Early settlers, David and Margaret Nelson and their six children
Artwork by Edie Mae Herrel

The Ohio Refugee Tract, from a survey done over 200 years ago, shows that the land stretched from the Scioto River to beyond Buckeye Lake. In Franklin Country, it is bounded on the north by East Fifth Avenue and on the south by Refugee Road.

This area was set aside by Congress, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, for settlement by Canadian and Nova Scotian veterans who served in the colonial forces during the American Revolution. Only 67 of these veterans filed claims for land which had been divided into numbered one-mile squares and half-mile rectangles. Much of the land east of Alum Creek was not claimed by refugees and was sold at the Chillicothe land office to the highest bidder.

One such individual who bid on land was David Nelson. He, his wife Margaret and their children, all originally from Pennsylvania, moved in 1799 to an area along the west side of Alum Creek just north of what is now East Broad Street. Here they built a log cabin. In 1820, they constructed a saw mill which was weather boarded in black walnut cut from their surrounding woods. This mill was located near the current Clifton Avenue bridge area. In 1880, David Nelson, Jr. turned the structure into a grist mill.

The Nelson land holdings was extensive, covering both east and west of Alum Creek. The family eventually built a brick home, 225 N. Nelson Road, which remained Nelson property until the 1950s. All of the original Eastgate section of Columbus was developed from Nelson land.

The Nelsons were devoted members of the first Presbyterian Church, traveling along a mud path, through the forest to get to the church. This mud path later became Broad Street. Margaret, a widow with two almost adult sons when she married David Nelson, often wrote to these children. Excerpts from one of these letters is below.

“Our new cabin is dry, and we have plenty of room, and no matter what the weather, the chimney does not smoke. My two ewes and three lambs had 10 pounds of clean, picked wool, which we are beginning to feel the need of. Last year, we had 50 yards of linen out of our hemp. We have lost two milch (sic) cows and one heifer. …We have four milch cows and two heifers yet, without going in debt for them. The families along the creek have been tolerably healthy, except Mr. Turner. He had the fever and ague…”

Written by Nancy Beck
Originally published in Historical Herald, Fall 2019

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  1. Reply
    Cheri Nelson says:

    Researching this family as relating to my gggrandfather James B Nelson, from Bracken/Greenup, KY. He and wife Mary Jane Smith from Kanawha, we’re married in scioto and first born, William E was born here. I believe They traveled with a group; Benjamin Franklin Nelson, Emeline and others to Minneapolis and Wright county, Minnesota after the war. James was registered for the Confederacy as David J Nelson, I believe he was paid by this David. Actually had a land grant in Wright county MN. Seeking true roots for James, from Maryland to Kentucky.

    • Reply
      posts says:

      Thank you for your note. I will dig into any additional information we have on the Nelson family and let you know what connections, if any, are found.

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