JOHN STRUTHERS (1759-1845)

Part I of a three Part Series

Situated in the old section of the Riverside Cemetery is a large monument dedicated to the memory of John Struthers and Mary Foster (1767-1819), his wife. Next to this monument is a stone bench with the name of James Foster (1738-1814), who we are told was the grandfather of one of America’s greatest song writers, Stephen Collins Foster. The Struthers and Foster Families were joined when Mary married John in 1785. She was only 18 and John was 26 years old.
John Struthers was born in Maryland and moved to Washington County, PA in 1775. As a youth he served in the Virginia Militia, acting as an Indian spy and scout near Fort Pitt. In 1782 his military unit massacred over 90 Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten, Ohio. John claimed that he did not take part in that raid. When the Revolutionary War ended he held the rank of First Sergeant.
He married Mary Foster after the war and then began acquiring land near Canonsburg. The couple had 4 children with Ann being born in 1786, then Alexander in 1788, Mary in 1792 and finally John in 1794. In the summer of 1798 John Struthers was in charge of a troop of Pennsylvania Cavalry when they engaged a band of marauding Indians near what is now Beaver Falls. The captured Indians promised not to steal again and to return to the Ohio Territory. John’s Cavalry followed the retreating Indians up the Beaver and Mahoning Rivers as far as Yellow Creek. Satisfied that the Indians had kept their promise, John returned home to Washington County. However, he was so impressed with the beauty of Yellow Creek that he returned and offered
to buy 400 acres along Yellow Creek in Poland Township. This was the first land sale made by Judge Turhand Kirtland in the Western Reserve. We have this notation in Kirtland’s diary in 1798:

Sunday, Oct.7 – After settling accounts and giving Mr. McFarland directions and power of attorney – afternoon I took leave of No.1 and set out on my way to Pittsburg – rode thirteen miles to Mr. Moors and put up.
Monday, Oct. 8 – I rode thirty-three miles to John White’s on the Ohio, thirteen miles from Fort Pitt.
Tuesday, Oct. 9 – Went to Pittsburg to breakfast and from that across the Monongahela to Canonsburg, seventeen miles to John Struthers, to receive money due the company for two lots sold him in No.1 for Mill place.
Wed’day, Oct. 10 – I was obliged to stay at Struthers waiting for the money to be collected.
Thursday, Oct. 11 – I set out for home.

In 1799 John and Mary with their 4 children moved into a log cabin he built on a high bluff overlooking Yellow Creek. Today this cabin site would border on Park Way Avenue in Struthers. John started improving the dam and grist mill started by Kirtland in what is now Yellow Creek Park. In August 1800 another son was born and was named Ebenezer. He became the first white male born in Poland Township. John was now 41 and Mary was 33 years of age. Life was not easy for the new arrivals, but they soon learned that their land was rich in timber, coal, iron ore, and limestone. They also learned their nearest neighbors were the Kirtlands and the Fowlers about three miles up stream from their log cabin.

Part II

The southeastern portion of the Connecticut Western Reserve was a wilderness and Indians from neighboring tribes continued to harass the early settlers to a point where a militia was organized. John Struthers was offered a commission of Captain in the militia due to his military service during the Revolutionary War. In addition he was appointed Justice of the Peace and Sheriff of Trumbull County. (Poland Township then being part of Trumbull Co.)
In 1803 Ohio became a State. This was the same year Dan and James Heaton were walking along Yellow Creek and found pieces of a substance in the creek bed known as kidney or bog ore. This substance lent itself to melting and the casting of simple pans, kettles, and stove iron so necessary to the early settlers. Being knowledgeable in the workings of iron ore, the two brothers started construction on a blast furnace on the Henry Farm upstream from the Struthers property. Today remains of this construction, known as the
Hopewell Furnace, can be seen adjacent to Hamilton Dam.
The Eaton brothers, having dropped the “H” from their name, sold their blast furnace to Robert Montgomery who later made John Struthers a partner. During this period the Struthers Family grew. Thomas was born in 1803; Drucilla in 1805; Emma in 1807; and Matilda in 1809. Things went well until 1812 when the war with England caused most of the iron workers to leave their jobs to join the U.S. Army to fight the invading English.
Both Captain Struthers and his 24 year old son, Alexander, joined the war effort and headed for Detroit. Lieutenant Alexander Struthers was killed at Ft. Mackinaw in 1813 and when the Captain returned home he found his furnaces and mills in ruins. Unable to pay his bills he lost all of his land holdings on Yellow Creek. With what moneys he had left John Struthers purchased some land on the north side of the Mahoning River in what was Coitsville Township. He built another house and began farming. No sooner was the family settled down when in 1814 tragedy struck. Mary, his wife, died at the age of 47. She was buried in the small cemetery next to the Poland Presbyterian Church. Now at the age of 55 John had lost both his oldest son and his wife and was left to raise three young daughters and four sons.
T.W. Anderson writes in his history of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties of another tragedy that struck the John Struthers Family. “In February 1827, Miss Drucilla Struthers (age 21) left her father’s residence in Coitsville for the purpose of going to the post office at Poland Village, where she expected to get a letter from her affianced lover, then residing in Washington County, PA. Her younger sister, Emma, accompanied her down to the Mahoning River, which was very high at that time, intending to ferry her across, and then return home. The skiff in which they were to cross was fastened nearly opposite the mouth of Yellow Creek…..Emma was good with an oar, and practiced in rowing and managing a skiff. At this point the known history of their lives ends.” It is said that a defective rowlock caused the skiff to be overturned, drowning both girls. Their bodies were later recovered and buried with their mother, Mary Foster Struthers. John Struthers is now 67 and alone in life.

Part III

In 1827 Captain John Struthers was told that Drucilla and Emma, his two daughters, had both drowned in the Mahoning River. He was now 68 years old with only 18 year old Matilda around to care for him on his farm in Coitsville Township. His wife, Mary, had died some 13 years earlier and 41 year old Ann had married Samuel McBride and moved to Mahoning, Pennsylvania. His 35 year old daughter, Mary, had moved many years ago to Wisconsin after marrying William Hirst, and his sons, John, Ebenezer, and Thomas had all left home to begin their careers.
Captain Struthers was always supportive of his wife’s relatives. He invited his father-in-law, James Foster, to come to Poland to live out his final years. James had been one of the early founders of Washington and Jefferson College. In April 1814 he died at the age of 76 and was buried in Poland.

Mary Foster had 3 brothers and 3 sisters. It is her brother, William Barclay Foster (1779-1855), whom we hear the most about for it was his youngest son, Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), who became one of America’s best-loved composers and songwriters. William B. Foster was involved in numerous unsuccessful enterprises. It was after Stephen was born that William found himself deep in debt and unable to support his family. He wrote to his brother-in-law for help. John Struthers replied that he had a large empty house and suggested that William and his family move in with him until something better came along. This is how young Stephen Foster came to live with his uncle in Coitsville, Ohio.
Young Stephen enjoyed the time he spent on the Captain’s farm. His uncle would spend hours taking him hunting and entertaining him with stories of the early life on the frontier. Stephen liked to hear how his uncle fought the British and the Delaware Indians. Soon Stephen’s father received a new appointment with the Pennsylvania Canal System and moved his family back to Allegheny City (Pittsburgh’s present North Side). Stephen Foster would return several more summers to visit with his uncle before starting Athens Academy in north-central Pennsylvania.
In the meantime the Captain’s son, Thomas, went off to college in Canonsburg and in 1828 was admitted to the bar. He moved to Warren, Pennsylvania and began his law practice. Warren at that time boasted of having a courthouse and 50 houses. Thomas became involved in building railroads and was finally elected president of the Sunbury and Erie R.R. in 1851. In 1859 oil was discovered in the area and this made Thomas a multi-millionaire. After the Civil War he returned to Poland Township and began purchasing all of the property his father lost in 1812. Thomas then laid out a new town along Yellow Creek and named it “Struthers” in honor of his father.
Captain John Struthers died in 1845 and was buried next to his wife and two daughters. Their bodies remained in the cemetery next to the Poland Presbyterian Church until the 1880s when Thomas Struthers purchased Lot 315 in the Riverside Cemetery. He then arranged to have his father, mother, and two sisters exhumed and buried there. Their tombstone reads that Matilda died in 1861, Ann in 1865, Mary in 1866, Ebenezer in 1872, and John in 1879. It also mentions that Drucilla and Emma drowned crossing the Mahoning River. Thomas became blind in 1892 and died at the age of 89. He was buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Warren, PA.