The Ohio Land Company took measures for defining and occupying their domain. Thomas Lee, Augustine and Lawrence Washington, and other leading Virginia members of the Company, ordered goods to be sent from London suitable for the Indian trade; and as no attempt at settlement could be safely made without some previous arrangement with the Indians, the Company petitioned the Virginia government to invite the Indians to a treaty council. As a preliminary movement, the Company took measures to obtain information concerning the best lands beyond the mountains. English traders with the Indians had traversed the passes through them, and spoke of the beauty and fertility of the country beyond, but the Company wished more definite knowledge. In the autumn of 1750, Christopher Gist, from the borders of the Yadkin, was in Virginia. He was a bold and skillful woodsman, and acquainted with Indian life; and he was employed to cross the great hills and spy out the land. He was instructed to observe the best mountain passes; to explore the country as far down as the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville); examine the most useful streams and count their falls; search out the fertile level lands; ascertain the strength of the Indian tribes, and make as accurate a chart of the region as his observations would allow.
Gist left Alexandria on horseback at the close of October; crossed the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah Valley; waded through snow-drifts in the Alleghany Mountains; swam his horse across the Ohio River, and made his way through a rich narrow valley to Logstown, where it was proposed to hold the Indian council. He presented himself as an ambassador from the British sovereign. As such he was respected by the chief, but the Indians received him with coolness. "You are come to settle the Indians' land," said the chief; "you never shall go home safe." Undaunted by this covert threat, Gist pressed forward to the Muskingum, stopping at a village of Ottawas, who were friends of the French. The Wyandots at Muskingum received him cordially, and there he found George Croghan, an emissary of the Pennsylvanians who were jealous of the Ohio Company, regarding them as rivals seeking a monopoly of the trade with the Indians of the northwest.
Gist crossed the Muskingum as he had crossed the Ohio--the "beautiful river," in the language of the Iroquois--and pushing on with Croghan and other traders through the stately forests and across savannahs then white with snow, he reached the Scioto River a few miles from its mouth. There dwelt some Delawares; and a short distance below the Scioto there were Shawnoese on both sides of the Ohio. Both professed friendship for the English, and a willingness to attend a general council at Logstown.
Northward lay the beautiful land of the Miamis, a confederacy really more powerful than that of the Iroquois, with whom they were friendly. Thither the representatives of Virginia and Pennsylvania went. They were kindly received. Strings of wampum were exchanged as tokens of friendship. A treaty of peace and alliance was concluded with the confederacy, and arrangements were made for all the friendly tribes to meet at Logstown in grand council.
Just as the treaty was signed, four Ottawas came with presents from the French. The Indian sovereign, who presided at the council, immediately set up the flags of France and England side by side. Addressing the Ottawas, he said: "The path of the French is bloody, and was made so by them. We have made a road plain for our brothers, the English, and your fathers have made it foul and crooked, and have made some of our brethren prisoners. This we look upon as an injury done to us." Then suddenly turning his back upon the Ottawas, he left the council. The French flag was removed, and the emissaries who bore it were ordered to return to their Gallic friends at Sandusky.
Gist viewed the magnificent country he was in with deepest admiration, and bidding his English companions and the dusky barbarians farewell, he went down the valley of the Little Miami to the Ohio and along that stream almost to the Falls. Then he penetrated the famous blue-grass region of Kentucky, with its marvellous forests; climbed over the mountains to the headwaters of the Yadkin and the Roanoke, and at the end of a journey of seven months, he stood before Lawrence Washington, at Mount Vernon, then chief director of the Ohio Company, with a vast amount of valuable information.
The promised council of the western tribes was not held until June, 1752. Gist was there as the agent of the Ohio Company, and Colonel Fry and two other commissioners represented Virginia. Friendly relations with the Western Indians were established by the treaty, but the barbarian chiefs steadily refused to recognize any English title to lands west of the Alleghany mountains. On that point they had been equally firm with the French, and resisted the importunities and claims of both. A shrewd Delaware chief said to Gist: "The French claim all the land on one side of the river, and the English claim all the land on the other side of the river; where is the Indians' land?" It was a question difficult to answer. Gist did not attempt it, but said: "Indians and white men are subjects of the British king, and all have an equal privilege of taking up and possessing the land, in conformity with the conditions prescribed by the sovereign."
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