the deens in america - the first generation

 
 

Benjamin Deen came to America in 1774 at the age of 12 as an indentured servant. Imagine the America Benjamin saw. He arrived in a country seething under British rule, and on the rise to full-scale rebellion. The Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party had already occurred and the Battle of Bunker Hill was within a year if not months. The Committees of Correspondence had been established for several years and many colonies were overtly protesting the rule of their British appointed governors.

 

The official documentation of Benjamin begins when he joined the "Thirteenth Virginia Regiment of the Foote" in 1776 at the age of 14.  He had been given to the state militia the previous spring by his “owner” in order to pay off his service. Over the next five years his name is variously recorded as Deen, Dean, Dane and Dun, but whenever we see his signature, it is always clearly written as Benjamin Deen with two Es. Family tradition is that he was of Scots-Irish decent. There is some support for this as the Deen River and the Temple of Deen as well as records of other “Deens” exist in Counties Kerry and Kilkenny in Ireland.

 

In November of 1776, the 13th Regiment of Foot of the Virginia Continental Line was organized under Colonel William Russell. The 13th was also known as "The West Augusta Volunteers". In the spring of 1777 five companies of the 13th were sent to join Washington's army in New Jersey. The 13th Virginia became part of Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg's brigade and Major General Nathaniel Greene's division. In September of 1777, the 13th fought in the battle of Brandywine Creek near Philadelphia. In October 1777, they participated in a major attack on General William Howe's British army at Germantown. During the winter of 1777-1778, the 13th was with George Washington at Valley Forge.

 

In the spring of 1778 the Continental Congress approved a plan to capture British held Detroit in order to stop British instigated Indian attacks on the western frontier. The 8th Pennsylvania and the 13th Virginia were selected to carry out this campaign. This detachment was to be commanded by Colonel John Gibson, who had been selected by Washington because he had lived with Indians and was familiar with Indian warfare. The main body of the 13th was sent to Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh), while supplies were accumulated and plans were developed. The supplies were slow in arriving and the summer came and went. In the autumn, the plan was scaled down. Instead of moving swiftly from Pittsburgh for a surprise attack on Detroit, a fort was to be established in eastern Ohio. The hope was that such a fort might discourage Indian raids in western Pennsylvania, or even swing Indian support from the British to the Americans. Also it was decided that Detroit could be attacked more easily from an advanced post. During this period of preparation, the combined 8th and 13th were re-designated as the 9th Virginia (subsequently the 7th Virginia as well).

 

Before moving into the Ohio country, arrangements had to be made for passing through the territory of the American Indian allies, the Christian Delawares. Permission was granted and the army marched out of Fort Pitt in November of 1778. During this march the regiment was augmented by local militia.

 

The army followed the Ohio River downstream from the fort. When they reached the point of the present Ohio-Pennsylvania border, they stopped and constructed a fort. This was named Fort Mclntosh after General Lachlan Mclntosh who had replaced Edward Hand as commander of the western department in 1778. A small garrison was left at Ft. Mclntosh and the main army continued westward to the Tuscarawas River. This was where the Christian Delaware village of Goschagunk (present day Coshocton) was located. The Indians asked that a fort also be built at this site. The Christian Delawares had openly supported the American cause and had thereby incurred the enmity of the British and their Indian allies. For some reason the Americans decided instead to move upstream to a site near the present day village of Bolivar, Ohio. Here they erected a very small square wooden stockade. It was named Fort Laurens after Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress. After Ft. Laurens was completed, the main body of soldiers returned to Fort Pitt leaving Colonel Gibson and about 150 men including we believe young Private Benjamin Deen.

  

The winter was one of extreme hardship for the men and women at Ft. Laurens. The British at Detroit did send a force, mainly of Wyandot Indians to punish the Christian Delawares and to lay siege to Ft. Laurens. Since the fort was far upstream from Goschagunk, the Americans were of no help to the Christian Delawares. During the siege, a party of fourteen Americans left the fort to hunt for food. They were ambushed within sight of the fort and all but two of them were killed and scalped. The two that survived the ambush were taken captive. Food supplies in the fort dwindled but the British and Indians also ran short. Finally the Indians approached the fort to make a deal for food. John Gibson collected up every trace of flour in the fort, which amounted to one barrel full. When he gave this to the Indians, he led them to believe that they could easily spare one mere barrel of flour. The Indians took this to mean that the fort was so well provisioned that a continued siege would be a long drawn out matter. The Indians promptly left and returned to their villages in northwestern Ohio and the few British returned to Detroit.

 

With the Indians gone, a supply train was able to reach Fort Laurens from Fort Pitt. The occupants of the fort, however, were so overjoyed at seeing the pack train coming that they fired their guns in celebration. This so frightened the pack animals that they stampeded into the woods spilling their loads. Practically nothing of the supplies were recovered.

 

In the spring of 1779 Capt. Benjamin Harrison was ordered to escort a train of pack animals to Ft. Laurens for the purpose of bringing out the garrison. He was given specific orders that the animals were not to be slaughtered and eaten. Fort Laurens was abandoned permanently in the summer of 1779.

war and love

Holding text pending maps and photographs

Benjamin was discharged in the Spring of 1780, and at that time he moved to what was then Hampshire County, Virginia where he had received a land grant for his war service. Hampshire was in what would later become West Virginia, and not far from the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Ohio Territory.

 

In 1784 Benjamin transferred his soldier’s land grant to James Marney in what was Frederick County, Virginia. Giving up his land grant must have meant that Ben was in need of money, it left the farmer without a farm. We believe that it was around this time that Ben and Lucretia married. Unfortunately we know nothing about Lucretia, although there is rumour that she was of Scotch-Irish descent. Certainly both Western Virginia and Western Pennsylvania were heavily populated by the Scotch-Irish. What we do know is that 22-year old Ben and 25-year old Lucretia were starting their own family and they felt renting a farm would suffice.


Frederick County had been surveyed by George Washington in the 1750s and held the largest population west of the Blue Ridge mountains.  With fertile land it was quickly filled with families looking to farm and soon the county was divided, adding Hampshire County. Hampshire was in turn divided in 1785 to creating Hardy County. This is where Benjamin and Lucretia lived for at least the next fifteen years, raising five sons Samuel, James, Enos, John and Enoch and we believe two daughters.

 

Sometime after the turn of the century Ben and Lucretia decided to move their family again. And again we don't know why, but with a growing family Benjamin was likely in search of larger parcels of land to farm. With the government owing pensions to veterans of the Revolution and short on cash, an alternative payment was with land grants in the Ohio River Valley region. Ben joined other veterans of his regiment with an eye to getting a grant for himself.  They returned to the Ohio River area where years before they had built Fort Laurens.


In 1803 Ohio had voted and received statehood. In 1813 General (later President) Harrison defeated the British and killed the Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh bringing a sustained level of peace to the Ohio frontier. The conflict between the Indians and the settlers was expressed eloquently in this statement by Tecumseh.

 

"No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.... Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn't the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided.”

 

In 1818 Benjamin, Lucretia and their now grown children settled in Washington County in the Ohio Territory. This area from the Ohio River Valley down to the Kentucky Bluegrass region is referred to as the First American West because it was here that the first "settlers" came. The promise of land and homesteads drew a variety of people - soldiers, farmers, speculators, adventurers and plain old folk to this part of the country, and the migration lasted from approximately 1750 to 1820 when land further west began to open up.

 

Settlers came by ox-cart and wagon train as well as by flat boats along the rivers. Ben and Lucretia settled north of Marietta along the Muskingum River. Ben and Lucretia rented a house and lands from Jesse Haines until Ben received his war bounty in 1825.  Their sons, their son’s wives and children settled in nearby counties.  Ben was active in the community and began to develop friendships with his neighbors.  One of those neighbors was Stanford Fordice.

 

settlers