Father of Harlem Township . . .
          Benajah Cook

retold by Polly Horn

Benajah‘s story is truly one of faith and determination. He was from Connecticut but had moved his family to Granville, Ohio.

Meanwhile soldiers who fought in the American Revolution were given patents for military land in Ohio. To most the paper was worthless. A New Jersey lawyer John Cleve Symmes had purchased many patents from former solders down on their luck.

In 1800, Symmes took the patents to President John Adams and got deeds for military land in central Ohio. One deed was for Range 16, Township 3, 3rd quarter. He in turn sold the land to Solomon Broderick another land investor in New Jersey. Broderick failed to make the payments so Symmes had to file suit in the new town of Franklinton, Ohio, for the purchase price and back tax payments totaling $5674.36. Broderick failed to show so the land was put up for sale by the Sheriff at the door of the courthouse in Franklinton on June 11, 1807. The property would go to the highest bidder who paid cash at the sale.

Benajah Cook heard about the upcoming sale and spent time checking out the property. He collected money in gold coins but was leery of going to Franklinton knowing robbers would be waiting for anyone coming to the sale. He took an old coat to his wife to patch. She sewed patches all over the coat. He grew a beard, made himself scruffy looking and appeared a little more than drunk.

Everyone expected Moses Byxbe to come to the sale but he had not shown. Several well dressed possible buyers were there. By noon a beggar, dressed in a patched coat so filthy he was drawing flies, staggered around the steps. In spite of people trying to get the beggar to move on he stayed his ground. When the beggar said he wanted to bid, the sheriff knew he had to allow it so the bidding began. The asking price was $1.42 per acre. No one bid. The beggar bid 10 cents an acre. The others upped the bid but each time the beggar went higher. The men became disgruntled and decided the sheriff should call the man’s bluff and when he could not pay, they would run him out of town and return to the sale.

The last bid went to Benajah Cook for 42 cents an acre. He stepped up to the table and tore open a patch removing gold coins. He continued opening patches until he had purchased the land for $1680 and $40 in costs - all in gold.

Now he had to get away from Franklinton before thieves got him. He returned to a stable where he hid his things in the loft, and transformed himself from the beggar back to a man traveling through the town. He easily made it out of Franklinton with no trouble.

Although Cook had the deed for 4000 acres, he really only wanted 500 for himself so he went in search of Moses Byxbe, in the nearby town of Berkshire. Byxbe had bought many patents from soldiers at his tavern in Massachusetts and set off to sell his Ohio lands. He came through Wilkes Barre in Luzerne, PA, where he found good men willing to move out of Pennsylvania. He brought them to Berkshire to set up a town he thought would become the capital of Ohio.

Cook and Byxbe did business with Byxbe agreeing to buy the 3500 acres Cook did not want at the price he had paid for it.

Cook returned to Granville and moved his wife Cassandra and five children to the future Harlem Township.

    Baskin, O. L., “History of Delaware County and Ohio”, 1880.
    Buckingham, Ray: “Delaware County Then and Now,” 1976.
    Tieche, Vicki: “16-3-3,” 2008.

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