Ohio History Journal








There is a tradition that George Washington took a

short cut across the Great Bend of the Ohio River in the

autumn of 1770 when he made his journey to the Ka-

nawha River. Since Washington went down stream as

far as the Kanawha he had to cover that section known

as the Great Bend both on the down stream journey and

on his return. It is only logical that he might want to

hasten his journey by cutting across the sharp bends of

the river, and besides, this would have given him an ex-

cellent opportunity to examine the adjacent lands. It

must be remembered that Washington carried provi-

sions and camping equipment in a large canoe, and if

he did save distance by taking these short cuts he prob-

ably had to wait for the canoe when he again reached

the river.

In his journal Washington very commonly writes

of the bottoms which he examined on his river journey.

It would be easy to assume that the land within the bends

of the river might be designated as necks. Wherever

the river doubles sharply back it cuts against the hills on

the outer portion of the curve leaving a flat flood plain

and terrace within the bend. These certainly are choice

areas of land but when Washington used the expression

"neck of land" he was referring, perhaps, to the narrow

strips of low land along the river, or certainly, to the


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areas within the larger bends of the river. On the first

day of his down stream journey, October 20, 1770, he

observed that the river swung across the valley to flow

first on one side and then on the other. On this day he


"We passd several large Island[s] which appeard

to [be] very good, as the bottoms also did on each side

of the River, alternatly; the Hills on one side being op-

posite to the bottoms on the other, which seem generally

to be abt. 3 and 4 hundred yards wide, and so vice


On Thursday, October 25, he observed that there

was little ". . . alteration in the general face of the

Country, except that the bottoms seemd to be getting a

little longer and wider, as the Bends of the River grew

larger." It is evident from this that he had noticed not

only the character of the bottom lands but the nature of

the bends of the river.

That Washington took a short cut across the Great

Bend is so firmly fixed in the minds of some of the peo-

ple along the Ohio River that it seems almost a sacrilege

to question the strong tradition. Only recently in an

article by Showalter1 an insert map shows Washington's

principal journeys. On this map is shown a short cut

across the Great Bend, or the Big Bend as it is some-

times called.

Recently Myers,2 after the present writer had com-

municated with him pointing out that Washington did


1 William Joseph Showalter, "The Travels of George Washington."

The National Geographic Magasine, Vol. 61, 1932. pp. 1-63. See insert map.

2 Clifford R. Myers, "Story of Washington at Great Bend is Denied,"

The Charleston Gazette, May 1, 1932, Sec. 3, p. 5.

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River 657

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River  657

not cross the Great Bend, wrote a brief newspaper article

calling attention to the inaccuracy of this tradition.

Washington's camp site of Sunday, Oct. 28, is un-

certain but it probably was not far from a location a few

miles above where Shade River enters from the Ohio

Side.3 In connection with the present problem this lo-

cation is not significant except to establish the fact that

on the next day October 29, Washington and his party

progressed down stream toward the Big Bend. Many

features were mentioned by Washington in his journal

but not all can be identified. His entry in respect to the

Big Bend makes it possible to trace with reasonable ac-

curacy his course down stream, for as he noted the char-

acter of the land he mentions tributaries which enter the

stream. Of one of these he writes, "At the Mouth of

this Ck. which is 3 or 4 Miles above two Islands (at the

lower end of the last is a rapid, and the Point of the

Bend) is the Wariors Path to the Cherokee Country;

for two Miles and a half below this the River Runs a

No. Et. Course, and finishes what they call the Great

Bent. Two Miles and a half below this again we In-


The above entry for Monday, October 29, indicates

that Washington and his party camped five miles below

the point of the Great Bend. He probably kindled his

camp fire on the south shore, though he makes no specific

statement to that effect.

On Tuesday, October 30, Washington continued

down-stream noting the horseshoe-shaped lowland on

the south side of the river. On this date he included a


3 Guy-Harold Smith, "Washington's Camp Sites on the Ohio River,"

Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, Vol. 41, 1932, p. 8.  Also

see insert map.

Vol. XLI--42

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658     Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications

note about the bottom in which they camped the night

before. He wrote, "The upper part of the bottom we

Incampd in was an exceeding good one, but the lower

part rather thin Land and covered with Beach; in it is

some clear Meadow Land and a Pond or Lake. This

bottom begins just below the Rapid at the point of the

Great Bend, from whence a N. N. Wt. course woud an-

swer to run a parrallel to the next turn of the River."

If Washington camped on the Ohio side of the river a

small circular bottom on the north side could not have

been described in the terms used by Washington. It

seems quite obvious that he was describing the bottom

lands on the southwest side of the river, though the bot-

tom does not extend quite to the point of the Great Bend.

The pond or lake referred to cannot be identified on the

modern topographic map of the area. He noted that a

north-north west line from the point of the Great Bend

would run parallel to the river to where a southward

turn of the stream would again cross his line.

Washington continued his journey to the Kanawha

River which he ascended, but we are not concerned here

with the details of his explorations of the lands in the

territory adjacent to Point Pleasant at the junction of

the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers.

It was on Sunday, November 4, that Washington be-

gan his up-stream journey. The night before he had

camped for a second time at Point Pleasant. The bot-

tom lands along the southeast side of the Ohio River and

above the mouth of the Kanawha are not described with

complete accuracy, but his course up-stream can be

charted with reasonable certainty. For this date he

wrote, "After passing these Hills (which may run on

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River 659

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River  659

the River near a Mile), there appears to be another

pretty good Bottom on the East side. At this place we

met a Canoe going to the Illinoies with Sheep, and at this

place also, that is, at the end of the Bottom from the

Kanhawa, just as we came to the Hills, we met with a

Sycamore abt. 60 yards from the River of a most extra-

ordinary size, it measuring (3 feet from the Gd.) 45 feet

round, lacking two Inches, and not 50 yards from it was

another 31.4 round (3 feet from the Gd. also.)

"The 2d Bottom hinted at the other side (that is the

one lying above the Bottom that reaches from the Kan-

hawa is that taken notice of the 30th Ulto., to lye in

the shape of a Horse shoe, and must from its situation

and quantity of level Ground be very valuable, if the

Land is but tolerably good.

"After passing this bottom and abt. a Mile of Hills,

we entered into the 3d Bottom and Incampd. This bot-

tom reaches within about half a Mile of the Rapid at the

point of the Great Bent."

Washington designated the horseshoe-shaped bot-

tom as the second bottom above the mouth of the Kan-

awha. There certainly can be no doubt in the identifi-

cation, for there is only one area along this part of the

Ohio which could be so described. On the 30th of Oc-

tober he noted that "In about 2 Miles we came to the

head of a bottom (in the shape of a horse Shoe) which

I judge to be about 6 Miles rd; the beginning of the bot-

tom appeared to be very good Land, but the lower part

(from the Growth) did not seem so friendly. An east

course from the lower end woud strike the River again

above, about the beging. of the bottom."

On his down-stream journey Washington stated that

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this bottom in the shape of a horseshoe begins two miles

below his camp of October 29. If he camped five miles

below the point of the Great Bend, as previously pointed

out, the distance to the beginning of the horseshoe bend

is nearly six miles. Since there can be little doubt about

the identification of this bottom we must conclude that

Washington was uncertain about the distance when he

came to write his journal for the 30th of October.

This bottom is without doubt the second one above

the mouth of the Kanawha according to Washington's

numbering. The next bottom is the third where the

party camped for the night. This certainly is the bot-

tom just below the Great Bend even though the flat land

along the south shore does not reach "within about half

a Mile of the Rapid at the Point of the Great Bent."

Since Washington made his journey it is barely possible

that this great bend of the Ohio River has cut away a

small portion of the up-stream end of the lowland. This

hypothesis can hardly be entertained, for the river now

flows in a distinct channel or valley below the adjacent

bottoms, so the course of the river has changed very lit-

tle since Washington's time.

The record for Monday, November 5, is particularly

significant in any discussion of the question as to

whether Washington actually took a short cut across

the Great Bend. His journal begins, "I set of the Canoe

with our Baggage and walked across the Neck on foot

with Captn. Crawford, distant according to our walking

about 8 Miles, as we kept a strait course under the Foot

of the Hills, which run about So. Et. and was two hours

and a half walking of it." From the expression ". ..

walked across the Neck . . ." it has become a tradition


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that Washington walked across the Great Bend, but this

interpretation can hardly be maintained in the face of

additional evidence from the journal. Cook in his little

book entitled  Washington's Western Lands states

that Washington probably camped above New Haven,

West Virginia, near the mouth of Broad Creek. He con-

tinues by noting that "On Monday morning, the fifth,

some of the party proceeded up the river while Wash-

ington, in company with Captain Crawford, landed on

the Ohio shore, perhaps below the mouth of Tupper's

Run. Following the hills, the two men walked across the

Big Bend, a distance of about eight miles. It would seem

that the boat was again boarded above the present Rip-

ley Landing and that the party encamped for the night

near Towhead Island."4

With this interpretation of Washington's course the

present writer does not agree. Washington does not

mention crossing the river, nor is it necessary to con-

clude that the neck of the land across which he walked

lies within the curve of the Great Bend.

Washington usually referred to the narrow flat

lands along the river as bottoms, and, as already sug-

gested, he noted their relationship to the hills. On Oc-

tober 20, the day of the beginning of his descent of the

Ohio River, he recorded in his journal that the bottoms

occur alternately with the hills on each side of the river,

and added that "the Hills on one side being opposite to

the bottoms on the other." In at least one other place he

used the term "neck" in referring to a strip of bottom

land along the river. On Saturday, October 27, Wash-


4 Roy Bird Cook, Washington's Western Lands, Strasburg, Virginia,

1930, pp. 27-28.

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River 663

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River  663

ington, continuing his journey down stream from his

camp site at the mouth of Duck Creek, four miles above

Marietta, Ohio, passed the mouth of the Muskingum

and continued on to the mouth of the Little Kanawha.

After referring to the rich lands along this latter sream

he observed that ". . . the Country from hence quite up

to the 3 Islands,5 level and in appearance fine; the River

(Ohio) running round it in the nature of a horse shoe,

forms a Neck of flat Land wch. added to that run'g up

to the 2d long reach (aforementioned) cannot contain

less than 50,000 Acres in view." The curve referred to

is far from resembling that at the Great Bend. As a

matter of fact this curve is not shaped like a horseshoe

but resembles in form the one formed by the Ohio River

from the rapids at the point of the Great Bend to his

camp site of November 4. The object of this extended

discussion has been to indicate that a "neck of land" as

used by Washington does not mean necessarily the nar-

row neck produced by a river doubling sharply back in

a meander-like curve.

Referring again to Washington's record for No-

vember 5 we note that he and Captain Crawford walked

about eight miles in a southeasterly direction at the base

of the hills, and it required two and a half hours to make

the journey. If Washington had been on the north side

of the river a southeasterly course across the Great Bend

would not coincide with a course at the base of the hills.

Continuing his journal we read that "This is a good

Neck of Land the Soil being generally good; and in

places very rich. Their is a large proportion of Meadow

Ground, and the land as high, dry, and Level as one


5 About 16 miles above the mouth of the Muskingum River.

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664      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications

coud wish. The growth in most places is beach inter-

mixed with walnut, etca., but more especially with Pop-

lar (of which there are numbers very large.)  The Land

toward the upper end is black oak, and very good; upon

the whole a valuable Tract might be had here, and I

judge the quantity to be about 4000 Acres." This account

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River 665

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River  665

agrees substantially with his observations on the same

area on Tuesday, October 30. On that date he recorded

that "The upper part of the bottom we Incampd in was

an exceeding good one, but the lower part rather thin

Land and covered with Beach; in it some clear Meadow

Land and a Pond or Lake." This last named feature

cannot be identified on modern maps.

The last paragraph of Washington's entry for No-

vember 5 is particularly pertinent in connection with this

walk overland away from the river. "After passing this

Bottom and the Rapid, as also some Hills wch. jut pretty

close to the River, we came to that Bottom before re-

markd., the 29th ulto; which being well described, there

needs no further remark except that the Bottom within

view appears to be exceeding rich; but as I was not out

upon it, I cannot tell how it is back from the River. A

little above this Bottom we Incamped, the afternoon be-

ing rainy, and night wet."

Washington after passing this bottom and the rapids

came to some hills close to the river. This fits almost ex-

actly what he would have met with along the south side

of the river. If he had taken a short cut across the

Great Bend he would have missed the rapids. In his

diary which he entitled "Where and how my time is

Spent" the brief entry, "Walk'd across a Neck of Land

to the Rapid and Incampd about Miles above it" is a

bit of confirming evidence. He could not have walked

across the neck of land on the north side and reached the

rapids and held a course at the base of the hills. The

writer is forced to the conclusion that Washington did

not cross the Great Bend on Ohio territory but made his

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eight-mile walk along the bottom on the West Virginia


On a map recently published in The George Wash-

ington Atlas6 this doubted walk across the Great Bend

on November 5 is shown as the only place where Wash-

ington set foot in Ohio territory except where he walked

from camp to canoe on the occasions when he camped on

the Ohio side of the river. From his entry of November

14 in the journal which has been partially mutilated a

fragmented sentence reads as follows: "About 2 or 3

Miles below . . . [Capte] ning I got out (on the West

side) [and wal]kd through a Neck of as good [land] as

ever I saw, between that and . . . k; the Land on the

Hillsides. . .s rich as the bottoms; than. . . nothing can

exceed, the bottom. . . the mouth of Captening appears

. . . [to be of] equal goodness with the one below."

There is very little strictly flat land just below the mouth

of the Captina Creek but this is certainly the area

through which Washington walked. How far he con-

tinued on foot before he camped for the night we cannot

be sure but from his entry for the following day it ap-

pears that he may have walked at least a mile above the

mouth of the Captina.7 On November 15, the day after

Washington examined the lands above and below the

Captina Creek he wrote in his journal, "The canoe set

of [at su]nrise, as I did to view that. . . opposite to the

Mouth of Pipe Creek." In this statement it appears that

he crossed over to examine the bottom on the east side

of the Ohio River.


7 Smith, Op. cit., p. 15. See insert map also.

8 Lawrence Martin, Editor, The George Washington Atlas, U. S.

Bicentennial Commission, Washington, D. C., 1932. Plate 31.

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River 667

George Washington at Great Bend of Ohio River  667

From the foregoing remarks there are two signifi-

cant conclusions so far as Ohio is concerned. First,

Washington did not cross the Great Bend, but walked

along the hills and across a bottom on the West Virginia

shore below the point of the Great Bend; and, second,

Washington did make one short journey along the Ohio

side of the river near the mouth of Captina Creek in ad-

dition to the short walks from tent to canoe on the few

nights when he camped on the Ohio shore.