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Our Rich History: Kentucky and the first buildings in Cincinnati; 26 intrepid immigrants build first cabin

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

When the intrepid group of 26 brave immigrants arrived at what is now remembered as Yeatman’s Cove on December 28, 1788, they spent their first night ashore in what would become Cincinnati under the stars — without shelter. Getting out of the winter weather quickly was a priority for them. Using the only available source for lumber they had, their flatboats, they soon constructed the first cabin in Cincinnati. It was the first cabin, not the first building, not even the third building. The first two buildings to stand in what is now Cincinnati were built by Kentucky residents nearly a full decade before settlement.

In the spring of 1780, with the American Revolution still raging, British Captain Henry Byrd marched a force of 500 regulars, augmented by an even larger force of Native Americans, into Kentucky. Crossing at present-day Cincinnati, they marched up the Licking River and attacked settlements along the river, taking over 300 prisoners.

A view of Cincinnati in 1800. Source: postcard in the collection of Paul A. Tenkotte.

Most of these prisoners were in the possession of the Indian warriors who accompanied the force. Some did not survive, some weren’t returned until 1795. To chastise the Shawnee who had been with Byrd, George Rogers Clark raised a force of around 1,000 Kentuckians at the Point (the mouth of the Licking River in what is now Covington, Kentucky) to attack their villages near present-day Springfield, Ohio. They crossed the Ohio River and constructed two blockhouses on the present site of Cincinnati. There, they left a small force under Thomas Vickroy to guard the sick and extra supplies.

Vickroy gives his account as follows:

“…On the first day of August 1780, we crossed the Ohio River and built the two blockhouses where Cincinnati now stands…”

The rest of Clark’s forces destroyed the village at Old Chillicothe and defeated a larger force at Peckuwe. As for the two blockhouses, although their existence is confirmed, the exact location has never been discovered. They were left abandoned after the campaign had finished.

In 1782, the Kentucky Militia under Clark assembled again at the mouth of the Licking River, this time to punish the Shawnee for their ambush at the Battle of Blue Licks.

Clark, accompanied by 1,050 men including Simon Kenton, again crossed the Ohio River at present-day Cincinnati and quickly built another blockhouse on the site. This account is corroborated by Simon Kenton and John McCaddon, who in his letter to the American Pioneer, of 1842 recounted his experiences with Clark’s army.

The rapid movement of Clark’s force completely surprised the Shawnee, and their town of Piqua was completely destroyed. Crops in the field near the village were burned. The force also destroyed a British trading post known as Loramie’s Store, where the warriors often met to stage their attacks. This campaign led to the cessation of large warrior attacks in Kentucky.

Afterward, some Shawnee even relocated to west of the Mississippi River.

A popular militia officer, Captain William McCracken, was grazed in the arm by a musket ball at Piqua. Though seen as a minor wound at the time, infection set in and McCracken died while being carried down the Cincinnati hill we know today as Mt. Auburn. He was buried near where the blockhouse was constructed.

The grave was then buried under earthworks that were thrown up to hide it from warriors looking to desecrate the grave. His grave has never been located. Nor were the sites of the first three blockhouses built in Cincinnati.

Coincidentally, McCracken was not the first white man buried in Cincinnati.

But that is a story for another time.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

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