Today, the Ohio State Quarter Coin remembers Christopher Gist’s arrival at the mouth of the Scioto River 265 years ago.
In Scioto Sketches, An Account of Discovery and Settlement of Scioto County, Ohio, printed in 1920, Henry Towne Bannon included information about the occasion and excerpts from Gist’s journal.
In September, 1750, Christopher Gist was sent by The Ohio Company “to search out and discover lands upon the River Ohio, and other adjoining branches of the Mississippi down as low as the great falls thereof.”
He was especially instructed to “take an exact account of the soil, quality and product of the land.”
Gist kept a journal in which were recorded his observations and the course of his travels.
He arrived at the mouth of the Scioto River on Tuesday, January 29, 1751.
George Croghan and Andrew Montour accompanied him.
Gist’s description of what he saw at this place is as follows:
“Set out to the mouth of Sciodoe Creek opposite to the Shannoah Town. Here we fired our guns to alarm the traders, who soon answered, and came and ferried us over to the town.
“The land about the mouth of Sciodoe Creek is rich but broken fine bottoms upon the river and creek. The Shannoah Town is situate upon both sides the River Ohio, just below the mouth of Sciodoe Creek, and contains about 300 men.
“There are about 40 houses on the south side of the river and about 100 on the north side with a kind of State-House of about 90 feet long, with a light cover of bark in which they hold their Councils.
“The Shanaws are not a part of the Six Nations, but were formerly at Variance with them, tho now reconciled : they are great Friends to the English who once protected them from the Fury of the six Nations, which they gratefully remember.”
Here Gist remained until February twelfth. During his stay, there were several councils with the Indians at which Croghan made speeches. The Indian chief replied, expressing the hope, “that the friendship now subsisting between us and our brothers will last as long as the sun shines, or the moon gives light.”
Gist describes, in an appendix to his journal, a curious festival, witnessed by him, at the Scioto at which all the Indians’ marriages were dissolved and new alliances made.
“While I was here,” reads the journal, “the Indians had a very extraordinary festival, at which I was present, and which I have exactly described at the end of my journal.”
The festival was so unusual that it may be well to give Gist’s description of it:
“In the evening a proper officer made a public proclamation, that all the Indians marriages were dissolved, and a public feast was to be held for the three succeeding days after, in which the women (as their custom was) were again to choose their husbands.
“The next morning the Indians breakfasted, and after spent the day in dancing, till the evening, when a plentiful feast was prepared; after feasting, they spent the night in dancing.
“The same way they passed the two next days till the evening, the men dancing by themselves, and then the women in turns round fires, and dancing in their manner in the form of the figure eight, about sixty or seventy of them at a time.
“The women, the whole time they danced, singing a song in their language, the chorus of which was:
“I am not afraid of my husband; “I will choose what man I please.
“Singing those lines alternately.
“The third day, in the evening, the men, being about one hundred in number, danced in a long string, following one another, sometimes at length, at other times in a figure of eight quite round the fort, and in and out of the long house, where they held their councils, the women standing together as the men danced by them.
“And as any of the women liked a man passing by, she stepped in, and joined in the dance, taking hold of the man’s stroud, whom she chose, and then continued in the dance, till the rest of the women stepped in, and made their choice in the same manner; after which the dance ended.”’
While the Indians took kindly to the white traders, they were exceedingly hostile toward those white men who came into their country to form settlements.
It is important to note that Gist found traders at this village, in spite of the fact that the Celoron expedition had ordered all traders to depart.
Such warnings were received by traders with indifference.
In another book, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, published in 1904, Reuben Gold Thwaites provided background information.
Christopher Gist was of English descent, and a native of Maryland. In early life he removed to the frontiers of North Carolina, where he became so expert in surveying and woodcraft, that he was employed for two successive years by the Ohio Company in inspecting and surveying the Western country.
It was on his first journey (1750-51) that he encountered Croghan, when they travelled together to Pickawillany (the Twigtwee town), and Gist continued via the Scioto River and the Kentucky country back to Virginia.
On the second journey (1751-52), he explored the West Virginia region.
His most noted adventure was accompanying Major George Washington in the autumn of 1753 to the French forts in Northwest Pennsylvania.
Earlier in the same year, Gist had made a settlement near Mount Braddock, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and under the auspices of the Ohio Company was enlisting settlers for the region.
Eleven came out in the spring of 1754, and a Stockade fort was begun.
This was utilized during Washington’s campaign, but burned by the French after the defeat at Great Meadows.
Gist later petitioned the Virginia House of Burgesses for indemnity, but his request was rejected.
Both Gist and his son served with Braddock as scouts, and after his defeat, raised a company of militia to protect the frontiers.
After serving for a time as deputy Indian agent for the Southern Indians, he died in 1759, either in South Carolina or Georgia.
The Ohio State Quarter Coin shows with an early map of the western parts of the province of Pennsylvania, Virginia, etc., including the Ohio River Valley, circa 1753.