From the beginning, the territory of Guernsey County belonged to Washington County until 1788 when it became part of Muskingum County, which was organized in 1804. Prior to the adoption of the state constitution in 1851, there was much agitation about forming a new county from parts of Guernsey, Tuscarawas, and Coshocton with New Comerstown as the county seat. However, when the new constitution was adopted, the issue was permanently removed from the minds of the projectors of that scheme.
A word concerning the term “Military Land District” may be in order in this connection. The origin of this term comes from the fact that in 1798 Congress appropriated certain lands to satisfy claims of the officers and soldiers of the Revolutionary War. These lands were surveyed into townships five miles square, and these again into quarter-townships containing four thousand acres, and some later into forty lots of one hundred acres each, for the accommodation of soldiers and others holding warrants for that number of acres. What land was not required for the satisfaction of military warrants was subsequently sold by act of Congress, and the designation of “Congress Land” given to it. In 1903 Congress granted to the state one-sixth of all the lands in the United States Military District for the use of schools in the same. As the population of the townships warranted, they were named, having previously been designated by numbers. In 1812 the legislature provided for a road from Cambridge to Coshocton. The Marietta and Cleveland road was completed at a later date.
The land district of which Guernsey County is a part was surveyed west of the seventh range into townships of five miles square and a quarter township of two and a half miles square between 1798 and 1804. Zaccheus Biggs, as deputy surveyor, made part of the survey, and George Metcalf, then a young man, formed one of the surveying party. He was charmed with the locality and enthused many at his home with the idea of effecting settlement here, and he really prevailed upon Jacob Gomber, his father-in-law, and Zaccheus A. Beatty, brother-in-law of Gomber, to purchase a quarter of a township (four thousand acres), upon which the city of Cambridge is now situated.
The survey of the land district was completed in 1804, and the land became available for entry from the land office at Zanesville at two dollars per acre. Settlements were soon made in different parts of the county, as will be seen in the chapter on “Early Settlement,” following this chapter.
By order of the Ohio State Legislature in 1809, a new county was formed from portions of Belmont and Muskingum counties and called Guernsey in honor of the first emigrants from the Isle of Guernsey. Prior to that time (March 10, 1810, the actual dating of the bill), all the territory now included in this county west of the eastern boundary of what is now Wills township, Madison township, and Washington township was part of Muskingum County. East of the present townships of Londonderry, Oxford, and Millwood formed a part of Belmont County. On April 23, following, there was a meeting at the house of George Beymer in Cambridge, and there and then the first county commissioners were sworn into office for Guernsey County. They were James Dillon, William Dement, and Absalom Martin. Elijah Beall was appointed clerk, and John Beatty was treasurer. Elijah Dyson was appointed lister of the residents of the newly made county as being subject to taxation
Thomas Knowles was the first sheriff, George Metcalf the first surveyor, Peter Wirick the first auctioneer, and Joseph Smith the first coroner.
It was ordered that the new county be divided into five civil townships to be called Oxford, Seneca, Wills, Cambridge, and Westland. Much difficulty was experienced because there was no map of the territory within the county just formed.
Tavern licenses were fixed at from four to ten dollars.
At the meeting of June 10, 1810, a township, to be known as Buffalo, was ordered to be set off, and a meeting was held at Jacob Jordan’s on June 23rd of that year when township officers were duly elected.
Wheatland Township was organized on June 9, 1810. On the same date, Andrew Marshalf was awarded the contract to construct a county jail.
On July 28, 1810, a meeting was called to elect officers for a township to be called Richland, and it was held at the house of Samuel Leath. Also, on the same day, there was a meeting to elect officers for Madison Township at the house of Absalom Martin.
On September 15, 1810, Wheeling Township was organized, and two justices of the peace and other officers were elected at a meeting at the home of William Gibson.
On September 4th of that year, there had been held a meeting of the board, at which the bounty for every wolf scalp of wolves over six months that had been killed within the county was fixed at two and one-half dollars and one dollar for those under six months.
On December 25, 1810, Robert Johnston became clerk. The Steubenville road was completed from Cadiz to Cambridge in 1811, and in June of that year, Lloyd Talbott was awarded the contract to build, or rather supervise the construction of, a county courthouse, while Z. A. Beatty and Jacob Gomber were chosen as contractors to construct the same. The jail was completed on September 3, 1811.
In March 1815, Valley Township was incorporated at a meeting held at the house of William Thompson.
On June 3, 1816, it was ordered that a new township be made and named Jefferson; this was taken from the west of Madison Township. It was also ordered on that date that Londonderry Township be formed from parts of Madison and Oxford; that Beaver Township should be formed from parts of Seneca and Oxford Townships; and that Olive Township should be set off from Buffalo Township.
Monroe Township was incorporated from the north end of Jefferson Township, and township officials were elected at the house of Lawrence Tetrick in April 1818.
Knox Township was formed from the northern end of Westland and the west end of Wheeling Township.
On April 8, 1819, it was ordered that the south row of sections in Wheeling Township be added to Cambridge Township.
Spencer Township was set off from the west end of Buffalo Township in March 1819.
Liberty Township was created in 1820; Centre Township in 1822 and Washington in 1823.
In June 1824, Jackson Township was organized, and in 1827, Adams was taken off of Knox and Westland Townships and named in honor of John Quincy Adams, then President of the United States.
In 1851, Buffalo, Beaver, Olive, and Seneca Townships were detached from Guernsey County and have since been included in Noble County.
As soon as the townships were organized, the county-seat question was agitated. Both Washington and Cambridge wanted the seat of justice. Messrs. Beatty and Gomber made a proposition to donate the public grounds and furnish a suitable set of public buildings ready to roof if the county seat should be located at Cambridge, and their offer was accepted. Several attempts have been made since the location of the county seat to remove it to Washington, but of late years, this talk has all ceased and with the present city of Cambridge and the courthouse and jail so substantial, the question will probably never be before the people again.
After the above preliminary steps had been taken, it remained for the board of county commissioners to provide highways, bridges, and suitable buildings for the county, as its settlement increased. The chapter on “County, State, and National Representation – Political” will inform the reader as to who the men were at the helm during all of the formative period of the county’s development, and other chapters will show how well they laid the foundations. The government of this county is treated in the next chapter, and there will be seen much of the county’s building, its taxes, and expenditures to the present time. As the platting of towns and villages comes with the settlement of every new county organized, its surveyors and recorders have to execute these records. This topic naturally comes under the head of organization and will here follow the list of such town plattings.