The Servant and the Doctor: Two stories from Muskingum’s County History

This is the County History of Muskingum County from 1794 to 1882

This is the County History of Muskingum County from 1794 to 1882

Many counties in the United States have had at one point a book about the stories and events within the counties. These books are called County Histories. These books are a very useful primary and secondary source for local historians to learn more about the past and to see how people of the area used to live. These books are rather large and in Muskingum’s case, old; the one I am using is 480 pages long and is from 1882. It is necessary to be aware that these County Histories have to be thought of in a critical manner due to the authors’ bias against a certain group of people. Interviews and stories may be exaggerated, or may be simply false information. Even though errors like these occur in these collections of local histories, the books are still very useful and the stories within these tomes are still significant for study about their respective counties, as long as one views them critically and does not take them at face value.

Mess Johnson, known as Black Mess, was John McIntire’s African-American servant during the founding of Zanesville. McIntire hired Mess in Wheeling, Virginia to help move his belongings to Muskingum in 1799. After Mess and McIntire arrived in the area, McIntire kept Mess employed as a servant. Mess cooked for the McIntire family and was John’s personal attendant. He also was quite good at playing the violin to the point where people would come and watch him play. Unknown to McIntire, Black Mess was not a freeman, but an escaped slave from Maryland. When Mess’s master finally tracked him down, Mess fled into Muskingum’s wilderness. McIntire stated that it would be very hard to find Mess in those woods and offered Mess’s owner $150 to buy the escaped slave which his owner agreed to. Since Ohio was a free territory, McIntire basically bought Mess his freedom! Mess would eventually marry another African American, Ann Thompson, in a wedding at the McIntire home. Mess hired high priest Samuel Thompson, to perform the wedding ceremony. Mess was a beloved member of Zanesville up until his death in 1840. McIntire and Mess must have had a good relationship with one another, since in McIntire’s will, McIntire left Mess with $50 to be paid over his lifetime.

Dr. Mathew could have used this medical equipment like this to save lives.

Dr. Mathew could have used this medical equipment like this to save lives.

The Muskingum County History of 1882 also speaks about one of the area founders, Dr. Increase Mathew. Dr. Mathew arrived in Zanesville in 1801 to start a medical practice in the area. In those days, doctors would not usually see patients in an office, but would make house calls. Since Zanesville was barely even a village at this point, he would be required to travel 25 to 30 miles to visit a patient.  These house calls however were not enough to create enough income for his family to survive on. Dr. Mathew decided to supplement his earning by building a drug store with his brother, John Mathew, which was the first store in the area. This store had a little bit of everything. Some of their stock included brandy, nutmeg, rope, ink and, of course, medicine. By July of 1801, Dr. Mathew bought the land on the Westside of the Muskingum River and created the town Springfield (later called Putnam) after outbidding McIntire by 25 cents. Springfield and Zanesville actually shared a mail office until 1803, when Dr. Mathew was appointed Post-Master of Springfield by the Post-Master General. Dr. Mathew gives us a look at a physician’s life in the unsettled frontier. Traveling 25 miles to visit a patient was not unlikely for a frontier doctor to perform his services.  In those days the population of Ohio was mostly male, which led to low amounts of children. For example, the first child in the area was born in Putnam in 1803.With long travel times and the lack of wanted healthcare it made sense for Dr. Mathew to open a drug store to sell medicine and other items to supplement his income.

Mess Johnson and Dr. Increase Mathew were two very different, but essential people to Zanesville. One entertained and served, while the other saved lives, ran the mail service and ran a store. While Mess had a place in McIntire’s heart, Mathew was a direct competitor of his. While both of their stories are very interesting to learn about, theirs are not the only stories within this tome. There are hundreds of other stories of other Muskingum citizens within this book that could be a blogged about by themselves. This is only a sample of the stories that the Muskingum County History has to offer.

Further Reading:

19th Century Doctors in the U.S.

History of Muskingum County 1882

John McIntire and Dr. Increase Mathews: A Comparison OF The Founding Fathers of Zanesville

Past and Present of the City of Zanesville and Muskingum County, Ohio

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6 Responses to The Servant and the Doctor: Two stories from Muskingum’s County History

  1. wkerrigan says:

    Very nice post about Black Mess, Mather, and McIntire. What kinds of biases and omissions should we be concerned about when using late 19th century histories?

    • dbarr2088 says:

      County Histories, while useful to learn about a county’s past, can be bias due to the either the writer of the book or the information they are using to create said book. Even if there are not biases in these accounts some information could be simple incorrect. For Dr. Mathew’s I researched the life of a frontier doctor and this matched the type of life Mathew led.

      Black Mess and McIntire story on the other hand may be exaggerated especially by anti-slavery people and McIntire fans to make McIntire look better. A counterpoint to this was McIntire’s will. The legal document did leave Black with $50, a good deal of money for that time. While we can not be sure of their relationship together, a southern and a freed slaves being friends does sound odd, it does shed light on what the Zanesville people thought of one of their founding fathers.

  2. wkerrigan says:

    Reblogged this on Ohio Stories and commented:
    Dan Barr has unearthed some interesting stories about early Zanesville residents, including “Black Mess,” a runaway slave who worked as John McIntire’s servant. What do you think life in early 19th century Ohio was like for African-Americans like Black Mess? Slavery was illegal in the state, but “Black Codes” severely restricted the freedoms of Black Ohioans, making many of them technically “illegal aliens” in their own state.

  3. bbonacci says:

    Great post. You have such good information and this is a really interesting story about your county history.

  4. mtaylor says:

    John McIntire has been presented as a friend to Black people based on his experiences with Mess Johnson. However, when McIntire served as a Washington County delegate to the 1802 constitutional convention he voted against enfranchisement of Blacks and the descendants of Blacks and mulatoes and against allowing Blacks and mulatoes to hold public office, serve in the militia or testify against a White person. His record is mixed.
    A very interesting post and I am looking forward to more.


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