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Yellow Creek Stories


Chapter IV

The Indoctrination of Mart Adams

What is now Brushcreek township, Jefferson County, Ohio, was very slowly settled because its rough hill-land, deep narrow valleys and scrub oak soil was not a favorable drawing card to early pioneer farming. For some years hunting, "boiling salt" and "stilling" were the main business attractions in this uninviting region.

When these red oak lands were finally all taken up, as chance would have it, the settlers south of Chestnut Ridge proved to be mostly rugged Irish in ancestry, and those settling north of this ridge were predominantly of thrifty Scotch, with the ancestral burr still on their tongues. Both clans brought with them many of their homeland customs, but socially they kept as separate as sheep and goats, having only one trait in common—a love and taste for rye whiskey. While the Scots had a regular interval between "nips of the jolly water" the ruddy round faced Irish "swigged on the demijohn" until this "nectar of the Gods" was entirely gone and he could prove the fact by turning the little jug upside down and, "not another drap came out of it." Too often did his Hibernian blood get the upper hand of his good judgment, and many times strayed off his own "clearing" to exercise his fists, perfectly satisfied whichever way the "rumpus" ended or the damage done.

Owing to the lack of roads, and sparseness of taxpaying settlers, the early tax collectors practically refused to make their annual visits to the Brushcreek valley, because the collection was hardly worth the effort. The main reason and the most important one was that many of these Irish had ardent objections to taxation. Having lived in Western Pennsylvania for a period during the "Whiskey Rebellion," they had found that often fists would speak better for them than tongue could ever dare. Both county officials and tax collectors waited the day when they could wish the Brushcreek country off on some other unsuspecting county. It was nearly thirty years before Columbiana County’s prayer was answered, and its transfer to Jefferson County was quickly agreed to with the fervent wishes that this wild land would stay permanently under its new jurisdiction.

Among the very first settlers of Brushcreek township was an eccentric bachelor by the name of Martin ADAMS who located on Chestnut Grove Ridge. He came to this new land not of his own volition, but as a successful effort to seek a safe haven from being arrested by federal officers; for his too energetic participation in the Whiskey Rebellion of Western Pennsylvania. Adams’ prime fault had been that he was too active on the wrong side of that historical issue in 1794. It was a case of getting up and moving quickly, or staying and remaining in one spot until his time was served between four walls. He chose the former method.

On the day this young Irishman, Mart Adams as he was familiarly known, started for the "Northwest Territory," he and his log raft put off at Red Stone and found themselves enveloped in a curtain of heavy fog for quite a distance down the Monangahela. In fact this fog was so dense when he reached the forks of the Ohio, he tied his raft to a sycamore stump along the river bank, then walked down to the Federal Land Office in the town of Pittsburgh, and bought a section of land in the Northwest Territory. Adams was pleased with his luck and cunning so far, and doubly pleased and rejoiced at the fact that he had paid for the six hundred and forty acres, with six hundred and forty dollars of worthless Continental currency. This had been passed on to him in his efforts to dispose his Pennsylvania property, and needed to pay for the land that was new and wild—but the land of the free, west of the Ohio.

No sooner had he viewed his new purchase of land when he decided the location for his cabin, and as soon as it was fit to live in, he promised to build a stillhouse near by a lusty spring of pure cold water so necessary to get the most and best spirits from his precious rye mash.

Mart Adams was as tight in his dealings as the chestnut burrs that grew so abundantly on the long back bone of soil that gave it the name of Chestnut Ridge — yet a man of boundless energy and good business ability. His product was such as needed no second introduction to either clip the burr from Scottish tongues or put fight into Irish fists. The demand was always good, so that many had their jugs filled from the warm "drip barrel." Their excuses for buying were so plentiful as the demand was good, for Mart’s product was used on every occasion from "barn raising" to christening newborn babies. It sold for sixteen and two-thirds cents per gallon jug, or barrel lots at the same price, with barrel included—for the stiller was also a cooper who could make a barrel that seldom leaked a drop of his "Chestnut Ridge Joy Water."

Adams became widely known and collected unto himself all the petty offices in the Brushcreek country;. He was elected Justice of the Peace, and township trustee, and soon became the township authority on law, and its banker. He took notes from nearby farmers for loans—and often from those who patronized his product too freely to pay their indebtedness. He soon became the largest land owner in the township. Everything he turned his hands to, proved a little gold mine for him. As the years moved along, Mart Adams was known as an important and wealthy man—but as these two assets increased, he became more selfish, independent and narrow minded. He had the people under his thumb, by his many loans of money, that they dare not vote against him for any office—so he became the political leader of all the Brushcreek country;.

Among Mart Adams’ nearby neighbors were Samuel CLARK, whose cabin latchstring was always hanging out for every itinerant minister, and James KERR, the self-educated blind school teacher, whom Adams nicknamed "Old Socrates." The "stiller’s" dislike for both these neighbors was intense, for they favored two institutions, that Adams did not approve, nor want ever to be established in the Brushcreek country; while he lived—the schoolhouse and the church.

In 1830 both the Scotch and Irish in this region were celebrating the election of the first president of the United States of their nationality—"Old Hickory" Jackson. Adams as democratic leader, and regional dictator of the two clans (the truth is he wanted a post office and to be appointed its postmaster) was the most jubilant and vociferous, proclaiming this the day of deliverance for the Irish, and the second heaven was near at hand.

At a meeting to erect a flag pole on the high hill across from the Adams cabin (the flag having been bought and paid for by James Kerr) Adams overheard Kerr telling Clark that a deer had been browsing on his Brushcreek farm during the summer destroying his crops. He expressed a wish that Clark would bring down his flintlock and try his luck in killing the animals.

A few days later, one early crisp autumn morning Clark left his cabin on Chestnut Ridge and walked briskly along an old Indian trail down to Bear Hollow, on Brushcreek to try his prowess in killing this seven pronged buck, that Kerr had complained about, and thought he had told Clark in secret.

After several hours of waiting that frosty morning Clark was at last rewarded by catching a glimpse of this wary buck, and a short time later saw his chance to place his shot. He fired and the deer slumped to his knees. Without moving from his tracks Clark reloaded his flintlock, placed some extra powder in the pan and moved toward the fallen creature. To his surprise, the deer sprang to his feet, shook himself violently and with might bound landed in a nearby fallen tree top and stood staring at the hunter. Clark now having a perfect target, took careful aim and fired again, when to his surprise at the same moment another shot rang out a few rods away, the bullet clipping twigs from the scrubby underbrush in front of Clark’s face. Much amazed and chagrined at this unexpected breech of hunting manner, he soon noticed the other hunter edging out of the thicket and towards him shouting angrily, "This ez my buck, Sam, ‘twas me shot that dooned him."

By the time Adams had reached him, Clark had tied the deer’s feet together—he had now thrown it over his shoulder and moving towards the cabin of Kerr. But Adams trailed behind, loudly insisting he was the rightful and legal owner of the deer. As yet in the heated argument neither hunter had examined the deer to locate their shots, but soon they arrived at Kerr’s clearing and the blind school teacher was standing in the doorway trying to find out the cause of the heated argument, and who were the parties involved.

Clark proffered the idea that both hunters abide by the decision of Kerr as to the ownership of the deer after all the facts were related, and Kerr ascertained the location of the killing shots.

"Well, Old Socrates, ef Sam mus’ hev his own way, gimme youre decision. Remember that pelt is worth a dollar. By the Saint Patrick I want jestice an’ that queck," said Adams snapping the words out angrily, because he knew that this time he would get justice with a legal twist strange to his selfish way of thinking.

Kerr, or "Old Socrates," as Adams contemptiously had nicknamed him, was purposely tardy in giving him a "decision" for he was studiously choosing words so that besides the point of ownership, he could at the same time sow some fertile seed in Mart Adams’ poverty stricken conscience, that might change his distorted outlook on life in the future. Kerr knew that even at the present moment that the old "stiller" held the future advancement of these people as firmly as the flinty limestone held up the Brushcreek farms.

"Martin," Kerr at last said slowly, "the shot you fired missed the deer. It even missed Mr. Clark. Your shot, you will find out later, hit every person living in the Brushcreek hills and valleys."

"Go on! Go on!" hissed Adams, "whose deer ez et?" "Clark’s withut a question of doubt," replied Kerr.

"Well, Old Socrates, you and Sam hev skutched me this time, but remember ez long ez old Hickory Jackson iz President, I’ll run this Brushcreek country;, and old Sam’s exhortin’ preacher ideas an yore new fangle schoolin’ will never set foot in these red oak clearings. Ef you two iver come into me court, I’ll pin your ears on yore neck with a needle as long ez Brushcreek."

At this release of his Irish temper, Mart seeing that Clark had the deer nicely skinned and divided, without permission shouldered half the deer and started towards the hilltop to his cabin. Clark divided the other half into two parts and carried the larger portion, a hind quarter, into Kerr’s cabin as his share. The two men sat before the open fireplace for quite a time. Undoubtedly there was one thought in the minds of both men, and so there was, for finally Clark remarked in studied words,

"Brother James, everything turns out for the best if only we use the right method and time."

"Yes," returned Kerr, "the time is fully ripe to pluck that old ganders’ down with the least squawk. I think I loosened the quills today."

"Fully ripe, that’s the right term, Mr. Kerr," said Clark and his voice reflected to Kerr that he had found how to make the fully ripe material into spiritual and intellectual plane…by working for a church and school houses in the Brushcreek region. They found that all that was needed were leaders and a method of attack—and a will to stick and work until successful.

It was in Kerr’s cabin that the time, strategy and method of attack was framed and agreed, and the time of action was during the few weeks left before the fall election.

Finally election day came January 1, 1833, and as the chief actors wished, the day was gloomy with a steady down pour of sleety rain, all day long, that changed to snow in the late afternoon. This gave many of the voters an excuse for not turning out to cast their votes at Mart Adams’ stillhouse, as that was the customary polling place for many years.

Happily the still master on this day was in particularly good humor—in fact so jovial that he frequently set up the drinks to those he hoped would vote for him, and drank a larger portion himself to show his good will. By noon Adams was only able to occupy a chair, but by evening he was laying, snoring loudly on an old bench near the stillhouse fireplace. As was foreordained only one hundred electors ventured out in the stormy weather, and most remained until shortly before candle lighting time, when all were gone except the three members of the election board. Mart Adams would have set on that board except for the reason it would disbar him from running for any office at that election.

Shortly after the candles were brought in one of the election board members left, leaving only Kerr and Clark, and then Kerr seeing that all votes had been cast, and counted, left a notation of the results on a slip of paper for Clark to read stating,

"That of all the hundred votes cast, Clark had ten more than Kerr, and twenty-five more than Cope. Martin Adams had all the balance of the votes cast. The mastered is now master."

He then reached for his cane and started out the stillhouse door into the winter night on his road home. Adams was still sleeping soundly on the stillhouse bench. In a moment Kerr returned and opened the stillhouse door and whispered to Clark, after he found Adams was still asleep, "Sam, God put the first Adam asleep and removed a rib. Old Martin took his whiskey until he went asleep, and by jolly when his deep ‘snooze’ is over his main rib will be gone, and we will get our schools and churches. Good night, Sam."

Sometime later Mart Adams showed signs that his slumber was ending for he began stretching, yawning and at last opened his bleary eyes, and looking about him found all were gone, except faithful old Samuel Clark, who had all election returns made out in due form, for Adams to deliver to the county seat the next day. At last Adams ;got to his feet and rambled out to look after the fire under his still, and add new wood if needed. When he returned he asked in a dreamy manner,"Well, Sam, how did it go?"

Clark then read him Kerr’s notation, then handed Adams all the election returns ready to deliver to the county election board, as was his duty.

"Well, what did I get, Sam?"

"Figure it out for yourself, Mart"—and at these words Adams angrily grabbed the package of returns, ballot box and all and cast them into the furnace fire. Clark protested that this was serious offence against the state, and the penalty that could be assessed against him, when Adams snapped back like a wounded bear, "I’m the law in these sticks. Let any Brushcreek Irishman try to break Mart Adams, by the Eternal I’ll skin and hang him for the buzzards to peck."

Clark listened until this storm of anger blew itself out and said with a kindly but firm voice,

"Mart, you are both hamstrung and hogtied now. Brushcreek has thrashed the nut out of the chestnut burr today."

"But," intercepted Adams, "I will consider it a kindness if you will only tell me the votes cast for each man at yesterday’s election."

Adams ordered Clark out of his place of business, and in a few minutes when Clark moved towards the large stillhouse door Adams hissed,

"Ole calculatin’, shoutin’ Sam Clark—yer dod-blasted skinflint, good riddance, old nuisance—By the Holy Saints may yore bones rattle, yore knees buckle an’ yer fall in yore tracks with a crick in yer back—on yore road home. Scat an’begone, ole chestnut bur!"

Clark quietly listened to this irate dictators oration, when he turned and kindly remarked,

"Martin Adams, as you have seen fit to call on the Holy Saints, I also earnestly request, that as they direct and lead, that both of us may follow the path. I have faith to believe that in His path we will have no rattling bones, buckling knees or backs with rusted joints. Good night and may God Bless you, Mr. Adams. I hope to see you soon, and that both of us are better men, because of what we said and done today."

Towards morning Martin Adams’ mental horizon was cleared, but in his period of remorse he felt he was a lonely man, a law violator, a depleted politician, in a cold world that had turned against him. He figured the greatest thing he needed was a dependable friend. He was shocked to find this need was not to be supplied by any of his debt ridden drunken customers, so he darted out of the stillhouse door for the cabin of one who he felt safe in solving his many problems—Old Socrates.

The old schoolteacher not aware of what had happened to the election returns, was pondering deeply as to what change had overtaken the now gentle "stiller," and was framing his answer so as not to give aid and comfort to his old time enemy, then replied slowly,

"Martin, the true figures are that of the hundred votes cast, Sam Clark received ten more than I did, and twenty-five more than Mr. Cope did, and that you received the balance of the votes cast."

"But," demanded Adams, "I want the vote each one got. Them figgers of yorn won’t count."

"Well! Well! Martin, if you had the schooling you have denied the children of Brushcreek, you could help yourself. This is your least trouble, not your worst trouble."

Adams for once "had invaded Russia" to get to Waterloo, and as time meant much to him, he wilted completely and agreed to hereafter abide by any proposition that Kerr proposed. The two men shook hands over this promise. Then the schoolmaster showed Adams how to easily calculate the votes cast for each man. He repeated to Adams that if schoolhouses were erected in the Brushcreek country such elementary knowledge would be the common heritage of all—instead of the few. At the finish of these words Sam Clark stepped outside into the dark night to go to his own cabin some distance away.

When nearly a quarter mile from his home, while picking his way along the snowy trail, he stumbled over what seemed to him like the body of some person, so he retraced his steps a short distance to make sure. This it proved to be, a man unable to walk, move, or show any signs of life. Clark threw the body over his strong shoulder and carried him to his cabin.

Early that frosty winter morning Adams’ temper had calmed, his senses unclouded so that he knew his duty was to take the election returns to the county seat, when he realized what he had done and the penalty.

For once at least he became conscience stricken and started down the hill towards Kerr’s cabin to see if "Old Socrates" could offer a solution to his dilemma—at least he hoped he could find the number of votes cast for each candidate—for then he could fix out return papers that might be a substitute for the destroyed official blanks. The old blind teacher had alredy arisen and was just adding new wood to the open grate fire when Adams entered and said, "Mr. Kerr, I am heartily ashamed that I ever stopped so low as to call you ‘Old Socrates’ because of your blindness. Now I will repay for my past blunders—I’ll build a schoolhouse myself, on my own land, and pay the schoolmaster myself, for this kindness, Mr. Kerr."

Kerr as much softened as Adams, at seeing this amazing reformation, told the now broken dictator to immediately report at Clark’s cabin and repeat the good news, and he would likely hear news that would be equally as good—and some not so good—some decidedly bad. Adams listened but anxious to get his election returns and start for the county seat. He soon arrived at Clark’s cabin and made sure his returns were correct, and Clark informed him his returns were correct, but that his conversion was only half complete. He then informed Adams about the frozen man that he had found on his road home from the election that night and who was at that moment lying dead in his cabin, when Adams blurted out, "Let finders be keepers, Sam."

"Yes," returned Clark sadly, "Mart this man I found is your brother."

Adams’ lip quivered and in broken words, he asked Clark to "forgive and forget the past. From this day on Mart Adams is a new man."

"Now, Mart, when the election was half through we were in Washington township, Columbiana County. From noon on we were added to Brushcreek township; in Jefferson County by orders of the Ohio Legislature. You have no papers to deliver as the Legislature made a mistake and set the date of transfer at high noon on January 1, 1833. We are now in a new township and county."

Mart Adams kept his word, and during his remaining days he built one schoolhouse and two churches on his own land, and the necessary space for a model "God’s Acre." Here he himself has now lain for over a century of time within a stone’s throw of where he was small as a self-made ruler, and became great by being made a servant of the people. Although the first "stiller" in the Brushcreek country, he gave permission for the first temperance organization to organize and meet in the school house he erected and paid for with his own money.


Janice Garlock Donley
700 Tenth Street • Oakmont, PA 15139 USA


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