Many of Butler County’s townships were named in honor of influential figures in the American Revolutionary War who later played some sort of role in Ohio’s development, though their specific connections to their namesakes vary.
Kathy Creighton, the executive director of the Butler County Historical Society, presented these backstories during a meeting earlier this month, highlighting how St. Clair, Wayne and Morgan townships were all named in honor of Revolutionary War veterans who played a particular part in western Ohio’s development in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
“All these guys, their stories are so interwoven,” Creighton said. “Most of them knew each other during the American Revolutionary War, which is kind of an interesting way of looking at these things.”
These historical figures have all had different levels of geographical connection to Butler County. Take Morgan Twp.’s namesake, Daniel Morgan, for example: A Virginian soldier who never set foot in what is today Butler County.
“He’s a character, oh my gosh, he’s an interesting guy,” Creighton said. She described Morgan as an uneducated drinker with a penchant for crude language whose ascendance into American folklore began when he fought under British command in the French and Indian War and butted heads with his superior officer, Creighton said.
“The story goes: During the French and Indian war, he decked his superior officer which was a British officer, and for that he was given 500 lashes, which is usually a death sentence. He survived it and he always joked that they only have him 499,” Creighton said. “That’s what started his hatred for the British army.”
Morgan would go on to lead several forces during and after the American Revolutionary War and became known for his strong leadership and military tact, which left a lasting impression on many who served under him.
“A lot of the people that came out and settled in what is today Morgan Twp. had fought under Dan Morgan, and so they named it in his honor because they held him in such high esteem,” Creighton said.
Creighton noted that, after the American Revolution, land in Ohio, which was then only a part of the Northwest Territory, had been promised to Revolutionary War veterans as payment for their service.
The program had brought an influx of ex-soldier settlers to the area, which had previously only been home to Native Americans — namely the Miami to the northwest and the Shawnee due north, two tribes that Creighton said used present-day Butler County as hunting grounds.
“They wanted to open up this area as revolutionary war pay,” Creighton said, “but the Miami and Shawnee and the other Indians that were here said, ‘No, this is our land, you’re not getting it.’”
Tensions over the territory as a whole eventually boiled over, and the resulting military conquests during George Washington’s presidency ushered in the influence of local township namesakes Arthur St. Clair and Anthony Wayne, along with the county’s namesake Richard Butler.
Creighton said St. Clair’s role in that story largely began after Washington placed him in charge of leading the second offensive against Native Americans, after the first offensive, led by Josiah Harmar, had been ambushed not long after the troops had set out from Fort Washington, which was then the government’s largest stronghold, in present-day Cincinnati.
Once in charge, St. Clair built incremental forts to house and supply troops as they ventured northward, deeper into Native American territory, Creighton said.
“St. Clair [decides] he’s gonna build a series of forts that are one day’s march apart. The first one built is Fort Hamilton because it was one day away from Fort Washington,” Creighton said. The settlement that later emerged around Fort Hamilton was the first iteration of today’s City of Hamilton.
St. Clair’s men built one more fort north of Hamilton, their last stop before a final offensive push deep into Miami tribe territory in present-day Indiana that resulted in what Creighton calls “St. Clair’s Massacre,” Over 600 soldiers were killed in the battle, including Richard Butler, St. Clair’s second-in-command.
“It is still today the worst defeat of the US Army at the defeat at the hands of Native Americans,” Creighton said. Additionally, Butler remains “supposedly the highest ranking US military official ever killed.”
After St. Clair’s defeat, Washington entrusted the push against the Native Americans to Anthony Wayne, who bolstered Fort Hamilton and added three more forts to St. Clair’s northward path, which eventually ended just south of Toledo, where Wayne’s men fought against the Miami in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Creighton retold the condensed story of the 1794 battle: “In less than two hours, Anthony Wayne defeats the Indians and doesn’t even use half of his forces, and that ends the Indian threat here in this part of Ohio.”
Wayne’s victory opened western Ohio up to settler expansion, and a population boom occurred shortly thereafter. Ohio’s initial population count tallied by the United States second ever census in 1800 recorded 45,000 residents, and the territory’s quick population growth paved way for statehood in 1803. In 1810, Ohio’s population rose to nearly 231,000 residents.
An influx of settlers brought more settlements, and some of those communities opted to honor figures like St. Clair or Wayne or Morgan, even if those figures were only passing through or had never set foot there at all, Creighton said.
“Fort Hamilton was built by Arthur St Clair, Anthony Wayne expanded it, but none of them lived here again, it was just tributes that the people living here paid to these guys,” Creighton said.
Creighton said Butler County’s remaining 10 townships got their names through presidents, local leaders, other towns, local terrain, or even just because their residents liked a simple name.
- Reily Twp. was named after John Reily, a founding member of the City of Hamilton and served in the Butler County court system for nearly 40 years.
- Ross Twp. was named after James Ross, whose staunch advocacy for American citizen’s ability to freely travel along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers influenced the eventual Louisiana Purchase.
- Madison Twp. was named after former President James Madison.
- Miami University’s chartering in 1809 led to the eventual founding of the City of Oxford, which encouraged nearby residents of Oxford Twp. to take on the name as well. Creighton said the naming was likely inspired by Oxford, England.
- “Hanover Township is literally named that because the people that settled there were from Hanover, Germany,” Creighton said.
- Milford Twp. was named after another township in Pennsylvania.
- Liberty Twp. got its name because its residents liked the sound of it, Creighton said.
- Union Twp. got its name for similar reasons, but Creighton said residents later changed the name to West Chester Twp. because residents noticed there were several townships with the same name throughout the state.
- “Fairfield Township was named for the fair fields that literally were in the area,” Creighton said, adding that the City of Hamilton was originally named Fairfield, but because of Fort Hamilton’s lasting popularity, residents opted to change the name.
- Still, one township name origin continues to stump the Butler County Historical Society: “We haven’t got a clue how Lemon Township got its name,” Creighton joked.
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