Ohio

Thomas Ashe Visits the French Grant

“On leaving the Great Kenhaway, I descended without interruption or stop twenty miles, when I made fast to the right hand shore, immediately opposite Little Sandy Creek.”

“I brought too for the purpose of enquiring into the situation of the French families who abandoned Galliopolis in consequence of the imposition practised on them by the vender of the lands, and the ill health they enjoyed while on them. Opposite to the creek I have mentioned, and the place I landed, is a tract of land twenty thousand acres, extending eight miles on the river, granted by Congress to these unfortunate settlers, as some indemnification for the losses and injuries they had sustained; and four thousand acres adjoining, granted M. Gervais, one of the principals, for the same purpose. On this latter tract, I understand, M. Gervais laid out a town names Burrsburgh, but it yet has to get an habitation and an inhabitant. “

“I found the settlers in something better health than Galliopolis. They dwell altogether along the river bank. They pursue a mean system of agriculture. Their best exertion only extends to a few acres of Indian corn and garden-stuff to meet their rigid necessities. They appear to have no idea of farming, or to think, what I conceive perfectly just, that the price of produce is too contemptible to yield an equivalent for the labor and health necessarily wasted in bringing it to growth and maturity. The management of peach orchards suits their talents and habits, and these they bring to profit and perfection. There are here two peach distilleries at work, that vent about 3000 gallons of peach brandy, the amount of which furnishes the settlement with coffee, snuff, knives, tin ware, and other small articles in demand among French emigrants.”

“I found the women constantly occupied in making an excellent strong cotton cloth, blue for the men, and party-coloured for themselves and children. I took a walk down the entire settlement, and was much pleased with the simple and primitive manner of its residents. The day is passed in the coarser industry, the evening sitting in the house, or under the most adjacent shade, the women spinning, sewing, and knitting, then men making and repairing their nets, gins, traps, and the children playing around, and instructing their pet animals. They blue jay arrived at the art of speaking better than any other bird I perceived among them; the paroquet also excelled in speaking; and the summer duck exceeded any thing I ever saw in point of plumage and colour. At one habitation were two beautiful deer – one as white as snow, and the other spotted like a leopard. They had each a collar and bell around the neck – went with the cows to pasture in the day time, and returned at the sound of a conch shell to the protection of the house for the night. I considered them such singularly interesting creatures, that I made a proposition to purchase them, but was turned from the intention by the clamour and lamentations of the young people, who would by no means consent to part with their Julie and Eveline.”

“Raccoons and opossums were common, and as tame as any animals could be. The opossums were not entertained on a mere principal of curiosity and please; they were kept for utility. They bred with great regularity, and were esteemed better eating than a roasting pig – of whose flavour and qualities they strongly partake. I also took notice of a small aboriginal animal, called the Ground or Indian Hog – whose sensibilities are so little refined, that no attention or caresses, can ever force from it a reciprocity of manners, or make it refrain from snapping at the hand extended with its daily food. I was very much alarms on approaching a a house, at the door of which a large bear-cub was hugging a child between his paws, and rolling and tumbling with it on the ground. The mother perceiving my apprehensions, exclaimed, “O! Monsieur, ne craignez rien, ils sont bons amis.”2

“It was sun set when I returned to my boat. I found a number of persons directly on the bank above it, assembled to converse with my man and Cuff. The manners of the French towards the Indians, form a complete contrast to those of the Americans. The French are sociable and friendly to them, the Americans are rude, distant and austere. In consequence, the Indians carry on a profitable intercourse with the one, while the studiously avoid, and manifest contempt for the other. The French never receive any injury or outrage from wandering tribes, while the Americans stand in perpetual anxiety, if the Indians hunters are known to be within fifty miles of them. The French comprehending, from the manner I addressed them, that I was not displeased with their appearance about the boat, proposed with all imaginable gaieté de cœur, to sup on the ground, and have a little dance. I entered into their views with a vivacity which shewed them that I tool an interest in their pleasures, and I furnished my portion of the intended fete in buiscuit, which was of the highest estimation, as the settlement had been for several months without flour-bread. The neighboring houses soon provided their quota of milk, cheese, fruit, and various, viandes, and three youths with a flute and two violins, were prepared to strike up after the rural repast. Never was supper more cheerful, never was society so strange a melange seated on the banks of the La Belle Rivere. Old Frenchmen, lively as youth, in large crimson caps; their wives still more animated, dressed in the obsolete times of Louis XIVth – the youth of both sexes habited suivant l’usage du pays and mirthful, as if “fortune smiled upon their birth,” formed the great outlines of the picture, while numbers of the domesticated animals I have mentioned followed their masters, and seemed “to crave their humble dole.” Some without apprehension or restraint, came into the circle, while others maintained a cautious distance, and feared to commit themselves to the confidence of man.”

“Supper over, and the remains carried off, dancing commenced. Old and young at first joined with the utmost demonstrations of felicity and mirth, at length the aged and infirm sat down, while the youth danced cotillions for at least two hours. The dancing was highly graceful, and in as perfect tune and step as the performers had been the disciples of Vestris. Our festive scene was closed by the a performance of Cuff’s -he gave us in grand stile a war, funeral, and marriage dance, which the French had the complaisance to applaud, though the words, “quel horreur! quelle abomination! Sacre Dieu! le Sauvage!” were tittered from every mouth. At twelve o’clock we separated, and with as many adieus and souvenez vous de moi as if our intimacy had been for years, and our future friendship to be eternal.”

“I left the settlement the following morning, much pleased with my visit, and the improved opinion it allowed me to entertain of a people whim I had to commiserate, from the accounts I heard of them at Gallipolis. I sincerely hope that the place may become healthy in time, and admit to their original views some small degree of realization and success”3

  1. By William E. Peters – Peters, William E. (1918) Ohio Lands and Their Subdivisions, W.E. Peters, p. 177 }, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11165743
  2. O! Sir, fear not, they are good friends.
  3. Ashe, T. (1808). Letter XIX. In Travels in America, performed in 1806, for the purpose of exploring the rivers Alleghany, Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi, and ascertaining the produce and condition of their banks and vicinity (pp. 175-178). London: Blunt.
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