Settlement of the Wehr Homestead
In the 1800’s, John Wehr, native of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, traveled West and settled in the area of what became Reily Township in Butler County, Ohio. John Wehr and his wife, Sarah, were some of the earliest settlers in the area and married in Butler County at a time unknown. On September 21, 1819, John Wehr was awarded the deed to 192 acres by President James Monroe. Previous to John Wehr owning the land, a blacksmith by the name of Henry Shillings had a shop on the property. Unfortunately, Mr. Shillings passed away in 1816 while at work leaving his wife and children behind. It was then a few years later after his death the property became John Wehr’s.
During the early to mid 1800’s the homestead served as a prominent tavern to hog drivers on their way to the Cincinnati markets, known as porkopolis, as well as a tavern stop for turkey drivers who needed to tar their turkey’s feet so they could continue on to market. In addition to the Wehr’s opening their home to those passing through the area on what was a highly traveled road, they kept busy as farmers. From the 1800’s through the 1900’s, the Wehr family became well respected farmers in the community and known for leading the way in new farming methods.
John Wehr, passed away in 1853 at the homestead and later Sarah passed away in 1866 while living with John (jr) and Nancy at the homestead. A family cemetery once existed at the homestead with the first burial having been in 1815, per local records.
There has been no luck in identifying who was buried on the property in 1815. One may suspect it was Henry Shillings and that the date was a year off, but unless a record surfaces we will never know. Both John and Sarah Wehr along with other family members were buried in the family cemetery which vanished after the family sold the home out of the family in the 1960’s. In the area of the family cemetery, there is one flat stone void of any obvious markings that remains.
While there are no headstones on the property, the cemetery still remains. Wehr realitives who had visited the homestead have shared recollections of the cemetery and the family who bought the homestead from the Wehrs said their was never any mention of a cemetery and the area in which the cemetery is was not disturbed.
The Wehr Family+ Connections to Abolitionist
There is a local rumor the Wehr homestead may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. In an effort to determine the validity of this rumor I began researching and found it is very probable the Wehr family was involved in Underground Railroad activity. I have yet to discover any tangible evidence left behind, aside from some unique spaces in the home, which is not surprising since secrecy was key. However, through my research I have uncovered direct connections to abolitionist and the Wehr making it more likely than not that they served a role in the aiding freedom seekers.
The Underground Railroad ran from around 1810-1860, peaking around 1850. It was a network of people stretched across states who were helping fugitive slaves escape their masters in the south and reach their promise land in the North and into Canada. During the period between 1825-1850 the Underground Railroad had aided an estimated 100,000 slaves to freedom. It was around 1830 when the system was coined, ” The Underground Railroad.” During this same time, the steam railroads were emerging so the terms of the railroad were used by the Underground Railroad network since it was a common language at the time. (read more about the Underground Railroad here.)
Underground Railroad activity was often organized through the church as they were led by abolitionist who believed the Bible was against slavery. However, there were other leaders of the church who believed the Bible did not condemn slavery which created a significant divide within the church and ultimately lead to a split in the congregations forming the “Old School” and “New School” congregations.
This part of the Underground Railroad history was of much help when researching the Wehr family and their connections in the local community as it provided insight as to who the Wehrs associated with. The Wehr family not only attended a church led by an abolitionist but members of the Wehr family had connections through marriage to abolitionist.
On June 24, 1815, Bethel Presbyterian Church in Hanover Township, Butler County, Ohio was established and was significantly attended by those in Butler County. One reverend that is important to note is Rev. Adam Baird Gilliland who led the church in 1828 and there after. The Bethel congregation is said to have grown so much that members was ready to form a new church that could serve their members as well as others in another location.The new branch of Bethel Presbyterian Church was established in 1828 and called Venice Presbyterian Church located in Ross Township, Butler County, Ohio. Eight years later, Reily Presbyterian Church, located in Reily, Butler County, Ohio, was formed from Bethel. These three churches, having once been one, now formed what was likely to have been a network for the Underground Railroad as they were led by staunch abolitionist such as Rev. Thomas E. Thomas and Rev. Adam Baird Gilliland, and served church members who have connections to people/places of the Underground Railroad from as far South as the Ohio River to the West into Indiana.
In 1836, Sarah Wehr was a charter member of the Reily Presbyterian Church. This church was formed by Rev. Adam Baird Gilliland, son of the well known abolitionist Rev. James Gilliland, who settled along the Ohio River and organized the Underground Railroad in the area of his church, Red Oak Presbyterian. Rev. A.B. Gilliland and his wife, Sarah Hopkins Gilliland, had very strong ties to many well documented abolitionist through their family and from Rev. Gilliland’s seminary experience.
Sarah Hopkins Gilliland attended Rev. James Gilliland’s church with her family. Her grandfather and grandmother aided freedom seekers and her family’s home was one of the early stops on the Underground Railroad. Both Rev. A.B. Gilliland and his wife, Sarah, brought a lot of experience of the workings of the Underground Railroad to the area in and around Reily when they settled in Butler County, Ohio in 1828.
When researching I found church minutes to be a valuable resource for gaining information about the church and its business (also a lot good drama!). I was able to learn about who was attending church meetings, their roles in the church and the business they had to discuss. Through the Reily Presbyterian Church minutes, I discovered names of those involved with the church were people who were recognized through local history as being abolitionist and having involvement in the Underground Railroad in the area.
Not only was the Reily Presbyterian Church led by an abolitionist preacher, but several members of the congregation had connections to places and people who were abolitionist.Rev. John Witherspoon Scott, father of First Lady Caroline Harrison, played an active role as moderator at Reily Presbyterian Church. His sister Jane Scott was a member of the church as well. Rev. Scott was a very good friend and colleague of Rev. Robert Bishop, the first president at Miami University.
During Bishop’s time at Miami University, he taught the future President Benjamin Harrison and he corresponded with abolitionist John Rankin who was helping freedom seekers just south of Rev. James Gilliland. Both Rev. Bishop and Rev. Scott made their views against slavery known which in the end led to them both being dismissed from Miami University in 1845.
After Rev. Bishop’s dismissal from the university, he accepted a position at Farmer’s College and served as headmaster. Shortly there after, Rev. Bishop asked Rev. Scott to join him there to teach. During his time at the Farmer’s College, Rev. Scott is said to have aided freedom seekers at his Mt. Pleasant/Healthy home between the years of 1846-1849. While Rev. Scott was at Miami and Farmer’s College, so was a member of the Reily Presbyterian Church.
Pierson Cory Conklin, a Reily Presbyterian Church member, was a student at Miami University and was a close associate of (President) Benjamin Harrison as was Rev. Scott. Conklin then became a student at Farmer’s College where abolitionist views continued to be shared/taught and likely was under the teaching of Rev. Scott again. After having graduated with his degree, Conklin married the daughter of an identified local abolitionist Dr. William H. Scobey who was also a member of the Indian Creek Abolition Society.
Dr. Scobey was one of 44 members of the Indian Creek Abolition Society (Learn more about Dr. William H. Scobey here.). The members of the Indian Creek Abolition Society are said to be those of the Bethel Presbyterian congregation that was under the ministry of Rev. A. B. Gilliland. 7 of those members are also charter members of the Reily Presbyterian Church and a handful of others are members of the church. The Wehr family members are not recorded in this abolition society. However, Mary Trembly, who wrote the constitution of the Indian Creek Abolition Society, was the Aunt of Nancy Pierson Wehr. The Pierson family is also connected to the DeCamp family which two members of the DeCamp family are listed as members of the society as well.
Nancy Pierson Wehr (1830-1892) married John Wehr (jr) (1828-1891) in 1853. The same year they were wed, John Wehr, who established the homestead, passed away. Nancy and John moved back to the homestead until they passed in the late 1800s. John and Nancy are of great interest to me since they were living at the homestead in the height of the Underground Railroad and remained there until the early 1800’s and passed away.
Lefford Thompson (1813-1899) was a Charter member and elder of Reily Presbyterian Church and a member of the Indian Creek Abolition Society. He serves as a very close abolitionist connection to the Wehrs as he married Elizabeth H. Wehr (1828-1888) on September 6, 1842.
To gain even more of an understanding of who the Wehr’s may have known or interacted with, I researched who married John and Sarah Wehr’s children. When doing so, I learned that Rev. Thomas Craven, a Baptist minister, abolitionist, and occasional conductor of the Underground Railroad, married Martin Luther Wehr and Elizabeth Thompson in 184
Rev. Thomas Craven played a significant role in the organization of the Baptist church and his work in the church was that of a mirror image of Rev. A.B. Gilliland and the Presbyterian churches he had established. Rev. Craven studied at Miami University, was involved in the Indian Creek Baptist Church located in Reily and is best known for having established the Eleutherian College in Lancaster, Indiana in 1848 so that anyone could obtain an education no matter their gender or race.
Outside of Rev. Craven’s involvement in the Baptist churches in Ohio, he was made president of the Anti-Slavery Convention in 1844 by staunch abolitionist William Brisbane. Previous to Rev. Craven being president, Rev. Thomas E. Thomas ,of the Venice Presbyterian Church, was president of the Anti- Slavery Convention making it likely their paths crossed. Rev. Craven was also an associate with Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband, Calvin as he received a letter of recommendation from them both when traveling to the east to obtain funds for the college from fellow abolitionist.
John and Sarah Wehr had several other children that I have only briefly researched. However, the research I did complete placed their other children in both Indiana and Ohio on well known Underground Railroad routes during the height of activity. It is a possibility the Wehr family could have been spread out across various routes in effort to help the cause. There is documented “Weir” in both Southern Indiana and in Ohio, but I have not been able to find a connection to the Wehr’s in Butler County. This will be something I will be researching in the near future.
Could the Wehr family had some part of the Underground Railroad?
The most certain answer to the local rumor of the Wehr homestead being involved in the Underground Railroad is one we will never truly know without concrete evidence. When combining the Wehr’s connections through Reily Presbyterian Church, marriages and the Wehr’s connection to Thomas Craven they become the center of both the Presbyterian church and the Baptist church which are both deeply connected to abolitionist who were involved in the Underground Railroad. Their home being situated along a main road way with travelers/drivers from Indiana heading to Cincinnati would have made for an easier to conceal any Underground Railroad business they may have been involved with.
Regardless of the Wehr’s likely involvement in the Underground Railroad, the family left a mark in Butler County, Ohio history through their early settlement, business, and farming methods.