Grave matters: Markers on display in Belpre

BELPRE-Standing along the wall in a back hallway of the Farmers’ Castle Museum in Belpre is a row of tombstones that once marked the final resting places of several historic figures from the Belpre and Little Hocking areas.

“The Belpre Rotary Club was preserving and replacing some original stones from the Cedarville Cemetery, which is Belpre’s oldest graveyard, so we brought some of the markers here,” said Nancy Sams, president of the Belpre Historical Society.

Leaning against one wall is the gravestone of Nathaniel Sawyer, Jr., whose father, Nathaniel Leonard Sawyer, Sr., is credited with founding the current community of Little Hocking.

A veteran of the Revolutionary War, the senior Sawyer was among 51 original members of the Ohio Company that set out from Massachusetts in 1787, bound for land grants in the Northwest Territory near the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers.

Forty-eight of that party arrived at what is now Marietta in April 1788, and the other three, including Sawyer and John and Ebenezer Porter, followed in July of that year, according to the book “The Adventurer,” by local historian Herbert L. Roush, Sr.

Roush wrote that after spending some time in Marietta Sawyer built a cabin near the mouth of the Little Hocking River in 1789, and began to clear the forested land for a homestead, assisted by his 10-year-old son, Nathaniel, Jr.

The rest of the family, including Sawyer’s wife, Lydia, and their four children, stayed in the new settlement of Belpre where a fifth child was born to the couple before the entire family finally moved to their Little Hocking-area property in 1794.

One reason for the delay of the family’s move from Belpre was fear of Indian hostilities that often occurred in the area during those years, according to Roush.

Charlotte Powell, a longtime resident of Little Hocking and curator at the Farmers’ Castle Museum, said the area was originally called Sawyer’s Station, but a Curtis family who later owned the property changed the name to Little Hock Hocking.

“That was the name of the river at the time,” Powell said. “But the post office later shortened the name of the community to Little Hocking.”

Sawyer wasn’t much of a farmer, she said, and the land he took as payment for serving in the Revolutionary War was mostly woods and hills.

“He really didn’t want to work a farm, he wanted to hunt,” Powell said. “He was more of an adventurer who didn’t like to be around a lot of other people, and preferred to be alone with his family.”

She said Sawyer did build a magnificent frame home on his property, and the structure still stands along River Road in Little Hocking.

According to Roush, the large house was constructed in 1798, and by 1800 the Sawyers were operating a tavern in their home.

But in 1801, at the age of 22, Nathaniel Sawyer, Jr., died. He reportedly drowned after falling from a boat on the Ohio River near Belpre, and was the first person buried in what became the Little Hocking Cemetery.

The Little Hocking community began to grow over the next several years, and by 1811 Nathaniel Sr., had moved his family to a farm along Federal Creek in Rome Township of the newly-established county of Athens.

“I think he was sort of like Daniel Boone,” Sams said. “When the area was becoming too populated he didn’t want to stay around.”

Nathaniel Sawyer, Sr., died at the age of 56 on March 11, 1813 at his home in Rome Township and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery near the mouth of Federal Creek along Ohio 329 in Athens County.

“His grave marker is six feet long and 36 inches wide,” Sams said.

According to Roush’s book, the inscription on the gravestone reads:

“In memory of Nathaniel Sawyer, born May 12, 1757, and departed on March 11, 1813, age 56 years. He was a man of undaunted courage and was a soldier of the Revolution. He was one of the pioneers in the wilds of Ohio, and shared the dangers of frontier settlement through a long and bloody Indian war. He was a kind, affectionate and industrious parent. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God.'”