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James M. Ewing, An Indiana Pioneer (1799-1881)

George W. Ewing (+1 269.965.8160, GeoEwing at aol dot com)

The autumn of 1837 brought James M. Ewing — along with his wife Mary, the first seven of their eleven children and most their family possessions — to their new pioneer home in northwest Rush County, Indiana. They made the one hundred forty-mile trip by horse and wagon from their farm near Morgan in Pendleton County, Kentucky, down the Licking River on flat boats to the mouth at Newport, crossing the Ohio River by ferry, and then by primitive roads through Brookville and Rushville to their Indiana destination. Roads in early Indiana were often roads in name only, sometimes little more than crude paths following old animal and Indian trails filled with sinkholes, stumps and deep ruts.

The mouth of the Licking River, where it joins the Ohio River

Mouth of the Licking River at the Ohio

The Licking River in NE Kentucky

The Route Today

James M. Ewing, the fifth child of John and Alice (Caswell) Ewing was born in Pendleton County, Kentucky, on April 12, 1799. James married Mary R. 'Polly' R. (McKenny), daughter of Francis and Nancy) McKenny, on December 24, 1824, in Pendleton County; Rev. Alexander Monroe officiated.

After the death of John Ewing on April 25, 1832, James was named the administrator of his estate. Once settling the estate, James ventured into the new frontier of Indiana as a would-be purchaser of land. After examining a tract in Rush County, Indiana, about eighty miles northwest of Cincinnati, James entered his name with the Register of the Indianapolis Land Office and on the 12th of August 1834 purchased a tract of three hundred twenty acres of land; he received certificates for four eighty-acre parcels in Center Township.


One of the Four Land Patent Certificates

The first seven of James and Mary ’s eleven children made the journey to Indiana:

Thomas: born November 2, 1823; married Sarah Hunt on May 12, 1844; died November 2, 1878 in Delaware County, Indiana

Frances: born in 1826; married Elizabeth about 1851; died after 1889 in Oregon

Nancy: born in 1829; married Joseph Draper on March 1, 1855, in Rush County, Indiana; died September 19, 1855

Loretta: born in 1831; died October 5, 1854 in Rush County, Indiana

John Milton: born in 1833; married Sarah J. Downey on October 14, 1858, in Rush County, Indiana; died December 29, 1918, in Knightstown, Henry County, Indiana

Elizabeth: born in 1836; married William M. Downey on March 18, 1856, in Rush County, Indiana; died August 29, 1858, in Rush County, Indiana

James Milton: born in 1837; died after 1881

After acquiring the Indiana land, one of James’ first concerns was to build a cabin and begin to clear the land of trees, a huge obstacle as there was dense forest for miles in every direction. Settlers cleared fields to provide farmland for crops and pasture and harvested timber to use as building material and fuel.

The task of clearing the land of trees was difficult and many pioneers worked at it for years, using only an ax they sharpened often. According to one early settler, the "first clearing was done in a hurry-up-and-get-in-a-crop style." Underbrush and trees under eighteen or twenty inches were cut and piled around larger trees for burning. Sometimes larger trees were girdled. Girdling consisted of cutting a ring through the bark of the tree. It cut the lifeline of the tree and led to its death. Some farmers set fire to the dead trees the following winter, otherwise the trees were simply left standing until they fell on their own.

Plowing was done around the stumps, which remained firmly in place despite the trees having been cut down. Once they were old and dry, these stumps could be burned out. Also, once a section was cleared, corn would be planted. Then it was necessary to start all over again. From the beginning of settlement in Indiana, corn was a primary crop. Today Rush County remains as one of the top counties in the state for corn production.

The last four of James and Mary's eleven children, all born in Rush County, were:

Mary: born in 1840; married Francis M. Obanion on June 8, 1862, in Rush County, Indiana; died December 20, 1863, in Rush County, Indiana

William T. (my great-grandfather): born March 8, 1842; married Minerva E. Kirkpatrick on December 20, 1862, in Rush County, Indiana; died February 26, 1879 in Rush County, Indiana; buried in Little Blue River Cemetery in Rush County

Margaret: born in 1844; never married; died February 5, 1871

Martha: born in 1847; never married; died April 18, 1872

James Ewing Headstone
Ewing Family Plot Barrett Cemetery
Two Miles South of Knightstown
Rush County, Indiana

James continued to farm this rich Indiana land until his death in 1881. His obituary stated:

What a volume of progress from pioneer toils and privations to success and improvement is contained in those 43 years of residence in Rush County. We loved to listen to the recital of early times as given by our deceased neighbor, when their stock was driven through to Cincinnati to market, and their grain hauled in wagons. What economy to make the ends meet! One trip with loaded wagons to the city and return made at a total expense of twelve cents, and that was paid for in tar!

James lost eight of his eleven children prior to his own death, and his obituary reflects this as follows:

The six daughters were all cut down by that fell destroyer - Consumption. Two of the sons have also passed away to the 'bourne of whence no traveler returns.

William T. Ewing, my great-grandfather, was one of the two sons who predeceased James. William T. died prior to his thirty-seventh birthday on February 26, 1879, leaving his widow, Minerva (Kirkpatrick) Ewing, and six children. William farmed and raised stock in Ripley Township of Rush County near his father’s Center Township farm. 

James Ewing's Land in 1996

George William Ewing — Past Chair and Chancellor of Clan Ewing in America and sixth great-grandson of John of Carnashannagh — is a native of Muncie, Indiana, and has been a resident of Battle Creek, Michigan, since 1963. Now retired, he and his wife Marilyn spend the winter months in Boca Raton, Florida.