Benjamin Stites II was born around 1746 in Scotch Pines, New Jersey into a family recently relocated from New England. At age twenty-two or so, he married Rachel Walden, and almost immediately, they set off for the western frontier, located at the time just south of Pittsburg. They first settled on Tenmile Creek at the site of Pollock’s Mill, where Stites served as a captain in the First Washington County Militia during the Revolution. After selling the mill site, the Stites relocated elsewhere along the creek, where Benjamin served as tax collector of Morgan Township. By 1786, they’d ended up across the Monongahela (and a bit upstream) at Redstone, today known as Brownsville. Along the way, they had five children—John, Benjamin III, Phoebe, Richard and Rachel.
The engraving of Benjamin Stites to the left is at the Heritage Village Museum in Sharonville. Although Stites is often called “Major,” he in fact never achieved rank higher than Captain. Also, this image, purportedly of Stites, looks suspiciously like the portrait of John Cleves Symmes shown below.
Sometime in 1786, Stites took a riverboat down the Monongahela to the Ohio, then down the Ohio itself, on what seems to have been a trading trip. The story goes that he chased a band of Native Ohioans into the Little Miami River valley, and soon he was off to New York, waxing rhapsodically about the rich, fertile soil of that valley. While there, he tried to persuade the Continental Congress to do a little Ohio land speculation and caught the attention of John Cleves Symmes, a Revolutionary War veteran–and member of the Congress–who dreamed of fame and fortune via the buying and selling of land.
Meanwhile, cracks had become apparent in the Stites’ marriage, to wit: Rachel accused her husband of having two lovers, and Benjamin accused her of adultery in turn. At about the time he left for New York, they separated (some would say Benjamin abandoned his wife and children to live as best they could in Redstone; this is apparently what Rachel said in later years).
Whatever the case, Benjamin returned from the East Coast with a new wife, Mary “Polly” Mills, even though he was still legally married to Rachel. Apparently, Mary was not aware of this little problem, and they had two children together: John Gano Stites and Mary “Polly” R. Stites. (Stites later “married” Hannah Waring and they had three children together: Anne Watson Stites, William Stites and Nathaniel or Waring Stites. When Stites died intestate in 1804, none of these were considered heirs, because they were by law illegitimate.)