By Connie Lechleitner, OCJ field reporter
For David P. Lash Jr., family history runs deep amid the Appalachian hills near his Belmont County Century farm. The first member of his family to reach the U.S., Jacob Lash left the German army and, without telling his parents, set sail for America at age 17.
He came to Sussex County, New Jersey in 1740, where most of his family was born. He later moved to Washington County, Pennsylvania. Lash family history recounts that several Lash children were “swept from their horses by large tree branches” on their travel to Pennsylvania as they took the Indian trails where no roads yet led.
According to the family history, Jacob’s son, Jacob Lash II, (David P. Lash’s five time great grandfather), was a revolutionary war veteran serving in the Pennsylvania militia. He first saw the area that became Belmont County while serving at Fort Henry at Wheeling in 1782.
In 1797, two years after the Indians ceded most of their land to the federal government in 1795 at the Treaty of Greenville, Jacob purchased 232 acres in Jefferson Township, Ohio, from the same Indians. The Lash family settled into a vast wilderness in which the loss of land by the Indians to their encroaching white neighbors was still raw. The family history recounts several instances of attempted Indian attacks on family members.
Jacob’s son and David Lash’s four time great-grandfather, Abraham Lash, is listed as the first white child born in Pease Township in 1798, and his fifth generation cousin, Isaac Lash, is credited with being the first white child born in Richland Township in 1799.
To put the time period into perspective, the “civilized” area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, began building its first turnpike in 1791. Ebenezer Zane was not commissioned to build the Zane’s Trace trail from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Maysville, Kentucky, until 1796, and the only pre-existing town on the entire trail was Chillicothe. Belmont County would not be founded until 1801, with Ohio’s official statehood following in 1803. The National Road would not be built until 1807, with the Ohio canal system not starting until 1825 and the railroads in 1840’s.
The majority of Lash men were farmers, but they had the difficult task of creating productive acreage from the sharp rolling hills of Appalachia. Despite its challenges, Jacob would have been attracted to the strategic location near Wheeling, West Virginia, where he had access to the Ohio River and its tributaries.
Lash family farms soon dotted the hillsides throughout the areas later known as Barton, Colerain and Farmington as the next generations of Lashes began to prosper. The 110-acre farm that has been in David Lash’s family for more than 100 years was the first parcel of land to be recorded in Belmont County. Although recorded in 1780, the property was not originally owned by a Lash family member. Dr. Robert Johnston, a surgeon in the 8th Pennsylvania Battalion in the revolutionary war, held the first deed. He was a friend of Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and like several revolutionary war veterans, was involved in the land speculation practices of the time. The property changed hands three times in the following 10 years.
Johnston’s deed recording predates the U.S. Land Ordinance of 1785, which led to the first survey of the Northwest Territory. That survey, which began at the Ohio River and the Pennsylvania border, set a line due west for 42 miles, and was the first land to be federally surveyed using a rectangular system of 36 townships designated in six mile squares — which is known today as the Seven Ranges.
David Lash’s great-great-great grandfather, William, purchased the 110-acre farm in 1847.
“He raised sheep and wheat, and had a sawmill in the woods,” Lash said. “They pretty much did anything they could to survive. We found in a neighbor’s diary where he helped Will Lash raise a barn in 1868, and that barn still stands at the farm today.”
It was David’s grandfather, William Lash, along with his maternal grandfather, Harry Fulton, who instilled his love of the land and farming.
“My Grandpa Lash went out west to work for my great uncle. When he came back to Ohio and got married, his sister and brother-in-law (my great aunt and great uncle), Florence and Rex Swingle, lived on the farm,” Lash said. “My great uncle Rex and my grandfather then worked the farm together.”
Family photos show Lash’s great grandfather David Powell Lash and great-great
grandfather William Lash threshing wheat, and the farm at that time included hogs, chickens and a few cattle.
“They also had a sugar house in the woods, and would make molasses and maple syrup. My grandfather also worked in the coal mines for a while,” Lash said.
David Lash continued to farm the land, even as it changed hands to his aunt and his cousin. However, coal mining made a huge impact on the area, and the Lash farm was not unaffected.
“There was a short break when it was strip-mined in the late 1970’s. I farmed it again after it had been reclaimed,” Lash said.
The stripped ground proved less fertile, but Lash persevered.
“It was tough to work it, but it actually doesn’t do too bad for stripped ground,” he said. “The worst part is that we are always picking rocks out of it.”
Today Lash raises alfalfa, clover and timothy mixed hay, corn and wheat on the property.
“We just got a silage bagging system this year, and we baled 100 bales that way in June,” he said.
After working the farm for other family members since he was 10 years old, Lash purchased the land from his second cousin in 2003. He also owns a second historic 232-acre farm nearby, which was owned by Cornish Naval Architect Josiah Fox, who designed the war ship, the USS Constitution or “Old Ironsides.” He also purchased a hay field from his aunt. On the Josiah Fox Farm, Lash raises beef cattle as well as corn, wheat and hay.
In addition to farming, Lash operates a paving business that he began in 1978, while the family farm was being mined. Lash’s son, Daniel, works with his father in the business, and may take the reins one day. His older son, David, lives in Wheeling.
Lash’s two sons Daniel and David did not take a strong interest in farming, although both help their father on the farm whenever they can. Lash has transferred his love of the land to the eleventh generation of Lashes. His 10-year-old grandson Jacob raked the recent hay crop, and second grandson Isaac has also taken an interest.