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EXPLORATIONS

EXPLORATIONS. The map Amerique Septentrionale, published by Nicholas Sanson in 1650, not only was the first to adequately show Lake Erie but also charted the southern shore with an accuracy unmatched for more than a century. Earlier French maps, from 1612-42, not only were vague and inaccurate but also were admittedly based on reports from Indians living farther north or east. Although some French Recollet or Jesuit missionary must actually have visited the region of Cleveland prior to 1648, when and from whom Sanson obtained his information remains unknown. Iroquois warfare prevented European travel into the lower Great Lakes from 1649-54, but it appears that Pierre Esprit Radission visited northern Ohio as an Onondaga captive in the winter of 1652. For the next 20 years, numerous French explorers, including the 1669 expeditions of Joliet, Galinee, and Casson and the 1673/74 voyage of Joliet, followed the northern shore of Lake Erie. La Salle's 1679 voyage of the Griffin went eastward along Lake Erie's south shore en route to its ultimate disappearance in western Lake Michigan. Hennepin's account of this voyage suggested that northern Ohio was unoccupied, and the Cleveland region was not closely inspected. While N. Perrot noted that unlicensed English Indian traders were captured near Michilimacinac in 1684 and 1686, their identities and their routes to Lake Huron are unrecorded. The French, English, and Dutch maps published between 1650-1723 suggest little direct information from northeastern Ohio, despite Cadillac's establishment of Ft. Ponchartrain at Detroit in 1701 and the persistence of French missions in western New York State until 1713, and later at Niagara. Indeed, both the Bellin maps and Charlevoix's accounts of his 1721 journey from Niagara to Detroit indicate that the southern interior was still unknown. The next vague French descriptions of the lower Cuyahoga and environs are probably attributable to CHAUSSEGROS DE LERY, engineer at Ft. Niagara who traveled down the Ohio in 1729, or Jacques Sabrevois, who in 1734 crossed from Detroit back to Presque Isle (Erie, PA). Five years later (1739) the French had a post at the Wyandot village of "Sandoski" (1739).

The first European residence of the Cleveland area was the 1742-43 trading post established by Francois Saguin (see SAGUIN, SIEUR DE), probably some 5-8 mi. up the Cuyahoga. The official inspection report by Robert Navarre of Detroit clearly indicates that both French and English traders were traversing northeast Ohio to deal with Detroit and Oswego. It also seems likely that Conrad Weiser visited the area between 1744 and 1748. Christopher Gist's journals describe it very clearly, and GEORGE CROGHAN's 1748 letters to Richard Peters clearly indicate his familiarity with the region. Croghan's journal suggests that he had established an English post at the mouth of the Gichawaga (Cuyahoga) sometime prior to 1750. DeLery again crossed along the southern shore in 1754, briefly describing and charting the Cuyahoga River mouth.

The geographic details on the 1755 John Mitchell Map for the British Board of Trade are attributable to the explorations of these Pennsylvania explorers. Although much of Mitchell's inland geography is excellent, he showed a straight east-west Erie shoreline. The area from Sandusky Bay to Cleveland is described as Canahoque: The Seat of War, The Mart of Trade, & Chief Hunting Grounds of the six New York Iroquois on the Lakes & the Ohio. The Gwahago (Cuyahoga) River is shown flowing about 50 mi. straight north from a large lake, with an Iroquois town, Gwahogo, on the east bank just above TINKER'S CREEK. The slightly later Lewis Evans maps (after 1755) give a better picture of the Cleveland area, including descriptions of topography and mineral outcrops. Evans showed a French house and a Mingo town on the west bank of the CUYAHOGA RIVER opposite a village of (Ot)Tawas on the trail from Pennsylvania that now crosses the river to run 90 mi. west to Sandusky. But these towns and posts appear to have disappeared by the winter of 1757/58, according to the captivity narrative of James Smith.

In the fall of 1760, Maj. Robert Rogers (see ROGERS EXPEDITION) sailed from Presque Isle along the south shore. Other than describing the (old) mouth of the Cuyahoga as 25 yds. wide, Rogers provided no new information beyond his later and questionable claim that Pontiac attended his meeting with a party of Ottawa Indians at the mouth of either Conneaut Creek, the Grand River, or the Cuyahoga River. Early the following year, Sir William Johnson, British agent for Northern Indians, was summoned from Oswego to Detroit, spending at least 1 night at the Cuyahoga.

After the 1763 victory of the English over the French in the French and Indian War, two British expeditions were sent the following year to deal with the warring western Indians, accompanied by geographers. Thomas Hutchins, who traveled with Henri Bouquet from Ft. Pitt to the forks of the Muskingum, produced a detailed map in 1765 showing the true course of the Cuyahoga, with a Cuyahoga (Indian) town just below modern Akron, and an Ottawa town farther downstream on the east bank. The ill-fated Bradstreet voyage (see BRADSTREET'S DISASTER) along the lakeshore was documented by Lt. JOHN MONTRESOR, who described the Cuyahoga (which he terms asseequesix, or au saquein) as being "the river where the Upper Nations hunt, and also paddle six leagues (13.2 to 16.6 miles) up this river. . . ." Although Montresor believed the Cuyahoga was navigable by birch canoes 60 miles upriver, on his return from Detroit he discovered that for a barge the Cuyahoga was navigable upstream only for 5 mi. to a place called le petit rapide.

The increasingly bitter Indian reaction to the English colonists' westward incursion farther south again rendered northeast Ohio dangerous after 1764. It appears likely, however, that some Indian agents operating out of Montreal, such as Matthew Elliot, were able to maintain temporary posts at the Cuyahoga mouth. And the Moravian missionary John Heckewelder, who had first visited Ohio with Christian Post in the late 1760s, was able to pass through the region accompanied by David Zeisberger in 1772. Yet during the American Revolution itself, virtually all of northeast Ohio was uninhabited. Heckewelder returned from Canada with his surviving Delaware converts in the spring of 1786 to establish the temporary village of PILGERRUH on the east bank of the Cuyahoga just below Tinker's Creek. At that time, or within a few months, John Askin of Detroit had at least 2 British trading posts on the Cuyahoga. A house was operated by Elliot, William Caldwell. and Alexander McKee about 7 mi. above the lake, and another post was run by Duncan and/or Neil near the lake. During the next decade, exploration of the region was beyond the military limits of the newly formed United States of America. Following Jay's Treaty and the Treaty of Greenville (both in 1795), those Loyalist posts and the associated Moravian sites were abandoned. Heckewelder left his now-famous 1796 map for the first CONNECTICUT LAND CO. survey party under MOSES CLEAVELAND. The period of exploration had ended, and that of resettling had begun.

David Brose

The Royal Ontario Museum and
Cleveland Museum of Natural History


Finding aid for Moravian Missionary John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder Diaries. WRHS.