The Indiana/Ohio Country: part 1, The Ohio Company

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The Ohio/Indiana Country (The Pioneer Trail, continued, chapter 3)

Th Illinois Country gradually dissolved into the somewhat indistinguishable Ohio Country and Northwest Territory. The Ohio Country became core of an otherwise greatly unorganized US region in 1783 with the end of the Revolutionary War (e.g., Treaty of Paris). Several colonial states had conflicting claims to portions of it, including Connecticut, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania. In 1787, however, those states' claims were largely extinguished by the Northwest Ordinance and the lands became part of the larger Northwest Territory. Most of the former area north and west of the Ohio River 16 years later became the state of Ohio in 1803.

In the 17th Century, Algonquian-speaking Shawnee and some Siouan language-speaking tribes lived north of the Ohio River. Around 1660, during a conflict known as the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois seized control, driving out the Shawnee and groups like the Omaha and Ponca, who then settled further northwest and west. The Iroquois conquered and absorbed even the Erie, who also spoke an Iroquoian language. The Ohio Country (like the more eastern and northern Adirondacks) remained largely uninhabited though for decades, and was used primarily as a hunting ground by the Iroquois.

Then Native American groups in the 1700s began to migrate in increasing numbers to the Ohio Country from the East, driven by encroaching colonists. Delaware Indians (or Lenape) established the village of Kittanning (1724, northeast of current Pittsburg) on the Allegheny River in present-day western Pennsylvania. Scattered Shawnee tribes struggled to keep their villages intact but were dispersed by their Iroquois neighbors. Some Seneca, the westernmost Iroquois group in New York, had slipped away to Ohio from the French and British rivalries south of Lake Ontario.

The Ohio Company. In 1749, the British Crown, via the colonial government of Virginia, granted The Ohio Company most of the northwestern territory on the condition that it be settled by British colonists. However, both Great Britain and France claimed the area. Worse, the Iroquois League claimed the region by right of conquest. This three-way rivalry for control presaged the French and Indian War.

Some of George Washington’s own relatives were among the grantees of acres on the Upper Ohio. Their charter was granted on grounds that they would build a fort on the river and settle a hundred families within 7 years.

In 1750 Christopher Gist, a fur trader, was sent by the Company to explore as far as the Falls of the Ohi, the site of Louisville today. Over a period of one year he explored an area that now includes Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. A trading center was built at Wills Creek where Cumberland, Maryland, now reposes, and a trail blazed to the junction of Redstone Creek and the Monongahela (the Kittanning Path) marked the later Cumberland Pike (the first federal road in the US, e.g., the National Road.)

The French took counter measures to offset British expansion policies. Celoron de Bienville led an expedition from Lake Erie to Chautauqua Lake and proceeded south to the Allegheny River. His troop proclaimed French sovereignty, nailed to a tree a sheet of tin bearing the arms of France and buried a leaden plate stating that land along the Ohio and its tributaries belonged to the King of France. The last of many plates was buried at the Great Miami River near the French post at Maumee (Ohio).

Marquis Duquesne sent an expedition in 1753 with more than 1500 men to formally occupy the Ohio country. Fort Presq’Isle was erected as was Fort LeBoeuf at French Creek.

After initially remaining neutral, some Ohio Indians accepted French supplies and guns; then raided via the Kittanning Path against British settlers east of the Alleghenies. After they destroyed Fort Granville in the summer of 1756, the colonial governor John Penn ordered Lt. Colonel John Armstrong to destroy the Shawnee villages west of the Alleghenies.

Meanwhile, other British and colonial forces finally drove the French from Fort Duquesne and built Fort Pitt, the origin of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In an attempt to improve relations with the Indians and to encourage trade and avoid conflicts with colonists, George III in his Royal Proclamation of 1763, ending the French and Indian War, had combined all the Ohio Country into what was declared an Indian Reserve stretching from the Appalachian Mountains west to the Mississippi River and from as far north as Newfoundland to Florida. The British ordered the existing settlers (mostly French) either to leave or obtain special permission to stay and prohibited British colonists from settling west of the Appalachians.

The Crown no longer recognized claims that the colonies (filling with revolutionaries) made on this territory and in 1774 the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, annexing the region to the province of Quebec. Colonists in the Thirteen Colonies considered this one of the Intolerable Acts passed by Parliament and another incitement that led to the American Revolution.