John Belli was a citizen of the world. 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 was in Amsterdam, Holland, and received his coming of age papers from the estates of Holland and West Friesland. When he undertook to start to the United States, it was from Paris, France, and he had a letter of recommendation from John Jay. He came over with a Mr. Francis Bowers, of Ostend, a merchant who was bringing over goods. His letters of introduction were to Mr. Josiah Watson, of Alexandria, Va. He had been studying about the United States and had become filled with the extreme Republican notions of that time. In theory of government, he was a rabid republican; in his own personal relations, he was an aristocrat, though he was hardly conscious of the fact. 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. That was then an important seaport. 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. Of his life in Alexandria, we have no account, but he formed a number of valuable and important acquaintances in that time, among whom were 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. What his functions were does now clearly appear, but it was of a confidential character.
On April 18, 1792, when he was in the Northwest Territory, President George Washington sent him a commission as Deputy Quarter master on the General Staff of Wayne's Legion. This commission is in the hands of John Belli Gregory, his grandson, at Fontana, Kentucky. It is on parchment, illustrated, and bears the original signature of President Washington and Secretary of War, Henry Knox. The commission does not state his rank, but it was that of Major, hence his title. He went by way of Pittsburg, then called Fort Pitt and down the Ohio River to Fort Washington. Gen. Knox gave him a letter dated September 30, 1791, directed to the Deputy Quartermaster at Fort Pitt, stating that he was to have transportation down the Ohio River as he was on public business of great importance. He went direct to Fort Washington, where it appears he was stationed until the time of Wayne's expedition against the Indians.
There is preserved a list of the Quartermaster's stores he had on hand at Fort Washington, November 1, 17S3. Mr. Gregory also has in his possession a letter addressed to Major John Belli from Gen. Anthony Wayne, in answer to one of May 30, preceding. He tells the Major that he is glad he has been successful in purchasing cattle; that 300 per month will be required independent of accident; that he must forward those on hand by first escort. That he has three weeks' supply for the Legion, nor can he think of advancing with less than 600 or 800 cattle, which would not be more than ten weeks' supply, should they all arrive safe. He stated that the wagons would set out from Fort Jefferson the next morning for Fort Washington under a good escort, commanded by Major Hughes, and they were not to be delayed at Fort Washington more than fortyeight hours, to be loaded with tents, intrenching tools and axes. Also he was to send such hospital or ordinance stores as he had been provided with, together with all the hunting shirts, or shirts and tools that were in his possession. Also, that his own private stores were to be forwarded under a select guard, which he will request Major Hughes to furnish from his department.
He was directed to use as many private teams as could be obtained which, with the use of the water transport, when a favorable rise may happen in the Miami, would enable him to forward the grain to Fort Hamilton, which the Quartermaster General had required. He was not to lose a moment in mounting the dragoons and furnishing all the necessary accoutrements. He was also to be furnished with $2,000 in specie, and $8,000 in good bank bills to be replaced by his department. He was told that every arrangement would be made by his department for a forward move by the first of July. He wished the Major every success in his purchases and supplies of every nature in the line of his department and signed himself, "I am sir, your most ob'dt humble serv't., Ant'y Wayne."
As soon as the expedition was successful, Major Belli, went east and settled his accounts with the department. He returned with some $5,000 and bought 1,000 acres of land at the mouth of Turkey Creek and placed a man named Wright upon it, who cleared up a part of it, built a log house and planted an orchard. This was the first settlement in Scioto County, though the historian, James Keyes, disputes it, and says the first settlement was near Sciotoville, by the Bousers and Burts.
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. In September, 1797, he was appointed Recorder of Adams County and held the office until October, 1803. He was a Justice of the Peace for Adams County, appointed by the Judges of the General Court, April 28, 1801, and his commission is in existence.
It seems he spent a great part of his time in Kentucky. He evidently did not and could not attend personally to the duties of the office of Recorder of Adams 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, and a large slaveholder. He owned the site of the town of Cynthiana, Ky., and laid it out. He named it for his twin daughters, Cynthia and Anna, born just before the town was platted. 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 every county of the territory, there was a Colonel of the Militia and a Major. Nathaniel Massie was the Colonel of the Adams County Militia and John Belli, the Major.
On August 29, 1804, he was commissioned by Edward Tiffin, Governor of Ohio, Major of the Second Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Ohio Militia.
During the time that the town of Washington was flourishing as the county seat of Adams County, Major Belli was there much of the time. When he was absent, I do not know who attended to the duties of his office as Recorder, but have an idea it was General Darlinton, who was always ready to do anything to accommodate his neighbors.
Major Belli had five children, four daughters and a son. His daughter Eliza was born December 3, 1809. She married Moses Gregory, October 20, 1826. Her son, John Belli Gregory, who was a citizen of Scioto County for many years, at one time, member of the Board of Public Works in this State, and afterwards its Engineer, resides at Fontana, Ky., and has kindly loaned the editor of this work the papers of Major Belli. His son, Hiram D. Gregory, is a lawyer at Covington, Ky.
Major Belli, after 1803, devoted his whole time to the improvement of his land on Turkey Creek, though he was a land owner in many places. He at one time owned a large tract near New Hope in Brown County.
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. A picture of the Major is in the possession of Mr. Gregory. It represents him with powdered wig and a continental coat, faced with red.
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 queue, wore a cocked hat, coat with facings, waist coat, knee breeches, stockings and shoe buckles. His queue was carefully braided and tied with a ribbon, and this was his style of dress at all times.
While he believed himself to be a Republican, as the term was under stood in his time, he had pride enough for all the aristocrats in the neighborhood, he was a disbeliever in slavery and it is thought his location in the Northwest Territory and his maintainance of his residence here, was on account of his repugnance to that peculiar institution. His wife's slaves were brought to Ohio and freed, and this through his influence.
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