The James Hillman Story

Before John Young or any other pioneer came,   [to Youngstown]   Col. James Hillman knew the area like the back of his hand, and had gotten to know the Indians here to the extent that they trusted him.

We are told that Hillman’s acquaintance with this area began in 1786. During that time he was employed by Duncan and Wilson of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The company was engaged in the business of forwarding goods by pack horse from Pittsburg to the mouth of the Cuyahoga river at what is now Cleveland, where the goods were loaded on the Scooner Mackine and taken to Detroit.

The caravans that Hillman led consisted of ten men and ninety horses each carrying a load of merchandise. It is said that from 1788 to 1796, Hillman’s trading with the Indians afforded him the opportunity to gain their trust and confidence, something that would make him one of the most important men in the settlement and village during those early years.

When retuning to Pittsburg by canoe in 1796, he saw smoke along the banks of the Mahoning river near where Spring Common is now, and going ashore found John Young and his party, and remained with them a few days.

We can determine that this meeting took place in the latter part of June of 1796, for we find that Young and Wolcott accompanied Hillman to Beaver town for the Fourth of July celebration that year.

In “The Man on the Monument” column in the Youngstown Vindicator of March 29, 1908, we are provided with the following sketch of Hillman.



Chairman H. B. Wick, upon taking the floor remarked: “Toasts are the thing in order, “and the first on the program is: “The first white settler - James Hillman,” by Roswell M. Grant, Mays Lick, Ky.

In the absence of Mr. Grant, John M. Edwards responded as follows: “Mr. Roswell M. Grant is the brother of Jesse Grant and the Uncle of General Grant. It seems he has been unable to be present: but has taken pains to write the following:

James Hillman was born October, 1764 in Northcunberland County, Pennsylvania, his father, James Hillman moved near Pittsburg and settled some three miles below the banks of the Ohio river, where I think he remained to the day of his death. James Hillman enlisted in the Revolutionary war, was captured, I think, at the battle of Yorktown. Here I could tell what happened between him and a British officer, but I decline to do so, but after he gave the officer a severe whipping, he made his escape, and returned to his father. After his return he went to a corn-husking, where he met a Miss Catherine __________ (1)

After dancing with her for some time, he proposed marrage. A Squire being present, they were married the same night. I have heard Mrs. Hillman many times say that she never had a pair of shoes and stockings until her marrage, and I have heard them both say that she had neither shoe or stocking when they were married. After their marrage, James Hillman built a cabin on the banks of the Ohio river below Pittsburg, where he lived for some years by hunting and taking emigrants up and down the Ohio, Big Beaver and Mahoning rivers in a canoe.

While in that capacity, John Young came from the east as far as Pittsburg, and wanted a conveyance up the Mahoning, where he intended to lay out a town. He was referred to James Hillman, who took him and his baggage to the present town of Youngstown. (2)

Mrs. Hillman went with them. After their arrival at Youngstown, John Young offered Mrs. Hillman her choice of six acres, any place she would choose in the town plot if she would remain.She did so. Mrs. Hillman took her six acres east of William Rogers’ and on a road that ran north from the Public Square in front of George Tod’s residence and running east on the main street as far as where Sam Stewart kept a tavern, and back to the hill. James Hillman lived there and helped John Young lay out the town. He then bought a farm of some two hundred acres opposite town, where he built a frame house and lived there for some years.

Dr. Dutton and James Hillman built a mill in partnership, Hillman later bought Dutton out.

James Hillman was Sheriff, I think, of what is now called Mahoning, Trumbull, Medina, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga and Portage counties. About the year 1807 or 1808, he had gone security for so many that he was compelled to sell his farm and mill. He then bought Samual Stewart’s tavern stand opposite where Dr. Dutton lived. During the War of 1812 he volunteered under the command of Col. Wm. Rayen. Prior to that he was also Justice of the Peace for many years before and after the war. This year, I can’t recollect, but there was a salt spring some nine miles west of Youngstown where people of east of Youngstown came for fifty or sixty miles to make salt. (3)

They would have two kettles swung across a horse. I have seen them pass frequently. On one occassion, one man passed by himself. Some two weeks after, James Hillman was passing the spring; his dog ‘Bounce’ (I recollect the dog well) commenced to bark and scratch. The colonel went to where the dog was, and there he found the man buried about one foot deep and covered with brush. He came to town and reported to George Tod, Wm. Rayen, Mr. Dutton and others. There had been some Indians around Youngstown, Canfield and Ellsworth for some time, but they had all disappeared. James Hillman was selected to bring them to justice.

James Hillman followeed them some days himself. Not far from the town of Chillicothe he overtook them. He told them that they had to return. After council of one day, they agreed to return. The chief, I now forget his nam, stated that one of his men had killed the man; that he had stopped at the camp of the salt-maker; that the salt-maker had a small jug of whiskey and gave him a drink, and that he killed him and took the whiskey. He then dug a hole with his knife and tomahawk, buried him and then covered the grave with brush.

Jasmes Hillman, by himself, brought the whole tribe back to Youngstown. They were tried on the bluff back of the Mahoning between George Tod’s residence and Mr. Honey’s, and opposite the old mill. Simon Perkins, of warren, acted as judge, and Alvin Pense of Warren, as counsel for one party, and george Tod for the other. After the trial of some two days, they thought best to acquit the Indian by the chief’s going his security for his future conduct.”


(1) As a child, Mr. Grant lived with James and Catherine Hillman, so the matters that he related came first hand. As to Mrs. Hillman’s Maden name, the Youngstown News-Regester of December 25, 1883 gave it as Boley, while local historian James L. Wick gave it as Dougherty.

(2) If this account of the meeting of James Hillman and John Young is correct, it does not conform to the local folk lore account of their meeting that says that Hillman met Young for the first time when returning from a trip to what is now Cleveland, where he had taken a caravan for his employers. If the account that Grant gave is correct, then Mr. Hillman’s role becomes all the more important.

(3) Salt Springs road in Youngstown is part of the origional road that the salt-makers followed to the salt springs in Weathersfield.