For a snake-infested expanse of untamed wilderness, Stow had a certain charm.
Joshua Stow, founder and namesake of the future Ohio town, purportedly hailed the rugged landscape of hills, valleys, streams and lakes as “one of the prettiest and most romantic spots in the Western Reserve” when he first laid eyes upon it in the late 18th century.
Then again, the Connecticut native had a voracious appetite for tasty rattlesnakes.
Stow (1762-1842) served on Gen. Moses Cleaveland’s surveying team for the Connecticut Land Co. in 1796. The expedition consisted of 45 men, two women and one child.
Cleaveland also lent his name to an Ohio town. You’ve probably never heard of it.
As commissary general for the expedition, 34-year-old Stow was in charge of providing boats, firearms, ammunition, tools, blankets and other necessities for the team. When the group arrived at present-day Conneaut, it built a sturdy log warehouse to store supplies, and named the little fortress “Stow’s Castle.”
Principal surveyor August Porter recalled that Stow served as flagman of the expedition, which put him out front as the crew mapped out the Western Reserve. From the forward position, danger often slithered underfoot, coiled and hissing.
“Rattlesnakes were numerous and Stow coming first upon them killed them,” Porter wrote. “Being with two or three other persons three days without food, we had killed a rattlesnake, dressed and cooked it, and whether from the savory quality of the flesh or the particular state of the stomachs, I could not say which, had eaten it with a high relish.”
The commissary general developed a curious appetite for poisonous reptiles. Obviously, it was better to bite them than be bitten. Other members of the survey team found themselves looking forward to the wilderness delicacy.
Porter wrote: “Stow was a healthy, active man, fond of wood-life, and determined to adopt all practices, even to the eating of snakes; and during most any day while on the lakeshore, he killed and swung over his body from two to six or eight large rattlesnakes, and at night a part were dressed, cooked and eaten by the party with good relish, probably increased by the circumstance of their being fresh while all other meat was salt.”
Whiskey and water
In the event of a snake bite, Stow carried a flask of whiskey. No, really. Whiskey was considered a fine remedy when applied to a wound. If a victim drank enough, he might even forget about the poisonous bite … at least momentarily.
Summit County historian Samuel Lane said pioneers and settlers believed that whiskey was an indispensable commodity “in any enterprise — from church-building to boating.”
Although Stow guarded “a goodly quantity” of whiskey in the commissary, he soon discovered that the surveying team was going through it faster than anticipated. That’s when he uncorked a brilliant idea.
“So long a time had been spent upon the journey, and the difficulties of transportation being so great, Commissary Stow, fearing that this prime ‘necessary of life’ would run short before a fresh supply could be obtained, had adopted the plan of surreptitiously increasing the volume, by decreasing the strength,” Lane wrote in 1892.
In other words, he diluted the liquor with water!
Upon discovering the ruse, Moses Cleaveland composed a now-famous couplet of poetry:
“Christ, the divine, turned water into wine;
“Joshua, the boater, turned whisky into water.”
Birth of a town
Although Stow made more than a dozen visits from Connecticut to Ohio on horseback, he never actually lived here. He did, however, make sure that his name was never forgotten.
In 1804, he purchased Township 3, Range 10 of the Western Reserve for $14,154 — about $531,000 today — and called it Stow Township.
In need of a land agent, Joshua Stow appointed another Connecticut native, William Wetmore, who moved to Ohio and developed a permanent settlement in the township that is now known as the city of Stow.
“It is a remarkable fact that the very township purchased and named after Stow should prove to have been about the most prolific in Ohio in its snake product,” Summit County historian Henry Howe noted in 1891.
“Rattlesnakes were very numerous and a great pest to the first settlers of Stow Township. The ‘Gulf’ at Stow Corners was filled with these reptiles, and it was many years before they were killed off. So numerous were they and so dangerous, that the settlers took turns in watching the rocks to kill all that came forth.”
Never again would a rattler disrupt the tranquility of one of the prettiest and most romantic spots in the Western Reserve.
Joshua Stow lived out the remainder of his years in Middletown, Conn., where he served as postmaster, tax collector and an associate judge.
He passed away Oct. 10, 1842, at the ripe old age of 79 when life expectancy for U.S. men was only around 40.
Perhaps an unusual diet accounted for Stow’s longevity.
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.