On the Storied Ohio:
An Historical Pilgrimage of a Thousand Miles in a Skiff from Redstone to Cairo
Reuben Gold Thwaites
Author of 'Down Historic Waterways,' 'Daniel Boone,' etc.; editor of 'The Jesuit Relations,' etc.
Being a new and revised edition of 'Afloat on the Ohio,'
with new Preface, and full-page illustrations from photographs
with new Preface, and full-page illustrations from photographs
* * *
Chicago A. C. McClurg & Co.
typed and edited by
James Duvall, M. A.
'Afloat on the Ohio,' 1897
'On the Storied Ohio,' 1903
'On the Storied Ohio,' 1903
Historical Outline of Ohio Valley Settlement
Englishmen had no sooner set foot upon our continent, than they began to penetrate inland with the hope of soon reaching the Western Ocean, which the coast savages, almost as ignorant of the geography of the interior as the Europeans themselves, declared lay just beyond the mountains. In 1586, we find Ralph Lane, governor of Raleigh's ill-fated colony, leading his men up the Roanoke River for a hundred miles, only to turn back disheartened at the rapids and falls, which necessitated frequent portages through the forest jungles. Twenty years later (1606), Christopher Newport and the redoubtable John Smith, of Jamestown, ascended the James as far as the falls, now Richmond, Va.; and Newport himself, the following year, succeeded in reaching a point forty miles beyond, but here again was appalled by the difficulties and returned.
There was, after this, a deal of brave talk about scaling the mountains; but nothing further was done until 1650, when Edward Bland and Edward Pennant again tried the Roanoke, though without penetrating the wilderness far beyond Lane's turning point. It is recorded that, in 1669, John Lederer, an adventurous German surgeon, commissioned as an explorer by Governor Berkeley, ascended to the summit of the Blue Ridge, in Madison County, Va.; but although he was once more on the spot the following season, with a goodly company of horsemen and Indians, and had a bird's-eye view of the over-mountain country, he does not appear to have descended into the world of woodland which lay stretched between him and the setting sun. It seems to be well established that the very next year (1671), a party under Abraham Wood, one of Governor Berkeley's major-generals, penetrated as far as the Great Falls of the Great Kanawha, only eighty miles from the Ohio, doubtless the first English exploration of waters flowing into the latter river. The Great Kanawha was, by Wood himself, called New River, but the geographers of the time styled it Wood's. The last title was finally dropped; the stream above the mouth of the Gauley is, however, still known as New. These several adventurers had now demonstrated that while the waters beyond the mountains were not the Western Ocean, they possibly led to such a sea; and it came to be recognized, too, that the continent was not as narrow as had up to this time been supposed.
Meanwhile, the French of Canada were casting eager eyes toward the Ohio, as a gateway to the continental interior. But the French-hating Iroquois held fast the upper waters of the Mohawk, Delaware, and Susquehanna, and the long but narrow watershed sloping northerly to the Great Lakes, so that the westering Ohio was for many years sealed to New France. An important factor in American history this, for it left the great valley practically free from whites while the English settlements were strengthening on the sea-board; when at last the French were ready aggressively to enter upon the coveted field, they had in the English colonists formidable and finally successful rivals.
It is believed by many, and the theory is not unreasonable, that the great French fur-trader and explorer, La Salle, was at the Falls of the Ohio (site of Louisville) "in the autumn or early winter of 1669." How he got there, is another question. Some antiquarians believe that he reached the Alleghany by way of the Chautauqua portage, and descended the Ohio to the Falls; others, that he ascended the Maumee from Lake Erie, and, descending the Wabash, thus discovered the Ohio. It was reserved for the geographer Franquelin to give, in his map of 1688, the first fairly-accurate idea of the Ohio's path; and Father Hennepin's large map of 1697 showed that much had meanwhile been learned about the river.
No doubt, by this time, the great waterway was well-known to many of the most adventurous French and English fur-traders, possibly better to the latter than to the former; unfortunately, these men left few records behind them, by which to trace their discoveries. As early as 1684, we incidentally hear of the Ohio as a principal route for the Iroquois, who brought peltries "from the direction of the Illinois" to the English at Albany, and the French at Quebec. Two years after this, ten English trading-canoes, loaded with goods, were seen on Lake Erie by French agents, who in great alarm wrote home to Quebec about them. Writes De Nonville to Seignelay, "I consider it a matter of importance to preclude the English from this trade, as they doubtless would entirely ruin ours, as well by the cheaper bargains they would give the Indians, as by attracting to themselves the French of our colony who are in the habit of resorting to the woods."
Herein lay the gist of the whole matter: The legalized monopoly granted to the great fur-trade companies of New France, with the official corruption necessary to create and perpetuate that monopoly, made the French trade an expensive business, consequently goods were dear. On the other hand, the trade of the English was untrammeled, and a lively competition lowered prices. The French cajoled the Indians, and fraternized with them in their camps; whereas, the English despised the savages, and made little attempt to disguise their sentiments. The French, while claiming all the country west of the Alleghanies, cared little for agricultural colonization; they would keep the wilderness intact, for the fostering of wild animals, upon the trade in whose furs depended the welfare of New France, and this, too, was the policy of the savage. By English statesmen at home, our continental interior was also chiefly prized for its forest trade, which yielded rich returns for the merchant adventurers of London. The policies of the English colonists and of their general government were ever clashing. The latter looked upon the Indian trade as an entering wedge; they thought of the West as a place for growth. Close upon the heels of the path-breaking trader, went the cattle-raiser, and, following him, the agricultural settler looking for cheap, fresh, and broader lands. No edicts of the Board of Trade could repress these backwoodsmem; savages could and did beat them back for a time, but the annals of the border are lurid with the bloody struggle of the borderers for a clearing in the Western forest. The greater part of them were Scotch Irish from Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Carolinas, a hardy race, who knew not defeat. Steadily they pushed back the rampart of savagery, and won the Ohio valley for civilization.
The Indian early recognized the land-grabbing temper of the English, and felt that a struggle to the death was impending. The French browbeat their savage allies, and, easily inflaming their passions, kept the body of them almost continually at war with the English, the Iroquois excepted, not because the latter were English-lovers, or did not understand the aim of English colonization, but because the earliest French had won their undying enmity. Amidst all this weary strife, the Indian, a born trader who dearly loved a bargain, never failed to recognize that the goods of his French friends were dear, and that those of his enemies, the English, were cheap. We find frequent evidences that for a hundred years the tribesmen of the Upper Lakes carried on an illicit trade with the hated English, whenever the usually-wary French were thought to be napping.
It is certain that English forest traders were upon the Ohio in the year 1700. In 1715, "the year before Governor Spotswood of Virginia, "with much feasting and parade, made his famous expedition over the Blue Ridge," there was a complaint that traders from Carolina had reached the villages on the Wabash, and were poaching on the French preserves. French military officers built little log stockades along that stream, and tried in vain to induce the Indians of the valley to remove to St. Joseph's River, out of the sphere of English influence. Everywhere did French traders meet English competitors, who were not to be frightened by orders to move off the field. New France, therefore, determined to connect Canada and Louisiana by a chain of forts throughout the length of the Mississippi basin, which should not only secure untrammeled communication between these far-separated colonies, but aid in maintaining French supremacy throughout the region. Yet in 1725 we still hear of "the English from Carolina" busily trading with the Miamis under the very shadow of the guns of Fort Ouiatanon (near Lafayette, Ind.), and the French still vainly scolding thereat. What was going on upon the Wabash, was true elsewhere in the Ohio basin, as far south as the Creek towns on the sources of the Tennessee.
About this time, Pennsylvania and Virginia began to exhibit interest in their own over-lapping claims to lands in the country north-west of the Ohio. Those colonies were now settled close to the base of the mountains, and there was heard a popular clamor for pastures new. French ownership of the over-mountain region was denied, and in 1728 Pennsylvania "viewed with alarm the encroachments of the French." The issue was now joined; both sides claimed the field, but, as usual, the contest was at first among the rival forest traders. In the Virginia and Pennsylvania capitals, the transmontane country was still a misty region. In 1729, Col. William Byrd, an authority on things Virginian, was able to write that nothing was then known in that colony of the sources of the Potomac, Roanoke, and Shenandoah. That very same year, Chaussegros de Léry, chief engineer of New France, went with a detachment of troops from Lake Erie to Chautauqua Lake, and proceeded thence by Conewango Creek and Alleghany River to the Ohio, which he carefully surveyed down to the mouth of the Great Miami. It was not until 1736 that Col. William Mayo, in laying out the boundaries of Lord Fairfax's generous estate, discovered in the Alleghanies the head-spring of the Potomac, where ten years later was planted the famous "Fairfax Stone," the southwest point of the boundary between Virginia and Maryland.
Affairs moved slowly in those days. New France was corrupt and weak, and the English colonists, unaided by the home government, were not strong. For many years, nothing of importance came out of this rivalry of French and English in the Ohio Valley, save the petty quarrels of fur-traders, and the occasional adventure of some Englishman taken prisoner by Indians in a border foray, and carried far into the wilderness to meet with experiences the horror of which, as preserved in their published narratives, to this day causes the blood of the reader to curdle.
Now and then, there were voluntary adventurers into these strange lands. Such were John Howard, John Peter Salling, and two other Virginians who, the story goes, went overland (1740 or 1741) under commission of their inquisitive governor, to explore the country to the Mississippi. They went down Coal and Wood's Rivers to the Ohio, which in Salling's journal is called the "Alleghany." Finally, a party of French, negroes, and Indians took them prisoners and carried them to New Orleans, where on meager fare they were held in prison for eighteen months. They escaped at last, and had many curious adventures by land and sea, until they reached home, from which they had been absent two years and three months. There are now few countries on the globe where a party of travelers could meet with adventures such as these.
At last the plot thickened; the tragedy was hastened to a close. France not formally asserted her right to all countries drained by streams emptying into the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi. This vast empire would have extended from the comb of the Rockies on the west, discovered by the brothers La Vèrendrye, to the crest of the Appalachians on the east, thus including the western part of New York and New England. The narrow strip of the Atlantic coast alone would have been left to the domination of Great Britain. The demand made by France, if acceded to, meant the death-blow to English colonization on the American mainland; and yet it was made not without reason. French explorers, missionaries, and fur-traders had, with great enterprise and fortitude, swarmed over the entire region, carrying the flag, the religion, and the commerce of France into the farthest forest wilds; while the colonists of their rival, busy in solidly welding their industrial commonwealths, had as yet scarcely peeped over the Alleghany barrier.
It was asserted on behalf of Great Britain, that the charters carried their bounds far into the West; further, that as, by the treaty of Utrecht (1713), France had acknowledged the suzerainty of the British king over the Iroquois confederacy, the English were entitled to all lands "conquered" by those Indians, whose war-paths had extended from the Ottawa River on the north to the Carolinas on the south, and whose forays reached alike to the Mississippi and to New England. In this view was made, in 1744, the famous treaty at Lancaster, Pa., whereat the Iroquois, impelled by rum and presents, pretended to give to the English entire control of the Ohio Valley, under the claim that the former had in various encounters conquered the Shawanese of that region and were therefore entitled to it. It is obvious that a country occasionally raided by marauding bands of savages, whose homes are far away, cannot properly be considered theirs by conquest.
Meanwhile, both sides were preparing to occupy and hold the contested field. New France already had a weak chain of water-side forts and commercial stations, " the rendezvous of fur-traders, priests, travelers, and friendly Indians, " extending, with long intervening stretches of savage-haunted wilderness, through the heart of the continent, from Lower Canada to her outlying post of New Orleans. It is not necessary here to enter into the details of the ensuing French and Indian War, the story of which Parkman has told us so well. Suffice it briefly to mention a few only of its features, so far as they affect the Ohio itself.
The Iroquois, although concluding with the English this treaty of Lancaster, "on which, as a corner-stone, lay the claim of the colonists to the West," were by this time, as the result of wily French diplomacy, growing suspicious of their English protectors; at the same time, having on several occasions been severely punished by the French, they were less rancorous in their opposition to New France. For this reason, just as the English were getting ready to make good their claim to the Ohio by actual colonization, the Iroquois began to let in the French at the back door. In 1749, Galissonière, then governor of New France, dispatched to the great valley a party of soldiers under Céloron de Bienville, with directions to conduct a thorough exploration, to bury at the mouths of principal streams lead plates graven with the French claim,"a custom of those days, "and to drive out English traders. Céloron proceeded over the Lake Chautauqua route, from Lake Erie to the Alleghany River, and thence down the Ohio to the Miami, returning to Lake Erie over the old Maumee portage. English traders, who could not be driven out, were found swarming into the country, and his report was discouraging. The French realized that they could not maintain connection between New Orleans and their settlements on the St. Lawrence, if driven from the Ohio valley. The governor sent home a plea for the shipment of ten thousand French peasants to settle the region; but the government at Paris was just then as indifferent to New France as was King George to his colonies, and the settlers were not sent.
Meanwhile, the English were not idle. The first settlement they made west of the mountains, was on New River, a branch of the Kanawha (1748); in the same season, several adventurous Virginians hunted and made land-claims in Kentucky and Tennessee. Before the close of the following year (1749), there had been formed, for fur-trading and colonizing purposes, the Ohio Company, composed of wealthy Virginians, among whom were two brothers of Washington. King George granted the company five hundred thousand acres, south of and along the Ohio River, on which they were to plant a hundred families and build and maintain a fort. As a base of supplies, they built a fortified trading-house at Will's Creek (now Cumberland, Md.), near the head of the Potomac, and developed a trail ("Nemacolin's Path"), sixty miles long, across the Laurel Hills to the mouth of Red-stone Creek, on the Monongahela, where was built another stockade (1752).
Christopher Gist, a famous backwoodsman, was sent (1750), the year after Céloron's expedition, to explore the country as far down as the falls of the Ohio, and select lands for the new company. Gist's favorable report greatly stimulated interest in the Western country. In his travels, he met many Scotch-Irish fur-traders who had passed into the West though the mountain valleys of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas. His negotiations with the natives were of great value to the English cause.
It was early seen, by English and French alike, that an immense advantage would accrue to the nation first in possession of what is now the site of Pittsburg, the meeting-place of the Monongahela and Alleghany rivers to form the Ohio " the "Forks of the Ohio," as it was then called. In the spring of 1753, a French force occupied the new fifteen-mile portage route between Presque Isle (Erie, Pa.) and French Creek, a tributary of the Alleghany. On the banks of French Creek they built Fort Le Bœuf, a stout log-stockade. It had been planned to erect another fort at the Forks of the Ohio, one hundred and twenty miles below; but disease in the camp prevented the completion of the scheme.
What followed is familiar to all who have taken any interest whatever in Western history. In November, Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, sent one of his major-generals, young George Washington, with Gist as a companion, to remonstrate with the French at Le Bœuf for occupying land "so notoriously known to be the property of the Crown of Great Britain." The French politely turned the messengers back. In the following April (1754), Washington set out with a small command, by the way of Will's Creek, to forcibly occupy the Forks. His advance party were building a fort there, when the French appeared and easily drove them off. Then followed Washington's defeat at Great Meadows (July 4). The French were now supreme at their new Fort Duquesne. The following year, General Braddock set out from Virginia, also by Nemacolin's Path; but, on that fateful ninth of July, fell in the slaughter-pen which had been set for him at Turtle Creek by the Indians of the Upper Lakes, under the leadership of a French fur-trader from far-off Wisconsin.
From the time of Braddock's defeat until the close of the war, French traders, with savage allies, poured the vials of their wrath upon the encroaching settlements of the English backwoodsmen. Nemacolin's Path, now known as Braddock's Road, made for the Indians of the Ohio an easy pathway to the English borders of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. In the parallel valleys of the Alleghanies was waged a partisan warfare, which in bitterness has probably not had its equal in all the long history of the efforts of expanding civilization to beat down the encircling walls of barbarism. In 1738, Canada was attacked by several English expeditions, the most of which were successful. One of these was headed by General John Forbes, and directed against Fort Duquesne. After a remarkable forest march, overcoming mighty obstacles, Forbes arrived at his destination to find that the French had blown up the fortifications, some of the troops retreating to Lake Erie and others to rehabilitate Fort Massac on the Lower Ohio.
Thus England gained possession of the valley. New France had been cut in twain. The English Fort Pitt commanded the Forks of the Ohio, and French rule in America was now doomed. The fall of Quebec soon followed (1759), then of Montreal (1760); and in 1763 was signed the Treaty of Paris, by which England obtained possession of all the territory east of the Mississippi River, except the city of New Orleans and a small outlying district. In order to please the savages of the interior, and to cultivate the fur-trade, " perhaps also, to act as a check upon the westward growth of the too-ambitious coast colonies, " King George III. took early occasion to command his "loving subjects "in America not to purchase or settle lands beyond the mountains, "without our especial leave and license." It is needless to say that this injunction was not obeyed. The expansion of the English colonies in America was irresistible; the Great West was theirs, and they proceeded in due time to occupy it.
Long before the close of the French and Indian War, English colonists " whom we will now, for convenience, call Americans " had made agricultural settlements in the Ohio basin. As early as 1752, we have seen, the Redstone fort was built. In 1753, the French forces, on retiring from Great Meadows, burned several log cabins on the Monongahela. The interesting story of the colonizing of the Red-stone district, at the western end of Braddock's Road, has been outlined in Chapter I. of the text; and it has been shown, in the course of the narrative of the pilgrimage, how other districts were slowly settled in the face of savage opposition. Although driven back in numerous Indian wars, these American borderers had come to the Ohio valley to stay.
We have seen the early attempt of the Ohio Company to settle the valley. Its agents blazed the way, but the French and Indian War, and the Revolution soon following, tended to discourage the aspirations of the adventurers, and the organization finally lapsed. Western land speculators were as active in those days as now, and Washington was chief among them. We find him first interested in the valley, through broad acres acquired on land-grants issued for military services in the French and Indian War; Revolutionary bounty claims made him a still larger landholder on Western waters; and, to the close of the century, he was actively interested in schemes to develop the region. We are not in the habit of so regarding him, but both by frequent personal presence in the Ohio valley, and extensive interests at stake there, the Father of his Country was the most conspicuous of Western pioneers. Dearly did Washington love the West, which he knew so well; when the Revolutionary cause looked dark, and it seemed possible that England might seize the coast settlements, he is said to have cried, "We will retire beyond the mountains, and be free!" and in his declining years he seemed to regret that he was too old to join his former comrades of the camp, in their colony at Marietta.
As early as 1754 Franklin, in his famous Albany Plan of Union for the colonies, had a device for establishing new states in the West, upon lands purchased from the Indians. In 1773, he displayed interest in the Walpole plan for another colony,"variously called Pittsylvania, Vandalia, and New Barataria " with its proposed capital at the mouth of the Great Kanawha. There were, too, several other Western colonial schemes, " among them the Henderson colony of Transylvania, between the Cumberland and the Tennessee, the seat of which was Boonesborough. Readers of Roosevelt well know its brief but brilliant career, intimately connected with the development of Tennessee and Kentucky. But the most of these hopeful enterprises came to grief with the political secession of the colonies; and when the coast States ceded their Western land-claims to the new general government, and the Ordinance of 1787 provided for the organization of the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, there was no room for further enterprises of this character. *
The story of the Ohio is the story of the West. With the close of the Revolution, came a rush of travel down the great river. It was more or less checked by border warfare, which lasted until 1794; but in that year, Anthony Wayne, at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, broke the backbone of savagery east of the Mississippi; the Tecumseh uprising (1812-13) came too late seriously to affect the dwellers on the Ohio.
There were two great over-mountain highways thither, one of them being Braddock's Road, with Redstone (now Brownsville, Pa.) and Pittsburg as its termini; the other was Boone's old trail, or Cumberland Gap. With the latter, this sketch has naught to do. By the close of the Revolution, Pittsburg " in Gist's day, but a squalid Indian village, and a fording-place " was still only "a distant out-post, merely a foothold in the Far West." By 1785, there were a thousand people there, chiefly engaged in the fur-trade and in forwarding emigrants and goods to the rapidly-growing settlements on the middle and lower reaches of the river. The population had doubled by 1803. By 1812 there was to be seen here just the sort of bustling, vicious frontier town, with battlement-fronts and ragged streets, which Buffalo and then Detroit became in after years. Cincinnati and Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City, had still later, each in turn, their share of this experience; and, not many years ago, Bismarck, Omaha, and Leadville. From Philadelphia and Baltimore and Richmond, there were running to Pittsburg or Redstone regular lines of stages for the better class of passengers; freight wagons laden with immense bales of goods were to be seen in great caravans, which frequently were "stalled" in the mud of the mountain roads; emigrants from all parts of the Eastern States, and many countries of Europe, often toiled painfully on foot over these execrable highways, with their bundles on their backs, or following scrawny cattle harnessed to makeshift vehicles; and now and then came a well-to-do equestrian with his pack-horses, generally an Englishman, who was out to see the country, and upon his return to write a book about it.
At Pittsburg, and points on the Alleghany, Youghiogheny, and Monongahela, were boat-building yards which turned out to order a curious medley of craft, arks, flat- and keel-boats, barges, pirogues, and schooners of every design conceivable to fertile brain. Upon these, travelers took passage for the then Far West, down the swift-rolling Ohio. There have descended to us a swarm of published journals by English and Americans alike, giving pictures, more or less graphic, of the men and manners of the frontier; none is without interest, even if in its pages the priggish author but unconsciously shows himself, and fails to hold the mirror up to the rest of nature. With the introduction of steamboats, the first was in 1811, but they were slow to gain headway against popular prejudice, the old river life, with its picturesque but rowdy boatmen, its unwieldy flats and keels and arks, began to pass away, and water traffic to approach the prosaic stage; the crossing of the mountains by the railway did away with the boisterous freighters, the stages, and the coaching-taverns; and when, at last, the river became paralleled by the iron way, the glory of the steamboat epoch itself faded, riverside towns adjusted themselves to the new highways of commerce, new centers arose, and "side-tracked" ports fell into decay.
* See Turner's ' Western State-Making in the Revolutionary Era,' in Amer. Hist. Rev., Vol. I.; also, Alden's 'New Governments West of the Alleghanies.' in Bull. Univ. Wis., Hist. Series, Vol. II.
Thwaites dedicated the book To:
FREDERICK JACKSON TURNER, Ph. D.,
Professor of American History in the University of
Wisconsin, who loves his native West
and with rare insight and gift of phrase
interprets her story,
this Log of the 'Pilgrim' is cordially inscribed.
Big Bone History