In the article on the history of the Plain City Presbyterian Church, I mentioned the Ewing brothers, James and Joshua, who were instrumental in its founding. I had hoped to present a fuller account of their lives here, but I have found that detailed information on them is sparse and often contradictory, so this will be a much less comprehensive account than I had originally planned.
The Ewing family came from Greenwich, New Jersey. The father, Joshua (1736-1785), a native of that town, married Hannah Harris (1738-1815 or 1816) in 1760. Hannah was born in Hopewell Township, New Jersey. One source gives her death date as July 1786 in Jerome Township, Ohio, which is impossible since the family did not arrive in Ohio until 1798. Also, Rev. Steele, the missionary who started the Presbyterian Church, mentions seeing her when he visited the family in 1800. Other sources give her first name as Cynthia.
How many children Joshua and Hannah/Cynthia had is also subject to question. The sons Joshua (1765-1821) and James (1770-1850) are the only two children for whom we have any definite information. According to Rev. Steele, there was a sister Betsy who was living with her brothers when he visited. There is a widowed sister, Eunice Donaldson, and her son Ewing who are also mentioned elsewhere as living with the rest of the family. Whether Betsy and Eunice were the same person or sisters has proven impossible to determine.
The Ewings donated land for the first school/church building, a log cabin, which stood near the Big Darby west of town, behind the current Catholic Community Center. The church was the Lower Liberty Presbyterian Church, and the graveyard beside it is known as the Lower Liberty or Ewing Cemetery. Most of its stones are broken or gone, but there are stones for several Donaldsons, including a James Ewing Donaldson, who died Jan. 11, 1842 at the age of 49, making him the most likely candidate to have been the son of Eunice mentioned above.
When and under what circumstances the brothers first came to the Ohio Territory is unknown. They knew Rev. Steele, who came from Kentucky, and Lucas Sullivant, the surveyor who mapped much of central Ohio. They are related to the Ewings of Lancaster, and it is possible that they may all have come west together. Joshua (1736-1785) had a brother Thomas (1722-1771), who had a son named George (1754-1824). George was the father of a second Thomas (1789-1871), a prominent Lancaster citizen who became the foster father of William Tecumseh Sherman.
It was the brothers acquaintance with Lucas Sullivant that brought them to the Big Darby. Sullivant had acquired extensive land holdings as payment for his surveying work, and laid out several towns in the hopes that one of them might be named the capital when Ohio became a state. One of these towns was Franklinton, on the banks of the Scioto. Another was North Liberty, on the banks of Big Darby Creek north of Plain City’s present location.
Sullivant apparently painted an enticing picture of North Liberty, for both James and Joshua bought land there and with their mother, sister and Joshua’s wife Margaret arrived at their new home on Oct. 29, 1798. They were the first settlers in the area and immediately realized that the “town” existed only in Sullivant’s mind.
Everyone lived in one log cabin at first, until James built his own cabin nearby. The Robinsons, Kirkpatricks and Mitchells soon arrived, but “North Liberty” never became a reality.
Joshua had married Margaret Jamison (or Scott) (date and place unknown). Their daughter Eliza was the first female settler’s child born in what was to become Union County in 1800. (Jesse Mitchell was the first settler’s child born in the area in 1798.) Their children included James Scott (1832 or 1833-1864), who joined Co. K of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry in February 1864 and died in camp in Columbus on March 19, 1964.
Polly married David Chapman, who would prepare the first survey of Isaac Bigelow’s new town, Westminster. Harriet (1816-1868) would marry William Allen, a prominent businessman and mason, who built the brick house that is now Plain City’s water office. There were also Green, George, Margaret, Cynthia and Martha.
Joshua may have been a surveyor. He was elected Justice of the Peace in 1804 and became one of the first Madison County commissioners from 1810-1817. In 1820, with the formation of Union County, the Ewing land became part of that county, and Joshua became county auditor. He died in 1821, in one of the “sickly seasons” that plagued early settlers with fevers that may have been malaria or typhoid.
James was considered a rich man by his early neighbors. He was a director of the Franklinton Bank, kept the first general store in our area, and became postmaster of the Darby Creek Post Office in 1812. He was the first sheriff of Union County, serving from 1820-1823.
James married Elizabeth Cary in 1808. She was born in 1780 and died in 1837 or 1838 or 1865, depending on which source you read. They had three or possibly four children. There is mention of a James M., who may have been the same as Thomas M. (1809-1876), or may have been a different child who died in infancy. There was also David C. (1811-1835) and Phoebe, who was born in 1813 and died as an infant.
As important as the Ewing brothers and their families were in the history of Plain City and Union and Madison counties, all that is left of them now is the D.A.R. marker on the corner of U.S. Route 42 and State Route 736, and the remnants of their family cemetery west of town. If any reader has any further information on the Ewings, the Plain City Historical Society would be happy to receive it.
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
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