Ohio History Journal







Lake Erie and its borders have received some unusual atten-

tion lately, including the explorations and early settlements.

Herewith is some pertinent material which seems not to have

been reckoned with, but which seems essential to the full story.

Harlan Hatcher's Lake Erie (1945), for example, presumably

the latest and best-organized account of the period, does not men-

tion the journey of Sir William Johnson around the lake in

August, September and October, 1761, items of which would

amplify the story of some of the early military and trading posts.

The facts which are here related may be found in his own

journal as edited by William L. Stone and embodied in his Life

and Times of Sir William Johnson, Bart. (Albany, 1865). The

original diary had been destroyed by fire prior to the publication

of the Sir William Johnson Papers. Recent accounts seem to

have missed these materials.

After Major Robert Rogers of the famous Rangers received

the surrender of the French post in Detroit at the close of 1760,

Captain Donald Campbell was left temporarily in command there.

Early in 1761 rumors of disaffection amongst former Indian

allies of the French had become definite intelligence that Seneca

and Wyandot chiefs were plotting a massacre of the Detroit gar-

rison, and that Senecas, Shawnees, and Delawares were prepar-

ing to fall upon forts Pitt and Niagara. Captain Campbell, pos-

sibly prematurely alarmed, sought immediate help from Sir Jef-

frey Amherst, commander-in-chief of His Majesty's forces in

America. In response, Sir William Johnson, who had just been

recommissioned by King George III superintendent of all Indian

tribes in the northern colonies, was asked to visit Detroit for two

purposes: to make a treaty with all the "Several Nations of North-

ern and Western Indians" and to make "regulations" for the fur





trade in frontier posts. Johnson himself had further intentions,

namely, as his journal says, "to learn . . . the names of several

nations of Indians in this country, their number of men, places

of residence, their connections, disposition and wars," and to

ascertain "how many posts the French had in the Indian country,

the number of men in each, how maintained, from whom they

received their orders, . . . which post or place was always looked

upon as the best for trade; what prices the French generally paid

for beaver, furs, &c." Johnson's intimate knowledge of Indian

character and his remarkable influence with all Indians in any way

connected with the Six Nations were counted upon to shield him

from danger during a trip which Rogers had reported as ex-

tremely perilous.

Johnson assembled a party of "Royal Americans" and Indian

scouts, "140 on board of 13 Battoes & Canoes," with stores for

the garrison at Detroit and gifts ordered by General Amherst for

the western Indians. He chose the northern shore of Lake Erie

for the outward trip and included in his diary references to the

various camping and carrying places thereon, such as one at "the

Grand river," another near "the Grand Point" (Long Point?)

and one at "Point a Pain" (Pointe aux Pins). On "Wednesday

2d" (September) his party arrived at "the entrance of the River

Detroit," and on the following day Johnson was welcomed in

Detroit by "the officers of the garrison with those of Gage's Light

Infantry," who conducted him to his "quarters, which is the house

of the late commandant Mr. Belestre, the best in the place."

He treated as satisfactorily as he could with delegations from

important tribes of the western Indians--Shawnees, Delawares,

Wyandots, Chippewas, Ottawas and Hurons, but says, "I am

greatly distressed for the want of provisions for the Indians,

having received none from Fort Pitt as I expected; wherefore

am obliged, at a very great expense, to purchase cattle and what I

can get here," saying further that "on examining the goods in-

tended for the present many are found to be rotten and ruined

by badness of the boats, for want of a sufficient number of oil

cloths, &c.; so that I shall be obliged to replace them, and add




more goods to the present, the number of Indians being very

great." He was much concerned because the Ottawas "received

nothing at Detroit," and while he was later in Sandusky he

dispatched by "Mr. Croghan . . . what goods [he had] for about

thirty Tawas," doubtless hoping that he might fully conciliate

the Ottawa chief Pontiac.

He began his return journey on September 19 by the southern

shore of the lake and on the next day "crossed a great bay to

Cedar Point . . . the largest or deepest bay [he had] seen." He

records that "the end of the lake, near the Miami [Maumee]

river is about five leagues across," that he "encamped on Cedar

Point, where [he] cut some cedar sticks to bring home," and that

"it is about twenty-four miles from here to the camping place of

Sandusky, which is a mile and a half across; from thence six

miles to the Indian village."

He camped "at the carrying-place of Sandusky" on the fol-

lowing night and in the morning sent [his] boats round the point,

and ordered them encamped at the east side of the entrance of

Lake Sandusky into Lake Erie, which is about a mile across--

there to wait [his] coming." Then, he says, "I crossed the carry-

ing-place which is almost opposite one of the Wyandot towns,

about six miles across the lake here. I sent Mr. Croghan to the

Indian town, and went down the lake in a little birch canoe to the

place where the block house is to be built by Mr. Meyer. This

place is about three leagues from the mouth of Lake Sandusky,

where it disembogues itself into Lake Erie. They have a view

of all boats which may pass or come in from said post. It is about

three miles from another village of Hurons, and fifteen by water

from the one opposite to the carrying-place, and nine by land.

The Pennsylvania road comes to this post. This is one hundred

and seventy miles from Presque Isle, and forty from Detroit."

That Johnson was fully aware of the strategic value of this

Sandusky post is emphasized by Stone who says, "On his return

Sir William halted a day at Sandusky to examine the proposed

site for the block house; and as there was a direct road from this

place to Presque Isle, Mr. Croghan was dispatched to Colonel




Bouquet with instructions for the traders at Fort Pitt." But that

Johnson realized the hazards in the way of placing a fort there is

plain from a letter of his to General Amherst during his stay in

Niagara on the way out to Detroit. He wrote, "I am also ap-

prehensive, the erecting a fort at Sandusky will likewise alarm

them [the Indians]; and I could wish that I had time enough at

Detroit to reconcile them to our establishing ourselves there, which

otherwise will give great disgust to the nations of the Ottawa


The British fort of 1761 was evidently built on the site de-

scribed by Johnson, which seems to have been in the vicinity of

the present village of Venice. H. L. Peeke, president of the Fire-

lands Historical Society, explaining that Major Frederick Falley.

a fifer in his father's company during the battle of Bunker Hill,

had bought in 1811 the township west of Sandusky city, made this

comment in his Centennial History of Erie County, Ohio (1925):

"A fort was discovered near Venice by Major Falley, overgrown

with underbrush and timber, but showing a double entrenchment.

It has since been completely obliterated by cultivation, and now

no trace of it can be found" (Vol. II, p. 725). Johnson's fear was

justified, since this was probably the fort burned by Pontiac's

men in 1763.

Johnson continued his journey eastward, camping "at a

river within fifteen miles of Sandusky Lake" where he shot "a

fine buck" which he had seen driven into the lake by three wolves,

and then proceeded onward "nearly forty miles" along "very

bad banks, indeed, of rock and some places clay" where the party

camped on a beach "near to Cayahoga." This reference to Cuya-

hoga is relied upon by Stone to indicate that when Major Rogers

reported that he was met by Pontiac at "Chogage" he probably

meant Sheawga--now known as the Grand River--and not the

Cuyahoga as Hatcher and others have assumed.  (cf. Hatcher,

Lake Erie, p. 47).

Sir William completed his circuit of Lake Erie on October

4, was detained by illness for ten days at Fort Niagara, proceeded

by way of Oswego and Fort Schuyler and reached Fort Johnson




on October 30 when he entered in his journal of the trip this con-

cluding record: "Fine morning, but smart white frost. Set off

at 8 o'clock . . . and arrived at my house about half after seven

at night, where I found all my family well; so ended my tour--

Gloria Deo Soli."