Jonathan Alder and the Madison County Historical Society.

Foster Chapel Cemetery

Jonathan Alder

Madison County Historical Society

It was May 2020 and the spring migration season was going full throttle in Ohio. I was out in Madison County- the county I grew up in- and I stopped at a rural cemetery. I saw 33 species of birds there- a good haul for a relatively small place- but I also saw some history as well. And in this post I’ll focus on the history.

Foster Chapel Cemetery is locally famous (and infamous) for a couple of reasons. It is infamous for being the place where Jessica Lyn Keen was murdered in 1991. Her murder was highlighted on various television shows such as Unsolved Mysteries. DNA evidence solved her murder in 2008.

Nearly 20 years after her murder, Jessica still has a memorial where she was found in the cemetery.

The other reason Foster Chapel Cemetery is famous is that the first white settler in Madison County is buried here.

The cemetery is still in use, around two centuries after its creation.

The oldest grave I spotted that is still legible is from 1818.

Here is the grave of the oldest settler in Madison County- it has been refurbished.

Jonathan Alder had a very eventful life. Central to his life was his capture by Native Americans when he was about 9 years old around 1782. His life was in many ways a bridge between Native Americans and settlers.

The book A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians gives many of the details of his life that he related to a son before he passed away.

Alder’s recollection provides an exceptional look at early Ohio. The portrait of his captors is revealing, complex, and sympathetic. The latter part of his narrative is an extraordinarily rich account of early pioneer life in which he describes his experiences in central Ohio. Further, Alder was fortunate in that he encountered many of the persons and took part in many of the events that have become touchstones in Ohio’s pioneer history, including Simon Kenton, Simon Girty, and Colonel William Crawford. He participated in the Battles of Fort Recovery and Fallen Timbers, and his recollection of these actions are among the few extant accounts that describe these events from a Native American perspective.

Alder was adopted by a Mingo couple who had lost their son. His black hair, he suspected, was what saved his life right after his capture- his brother who was captured with him was killed. Alder came to love his adopted culture, refusing to be traded back to the settlers at one point. He lived near the Mad River in western Ohio.

He fought with the Native Americans under Blue Jacket against Anthony Wayne’s American Legion at the Battle of Fort Recovery in the Northwest Indian War. I wrote about the place and the battle in this post. After Wayne won the war, the Treaty of Greeneville sin 1795 ended hostilities. Alder went to live on the banks of the Big Darby Creek in central Ohio- the first white man living in Madison County- and met settlers when they later entered the area. He had to re-learn English. He had been married to a Native American woman, but they separated. He searched for his parents and found them in Virginia. He defended Native Americans and their culture when he talked to the settlers, and became a friend of Simon Kenton, ‘the Daniel Boone of Ohio’. Alder served in the War of 1812 on the American side. He married and had children, and was known as a friendly and upright man by those who knew him. He lived close by where he was eventually buried around 1848.

Here are some photos of Alder’s cabin (refurbished with new caulking) from 1806.

I saw Alder’s cabin at the Madison County Historical Society in London Ohio where it had been moved.

The docents, administrators and volunteers of the Madison County Historical Society supply the citizens of Madison county with historical information. This historical information includes Obituaries, Historical Maps, Property Records, Photographs and Artifacts. We are dedicated to the preservation and education of all things relating to the history of Madison County Ohio.

Madison County is and always has been (since the settlers arrived) a lower-population farming county just to the west of Columbus. It is flat terrain, largely cropland today, but home to prairie areas that the Native Americans had kept clear by fire for hunting purposes for thousands of years, when most of Ohio was covered by old-growth forest. Buffalo, elk, wolves and panthers used to inhabit the area over 200 years ago.

There were other buildings that had been relocated to the property-

-including this one-room schoolhouse. There were many of these across the state, by law every ten miles so that no child would have to walk farther than five miles to school. I walked two miles to school and back, and I was one of the odd kids walking so far ~40 years ago (I never cared for the school bus!).

Railroad stations and railcars were a big part of 19th-century history, the ‘highways’ of their day. Railroad stock was the tech stocks of its day.

The Elizabeth Kitchen House was built in London Ohio around 1824. This was a ‘town’ house, not a log cabin.

One of the National Road mile markers is on the grounds, as were various boundary markers.

Inside the society’s main building, there were all sorts of displays from yesteryear, such as Victorian Era rooms.

The dome from the original county courthouse was on display. I’ll do a post one day about county court houses, they are magnificent buildings!

Military uniforms and equipment were also on display.

A dentist’s office from yesteryear was recreated…

…as was a shaving parlor.

A couple of complete stores had been recreated- very neat!

My favorite was the newspaper, tobacco and typewriter shop. This was an actual small shop from early 1900s London that had been shut down and packed up. It was back once more in the historical society.

It had a grand old-style cash register, made in Dayton, which was famous for them back in the day.

Note the early telephone on the wall. Spitoons were in place on the floor.

Underwoods were a major brand manual typewriter.

Many historic periodicals and newspapers were on display.

I was quite impressed with the displays, and the volunteers were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I gladly donated some money and told them I would be back!

Even relatively small places have a history, and people passionate about that history.

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