Ohio Biographies

Major David Ziegler

Originally an officer under Frederick the Great and then of the army of the American Revolution, Commandant of Fort Washington and the first President or Mayor of Cincinnati.—Written for this work by Mary B. Steele, Dayton.

“In the Indian border warfare between 1788 and 1795,’’ says Rosengarten, in his ‘German Soldier in the Wars of the United States’ “a leading figure was that of David Ziegler, whose story is typical of that of many of our early German soldiers.” He also “won great praise” for courage and military ability during the Revolution, and took much pride in having the best drilled company in the regiment. He began his military career as an officer in Frederick the Great’s army, and also served in the Russian army in the reign of Catherine Second, during the campaign against the Turks, which ended with the cession of the Crimea to Russia. Major Denny states, in his “Military Journal,” that Zeigler was also at one time in the Saxon service.

David Zeigler was born at Heidelberg in 1748. He emigrated to American in 1775, for the purpose of entering the Revolutionary army. In June, 1775 he was commissioned third lieutenant in Captain Ross’s Company, which was recruited in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, and immediately sent to escort a supply of powder, of which Washington’s army was desperately in need to Cambridge. On the 25th of June, 1775, Zeigler was promoted first lieutenant and adjutant of Col. William Thompson's battalion of riflemen. This regiment was more than half made up of Germans, and was “the second in Pennsylvanian to enlist for the war under Washington.” January 16, 1777, Zeigler was commissioned first lieutenant of a company in the First Pennsylvania Continental Infantry, and December 8, 1778, was promoted captain. From his promotion till the end of the Revolution he served as senior captain in the famous regiment, which General Wayne said, “always stepped the first to glory.” It distinguished itself in the battles of Long Island, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Bergen’s Point. The same day that he was commissioned, Captain Zeigler was made Brigade Inspector of the Pennsylvania brigade Department of the South.

Once during the Revolutionary war he was taken prisoner. The following account of the adventure is given by the American Pioneer: General Samuel Findley, Major Zeigler, late of Cincinnati, the first marshal of Ohio and Major Thomas Martin, were captured by the British and imprisoned in Philadelphia. They made their escape, Martin killing the British officer in pursuit with a club. Reaching a Dutchman’s house, Major Martin passed Zeigler—who was a Prussian—for a Dutch doctor, who, by making pills of a bread mixed with a little spittle, cured the landlady and escaped a bill of charges. A niece of the major often related this story, but she said that he cured the landlady with hair power, shaken from a powder-puff which he carried in a box in his pocket. His power-puff figured in many a joke at a later date. He was very witty and fond of a good story, and numerous humorous anecdotes about him used to be in circulation among his old friends.

In 1780, just before the mutiny of the troops at Morristown, when an effort was at last being made to satisfy their just demands, Zeigler was appointed by Pennsylvania State clothier and issuing commissary of State stores, and was sent to President Reed with an estimate of the clothing needed for the troops by Wayne, who ended his letter with the words: “Captain Zeigler will be able to inform your excellency of matters I don’t choose to commit to paper.”

After the mutiny the First Pennsylvania, of which Jarmar was now colonel, was sent to Virginia, where it distinguished itself at Yorktown. January 4, 1782, it joined Greene in South Carolina, remaining a year and a half, and being present at the investment and surrender of Charleston.

In June, 1783, it returned by sea to Philadelphia. Major Zeigler was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati; an honor which he valued highly. In a beautiful miniature in our possession, painted on ivory by Pine, at Philadelphia in 1799, he wears the Continental uniform, and the gold eagle badge of the Society, fastened by its blue ribbon to the breast of his coat.

After the disbandment of the Continental army Congress raised a new regiment of which Harmar was made colonel and Zeigler was commissioned captain of one of the four Pennsylvania companies, August 12, 1784. In September the four companies marched for Fort McIntosh, twenty-nine miles below Pittsburg, where they remained till the fall of 1785, when the regiment was reorganized and Zeigler went to Pennsylvania to recruit. He returned in November with his company to McIntosh, leaving there in the spring for Fort Finney, at the mouth of the great Miami. A high flood led to the abandonment of this fort, and another of the same name was built at the Rapids of the Ohio in July, where Zeigler remained till winter. In January, 1787, his company and two others were at Fort Harmar—“officers and men in close quarters.”

In the summer of 1787 Zeigler accompanied Harmar on his Western expedition for the purpose of treating with Indians and deciding difficulties among settlers about public and private property. They went by water from what is now Louisville to Port St. Vincent or Vincennes, Indiana, Zeigler’s company returned on foot through the woods to Fort Finney near Louisville. Here, October 28, Harmar received his commission as brigadier-general, and the troops left at once by water for Fort Harmer, where they spent the winter. The regiment was only enlisted for a year, and in the spring Zeigler went East to recruit. He returned to Harmar September 9, escorting from Fort Pitt Gen. Butler, Capt. O’Hara, and the friendly chief, Cornplanter, with about fifty Seneca Indians, who came to negotiate a treaty with the United States Government. Major Denny says that Zeigler and his party were received with a salute of three rounds of cannon and the music;” and Buel says, “We saluted them with our field-pieces, which they returned with a running fire from their rifles.’’

Soon after we left the Point,” Dr. Cuttler writes in his ‘Journal,’ “saw the soldiers and a number of Indians, expected from Fort Pitt, coming down on the other side of Kerr’s Island. We crossed the river and met them. Captain Zeigler commanded the company of new levies of fifty-five men. There were about fifty Indians in canoes lashed together. The soldiers were paraded in a very large boat, stood up on a platform, and were properly paraded, with the American flag in the stern. Just as we got up to them they begun to fire by platoons. After they had fired, the Indians fired from their canoes singly or rather confusedly. The Indians had two small flags of thirteen stripes. They were answered from the garrison by train, who fired three field-pieces, flag hoisted.”

Zeigler was noted as a drill-master and disciplinarian, as well as for personal bravery. Major Denny says in his “Military Journal:” “Zeigler is a German, and has been in the Saxon service previous to our late war with England. Takes pride in having the handsomest company in the regiment to do him justice, his company has been always considered the first in point of discipline and ap-pearance. Four-fifths of the company have been Germans. Majority of the present are men who served in Germany.’’ In fierce and cruel engagements with Indians, in which half the army was killed, he exhibited the coolness and courage which were characteristic of him. On one occasion, duty obliging him to remain for some time stationary on a spot exposed from every direction to the bullets and tomahawks of the savages, he seated himself on the stump of a tree, took out his pipe, filled and tranquilly smoked it, apparently utterly fearless of danger and oblivious of the harrowing sights around him.

In December, 1789, General Harmar left Marietta for Fort Washington with three hundred men, leaving Captain Zeigler at Fort Harmar with twenty soldiers. Those who remained received their pay the day before Christmas, as is shown by Captain David Zeigler’s receipt, dated December 24, for the $859.45 paid himself and his company, which is still preserved. In September, 1790, Harmar undertook the expedition against the Indian villages, near the present city of Fort Wayne, which ended in a retreat to Fort Washington. The real object of the campaign was however accomplished by a party of 600 militia, under Col. Harden, including fifty regulars commanded by Captain Zeigler. They burned the deserted villages, destroyed corn, fruit trees, provisions, and all time property of the Indians. After disbanding his army, Harmar resigned his commission and demanded a court of inquiry, which met at Fort Washington, September 15, 1791. Capt. Zeigler was one of the principal witnesses. He attributed the defeat to the insubordination of the militia. Harmar and Zeigler were warm friends through life.

At the close of this campaign Zeigler was ordered back to Harmar, where he remained in command till St. Clair’s expedition was organized. After his disastrous defeat St. Clair went to Philadelphia, leaving Major Zeigler, promoted December 29, 1791, at Fort Washington, where he continued in command of the United States army for about six weeks. In January, 1792, a Congressional Committee was appointed to inquire into the causes of St. Clair’s defeat. Major Zeigler was summoned as a witness, and in his testimony shifted the blame of the disaster from St. Clair’s to the inefficient quartermaster’s shoulders. In 1792, probably while in Philadelphia as a witness for St. Clair, Zeigler resigned his commission in the army.

He settled at Cincinnati, opening a store, where, according to a bill that has been preserved, he sold muslin, hardware, groceries, etc.’’ He was a successful merchant, and made what at that day was considered a fortune. He owned two shares in the funds of the Ohio Company and many acres of military bounty land; but these wild lands were of little value, and his income was principally derived from his Cincinnati speculations. The territorial legislature incorporated the town of Cincinnati, January 2, 1802, and Major Zeigler was appointed president of the village. In 1804 he was appointed by President Jefferson the first marshal of the Ohio district. From 1809-1811 he was surveyor of the port of Cincinnati. In politics he was Democrat. Judge Burnet says in his “Note:” ‘Only four individuals Cincinnati are now remembered who then (1800) advocated the election of Mr. Jefferson against Mr. Adams. These were Major David Zeigler, William Henry Harrison, William McMillian and John Smith.”

In the spring of 1789 Captain Zeigler, then stationed at Fort Harmar, married, at Marietta, Lucy, youngest child of Benjamin and Hannah Coggeshall Sheffield. She was a native of Jamestown, R.I., and came to Marietta, Dec. 17, 1788, with her mother, then a widow, Mrs. Sheffield owned four shares in the funds of the Ohio Company. Judging from tradition and the printed testimony of friends, few pioneer women were more highly esteemed and influential than Mrs. Zeigler. Mrs. Ludlow writes from Cincinnati: ‘‘Major Zeigler said to me, on his first visit (April 1797): Our ladies are not gay, but they are extremely affectionate one to the other.’ I believe he spoke the truth. Perfect harmony and good-will appear to exist in all their intercourse.” Certainly this could have been truly said of Mrs. Zeigler.

Visitors to Cincinnati, when it was a mere village, were surprised by the luxurious manners of living, and the generous hospitality of the merchants and retired army officers who lived there. Major Zeigler shared the pre-vailing tastes and habits, and loved to entertain both friends and guests from abroad. A letter, written from Cincinnati in the fall of 1806, says, “The girls had a variety of amusements—plays, balls and tea-parties.’’ A curious old ball ticket, addressed to one of these girls, dated Cincinnati, Feb. 17, 1809, and printed, as was then the fashion, on the back of a playing card (the queen of hearts) is still preserved. The ball was given “in commemoration of Washington’s birthday, at the Columbian Inn, on Wednesday evening, the twenty-second, at six o’clock. William Ruffin, E. H. Stall, J. Baymiller, J. W. Sloan, managers.” Mrs. Ludlow, describing Cincinnati in 1797, says “that it was then a village of wooden buildings, with a garrison of soldiers. The society consisted of a small number of ladies, united by the most perfect good-will and desire for mutual happiness. ‘The gentlemen were social and intelligent.” For several of the gentlemen, among whom she mentions Major Zeigler, she felt “an al-most fraternal regard;” a regard which others whom the kindly major, at that or a later day, welcomed with cordial and genial hospitality, shared with her.

Major Zeigler died at Cincinnati, December, 1811, aged sixty-three years.


From Historical Collections of Ohio: By Henry Howe; Pub. 1888