Recently I wrote a post about John Young, from whom Youngstown gets its name. As I read the early history of Youngstown, I am inclined to think that Colonel James Hillman deserves more than to have a street and a couple of abandoned and demolished school buildings named after him. While Young purchased, surveyed, and subsequently sold the land that is Youngstown today, Hillman arguably was one of the first true settlers and played a significant role in bringing law and order to the newly founded community.
Hillman was born in Northumberland County in Pennsylvania in 1762. He fought in the Revolutionary was as a young man and was captured at Yorktown. He subsequently fought in the Indian Wars until a treaty in 1785. He married Catherine in 1786 (she was fourteen), and appears to have lived for a time near Pittsburgh, in Beavertown. He was employed by a trading company, Duncan & Wilson, in Pittsburgh, and built a cabin at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River (near what would eventually be downtown Cleveland) for their trading operations. Travel between Pittsburgh and this cabin would have taken him up the Beaver and Mahoning Rivers so he would have been well familiar with the Mahoning Valley ten years or more before John Young.
It was on one of these trading trips, in late June of 1797, that he spotted smoke on the banks of the Mahoning and encountered John Young and his surveying party. The story is that Hillman had leftover whiskey from his trading efforts and Young traded the deerskin he was sleeping on for whisky for what Joseph Green Butler calls a “frolic.” The two men became friends quickly. Purportedly, Young and his party joined Hillman on his trip home to Beavertown, celebrating the 4th of July there, and then Hillman returned with Young to help lay out the settlement. Young offered the Hillmans six acres if they would move to the new town, and it was Hillman who built the first cabin near Spring Common. Hillman’s skills as a woodsman were invaluable in carving a town out of the wilderness.
In 1798 he purchased 60 acres of land bordered by present day Market Street on the east, Oak Hill on the west, the Mahoning River on the north and Myrtle Street on the south. The frame house they built there was later the site of South Side Hospital. In 1800, he became the first constable of the new town. Later he served as a tax collector. In 1804, he built a log cabin tavern near the present day DeYor Center. In 1806, he became sheriff for Trumbull County, which at that time comprised both Mahoning and present day Trumbull County.
Hillman fought under Colonel William Rayen in the War of 1812, during which he attained the rank of Colonel. Afterwards he was involved in settling several incidents between Indians in the area and settlers. Two of these incidents involved deaths of settlers. In one case, Hillman tracked the Indians involved all the way to Chillicothe and single-handedly brought them back to stand trial.
He served in the state legislature in 1814-15 and later, in 1825 as a Justice of the Peace. He was a Master Mason, and a Masonic Lodge was named after him in 1874. He died November 12, 1848 at age 86 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. In Joseph G. Butler’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, he summarizes Hillman’s life in this way:
“Not only in actual term of residence but in leadership, Col. James Hillman was the first citizen of Youngstown in its youthful days.”
Joseph Green Butler, History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio, Volume 1, 1921.
Ted Heineman, Riverside Cemetery Journal, Colonel James Hillman.
Mahoning Valley Historical Society, Historical Collections of the Mahoning Valley, Volume One, 1876.