There was extensive evidence that the land comprising Brown County had numerous earthworks scattered throughout the county. Those mounds have long since been eroded by agriculture and construction. When the first settlers arrived here, there was no evidence that they lived in the area, but there was extensive evidence that they frequently traveled across the land. Near where Ripley and Aberdeen are located, the Ohio River narrows considerably and it were favorite crossing points for both Miami and Shawnee groups who hunted here. It is said that the youthful Tecumseh was a frequent visitor to what is now Brown County. Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton were both frequent visitors in Brown County.
Brown County was officially recognized as a county on March 1, 1818. It was created out of land from both Adams and Clermont Counties. It was named for General Jacob Brown an officer in the War of 1812. General Brown had nothing to do with Ohio, or the land that was named for him, nor did he serve in Ohio. In fact, there is no evidence that General Brown even visited Ohio. He was a successful general and his successes in war time made him a national hero. What is also known is that General Jacob Brown was a Quaker, a religious sect that stood strongly against the institution of slavery, and issue that had been at the core of early settlers to what would later become Brown County.
Brown County Ohio represented the gateway to freedom for 100s if not 1000s of escaping slaves willing to risk their lives crossing the Ohio River. The runaways would hide on the Kentucky side of the river until they saw the light high on the hill. When that light appeared it meant it was ok to come across and make their way to the small cabin at the top of the hill. Long before Rev. John Rankin built his house atop the ridge along the Ohio River, the area that became Brown County was a magnet for anti-slavery supporters.
It was reported in the first maps of Brown County that one Belteshazzar Dragoo built the first cabin and thus became the first permanent settler in Brown County. His cabin was located on Eagle Creek, about 3 miles from Ripley where he lived with his wife and twelve children. Speaking of firsts, the first town in Brown county was St. Clairville that was laid out by Basil Duke and John Coburn on August 1, 1801. That town's name was later changed to Decatur.
One of the early settlers was Colonel James Poage, a former surveyor and slave owner himself, wanted a place where slavery was not only illegal, but was also detested. Colonel Poage. Colonel Poage arrived on the northern shores of the Ohio River in 1804, just 1 year after Ohio was officially admitted into the Union as a free state. Here he founded a community that would later be named after one of General Jacob Brown's commanders, General Eleazar Wheelock Ripley. Thus began a long journey that would ultimately come to fruition with the end of slavery in the United States.
When Colonel Poage established his community in what would become Ripley, Ohio, it was precisely because this new state was a free state that he came here and because of those beliefs and the fact that he had once been a slave owner, that he attracted other zealots that belonged to the abolishment movement that was fighting for the freedom of slaves. This fight became known as the Underground Railroad. One of those zealots was Reverend John Rankin who lived in Ripley, and eventually built a house on top of the ridge overlooking the town. Here escaping slaves on the Kentucky side of the river could see the lantern he would lift up on a flag pole as a lighthouse beacon that they could find a haven here. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a student of John Rankin and based much of her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, on tales she learned from him.
Reverend Rankin's house represented a place where they could count on getting food, shelter and guidance on the long journey that lay before them that would eventually take them to Canada and freedom. Although Ohio was a free state, it was not a safe state for runaways.
Georgetown is the county seat of Brown County and is best known for being the childhood home of Ulysses S. Grant. The house where Grant grew up has recently undergone extensive and detailed reconstruction of the 1820s house so that it closely resembles the house the way it looked in 1839, the year that Grant left home for the Military Academy at West Point. Georgetown is also noted for being raided by John Hunt Morgan in 1863 as he and 2000 of his Confederate force traveled across southern Ohio. In Georgetown it is believed that some of Morgan's Raiders stole 225 horses on their way east. Morgan would later be captured in Columbiana and imprisoned in the Ohio State Penitentiary where a month later, he and several of his officers soon escaped and fled south.
The 1793 cabin was constructed by two scouts, Dixon and Washburn. They came here in 1793 and built the cabin along Eagle Creek. The cabin was uncovered and moved to the Brown County Fairgrounds back in the 1970s. Like many of Ohio's counties, Brown County was named for a notable figure in either the Revolutionary War, or the War of 1812. Brown County was named for General Jacob Brown. Although Brown was a Quaker and opposed to war, he was a member of the New York militia. With the rank of brigadier general, he became responsible for organizing the defenses of the Great Lakes. He became a national hero after he led troops in battle multiple times against the British and and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. The naming of the county was strictly an honorary action and Jacob never lived in or visited the area.