“Who was Jonathan Bye, really?”

“Who was Jonathan Bye, really?”

I remember growing up in the small village of Byesville back in the 1990’s and everybody getting excited about the “Annual Jonathan Bye Days” festival. I was much like every kid in our small town of 2,000 people, with our one stop light. After driving my Mom crazy for $10, I can remember cutting through the wind on my bike to get to the park and then trying to decide what I was going do from there. I remember that hot–almost wet air– from the humidity we get in Ohio during the summer months combined with the smell of concession food stands permeating the wind as it passed through the basketball court. The more brave and wild kids, filled my ears with the sounds of pop snaps, as they ran about smashing box after box on the concrete. The sights of people walking with golf caps on backwards, over their sprayed red hair, wearing baggy Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren t-shirts with even more baggy JNCO jeans. A kaleidoscope of taste, sound and sights percolated through the fun: talent shows, basketball tournaments, Elvis impersonations, concerts, and skydivers.

I remember my stepdad commenting on the festival and how ridiculous he thought it had became, “Every year they try to do something bigger and better than the year before to get people to show up down there.” The gossip was rampant: “Who was boyfriend and girlfriend with who?”, “Why were those two headed off to the dugouts earlier?”, and “Why did so and so get into a fight with so and so?”  We spent our days running out energy in as many different ways as we could find: I feel a bit tacky and even old for saying I remember when only rich people had cell phones. In Byesville nobody was really rich so there was not anyone walking around with a phone to their face. We were social animals not social media animals and because of it our lives were very animated. A story about a fight could start off with, “John” breaking, “Doe’s” jaw and by the time that same story made it’s way around the park, “Doe” broke “John’s” nose and now the police were looking for them both. In all this craziness, the question hardly even crossed my mind, “Who is this Jonathan Bye guy and why am I celebrating him?” After asking the question one time before and being told “Jonathan Bye was the founder of Byesville”, my curiosity was satisfied.

As I have gotten older and learned to love history, I still wonder, “Who was Jonathan Bye, really?” I get that he supposedly “found” Byesville, but beyond that I knew nothing. Despite being such an important person–we celebrate him over 150 years after he passed away–you cannot “Google” him and find a Wikipedia page. There is no photograph or painting of him anywhere. The village of Byesville has a festival every year to honor the man, but there is not a shred of information out there about him unless you are willing to dust off old books at the local library and research him. So I answer the question, who is Jonathan Bye?

The Times of Jonathan Bye the Traveler 


President James Monroe

Jonathan Bye was not the first settler in what is now known as Jackson Township. However, it can be said he was the first to settle in what is now Byesville, Ohio. Jonathan came to the area in 1820 from Pennsylvania. To put that into perspective, just 8 years before we were fighting the War of 1812 which produced a song that would have been sang in every smoky tavern across the land–including the ones in Cambridge–known as the Star Spangled Banner. In the 1820 election James Monroe was re-elected to his 2nd term. After 59 years on the throne the famous–or infamous depending on who you talked to–King George III (the king we fought against to gain Independence) passed away, ending the longest tenure as King in British history. Susan B. Anthony and William Tecumseh Sherman were born, we’re 15 years from having Morse Code and a practical form of photography. We’re 40 years before the Civil War. Here is Jonathan Bye, an ambitious young man traveling through the wilderness west for opportunity.


Jonathan Bye the  Pioneer, Entrepreneur, and Civic Leader


An 19th Century (1800’s) Grist-Mill (not Jonathan Bye’s)

A devoutly religious man, Jonathan was a Quaker like many pioneers of his time. He finds and settles on what is known as Wills Creek. He builds a cabin and being very ingenious and innovative he sets up a water-powered grist mill. The mill proves to be a profitable idea for the young man, as it allows him to grind grain into flour and sell it to the areas people. Now having some income Jonathan is filled with the spirit of an entrepreneur and decides to invest into a saw-mill that also proves to be a good investment. Now having much in surplus to sell he establishes a store and his little compound of businesses becomes known around the area as “Bye’s Mill.”

Having his businesses expand and with the area’s population growing, Jonathan Bye is ever imaginative. At the time having only horse and wagon on trails to get his products to market north in Cambridge and being surrounded by wilderness, he goes around to his nearest neighbors with pen and paper and gathers support for a road to be built from his mill to the City of Cambridge. In December of 1823 he travels to the county seat with signatures in hand and presents the petition to the Guernsey County Commissioners. Records at the commissioners office state the following:

“Jonathan Bye presented a petition for himself and sundry (many) citizens for a road from Bye’s Mill on Big Wills Creek, running the nearest and best way to Cambridge.”

In 1826, he repeats the process to have a road built in the other direction to Senecaville.

I think it’s quite obvious Jonathan was attempting to attract as many customers as the area could provide him while at the same time building an infrastructure of roads citizens needed and wanted at the time. Bye’s flour business flourished so much eventually he builds the “Maria Bye:” a large keel boat made to float his surplus in the shallow waters of Wills Creek. With this boat and eventually more he was able to ship his flour down the Ohio and subsequently Mississippi River. In 1832, he may have finally bit off a little more civic duty than he could chew when he led an unsuccessful movement petitioning the State of Ohio. He wanted them to dredge Wills Creek so that larger boats could navigate up and down his stream, the state apparently did not see the advantages that he did, as the project never manifest. Nevertheless, Jonathan was able to build a profitable efficient business and live a comfortable life through using his keel boats to send his manufactured products to the maximum amount of markets, while at the same time leading civic movements to develop the area.


Jonathan Bye Made Flat and Keel Boats to Ship his Manufactured Flour

Jonathan Bye the Abolitionist 

It is somewhat common knowledge between those in the intelligence industry, that when a person of interest is hiding from those who are interested in finding them, they must have people rich with resources helping them move and survive in hiding. The reason it took the CIA so long to capture Bin Laden is that they never thought a supposed ally receiving aid from the United States would give him sanctuary. The government of Pakistan was Bin Laden’s largest resource. Likewise when trying to solve the mystery of Hitlers death, former CIA and Military guys, have formed a theory that Hitler escaped Germany through the sanctuary of Spain, and eventually made his way to a compound in the backwoods of South America. They believe he was able to do this through having the help and cover of loyal German business families whom had acquired loads of wealth and resources in Argentina. Not that I am comparing completely innocent slaves to the most evil men the planet has ever seen, that is absolutely not what I am doing. I am simply making the point that, fugitives need people of wealth, connections, and resources to stay hidden for extended periods of time.

Jonathan Bye spent his life acquiring wealth, making business connections, as well as acquiring and utilizing resources . As I said before, he was also a devoutly religious man. Quakers are famous for their principles. They were often criticized for refusing to fund wars. Being vehemently against violence and holding humanitarianism close to their hearts; Quakers were naturally and passionately against slavery. So with Jonathan having been a man of considerable means and relentlessly against slavery at his very core, he was the perfect kind of person to hide and move slaves in the 19th century. As a result he used and risked his home and businesses to become a conductor and set up a station on the famous Underground Railroad. When the slaves entered Guernsey County they would do so at one of its most southern borders in the village of Senecaville. Having made connections in Senecaville through civic leadership and business, Jonathan would accept the slaves from an Underground Railroad station there and move them to his home. Here he would provide them with beds, shelter, food, and clothes until it was time to move them further north where he would drop them off to Alexander McCracken or Samuel Craig, both station-masters in Cambridge.


Fugitive Slaves Running on the Underground Railroad

It just fascinates me to think of the different scenarios:

I imagine it being a very cold fall evening at Bye’s Mill. You know where a lot of the leaves have changed colors, some are hanging onto their branches for dear life while piles of others are lying on the floor of the wilderness. I picture Jonathan on his horse pulling a wagon full of flour to Senecaville on the very road he led a movement to build. Puffs of smoke from the cold weather coming from his and his horse’s mouth’s. He has dressed the wagon for what looks like a typical business trip. When he gets to Senecaville he drops off the flour and at the same time picks up a slave man. He instructs him to hide between some large barrels that are stacked perfectly in the wagon to conceal the man’s presence. On his way back, he passes John Beymer, who is currently serving one of his eight years as Guernsey County Sheriff. With Jonathan being a respected, prominent member of the community, this conversation goes very smoothly, the Sheriff having no idea Bye has hidden a fugitive slave on his wagon. I imagine them getting back to Bye’s Mill in the darkness where Jonathan’s windows are lit up and smoke is coming from the chimney on the roof. The closer they get to the door, the more it smells like wood burning.

When they get inside candles light the rooms and a nice flame is going in the fire pit to warm the cabin. They sit to eat with Jonathan’s daughter Maria; conversation fills the room about the mans journey hitherto. I figure Jonathan has a hidden basement under his floor boards where a nice bed is awaiting the fugitive slave. They awake before the sun comes up, Jonathan has another load of flour on his keel boat waiting to take up Wills Creek to Cambridge. Jonathan has a discreet location at which to load the flour onto a wagon. When they arrive, Samuel Craig of Cambridge is waiting there for them. The fugitive is hidden once again on a wagon with the loaded flour until he reaches the home of Mr. Craig’s. Jonathan takes his keel boat back down Wills Creek to his home awaiting the next fugitive to come his way. 


It is not known why but in the 1850’s Jonathan Bye sold off all his wealth and businesses and moved from Jackson Township to Sterling, Illinois. Unfortunately in Sterling he built another collection of Mills that were a financial failure for him. I would think him being in the latter years of his life, he might not have had the youth it would have taken to run a successful startup in those days. Some of his descendants are buried in Byesville.

Jonathan Bye spent the majority of his lifetime in our beloved area. He left such an impression and was liked by the people–so much–that when a small town was platted in 1856 near his old Mill they named the town “Byesville.” Jonathan never lived in Byesville when it was called Byesville; by this time he had moved on to Illinois. I’m sure when he passed away people must have felt he made a mistake leaving an area that had served him so well and eventually named a town for him for a place he did not succeed. This should not prevent us from celebrating an interesting an extraordinary life. Given his participation in the Underground Railroad, I think it is a great thing for the village to celebrate his life with an annual festival.


Comments are more than welcome 🙂
Sources for this article include William G.Wolfe, “Stories of Guernsey County” 1943 and History of Guernsey County, Ohio by Sarchet, Cyrus P. B. (Cyrus Parkinson Beatty) 1911

A Movement West: The Settling and Founding of Cambridge, Ohio

Establishing Cambridge as a First Generation American Community 

A Monument in the Founders Grave Yard to the Veterans of the American Revolution

A Monument in the Founders Grave Yard to the Veterans of the American Revolution

To start off, I think it’s an important side note for people to know before the founding and settling of this area by Americans; Indians occupied the region completely unharmed from the outside world (which I will get to eventually in another article) until 1669. Then the French Crown famously sent a man named Robert de La Salle from Canada to Louisiana, laying markers along all the rivers claiming everything as a part of Quebec. They claimed much more then he traveled, and thus the reason for us buying this later in the Louisiana Purchase. The British Crown fought for and won the Northwestern Territory after the French and Indian (7 years) War in 1764. Hunters, Soldiers marching through, and squatters, had been through what’s now Guernsey County following that and leading up to Zane’s Trace, but since there were no settlers, no border, and no name, we have almost no actual account of this occurring specifically by anyone, we only know from the evidence left behind by the travelers, found by the first settlers.

Northwest Ordinance and Zanes Trace

We are Americans not French, not British, so let’s move on to our good ole American story. When the War for Independence was over, one of the first objectives of the founding fathers was to “set those Indians straight” and expand west. This is something  England refused to let them do as colonies because of the perceived cost of war and a fear of further upsetting Native Americans. So by the end of the war–Americans and immigrants alike–were itching to go out across the Appalachia Mountains into the Ohio Valley. In 1787 the “Northwest Ordinance”  was the last action signed in New York by the old Continental Congress established under America’s first and rather ineffective constitution called the Articles of Confederation. This new ordinance let eager Americans go out into the frontier and start settling and platting towns. The Northwest Ordinance was signed into effect the same exact summer the Constitutional Convention was basically tearing up the Articles of Confederation and writing a new Constitution in Philadelphia. Actually some of the men whom signed the Ordinance thought it more important than the convention with which they were also delegated to attend. This new land decree was also a way–by issuing land grants–for the National Government to appease War Veterans whom were becoming increasingly upset with the fact that they were not paid what they were promised for risking their lives against the red coats.

The popular enactment opened up the land from the Ohio region to the Wisconsin. But… People found out pretty fast, crossing the mountains into the frontier was not as easy as they had thought up in their imagination. They simply could not get to that land quickly–unless by lakes or rivers–because no roads had been built, it was still all wilderness. Despite Native Americans still occupying the region, established trading sites alongside waterways become cities like Cleveland (est 1797)  and Cincinnati (est 1798) overnight; all this happened almost as quickly as the ink was drying on the paper. Just prior to the signing of this long-awaited piece of paper, a man named Ebenezer Zane petitioned and was paid by the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, to blaze a trail from Wheeling, Virginia to Maysville, Kentucky. The agreement gave him a significant amount of land next to the three major rivers on this trail: the Muskingum, Hocking and Scioto. Not so ironically, he then paid the family members that helped him blaze the trail by setting up ferries and taverns for them to collect tolls and other profits. They did just that and in the process established towns. Zane gave the town over the Muskingum River to his son-in-law John McIntire, and thus McIntire appropriately named the new town “Zanesville,” after the man who made it all possible.

Settling and Founding of Cambridge, Ohio

Old Ebeneezer forgot about our little muddy Wills Creek in his agreement with Congress, so when John noticed a ferry was needed here, it is believed he quickly wrote to his relations summoning them to come and join in this great enterprise. When George and Henry Beymer came following McIntire’s advice, I am sure they were not happy to find a guy named Ezra Graham had beat them to the punch. Ezra was living in a cabin by Wills Creek and was already collecting tolls for helping people cross the creek. Knowing there was more to this venture than just a ferry, the Beymer brothers and Graham came to an agreement to run the ferry and build a new tavern to go with it. This was designed so that people could stop and grab a bite to eat, get warm, or get some rest, before they crossed the creek and continued further into the wilderness. Graham was to collect the profits from the ferry and the tavern was to be run by the brothers.

Ezra Graham is considered by history as a “squatter” i.e. someone that occupied the land without owning it. Ezra eventually left Cambridge and the rest of his life is lost to history. The Beymer family can be considered the area’s first settlers as they would go on to keep the tavern and run the ferry. In 1801, the land was granted to Revolutionary War Veteran Zacchues Beatty; whom then gave parts of the land to his father and brother-in-law, Zaccheus Beatty and Zaccheus Biggs. Zaccheus Beatty  was assigned the job of surveyor in Wheeling and thus informed the Beymer’s that his father would be coming from Virginia to run the place from here on out, and with no legal title the Beymers had no choice but to give up the ferry and the tavern they had labored over to build. When John Beatty showed up as Zaccheus said he would, in his party was a former slave named “Tobey Beatty.” In 1806, John Beatty and his son-in-law Jacob Gomber (whom bought Biggs land) laid the plat, and named their little collection of growing cabins “Cambridge, Ohio.” It is true they were amid a national movement of expanding settlers going west. A huge influx of government surveyors, passerby’s and yet more settlers came to this region following the Ordinance. Including the epic journey of the Sarchet family in 1806, who are credited with giving us the name of Guernsey County. This large movement west is why so many different family names are attributed to being Cambridge and Guernsey Counties “first settlers.”

I should also note that Guernsey County was not established until 1810 and since Cambridge predates the county, there is a distinct difference between Cambridge’s first settlers and Guernsey County’s first settlers. As for who the first settlers were and who founded and platted the town of Cambridge, I have tried my best to give you both. Which you choose to admire more is your own preference. Later Zanes Trace, the trail that made it all happen, would be expanded on and a larger road built over it and it become known as the “National Road.” It is a big reason for the founding of more inland rural settlements like our own. Wills Creek, Zanes Trace and the National Road are our claims to a rich history that goes back to the generation of the founding fathers.

(William G.Wolfe, “Stories of Guernsey County” 1943. PG. 29-30)

(William Snider, “Guernsey County’s Black Pioneers, Patriots, and Persons”  1979. PG 1)


The Founding Fathers and the Movement West

I don’t believe many people identify Ohio as the frontier but at one time we were the wild west, with “crazed” Indians and pioneers battling each other for land. Our neighbors the Virginians (West Virginians didn’t exist, they were still just Virginians) and the Pennsylvanians were both original 13 colonies and thus a part of the fight against England for Independence. Unlike most small inland counties throughout the United States, we are the direct result of America’s first major effort to build a road into the frontier. Our history goes back further than other inland rural counties because of our connection to this road. When it was announced as a part of the Northwest Ordinance that the land won in the Revolution was finally going to be open to settlers, and then subsequently a road built to get to it; many pioneers came rushing over the Appalachia Mountains in a huge movement to get to that land. Guernsey County was a part of that land and the people that settled it were a part of that movement.

Imacon Color Scanner

Battle Erie from the War of 1812

Zane’s Trace, didn’t just  give us a ferry that needed settlers to work, it gave us a road that traveled directly back to Maryland where a person or a companies goods could then hop on a boat down the Potomac River to Washington D.C. or other large commercial cities. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both are documented talking about the beauty of the American frontier. Washington’s brothers were a part of the Ohio Company of Virginia, which attempted to colonize the region for the British Crown. Washington, as a British Officer, was told to go push the French out of Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley. Washington was unsuccessful and a “more experienced” General Braddock was killed trying to clean up Washington’s mess. This event led to the French and Indian War before the Revolution. Ben Franklin was also a part of multiple efforts to settle our region under a revitalized version of the Ohio Company called the Grand Ohio Company. After this plan collapsed and after the Revolution, Franklin privately expressed that he felt shorted, and under-appreciated by the Congress for his work in France when he said they could have granted him and his family a tract of the Ohio for his years of service. These ideas of settlement would not be realized until after the Revolutionary War and after Washington and Franklin both passed away. However, Jefferson and Madison certainly picked up the cause and made it happen. I find it very interesting that Ben Franklin and George Washington, both made political pushes for the land we live and drive on everyday.

Cambridge land is thought to have been settled by Graham and the Beymers as early as the administration of John Adams (1796-1800). Cambridge was officially founded and established under the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson in 1806: the author of the Declaration of Independence. It is kind of fitting our paper is the “Daily Jeffersonian” then isn’t it? Guernsey County was founded in 1810 under James Madison: “the Father of the Constitution.” While Guernsey Counties founding fathers were settling the area we all have come to know (they were of the same generation as the nations founding fathers as they fought for them in the War for Independence.) Madison was presiding over another military conflict–considered by many as a part of the Revolution–against England called the War of 1812. In 1813, the American Navy captured 6 vessels of the British Royal Navy on Lake Erie. Pretty crazy to think the red coats were attempting to invade northern Ohio, just 3 years after the establishment of Guernsey County.  What’s even more crazy? You can go to “Founders Grave Yard” across from the old county jail, and you will find “War of 1812” and “War for Independence” flags next to those that fought those red coats, and you can also look at a huge monument dedicated to all the veterans a part of the Revolution which span’s some 50 years from the early protests in the 1760’s against taxes, to the end of the war of 1812 which was actually fought in 1813. I can honestly say before I had sought out this information, I had no idea Cambridge had soldiers buried on her land that fought under the command of General George Washington. I just didn’t think the town was that old. But I was wrong, it is that old, and these men and women were extremely proud of the beautiful Ohio land they had settled, the same beautiful land you and I take for granted everyday.

The grave of Jacob Gomber, co-founder of Cambridge, Ohio and veteran of the War of 1812

The grave of Jacob Gomber, co-founder of Cambridge, Ohio and veteran of the War of 1812

This is the kind of stuff I love. I love thinking of Guernsey County without all the buildings, roads, and highways we have grew all up with, thinking of it as nothing more than a vast wilderness of trails, with Indians fishing in Wills creek and hunting wild bears and whatever other creatures they could find wondering the land. I love thinking of the huge movement of people crossing the Appalachia Mountains in Pennsylvania and West Virginia as if it’s a horse and carriage race to find the best land. I love thinking of those people turning old Indian trails into small dirt roads that connect little collections of cabins some miles away. How cool would it be to take a machine back in time, and ride in a wagon pulled by horses from the cabins in Old Washington to the taverns in Cambridge, and then off to Bye’s Mill (Byesville) to talk to Jonathan Bye. From there he would point us to some cabins and good people to feed us in Senecaville, where when we were done there, the people would send us off to Pleasant Point (Pleasant City). What an experience it would be to know our way around this vast wilderness from our modern day experience, telling the people where the buildings and the schools would be built in the future.

We are connected to the founders and first settlers of Guernsey County–people we can all be proud of–because we walk the same land and breath the same air they once did. They are connected to the famous events we read about in history books because to them these were current events. Ebenezer Zane once stepped foot on our land blazing his trail, Zane was veteran of the War of Independence and one can only imagine the famous people he may have encountered on his trips to petition congress. We are also connected to the famous people in history by their visits to our land. We are connected to the famous movements in history because the men and women that walked our land were a part of and experienced those movements. This what I am trying to do, find the stories that connect us to the people and events of the history books, and find the great stories that make our history unique. I encourage anyone that is interesting in doing the same to help us out. 🙂

If you’re interested in writing and having an article published email me at JS066513@ohio.edu or friend me on Facebook. (J.c. Shively) and send me a message