Trek of the French Five Hundred
In the grim terrorist days,
In Paris, the heart of the Frenchland,
Clothed in an impeccant pose,
Stalked Playfair, the villainous Briton,
Weaving his wiles diabolic
To hoodwink innocent victims,
Brewing up tales seductive
About the wild lands in Ohio,
Whither his wiley intent was
To lure them away for his profit,
Suave in manner he was,
Adept in the art of deception---
Practiced in senturies gone,
Just as it is in the present.
He pictured a Paradise,
Perfect in climate and setting,
Carefree, untouched, idyllic,
Awaiting the advent of settlers.
Birds of beautiful plumage
Filled the vast woodlands with music;
Flowers of the rarest hues
Scented the parks with their perfume,
While all the lakes, ponds and branches
Were teeming with frogs, eels and fishes.
Pure was the water that gushed
From the springs on the hillsides, and sparkling,
Quenching the thurst of the young,
A fountain of youth to the aged;
Seldom did thunderstorms mar
The days of its glorious Summer,
Nor often did frosts occur
To spoil the delights of the Winters.
Fruited with apples and pears,
And peaches luscious and blushing;
Plums and cherries galore,
And berries in superabundance.
Cucumbers borne on trees,
And apples of custard, delicious;
Grapes whose natural wine
Ran off in the rills to the rivers;
Readymade candles that grew
On plants that flourished in marshes;
And sugar yielded by trees
Of the forest, abounded in number.
Nuts of various kinds,
Hickory, butter and walnut;
Soap in the form of a stone,
Soft and efficient, existed;
Bees filled the hollow of trees
And caves to o’er flowing with honey;
Game in the woods in great herds
Awaited the hand of the hunter,
Buffalo, rabbit and deer,
Raccoon, fox, and grinning opossum;
Dozens of furbearing breeds
Roamed the forest unbroken, primaeval;
Wildfowl darkened the sky
As they rose from the foot of the hunter,
Pheasants and turkeys and geese,
Ducks and the quail, swift and whirring;
Pigeons in number so great
They broke down the trees where they roosted;
Indians gentle and sweet,
Hospitable, helpful and kindly,
Offered a welcome to all
Who came to share their dominions.
Lures resistless were these,
Tickling ears tuned, eager to listen,
Because of the turmoil and terror
In France, under Louis the XVI,
For pestilence, war, persecution
Ravaged the land and her people
After the fall of the Bastile,
In the greatest of world revolutions.
Hook and sinker and line---
And almost the pole did they swallow---
Like fishes hungry and keen
For bait that is new and enticing;
Townlots and outlots he sold them,
Like battercakes hot from a griddle,
On land that was rich and unbroken,
At prices—cash—and enormous
With no caveat emptor, or told them
The titles conveyed were quite worthless
His clients were of the elite,
Well born and of fine education,
And jewellers, artists, shopkeepers,
Hotel men, coach makers and millers,
Confectioners, clerks, peruke makers,
Cabinet makers, scientists,
Dance masters, doctors, and gilders,
Milliners, coach and boat builders;
Of laborers, common, a dozen,
Of rogues and of rascals none,
Of Ladies and Gentlemen, many,
Of religionists, only one,
Whose priestly vows were recanted
At the urgent insistence of Cupid.
Such was the motley mélange
He gathered to found a new Paris,
Unfitted, untutored, inapt
For wilderness life and its trials.
Soon as the suckers were caught
In the net of his evil contrivance,
Signed, sealed, relieved of their money,
Word he sent over the ocean
To his employers, * on this side,
Preparations to make
For their transport,
And also to house them,
Forty frontiersmen were hired
To go from young Marietta
To clear a fit place in the forest
Of lands he had trickily sold them.
Stalwart and husky, they went
To the task down the river awaiting,
Bearing the tools of their craft,
Axes and saws, mauls and wedges;
Robert Safford among them,
Looking far into the future,
Jumped ashore ere the boats landed
And felled the first tree of the clearing,
Deeming it rightly, an honor,
To do what would long be remembered---
And treasured unto this day
Is the ax that he used, prophetic.
Theirs was the task for the Summer
Falling trees, and of them build houses
In number sufficient and ample
To house the new émigrés coming
Leaving them thus employed,
In efficient and diligent manner,
Let us follow the French
From now till their later arrival,
Voyaging over the ocean—
To this, the final denoument.
* ---his employers---The Scioto Co. every one as guilty as he, but he
personified the Co., they quite naturally heaped their imprecations upon him.
Six hundred innocents sailed
O’er the sea, oft becalmed, often stormy,
In six old ships, poorly manned,
Malodorous, vermin infested,
Crowded together below
The decks in sweltering weather,
Subsisting on coarsest of fare,
Confined to their cabins like cattle.
Rough was the voyage and long,
Fully three months in the doldrums;
Mal-de-mer harassed them all,
Till existence was almost unwelcome
Every day spent at sea
Is like one lost out of life,
So let us pass over these,
Nor vainly seek to recall them,
For what a horror to them
Could certainly give us no pleasure.
The end of the voyage hard
Was finally reached in Virginia,
At old Alexandria, welcome
Was given in cordial manner
By folks of grateful remembrance
For help sons of France had oft given
To them in their struggle for freedom
When Washington fathered his country
There they learned of the guile
Of Playfair, the forked tongued Briton;
They learned their Garden of Eden
Was a wilderness, wild, unattractive,
Peopled by savages fierce,
Craving the scalps of their victims;
Learned of its long Winters cold,
Of its Summers whose heat was oppressive,
Of insects and reptiles and ills
Which would take awful toll of their number.
Came then a torrent of words,
violent verbal explosion,
Such as our land ne’er heard
Since the day of its primal creation;
Wrath from the depth of their souls
Stirred wild and irate execration,
And a sentence to Hell was proclaimed
Fitting Playfair, the Son of Perdition;
Flaying and boiling in oil
Would be only just retribution;
Stretched on the rack and drawn
Would have been greatest pleasure to see him;
While gestures, Gallic, emphatic,
Attended their words vitriolic.
Echoes resounded for years
This wordy and just execution
They would have meted to him---
Had they been able to catch him.
Some of their number returned
To France, by the very same vessels,
Those who had not squandered all
Resources in this wild adventure.
Others remained in Virginia
To try to better their fortunes,
But nearly five hundred resolved
To stick to their plans and intentions.
Calmness followed the storm
Of anger their fate had engendered,
Knowing rage could never heal
The wound by the viper inflicted.
Faint not of heart were the men,
Nor of their more gentle companions,
So onward once more they essayed
To forge to the end of their journey.
In wagons they floundered o’er vales,
Climbed mountain so rough and forbidding
That oft it seemed hopeless to struggle
Against all the woes that beset them.
Heavy the wagons, and ox-drawn,
A pair (called a yoke,) to each wagon,
Which on the hills were doubled,
And aided by men pushing, also.
In the heat of the day travel slacked
Because the beasts couldn’t endure it,
With tongues hanging out of their mouths,
They bellowed and panted for water;
The ox drivers cursed them and goaded,
Twisted tails, and whipped with keen lashes,
Then tarried for rest on the hill tops,
And watered and fed for their comfort,
Camping at night in the open,
With cook fires all brightly gleaming,
They ate and slept and rested,
With sentinels watching, outposted,
Guarding against the attacks
Of Indians, silently roaming….
So Pittsburgh at last was reached,
Attached by strenuous effort.
Down the River
Here flatboats awaited the band
To bear them down stream to their haven,
The people and all their belongings,
Including their flutes and their fiddles.
Day after day as they floated
Adown the forest walled river,
They put their clothing in order
Against the event of their landing.
Willow grown islands were passed,
Also the mouth of rivers,
Smaller ones emptying into
The larger majestic Ohio,
Affording them glimpses inward
Into the heart of the country.
Also they rested full well
From the bouts of the overland journey.
From helping along with wagons,
Or jostled and bruised while within them.
Easier now the safari,
As toward its end they proceeded,
Afloat on the Beautiful River,
Its current wafting them onward
By daylight and moonlight and starlight,
Riding the waves of the river.
Warm was the weather and pleasant,
During the day, but already
The nights were hinting of frost,
Preceding the Winter portending.
Places well covered with earth
On the flatboats of the flotilla
Served for the building of fires
On which to cook all their victuals,
And at the same time afforded
Agreeable warmth in the evenings.
Resplendent the Autumn scene
Stretched out behind and before them,
Painted in colors intense
Were the trees in their brilliant foliage---
The Work of the Artist Supreme,
Than Whom no mortal could equal.
End of the Trek
A Sabbath day in October,
The Seventeenth, 1790,
Finally ended the voyage
At Gallipolis, Ohio---
The name which, interpreted means---
The City of the French,
Travel, worn, weary, nonchalant;
Light hearted still, as are Frenchmen,
Up the steep bank they clambered,
Bearing their flutes and their fiddles.
Now from their dreams they awakened
At the sight of the vista before them,
Standing awestruck for a time,
Silent, in contemplation
Of these the homes they had reached,
So different from what they expected.
But after all they’d endured,
On sea, land and river, it booted
Them nothing more to complain,
For any port beat no harbor.
Cabins, eighty, of logs,
In four rows stretched out in the clearing,
Standing empty and rough,
But finished, and waiting their coming;
Roofed were they all with clapboards,
Rived from the oaks in the bottoms,
Straight grained, even in thickness
From one end quite to the other;
Doors swung on hinges of wood,
With pegs in the jambs to support them;
Glass was to the windows unknown,
But paper, translucent, provided
Entrance within of some light, but
Kept out the wind and the weather;
Chinked were the cracks and daubed
With clay, excluding the elements.
Chimneys of mud made tile,
To carry the smoke from their hearthfires;
Huge fireplaces of stone,
Gaping and hungry for fuel
Stood in the end of each cabin,
Awaiting a family to gather.
At the four village corners
Stood blockhouses, havens of refuge.
From savage attacks of the natives
Who welcomed not the invasion.
But “never say die” was the motto
That stiffened the lips of the Frenchmen,
For the die was cast, and their courage
Was steadfast and strong and enduring.
Now they made careful inspection---
To see just how bad was their bargain,
Reconciled, joking and laughing,
At the primitive quarters provided,
Contrasting the rough habitations
With those they had left far behind them,
Knowing they would not recover
Their cash, nor return to the homeland.
Then they unloaded the baggage
From the flatboats moored in the river,
And carried into the cabins
The articles first to be needed,
Cooking utensils and clothing,
And bedding, along with provisions.
Soon was the cabin selected
For the purpose they now contemplated,
Of larger dimensions and suited
The better for large congregations.
To celebrate fitly and gaily,
Invited were now all and sundry
To the first semi-weekly Grand Ball,
And rejected were no invitations.
Unwaxed was the floor for the dancing,
Nor smooth like the planks of French ballrooms,
For this was a floor made of puncheons,
Laid closey and adzed with expertness,
While all the others had only
The floors of the earth that upheld them;
Not effulgent the lights nor surroundings,
Not tapestried walls, nor impanelled,
But torches and lanterns illumined
The rude log walls that imbounded.
Soon after the first dinner eaten
In this, their new home in the forest,
(A meal that was meager and differed
In much from a banquet delective),
They donned their elegant costumes---
Imported direct from the makers---
Peruked, pomaded and powdered,
Perfumed with the scents from gay Paris,
They paid Terpsichorean tribute
With feet light as the hearts were within them.
The flutes and the fiddles made merry
With music anew to the forest,
In waltzes of statliest measures,
Quadrilles, minuets and the others.
Forgotten a while were the hardships
Attending their tiresome migration,
Put by for the nonce the dejection,
O’er looked the dire disappointment
That struck like a dagger sharp pointed
The hopes their enlightenment brought them.
Strange was the sound of the music
Out through the forests dells wafted,
Borne to the ears of the natives,
In darkness lurking and distant,
But sweet to the ears of the dancers,
Inspiring, joyful, life giving,
To those who long were deprived
Of a pleasure lifelong and ecstatic.
Till late in the night did they revel,
Nor take undue thot of the morrow,
Of the future that still lay unfathomed
They worried no whit, so we leave them…
To dance thru the years at their pleasure,
Keeping step to the flutes and the fiddles.
Feb. 1940 Frank P. Linsley
Frank P. Linsley obituary