TIP #1136 – A SERIES ON KENTUCKY HISTORY – PART 2
Kentucky in the Long Ago by Mrs. W. T. Lafferty
Ohio Rivere Was Called Ohezhu, Oheyo, Oyo, Belle Riviere
Fleets of Flatboats, Containing Settlers, Came Down River Route To Kentucky
The most important route into the great West, is known to history as the River Route.
In the beginning England claimed the eastern part of this continent even beyond the Hudson Bay. Spain controlled the Mississippi at its mouth and both England and France claimed the Mississippi Basin, England through the discoveries of Cabot, France through the explorations of La Salle.
The thirteen colonies were hemmed in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Alleghany mountains. Beyond the mountain wall was a Mystery Land, the condition and extent of which no mortal mind conceived. Both nations were alert to find a way to possess it.
The beautiful Ohio River was the alluring avenue provided by Nature to open up this county. No river in history has had a greater human interest. Flowing to the westward, it pursued its way in spite of obstacles, and like a siren, beckoned men of all sorts and conditions to follow its course.
Painted savages in undisturbed possession had crept silently through the dark forests that fringed it and climbing into their birch canoes, had crossed it and paddled up its numerous tributaries into the heart of Kentucky, which was their Happy Hunting Ground.
They went into raptures over its beauty and each nation had a name for it which meant beautiful.
The Wyandotts called it Ohezhu.
The Mohawks called it Oheyo.
The Oneidas called it Ohe.
The Iroquois called it Oyo.
The first white men who followed the Indians in order to barter gaudy calicoes, whistles, jews harps, combs, knives and looking glasses for their discarded pelts, were French fur traders and they also expressed their admiration for its beauty by calling it La Belle Riviere.
The English anglicized the Indian names and called it the Ohio.
France and England struggled for a century to get control of the Ohio Country and the fur trade.
After the Treaty of Ais la Chapelle, a royal grant of 500,000 acres of land on both sides of the Ohio was made to the Ohio Land Company on condition that 100 families would settle on it within seven years. Christopher Gist was sent to select the lands and England made her plans to occupy the disputed territory.
France as a counter move, sent Celerin de Blenville from Canada to strengthen her claim to the territory, with a captain, eight subaltern officers, six cadets, an armorer, a chaplain, one hundred and eight Canadians and thirty Indians. The expedition set out from Montreal in twenty-three canoes, bearing a strange mysterious chest. They paddled up the St. Lawrence through Lake Erie, and by portage reached the Ohio, down which they floated, stopping where certain rivers flowed into it. Celeron with great pomp and ceremony, removed a leaden tablet, 7x11 inches from the mysterious chest and buried it in the mouth of the river. Then he shouted in a loud voice, “vive de Roi” and affixed the royal arms of Louise XV of France on the nearest tree. Thus France took possession of the rivers and the land drained by them, according to the ancient custom already established in America by LaSalle, when he took possession of the Mississippi in the name of his Bourbon King.
After the sixth and last tablet had been buried at the mouth of the Miami River and the Indians had been propitiated, Celeron’s expedition took its departure for Canada. But scarcely were they out of sight before the Indians began digging up their precious tablets which they carried to their English allies who disregarded the pretentions of France and continued their traffic in furs.
Down this “shining aisle through a fair green world,” came thousands of settlers who founded homes in the strange lands on the “Western Waters.”
The River Route was easier but far more dangerous than the overland route. No words can picture the pitiable plight of a cargo of immigrants on a rude drifting craft, helpless on the bosom of the Ohio, under the murderous fire of Indians along the banks. They watched every boat that passed and destroyed boat after boat load of people, whose names have never been recorded.
Yet so dominant was the spirit of Western expansion that the eager people came in spite of dangers almost insurmountable, and during the year 1786, more than 20,000 land-hungry settlers floated down the Ohio, bringing 8,000 horses, 2,500 cows and 1,000 sheep.
The Kentucky flat boats were built at Redstone by tens of thousands for the journey to the “Western Waters” and cost around $35.00 apiece. These were loaded with great care, so as to balance perfectly. The powder, dishes, food, furniture and farming implements were stowed away under the bunks. One end of the boat was roofed over and fitted with cooking utensils and living quarters for the family. The other end was planked off for the fowls and livestock. The average family boat often carried three generations, the sturdy young settlers, their aged parents and their little tow-headed children. All of these were dependent for good upon the family cow which was tied to a stake in the middle of the boat, ready to serve meals at all hours. The clumsy craft was steered by a long sweep and when the travelers reached their destination, and improvident ones turned their boats adrift in the stream where they soon capsized and clogged the channel of the river. Because of this custom, the Kentucky flat board has been called “the boat that never came back.” Wiser pioneers learned to break up their flat boats at the journey’s end and use the wide flat boards to build their cabin homes on the forest clad hills of Kentucky.
Go to google.com, then to images and enter Kentucky Flatboat. The 12th picture down (on my search) will show several drawings/pictures of the flatboat used by settlers crossing the Ohio.
Next week: Pioneer Women Worked Hard To Keep Wardrobe In Shape.