Hospitality

My wife and I don’t entertain.  We don’t host people in our home.  We rarely even allow anyone to cross our threshold.  (My wife has written very amusingly about this in her own blog post at Mirrored Images.)

You would think we were genetically predisposed to be antisocial people.  I’m not sure about my wife’s family, but I know in my own the opposite is true.  Two of my five-times-great grandfathers and one four-times-great grandfather were known for their hospitality:

Jonathan Wright (1748-1827)

His parents had emigrated from Ireland in 1725 and settled in Adams County, Pennsylvania.  Jonathan was born in 1748 in Pennsylvania and moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1797.  He was a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and served on the Indian Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.

From the 12th of October to the 10th of December in 1805, Jonathan and his family–a total of 21 people–traveled from Baltimore to the Ohio Country.  They stopped first in Greene County, as a temporary home.  Jonathan and his sons scouted out the area for forty miles around, until deciding on a plot of land between the Miami Rivers.  There they settled, and sometime over the next six or seven years Jonathan built the first sawmill in Clinton County.

In 1812, Jonathan moved to Cincinnati, which was then a town of only a half dozen shingled roofs.  Later, he settled in Fayette County, Indiana, where he made his final home.  When he died in 1827, he was buried there in the Poplar Ridge Cemetery.

The signature of Jonathan Wright from an 1820 letter.

At the time of his death, his daughter Rebecca (who had married Robert Hill, see below) wrote:  “Jonathan Wright my father was a man of good natural understanding. In temporal and religious matters, his judgment was sound and discriminating. His deportment was reserved yet he was affable in manner. He was given to hospitality so that his home was proverbially styled the Travellers Rest. He was always active in aiding those who were engaged in preaching the Gospel and in the spread of the Gospel. He died of a short illness in triumphant faith and trust in his Heavenly Father, aged 81 years one month and 30 days, and was buried by the side of his wife in the cemetery of Poplar Ridge in Fayette.”

Levi M. Jones (1785-1823)

Levi was born on a farm in Culpepper County, Virginia on October 10, 1785.  When he was twelve, his family moved to what is now West Virginia.  After marrying and spending several years farming there, Levi and his family headed westward in March 1815.

Article about Levi M. Jones, his son Lewis and the mail contract. (Click to enlarge)

He journeyed down the Ohio River on a flatboat to Cincinnati, then he drove through the countryside to Wayne County, Indiana.  He settled in Salisbury, and then a year later bought 160 acres (a quarter section) in Center Township.  Two years later he sold that property and bought lots in the town of Centerville, where he built a hotel.  In 1819, he became the first to build a brick home in the town.

Levi took the first contract to carry mail from Centerville to Indianapolis.  His son Lewis was the carrier, and he would make the sixty-five mile trip without stopping.  Levi was not only a man of much business enterprise, but of generosity and confidence in his fellow man.  He died, an honored and respected man, on October 5, 1823.

Robert Hill (1780-1850)

Robert was born in North Carolina, in the midst of the Revolutionary War.  His family was Quaker, so it’s likely they weren’t involved in any active way in the war, but there’s no way they could have avoided its impact.  It was probably either the devastation of the war or his Quaker beliefs against slavery that led Robert to leave North Carolina and move westward in 1802.

After a brief stopover in Cincinnati, Robert and his family settled in what would become Richmond, Indiana.  (To read more about their journey see my previous post, Life on the Frontier.)  In 1818, he built a two-story brick building along the trail that would become the National Road.  His home became known as the first tavern westward travelers would come upon in the newly-formed state of Indiana.

A 1930 newspaper article claims that when it was built, Robert Hill’s tavern contended with the governor’s residence in Vincennes as the finest house in the state of Indiana.

The Children of Robert Hill (1780-1850): Robert Hill, Penninah (Hill) Shaw, George Hill (back row, l to r); Elizabeth (Hill) Shute, Samuel, Mary (Hill) Parry and Charles (seated, l to r).

Hill also erected a smaller building that held provisions and stores for wagoners and those who were driving livestock to new homes in the West.  His son-in-law later wrote that “Robert Hill kept entertainment (for travelers), as by this time he had plenty of help, six sons and four daughters.” Providing for the needs of those who were making their way to newly opened lands in the West became the family business.

Hill’s home was called “The Green Tree Tavern.”  After he retired, the business was carried on by others for many years, until the building finally burned in the late 1800s.

When I was growing up in Richmond, a Holiday Inn sat on the site of Robert Hill’s former home and tavern.  I can still picture the glass case that held a brick from the original home and a placard telling the story of “The Green Tree Tavern.”

——–

All three of these men lived at a time when many people were leaving the safety and comfort of the eastern seaboard to venture into the unknown of the Ohio Country and beyond.  All three moved westward themselves, giving them a visceral understanding of the importance of a safe place to stop, rest and re-energize before continuing on the trail.

My wife and I live in a time of commercialized hotels, easy travel, and even homes on wheels.  It’s easy to see how we’ve lost sight of the importance of a place to stop, rest and re-energize.  And she and I can justify our lack of hospitality without even blinking.  If you ever want to chat about it, we’ll be happy to meet you at the Bob Evans on the east side of town.

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7 Responses to Hospitality

  1. pokedpotato says:

    I think this is one of my favorite posts so far! Maybe it’s because you used the title “The Green Tree Tavern” which sounds so wonderfully hobbit-ish that it can’t possibly be real. It is also neat to read how all these people came to be related to you, as they moved for one reason or another to the Midwest, and eventually made up portions of your family tree.

    I love entertaining people for a long stay- mostly because I like setting out the tiny hotel bottles of shampoo and lotions on their bed and giving them a bottle of generic water. However, we rarely invite people over for a meal. It is always so tiring at the end when you just are hoping that they will leave, and they tuck in for a good long evening.

    • Thanks, Rebecca. “The Green Tree Tavern” really was the name (I can show you the newspaper articles). In fact, I think the Holiday Inn named their restaurant the same thing, if I remember correctly. So I ate at “The Green Tree” as a kid.

      Only after reading your comment did I realize that the three men highlighted in this post came from the three places along the eastern seaboard that most of my ancestors came from: Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. That wasn’t intentional, but it is interesting how those disparate family groups came west and ended up making up my family tree. Thanks for pointing that out!

  2. bronxboy55 says:

    How fortunate you are to be able to trace your family tree so far back. You’re on a first name basis with ancestors who lived more than two centuries ago. For most people, and I’d include myself in this, going farther back than great grandparents leaves us with complete strangers — faceless, nameless, and out of reach. Maybe that’s why I enjoy your stories so much. It’s the next-best thing to hearing about my own family history.

    • You ought to look into your own family history. It could be interesting. You may find your own stories that are more exciting than mine. Especially with the whole Sicilian connection.

      My fortune (as is so often the case) rests on the hard work of many others. Several generations of people in my family have seen the importance of preserving artifacts and stories. I’d be lost without them.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Julia says:

    See, now, to say that we don’t entertain is to be not entirely truthful, as I am nothing if not entertaining. It is my sole redeeming quality, in fact, that I am entertaining, charming and delightful, just not in our home, with other people. I am most entertaining at restaurants that serve big greasy hamburgers.

    Genetically, I believe I am inclined toward hospitality – I’m Greek, after all, and we do things big and loud and with great happy feasting — but perhaps the genetic strain got spliced somewhere along the line with surly, inhospitable Germanic folk. Who knows, I really don’t understand all this web of relationships at all.

    You are like this relative of yours, Jonathan Wright, “a man of good natural understanding.” Not really sure what that means, but it sounds pleasing.

    • You were very entertaining as we hosted people yesterday at Red Robin. Nothing like greasy hamburgers and a foot-high tower of onion rings to facilitate a little hospitality.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. And thanks for calling me “a man of good natural understanding.” I think.

  4. Pingback: Jonathan Wright | Arbor Familiae

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