Hull’s Trace: Henry Township’s Early Role in American History

Hull's March route through Ohio

Hull’s March route through Ohio

American General William Hull’s 2,600-man army blazed a path through the Black Swamp during the early months of the War of 1812 and almost certainly camped for at least one night in what is now Henry Township. Fort Meigs in Perrysburg is famous for the two battles fought there, but what is less well known is the importance of Hull’s Trace, a primitive road that served as an important transportation route for U. S. forces moving north to fight the British and their Native American allies. The approximately 150-mile road ran from Urbana (40 miles west of Columbus) to a point north of the Maumee River where it joined existing pioneer roads.

One of the most arduous sections of the march traversed the Black Swamp in what is now Wood County. In the best of weather, the swamp made for hard going consisting as it did of standing water, shallow lakes, dense forests of large trees with thick undergrowth, and tall grass prairies that contained mud holes and quicksand. Mosquitoes, black flies, rattlesnakes added to the difficulties.

Despite the poor road conditions, Hull used horse and mule teams to pull 26 cannon and 106 supply wagons to support his force. After they became hopelessly stuck in the mud, Hull had to abandon 16 of his supply wagons and one cannon along the way.

Hull’s mission was to reinforce the American forces in Detroit, deter any British invasion from Canada, and protect the local settlers from potential hostile Indian attacks. After assembling his army at Dayton in May 1812, Hull marched north to Urbana using the existing pioneer roads. Because there were no roads from Urbana northward, Hull’s men cut a primitive road through the forests and swamps of Champaign, Logan, Hardin, Hancock, and Wood Counties. While the general route of Hull’s road is fairly well known, the road’s precise location has been obscured by 200 years of road building, modern farming methods, and urban development. Hull frequently erected a blockhouse approximately every 15 to 20 miles to guard the road and these sites are well identified.

By June 26, Hull’s army had reached the south side of the Blanchard River where it camped and erected a blockhouse named Fort Findlay. On June 27th, Hull resumed his march north to the Rocky Ford Creek near what is now Van Buren and from there along the west bank of Rocky Ford Creek. Moving at the rate of 10-15 miles a day–a reasonable rate for difficult terrain–he would have arrived at the present site of North Baltimore on June 28, 1812, a day after departing Fort Findlay.

General William Hull

General William Hull was a former governor of Ohio who had had a good record in the American Army during the Revolutionary War. However, by 1812 the elderly general was in ill health and physically and mentally unfit for command of a major military force. President James Madison made a major and costly mistake for the nation when he appointed Hull to command the American Army of the Northwest.

Because of the swampy conditions, the army would have moved and camped along the few ridges and other high ground available. For this reason, it is likely that Hull’s men camped on the north/south ridge upon which North Baltimore was eventually built. The high ground which is the present site of Maplewood Cemetery and Memorial Field Stadium may have been part of Hull’s camp.

After leaving the North Baltimore area, Hull’s force proceeded north to present day Portage where another blockhouse was erected. Hull finally reached the Maumee River on June 30 having taken four days to traverse the Black Swamp. There, his forces crossed the river and continued north, reaching the vicinity of Detroit, Michigan by July 5th. After some fighting and maneuvering, Hull was tricked into surrendering his army to a much smaller British force on August 16, 1812. This is one of the most humiliating defeats ever suffered by an American Army to a foreign military force. After the war, an army court martial board sentenced General Hull to death for cowardice, but President Madison later pardoned him because of his age and Revolutionary War service.

Hull’s road was used repeatedly during the War of 1812, and it is possible that the military units involved also may have camped near present-day North Baltimore. In November 1812, General Benjamin Tupper led 650 Ohio militiamen in a raid against Indian war bands operating along the Maumee near present day Perrysburg. In April and May 1813, several large American cavalry units travelled north along Hull’s road to the Maumee River. Later in the summer of 1813 a large mounted Indian war party chased two American army couriers from just south of the Portage blockhouse to Fort Findlay where the Americans finally reached safety. Throughout the war, the U.S. Army used the road to supply the forces operating in northern Ohio and southern Michigan.

After the war, the road cut by Hull’s troops became known as Hull’s Trace and was used by early pioneers. In the 1840s, Hull’s Trace from Findlay to Van Buren was incorporated into the Perrysburg to Findlay Pike. In the 1920s, with creation of the federal highway system, this road became federal Route 25. Today, it is Hancock County Road 220. Hancock County Township Road 49 between Van Buren and North Baltimore follows Hull’s Trace along Rocky Ford Creek as does a small section of Insley Road in southern Wood County. Hull Prairie Road north of Bowling Green generally follows Hull’s Trace to the site where Hull’s Army forded the Maumee River. In the 1870s, the Bowling Green Railroad Company laid tracks on another section of Hull’s Trace north of Bowling Green. A hundred years later, the tracks were removed, and that portion of Hull’s Trace reverted to farm land.

As far as is publicly known, no hard evidence exists today to support the theory of an encampment on the site of present day North Baltimore. However, there have been tantalizing reports of discovered artifacts and searches for more in the past. In the 1890s, the North Baltimore Beacon published several articles about local citizens finding weapons and other military artifacts in Henry Township which were attributed to Hull’s Army. On one occasion, over three dozen badly rusted muskets were reportedly found near Hull’s Trace in Liberty Township just south of present day Portage.

hulls-route-imposed-1858-map

Hull’s route imposed on an 1858 map of Henry Township shows how Hull’s Army marched north through Henry Township on both sides of the Middle Branch of the Portage River (now called the Rocky Ford Creek). The units marching on the east bank were forced to cross over to the west bank in order to move between the dense six foot high tall grass prairie land to the west and the two lakes on the east. These three major terrain features no longer exist after being drained and converted to farmland in the mid 19th Century.

The Beacon also reported that a son of B. L. Peters, founder of North Baltimore, conducted an extensive excavation on the south side of town hoping to find the abandoned cannon, but the results of his efforts do not seem to have been documented. According to local oral history accounts, as recently as the 1950s, a U.S. military belt buckle and several uniform buttons were found when houses along High Street were built. Other military artifacts may be as yet undiscovered. However, as of this writing, the whereabouts of any War of 1812-era artifacts that may have been left in Henry Township is unknown.

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