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Name From History: Ziegler, Cincy's first mayor

Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-03 07:27:21-05

CINCINNATI -- It was as if someone knew that Cincinnati’s first mayor just wanted to be with his wife – forever.

The moving of David Ziegler’s remains from Cincinnati to a Dayton cemetery, where his wife Lucy Sheffield Ziegler was interred in 1843, appropriately closed the book on a love story that began 227 years ago in the post-Revolutionary War frontier of the Ohio River Valley.

Ziegler (1748-1811) was a highly disciplined German immigrant and nearly lifelong soldier who fought for some of the greatest leaders of his era: Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, Gen. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. He went to war against American Indians with Cincinnati generals Arthur St. Clair, “Mad” Anthony Wayne, William Lytle and Josiah Harmar and protected the village of Cincinnati at Fort Washington.

Because of his outstanding leadership, the people of the fledgling town of Cincinnati elected Ziegler to be their first mayor by a large majority in 1802 and then re-elected him in 1803. All the while, his lovely Lucy held court at home, entertaining dignitaries and children – although not her own because she had none.

The town sighed when Ziegler died at age 63 following several months of illness. An obituary in The Western Spy newspaper praised him for being a strong leader on the military and civic stages, but added that: “He was a good husband, a good neighbor, a punctual dealer, and in truth an upright man.”

A director on the board of Cincinnati’s first church, the First Presbyterian on Fourth Street near Main, he was buried in its adjacent cemetery – for only five years. 

Progress Required Grave To Be Moved

Wrote George A. Katzenberger in his 1912 “The First Mayor of Cincinnati”: “With the progress of times the old Presbyterian cemetery on the Fourth Street had to give way to the pressure of commerce and industry, and under the rubbish and thorns was found the fallen headstone of Ziegler.”

As was the case with remains buried in cemeteries whose soil was consumed by a fast-growing settlement, Ziegler and his headstone were moved away from city center in 1816 to a new Presbyterian cemetery located where Washington Park is today in Over-the-Rhine.

It seems logical that Lucy Ziegler joined her husband there in 1820 when she died at age 59 – but perhaps not.

Lucy moved from Cincinnati late in life, north to Dayton where she had relatives, in particular a nephew, Joseph Pierce. An entry about Lucy on the website findagrave.com indicates that her remains were moved in 1843 to their final resting place in Woodland Cemetery from another cemetery in Dayton.

If true, that could mean Lucy never was buried in Cincinnati and that she and David Ziegler had been apart for 23 years until united at Woodland.

A Mostly Forgotten History

Had everyone forgotten Ziegler by then? In the world of written history produced mostly by Anglo-centric men, most everyone had.

There were about 3 million German immigrants in the United States at the time of Ziegler’s death, but Cincinnati Germans’ contributions to the development of a young nation were cited only twice in local English language articles, according to German history specialist Don Heinrich Tolzmann, who in 1990 published an edited version of Katzenberg’s book, the only known Ziegler biography.

Anglo historians didn’t begin to document the history of early immigrants until the 1920s, Tolzmann wrote, so much of what Katzenberg knew about Ziegler had come from German language sources such the Cincinnati journal “Der Deutsche Pionier.”

Katzenberg, who was of German heritage, wrote that the typical view of early Germans was that they were “huddled together upon the border land of the Atlantic, weak and regarded with scorn by those to whom we owed allegiance, with the fear of the (Indian) and fear of the unknown West in our hearts; with the fear and the hate of the so called mother country in our breasts.”

Those words do not describe David Ziegler.

Coming To America And Revolution

He was “born to military life” on July 8, 1748, in Heidelberg, Prussia, according to Katzenberg. Little of Ziegler’s early days is known other than his military service under the aforementioned “great” leaders. He attended school and worked, but at some point Ziegler became restless and took off for America, arriving in Philadelphia in early 1775 and settling briefly in Carlisle, Pa. It is likely he spoke little if any English.

Shortly after the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775, Ziegler joined the revolution, launching a mostly-on but occasionally-off career fighting for freedom and westward expansion.

A severe injury suffered during the Battle of Long Island landed him in the hospital and earned him two months' advance pay “for the purpose of perfecting a cure.” The wound made him seem vulnerable in the eyes of his superiors, who relegated the eager man with a unique German-American dialect to a leadership role in the commissary branch of the army. 

Capt. Ziegler applied for active duty several times and finally got back into the battle against the British, only to be sent back to the Pennsylvania commissary to solve frequent problems there.

Perhaps his most notable experiences of the Revolutionary War were surviving the winter of 1777-78 with Washington at Valley Forge and witnessing the 1781 surrender of Gen. Charles Cornwallis following the Battle of Yorktown. Of more curious note was his imprisonment in Philadelphia and escape from the British.

Ziegler retired from the Continental Army in 1783. Katzenberg said the career soldier wrote shortly thereafter that he had entered a world “where ignorance and inability may mar my fortune, and condemn me to perpetual obscurity.”

Joining The Move To The Frontier

Ziegler, nevertheless, returned to Carlisle and set up a grocery and produce shop, but his comrades in war, including St. Clair and Harmar, asked him in 1786 to join them in fighting Indians on the western frontier at Marietta, Ohio.

It was there in 1788 where he met Lucy Sheffield, one of three daughters of a Rhode Island widow who held financial interests in Ohio and had come to look out for them. The couple married on Feb. 22, 1789, and moved to Cincinnati where they started a farm four miles east of town and built the territory’s first stone house.

Farm life wasn’t for Ziegler. In 1792, he set up a general merchandise store on Front Street near Sycamore Street in downtown Cincinnati, which he ran very successfully, for about five years. His profits allowed Ziegler to build a fine home on Broadway, where Lucy entertained. She served her church and gave to the poor, and the couple made friends with the highest society families: Harrison, Ludlow, Gano, Burnet, Sedam, Findlay, Symmes, etc.

The town bestowed a great honor on Ziegler in 1800 by appointing him to be a pallbearer at a mock funeral following the death of Washington. Actual coffins were buried around the nation as the nation grieved the loss of its founding father.

Young Town Needed Strong Mayor

Cincinnati incorporated in January 1802 and held its first election that April. The town elected Ziegler as the first President of the Board of Council (later shortened to mayor) and head magistrate. The settlement had a population of 750 at the time, many of whom were rough, drunk rogues who infested the backwoods, Katzenberger wrote.

Judge Jacob Burnet wrote that “‘Boromaster’ Ziegler was the suitable person to hold the reins of the unmanageable village team,” according to Katzenberg.

Among the peace-keeping laws Ziegler established while mayor was that males over age 14 who attended church on Sundays had to carry muskets, powder flasks and full bullet pouches or face a fine. His last act as mayor was to hire a night watchman for fire prevention.

The city named Ziegler head of its militia after he turned down a third term as mayor. In the last years of his life, he served as adjutant-general of Ohio and surveyor of the Port of Cincinnati, a position he held until he died.

The town grieved for its loss, but his mark on Cincinnati faded over time. Yet many Germans never forgot Ziegler. According to Katzenberg, it was a conglomerate of German military and pioneer societies who moved his remains to Dayton so he could spend perpetuity next to his beloved Lucy.