La Salle, the famous adventurer and explorer, was undoubtedly the first white man to tread the soil of what we now call Ohio. With a few followers and led by Indian guides, he penetrated the vast country then held by the powerful tribe of North American Indians known as the Iroquois and went down the Ohio as far as the “Falls,” or where the city of Louisville now stands. There his band abandoned him and he traced his steps back north alone. This, it is believed, was in the winter of 1669-70, two hundred and forty years ago, and this was more than a hundred years before Marietta, Ohio, was settled by the white race. This daring French explorer doubtless camped at the mouth of the Muskingum River. In 1682, he reached the Mississippi River, descended to its mouth, and there proclaimed possession of the vast valley in the name of his king.
Prior to the middle of the eighteenth century, the French people reasserted their ownership of the Northwest and actually took possession of what is now the northern part of Ohio, building a fort and establishing a trading station at Sandusky. Celeron de Bienville made a systematic exploration of the Ohio valley and formally declared, by process verbal, the ownership of the soil on August 16, 1749. He was at the mouth of the Muskingum River, a fact revealed in 1798 by the discovery of a leaden plate deposited by him, which set forth the exploration. The plate was found protruding from a bank after a freshet by some boys who cut away a portion of its inscription, not knowing its great historic value. The same was translated by William Woodbridge, later governor of Michigan. A similar plate was found in 1846 at the mouth of the Kanawha. These were to reassert the rights of the French government to this land. While the French had a good title to this state, it was not long before it was wrested from them by the British crown.
The Colonial Ohio Land Company was organized in Virginia in 1748 by twelve associates, among whom were Thomas Lee and Lawrence Augustine, brothers of George Washington. Under this company, Christopher Gist explored the Ohio valley as far as the Falls. The company secured a naval grant of half a million acres in the valley of the Ohio River. It was intended to at once found a colony, but the French opposed it, and the royal governor of Virginia sent George Washington, then a young man, to the commander of the French forces to demand their reason for invasion of British territory. Washington received an answer that was both haughty and defiant. He returned and made his report to the governor, who abandoned the idea of making immediate settlement, but at once set about asserting the English claims by force of arms. The result was the union of the colonies, the ultimate involvement of England in the war that ensued, the defeat of the French, and the vesting in the British crown of the right and title to Canada and of all the territory east of the Mississippi and south to the Spanish possessions in the South. Ben Franklin had tried to effect a union of the colonies but was unsuccessful. He had proposed a plan of settlement in 1754 and suggested that two colonies be located in the West—one upon the Cuyahoga and the other on the Scioto, which tract he declared had not its equal on the North American continent, having timber and coal almost on the surface ready to mine.
But the English did little toward improving their title or effecting settlement here in Ohio. George Washington made a journey down the Ohio in 1770 with several others interested. He camped at Duck Creek, as shown by his diary. Through his instrumentality, the western scheme was revived. A large colony was formed, which included the old Ohio Company and the Walpole scheme, as well as recognizing the bounty act of Virginia volunteers in the French and Indian War. Had it not been for Indian troubles, this would have been a wonderful success.
Colonel Henry Bouquet had made the first English expedition into the Ohio country in 1764 for the purpose of punishing the Indians and recovering from them the captives they had taken during the previous years on the Pennsylvania and Virginia borders. No blood was shed, the Indians assenting to the terms offered them. The expedition was directed against the Delawares upon the Tuscarawas and Muskingum. Bouquet obtained two hundred captives at the hands of the savages and returned to Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) with an army of fifteen hundred men. For a time, this quieted the Indians of the Ohio country, and the next ten years passed peacefully.
But to resume the history first spoken of, the Shawnees had become very hostile, on account of the prospect of their having to lose their lands and because of the murder of Logan, the famous Mingo chief, who had been dwelling with them at old Chillicothe. To quell the disturbance thus arising, Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, organized an army of invasion into the Indian country. He had command of one wing and entrusted the other wing to General Andrew Lewis.
The forces of Lewis were attacked by the Indians south of the Ohio River, and the ensuing combat, known as the Battle of Point Pleasant, was one of the bloodiest in Indian border warfare up to that date. Dunmore did not get into a real engagement with his wing of the army. A treaty was held at Camp Charlotte, in which all agreed but old Logan, the Mingo chieftain, who there made the speech which all schoolboys used to delight in reading and “speaking,” being the most eloquent one ever coming from the lips of an Indian, and equal, so Thomas Jefferson said, to any made by classic scholars the world round.
The Revolution came on, and the West was no longer the scene of military action. But a soldier who served under Dunmore, George Rogers Clark, of whom the late lamented James A. Garfield remarked, “The cession of that great territory, under the treaty of 1783, was due mainly to his foresight and courage, and who has never received the adequate recognition due him for so great a service,” at the close of the Revolution was instrumental in making the Northwest Territory a portion of the United States, instead of leaving it to be possessed by the English, in the terms of peace that were made. Had it not been for this, the Colonies would have been owners only of the country east of the Alleghanies unless the West should be later conquered by them from the British. He sought out Governor Patrick Henry, then governor of Virginia, who allowed him (Clark) to raise seven companies of soldiers and to seize the British posts in the Northwest, and this brought the territory rightfully into the territory agreed upon when the treaty was finally effected between the Colonists and England. He also made two other expeditions — both against Indians upon the Miamis — in 1780 and 1782.
Thus, Ohio — a part of the Northwest Territory — became a part of the United States and not held as a province of Great Britain.