Home Sources Contact Me Other Sites
Sherman Excerpt
Thomas' Life ] Photo Album ] Stanbery Memorial ] [ Sherman Excerpt ]

The following is an excerpt from the book Sherman: Fighting Prophet, by Lloyd Lewis, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Abt 1930.  






"DEATH bells."

The little boy whispered the words to himself as he stepped outside the picket gate and listened. He looked across the clearing, with its many stumps, to where the hazel thickets hid the feet of tall trees. The sound came from there-a faint silvery ringing which the old folks said was made by death bells, ghost voices calling truant children to destruction. Behind him, from among the log cabins that clustered about the blockhouse, there rose the friendly hum of a spinning wheel ... and the boy scampered back through the gate to safety.

Thomas Ewing, who had come with his parents into the wilderness of the Northwest Territory two years before, was not one, at the age of five, to suspect that his elders would throw false mystery about the janglings of distant cowbells. Inside his big head, so black with hair, ran solemn thoughts. Never would he be imagining things, but always putting two and two together. And a little later in that summer of I794, the cowbells and the death bells came together in his mind.

Through the days of August his father and other men of the garrison showed him that they too were afraid to enter the hazel thickets. They stood in the clearing calling in vain for the cows to come home. Sometimes the animals could be heard lowing near the forest’s edge, but they would not come near enough to be milked. The boy heard his elders say that Indians were in the woods and that it was dangerous for any white person to be abroad.

One old man of the garrison, however, announced that he must go on a pressing errand to the larger fort at Waterford, three miles through the wilderness. Every one of the thirty persons in the blockhouse begged him not to risk it. The little boy’s father, George Ewing, lately an ensign in George Washington’s army, argued with the old man, and when he saw that it was no use, said: "Well, then, bring me some turnip seed." Hours later, two booms came from the woods and the old man’s son, sitting with his gun in his hand, leaped to his feet, crying: "That’s the crack of Father’s rifle!" and ran out. In fifteen minutes he was back saying that the Indians had lured his father into an ambuscade by tinkling a cowbell and had killed him. So cowbells and death bells were the same!

The next day the small boy stared at four men carrying the corpse home on a litter of poles. Through the green beech leaves that covered the body the scalped head of the dead man shone crimson. In the t old gentleman's pocket were found Lieutenant Ewing’s turnip seeds, wrapped in a rag.

The whole affair was a great thing for a boy to remember--and life in the blockhouse was exciting, too. One of the big boys read aloud from a book of songs about a woodsman named Robin Hood, and one song in particular, the tale of how Robin Hood tricked Aylmer the Bishop, stuck in Thomas Ewing’s mind. "I had it at once by rote," he afterwards recalled, "and went about, a big-headed little wonder, reciting it. The young men gave me the sobriquet of 'the Bishop’--I wore a hunting-shirt which my brother George had outgrown which reached to my ankles and was the Bishop’s cloak. I wore the sobriquet but not the cloak for more than twenty years."

For all the fun in the fort, the small Bishop was glad when his family left the garrison the following spring and moved to a cabin in a clearing across the woods. There was no more danger from Indians; everybody said so. A great soldier, Mad Anthony Wayne, had whipped the redskins in battle and brought peace to the Northwest Territory.

Once the Bishop’s father kept him all night at an Indian camp, where after a bashful hour or two the white boy warmed toward the little savages and raced and wrestled with them happily. He could outrun them and throw them but they could climb trees much more rapidly than he. Coming to the wigwams for supper, he felt his stomach turn as he saw the red women cooking puppies in a pot. He sat outside in the firelight, a miserable little figure, while the others ate. By the embers, later that evening, he saw his father smoking tobacco with the young chief, White-Eyes, and he heard them talk about old times when both had fought against King George. Next day, going home, his father had told him that White-Eyes was a graduate of a college named Dartmouth and that even yet he read Greek books in the wilderness. Always the Bishop would remember White-Eyes’s wife, a half-breed of fifteen, brown and beautiful in a black silk robe with silver brooches.

As the Indians grew friendly, so life became richer for the Olive Green Creek garrison in whose neighborhood the Ewings still lived. For one thing, salt appeared in the food they ate. Ever since the first white men had come to the Muskingum River Valley, they had been forced to travel two hundred miles back across the Ohio River and the mountains to Chambersburg·, Pennsylvania, for the salt which merchants would trade for ginseng and furs at the rate of from $5 to $8 a bushel. It was slow, hard work packing it home on horses. Somewhere in the Muskingum Valley the Indians had a salt spring, but no settler had ever found it. Now, however, with the end of the fighting, a strange Indian came out of the forest to say that he was a white man released from long captivity and that in return for shelter he would tell where the secret springs might be found. George Ewing, Jr., was one of the men who followed the guide into the forest to establish the camp where four men, working seven days and nights, could boil down six bushels of salt in their sugar-water pots.

Never would Thomas Ewing forget the "exquisite relish" that this salt brought to his food, and from the day when, as a boy of fourteen, he would first go to work for himself until his death he would keep his hand, one way or another, in the making of salt.

The year that he was six, 1795, the Bishop learned to read, his elder sister teaching him between her turns at the spinning wheel. Watts's psalms and hymns, and Flavel's sermons he could not understand, but the stories in the Bible, for all their unpronounceable names, seemed as bright as the bonfires that boys were allowed to touch off when the men were clearing new ground. The Gospels in particular haunted the little Bishop. It was both puzzling and marvelous to read about the man who lived four different lives and was crucified each time; and it was disappointing to learn from one's father that they were only four different stories about the same life and the same crucifixion.

More books came into the youth's small hands in the autumn of 1797, when he was taken away to school. His father had put him in a canoe and paddled down the Muskingum and then a hundred miles up the Ohio to West Liberty in Virginia, where his Aunt Sarah Morgan lived and where he would spend the winter, a strange, serious scholar, unused to so many children. The schoolhouse lay two miles away through the forest--a distance that the Bishop and his cousin Ed trudged daily. Where Short Creek crossed their path Uncle Morgan took great pains to show the little boys how and where to hide from Indians if they should happen to see or hear the redskins passing. Although the Indians were no longer on the warpath, the white men thought it wise to avoid them. For all Thomas Ewing's scant eight years, he spelled down a class of boys of eighteen and twenty and read all the novels in his uncle's library. Unimaginative and practical, he earned a brisk switching from his Uncle Morgan because he lay long after dark beside a cemetery to see if the Welsh boys were right in saying that ghosts walked.

A few incidents like these he could remember in later years, but it was not until the spring of 1798 that his young mind started storing up things in detail. When school was out, his uncle brought him in a flatboat to the new clearing that Lieutenant Ewing had carved out of the beech and walnut forests in the Hockhocking Valley seventeen miles south of the blockhouse where the old man with the scalped head lay buried.

The wild plum trees were in bloom when the young Bishop came up the river on the banks of which he was to live for the remaining seventy-two years of his life. And even when he was famous and old--one of the foremost lawyers of the nation--he would sit in elegant New York hotels and complain because nothing tasted as sweet as the wild plums that he had gathered along the Great Hockhocking River when he was a boy. Service berries (people later called them June berries) were sweet too, in that early time, and the Bishop, with a spaniel as his sole companion, would scour the forest to mark those trees which would ripen first. All that summer of 1798 he watched his trees, only to discover when picking time came that a bear had already climbed the trunks, broken the limbs inward till they looked like the ribs of a folded umbrella, and stripped off the fruit. Later the boy learned to chop down trees to get at the berries and wild grapes and chestnuts. It was easier than climbing. Black haws were delicious, too--so delicious that before long they, like the wild plums, were gone from the country, destroyed by the settlers who had thought them inexhaustible. The Bishop learned to make tea from spicebush and sassafras roots and to trim the drink with maple sugar and cream. Wild strawberries were everywhere in early summer, their juice staining horses' legs scarlet to the knees.

By day pheasants drummed in the woods, by night wolves howled and panthers screamed like women. And by both day and night in the springtime and fall, wild geese swept overhead in great phalanxes against the sky or moon, making the air shudder with the beating of their wings.

With his sisters and brother so much older or younger than himself, the Bishop learned to rely upon the family dog for his chief playmate--and the dog preferred the more exciting company of that elder brother George who was a great hunter, shooting in one autumn and the following spring forty-seven bears. So said his younger sister Jane fifty years later, thinking back.

Jane remembered how she, as a toddler, had once followed the Bishop into the woods accompanied by the dog, which, taking it for granted that he should scare up a bear, did nose one out and bring it on the run toward the infants. Secure in his virtue, the dog harassed the bear until it was furious, and it came at the children mouth open.

"He was a red-eyed bear," said Jane-a description given bears in the springtime when they came out of their hibernation to blink in the sunlight and to view all nature with ill-temper. "We ran and I fell. Tom picked me up and kept behind me so that if the bear caught up to us I would have the best chance of reaching the house. We reached the clearing where our brother George had come up to find out why the dog was barking so. He shot over us and killed the bear."

For three years the Ewings lived in this clearing, cut off from intercourse with the world, their nearest neighbors fourteen miles away. More and more the Bishop turned to books, solemn thoughts, and his father's words. He heard his father tell with pride who his ancestors had been. There had been a great-great-grandfather who had been one of the Orangemen decorated by the English King William for gallantry at the Battle of the Boyne, and there had been a great-grandfather of Scotch blood, Thomas Ewing, who had left the north of Ireland for America in 1718, the time of the South Sea Bubble immigration, to become a Presbyterian deacon at Greenwich, New Jersey; and a grandfather Thomas Ewing also, who had been a Presbyterian elder. The Bishop learned that his father, George, had left his birthplace, Greenwich, because of tragic financial failure. When George Ewing had joined General Washington's army at the age of twenty-one, he had put his money, $8,000, in bonds, and when he emerged from the war six and one-half years later, the bonds, falling due, were paid in Continental money that was worth less than five cents on the dollar. So Lieutenant Ewing turned West, where some day when matters were straightened out veterans would receive the fat lands which the Congress had promised them.

Out beyond the Alleghenies, across the Ohio River, lay that immense sweep of forest which the Congress wished to use in paying its debt to soldiers. It had belonged to the King of England, clear to the Mississippi River and up to the Great Lakes, and George III, making peace after the American Revolution, had ceded it to the new United States. But the most powerful States in the Union had kept this land from the veterans, saying: "That Western territory belongs to us, not to the Confederated Government. Our original colony boundaries run west from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River or beyond." So Lieutenant Ewing and other veterans had waited while the greedy States held them from their reward.

The little Bishop, listening to settlers talking around the fireplace in 1798, would hear how the States had made life hard for pioneers as far back as I776, when twenty-five thousand souls who had crossed the Appalachian Mountains to carve out homes around the headwaters of the Ohio River had been abused and mistreated by Pennsylvania and Virginia, both of which claimed the land. Often a settler paid taxes to both State governments and to escape the avaricious assessors, the twenty-five thousand settlers had asked the newly formed Continental Congress to make a State for them. Even if this dream did not come true, the central Government had at least shown signs of befriending them. By 1784 it had forced the rich States to take their hands off the fatter and wider lands lying just beyond the Ohio River--the Northwest Territory. Here and there States held small preserves with which to pay off certain allowable debts, but the great wilderness as a whole had been won for the people by the Government. For the first time there were Americans saying, "The Union, not any State, is our friend.)'

A small boy like Thomas Ewing, playing beside his father in stump-lined fields of the Northwest Territory, would hear how as far back as 1785 the Government had sent troops into the new country to clear out squatters; how it had sent surveyors to plat the land and one army after another to quiet the Indians. He heard how the Government had held on to the Northwest Territory even when as late as 1791 Congressmen were asking if it would not be best to forget the whole wilderness country, since the Indians were so bad, and make the Ohio River the northern boundary of the United States. They asked if Kentucky and Tennessee were not large enough to absorb all immigration that might come to it from the old States along the Atlantic. They pointed out the prosperity of the New England, New York, and Pennsylvania factory towns from which few persons were departing for the West; they showed that it was only from the temporarily unprosperous farming communities of Virginia and the South that young men were going into Kentucky and Tennessee.

Nevertheless the Federal powers had kept at their work, slowly conquering the Indians, and opening the Territory for settlement. The Government might be clumsy and try first one way of selling land, then another, but little by little it had made it possible for Revolutionary veterans and poor men generally to claim a home in the new country. Find among the first immigrants to enter the Northwest Territory had been Lieutenant Ewing, who with his wife, Rachel Harris, and two children had been living on a farm at West Liberty, some forty miles west of the log town of Pittsburgh, in that narrow strip of Virginia which ran north between the Ohio River and Pennsylvania's western boundary. There his son Thomas had been born in 1789, on either the twenty-sixth or the twenty-eighth of December (no one could ever be sure which), and from there the family had, in 1792, crossed into the new territory to join the Olive Green Creek settlement on the Muskingum River.

By I798, the year the little Bishop came home from school to find his family living in the valley of the Great Hockhocking River, the Northwest Territory had begun to grow. Since the previous year, white men had been paddling up the river in canoes between gigantic sycamores and had struck off to right and left to make homes for themselves in the walnut, hickory, and ash forests. So rich was the land that many a frontiersman, feeling prosperous, had quickly discarded his one-room log house for a double cabin, two buildings of logs connected by a roofed and floored space where the family might eat in the open air on pleasant days. Roofs were of oak staves, weighted down by rough timbers laid across them at right angles. Windows were of oiled paper; shutters were of thick lumber. Tables were split from logs, bedsteads were of poles interlaced with bark, bedclothes of bearskin and deerskin. Meat and vegetables dried on the rafters.

On the Ohio River was a big town, Marietta. Pittsburgh up the river could count fifteen hundred souls. Cincinnati had over a hundred cabins --Dayton, Cleaveland, Chillicothe and Detroit were growing. There were five thousand white males in the Territory, a legislature of twenty-two men had been formed and a twenty-seven-year-old lawyer, William Henry Harrison, elected to represent the people in the Congress. The Government had arranged for a path into the new country, promising Ebenezer Zane three grants of land if he would lay a wagon road from Wheeling, Virginia, to Limestone, Kentucky.

The Congress had befriended the Western settlers in the Ordinance of 1787, also guaranteeing them all the rights of citizens in the old States and more. They could not be tried except by jury, they should have schools, churches, no slave labor with which to compete, and be forever free from religious intolerance, which in some of the original States still withheld both the vote and certain public offices from freethinkers, atheists, Jews, Roman Catholics, and men who did not believe in hell fire. It furthermore provided that the Northwest Territory and all States to be formed therefrom should "forever remain a part of the nation and that the compact could never be dissolved except by the common consent of its inhabitants and the people of the original States."

In this stipulation that the new Territory must forever remain in the United States there was a declaration of the permanency of the Union that was later omitted from the Constitution. Among the original States there might still thrive a belief that secession was legally permissible but the Northwest as a whole would have no such notion.

It was a new world, indeed, that the Northwest Territory presented to Thomas Ewing in 1798 when he began to listen to his father talking of politics and government. Each of them, the small boy and the Northwest Territory, would mature in the creed that the Government must be thanked for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom, wealth, the patents to their land, all came from the Federal power, not from the State. Soon enough the Territory would be dotted with men of all shades of political opinion, but the majority of the axmen would believe, as did the Bishop, that in the Union lay their strength.

This creed Thomas Ewing handed on, forty years later, to his foster son, a boy by the name of William Tecumseh Sherman.






THE year that the eight-year-old Bishop came to the Great Hockhocking Valley another boy with a large, heavy head was reciting Biblical verses to farm hands in Massachusetts. Too bashful to "speak pieces" in school, the youngster at sixteen found himself able to declaim at home in a voice so musical that the wheat-cutters would stop, sickle in hand, to listen. The time would come when Daniel Webster and Thomas Ewing would be bosom friends in Washington.

That same year a South Carolina boy of sixteen was learning a political creed that a little later on would make him the enemy of Thomas Ewing and Daniel Webster. John C. Calhoun was memorizing his father's motto, "That government is best which allows the largest amount of individual liberty compatible with the social order."

Across Kentucky that year, 1798, a youth of twenty-one was making political speeches in a voice that charmed his hearers almost out of their senses. Before many years, Henry Clay would number the Bishop as one of his most powerful political supporters.

In 1798 a tall, portly Indian was brooding, dreaming, in his wigwam by the White River in what would some day be the State of Indiana. He had been born thirty years before, one of triplets, to a Shawnee squaw on Mad River in that southeastern part of the Northwest Territory which his elders had ceded to the white men. That land must be reclaimed! Of what use was his proud name, Crouching Panther or Shooting Star-white men translated it both ways---of what use was it if he stood idle while the palefaces drove his people ever westward, corrupting chieftains with whisky and gold. In thirty years the Indian's name, Tecumseh, would be spoken often in the home that Thomas Ewing would build.

One day in I798, as he read old newspapers on the cabin floor, Thomas Ewing found a puzzling thing--an article that exulted because so sterling a patriot as John Adams had "succeeded" General Washington as President. Anxiously the little boy ran to his father to ask him if he knew that General Washington was dead. In amazement he heard that the newspaper meant something else entirely. The Presidency wasn't an office that a man could hold for life, as a king held his; a President was elected every four years. General Washington had been elected twice and had refused to hold the post again, saying that it was not good for one man to have the power too long. The hero was still very much alive; thank God for it, too, since he could put down the rich men of the country, who still believed that the republic must sooner or later go back to the old form of monarchical government.

Young Thomas began to understand that the men of the Northwest Territory would never want a king.

At home the Bishop ate like an epicure. On the table that had been fashioned out of a walnut tree with an adze sat a pot of venison, bear meat, raccoon, or wild turkey where the family might attack it with sharpened sassafras sticks in lieu of forks. Mutton and beef the Ewings never tasted in those early years. Sheep and cattle, reproducing slowly, were sacred. Thomas Ewing always remembered the first time that he ate beef; it was tough and stringy compared with venison.

Once there was wild excitement among the children, who had grown more numerous with the onrush of settlers. Little Apphia Brown ate a love apple. Like the other youngsters, she had admired the pretty red fruit that hung on vines of the ornamental plant which foreigners had imported into the New World, but unlike the others she refused to remember that love apples were poison. All of a sudden one day she popped one into her mouth and swallowed it. Furiously the other children raced for help, screaming that Apphia was going to die. In after years Apphia was pointed out as the first person to eat a tomato in the valley of the Great Hockhocking.

From 1798 onward, the Bishop heard an ever-rising murmur of argument about something called States' rights. His father was a Federalist, one of those who wanted a strong central government and a powerful Constitution to rule the people. The boy was taught that men who voted to give the States greater powers were dangerous fellows. There was a noted quarrel about the Alien and Sedition Laws and the Kentucky Resolutions. His father's party had given President Adams power to imprison or drive out of the country persons who spoke or wrote against the Government.

The vice president, a red-headed, radical man named Thomas Jefferson, had secretly written an attack on these laws, urging people not to obey them, and telling States that it was their duty to resist unless they wanted to see man's sacred liberty stolen. Long evenings around the log fire young ears would hear the grown men disputing over the question, "Has a State the right to nullify a Federal law merely because it thinks the law unconstitutional?" In 1802 the boy listened to his father denouncing the Jeffersonians who, having captured the country, had drawn up for the new State of Ohio a constitution that had taken almost all powers away from the governor, and had limited the terms of judges to seven years--bold new strokes to keep executives and justices from ignoring the wishes of the common people.

It was in these listening hours beside the flaming walnut logs that Thomas Ewing learned the things that would make him in his own time the enemy of Jeffersonians and Nullifiers, and when the quarrel would go beyond words, he would send three sons and one foster son to fight with guns and swords against the States' rights doctrine that he had seen take root when he was a boy of eight.

More interesting than politics to the Bishop in I799 were books, one in particular that he borrowed from Dr. Baker in Waterford, walking for it through the woods twenty miles and back with a spaniel for company. It was a translation of Virgil's Aeneid, and the little boy went stumbling on the lonely path home, lost in the stirring beauty of the pages. Even in his old age Thomas Ewing could begin, "Arms I sing and the man who first from Troy," and recite the lines seemingly without end.

The book--and the boy--were marvelous to Lieutenant Ewing's hired men on the farm. At noon, at evening, and on Sunday the youth would read Grecian adventures to them, and when he finished the love tale of Aeneas and Dido, he had to wait while the men debated. Some were outraged because Aeneas had jilted the queen, telling her that Jove had commanded him to leave her court. One frontiersman cried in heat, "He only told her a made-up story, just an excuse to get away. It was a damned shame after all the kindness she had done him!" The Bishop began to be educated. Two schoolmasters passed his way, both Yale graduates, and one at least seeking in the wilderness escape from whisky's temptations. A certain Dr. Jones, graduate of Brown, dipsomaniac and eccentric woodsman, helped the scholar still more. Dr. Jones lived at the miller's near the mouth of Federal Creek, eight miles from the Ewing cabin, and whenever young Tom took grain to the mill he managed to wait around the place until the doctor returned from his hunting trips. Jones loved to take down one of his volumes of poetry and hand it to the boy to read aloud, while he himself, kicking off his wet moccasins, lay down on the floor with his feet to the fireplace and corrected the Bishop's pronunciation.

In the spring of 1803, ten or fifteen of the settlers living in the wide flung community decided to raise a fund to buy a circulating library. Thirteen-year-old Thomas Ewing gave his entire wealth--ten raccoon skins--and watched it, with the rest of the pelts, grain, and cash, disappear as Samuel Brown, a neighbor, set off for Boston to make the purchase. And he was at the Brown home when Samuel returned, unloaded lumpy sacks from his horse, and emptied some seventy books on to the floor. It seemed to the youth that the treasures of the world lay before him, and for the next seven years he reveled in the pages, rereading the volumes and consuming the additional books that were added to the Coonskin Library from year to year.

And when, in 1803, Lieutenant Ewing moved his family to a small farm seven miles to the southeast on the road between Marietta and Chillicothe, Thomas Ewing was not sorry that he and his older brother were left behind on the old homestead to care for the live stock during the summer. He was still close to the Coonskin Library.

The more the Bishop read, the more he felt that his mind was standing still. Out beyond the forests another and fuller life was going on in a world whose news came to him from the lips of John Davis, the postboy. John came past the Ewing home once a week on his route between his home in Clarksburg, Virginia, and Chillicothe, Ohio, and in order to hear him talk the Ewings gave him free bed and board. On the nights that John was due Thomas would lie awake, listening for the post horn so that he might be up and ready to stable the rider's horse with all quickness. Rushing back to the kitchen, Thomas would sit and listen while Davis ate and talked.

Living as they did on the post road, the Ewings often took lodgers for the night, travelers to and from the bustling log town of Marietta. One of these strangers impressed Thomas Ewing particularly an elegant gentleman who rode up to the youth and his father in the cornfield one evening and asked for quarters. At supper, around the fire, and at breakfast the next morning George Ewing treated the guest with such marked coolness that when the fellow had ridden away, Thomas asked what was wrong.

"That is Aaron Burr, who slew Alexander Hamilton," answered the father, his Federalist blood boiling at the sight of the man who in a duel had robbed the party of its leader. The son, then in his fifteenth or sixteenth year, understood soon afterward what Burr had been doing in the region. He had been living in the home of the Blennerhassetts on an island in the Ohio River near Marietta, plotting a Western empire. The beautiful wife of Blennerhassett was seen by the Bishop, too. Walking the streets of Marietta one day, the boy saw her ride into town on a shopping tour, a long ostrich plume on her hat, a scarlet riding-habit upon her slender body.

By the time he was nineteen, Thomas Ewing was famous in the lower Hockhocking Valley for two things, his ability to read and his Herculean strength. Six feet in height, powerful of shoulder, massive of head, he had the framework of a man who in maturity would weigh two hundred and sixty pounds. Legends had already begun to cluster about him as "the strong boy of the Valley."

Henry Stanbery, who as Thomas Ewing's partner in law and business in later years knew well the Bishop's history, told more concerning this period of the boy's youth:

From the age of thirteen the life of Ewing was laborious. Then he became a substantial assistant to his father upon his farm and by-and-by he had the principal management of it. And as he grew older he had less time to read than when a boy. The little he had learned, however, but influenced him with a desire for learning more. The love of knowledge was the prevailing and all-absorbing passion of his soul. He felt that he had acquired all the knowledge within his reach, but this only taught him how little he knew. Poverty stared him in the face. The more he thought of his situation the more he despaired.

Reflection at last ripened into actual suffering. But in the summer of 1808 [the Bishop's nineteenth year], he was awakened from this stupor by a youth nearly his own age whom his father had hired for a few months to assist him in farming and who had rambled about and seen much of the world. The narrations of this young man and many of his adventures awakened Ewing and as money was what he wanted--in order to obtain the means of pursuing his studies--he was induced to go with him to the Kanawha salines in Virginia. He obtained the consent of his father and left home early in August with his knapsack on his back.

The Kanawha salt wells were two hundred miles from home, a lonely mountain camp where only men of great strength could stand the grueling toil necessary to keep fires going night and day beneath the kettles in which salt water was boiled until it vanished in steam that left a thin white sift of precious mineral. The fire must be kept hot and the workman must cut his own cordwood from the forest near by.

Ewing, having walked to Marietta, caught a keel boat for Kanawha, worked his passage, and came to the camp with eagerness, Through the summer he toiled and at the beginning of winter he came home with 80-enough to finance him for a few months at least in the new college, Ohio University, that had been opened at Athens, not far from his father's house.

Tragedy, however, met him at the gate. His father, never a moneymaker-"He read too many books to ever make money as a farmer," said his daughter Jane, years later--was in danger of losing his land from lack of payments, and the Bishop handed him the $80 and saw his hope for education postponed another year. With spring he was back at Kanawha and, knowing his trade far better now, could count $400 when winter came. Of this his father needed but $60, so that in December, I809, the boy went to Athens and, as he described it, "spent three months there as a student by way of testing my capacity. I left the academy in the spring with a sufficiently high opinion of myself and returned to Kanawha to earn money for my education"

Six years followed one another in strenuous monotony-months, sometimes years, in a row were spent at the saltworks, where, in the words of C. B. Goddard, the intimate friend of his maturity, "he labored twenty hours out of the twenty-four and was often found during the four hours allotted to sleep, walking with open eyes, but still asleep, between the two rows of boiling salt kettles where a false step would probably have destroyed life."

Ewing let nothing swerve him from his goal. Soon after arriving at Kanawha he had settled upon a profession. Floating down to Marietta with a keel-boat load of salt, he had wandered about the city killing time and had come so to the courthouse, where lawyers were arguing a case. Fascinated by their oratory and ready wit, he had gone back to the saltworks with his future clear before him. He would study those subjects which would help him to become a lawyer.




Copyright © 1998-2006 Marilyn Price-Mitchell.  Permission to copy all or part of this page granted for non-commercial use only.  Send mail to ewingfamily(at)sandcastles.net.  Instead of (at), use the @ symbol normally found in an email address. Last modified: September 16, 2006