George Washington Slept Here
by Neil Elvick
| Prior to the French and Indian War the great
expanse of land between the Allegheny Mountains and the Ohio Valley was
a point of contention between the English and the French. The French
claimed title to all of the land that was drained by the tributaries
of the Ohio River including the Great and Little Kanawha Rivers in what
is now West Virginia. The French laid down lead plates where each tributary
flowed into the Ohio signifying their ownership of the land drained by
each of those streams. The lead plate at the mouth of the Great Kanawha
River can be viewed today at Point Pleasant State Park.
The French were not so much interested in settling the land as they were in establishing the very profitable fur trade with the Indians. This also suited the Indians well and they had become very dependent on the French for European goods. The English, on the other hand, were interested in trading ventures with the Indians but also coveted the Indian land as prime territory for settlement.
The Indians reacted violently to the French defeat in the French and Indian War and this territory was soon shocked by the virulence of Pontiac’s Rebellion. Several American forts fell to the Indians and there were many settlers carried off into captivity. The British sent an army led by Colonel Henry Bouquet to quell the uprising and the Indians were decisively defeated in the Battle of Bushy Run, just southeast of present day Pittsburgh. Col. Bouquet followed up this victory by pursuing the Indians into what is present day Ohio and was able to subdue the Indians and obtain release of their numerous captives.
There was then a period of relative peace that ensued for this general area and this would last until the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, when once again hostility between Indians and settlers would emerge. This time the Indians would ally themselves with the British against the American colonists.
During the brief period of relative calm between these events, George Washington found himself facing difficult decisions about his future. He had met with mixed success as a military commander during the French and Indian War and his uncertain future in the British military had led him to resign his commission. In 1759 he married the widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, and settled in on his Mount Vernon estate to a life as a planter and as a local politician in Virginia’s House of Burgesses.
Besides his Mount Vernon property Washington also acquired property in the vicinity of Williamsburg, and across the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley. He was a strong believer that the surest and safest way to build his fortune was by acquiring property at a low price and then profit by its increase in value over time. To this end he became interested in the bounty land that had been promised to veterans of the French and Indian War. The colonial governor, Didwiddie, had promised 200,000 acres to the soldiers who had participated in the Fort Necessity campaign. In 1769 Washington petitioned Governor Didwiddie’s successor, Lord Botetourt, to have this land made available. The governor and council made available a tract of land at the confluence of the Great Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, but stipulated that the entire tract would have to be surveyed before any individual claimants could obtain any land.
Washington had had considerable experience as a surveyor prior to his entry into the military and so he accepted complete responsibility for getting the job done. He turned to a surveyor, William Crawford, who was already in his employ, to accompany him on an expedition to visit the designated land and to do a preliminary survey. In October of 1770 they set out from Mount Vernon, and followed the road marked out by Washington when he was with General Braddock in 1754. Then from the Forks of the Ohio (present day Pittsburgh) they floated down the Ohio River in canoes until they reached the mouth of the Great Kanawha River where it empties into the Ohio. He remarks in his journal about several peaceful encounters with Indians he met along the way.
He encamped on the Virginia side on November 1, and had proceeded up the Great Kanawha about ten miles when his journal reads: “Proceeded up the river with the canoe about 4 miles farther, and then encamped, and went a hunting; killed 5 buffaloes and wounded some others, and three deer. This country abounds in buffalo and wild game of all kinds, as also in all kinds of wild fowl, there being in the bottom a great many small grassy ponds, or lakes, which are full of swans, geese, and ducks of different kinds.”
On descending towards the Ohio River again, he describes finding a sycamore tree about sixty yards from the river that measures forty-four feet and ten inches in circumference three feet above the ground. This corresponds to a diameter of close to fourteen feet. Fifty feet away is another sycamore measuring thirty-one feet around. Then at the mouth of the Great Kanawha he is marking favorable tracts of land for the soldiers, and he makes this observation: “I also marked at the mouth of another run lower down on the west side, at the lower end of the long bottom, an ash and hoopwood (tree) for the beginning of another of the soldiers surveys, to extend up so as to include all the bottom in a body of the west side.” The “run” referred to may have been the Chicamauga Creek that runs through the town site of Gallipolis, or possibly Raccoon Creek further south in present day Clay Township, although the latter might be considered too big to be a run. Washington is impressed by much of the land along the river bottoms because of its potential for growing crops, but dismisses much of the hilly landscape further away from the river, as being mostly suitable for grazing.
Gallia County 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, which he reached on December 1. When Washington made these observations the land was, as yet, completely untouched by Western civilization. The breaking out of hostilities with the Indians again, a few years later, would forestall any attempt at early settlement.
Eventually Washington was able to secure title to 30,000 acres of land in the region. Most of this was along the Ohio River between the Great and Little Kanawha Rivers, and along the banks of the Great Kanawha. However, he was never able to get the land settled. There was a stipulation that a certain number of settlers would have to inhabit the land within three years and because of renewed hostilities with the Indians this never happened. All during the years leading up to the Revolution and during the Revolutionary War the area was not safe. When the French 500 arrived in 1790 there was still an Indian threat and settlers were being killed in the Muskingum River Valley. Robert Safford was hired both as a hunter to provide meat for the colony and as a scout to look out for hostile Indians. It was only after General “Mad” Anthony Wayne routed a large Indian army in northwest Ohio in 1795 that the Ohio Valley was considered safe for settlement and at that time Washington was serving his second term as president.