In Green lawn Cemetery there is a grave marker that is inscribed with the name, Maj John Belli Birth 1760 – France – Death 1809 (aged 48–49.) Researching farther, I discovered an excerpt from the Lexington Herald Newspaper – Lexington Ky., dated October 23, 1909. “After reposing in what is now an abandoned cemetery for a century, the body of Major John Belli, personal friend of George Washington, was reinterred here today being removed to Greenlawn Cemetery, where an appropriate memorial service was held. Prof. C. J. Norwood of Lexington, Ky., representing the Masonic Lodge of Lexington, of which Major Belli was a member in 1787, was one of the speakers. Major Belli was born in England in 1760 and in 1783 emigrated to the United States and resided at Alexandria, Va. In 1791 President Washington sent Major Belli to Kentucky and later upon an expedition against the Indians in the Northwest Territory. In 1795 he was (one) of the first settler’s in Scioto county, Ohio.” (Of note is that on his marker it states France as his birth place. Whereas most other historical archives – states he was born in England.) Maybe since he emigrated from France that could be why?
His father was a Frenchman, his mother a native of Holland, and he was born in Liverpool. England, in 1760, he received a good education in England in a military school. When he came of age he undertook to start to the United States, it was from Paris, France, and he had a letter of recommendation from John Jay (acting Secretary of State.) His letters of introduction were to Mr. Josiah Watson, of Alexandria, Virginia. Mr. Jay, in his letter, described him as a young man worthy of trust. He came alone, without any members of his family. He landed at Alexandria, Va., in May, 1783. He engaged in business there as a clerk at first, and afterwards as a merchant, and remained there until the spring of 1791, a period of eight years. In Alexandria he became acquainted with Col. Alexander Parker and Gen. George Washington. In October, 1791, Gen. Knox, then Secretary of War, sent him to the Northwest Territory on public business. As soon as the expedition was successful, Major Belli, went east and settled his accounts with the department. He returned with some $5,000 (about $150,000 now,) and bought 1,000 acres of land at the mouth of Turkey Creek and placed a man to clear up a part of it, built a log house and planted an orchard. This was claimed the first settlement in Scioto County, though the historian, James Keyes, disputes it, and says the first settlement was near Sciotoville, by two men Bonser and Burt.
He laid out the town of Alexandria, at the mouth of the Scioto River, and gave it its name for Alexandria, Virginia, where he had first landed in this country, and had spent eight years. He spent considerable time in and about Alexandria as the agent of Col. Wm, Parker, for whom he located much land in Scioto County. On the twenty-first of March, 1800, he concluded some very important business in Kentucky, for on that date, he was married to Miss Cynthia Harrison, a cousin of Gen. Wm. Henry Harrison. Her father, Samuel Harrison, was a very prominent man in Kentucky. On his marriage, Major John Belli moved to his land at the mouth of Turkey Creek. He named his home, ‘“Belvidere,” and he kept a carriage and horses and traveled in style.
In 1806, he built him a large two-story frame house on his land at the mouth of Turkey Creek, but did not live to enjoy it. In October, 1809, he was taken with one of those fevers against which it seems the pioneers could not contend, and he died and was buried on the river bank near his home. His widow continued to reside there until 1838, when her home, built by the Major in 1806. Was accidentally destroyed by fire. She removed to Illinois where she died in 1848. In 1865, the Major’s grave was washed by the river and Mr. Gregory had his remains exhumed, and reinterred in the cemetery at Friendship and then to Portsmouth. Major Belli was a gentleman of the old school. He never changed his dress from the style during the Revolution. While he lived among backwoodsmen, he always had his wig and braid of hair, wore a cocked hat, coat with facings, waist coat, knee breeches, stockings and shoe buckles. Major Belli was a true “Gentleman Pioneer” and man of colossal vision. His vision is now the place we call home. (In part from History of Adams County, Ohio from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time – by Nelson W. Evans and Emmons B. Stivers – West Union, Ohio – Published by E. B. Stivers – 1900.)
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: [email protected]