Benjamin Stites discovered the future location of Columbia, Ohio, through an unfortunate event. He was on a trading expedition with other traders in Kentucky when some of their horses were stolen. They built a raft and pursued Native Americans across the Ohio River. Stites and his men followed them up the Little Miami River. He returned without the horses, but had found the location of a settlement he wanted to establish.
Stites returned to his Pennsylvania home and eventually purchased 20,000 acres on the Ohio River near the mouth of the Little Miami River.
Twenty-six people traveled the Ohio River in November of 1788. Stites’ group included women and children. At Limestone, Kentucky (modern-day Maysville,) they prepared lumber to build a fort. They resumed their journey, arriving near the mouth of the Little Miami River on November 18th.
Having heard rumors of Native Americans waiting for them, Stites’ party posted sentinels. After singing a hymn and praying, the settlers began building a blockhouse. Three more blockhouses were quickly constructed. Palisades formed a wall around them to create Fort Miami.
They named the settlement Columbia.
Native Americans were friendly at first and visited the blockhouses.
Christmas of 1788 was a warm, pleasant day. The pioneers set up tables outside and invited their Native American neighbors to eat with them. Their guests arrived with their guns, fearing a trap.
Judge Isaac Dunn of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, later recalled that Christmas when he was a boy of six. Potpies, cooked in two ten-gallon kettles, were the main dish.
The settlers had also invited soldiers. Their arrival nearly caused a disaster. The pioneers wanted to live in harmony with their new neighbors and convinced the Native Americans to stay.
A delicious dinner was eaten on the river bank, a day the settlers long remembered. Well-satisfied, the Native Americans left around sunset.
Unfortunately, peace didn’t last. But on that Christmas Day, peace reigned.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Berten, Jinny Powers. Cincinnati Christmas, Orange Frazer Press, 2011.
“History of Columbia Tusculum,” Columbia Tusculum, 2019/07/29 https://www.columbiatusculum.org/history.
Suess, Jeff. “Christmas Celebrations in Cincinnati over the years,” Cincinnati.com, 2019/04/27 https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/history/2014/12/11/christmas-celebrations-cincinnati-years/20252307/.