DeWitt Genealogy

ohio river
In 1807, John Dewitt moved his wife Nancy (maiden name: Culbertson), three sons and four daughters from Pennsylvania to Virginia. The children, in order from oldest to youngest, were: Thomas, John, Margaret Elizabeth, Martha Charlotte, Nancy Elizabeth, Alexander C. and Lydia. We believe they migrated from the southwestern Pennsylvania region around Pittsburgh.  Two more daughters would be born in Virginia: Charlotte and Phoebe.  [Note that the links for John and his son Thomas take you to their family genealogy pages.]
Probably they migrated via flatboat down the Ohio river to a beautiful bottom land on the Virginia (now West Virginia) shore. Instead of the usual Appalachian hills rising from the river, this bottomland in Virginia had been scoured out over the centuries during occasional floods.  The land was fertile and looked like a good place to start a new existence, assuming there would be no problem with the local Indian tribes.  Conflicts with native American tribes had waned since the  Treaty of Greenville was signed in 1795, in which the the native Americans gave up their claim to the southern two-thirds of what is now Ohio and the southeastern part of what is now Indiana. Over the next five years over 40,000 people spread into these areas.  It appears then, that John and Nancy Dewitt decided to leave Pennsylvania and follow the migrations westward.

Their ultimate destination was about 230 miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh.
This location would soon become known as Muses Bottom (Figure 1 at *).

There were no roads to the region so staying near the river was the obvious logic for survival.

At that time in American history hundreds of people were moving down the river to find new lives. On the western shore of the Ohio River was the four year old state of Ohio that was formed in 1803. River towns such as Steubenville and Marietta were growing, and inland, New Lancaster (now Lancaster) and Zanesville were expanding. On the eastern river shore was Virginia and there were no towns after Wheeling, Virginia before Muses Bottom.

migration route
Figure 1
This map is a modified subset of a map printed in 1815. The blue highlighted line shows the river journey taken by the John Dewitt family in 1807.  The state of Ohio is in the upper left above the Ohio River. Pennsylvania is in the upper right. Virginia's region that eventually became part of West Viriginia (1863) is shown below the Ohio River.  The red asterisk (
*) shows the location where the Dewitts settled at what would become known as Muses Bottom.

Double click on the map to visit the internet site for this map at the David Rumsey Map collection, or:

This site is a treasure trove.
First American West

From southwestern Pennsylvania, at the time of the Dewitt migration to Virginia, as well as migrations to more "western" lands such as Ohio, Indiana,  Kentucky, etc., (Figure 2) the primary way to travel was via boat on the Ohio River. 

In 1807 there were no steam boats and no trains, so you could walk, ride a horse or float. (Note that the map shown above in Figure 1 was made a few years later in 1815 so conditions were slightly better in terms of roads... but not much!)

trip to mississippi
Figure 2
This map shows the typical path of migration via the Ohio River down to the Mississippi River in the first decade of the 19th century.  The famous explorer Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) also started at Pittsburgh on August 31, 1803, but they went a lot further than John Dewitt.  Lewis boated down to Louisville, Kentucky where he met Clark on October 14, 1803. They then floated down to the Mississippi, and then exerted their way up the Mississippi to the mouth of the Missouri River where they "officially" started their exploration in 1804. They then explored all the way to the Pacific over the next two years.
* = Dewitt destination and ** = Lewis destination 1] 

8x8box Therefore, the typical method of moving a family was to use a flatboat (Figure 3) and steer it down the river as it was propelled by the current.  These boats were built in the Pittsburg or Wheeling areas and then floated down the river to the destination which could be as far as New Orleans via the Mississippi River. 

Since there was no way to move the boat upstream, the flatboats were dismantled and used to build things such as a cabin to live in at the destination. They varied in size but could be huge (e.g. 12-20 ft wide and 20-100 ft long!)

If you wanted to travel back the way you came... you walked.  So these early migrations were mostly one-way journeys, at least for families.

Figure 3
This figure shows a small flatboat on its way down the Ohio River. Notice how it was steered using the long rudder at the stern (rear) and long poles at the bow (front). 
For navigation, they were rigged with sweeps on the sides, a rudder or steering-oar, and a short front sweep called a "gouger". The great side sweeps, resembling horns from a distance, gave rise to the name Broadhorn. The sweeps were used for directing the flatboat into the current, or for pulling into slack water when landing, rather than for propulsion. Some flatboats also had hawsers mounted to reels; the hawser (rope) would be attached to a tree or stump and wound in to assist landing. Smaller craft had a shelter with a cooking area. Larger flatboats had a rear shelter for horses and cattle, and a forward cabin for the family, and the largest were fully covered.

Read about life on flatboats at:

Another type of boat availble to some was the Keelboat (Figure 4) that could be used to move upstream with the use of a sail, poles and ropes to pull using oxen from the shoreline. 

They were 40-80 feet long and 7-10 feet wide and had pointed ends, rounded bottoms and keels that helped them cut through the water.

The energy that moved the boats on the river was human energy, in the form of men using long poles to propel and steer. On a trip down a river, flatboat operators were assisted by the current, and could make the 1950-miles to New Orleans in four - six weeks. Keel boatmen, on the other hand, fought the current on the trip back to Pittsburgh, so the return trip upstream took four months!

Figure 4
The flatboat in the foreground is is dependent mostly on the current to move downstream
while the keelboat can be poled down and upstream. Note the sail on the keelboat in the background.

Read about life on flatboats and keelboats starting at Pittsburgh at:

These keelboats were used by many explorers such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they explored the Northwest Territory during 1803-1806. Figure 5 shows that their initial journey was down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh (Lewis) and from Louisville (Lewis and Clark) down to the Mississippi River. But the next phase was up the Mississippi to their camp at the mouth of the Missouri River. They then moved up the Missouri River in May 1804, so a flatboat would not have worked.

Read about Lewis's trip at: (Ohio River trip) or (WikiRef)

Boat Models
   Keelboat model
   Flatboat model
Figure 5
This map shows the path of the famous Lewis and Clark explorations.  Everything associated with the Missouri river was against the current and therefore absolutely required keelboats. After using horses over the continental divide, they used canoes to move down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.

When John Dewitt moved his family, they probably employed a flatboat since they may have taken horses, cattle or mules with them as well as two adults and seven children ranging in age from three to eighteen.

Some interesting references about the Ohio river can be found at:

Cincinnati Library's
A River Runs Through It:
Books About the Ohio River in the Library’s Collection

History of Flatboats on the Ohio River

Pioneer Lifeways: Transportation Systems
Figure 6
Historical fiction: In a story set in 1815, Mary and Jonathan McClure join their parents and numerous other families on an adventurous journey down the Ohio River. The McClures have been patiently waiting for winter's end aboard a loaded flatboat by a riverbank in Pittsburgh. Spring thaw makes travel on the river possible again; they set off, looking forward to a new life on fertile land in the territory that was to become Indiana. Sanders has written a descriptive narrative of these courageous people who loaded all their possessions, tools, animals, and family onto a flatboat or raft bound for a new home on unsettled land. The daily struggles and triumphs on the river are effectively portrayed throughout the narrative.


Return to the Beginning

A few questions arise when one considers the Dewitt journey.
1. Where did they start from... exactly?
What did they see along the way?
3. Why did they choose to settle at Muses Bottom?

1. Where did they start from... exactly?

8x8box Seventeen years before their journey, in 1790, John Dewitt was living in Westmoreland Co, PA.  In Figure 7, Greensburg was the county seat for that county. He was living with one adult female who we assume was his wife.

Figure 7
This image is a subset of Figure 1 showing Greensburg which is the county seat of Westmoreland County, PA.

Figure 8 shows the locations of counties in Pennsylvania at the time of the first census of the United States in April 1790.  The county of greatest concern is Westmoreland (We) with its county seat of Greensburg (* G) in the township of Hempfield.

Figure 8
1790 Map of Pennsylvania Counties:
Al is Allegheny Co.     Bed is Bedford Co.     Fa is Fayette Co.
Was is Washington Co.     We is Westmoreland Co.
* G is Greensburg.     *P is Pittsburgh.


8x8box To be specific, in the 1790 census for Westmoreland Co, PA in Hempfield Township, John Culbertson and a John Dewit were listed next to each other which I assume means they lived near to each other.

So on 14 April 1790 we can pinpoint John and his wife [Nancy (Culbertson)?], and her father's family to that locale.  [I added a ? about Nancy because the census record does not show family member names.]

Apparently what had happened is that John Dewitt fell in love with Nancy Culbertson, and had married her. Then they settled down in the house next to her parents. We believe that he married her about a year earlier.
1790 John
Figure 9
This image shows John Dewit and John Culbertson on page 56 of the Westmoreland  County, Pennsylvania 1790 census which was recorded on 14 April 1790. There were a total of 2329 people living in
Hempfield Township.

First column: Name of Head of Family
Second column: Free white males of 16 years upwards including Heads of Families
Third column: Free white males under 16 years
Fourth column: Free white females including Heads of Families
Fifth column: All other Free Persons
Sixth column: Slaves

The confusing part about this is that their first son Thomas died in 1879 at the age of 90 which would make his birthday 1789. So why didn't he show up in this 1790 census as a male under the age of 16?

1.  Westmoreland Co. History
2.  Current county map


So what did John and Nancy do for the next 17 years until 1807?
For one thing... they had children!
Thomas Dewitt
(b. about 1789)
John Dewitt
(b. 25 Nov 1792)
Margaret Elizabeth Dewitt
(b. about 1796)
Martha Charlotte Dewitt
(b. 13 Aug 1797)
Nancy Elizabeth Dewitt
(b. about 1801-3)
Alexander C. Dewitt
(b. about 1803-5)
Lydia Dewitt
(b. about 1804)

Other than building a family, I have no evidence of these Dewitts anywhere in the region until they showed up in Virginia, so I am assuming they remained in the region around Pittsburgh until 1807. Unfortunately for we descendants, there are some missing records for the 1800 Pennsylvania census in Westmoreland County.  So perhaps those documents are critical in learning about John Dewitt and family at the beginning of the 19th century. Also there is no 1800 census available for Virginia but we should not expect them to show up in Virginia until the 1810 census. [Just so you know... Census schedules survive for 13 states for 1800. Lost schedules include those for Georgia, Indiana Territory, Kentucky, Mississippi Territory, New Jersey, Northwest Territory, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alexandria County, District of Columbia. Some of the schedules for these states have been re-created using tax lists and other records.]

A John Dewitt did show up in Fayette Co, Springhill township in the 1800 census  with the following family makeup:
number of
free white males
in age categories:

age ranges



0 to 10 1

10 to 16 2

16 to 26 0

26 to 45 1

45 and older
Unfortunately, this mixture of family members does not match OUR John Dewitt family.

Our John Dewitt had two boys and two girls by 1800.

By the time of the Dewitt migration, the counties of Pennsylvania had changed as shown in Figure 10.  Neighboring Washington County had been split into two counties with Greene county the southernmost of the two.  In addition, the northern area of Westmoreland County had become Indiana County.  All of these changes reflected the enormous population increase occurring as the Pittsburgh area served as a launching point for westward migrations.
1807 PA
Figure 10
1807 Map of Pennsylvania Counties:
Al is Allegheny Co.     Bea is Beaver Co.     Bed is Bedford Co.    
Fa is Fayette Co.    Gr is Green Co.    In is Indiana Co.

So is Somerset Co.   Was is Washington Co.     We is Westmoreland Co.
* G is Greensburg.     *P is Pittsburgh.


So.... where did they start from... exactly?

8x8box We will assume that even if they lived in in Hempfield Township, near Greensburg, Westmoreland County, they found their way westward to Pittsburgh where many people  were beginning their journeys.

Of course their journey could have started on the Allegany (now Allegheny) River or the  Yoxhiogeni River  (now Youghiogheny) or even the Monongahela River if they lived closer to those rivers.

Figure 11
This image is a subset of Figure 1 showing Greensburg which is the county seat of Westmoreland County, PA.

8x8box And what did Pittsburgh look like in 1807?

As you can see in Figure 12, Pittsburgh was pretty small .  If you click on the link below the painting, you will find an interesting website that describes the painting and the buildings seen in it.

As an interesting comparison, Figure 13 shows a similar view taken by Patrick Wagstrom in recent times.  I have not found a photo of exactly the same view seen in the painting.
1804 Pittsburgh
Figure 12
Here is a view of Pittsburgh about 1804 shown here to provide a feel for the environment when John Dewitt and family departed on their float trip down the Ohio River in 1807. The Ohio River (left) which is formed by the joining of the Allegheny River (upper left) and Monongahela River (right).


pittsburgh now

Figure 13
Panoramic view of Pittsburgh's three river region about 2006.

Return to the Beginning

What did they see along the way?

The journey from the Pittsburgh area down to Muses Bottom was 210 miles on the Ohio River and took many days.  As you can see in the map in Figure 1, only three "major" communities existed along their path after leaving the Pittsburgh region. It is not known where they began their journey in 1807.

Towns along the 210 mile float journey
Beaver, Beaver County,

The first town was Beaver, Pennsylvania at the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio Rivers northwest of Pittsburgh. 

The area around Beaver was originally home to the Shawnee tribe. Later, the Mingo, Lenape, and other displaced groups moved into the area. The area was part of the Ohio Country that was in dispute during the French and Indian War.

Beaver became the site of Fort McIntosh, a Revolutionary War era Patriot frontier fort. After the war, the fort was the home of the First American Regiment, the oldest active unit in the US Army. The fort was abandoned in 1788 and razed a short time later.
Figure 14

This 1815 map is a subset of the map shown in Figure 1 above.
The blue highlighted line shows the first portion of the flatboat journey taken by the John Dewitt family in 1807.  The state of Ohio is at the left of the Ohio River. Pennsylvania is at the right. Virginia's panhandle region is  betwen the Ohio River and the western boundary of Pennsylvania.

Double click on the map to visit the internet site for this map at the David Rumsey Map collection.

By then, the frontier had moved westward and there was no further need for a permanent garrison to protect the area.

The town was laid out in 1792. In 1800, it became the county seat of the newly formed Beaver County. The first county court was established in the town in 1804.

Since it was "only" 30 miles down river, they probably didn't spend much time there.  Perhaps the Dewitts tied up there to rest overnight?

Within a short time, they left their beloved Pennsylvania and entered the region of Virginia known as the "panhandle". It is so called because that area has a long and very narrow width of land between the western edge of Pennsylvania and the Ohio River which still belongs to West Virginia.  So its shape is suggestive of a handle of a pan sticking up between Ohio and Pennsylvania.  A better-known example is the panhandle of Florida or Oklahoma.

Steubenville, Ohio
(WikiRef) (Ref2)

The second town along the Ohio river was the Ohio river town called Steubenville. Today Steubenville is the county seat of Jefferson County, Ohio.

In 1786, the United States government built Fort Steuben within the area known as the Seven Ranges. The federal government had arranged for a survey of modern-day southeastern Ohio in order to prepare for the settlement of the Northwest Territory. Fort Steuben served two purposes. Troops stationed at the fort were supposed to keep illegal settlers from moving into Ohio, and surveyors used the fort as a base of operations. The fort was destroyed in a fire in 1790.

The presence of the fort did not keep illegal settlers from moving into the Seven Ranges. After the fort was abandoned, some of these settlers established a town that became known as Steubenville. The increase in illegal settlers also led to conflicts with Native Americans in the region. 

trip to mississippi
Figure 15
This map shows the typical path of migration via the Ohio River down to the Mississippi River in the first decade of the 19th century and includes the first town in Ohio called Steubenville. 

* = Dewitt destination and ** = Meriweather Lewis destination 1]

fort steuben
Figure 16
In Steubenville, Ohio, a replica of Fort Stueben has been built near the shore of the Ohio River. Fort Steuben was built in 1786 by the First American Regiment for the protection of surveyors who had been sent by the Continental Congress to map the Northwest Territory.

Bezaleel Wells founded Steubenville on the ruins of Fort Steuben in 1797. Most early settlers were squatters from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Wells selected Steubenville's location because it was centered in a valley with relatively fertile soil. Much of the Seven Ranges was hilly and had poor soil for productive farms.

In 1815, Wells helped establish a woolen mill at Steubenville. The building was three stories high and approximately one hundred feet long. It employed approximately fifty men, thirty women, and forty children. The factory produced broadcloth, a dense woolen fabric with a lustrous finish. Broadcloth was expensive and many people could not afford to buy it. The factory closed during the Panic of 1819. Wells also opened the first bank in Steubenville.

By the late 1840s, Steubenville was a flourishing community of seven thousand people including a sizable number of African Americans. It had eleven churches, five woolen mills, two glass factories, a paper mill, and an iron foundry. Coal mined from the surrounding area powered most of these manufacturing establishments.

Steubenville, Ohio, and the Nineteenth-Century Steamboat Trade


So in 1807 as the Dewitts floated by Steubenville, Fort Stueben was a decade gone, and the shores of Ohio welcomed settlers rather than viewed them as squatters... but the Dewitts kept floating down the Ohio.

Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia)

The third town along the Ohio river was the Virginia river town called Wheeling. On a smaller level, Wheeling was another important place where migrations began.  It is certainly possible, but unlikely that the Dewitts set sail from Wheeling.
Ebenezer, Silas, and Jonathan Zane were the first and original settling family near the present day City of Wheeling. The settlement, called Zanesburg, is believed to have occurred in 1769. Other notable families joined the settlement including the Shepherds, the Wetzels, and the McCollochs. It was officially established as a town in 1795 and incorporated in 1806. By an act of the Virginia General Assembly on December 27, 1797, Wheeling was named the county seat of Ohio County.

Figure 17
This 1815 map is a subset of the map shown in Figure 1 above.
The blue highlighted line shows the first portion of the flatboat journey taken by the John Dewitt family in 1807.  The state of Ohio is at the left of the Ohio River. Pennsylvania is at the right. Virginia's panhandle region is  betwen the Ohio River and the western boundary of Pennsylvania.

Double click on the map to visit the internet site for this map at the David Rumsey Map collection.

The Wheeling area in the late 18th century was the site of significant strife between white settlers and the surrounding native americans.  To help defend the settlers, a Fort was built on ground where modern Wheeling stands today.

From Fort Henry’s humble beginning as “a small Fort at the Mouth of the Wheelin” it rose to become the second most important fort for the defense of the frontier and was surpassed only by Fort Pitt.

Construction of the fort was undertaken in June of 1774 following Vice Governor John Connolly’s orders under the authority of Lord Dunmore, then Governor of the territory of Virginia.
fort henry
Figure 18
Fort Henry in 1777, located at what is now the city of Wheeling

On it’s completion the fort was named Fort Fincastle in honor of Lord Dunmore. The construction of the fort was supervised by Col. William Crawford and completed before the middle of July.

The fort was in the shape of a rectangle, 225 feet long by 150 feet wide. It was located in the 1000 block of present day downtown Wheeling, West Virginia. It consisted of four two story blockhouses and a palisade wall. Within the walls were barracks for the militia, a store house, a commander’s quarters in the center. The main gate was located in the east wall, facing a clearing where some 20 to 30 log homes were located at the base of the hill.

The militia was made up of settlers who were responsible for the defense of the fort at both the siege of 1777 and 1782 as well as the aborted siege of 1781. There were no regular soldiers at any of the sieges.

On the eve of the American Revolution the fort was renamed Fort Henry in honor of Patrick Henry, the Revolutionary Governor of Virginia.

Read more at .... (Ref)

Boat-building Flourished Here Too! (ref)

The placid Ohio river, passing the city of Wheeling since pioneer days has been an avenue of transportation. Historical records disclose that by the beginning of the 19th century boat building was one of Wheelings leading industries. Here was one of the centers of transfer from the east to the flat boats and keel boats destined to float down the river, many never to return. Large number of workers were employed here building the flat boats and keel boats, because most of the boats were broken up at the end of the down-river journey and the wood, used to build cabins, barns and other buildings.

Regular boatmen traveled the river as a business, floating their boats down to St. Louis, Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans, returning via foot and horseback to Wheeling to have another boat constructed for their next trip. During the mid- summer navigation on the Ohio was only possible as far north as Wheeling.

Records disclose that in 1811 the steamboat New Orleans, built in Pitsburgh, made the first voyager down stream, under the power of steam-driven paddles, to the Mississippi. An item in the Wheeling Repository, first newspaper published here in 1808 states that the schooner, Nancy, of 100 tons burden was launched in Wheeling, at a ship-building yard on the banks of the Ohio, "which was launched with great eclat" on June 27 of that year. In 1816 the first side-wheeler the "Washington" was built in this city and launched by Henry M. Shreve, a prominent pioneer boat builder. It was the first boat of this type to negotiate up-stream with a cargo.


  1. The following reference provides a feel for the first explorers and settlers along the Ohio River before 1800. EXPLORATION & EARLY SETTLEMENTS IN WEST VIRGINIA: (Ref)
  2. Historical references for Ohio County, West Virginia: (Ref)
  3. History of the Upper Ohio Valley: (Ref)
  4. Story of Fort Henry: (Ref) (WikiRef)

As for the Dewitts...
It is likely that they stopped off at Wheeling for various needs, but obviously they moved on down the river.

Marietta, Ohio

The fourth and last town on the Dewitt migration along the Ohio river was the Ohio river town called Marietta.

The year was 1788.  A  group of 48 men of the Ohio Company of Associates arrived at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers and established the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory. It was named Marietta in honor of Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who had aided the young country in its battle for independence from Great Britain.
This odyssey had actually begun in 1770 when a young surveyor began exploring large tracts of land west of his  native Virginia.   During  the Revolutionary War, this surveyor, George Washington, told his friend, General Rufus Putnam, of the beauty he had seen in his travels through the Ohio Valley and of his ideas for settling the territory. After the war, the newly formed country found itself with little money but blessed with natural resources. As a result of this cash deficit, men who had served in the revolution were paid, not with cash, but with warrants for land in the Northwest territory.  There was one problem with these warrants, however.  The Federal Government did not own the land it offered until the passage of the Ordinance of 1787 which ceded ownership of the Northwest Territory to the government.  The Ohio Company of Associates planned to buy 1.5 million acres of land from congress with provisions it had written in the ordinance which allowed veterans to use their warrants to purchase the land.
When this group of 48 men, led by General Rufus Putnam, arrived, they brought with them the first government sanctioned by the United States. Fort Harmar, a military outpost built three years prior, lay across the Muskingum River.   The Native Americans were not pleased with the arrival of the settlers who immediately started construction of two forts, Campus Martius, which stood at the site of the museum which today bears it's name, and Picketed Point, at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. At the same time, a community was also being built in the wilderness from plans made before the groups departure form Boston.
In 1785, the Treaty of Harmar was signed, bringing some resolve with several Native American nations in regards to trade, controversy and boundaries.
The families of the settlers began arriving within a few months, as did Governor Arthur St. Clair who presided over this new territory,  and, by the end of 1788, 137 people populated the area. The Treaty of Greenville was signed with the Native Americans in 1795, thus allowing the settlers to move from the safety of the fortresses and to spread out into the surrounding territory.
Religion was important to these first settlers and services were held on a regular basis, but it wasn't until 1796 that a church was chartered. This first church was Congregational and it's charter was unusually inclusive due to the varied religious backgrounds of it's members. The congregation constructed the first church building in 1807.
Since many of the settlers had been officers during the revolution, and were highly educated, education was also a priority for these first settlers.  That first winter saw the beginning of basic education for the children at Campus Martius. In 1835 the community leaders founded Marietta College.
Marietta's location on two major navigable rivers made it ripe for industry and commerce from the start.  Boat building was one of the early industries with even ocean going vessels being constructed and sailed down river to the Mississippi and on to the Gulf of Mexico.  Brick factories and sawmills supplied materials for homes and public buildings.  An iron mill, along with several foundries provided rails for the railroad industry and Marietta Chair Factory supplied furniture. And then there was oil!


Trip from Pittsburgh to Marieta
They Saw AMERICA Born
Copyright, 1941

Historical Collections of Ohio
By Henry Howe
Vol. II

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