When I started to write about Fort McIntosh last week, it really was just about how to spend a pleasant hour on the banks of the Ohio River in a very pretty town while learning something from reading all of the signage. It is an opportunity to apply some history to our Fort Steuben, which is an informed reconstruction, and to get a better sense of the history of our place.
There is a granite monument on Ohio Route 39 at the Ohio Pennsylvania Line. What was called the Northwest Territory in 1783, was land which previously “belonged” to Britain but was outside the recognized boundaries of the thirteen colonies and which was ceded to the Colonies in the treaty ending the War. It was a large territory containing all of what became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. Essentially it was all of the land north of the Ohio, East of the Mississippi, South of the Great Lakes, and west of the Pennsylvania border.
Remember the thirteen colonies became thirteen states under the Articles of Confederation. But by the summer of 1788, nine of them had ratified the Constitution bringing it into force, and two more, Virginia and New York ratified by the end of 1788. Hence the new country could start operating as the United States and elect George Washington as its first President for two terms beginning in 1789 and ending in 1797. North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified in November and May 1789 and 1790 respectively.
However, one of the successes of the Confederation, was the adoption of the Ordinance of 1787 creating the territorial government and appointing General Arthur St. Clair as governor and establishing his location at Marietta. One of the first functions of the new government was to survey the land. The type of survey performed is called a Cadastral Survey. This type of survey is a metes and bounds survey of an entire country. This was one of the first known to be performed. The starting point for the survey was where the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia) met on the territorial border. Much has changed in 230 plus years, and the original beginning point of the survey is today under the water of the Ohio River. The monument on Route 39 is the closest point on a roadway to the actual survey beginning point.
The survey progressed south to North and East to West. The territory was divided into Ranges, Townships and Sections. As I understand it ranges are meridian lines, meaning they ran north and south six miles apart. Townships were created within ranges by east – west lines six mile apart. Thus every Township was 36 square miles, and each of those thirty-six square miles constituted one section containing 640 acres. For our purposes that is all we need to know. In any event, though there are still references to “Seven Ranges” on the Ohio side of the River. That reference is to the first swath of the survey completed from the Pennsylvania border and moving 42 miles west.
Then living within the Northwest Territory were Native Americans of various nations. They saw the Northwest Territory as their land. The majority of them did not believe that easterners and the British ever owned this land. However, the Americans had an idea that much of the Revolutionary War debt and the claims of veterans for bonuses could be solved by selling this land and also giving land grants to former soldiers. To do so the government conceived of a plan to confine the Native Americans to the extreme northwest of what would become Ohio, and points west of that. This had to be done before the survey could be undertaken as there were numerous natives in the land who would contest even that step with armed resistance.
To hit the ground running, before the survey was undertaken the government appointed a group to deal with the Natives and summoned some native “leaders” to Fort McIntosh. George Rogers Clark, Arthur Lee and Richard Butler were the appointees. Clark was a surveyor and soldier. He had been surveying in the region and as far south as the Kanawha River Valley since the 1770’s. He was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Continental Army and had success on the frontier, such as capturing Fort Vincennes from the British. Following his involvement in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Fort Detroit he spent most of the rest of the Revolution engaged against the Shawnees and other natives to protect settlers from their attacks. George’s youngest brother, William, was THE Clark of Lewis and Clark.
Richard Butler served in the Forbes – Bouquet expedition which drove the French from the forks of the Ohio. Between the wars he served as a trader with Indians on the frontier. When the War of Independence broke out he served eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General. After the war he was appointed an Indian Commissioner and was involved in two treaties: Fort McIntosh and Fort Finney. His “diplomacy” earned him the undying enmity of the Shawnee Nation. He was severely wounded and died in 1792 in St. Clair’s defeat at the hands of the western tribes.
Arthur Lee was a patrician Virginian educated at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in both Medicine and Law. He spent the war in London acting on American interests and also serving as a spy. After the war his career was chiefly as a European diplomat. However, this cousin of future Confederate General Robert E. Lee returned to America and served as an Indian Commissioner with Clark and Butler.
Their primary goal was to achieve a treaty with the Delawares, Wyandottes, Shawnees and other nations in the North West Territory. Armed with gifts, the Commissioners, with the strength of the Army, such as it was, invited leaders of the indigenous peoples to come to Fort McIntosh and negotiate. Unfortunately what transpired was that mostly younger natives, without leadership positions came to the meetings. And these were mostly from the Delaware, Wyandot and Ottawa nations.
When no progress was made after several weeks, the Commissioners tried a tactic which has been immortalized in both movies and literature. They supplied alcohol to the attendees and when its influence reached full effect, the treaty was signed. On its face the new government could claim that it had a treaty permitting settlement of the Ohio country. To the contrary most of the Indian Nations, and especially the large and powerful Shawnee Nation, affected by the treaty would reject it on the basis that no party authorized to negotiate and sign on their behalf did so. This led to a decade of open warfare between natives and settlers. The Natives most noted victory was at the Battle of the Wabash in 1792 where the forces of St. Clair were thoroughly routed. A U.S. victory at the battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, under forces led by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne forced the Natives further west and for a time there was a truce, but not yet a peace in the region.