravel bar called by the Army Corps of Engineers the Croxton Bar and just a pea gravel's throw downstream is the marker and light for Ohio River Mile 58.4, still referred today by riverboat pilots as Black Horse.