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Please begin with an informative title:

In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it, and he sells it before the roof is on; he plants a garden, and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing; he brings a field into tillage, and leaves other men to gather the crops; he embraces a profession, and gives it up; he settles in a place, which he soon afterward leaves, to carry his changeable longings elsewhere.

~ Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

2011 marks the bicentennial of the start of construction on the Cumberland Road (also known as the National Road, the National Turnpike, and later U.S. Route 40), the first federally-funded highway in the United States. This year is also the 200th anniversary of an episode in my family's history with a slight connection to that project. I'll get to the family stuff a little later; but first, about the Road.

You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

To all who shall see these presents, GREETING. Know Ye, That in pursuance of the Act of Congress passed on the 29th of March, 1806, entitled "An Act to regulate the laying out and making a road from Cumberland in the State of Maryland to the State of Ohio" and reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Integrity, Diligence and Discretion of Eli Williams of Maryland, I have nominated and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate do appoint him a Commissioner in connection with Thomas Moore of Maryland, and Joseph Kerr of Ohio, for the purposes expressed in the said Act; and to Have and to Hold the said office, with all the powers, privileges and Emoluments to the same of right appertaining, during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being.

In Testimony Whereof, I have caused the Letters to be made patent and the Seal of the United States to be herewith affixed.

Given under my hand, at the City of Washington the Sixteenth day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand Eight hundred and seven; and of the Independence of the United States of America, the Thirty-first. (Recorded.)

By the President.

Secretary of State.

Jefferson, like Washington before him (and supported by the likes of Alexander Hamilton, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Albert Gallatin), was convinced that "a trans-Appalachian road was necessary for unifying the young country." (Federal Highway Administration, "The National Road".) The idea was to link the Ohio River watershed with that of the Potomac; from Gallatin's recommendation to President Jefferson:
Politicians have generally agreed that rivers unite the interests and promote the friendship of those who inhabit their banks, while mountains, on the contrary, tend to the disunion and estrangement of those who are separated by their intervention. In the present case, to make the crooked ways smooth, will, in effect, remove the intervening mountains, and by facilitating the intercourse of the western brethren with those of the Atlantic, substantially unite them in interests, which the Committee believe, is the most effectual cement of union applicable to the human race.
Imagine, politicians agreeing (in support of a huge public works project no less!) — though I can't resist noting that the three men mentioned in Jefferson's proclamation were... recess appointments. (The Senate — arguably a more responsible body in those days — did confirm them without undue delay, however.)

Not everyone was on board. In another bit of (perennial) historical relevance, funding for the project was a bone of contention; some people felt that those parts of the country directly benefitting from the proposed route ought to pay the entire cost of it themselves. (Both state and federal funds ultimately went into the project.) An interesting sidelight is that we can see the individual states still working out their evolving relationship with the federal government.

In the meanwhile Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had by statute granted permission to the Federal Government to construct the road through their territory. In 1810 accordingly, there was begun a series of appropriations for the Cumberland Road which finally aggregated about $7,000,000. The contract for the first ten miles was given in 1811 and the road was thrown open to the public in 1818. From that time "until the coming of the railroad west of the Alleghany Mountains, in 1852, the National Road was the one great highway over which passed the bulk of trade and travel and the mails between the East and West."

~ St. George Leakin Sioussat, "Highway Legislation in Maryland - And Its Influence On the Economic Development of the State" (1899)

For some perspective on that $7,000,000, compare the cost of the then-recent Louisiana Purchase ($15 million). This was a big, multi-year commitment to the General Welfare, an ambitious "Investment In The Future" on the part of a small nation.

Finally, from the FHA website linked above:

As work on the road progressed a settlement pattern developed that is still visible. Original towns and villages are found along the National Road, many barely touched by the passing of time. The road, also called the Cumberland Road, National Pike and other names, became Main Street in these early settlements, earning the nickname "The Main Street of America."

And with this map (which, though somewhat inaccurate, will serve present purposes), I now turn to my ancestor, one Henry Keever. He was my first independent discovery as a novice genealogist back in 1974 (I was all of 19), and for that reason, as well as for his interesting story itself, he's been a sentimental favorite of mine ever since.

My dad didn't know much about his family tree, possibly because (as the reader may recall from a comment in last week's Open Thread) his father had severed connections with his parents at a young age. All I had to go on as regards my dad's Keever line was his vague recollection of a great-grandfather named Philip Keever who had lived in Ohio.

(So this fool rushed in, all unawares of what awaited him at the microfilm reader: a crash course in such dubious delights as the deciphering of blurry copperplate script and the vagaries of 19th-century spelling — Valleys of Humiliation and Sloughs of Despond where even the most valiant among angels fear to tread.)

After more than a little blind thrashing about (and with the patient help of various seasoned researchers unlucky enough to find themselves seated next to me), I eventually located Philip in the 1850 census, living in Ashland County, Ohio in the household of his parents, Henry and Caroline Keever. Exhilarated by this first find and hungry to know more, I looked for background in old histories of the area — and struck genealogy gold:

Henry Keever, one of the early settlers of Milton Township, was born in Frederick County, Maryland, in the year 1803. He was the oldest child of Andrew and Margaret Keever. Both of his parents died when he was but a lad. He then went to live with his grandfather, and moved with him to Ohio, in the year 1811, and first settled in Harrison County; here the grandfather died, and Henry, who was then a young man of sixteen, removed with his grandmother and sister to Milton Township, Richland County, now Ashland County.

~ History of Ashland County, Ohio with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, by George William Hill, M.D. (1880)

"Both of his parents died when he was but a lad." Sure enough, further research confirmed that both Andrew and Margaret (née Smith) Keever died in Maryland in late 1809 or 1810. (Both were in their mid-30s; I wonder if they succumbed to one of the fever epidemics that were so common in the mid-Atlantic states in those days.) So the grandparents — the Smiths, I later learned — packed up and headed west with their two little grandchildren. Did they wish to leave unhappy memories behind, or flee the threat of disease? (Henry's grandfather Keever had also died back in Frederick in 1810.) Or were they merely responding to the zeitgeist: the lure of a fresh start in a new country — that peculiarly American restlessness, those "changeable longings" so fascinating to Tocqueville?

Fooling around with Google Maps, I traced that 1811 journey to Ohio, using present-day Highway 40, then just being born as the Cumberland Road, as the likeliest route traveled. (A pretty safe guess, I think, since much of that road was built upon the earlier Braddock Road, and given that even today the options for crossing that part of the Alleghenies are not numerous.)

Henry's Cumberland Road Trip(See this in Google Maps)

As the little family group made their cumbrous way west that year, did eight-year-old Henry, perhaps riding in a Conestoga wagon, perhaps walking, gape with boyish curiosity at the crews at work near Cumberland, Maryland building that first ten-mile stretch of the new National Road? It pleases me to think he did.

Back (or forward) to the teenage Henry, heading out for Ashland (about 100 miles northwest of Harrison County) accompanied by an old woman and a young girl, to begin his adult life as the "man of the family" (though surely it took the three of them working together to make a go of it). Dr. Hill continues:

His first purchase was a tract of land in Milton Township, where he still resides. His settlement in Ashland County dates back to about the year 1819. In 1832 or 1833 he was married to Caroline Baum. They have had ten children, Eliza, Philip, Sarah, Henry P., Aaron, Susan A., Caroline, Franklin and John; all of whom reside within the State.
(That last bit about the children was true, but just barely: before long Henry and Caroline's eldest son Philip, his wife and children would leave Ohio for Lake City, Iowa.)
He [Henry] and his wife have lived together for nearly a half century, upon the same place where they first set up housekeeping, and both are well preserved, and in full possession of their faculties. A grubbing hoe, a horse, and one dollar and fifty cents comprised his capital, when he first started in life. He is now one of the substantial farmers of Milton Township. His life has been a frugal and industrious one, and he enjoys the esteem of his fellow citizens.
So ends George W. Hill's thumbnail biography of Henry. This would be a fitting place for me to close as well; but (at the risk of taxing the reader's patience further) I'd like to offer as postscript a final, happy vignette of Henry in old age.

In 1880, the same year as Dr. Hill's History of Ashland County, a local newspaper printed an account of a "Picnic Meeting" held in a "beautiful maple grove" at which Henry Keever, along with several others, was welcomed as a new member of the Ashland County Pioneer Society:

One can only smile at this excerpt, so redolent of another era:
A very large concourse of people attended the picnic, which was rendered pleasant by the extra effort made by the Mifflinites to anticipate every requirement that should be needed either for the pleasure or comfort of the crowd. The Executive Committee have instructed me to publicly express their thanks to Charles F. Engle, Postmaster of Mifflin, for the tender of the use of his ice-house for the benefit of people during the day. For his kindness and forethought the Society expresses their obligations, and it was only necessary to observe the use made of the ice-water to convince any one that the crowd fully appreciated it.
I hope Henry appreciated it too; by 1885 his wife would be dead and part of his family dispersed. That's why I want to believe that 1880 was a particularly happy year for him. So, let's take our leave of him there at the picnic — Caroline next to him fanning herself under the maples; surrounded by his children and grandchildren and old friends; honored by his community, his life memorialized in print — as he smiles over a refreshing glass of that ice-water.
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Genealogy and Family History Community on Fri Sep 02, 2011 at 09:05 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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