"Waterways of Westward Expansion - The Ohio River and its Tributaries" by Archer Butler Hulbert. Published by Good Press. Good Press publishes a wide range of titles that encompasses every genre. From well-known classics & literary fiction and non-fiction to forgotten−or yet undiscovered gems−of world literature, we issue the books that need to be read. Each Good Press edition has been meticulously edited and formatted to boost readability for all e-readers and devices. Our goal is to produce eBooks that are user-friendly and accessible to everyone in a high-quality digital format.
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In the study of Waterways of Westward Expansion, the Ohio River—the “Gateway of the West”—occupies such a commanding position that it must be considered most important and most typical. Such is its situation in our geography and history that it is entitled to a most prominent place among Historic Highways of America which greatly influenced the early westward extension of the borders and the people of the United States. Not until a late period in the expansion era—the day of steam navigation—did the Great Lakes rise to importance as highways of immigration, and south of the Ohio River Basin there was no westward waterway of importance. The day of the keel-boat and barge was of moment in the broadening of the American sphere of influence on this continent, and nowhere is the study of these ancient craft made to so good advantage as on the Ohio and its tributaries.
This monograph is devoted, therefore, to the part played by this waterway as a road into the West. The two introductory chapters, concerning Céloron and the first occupation of the Old Northwest, added to previous volumes of this series (iii, iv, v, and vi), complete the legendary and historical setting necessary for a proper view of the Ohio in the first momentous years of the nineteenth century. The occupation and filling of the southern shores of the Ohio was the story of Volume VI; the story of the filling of the northern shore is outlined in the second chapter of this book. With the position of the first colonies and settlements in the great valley well comprehended, and a conception of the origin of the different colonies and their varied types, the next logical step in our study is the rise of the river trade and its evolution.
It is hardly necessary to point out to any reader of these volumes that the Ohio River was the highway upon which all of the great early continental routes focused. Washington’s Road, Braddock’s Road, Forbes’s Road, and Boone’s Road—like the Indian and buffalo trails they followed—had their goal on the shores of this strategic waterway. The westward movement was by river valleys (a fact perhaps never sufficiently emphasized) and not until the Tennessee, Monongahela, Kanawha, and Kentucky Rivers were reached were any waters found to run parallel with the social movement itself.
When this goal of half a century was reached, then followed a half century of river travel that is being forgotten with remarkable rapidity. This cannot be realized until one marks out for himself the task, for instance, of learning how a keel-boat was made and how it was operated. The echo of the steersman’s voice and the tuneful note of the bargeman’s horn have faded from our valleys; and with this music has passed away a chapter of our history of vital importance and transcendant human interest.
For the sum and substance of Chapter III, the author is indebted, as the title indicates, to the painstaking labor of one Zadoc Cramer, a statistical hero of a time when a man who could “earn his salt” was making a good day’s wage, and when it seemed likely that Pittsburg might become one of the principal cities of the West.
A. B. H.
Marietta, Ohio, July 23, 1903.
The Ohio River is a greater and more important stream than is generally realized. It drains a vast and rich territory; its northern source is in latitude 42° 20´, while its mouth, thirteen hundred miles away, is in latitude 37° north. Its eastern tributaries are in longitude 78°, while its outlet is in longitude 89° 20´. It thus comprises 5° 2´ of latitude and 11° 20´ of longitude. The Ohio drains a greater area than the Mississippi above the mouth of the Missouri; nearly one quarter of the waters which flow into the Gulf of Mexico come from it. The lower Mississippi and Missouri, only, drain more territory than the Ohio; but the downfall of rain in the Missouri drainage is not so great in actual water supply as that which falls within the 214,000 square miles drained by the Ohio. Moreover, in the district drained by the two heads of the Ohio, the Allegheny and the Monongahela (20,000 square miles), it has been estimated that the ratio of discharge to downfall is much greater than on any of the tributaries of the Mississippi. In 1868, 1,342,605,725,800 cubic feet of water passed Pittsburg, and in 1869, 1,634,846,499,200 cubic feet. At the same time the annual downfall of rain in the entire Ohio drainage was twenty and one-half trillion cubic feet, while the discharge of the Ohio into the Mississippi at Cairo was five trillion cubic feet. The ratio of discharge to downfall therefore was 0.24.
These estimates, which undoubtedly approximate the truth, are of moment to our study. Nature cast, with a lavish hand, her waters where they would count tremendously in the opening of this continent: for the waters that fell here flowed into the West and the social movement was to be westward. The Ohio, more than any river, was to influence the flood-tides of immigration. The provision of water was, comparatively, abundant; that was the first necessity. A large proportion of the water that fell flowed away; that was the second necessity. It flowed approximately west; that was the third necessity. Thus it is that this river, of all rivers, has a place among the Historic Highways of America which were controlling forces in the early days of our national expansion westward.
There are various theories concerning the name Ohio, the most popular and generally acceptable being that Ohio was the English way of spelling and pronouncing the name Oyo, “beautiful” which the Indians had given to the river. The French, who usually translated Indian names, called the Ohio River La Belle Rivière. Later came the English, and the Iroquois name Oyo was Anglicized to Ohio, the modern name of the river. This makes a very satisfactory explanation of La Belle Rivière, were it not that the Reverend John Heckewelder affirmed that the French name Belle Rivière was not a translation from the Indian, since there was no such Indian word meaning “beautiful.” Mr. Heckewelder felt dissatisfied with the theory that Ohio meant “beautiful,” and while yet associated with the Indians and familiar with their language, made a study of their names for the Ohio River with interesting and enlightening results. In tracing the derivation of the word Ohio he shows that, in the Miamis language, O’hui or Ohi, when prefixed, meant “very,” while Ohiopeek meant “very white” (caused by froth or white caps) and Ohiopeekhanne meant “the white foaming river.” He further states: “The Ohio river being in many places wide and deep and so gentle that for many miles, in some places, no current is perceivable, the least wind blowing up the river covers the surface with what the people of that country call ‘white caps;’ and I have myself witnessed that for days together, this has been the case, caused by southwesterly winds (which by the by are the prevailing winds in that country) so that we, navigating the canoes, durst not venture to proceed, as these white caps would have filled, and sunk our canoe in an instant. Now, in all such cases, when the river could not be navigated with canoes, nor even crossed with this kind of craft—when the whole surface of the water presented white foaming swells, the Indians would, as the case was at the time, say, ‘juh Ohiopiechen, Ohiopeek Ohiopeekhanne;’ and when they supposed the water very deep they would say, ‘kitschi Ohiopeekhanne,’ which means, ‘verily this is a deep white river.’ ”
The traders who penetrated the Indian country were commonly careless of the pronunciation of names; any word which bore a fragment of similarity to the true name was satisfactory. There is, however, great excuse for this, as it was impossible for white men to acquire the “Indian ear” and pronounce the gutturals of the Indian language. Thus the abridgement of many words was carried to such an extent that nothing significant of the original Indian name remains. The newcomer learned of his predecessor and the “nick-names” were adopted and handed down leaving the true names to pass out of memory and existence. For instance Pittsburg was commonly called “Pitt” by the traders; Youghiogheny, “Yough;” Hockhocking, “Hocken.” Our word Lehigh has no signification but was shortened from the original Indian name Leehauhanne. In this same manner, the traders adopted the first syllables of the word Ohiopeekhanne, thus obtaining an easier name to pronounce and remember.
The Reverend Mr. Heckewelder is probably the best authority on Indian names and customs, so that, presumably, his version of the derivation and meaning of the name Ohio is the most authentic; but, the question remains, why should the French have called it La Belle Rivière? One cannot pass, however, without noting that in the Onondaga language there was a word ojoneri—the j being pronounced like our y. The Reverend David Zeisberger, who compiled a copious dictionary of the Onondaga language, asserted that ojoneri meant “beautiful” but in an adverbial sense, describing the manner in which something is done—synonymous with our word well. If the French translated an Indian name La Belle Rivière, it was the first syllables of this word, ojoneri, that they translated—about as correctly as Washington translated Illinois when he first heard it “Black Island” (Île Noire) or Lieutenant-governor Hamilton of Detroit translated Rivière d’Anguille (Eel River, as the Indians called it) as if it were Rivière d’Anglais.
It is believed that the famous La Salle was the discoverer of the Ohio; three years of his life are unaccounted for at a moment when, as Fate would have it, we would like most to know where the brave explorer went. Suddenly we lose sight of La Salle near Niagara—searching earnestly for a great western river. Where he went we do not know but there is evidence that he came to what the French later knew as La Belle Rivière and descended it to “the Falls,” or Louisville, Kentucky, about 1670.
The earliest actual description of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers is contained in the narratives of two men who came to the Ohio about the middle of the eighteenth century. Here we find the earliest authentic experience of travelers on this great water highway. This first glimpse of the Allegheny and Ohio is alluring in its suggestiveness; there is so much to be noted, between the lines. No story of the Ohio can be written without presenting the faintly filled-in pictures of Céloron and Bonnécamps: of the rugged hills, the rapid waters, the humorous scattering of the Loups and Renards; the solemn proclamations “in a loud voice” of sovereignty; the flotilla of canoes sweeping around the hill and out of sight. But almost all of this is left to the imagination; lacking this, the story is but a meaningless record of landings and departures, harangues and horrors. To every reader the story must appear differently, but to all it must be a first glimpse of the primeval Ohio.
Click here for larger image sizeBonnécamps’s Map of the Ohio River (1749)
On the afternoon of the fifteenth day of June in the year 1749 a gallant company of French, with savage allies, under the direction of Monsieur Céloron de Bienville, embarked on the St. Lawrence in twenty-three canoes at La Chine near Montreal. Progress was slow for, in addition to the passengers, provisions, and camp necessities, the weight of a number of leaden plates caused the canoes to glide deeply in the clear waters. It is to the journals of Céloron and Father Bonnécamps, both of which are preserved in the archives of the Department of the Marine, in Paris, that we owe our knowledge of this first recorded voyage down La Belle Rivière, and with this expedition of 1749 begins the authentic history of the Ohio River.
Céloron and his detachment, with M. de Contrecœur as captain, proceeded up the St. Lawrence and into the lakes. After coasting the southern shore of Lake Erie, he arrived at the Chautauqua portage—now known as Barcelona or Portland—on the sixteenth of July; and with the dawn of the following day began the ascent of Chautauqua Creek, called by the French Rivière aux Pommes. Much patience and labor was expended on this unnavigable stream, and it was not until the twenty-second of the following month that the band entered Chautauqua Lake, having spent six days of this time in toiling over the six-mile portage which connects Chautauqua Creek with the lake. Céloron now voyaged down the lake and on the morning of the twenty-fourth of July entered Conewango Creek. The water was low and, borrowing the words of Céloron: “On the 29th at noon I entered ‘la Belle Rivière’ I buried a plate of lead at the foot of a red oak on the south bank of the river Oyo and of the Chauougon, not far from the village of Kanaouagon, in latitude 42° 5´ 23´´.” Of this same occasion Father Bonnécamps wrote: “Finally, overcome with weariness, and almost despairing of seeing the Beautiful River, we entered it on the 29th at noon. Monsieur de Céloron buried a plate of lead on the south bank of the Ohio; and, farther down, he attached the royal coat of arms to a tree. After these operations, we encamped opposite a little Iroquois village, of 12 or 13 cabins; it is called Kananouangon.
It is an ancient custom of the French people to assert claim to lands in their possession by burying leaden plates at the mouths of all streams that drain that territory. When Céloron started upon his memorable journey he carried with him six leaden plates. These plates were about eleven inches long, seven and a half inches wide, and one-eighth of an inch thick. Each was engraved with an appropriate inscription, leaving a blank space for date and name of place of deposit at the mouths of the various streams. A Procès Verbal, similar in nature to the inscription on the plate, was drawn up and signed by the officers present. To the nearest tree was tacked a plate of sheet-iron stamped with the royal arms. The officers and men of the expedition were drawn up in battle array and the chief in command shouted “Vive le Roi,” declaring possession in the name of the King of France. La Salle established this custom on this continent in the latter part of the seventeenth century and now this chevalier of the order of St. Louis penetrates the half-known Central West to make good the precedent established fifty years and more ago.
Although the treaty of Aix la Chapelle ended a tedious war in Europe, many points of controversy remained unsettled in the New World. At the conclusion of the war, England lost no time in taking measures to occupy the disputed territory. The Ohio Company was formed and the crown granted half a million acres to this association on the condition that settlements protected by forts be made upon the granted lands. These demonstrations on the part of their rivals had aroused the French to action. The Marquis de la Galissonière, Governor of Canada, dispatched Céloron and his company with orders to descend La Belle Rivière and take possession of all the territory drained by it and its tributaries, in the name of the King of France. In order to reach the field of action he has come a forty-four days’ journey filled with bitter lessons. Today his first leaden plate has been buried, and tonight his weary “soldiers” have, for the first time, pitched their camp on the bank of the river in question. The first act of the real mission he has come to perform took place this afternoon with the interment of the plate—but that is only one of six! They rest in disputed territory and already has Céloron sent his right-hand man, M. de Joncaire, on to La Paille Coupée, to reassure the suspicious savages.
On the thirtieth the expedition moved on to Paille Coupée. Here a council was conducted by Joncaire whom the Indians addressed as “our child Joncaire.” He had previously been adopted by the Indians and consequently had a great influence over them. The “speech” of the Marquis de la Galissonière, brought and presented by Céloron to the Iroquois, is especially interesting and to the point, as it plainly shows the French attitude with reference to the English:
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