"THE First Merchant of Cincinnati." Such were the words on a card attached to a venerable Jacksonian head that hung in the south end of the gallery. Little would the casual observer surmise the wonderful history connected with the original of that time-worn painting.
John Bartle. was born of good family, in La Marne, France, about 1743, and, after serving some years in the army, there he came to America with Lafayette, to fight for the independence of the Colonies. So well did he perform his work here that when the war closed he was mustered out with the distinguished rank of colonel, by which title he was ever afterwards addressed. Full of admiration for his adopted country, he concluded to make it his future home. The frontier presenting the greatest field of promise for one of his venturesome disposition, he started as an army trader between Baltimore, Hagerstown, and Pittsburg, which district then was largely an almost unbroken wilderness.
A little later we find Colonel Bartle a merchant in a small way in Cincinnati, and afterwards connected With St. Clair, Harmar, and Wayne in their campaigns against the Indians. After the peace of Greenville, Colonel Bartle returned to his family and business here, and for years was one of our most esteemed, prosperous, and enterprising merchants.
His children marrying off, and strangers constantly coming, Bartle grew weary of a settled life, and for years wandered
along the Indians of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan, undergoing many hardships and making many hair-breadth escapes.
Having reached a ripe old age, Colonel Bartle, who had long been given up for dead, returns, and finds a pleasant home, a short distance back of Newport, with his son-in-law and daughter, Elijah Pierce and wife.
Being of an exceedingly proud and independent nature, Colonel Bartle could not entertain the idea of being dependent, and after living a few years with his daughter, against the earnest entreaties and tears of all, he again seeks the world, for some months being the guest of the officers of the garrison, who were glad to have with them an old officer who had fought under and had personally known Washington, Lafayette, St. Clair, Harmar, and Wayne.
Once more he disappears, and, to the surprise of all, is found at a very respectable boarding-house on Pearl Street, where is also stopping a poor and talented young French artist, whom our well-known pioneer, Joseph Coffin, commissioned to paint the portrait of Colonel Bartle which was in the pioneer gallery, and also one of Colonel Samuel W. Davies, mayor of the
city. A few weeks afterwards Colonel Bartle is again missing, and, notwithstanding the most eager search by friends, not a word is heard of or from him until the 11th of December, 1839, when the following startling announcement" appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette, evidently written by the chief editor, the distinguished Charles Hammond:
ANOTHER PIONEER GONE,
"Death has taken to a better land another of our earliest
pioneers. In recording the decease of the venerable Colonel Bartle, we regret to say that he died in the hospital. He came here at so early a
period that the first roof dignified with shingles was covered by him.
He afterwards became the leading merchant of Cincinnati; but as the population gathered around
him, and the manners of the people changed, he wandered off. After various vicissitudes, he returned to die upon the scenes of
his first adventures. It is fit that respect should be paid to his obsequies. In life he was honorable; and if his death was lonely it was because he had returned after a long absence to a people who could not so much be said to have forgotten him as never to have known him.
"His remains are now at the hospital. It is suggested that a meeting be held this evening at the Cincinnati College, for the purpose of making arrangements for his funeral."
Thus, after a long and eventful career of almost a century, died one of the oldest, noblest, and most honorable of the many gallant soldiers who, having successfully fought for the independence we now enjoy, became pioneers in founding Cincinnati.
Dr. Wm. E. De Courcy, member of Council from the Sixteenth Ward of this city, is a great-grandsons of Colonel Bartle, his mother having been a daughter of Elijah Pierce and wife.
Source: In Memoriam
Cincinnati 1881, Cincinnati, A. E. Jones, Publisher, 1881.