THE defeats of Generals Harmar and St. Clair by
the Indians, in 1790 and 1791, created the greatest consternation on the
Western frontier, and the feeling became quite prevalent that it would
soon become necessary to abandon the settlements, Cincinnati included,
and the inhabitants seek homes nearer to civilization. Just when
the despondency was the greatest, news was received that President
Washington had appointed General Anthony Wayne, of Revolutionary fame,
to command against the savages, and immediately afterwards the hardy old
soldier, with his veterans, pitched their camps in this city. A
rapid campaign was made, and the savages, defeated everywhere, gladly
accepted the terms offered by their conqueror.
With the army of Wayne was a major and commissary
of subsistence, William Ruffin, who was so pleased with the appearance
and location of the town that, after peace was declared, he retired from
the army, settled here, and was for many years one of our most prominent
and public-spirited citizens. The early pioneers were men of iron will
and great force of character. They, were nearly all ex-soldiers of. the
Revolution, or the children of the heroes, and as such had been educated
in the best, of all schools, that of rugged, actual experience. As soon
as he arrived here, Major Ruffin at once built a log-cabin on the bank
of Deer Creek, so as to be handy to Fort Washington ; and some years
later, or not long after peace was declared, he erected a more
commodious frame house on the river bank, near the foot of Lawrence
Street, which can be seen in all the early pictures of Cincinnati.
While the entire history of the first half-century
of Cincinnati is thickly clotted with the public work of Major Ruffin,
it appears that he cared more for the general good than he did for self;
and there is no evidence that he ever cared greatly about building up a
grand fortune, like many others of the early settlers. It was not
because he did not have the chance ; for he always was called to the
front, and enjoyed a lucrative income, from which he could easily have
saved enough to have bought hundreds of choice town lots, as they could
in those days have been purchased for a mere song.
When the war of 1812 was declared, Major Ruffin
was appointed upon the staff of Major-general Gano, and was extremely
zealous 'in the discharge of his duties. Sheriff of Hamilton County four
years; postmaster of the city, by appointment from President Monroe, for
eight years; Indian supply agent up Red River ; a long time city clerk
under Mayor Isaac G. Burnet; a presidential elector in 1825, voting for
Henry Clay; and the notary of the Branch Bank of the United States for
many years,óMajor Ruffin led a life of the greatest activity and
usefulness, securing and retaining the regard of the community to the
day of his death.
A single incident in the life of Major Ruffin.
will show how all his sense of official duty overcame all personal
considerations. He was sheriff of the county in 1826, when Philip Lewis,
a colored man, was sentenced to be hung for the murder of Thomas Isdell.
The major, while firm in his convictions of duty, was nevertheless as
tender-hearted as a child, and the thought of injuring another caused
him the greatest pain. For days and nights he studied over the matter,
at times almost concluding to resign his office; but then he had sworn
to enforce the law, and his word of honor was above all other thoughts,
and when the time came the execution took place. The dread law was
supreme; but the major for months afterwards openly expressed the
unlimited grief he felt in being forced to deprive a fellow man of his
In private life Major Ruffin was a most excellent
man, a Christian gentleman, an active member of the Episcopal Church, of
which, with Judge Bellamy Storer, he was one of the first vestrymen, and
a leading spirit in every charity or other object having in view the
bettering of the condition of mankind.
Major Ruffin was born at Petersburg, Virginia,
January 31, 1774. He was married to Miss Elizabeth Rue, at Hagerstown,
Maryland, about 1794, and died in this city in 1834.
There were born to this excellent couple eleven
children, all of whom arrived at age. One, a daughter, was the wife of
Major Oliver, a former postmaster of this city. John was for nearly
thirty years connected with the same department, while all the others
were useful, public-spirited citizens. Of the entire number only one
survives, Captain James L. Ruffin, who was connected with public matters
here for many years, but has now entirely retired from active life, and
lives with his family in a beautiful villa at Clifton. DE B.
Source: In Memoriam
Cincinnati 1881, Cincinnati, A. E. Jones, Publisher, 1881.