Editor’s note: This is one of a series of articles that will run until Labor Day in advance of the Shelby County Historical Society’s Week of Valor, including the return to Sidney of the Vietnam Memorial replica wall and a Field of Valor featuring American flags in Custenborder Park. Flags for the Field of Valor can be purchased by calling 498-1653. The project commemorates 2015 as the anniversary of the beginning or end of several U.S. armed conflicts. This series will include stories about most of America’s wars. Today, a family talks about their ancestors who fought in the War of 1812.
CONOVER — Former Sidney residents Mary and Eric Putnam, now of St. Paris, are the family members whose genealogical research has unearthed information about six ancestors who served in the U.S. military during the War of 1812.
The young nation had declared war on Great Britain for conscripting American merchant seamen into its navy to fight against the French in the Napoleonic wars and for blockading the coast to restrict trade. This year, 2015, marks the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. Although the Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 2014, battles continued in North America into 1815, because news of the treaty didn’t travel very fast. Much of the war was fought in states along the Canadian/U.S. border and on the Great Lakes. When the U.S. Army called for recruits, the men of Ohio rallied to the cause. The state furnished 1,759 officers and 24,521 enlisted men.
Eric and his cousins, Sarah Kleinhans, of Sidney, and Keith Putnam, of rural Shelby County, share a great-great-great-grandfather and three fourth-great-grandfathers who were among them.
According to Eric’s research, they included Jacob Offenbacker, who fought with the 6th Regiment of the Virginia Militia as a private from August to December, 1814; George Haney Sr., a private in Capt. Asa Hickle’s company of the Ohio Militia; Thomas Sayers, who served in August 1813; and John Arnett Caven, a quartermaster sergeant in a regiment of the Ohio Militia commanded by Col. Daniel Collins.
Caven, then 23, was inducted in Franklinton on Feb. 16, 1814, and was discharged on either March 3 or March 16, 1814. He was paid $12 for his month of military service. Quartermasters were officers, responsible for “regimental baggage and wagons on the march,” wrote Dan Elder in “Short History of the Specialist Rank.” They were paid more than other soldiers.
Franklinton, now a neighborhood in Columbus, was the first settlement in Franklin County.
A letter written Feb. 9, 1812, by Sayers, who was in Miami County, to his brother, Ephraim, who was in Pennsylvania, was preserved because it was published in a Pennsylvania newspaper. The war had not yet begun, but a prescient Sayers could see that it was coming. He wrote:
“On the 20th of last month … I started to Ft. Wayne with a sled in company with five others, with whisky and flour for that garrison … There is great talk of a British and Indian war. If there should be war with England it is probable that there will be an Indian war also … I saw a letter from one of our legislators, who says that they are about to raise a company of rangers to spy on our frontiers, who probably will be a help to our safety.”
Mary’s third-great-grandfather and Kleinhans’ third-great-grandfather also saw service during the war.
“The story is that recruiters would walk around and see farmers in a field and ask if they would want to serve,” Mary said. “Most did. They were expected to get a weapon and get to where they had to serve.” Her ancestor, Hugh Gilliland (sometimes recorded as Gillilan), was a private from Feb. 16 to April 16, 1814. He enlisted in what is now Jackson County, in southeast Ohio, and walked to northwest Ohio, where he fought in the battle at Fort Meigs in what is now Perrysburg, near Toledo.
“Then he had to walk back home,” Mary said. Gilliland was paid in land: he received 160 acres for his service.
David Chrisman (sometimes recorded as Christman) was Kleinhans’ ancestor. Born in Virginia, he moved to Hamilton County, Ohio, first and then in 1844 to Shelby County. He was a private in Capt. Daniel Rex’s company from April 3 to Oct. 3, 1813. Another record lists David Christman in Price’s 2nd Regiment of the Ohio Militia.
The Putnams got interested in genealogy first in 1975.
“The library offered a beginning class in genealogy,” Eric said. Students in that class eventually founded the Shelby County Genealogical Society. Eric and Mary are past members. They admitted that researching ancestors opened up an interest in history in general.
“If we hadn’t had war between Great Britain and France, we wouldn’t have had the War of 1812,” Eric said.
“We (America) were the unruly kids,” Mary said of the U.S. relationship with Great Britain after the Revolutionary War. The family recognizes how hard and dangerous it was for Ohio pioneers, their ancestors included, to clear land and set up farms.
“I think what would be fascinating to know is what the journey was like from Ireland to Virginia and Virginia to Ohio,” Kleinhans said.
“The roads weren’t even roads,” Keith said.
“The conditions were awful,” added Eric.
Following the war, most of family’s forebears returned to Shelby and Miami counties, raised large families and expanded their farms. Some of their children moved to Kansas. Some of the Cavens went west and found gold, which they used to purchase farms when they came back home. John Arnett Caven and George Haney Sr. are buried in cemeteries in Fletcher. Thomas Sayers is buried in Staunton Cemetery in rural Miami County. Jacob Offenbacker is buried in Marksville, Virginia. The graves of Gilliland and Chrisman are in Hamilton-McCoy Cemetery in Jackson County and the Plattsville Cemetery, respectively.