The Ohio Country and the War It Would Bring

The year was 1700, and three of the most powerful empires of Europe were laying claim to North America. This was an ongoing product since the discovery of the new world in the 1400’s when both of the Americas were being claimed. But 1700 seems to be the peak of control of America by England, Spain and France. Spain declared much of Mexico, Florida, and the Southwestern and Pacific regions of the North America calling it New Spain. To the north, France declared Canada, Acadia, Newfoundland and Louisiana. This was known as New France and the boundaries included the Hudson Bay of New York to the Gulf of Mexico and areas west to the Rockies. England claimed much of the eastern coast to the Appalachian Mountains. 1

In July 1701, a war erupted known as the War of the Spanish Succession and continues until 1712. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht is signed by several European countries including France, Spain and Britain. In this treaty, France ceded some land around the Hudson Bay and Newfoundland to Britain. However, there was one provision in that treaty where the Iroquois Confederacy in the Ohio Country was considered as British subjects. This also included the land that the Iroquois Confederacy occupied. 2

In 1722, the Treaty of Albany was signed and the Ohio Country was coming to center. This treaty was between several Indian tribes and colonies of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia which would limit the French influence from the Mississippi Valley and Canada. But in the 1744, the Treaty of Lancaster was signed after a dispute between colonial settlers settling on lands that belonged to the Iroquois and some blood was spilled. The Treaty of Lancaster gave Britain full rights to the Ohio Country, but this too would cause tensions with the Iroquois. Although, the Iroquois felt that this only gave the colony of Virginia the rights to the Shenandoah Valley and not the Ohio Country. 3

In 1747, the Indians took their case against the French, who to them were invading the Ohio Country, accessing the Mississippi Valley. The result was the 1747 Treaty of Philadelphia and the second Treaty of Lancaster of 1748. Tensions of trade were almost at the boiling point between the colonies and the Indians. The 1748 treaty would help to settle and allow trade with all parties in the “Chain of Friendship.” 4

In 1748, the Ohio Company was formed by Thomas Lee and brothers Lawrence and Augustine Washington, as a land investment company. This company would try to block any attempt by France to settle the land of the Ohio Country. It was also to represent Virginia’s interests in the Ohio Country for settlements and trading. The land investments included some of Virginia’s wealthy planters and political leaders including Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, Thomas Cresap, John Mercer and his oldest son George Mercer. 5

A year after the Ohio Company was founded, George Mercer petitioned King George for England to begin allowing settlements on the land. England agreed and in 1749, a grant in two parts allowed for 500,000 acres of land for settlement over a two year period. 300,000 acres of that 500,000 were granted to the Ohio Company. With settlements came protection and Virginia was required to build a fortification at their expense. 6

The Ohio Company employed Thomas Cresap who owned a trading post near Wills Creek in Maryland. He was hired to blaze a road over the Allegheny Mountain to the Monongahela River. The Ohio Company also hired Christopher Gist to survey key areas of the Ohio Country where settlements could be made. During the years between 1750-1753, both men blazed and surveyed the land as requested by the Ohio Company. Thomas Cresap used an ancient Indian Trail known as the Nemacolin’s Trail to transverse the mountains. The land that Gist surveyed for settlement consisted of modern day West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. 7

One key feature of this new land for settlement was an area called the forks. This is where the rivers of the Allegheny and Monongahela came together and formed the Ohio River, shaped much like the letter “Y” with a small natural island forming the tip in between where the two rivers meet. The Ohio River connects to the Mississippi River near modern day Cairo, Illinois. From there, the Mississippi River flows to the south to modern day Louisiana where it flows directly into the Gulf of Mexico. Whoever controlled this point and the rivers connected to it, ultimately controlled North America. 8

This area was thought to be part of the land grant that was ceded by the King to Lt. Governor Dinwiddie for the Ohio Company. However, this area was also claimed by the colony of Pennsylvania or at least that is what Pennsylvania’s officials thought. At the same time, the French were trying to lay their own claims to it by simply occupying parts of the Ohio Country. 9

Beginning in 1753, the French under Paul Marin de la Malgue were ordered into the Ohio Country and build a series of forts to protect their King’s interests. He was given command of 2,000 French Marines and Indians and move to the south shore of Lake Erie and built a fortification. From there, he was to construct a road to the head waters of the Allegheny River. Reaching that point, he was to build a series of forts along the river leading down to the Forks of the Ohio. 10

Paul Malgue was selected by Governor Michel-Ange Du Quesne de Menneville to lead this expedition into the Ohio Country. By the summer, the first fort was built called Fort Presque Isle. Fifteen miles to further to the south along French Creek was Fort Le Boeuf. Construction of Fort Le Boeuf began in July and on October 29, Malgue passed away while at Fort Le Boef. By December Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre was the fort’s commander. 11

In December, Major George Washington who had been tasked with meeting with the French officials at Fort Le Boef, hand delivered an ultimatum regarding their encroachment on land claimed by the Ohio Company. There, he noticed many canoes which meant one thing. The French were planning on moving southward by Spring. The French response to Lt. Governor Dinwiddie was to take his case to Quebec City, the capital of New France. 12

By 1754, a few months after George Washington met Saint-Pierre with Lt. Governor Dinwiddie’s ultimatum, the French began finishing the building Fort Machault where French Creek meets the Allegheny River. By April Captain Chabert de Joncaire was finished with its construction. This was the last stop for supplies headed to the Forks of the Ohio. 13

While the French were moving south with their chain of forts, Lt. Governor Dinwiddie, in January ordered the construction of a fort near or at the Forks of the Ohio to protect the investment of the Ohio Company. William Trent had purchased land and operated a trading post with his partner George Croghan. When the Virginia Militia recruited manpower, William Trent was given the rank of captain. 14

By February, Captain Trent and his company of Virginia militia were in process of building Fort Prince George. In April, during the building of Fort Prince George, French Captain Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecœur appeared with his force. Captain Trent was away on business at Wills Creek meeting with his second in command Lieutenant John Fraser. This left Ensign Edward Ward in command of the fort and he was forced to surrender it to the French on April 18. From that point the French took possession of the Forks of the Ohio. War would soon follow by England and the Colonies that also laid claim to the Forks. 15

Citations
  1. Wikipedia basic definitions of New Spain, New France and British America.
  2. The Treaty of Utrecht: http://www.heraldica.org/topics/france/utrecht.htm
  3. Treaty of Albany 1722: http://earlytreaties.unl.edu/treaty.00001.html and the text of the Treaty of Lancaster is found here. https://archive.org/stream/jstor-4242734/4242734_djvu.txt
  4. Treaty of Philadelphia: http://digital.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/t/text/pageviewer-idx?sort=title;c=darltext;cc=darltext;type=simple;q1=Indians%20of%20North%20America–Treaties.;rgn=subject;view=image;seq=0001;idno=31735054857614;didno=31735054857614 The Treaty of Lancaster 1748: http://www.virginiaplaces.org/settleland/graphics/1748lancaster2.pdf
  5. The formation of the Ohio Company: http://digital.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=pittpress;cc=pittpress;idno=31735057893798;rgn=full%20text;didno=31735057893798;view=image;seq=29;node=31735057893798%3A1.6;page=root;size=s;frm=frameset;
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid
  8. Papers of the Ohio Company: http://digital.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=ascead;cc=ascead;q1=ohio%20company;rgn=main;view=text;didno=US-PPiU-dar192502
  9. Ibid
  10. Canadian Dictionary: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marin_de_la_malgue_paul_3E.html
  11. Ibid, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/duquesne_de_menneville_ange_4E.html
  12. Stotz, Charles Morse (2005). Outposts Of The War For Empire: The French And English In Western Pennsylvania: Their Armies, Their Forts, Their People 1749-1764. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  13. Journal of George Washington: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1033&context=etas
  14. Ibid, Canadian dictionary: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio.php?id_nbr=2131, Kenneth P. Bailey, The Ohio Company of Virginia and the Westward Movement, 1748-1792: A Chapter in the History of the Colonial Frontier (Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company), 1939.
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