The earliest European exploration of what was to
become the Great Northwest Territory of the United States was done by
the French in the 17th century, and this land, called New France, was
claimed for the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Towards the middle of
the eighteenth century, English settlers moving west began to encroach
upon the land that the French claimed. Each country took action to enhance
its positions and to attempt to end up with as much territory as they
could. The English attempted to further their claim by making treaties
with the Indians and by establishing commercial enterprises, which would
allow new settlements on Indian land, and new trading ventures with the
Indians. A treaty reached with the Indians at a conference in Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, in 1744, was apparently widely misunderstood by both sides.
The English understood that they were allowed to start settlements west
of the Alleghenies. The Indians would later vehemently deny that they
had made any such concession.
In 1749 the French tried to bolster
their claim by sending an exploratory party down the Ohio River. At
the mouth of each main tributary, they deposited lead plates engraved
with a claim on all of the territory that that tributary drained. The
plate at the mouth of the Great Kanawha River across the Ohio River from
Gallia County is still in place and can be seen at the Point Pleasant
State Park. In 1753 the French began to erect a chain of forts from
Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This would start a series of events that
was to culminate in the French and Indian War (1754-1760). The French
were able to convince their Indian allies to fight with them to prevent
encroachment on Indian lands by the English settlers. Although the Indians
had become uneasy because of the lead plates the French had deposited,
their main contact with each other was mostly that between friendly trading
partners, and the Indians did not perceive them to be a threat to take
their land. The early battles in the war were won by the French, but
the English side eventually was able to field an army of nearly 30,000
troops from England to fight alongside about 20,000 Colonists, and in
1760, with the fall of Montreal the French had been decisively defeated
and the French and Indian War in North America was essentially over.
In Europe this War was called the Seven Years War and would continue
there until 1763.
The French surrender and subsequent departure
left the Indians angry and bitter. They had become accustomed to receiving
regular gifts from the French and had become dependent on them for clothing,
arms, and other European goods. But they had grown also to hate the British.
In their commercial contacts with the British they felt they were treated
with condescension and they were also afraid of losing their land to British
settlers. In 1763, the year the war ended, the great Ottawa chief, Pontiac,
organized an uprising that involved simultaneous assaults against a number
of forts. It was successful against all but three ( Fort Pitt, Niagara,
and Detroit ). Eight forts fell and their occupants were for the most
part massacred or taken prisoners. Col. Henry Bouquet was sent west with
an army to quell the rebellion, and on his way to relieve Fort Pitt,
he met the Indians in the two-day Battle of Bushy Run, and thoroughly
defeated them. He followed up by invading the territory that is now Ohio
and forced the Indians to accept a truce and return all of their prisoners.
Following this there was a period of relative peace that lasted several
years and settlers began to pour over the Allegheny Mountains. Prior
to the French and Indian War the Allegheny Mountains had been the dividing
line between the European settlers and the Indians. After the war the
new dividing line was to become the Ohio River.
In 1770, George Washington
and his friend and personal surveyor, William Crawford, embarked on a journey down
the Ohio River from Pittsburgh for the purpose of viewing lands to be
apportioned among soldiers who had served in the French and Indian War.
This was a time of relative peace between the settlers and the Indians,
and he remarks in his journal about several peaceful encounters with Indians
he met along the way. The journey takes him as far as the mouth of the
Great Kanawha River, where it empties into the Ohio just across from
Gallipolis. He describes the landscape he saw along the Great Kanawha
River in Mason County, West Virginia and along the Ohio River in Gallia
This is as far as Washington went. From there
his party paddled their way back upstream to Pittsburgh, up the Monongahela,
and then overland back to Mount Vernon. When Washington made these observations,
the land was, as yet, completely untouched by Western civilization. The
breaking out of hostilities with Indians again, a few years later, would
forestall any attempt at early settlement. The Indians would claim that
they had never agreed to any settlements to the west of the Appalachian
Mountains, and over the course of the next few years relations between
the Indians and the settlers would again deteriorate. Random Indian raids
on isolated settlements became more and more common, and many settlers
were massacred or carried off as prisoners.
By 1774, the situation had
become very serious. The adventurous settlers who had come over the mountains
to build their homes suddenly perceived themselves to be vulnerable, and
many sent their families back over to the eastern side of the mountains.
Others gathered for protection at the settlement at Wheeling, which is
on the Ohio River in what is now West Virginia. On April 30, about thirty
miles north of Wheeling, a group of Virginia militia lured close family
members of the beloved and peaceful Mingo chief, Logan, into what amounted
to an ambush, and slaughtered them. This precipitated the outbreak of a
full-fledged conflict that came to be known as Lord Dunmore’s War.
When news of these conditions on the frontier reached the Virginia capital
at Williamsburg, the Colonial governor, Lord Dunmore, began preparations
to send relief. However, it would take time before an army could be raised
and supplied, and over the next few months, there was widespread panic
among the settlers, as more and more Indian raids took place. Local militia
would set out numerous times to attack the roving bands of Indian warriors
and during the summer months Fort Fincastle was constructed at Wheeling.
plan of attack involved bringing two separate armies to the area. One
army, under General Lewis, was to come from the Greenbriar area of Virginia,
overland to the Ohio River, and Lord Dunmore would command a second army
that would descend down the Ohio River. After a difficult nineteen day
march Lewis’ army arrived opposite Gallipolis at Point Pleasant,
Virginia (now West Virginia), on September 30. He had expected Lord Dunmore
to meet him there, but without telling Lewis, Dunmore had changed his
plans. Nine days later Lewis learned that instead of the rendezvous at
Point Pleasant, he was to march for Chillicothe to meet up with the
second army. However, the following day, with Dunmore’s army still
in Wheeling, the Indians attacked. The Battle of Point Pleasant was
a fierce and closely fought battle. The Indians, under their leader Cornstalk,
were a formidable force. The Virginians fought with their backs up against
the two rivers, but held their ground and in the end it was the Indians
who had to withdraw. Lewis’ army suffered well over 200 casualties,
but won the battle.
While this was happening on the frontier, things
were heating up in Massachusetts. In July the port of Boston had been
closed, and by late fall the colony had essentially divided into two
armed camps, and it was becoming obvious that war was approaching. It
was strongly suspected by the Americans that Dunmore had been advised
by the British government while en route to meet General Lewis, not to
be too vigorous against the Indians, whom they may need to count on as
allies when war broke out. It is also maintained by some of General Lewis’ officers
that Dunmore was aware of the situation at Point Pleasant and deliberately
changed his plans to allow the Indians to attack Lewis’ troops.
A chance remark made by one of Dunmore’s officers to Captain John
Stuart, one of General Lewis’ officers, was later recounted to
the General, and General Lewis firmly believed that Dunmore was well
aware of the impending danger at Point Pleasant and he had delayed marching
to his aid because the British were already planning an alliance with
the Indians against the colonists. Because of this, local tradition and
many historians point to Point Pleasant as the first battle of the Revolutionary
Dunmore subsequently met the Indian chiefs near
Chillicothe and negotiated a settlement. Prior to this treaty, he had
already sent General Lewis and his troops home. According to the terms
of the treaty, the Ohio River would again be designated as the border
between the colonists and the Indians. In spite of the treaty, however,
the area west of the mountains would continue to be dangerous territory
for settlers. The Indians would this time ally themselves with the British
in the coming war, and settling this land would have to wait. This region
would be a war zone, not only throughout the Revolutionary War, but even
for some time after.
A garrison was built and maintained at Point Pleasant
until 1777, when it was abandoned because of its remote location away
from the main theater of the war. Before it’s abandonment it was
the scene of one more drama. Cornstalk, along with another Indian, Red
Hawk, came to the fort and discussed the disposition of the Indian tribes
in the war. Cornstalk indicated that he was opposed to joining the British
in the war, but that the general feeling among all of the Indians was
to oppose the settlers, and that he would have to go along with them.
The commander of the garrison detained the Indians as hostages. While
there as a prisoner, Cornstalk’s
son came to visit him. The next day, two men from the fort were out hunting
deer, when one of them was killed by some Indians. Although they were
not in any way connected with these Indians, Cornstalk, his son and Red
Hawk were then killed in reprisal.
The Wheeling area would remain a hotbed
of activity during the Revolution. Three times during the course of the
war, the fort would come under siege, and each time would survive. In
1776, the fort, first named Fort Fincastle, had its name changed to Fort
Henry when Patrick Henry became governor. It had been constructed hastily
during the Dunmore War. George Rogers Clark had made the original plans,
but it was completed under the direction of William Crawford, who had accompanied Washington on his trip down
the Ohio. It wasn’t going to be long
before the fort was needed.
Indian raids and massacres increased after
the Cornstalk murder. There were only four reasonably secure forts in
this area that were held by the Revolutionaries; these were the forts
at Pittsburgh, Point Pleasant, Redstone (on the Mononganhela River in
Pennsylvania ) and Fort Henry in Wheeling. The settlers had gathered
around these areas. At Wheeling a small village had grown up around the
fort. On September 1, 1777, Fort Henry was attacked at dawn by an Indian
army. They lured twenty-seven men out of the fort by staging a small skirmish,
and then ambushed them. The remaining thirty-three men, along with all
the women and children staged a spirited defense of the fort against three
hundred and eighty Indian warriors. After a twenty-three hour battle they
suffered only one wounded, while killing an estimated one hundred Indians.
The Indians then slaughtered the farm animals, burned the village, destroyed
the crops, and left.
For the next several years the frontier remained
a very unstable place. The British governor, Hamilton, at Detroit had put
a bounty on all white settlers who did not espouse the Tory cause. The
Indians were paid on a per scalp, or per prisoner basis. Women and children
were not excluded. The military requirements of the eastern seaboard were
such that little could be spared to protect the frontier. Further west,
Gen. George Rogers Clark had considerable success against both the Indians
and British, and actually managed to capture the infamous Governor Hamilton,
but the immediate area of the upper Ohio Valley was never secure during
the entire war.
In September 1781, there was another raid on Fort
Henry. Again men from the fort were lured out into the open by two Indians,
who were making derisive gestures towards the fort. When the men from the
fort pursued, they were ambushed, and most were killed. As in 1777, those
who remained inside the fort were unharmed. It was in 1782 though, that
the most serious threat to the fort was repelled.
at Yorktown had taken place in October of 1781, but no peace treaty with
Britain had been signed, and in the west the war continued on. In the summer
of 1782, with Indian raids continuing around them, a force of men from
Westmoreland and Washington Counties in Pennsylvania was assembled to begin
an offensive campaign against the Indians. William Crawford led this force to the region of the Sandusky River
in what is now north central Ohio. Their attempt to catch the Indians
by surprise failed, and they were met by a strong Indian force, that was
reinforced on the second day of battle by British regulars from Detroit.
A nighttime retreat allowed the main force to escape, but during the night
Col. Crawford became separated from the main body, and became lost. He was
captured by a group of Delawares, and brought to a nearby Indian village
where he was tortured. He was tethered to a stake, shot in his flesh and
set afire. His ears were cut off, and he was scalped while still alive.
Squaws then placed hot coals on his head. A companion, who witnessed the
spectacle, later escaped, and told the story.
emboldened by their success, now sought to bring pressure against some
of the strongholds, and so it was that in September 1782, they brought
260 warriors along with 40 British soldiers to again attempt to capture
Fort Henry. Col. Ebenezer Zane, who had been the first settler in Wheeling
in 1770, had rebuilt his house, as a blockhouse, because his first two
houses had been destroyed in the previous two battles. This was to play
an important part in protecting the fort. On September 11, the siege began.
This would prove to be the most serious attempt on the fort. The invading
army had been detected and a surprise attack was thwarted, and so a full
frontal assault against the fort was undertaken. There were only twenty
men in the fort and a few others in the Zane blockhouse, at the time of
the attack. In the two-day battle no defenders were killed. Repeated attempts
to storm the stockade were repelled by furious gunfire from the fort and
blockhouse. In the end the invaders were forced to retreat back across
the Ohio. This was essentially the last battle of the Revolutionary War.
The last shots fired by the British army were fired here. It is ironic
that in a war so well known for the battles up and down the eastern seaboard,
the first and last battles would be fought on the distant Ohio River, only
about 150 miles apart.
Although the British were now officially out of
the war, they continued to encourage the Indians to resist the white settlers
and the upper Ohio Valley still was not safe. They had refused to abandon
the fort at Detroit because of a dispute with the Americans over monetary
matters, and they perceived it to be still in their interest to keep the
Indians hostile. The new American government did not want to allow settlement
west of the Ohio until title to the land had been obtained from the Indians,
and until the land had been surveyed and offered up for sale. To this
end they evicted squatters all along the banks of the Ohio until surveying
had been completed in 1787. In 1788 the first permanent white settlement
was allowed at Marietta. Settlers attempting to move up the Muskingham
Valley from there, however, still were being subject to Indian raids.
It was felt that military subjugation of the Indians would be required.
In 1790 the Indians had also begun to attack boats
carrying settlers down the Ohio River. An army of 1000 men was sent into
the interior of Ohio under Col. Harmar, and the Indians soundly defeated
them. In Sept. 1791, an army of 2300 men under the governor of the territory,
Gen. St. Claire, met another disastrous defeat. Some military historians
maintain that this was the single worst defeat ever suffered by an American
army. It was then that General ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne
was sent out from the East, and in 1793, he routed a large Indian army
in northwest Ohio in the Battle of the Fallen Timbers. This victory resulted
in a peace treaty in 1795 that opened a large part of Ohio to settlement,
with the Indians being restricted to the northwestern sector.
As can be
ascertained from the above, the earliest settlements northwest of the Ohio
were still vulnerable to Indian attacks until General Wayne’s
victory. Gallipolis, established by French settlers in 1790, was thus
still vulnerable. Fortunately for these settlers it was never made a
target of Indian hostility.
With the required population of 5000 adult
males in 1798, Ohio was made a territory, and just five years later was admitted
to the union as the seventeenth state.