In 1763, after nine years of the French and Indian War, King George III issued a proclamation ordering that the American colonies respect a boundary with the Native Americans that would run along the Eastern Continental Divide. This angered many Americans who fought for the Crown with the promise that they would be granted land in the previously French territory.
Seven years later, after the Treaties of Fort Stanwix, Hard Labour, and Lochaber, those promises were finally fulfilled. Those treaties, between the Americans, Iroquois, and Cherokee, set the western boundary of the colonies at the Ohio River. With this new development, the Virginian government ordered a certain colonel and surveyor to lead an expedition into those new lands to find a suitable region for the land grants. That man was none other than George Washington.
On Oct. 5, 1770, Washington set out from Mount Vernon with his personal doctor, Dr. James Craik, and three servants. From there, they traveled through Leesburg (VA), Charles Town (WV, where they visited Washington’s brother, Samuel), Romney (WV), Cumberland (MD), Connellsville (PA), and Pittsburgh (PA). Along the way, they met with Valentine Crawford, another surveyor and friend of Washington, who joined them on their expedition. At Pittsburgh, they met with Iroquois chieftains and Colonel George Croghan, another friend of Washington’s and one of the largest landowners in Pennsylvania.
They set out from Pittsburgh on the 20th of October with the expedition now consisting of Washington, Craik, Crawford, Croghan, John Nicholson (an interpreter), Robert Bell, William Harrison, Charles Morgan, Daniel Rendon, a Lt. Hamilton, a Mr. Magee, and couple servants, and a few Native Americans as guides.
They continued downriver, surveying land as they went and observing the local wildlife, until the 28th of October. At that date, near the mouth of Indian Run in northeastern Meigs County, they encountered Kiashuta, another Iroquois chief who Washington knew from his time in the French and Indian War. On the 30th, they entered the “Great Bend,” and passed through Letart Falls, which at that time was still a series of dangerous rapids. Washington was evidently in a hurry to reach the Kanawha Valley, for a day later they arrived at Old Town Creek. Here, they left the river and traveled overland to Crooked Creek, camping near what became known as Washington Spring. For the next three days, they traveled 15 miles up the Kanawha River, back to the Point, and then north to Old Town Creek.
Continuing upriver, Washington heaps praise upon the land now a part of our county. He identifies three major bottoms, stretching from Point Pleasant to Lakin, Mason to Hartford, and New Haven to Letart. In between the first two, in what is now West Columbia, Washington also mentions “a hill which the Indian say is always a fire.” On the 4th of November, he camps at the mouth of a creek in the 3rd section of bottomland, which is likely Broad Run Creek. From here, the expedition continues upriver to Pittsburgh, then back to Mount Vernon via Winchester, VA, reaching home on Dec. 1, 1770.
While in Mason County, Washington encamped at Broad Run Creek, Old Town Creek, Washington’s Spring, and in the vicinity of Southside. He mentioned various curiosities such as the burning hill in West Columbia, the great blue heron (which he had never seen before), and the large numbers of buffalo in the valley. Ten years later, these lands were granted to officers from the Virginia Regiment, all of whom were close friends to Washington. Among them were Andrew Lewis, Peter Hogg, Adam Stephens, Andrew Waggener, John Polson, and George Muse.
Information from the Journal of George Washington. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be the week of Nov. 20th. The exact date and time will be listed in the Register as soon as possible.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.