Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Robert Lucas and the Scioto River Valley "Land of Opportunity"


The Scioto River Valley has forever been a land of golden opportunity for human beings. Mound builders, Native American tribes, French explorers, Early-American pioneers, and European settlers all found the topography and the natural resources of the area most conducive to habitation and building vital communities. The rivers, trails, and later the roads and railroads helped open the valley to those searching for a home.

One family, and in particular, one member of that kindred group, made a lasting impression on the history of Ohio and the Scioto River Valley. That family of founders possessed the surname of “Lucas.”

Robert Lucas moved to the Scioto Valley at the age of nineteen. He was preceded in that move by other family members, including two older brothers and a cousin. The family bought large parcels of land, and eventually the nearby town of Lucasville was named for them. One of Robert's brothers would later become a general, while his other brother and his cousin would become Ohio legislators. Robert, himself, was destined to become the 12th Governor of Ohio.

Robert Lucas's political career blossomed, and in 1818 he was named Speaker of the Ohio State Senate. It is important to note his love of the region and his profound effect on early statehood. The effect of a life dedicated to public service is immeasurable. This certainly applies to Robert Lucas.

Allow me to open a small chapter of the life of Robert Lucas in order to illustrate this point. This period begins with his move to Piketon in 1816 ...

On the 7th of March, 1816, 35-year-old Robert Lucas married Miss Friendly Ashley Sumner, a daughter of Edward Sumner, who had accompanied her parents in their migration from New England. Friendly was Robert's second wife. He had been married to Elizabeth Brown, his landlord's daughter, in 1810. Elizabeth died in 1812 leaving him with an infant daughter. From the biographer's pen ...

Aunt Friendly Lucas was a large woman. Not a great deal over five feet in height, she weighed perhaps two hundred pounds. She had a florid complexion and an ever ready tongue, an unquenchable fund of spirits and vigor, and a wide-spread reputation as a cook; and she was a general favorite, particularly with those to whom these and her many other virtuous qualities appealed.

One of her pastimes was horseback riding. Indeed, it was a common sight to see her galloping over the rough country roads of early Ohio on her coal black horse 'Nig,' or, with a big basket swung from the pommel of her saddle, riding over the stretch of hills that lay between Friendly Grove and Piketon on her way to do the shopping for the family.”

About this time, or shortly after, Robert and Friendly moved north into Pike County (then newly organized) and settled in the town of Piketon on the main street, which, for many years was to be his home. Residents there remarked of Robert's “tall, straight figure and stern face.” Of Friendly, many recalled her “delicious currant pies.”

In the front part of this house Lucas opened the first general store in Piketon, in partnership, it is said, with his brother-in-law, William Kendall. They stocked everything from shoe-strings to molasses. The store held a prominent place in the town's early life.

Here this merchant/legislator lived his simple life “while years tempered his disposition and responsibility brought him calmer wisdom.” In the election of 1818 he received three hundred forty-five votes in Scioto County, while his opponents polled but seventy and twenty-five respectively. In the session that followed, he was chosen Speaker of the Senate.

After the War of 1812 the country had settled down to more peaceful ways, and the influences of law and order and civilization were making themselves felt in the community. Of that time, the biographical Annals of Iowa remarks …

Time had wrought great change in Robert Lucas. Out of the depths of his nature was being forged that rugged earnestness that made his later life so powerful for good. His character had never lacked strength; it had simply lacked direction. Now, with a more mature view of life and a saner conception of its duties, higher ideals appealed more strongly to him.”

In July of 1819, Lucas united with the Methodist Church at Piketon, and throughout the remainder of his life he remained a prominent worker in the cause of that denomination. Lucas was as intense in his religion as he was in political activities or military matters. And both at this time and later in his life this intensity found expression in verse. Poems and verse of this nature, of which over one hundred manuscript pages have been preserved, illustrate a phase of Lucas's life that is not generally considered and which deepened constantly as he grew older.

Here is a hymn of seven stanzas written a short time before Lucas joined the church and titled, "Robert Lucas's Constant Prayer.” The first, third, sixth, and seventh stanzas reading ...

Oh Lord my soul from sin relieve,
And from a mind extremely blind,
Oh that the truth I could believe
With all my heart, and soul, and mind.

Oh that through faith, I could behold,
My Lord, and Savior, on the tree.
And realize, that he was sold.
Scourged, crucified, and bled for me.

Prepare me Lord, to meet the day.
When death's appointed time is come.
And with a faithful heart to say.
Oh Lord, thy gracious will be done.

And when the vale of death is past,
May I, with saints, unite above,
Where songs of praises, ever last.
In sounding, Christ's redeeming love.

The respect and duty for community is shown by Robert's frequent reelection in Ohio to the office of State Senator. In 1820 Thomas Hersey – a physician, minister, and newcomer to the state – appeared as a candidate against him. Hersey, however, withdrew from the race in September, having learned that his residence in Ohio had not been long enough to make him eligible. Thereupon Lucas was reelected without opposition. In the same year he was chosen as a presidential elector and cast his vote for James Monroe.

In the fall election of 1822, William Kendall, the brother-in-law and political rival of Robert Lucas, was elected to represent Pike, Scioto and Lawrence counties in the State Senate. For two years thereafter Lucas devoted his time and attention to his private affairs. During this time, he built himself a house on the Jackson road two miles east of Piketon which was said to be “among the finest in all Southern Ohio.” A biographer wrote of the idyllic home ...

The Lucas house was a large, two-story brick house with a hall in the center and sitting-room and parlor opening on either side of the hall. Each room, upstairs and down, was provided with a fireplace. Over the front door was placed a stone on which were cut the following words: 'Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.' Beneath the word 'Liberty' appeared a five-pointed star; while below the motto were carved name and date: ''K. Lucas, 1824.' Located on a farm of four hundred thirty-seven acres, surrounded with large trees and with sweet brier and eglantine growing in profusion about the place and over the walls, it was indeed a home of wonderful attractiveness.”

The grove about the house was the distinctive feature of the farm; and so, in honor of his wife, Lucas named his new home "Friendly Grove.” The Lucas family lived there and Robert and his wife “entertained in great state” for fifteen years. Political friends came “to discuss weighty matters of public concern and to laugh at the quick-witted sallies of Mrs. Lucas.” 

Friendly Grove

Methodist circuit rider also stopped there and “found spiritual improvement in religious conversation with the serious minded legislator – while they incidentally nourished their gaunt frames upon the ample and delectable meals outspread by their hostess.” And “not least eagerly came the nephews and nieces from Piketon and the neighborhood to spend a week or so amid the charms of Friendly Grove.”

To quote the Annals of Iowa ...

Here they lived in constant happiness on the cakes and smiles of Aunt Friendly, and looked with awe upon the stern figure of the master of the house as he returned from his legislative duties, silent and intent upon matters of importance in the councils of the State.”

From a Scotch schoolmaster Robert Lucas had learned the elements of the three R's " – reading, writing and arithmetic – to which he added some advancement in mathematics, especially that of surveying. Being skillful in the line of his work, he found it monetarily rewarding, and he engaged in the exploration of the unexplored territory about him.

In the winter of 1822, Lucas was returned to his seat in the Ohio Senate, receiving a large majority in each of the three counties of the district. Two bills deserve special attention in this session. Both of these subjects were near to the heart of Robert Lucas.

(1.) One bill was passed on February 4, 1825, and provided for a board of canal commissioners to construct the Ohio Canal from Portsmouth to Cleveland, and that part of the Miami Canal located between Cincinnati and Dayton. The same act provided for another board to raise loans for the canal; and on the 4th of July, 1825, the work of construction was begun near Newark, Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York throwing the first shovelful of dirt.

The subject of canals had, for Lucas, a local as well as a general interest. Considering the fact that the projected Ohio Canal was to run along the Scioto River through Pike County and connect the town of Portsmouth with Lake Erie, he was more than enthusiastic in its support.

Lucas was, moreover, one of the most prominent advocates of general canal legislation and other policies of internal improvement in the State. He was chairman of the joint canal committee that prepared and drafted the bill authorizing the construction of the Ohio Canal, and for years he continued to hold this position on the committee.

When the canal was under discussion in the legislative session of 1825-1826 Mr. Hale, of Clinton County, introduced in the Senate a resolution to instruct the Canal Commissioners to inquire into the possibility of uniting the canal from Cleveland with the Miami and Dayton Canal, and in the meantime to suspend all proceedings on the canal in the Scioto Valley. To Robert Lucas “this menace to the interests of the Scioto Valley required immediate action.”

A council of the members of both houses who represented that section was at once called. In this council, it was decided to offer a resolution instructing the Canal Commissioners to make the permanent location of the southern section of the canal, and, since the matter of crossing the river was considered settled, it was thought best to require in the resolution the building of a dam. No definite provision, however, was made for the recrossing of the river. As the most experienced member of the council, Lucas was requested to offer the resolution. He did so and it was passed by both houses. But this resolution was destined to make trouble for him.

In January of 1827 the people east of the Scioto began to be alarmed for fear the Canal Commissioners intended to continue the canal down the west side instead of recrossing at Piketon. In view of the increase in their taxes because of the canal, this was truly alarming.Their fears were realized, for the Canal Commissioners fixed the route on the west side, without again crossing the river.

In the campaign of 1828 the resolution which Lucas had introduced into the Senate was used against him with great effect. They forgot that it perhaps was the only thing that had saved the southern section of the canal from being abandoned altogether and the Cleveland section connected with the Miami instead of the Scioto valley. They remembered only that the resolution had contained no specific provision for the recrossing of the river at Piketon.

The fixing of the route was a matter to be settled by the Commissioners and not the legislators; and the evidence at hand does not support the charge that Lucas had anything to do with it. Moreover, the evidence does show that after the Canal Commissioners had made their decision in July, 1828, in favor of the west side, Lucas voiced the sentiments of the people of Piketon and the east side in a strong protest against the action, and a plea for justice to the town of Piketon which would suffer so grievously by the change of location. The plea did not change the outcome.

To this day, some citizens of Piketon claim that the reason the Ohio Canal did not run down the Piketon, or eastern side of the river, is that Robert Lucas owned lands at Jasper on the west side, and secured the placing of the canal so as to benefit his lands in that region. If not for Lucas and his considerable influence, it may not have run through Southern Ohio at all.

(2.) The second bill was one passed on February 5, 1825, and was the first act establishing a uniform system of free schools for the State of Ohio. The support of the public schools especially enlisted his sympathy; and throughout his life he never lost an opportunity of advancing their cause.

The monumental Ohio Education Bill of 1825 required that Townships be laid off into school districts; school officers be elected to manage the schools; teachers be certificated to teach by a county board of examiners; and most important and significant of all, a tax of one-half mill upon the property of the several counties of the State be levied to produce an annual fund for the instruction of youth.

It must be established that during that time the matter of canals and schools were positively and politically linked together. The passage of this law was due to the tactful and political management of the friends of eduction in the legislature, who united their forces with the friends of internal improvement. As a result, canals and public schools were provided for in Ohio by the same legislature. Robert Lucas surely understood how “scratching the opposition's back” could lead to compromise.

As published in the Ohio Educational Monthly, Volume 71 (circa 1923) ...

The sight of an Ohio canal, even though abandoned because its days of usefulness are gone, should still arouse in the minds of all who love the public schools grateful memories of that day nearly one hundred years ago when the support of the friends of canals made possible the beginning of the public school system of Ohio.”

In 1822, Caleb Atwater had successfully lobbied the legislature and Governor Allen Trimble to establish a commission to study the feasibility of creating public or common schools in Ohio. Atwater served as chairman. The commission spent the summer and fall of 1822 researching the condition of Ohio's educational system, as well as studying public education in other states. Atwater wrote three pamphlets one on the condition of school buildings in Ohio, one on the type of public school system Ohio should create, and one on the value of common schools to Ohio's future to educate Ohioans on the need for state financed education. Atwater modeled his plan after New York's public school system. According to Atwater, Ohio should not finance schools through taxation but through the sale of state property.

Not all members of the commission favored Atwater's plan. Representatives and members of the committee, Guilford and Bell, advocated a property tax. They felt that the sale of public lands would not necessarily provide the funds needed to pay for the schools. A property tax would result in a consistent inflow of money to guarantee adequate funding of the schools.

The commission made its final report to the Ohio General Assembly in 1823. The legislators, for the most part, opposed public funding for internal improvements and public education. In the General Assembly's session in 1824, public opinion forced the legislature to address the education issue.

Guilford took the lead, advocating a property tax to finance education. The legislature concurred, establishing common schools in Ohio in 1825. At this time, the state government financed public education with a half-mil property tax.With the establishment of public education in Ohio, communities now formed school districts to meet the state legislature's requirements.

The act of February 5, 1825 began as follows:

Whereas, it is provided by the Constitution of this State, that schools, and the means of instruction, shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision. Therefore, Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, that a fund shall hereafter be annually raised among the several counties in this State, in the manner appointed out by this act, for the use of common schools, for the instrauction of youth of every class and grade, without distinction, in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and other necessary branches of a common education.”

To come full circle on the influence of Robert Lucas, I propose that Robert Lucas (April 1, 1781– February 7, 1853), the son of an American Revolution War veteran and a Quaker family, had a monumental influence on the towns of Lucasville and Piketon in the Scioto River Valley, the State of Ohio, and the United States of America. With his assistance, beginning with his work in the villages along the Scioto River, the settlements of Ohio flourished.

It is easy to take for granted our debt to the past. With so many obligations in our lives, we tend to overlook the accomplishments of our forefathers and ancestors. And, that is extremely unfortunate because then we deny ourselves the perspective of community. Growing up in a place steeped in accomplishment and significant history allows a resident distinct advantage. How much more rewarding and humbling is that benefit when we realize the sacrifices of those who sacrificed to establish their beloved community. How could we forget or ignore a figure like Robert Lucas?

As our theme for the Bicentennial of Lucasville, Ohio (1819-2019), the Lucasville Area Historical Society choose “Valley of Opportunity.” I hope that now you can understand how these three words accurately represent our area. On our logo, we highlighted the state and the Ohio-Erie Canal that runs on the west side of Lucasville. Let the symbol of that canal continually remind us of the union of both shores of our state and the establishment of its public education system.

Of course, Lucasville, itself, is represented on the design with a five-pointed star representing virtue, liberty, and independence – a tip of the hat to Robert Lucas. Lucas remains an honored inspiration for the society and for our town. We are thankful for the entire Lucas family and their heritage of instilling social development and education in our community. So many more local residents followed the reliable lead of our founders. Still, we are Lucas-Ville. We would do well to be good stewards of our soil and of that name as we assume responsibility for passing these things onto new generations.


Anonymous. Ohio Educational Monthly, Volume 71. 1923.

T. S. Parvin. “Robert Lucas of Iowa.” Annals of Iowa. Vol. II. Number 6. Private Secretary, 1S38-39.

James Wickes Taylor. A Manual of the Ohio School System: Consisting of an Historical View of Its ...
Progress, and a Republication of the School Laws in Force. University of Michigan. 2005.

No comments: