William Lawson was known as a common man that was making a lucrative living at farming. Lawson lived beyond Second Street and Chillicothe Street which in the early 1800’s; was then considered the edge of the town of Portsmouth. Beyond that point it was wooded with spattering of open fields, this is where Lawson made his living at farming for many years.
As William became older his farming endeavors slowed, due to his age. He would go to Portsmouth and visit his kinfolk. The historian James Keyes states – “There was nothing in Mr. Lawson’s life worthy of special attention, more than happens in life to every successful farmer. His children mostly married and settled around him. His sons were John the oldest, Enoch, Thomas, Manassas, Madison and William. The daughters were Mary, Christina, and Ruth being the youngest.”
The irony of Mr. Lawson’s latter years was his fondness for the company of his family. Therefore he would for many hours of each day go visiting within the city of Portsmouth. His son Thomas lived there as did many of his friends. The Historian Mr. Keyes explains – “It remains now to speak of the old man’s sad and melancholy death. He usually spent the day there and walked home at night, often not starting before the dusk of evening.” A man of his age was putting himself in the hands of fate on his walks home. According to Mr. Keyes, “Chillicothe Street at the time was the eastern limit of the city. Foot people generally got over the fence at the junction of Chillicothe and Second streets, and went across the fields toward what is now (Gallia Street.)” Going that way was nearer and less muddy then taking the dirt roads of that era. Mr. Lawson made it over into the fields on his journey home. Then the unthinkable was to play into the unfolding drama. It was discovered that Mr. Lawson didn’t make it home that night and a search ensued. Keyes describes – “But alas! He was found next morning, near an oats stack, nearly perished. He was taken in and cared for, but never spoke again. He died the next day. It was supposed that he was waylaid, murdered and robbed, marks of violence appearing on his neck, as though he had been strangled. He was seen to have some thirty odd dollars in his possession the day he left town, and when found he had not a cent. Suspicion rested on a man who was lurking around town at that time. Robert Montgomery had some thirty or forty dollars taken out of his shop the same day. They arrested this suspicious character and put him in jail to await trial, but as nothing could be proven against him he was permitted to go.”
As for that night and what happened to Mr. Lawson is a mystery to this day. In the Keyes narrative it is only mentioned that a mysterious man with no name given as being the suspect. Also in the story from Keyes’ book – the date of this incident wasn’t recorded and where Mr. Lawson was buried. There is a William F. Lawson buried at Greenlawn cemetery born in 1830 and I suspect this may be Mr. Lawson’s youngest son. William F. – died in 1901 at his homestead – “Another well-known citizen of Portsmouth has passed away in the person of Wm. F. Lawson, who died at 3 o’clock Thursday at his home on Rhodes Avenue, Yorktown.” Reported – The Portsmouth Times on October 26, 1901.
From the information provided by “The History of the Lower Scioto Valley – “William Lawson settled just east of Massie’s land, upon which Portsmouth now stands, joining on its east side. He came in 1799 cleared land, and built the second brick house in the county, and the first outside of Portsmouth in about 1811. When the latter town was laid out, as his was the only house about, he boarded the men who did the work. When done, the treatment had been so acceptable to all hands that Colonel Massie offered him a lot for nothing, as an evidence of his good will, but it was declined on the ground that “he did not know what he wanted of a lot in that mud hole.” Mr. Lawson was a no nonsense pioneer of Portsmouth, a hard working farmer that picked this county to make his home. His story is one of resilience in the beginning and of sadness that marked the end of his earthly life.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org