Deardurff family among earliest settlers in central Ohio

On Oct. 3, 1798, a wagon carrying Abraham Deardurff and his family rolled into the settlement of Franklinton in the heart of central Ohio.

Located on the west side of the Scioto River, slightly south of the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy, Franklinton had been laid out by frontier surveyor Lucas Sullivant in the fall of 1797.

Having been washed away in a flood in March 1798 and re-established a quarter mile west on slightly higher ground, Franklinton in the autumn was a booming metropolis of about 15 to 20 people. Undismayed by the problems facing the community, Abraham Deardurff decided to stay in central Ohio.

It was not a snap judgment. Deardurff, a German American, had arrived in Franklinton earlier in 1798 with his son, David, and a wagon full of trade goods. After selling or trading his cloth, axes, plowshares and hardware, Deardurff decided he had come to like the area. Leaving David, then about 14, to tend a 10-acre cornfield acquired by barter, Deardurff returned to the East for his family.

When Abraham Deardurff arrived back in Franklinton, his wagon was carrying his wife, Katherine, his three sons, Samuel, Daniel and Joseph, and his two daughters, Elizabeth and Polly. They met David, who had finished his gardening work and was now available to help his family

Katherine Deardurff brought as much as she could of her old world with her when she came to the Ohio frontier. “Kiesters,” or large wooden chests from Germany, were filled with homespun linen, bedding, favorite pieces of china, kettles, cradles and a “crane and spider” for cooking corn dodgers. According to a later account, her chests also contained “a small china set, pieces of Brittania ware, a pair of sheep shears, a tailor’s goose and shears, two spinning wheels, a reel, some brass candlesticks, candle molds, linens and coverlets in colors.”

Left to his own devices, young David Deardurff had sought help of other residents and, after clearing away the forest, built a fine log house for his parents and family in the heart of Franklinton.

Due to the hard work of every member of the family, the Deardurffs prospered. Abraham continued to travel back and forth to the East, carrying mail and articles for trade at each end of his journey. His son, David, established the first effective mail route connecting Franklinton to the rest of settled Ohio to the south. And Katherine Deardurff and the rest of the family kept house and looked for new opportunities.

Katherine Deardurff had a mortal fear of Native Americans and never really lost it. As a local history later recorded, “One day while she was washing her boiled corn grains in the old-fashioned hulling process of making ‘witch hominy,’ a shadow fell over her tub. Looking up, she saw a red face with two hungry black eyes. She made a dash for the door of her cabin, screaming in terror, and since she was alone that day, she barred it and waited for the return of her ‘men folks.’ When they came, they looked in the woodshed for the Indian visitor, but found instead a large fine deer and some muskrat hides that the hungry but harmless Native American had left in return for the mess of half-hulled hominy.”

In the spring of 1815, as the War of 1812 raged across the Northwest Territory, the Deardurff family had to deal with a tragedy of its own. As was his custom, Abraham Deardurff set off for the East with a large sum of money from his trading activities. He never came back.

When he had been gone for some time, travelers came into Franklinton with his riderless horse, saying they had found it near the Virginia border. Most of Deardurff’s gold was missing from his saddlebags. The family later learned that his body had been found with a knife wound in his side. He was buried in the forest by the men who had found him.

After the death of her husband, Katherine Deardurff continued to live with her family in Franklinton. For several years, she lived in a fine new cabin David built at the corner of Gift and Culbertson streets. The house stood until 1896, when Katherine’s great-grandson, William, sold the land to the Columbus Dash Co. for a factory site.

By 1820, Katherine Deardurff had grown too old and frail to live alone. Daniel by that time had moved to Urbana. He came with a two-horse wagon and moved his mother to his home. She went with him, but asked that he build a separate house for her use. He built a new cabin for his mother and she lived there for the rest of her life.

A later account said, “At the red hearthside, in a split bottom chair, she spent many hours knitting, reading the ‘Gutes Buch,’ and counting her hoard of gold coins.” Katherine Deardurff died in 1844 at the age of 94 — an absolutely remarkable age for any era but especially for one who had lived so long on the edge of the frontier.

In Franklinton, David Deardurff built his own house in 1807. It was across the street from the house he would later build for his mother. The two-story log house was constructed with squared walnut logs cut from the nearby forest. The interior woodwork was made of oak and the fireplace mantels, doorways and window frames were held together with large wooden pins. The plaster covering the walls was mixed with horsehair to improve its durability. The oak and ash floorboards of the front room showed many marks, nicks and indentations, since the house served as the first post office in central Ohio.

And those floorboards still show those signs of use: The Deardurff house is the oldest standing structure in downtown Columbus. It is a continuing memorial to the extraordinary people who made this place their home more than two centuries ago.

(This article originally posted on Jan 20, 2010 – I’ve added it here to archive the information for future family members looking for data)