Ohio History Journal


Editorialana.                      493



The relation of the Ohio country and its pre-state pioneers to the

events of the American Revolution has not yet been properly portrayed.

Until recently leading historians have either ignored it altogether or

slightingly treated it. It will ere long receive due attention. Roosevelt

in "The Winning of the West," Winsor in the "Westward Movement,"

and Moore in "The Northwest Under Three Flags," have given it

more or less consideraton. During the period of the American Revolu-

tion one of the scenes of military importance and romantic interest within

the present bounds of Ohio was the site of Fort Laurens, the first fort

erected after the Declaration of Independence in the territory of the

Buckeye state to be. It will be recalled that the Autumn, Winter and

Spring of 1777-8 was the low ebb of the Colonial cause. Howe's vic-

494 Ohio Arch

494        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


tory at Brandywine gave him the possession of Philadelphia. The en-

counter at Germantown a month later added to the discomfiture and

discouragement of the American army. Washington led his defeated

and depleted troops to the banks of the Schuylkill, where they took up

their quarters amid the snow and ice of Valley Forge, only twenty miles

away from the winter station of Howe. The fate of the new nation

seemed doomed. Howe was exultantly awaiting the cheery season of

Spring before pouncing upon Washington to annihilate the latter's rag-

muffin, remnant army.   The Revolution in the East was apparently

lost by the united colonies. Then it was that the hope and effort of

liberty found a new field in the Ohio country. The scenes were shifted

to the trans-Allegheny stage. The extreme western post of the American

forces was Fort Pitt, the gateway of the Ohio valley.  The western

headquarters of the British were at Fort Detroit, commanded by

General Henry Hamilton, Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwestern

region. To him was entrusted the conduct of the war in the West

as well as the entire management of frontier affairs.  The British

authorities realized to the fullest extent the advantage and necessity

of retaining possession of this vast territory.  They carefully and

adroitly fostered the allegiance of the Indians. In the autumn of 1777,

Hamilton, called the "hair-buyer," summoned the tribesmen to a council

at Detroit and began to send into the Ohio country, bands of savages

augmented by Canadian soldiers and commanded by British officers, to

plunder and murder the American settlers. It was to be a warfare

of bloody and merciless annihilation. He offered standing rewards for

scalps, but none for prisoners, hence his title as above. His war parties

of painted warriors, infuriated with British whiskey and armed with

British weapons spared neither men, women nor children. He wrote

Lord Germain, Colonial Secretary in the British Cabinet, "next year

(1778) there will be the greatest number of savages on the frontier that

has ever been known, as the Six Nations have sent belts around to

encourage those allies who have made a general alliance," meaning the

western Indians. But Hamilton reckoned without his host. It was

in the late Spring of this year 1778-while Washington was just

emerging from Valley Forge-that the Washington of the West, George

Rogers Clark, started down the Ohio with his little band of Virginia

and Pennsylvania volunteers to enter upon that daring expedition through

the Illinois country resulting in the taking of the British posts at

Cahokia, Kaskaskia and Vincennes, and the retention of the Illinois

country by the Colonies. The second siege and capture of Vincennes

by Clark was in February, 1779, Meanwhile the frontier war was being

waged in the valleys and along the streams of the Ohio country, and

while Clark was performing his deeds of patriotism and valor on the

banks of the Wabash, stirring events were being enacted on the banks

of the Tuscarawas. The Revolution had become a western Indian war.


Editorialana.                       495


Almost the very day (July 4, 1778) that Clark made his peaceful and

picturesque entry into Kaskaskia, there was perpetrated the horrible

massacre of the Connecticut settlers in the Pennsylvania Wyoming valley

by a motley force, over a thousand strong and composed of British

soldiers, Tory volunteers and Indians-the latter seven hundred in

number from the Seneca and Mohawk tribes. Surely Hamilton's promise

to Germain was proving no idle boast.

Matters relating to the Indian situation were intensified when in

March (1778) Alexander McKee, Mathew Elliott and Simon Girty, the

latter the famous Indian interpreter and renegade, deserting the Ameri-

can cause, fled from Fort Pitt, became the active and powerful agents

of the British, and proceeded at once to arouse the war spirit of the

Ohio Indians. About the same time General Edward Hand, then com-

mandant at Fort Pitt, having been informed that the British had lodged

a quantity of army supplies at an Indian town on the Cuyahoga river,

formed a project for capturing them. With a company of some five

hundred soldiers from Fort Pitt, Hand sallied forth on his expedition.

It was a dismal failure. Two respective attacks on the supposed camps

of Indians led to the discovery that the savages had evaded him and

the expedition ended with no results other than the killing of two

or three Indain warriors and several Indian women, which fact gave

the expedition the opprobrious title of "the squaw campaign."  But

events of more pretentious extent were about to transpire. General

Hand was, in May, superseded by General Lachlin McIntosh, as Com-

mander at Fort Pitt. The same month the Continental Congress, still

assembled at York (Pa.), whither it had fled from Philadelphia on the

occupation of the latter by Howe, resolved to raise two regiments to

comprise three thousand men, to serve for one year for the protection

of the western frontier. These troops were really to form a force to

march through the Ohio country and if practicable attack and reduce

Fort Detroit. Congress voted over nine hundred thousand dollars to

defray the expenses of carrying this war into the enemy's country. The

plan was to march fifteen hundred men by way of Kanawha to Fort

Randolph, at site of Pt. Pleasant, a like number was to assemble at Fort

Pitt and drop down the Ohio to the same point, thence all united

move across the country to Detroit. Washington assisted in the perfec-

tion of these plans while still at Valley Forge. But it was one thing

for the crippled and perplexed Congress to vote men and money-quite

another thing to have the intentions executed. The Continental scrip

was well nigh worthless, as Washington put it about that time, a wagon

load of Continental paper would not buy a wagon load of provisions.

Moreover all men that could be pressed into service were needed in

the operations east and south. The proposed plan for the destruction

of Detroit had to be deferred. The commission sent by Congress to

Fort Pitt to supervise measures at that point, now proposed a treaty

496 Ohio Arch

496         Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


be held at the Fort with the Delawares, Shawanese and other Indians.

To this council no Indians came "from the wilderness across the Ohio"

but the Delawares, who were represented by White Eyes, Captain Pipe,

and John Killbuck, Jr. The Shawanese had become openly hostile to the

Colonists. The Delawares were generally friendly. General McIntosh

now built a road from Fort Pitt to the Beaver river, where just below

its mouth, on the right bank of the Ohio, he erected a post with bar-

racks and stores, to which loads could be carried by land or water.

This post was furnished with stockade and bastions and defended by

six pieces of artillery. It was the first military post erected upon the

Indian side-of the Ohio. This was early in October (1778). Soon after

this alarming intelligence was brought to General McIntosh from the

interior west. The hostile Indians in the Ohio and Illinois country were

preparing for the war-path and planning to unite in the Tuscarawas

valley. McIntosh fearless and ambitious decided to take the aggressive

and attempt again his proposed march to Fort Detroit. Early in No-

vember he set out, from his post on the Beaver, with a force of about

thirteen hundred men--his determined destination being Detroit. He

followed the route traveled by Colonel Bouquet (in 1764) and after a

toilsome march of fourteen days, reached the banks of the Tuscarawas,

some seventy miles west of Fort McIntosh. It was at this point that

the army expected to encounter the Indian forces and give them battle;

"but only a few Delawares from Coshocton and some Moravian Indians.

met them and they were friendly." It was here that McIntosh learned

that the winter supplies he had expected from the East had not reached

Fort McIntosh and hence his base of supplies was unavailing. He was

reluctantly compelled to abandon his cherished plan, of reaching and

reducing Fort Detroit.  That his expedition might not however be

entirely without accomplishment, he decided to build upon the Tusca-

rawas a strong stockade fort and leave as many men as provisions would

justify to protect it until the next Spring. Such a military post would

at least place a barrier to the further eastern encroachments of the In-

dians and would be another secure mile-stone in the westward march of

the Colonists. The site selected for this post was close to that upon

which Colonel Bouquet had erected one in his expedition fourteen years

earlier. It was on the west bank of the Tuscarawas, below the mouth

of Sandy creek, something more than a mile south of the present village

of Bolivar. The usual approach to it from Fort McIntosh was from the

mouth of Yellow creek and down the Sandy, which latter stream heads

with the former and puts off into the Tuscarawas just above the fort site.

The entire force was employed in the erection of the stockade, which

was a regular rectangular fortification, enclosing less than an acre of

land.  This, the first fort erected by Americans within the present

state boundaries, was named Fort Laurens in honor of the President of

Congress. The fort partially completed, McIntosh leaving a garrison


Editorialana.                        497


of one hundred and fifty men, a part of the 13th Virginia regiment, with

scanty supplies, under Colonel John Gibson, returned to Fort McIntosh,

where the militia under his command were discharged. The McIntosh

expedition to Detroit had ended with the erection of Fort Laurens.

This it must be remembered, was in the beginning of the winter of

1778-9, one of the severest seasons recorded for many years before or

after. The larder of the little plucky band soon ran low. Sorties of

detachments of the garrison were made for provisions, amid great perils

and privations. In one of these attempted forages under Captain Clark,

the four soldiers were killed by the stealthy enemy and in another in-

stance seventeen. Efforts to get provisions to the post from Fort Mc-

Intosh were likewise fraught with loss of life and in some instances

failed altogether. But the stockade post stood like a little Gibraltar,

far from any source of aid and beset by treacherous and almost invisible

foes. Simon Girty was employed by the authorities at Detroit to rally

and direct the hostile savages in the vicinity of Fort Laurens. The

garrison was reduced to a state of uninterrupted siege; the enemy never

ceased its vigilance; the provisions were almost entirely exhausted; a

quarter of a pound of sour flour and an equal weight of spoiled meat

was the daily allowance; the cold was intense and exit from the stock-

ade could not be made for fuel or food, the plucky soldiers suffered

from cold and hunger to the verge of life, it was a veritable Valley

Forge on the banks of the Tuscarawas.      But those were American

patriots in that fort and Colonel Gibson, through a soldier who succeeded

in stealing past the enemy's lines, sent word to McIntosh, then at

Fort Pitt, a statement of the condition of affairs, concluding with these

brave words: "You may depend on my defending the fort to the last

extremity." It was the end of March (1779). General McIntosh with

a force of five hundred men including Pennsylvania militia and Conti-

nental troops set out from Fort Pitt for the relief of Gibson. Arriving

at the fort, he found the siege abandoned and the savages gone. They

had been outstarved and outwitted by the soldiers of the invincible gar-

rison. But they were in a most deplorable condition. For nearly a

week their only sustenance had been raw hides and such roots as they

could find in the vicinity after the Indians had departed. Leaving about

a hundred men of the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment under command

of Major Frederick Vernon and a supply of food for less than two

months, General McIntosh returned to his quarters, and a few weeks

later relinquished his command of the western department; Colonel

Daniel Brodhead was named by Washington as his successor. The con-

dition of Fort Laurens early engaged the attention of Brodhead. Major

Vernon, now in charge of that post, had to undergo an experience simi-

lar to that of Colonel Gibson, save that of the intense cold. Scarcely

had he taken command when hostile Indians appeared and inaugurated

another siege. Foraging soldiers from the fort were ambuscaded. The

Vol. XVII - 32.

498 Ohio Arch

498         Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


supplies were all but exhausted. In order as far as possible, to save

the lives of the garrison soldiers many of them were ordered back to

Fort Pitt, until in the latter part of June Major Vernon's force was

reduced to twenty-five men, who for ten days lived on herbs, salt and

cow-hides. Death was staring them in the face when a detachment of

relief under Capt. Robert Beall reached the distressed garrison. The

condition of the inmates of the fort was pitiful in the extreme, many

of the men from sheer starvation were unable to stand upon their feet.

The post was relieved by seventy-five men under command of Lieutenant

Colonel Campbell. The odds were finally too great for the struggling

garrison and in August following an attack and seige by nearly two

hundred Indians, mostly Shawanese, Wyandots and Mingoes, supported

by a small detachment of British soldiers sent from Detroit, all under

command of Lieutenant Henry Bird of the British army, the fort was

evacuated by orders of Colonel Brodhead. The stockade was not de-

stroyed but was never again garrisoned. The strength of the Continental

army was now engaged in the stormy scenes east of the Allegheny

mountains, but the war of the Revolution was strenuously continued in

the Ohio country by the backwoodsmen of the Kentucky forests, the

Virginia mountains and the valleys of the Miamis and the Scioto. While

the dashing Wayne was engaged in his brilliant assault on Story Point

in this summer of 1779, Captain John Bowman, the former companion

of George Rogers Clark, was making bold inroads into the heart of

the Indian settlements in Ohio. Captain Bowman, with Captain Logan

as second in command, enrolled one hundred and sixty Kentucky volun-

teers, marched from Harrodsburg, crossed the Ohio at the mouth of

the Licking and proceeded up the Little Miami Valley to Old Chillicothe,

the Indian stronghold of the Shawanese.

The Indian town was burned and much devastation wrought in the

land of the redmen, but the expedition was compelled to return leaving

the fierce forest warriors in "no degree daunted or crippled." The ex-

pedition was not without its effect, however, for it checked in another

quarter, the movements of the British and Indians. Captain Henry Bird,

following the abandonment of Fort Laurens, had collected two hundred

Indians at the Mingo town and was about to start for Kentucky when

the news of Bowman's attack on Chillicothe reached Bird's camp.

Quickly Bird's Indians dissolved into a panic, many hastening to de-

fend their towns; some even desired to make peace with the Americans.

This meagre recital gives ample proof of the prominent part taken

by Fort Laurens in the frontier warfare of the Revolution. The details

would fill many an interesting page. Sad to chronicle, nothing remains

but its fame to mark the location of Fort Laurens. It was a bright

summer day (August 12) that the writer in company with Hon. Daniel

J. Ryan and Rev. W. H. Rice, respectively vice president and trustee

of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, made a little


Editorialana.                       499


journey to the locality of the Fort. Piloted by Prof. G. C. Maurer,

Superintendent of Schools at New Philadelphia, we were whisked from

that town in an automobile, over a road that wound around the bases

of hills and along the banks of streams some ten miles to within a short

distance of the village of Bolivar. We were cheerily greeted by Messrs.

Valentine Gibler and David Gibler, elderly bachelor brothers who own

the fine farm on which the fort once stood. The deserted bed of the

Ohio canal and the highway south of Bolivar, at this point, run nearly

parallel and only some four hundred feet apart. Back that distance

from the road, through the cultivated field, we were shown the exact

spot where the stockade walls once stood. The ground upon which the

stockade stood is now an undistinguishable portion of a level cultivated

field; the exact outline of the walls cannot be designated save by the

tenacious memory of the Giblets, who remember in their boyhood days,

the earthen elevation surmounted by parapet walls made of heavy cut

timber-walls once crowned with pickets. Evidences of the bastions

at the corners were still to be seen a few years ago. The canal cut

through the fort site. It was little less than a sacrilege to sacrifice

the fading remnants of the historic ramparts to the ruthless plow. The

members of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society will

not be content till they have made every possible effort to secure the

immediate land upon which stood the memorable little forest-made

fortress that played its part in the "brave days of old," when the

pioneer patriots to the verge of death withstood the onslaught of

the red skinned savage and the red coated Britisher.