Source: Crawfordsville Weekly Journal Saturday, 26 September 1874
Samuel Watson, of Ripley Township, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1796, and is therefore 78 years of age. His father was a native of Ireland and his mother of Scotland. At four years of age young Watson was left an orphan by the death of his mother. In 1804 his father, with two other families, bought a small flat boat and embarked on the Monongahela River, having for their destination Cincinnati. They had on board three families and their household goods, besides two horses, a cow, poultry, pigs, etc. Their boat was so frail that they had to tie up during every gale of wind, and at night they had to throw their cable around some friendly tree, and were lulled to sleep by the hooting of owls and howls of wolves.
They landed at Cincinnati, which was then, but a small village, in the spring of 1804, seventy years ago, and camped just outside the town for a week, while Mr. Watson’s father hunted a farm to rent. He rented a place 16 miles from Cincinnati, on Mill Creek, and lived thereon two years, when he purchased a small farm, paying all his means as a first payment. But owing to poor markets, he was forced to give it up and again become a renter. At that time they could not sell even pork for money. Their wearing apparel was made from flax and tow, and Mr. Watson says that till fourteen years of age he never wore anything but tow lines shirts and pants, winter or summer.. Their foot gear was buck skin moccasins, the leather for which they dressed with their own hands. Indian meal Johnny cake and milk was their principal diet.
In 1812, at the age of sixteen, Sammy was apprenticed to a wheelwright for a term of five and a half years. In those days it was the best trade a boy could learn. The spinning wheel took the place of the piano and sewing machine of today. He was to serve all those five years for his board and clothes. About this time he went to a common school six months, which was all the schooling he ever received. Having acquired but the rudiments of a common school education, he by self-culture and study through life became not only an accurate business man, but one of the best posted talkers in many miles around.
In October 1813 he was drafted to serve six months in the American army. His boss objected to his going, on the ground that his time belonged to him, but Sammy responded that to his country’s call, and as the militias were not uniformed by the government he was fitted out with a suit of home made linsey, a kind of cloth one half flax and the other half wool. His brigade, under Col. Zumolt, quartered at Lebanon, Ohio, and marched from thence to Urbana, which was then the extreme frontier town. Then they went to Fort Meigs, but as Gen. Harrison had already defeated the British at the battle of the Thames in Canada, and Tecumseh, the great Indian statesman and warrior, had fallen, active hostilities were not again resumed and the desire of his heart, to be in a battle, was not gratified.
The rations of the soldiers at that time were bread, pork, beef, and whisky.
Young Watson did not drink his whisky, but sold it and pocketed the money, and to this extent was a whisky dealer. He served six months, received four months’ pay, and returning home handed over to his boss every dollar received except $1.50 which he spent on his journey. At the expiration of his apprenticeship in 1817, he was cast adrift by his master without a dollar in his pocket or a decent stitch of clothes to his back. But he had what Franklin says is better than an estate, a good trade, and leasing a shop and tools he went to work, getting one half he could make, and soon had good clothes and money in his pocket. The price of work then was $3 per set of six chairs, $3.50 for a flax wheel and $3 for a wool wheel. He could make a set of chairs or a wheel of either kind, in a day. After working journey work a year, he bought a kit of tools and set up shop for himself and his boarding costing him but $60 per year, he saved a deal of money.
He was married September 2, 1821, to Mary Ann Stonebraker, with whom he lived happily and prosperously for fifty years.
In 1824 he came to Crawfordsville, and from his savings entered 80 acres of land in Ripley Township, which is a part of the magnificent farm which he owns to this day. Three years afterwards he moved his family, consisting of himself and three children, to his land, and built a small log cabin and log shop. At that time were but 17 families in Ripley Township, Robt Gilkey, Robt Taylor, John Ramsey and Jacob Elmore being among them.
The veteran Toliver Larsh was then a day laborer, clearing up land by the acre. He cleared the first land on Watson’s farm. Watson did not clear land or plow. He could make 600 rails a day by working at his trade. Every body must have wheels and chairs, and Watson alone could make them. Living was cheap. Deer there were by the hundred and wild turkeys by the thousand. He could buy a saddle of venison for 10 cents or about half a cent per pound. Corn meal was but 12 ½ cents per bushel.
He and Wm Gilkey once bought a fat steer for $7, which made 400 pounds of beef and after selling the hide and tallow they got the beef for almost nothing.
His first Christmas dinner in his new home, December 25, 1827, was roasted wild turkey, corn bread, wild honey and milk, and the aged pioneer says that it was the happiest meal of his life. He helped cut the first county road in Ripley Township, which runs from Clark’s Mill north to Judge Taylor’s. The supervisor had a bottle, and at noon went to sleep. The boys built a pen of fresh cut logs around him, covered it over with the same, and left him alone in his glory. A volume would not contain all the incidents of these early times. Mr. Watson has filled various public positions. Before leaving Ohio, he was captain of militia, and knew Scott’s tactics by heart. He was one of the first school trustees of Ripley, and helped organize the first public school of which the veteran James Gilkey, auditor of this county from ’55 to ’59, was for many years teacher. He was township treasurer from ’52 to ’59 and the books of the township yet show that when he loaned any of the public funds he “covered” the interest into the treasury. He served as township trustee two years, and Ripley has never had a better one. His notes have always been worth 100 cents to the dollar, and after doing business for himself 57 years he has never sued a man, been himself sued, or paid a cent of cost. He stands six feet in his stockings, is straight as an arrow; his eye is not dim or his senses yet clouded. The lesson of his life for the young is that a life of industry, economy, integrity and temperance is always sure to win. - kbz