The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.
By Paul F. Laning
In mid-16th century, when the French began their explorations in America. the Iroquois Confederation had established an extensive protective curtain over the lands bordering the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie.1 As a consequence, the early French missionaries and traders pursued a northerly route from Montreal to gain access to mid- America, via the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers, Lake Nipissing, and the French River into Georgian Bay. This led to the discovery of Lake Huron in 1615, Lake Superior in 1622, and Lake Michigan in 1634. Etienne Brulé, who crossed the narrow western reach of Lake Ontario in 1615, left no record of his find. Lake Erie was the last of the chain known to Europeans and Louis Joliet is believed to have been the first to behold it in 1669.2 La Salle was the pioneer navigator of Lake Erie when he took the Griffon from the Niagara River launching pad through the Straits of Detroit in 1679. The first two French maps showing Lake Erie were published in Paris in 1650 and 1656 by Nicolas Sanson d’ Abbeville. They both show fairly good orientation, but no accurate detail. They were issued before La Salle’s voyage, and not until later in the 17th and early in the 18th century do French maps show actual knowledge of the Lake Erie region and its orientation with the Ohio Valley.3
The first printed reference to the name “Sandusky” appears on the De Lisle Map of 1718 in Paris. It shows “Lac Sandouske” with three islands intervening between it and Lake Erie. A long river flowing into Lake Erie at its southwest reaches corresponds to the Maumee. Two previous maps, one by the Italian Coronelli printed in Paris in 1688, and the other published at the Hague in 1703 and appearing in Lahontan’s “Nouveau Voyages de M. le Baron de La Hontan,” show clusters of islands, out of place, far to the western end of Lake Erie. This 1718 map is an improvement over the earlier maps, and proves that the Iroquois Confederation no longer exercised a monopoly in mid-America.4
Concerning the origin of the word “Sandusky”, James W. Taylor in his History of the State of Ohio, First Period, 1650-1787, H.W. Derby & Co.. Sandusky, 1854. p. 525. cites a letter referring to Jacob Sadousky (one of a Kentucky River surveying party) written by Colonel William Preston August 3. 1774, from Fincastle. Kentucky. It was asserted that the word “Sandusky” derived from Jacob Sadousky’s father, a native of Poland, who had traded in Northwest Ohio in 1740, losing his life while returning from an excursion to that area. The earlier appearance of “Lac Sandouske” on De Lisle map would seem to contradict this claim. Howe’s Historical Collec- tions of Ohio, editions of 1850, 1891. and 1896. under “Sandusky County” all refer to John H. James’ report of his conversation with William Walker in 1835 at Columbus, when Walker was Principal Chief of the Wyandots at Upper Sandusky. Walker told James that the word meant “at the cold water”, and should be sounded “San-doos-tee”. James was a distinguished early lawyer, banker, railroad builder, legislator, and writer. In a vocabulary of Wyandot words. given by John Johnston in Archaelogia Americana, Vol. 1, p. 295, the word water is given “Sa,un-dus-tee, ” and on page 297 he gives the name of Sandusky River as “Sa,undustee. ” or “water within water pools. ”
The Sandusky area or region extends all of fifty miles south of Lake Erie’s shore to the headwaters of the Sandusky River in Wyandot and Crawford Counties. and also to the bay and the area around it into which the river flows. At some time prior to the Revolutionary War, the Lake Erie Islands were known as the Sandusky Islands. and on a British map of 1789. Published in London by Ford, McNiff & Hall, now in our Library of Congress, Kelleys Island is designated “Sandusky Island.”
Henry Popple’s “Map of the British Empire in North America,” London, 1733, illustrates British rivalry and claims confronting the French. Like the earlier French maps, it shows the Maumee, and somewhat like the De Lisle 1718 map, it refers to Sandusky Bay with a slight variation, indicating two large islands on the north side of a deep southerly indentation corresponding to Sandusky Bay, and with an adjacent mark close by the shore “I Sandouske.” At the time of the French and Indian War in 1755. the Mitchell Map, published in London that year indicates the bitterness of the colonial rivalry, locating a fort on Sandusky Bay with this additional notation – “usurped by the French in 1751.”5
In 1649 the Iroquois destroyed the Huron nation inhabiting the Georgian Bay region.6 The wide dispersal of these Hurons (also called Wyandots) after this disaster, resulted in a scattering of the remnants of the nation all around the Great Lakes. Sometime after 1701, when the French established Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit, many of the descendants of the Huron-Wyandot group settled in the Detroit area. In addition to the Wyandots, tribal members of the Ottawa, Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Mississauga nations chose to live in the vicinity of the busy French outpost.
A number of the Wyandots quarreled with their Detroit Indian neighbors, and were not overly friendly with their French overlords, and two groups, one in 1738 and the other in 1739, migrated to the shores of Sandusky Bay.
Most of the Wyandots congregated on the southwest shore of the bay near the mouth of Pickerel Creek, and a few of the remnants set up small villages around the bay. The principal outpost at Pickerel Creek has the name “Junundat” on most of the maps, and it was in this vicinity that both French and British traders came to deal with the Indians.7 Orontony (baptismal name, Nicholas), a leader of the Wyandots at Junundat, organized in 1747 an intertribal conspiracy against the French outpost at Detroit, similar to Pontiac’s later venture; in fact, Nicolas caused the murder of five French traders who came into the area without his consent.8 The French retaliated immediately, and forced Nicolas’ unfriendly group to leave Sandusky Bay, allowing the few friendly Indians to remain. Of course George Croghan, the skilled Pennsylvania British trader, undoubtedly encouraged Nicolas in his hostile attitude toward the French, and he was able to provide a hospitable refuge for the Nicolas band at Conchake on the Tuscarawas, near modern Coshocton, and still later, when some were dissatisfied at that point, he could provide yet another haven near New Castle, Pennsylvania.9
The actions of Nicolas were among the warnings the French heeded, proving that their influence in the West was in jeopardy. In 1749, the year after Nicolas’ removal, Celoron de Blainville, a French commander, was sent out from Montreal with 250 men, to intimidate the Indians and restore French prestige in the effected areas. Starting on June 15, 1749, Celoron’s force proceeded westward up the St. Lawrence and across Lake Ontario, around Niagara to Lake Erie, and southward to the headwaters of the Allegheny River. From there they advanced to the Forks of the Ohio at Pittsburgh.10 They then coasted down “La Belle Riviere” to the mouth of the Great Miami, which they reached August 31. From here, because of low water, they had to march northward most of the way to Pickawillany, an outpost frequented by both French and British traders, not far from today’s Piqua. The route then continued northwest to Fort Miami on the Maumee River at present day Fort Wayne. From there they went on to Detroit via the Maumee, and Lake Erie. The final stage to Montreal was by way of Lake Erie around Niagara, across Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence to their destination, where they arrived November 9. 1749, after a five- month journey.
During his trip Celoron ordered the arrest of four British traders, one at Fort Miami and three at the Sandusky trading post. The Sandusky traders were Croghan employees, and the Fort Miami man was associated with John Martin, another British trader. All four were taken to Detroit and then to Montreal. One man, because of illness. remained in Montreal: the other three were taken across the Atlantic and imprisoned at Rochelle, France, and finally released in 1751, after much diplomatic maneuvering.11
Celoron’s reconnaissance in the West convinced the French authorities at Quebec that they must pursue a truly aggressive course against the British. They realized that the Ohio River communications route to the interior was their most important key to future advantages. However, the activities in the Sandusky area caused them to erect Fort Sandusky on the North side of the bay, within the limits of present day Port Clinton. Although begun late in 1750 and completed in 1751, it was soon abandoned. The successful activities of the Virginia and Pennsylvania traders under their respective British colonial governors, particularly west of the Forks of the Ohio, caused the French great concern for the important trade route down the Ohio to the lower Mississippi. They had a reasonable control of the Lake Erie- Maumee-Wabash route to the Mississippi. and abandoned Fort Sandusky rather soon. They began rapidly fortifying a route much like Celoron’s outward journey in 1749. They established three forts in 1753, the first at Presque Isle in present day Erie. This was an anchor to Lake Erie’s south shore, and from there it was about fifteen miles overland to a proposed outpost “Fort LeBoeuf,” near modern Waterford. This held the north end of the portage to French Creek, which drained to the Allegheny, where they built Fort Venango (now Franklin). These three forts would be strong supports, and the French also contemplated a large fort at the Forks of the Ohio, to be called Fort Duquesne, named after the French Governor General.12 In spite of apparent French emphasis on the Ohio Valley route, they finally concluded to conduct a good reconnaissance by way of Lake Erie to Detroit and the Straits of Mackinac. Joseph Gaspard Chaussegros de Lery commanded this expedition which started from Montreal early in the summer of 1754. De Lery was a fortifications engineer, and the command began with the intention of proceeding to the Fort Duquesne site, but orders were changed while they were encamped at Fort Presque Isle, to proceed to Detroit via Sandusky Bay.13
De Lery had been to Detroit previously in 1749, and made an excellent sketch map of the Detroit River, the French fort and the environs.14 On this second journey, his troop, consisting of 285 men, left Presque Isle on July 30, 1754. On August 4, they entered Sandusky Bay and discovered the ruins of the fort which de Lery noted his countrymen had built in 1751.
From this point a portage on level ground from the bay, approximately two miles long, brought the men to the Lake Erie shore. Here they re- embarked for Detroit where they arrived August 6. 1754.15
Besides the splendid Detroit sketch map which de Lery made, he fashioned the first maps delineating, with considerable skill, the shores of Sandusky Bay, the Marblehead and Catawba peninsulas, and the Lake Erie shoreline west of Port Clinton and a short distance east of Sandusky.16 All other previous maps were extremely vague about the Sandusky River, the bay, and the land mass bordering the watercourses. De Lery’s men accomplished their purposes in this part of the West. De Lery returned to Sandusky Bay on March 15, 1755, on his way to Fort Duquesne, for his skill was now being sought to put this strategic outpost at the junction of the Monongahela and the Allegheny to its best possible defensive position.17
Mention of Fort Duquesne recalls immediately the clashes in that area between French and British arms. Readers will recall the young George Washington’s early adventures as far north as Fort LeBoeuf, close to Lake Erie, in 1753; Fort Necessity in 1754, and Braddock’s defeat in 1755. They are all too well known to repeat here. However, these early French successes were cancelled out by the fall of Louisburg, and the abandonment of Fort Duquesne, both in 1758; and the final French capitulation at Quebec, 1760. Following the British success in 1760, Major Robert Rogers, with 200
British Colonial Rangers, left Quebec on September 13, 1760, to accept the French surrender at Detroit. He left Presque Isle November 4, and although he met Pontiac’s emissaries–and perhaps Pontiac himself–around the Cuyahoga on November 7, he was delayed by bad weather, finally receiving the French surrender at Detroit on November 29.18 They were intending to continue on to Mackinaw, but the weather was so bad they began a march overland December 23, 1760. to the newly constructed Fort Pitt. En route, they camped at one of the Wyandot villages on Sandusky Bay where they halted January 2, 1761. On January 3 they continued their march, arriving at Fort Pitt on January 23 with mission accomplished.19 None of the Rogers’ Rangers force was detailed to remain behind either at Detroit or at Sandusky Bay.
The change in the West to British administration brought new problems. British goods brought by Croghan and his men were usually more satisfactory than those brought by the French, and the British policy of conferring gifts was generous.20 With French competition removed, the British became careless and parsimonious. It is altogether possible that Pontiac’s Conspiracy in 1763 was due in part to the British having eliminated their custom after 1760, of giving presents to the Indians.21 By June 1761. Capt. Donald Campbell heard of Indian intrigues to capture Fort Detroit and other British outposts. In early September. Sir William Johnson. foremost representative of the British crown. and his deputy Croghan came to Detroit for a conciliatory conference with the Indians. After completion of their work in confronting this discontent, they de- parted on September 18 for their homes–Johnson’s in the Mohawk area of New York and Croghan’s near Harrisburg.22
Johnson, Croghan, and Amherst had been considering the establishment of a blockhouse on Sandusky Bay which would provide logical shelter as well as a shorter combined overland and water communication between Fort Pitt and Detroit. The orders for the erection of this fort, which was at the small town later known as Venice, three miles from downtown Sandusky. were given to Lt. Elias Meyer from Col. Henry Bouquet at Fort Pitt, August 12, 1761. A letter of Lt. Meyer to Col. Bouquet of Sept. 1, 1761. confirms Meyer’s arrival at the fort.23
On September 22, 1761. Johnson and Croghan disembarked at present day Port Clinton, at the north end of the de Lery portage, sending their boats on with orders to encamp on the east side of the Lake Erie entrance to Sandusky Bay near present day Cedar Point. Johnson and Croghan then continued overland to the south end of the portage at the site of the French fort of 1751. Croghan then crossed the bay to the Wyandot village at Junundat at the mouth of Pickerel Creek. while Johnson proceeded eastward on the bay to the new fort being constructed. Johnson in his record notes location of another Wyandot village three miles south of the new fort. (Since late December 1962. the fort site has been annexed to the city of Sandusky.)
The story of Pontiac’s Conspiracy of 1763 is well known. It should be sufficient to say that the two British redoubts Presque Isle and Fort San- dusky. along with seven other forts in the west, were destroyed, and that the Indians at Detroit put up effective resistance to the relief expeditions. The first of these, under Lt. Abraham Cuyler, left Niagara May 13, 1763, heading for Detroit as a reinforcement for the Detroit garrison. Unaware of the attacks at Detroit, they were ambushed by Indians while they were en- camped at Point Pelee. Of the ninety-six men in this command. sixty were either dead, dying or captive after the struggle: about thirty were compelled to row to Detroit and pass before their comrades in the fort as captives. A few of the remainder, with Lt. Cuyler. rowed from Point Pelee across the Lake to Fort Sandusky, which they found in utter ruin. From there they set out for Presque Isle where they warned Ensign Christie of the evidences of an Indian uprising. The Presque Isle outpost put up a stout defense before their capture and removal to Detroit on June 16th.
Two other ill-fated relief expeditions tried to reinforce the beleaguered British at Detroit. The first, authorized by Amherst on June 16. 1763, stopped at the ruins of Fort Sandusky and vengefully destroyed the Wyandot village that Sir William Johnson noticed, three miles south of the fort. Commanded by James Dalzell, this force was defeated on July 30, 1763, at Bloody Ridge, near Detroit. Dalzell was killed in this engagement.24
After these failures another relief expedition. starting from Niagara in mid-November 1763, was caught in a dreadful storm in Lake Erie, in which seventy men perished and all stores and ammunition were lost. Fortunately, about the time of this disaster, Pontiac’s men gave up hope. mainly on the news they heard that they could expect no help from the French. The garrison at Detroit did not know of this
when they were informed of the mid- November loss, under Capt. John Wilkins.25
Another British show of force took place in the late summer and early fall of 1764, with Col. Bouquet’s successful expedition to central Ohio, and with Col. Bradstreet’s ill-fated foray from Niagara to Detroit and the Sandusky country. On his return from Detroit, Bradstreet maneuvered around the sites of the British and French forts on Sandusky Bay, and spent a few days up the Sandusky River to the falls in present day Fremont. After dallying at the site of the old French fort, he departed for Niagara on October 18. The command suffered a terrible disaster “on a sandy beach to the westward, one mile off the Riviere au Roche.” A surf set in upon the beach destroying twenty-five long boats, ammunition. provisions and baggage.26 Many of Bradstreet’s men perished, and the survivors eventually reaching Niagara suffered from fatigue and cold caused by swimming in creeks and rivers and pushing through tangled thickets along the pathless borders of Lake Erie.27
The British hold on the Trans-Allegheny region can be fairly described as only tenuous from the time of Pontiac’s Conspiracy until after the Revolutionary War. During that war the Lake Erie region was scarcely involved. However, in 1782, the year after Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the British and Indians defeated an American force commanded by Col. William Crawford near the present day localities of Upper Sandusky and Bucyrus. Col. Crawford was tortured and burned at the stake.28
After the Peace Treaty of 1783, the Ohio country in its entirety was nominally under American control. However, the final possession by the U.S.A. of the Lake Erie and Sandusky region was not achieved until after the Battle of Lake Erie. on September 10, 1813. Many locations of the colonial period were prominent in the War of 1812, and Presque Isle, Erie, Sandusky, and the de Lery portage are among them. Today, the Put-in-Bay monument is an appropriate memorial in our region of the peace that has been our heritage on both sides of the U.S. – Canadian border for over 150 years.
- George Hunt, The Wars of the Iroquois. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1960.
- Milo Quaife, (ed.) American Lakes Series, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, 1944: Grace Lee Nute, Lake Superior; Milo M. Quaife, Lake Michigan; Fred Landon, Lake Huron: Publ. 1945, Harlan Hatcher, Lake Erie: Arthur Pound, Lake Ontario.
- Louis Karpinski, Bibliography of the Printed Maps of Michigan, 1804-1880, With Over 100 Reproductions of Maps Constituting An Historical Atlas of the Great Lakes and Michigan. Michigan Historical Commission, Lansing, 1931. Lloyd Arnold Brown, Early Maps of the Ohio Valley, A Selection of Maps, Plans and Views made by Indians and Colonials from 1673 to 1783. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pitts- burgh, 1959.
- Karpinski, cit.
- Charles E. Frohman, “Fort Sandusky on Sandusky Bay,” INLAND SEAS ® , Spring
- Landon, Lake Huron, cit., p. 50.
- G. Thwaites, (ed.) Wisconsin Historical Collections, Madison, 1906, XVII, 279- 288, has an account of the dissatisfactions of the Detroit Wyandots with their neighbors leading to their removal to Sandusky Bay, citing MS. in Archives of Ministre des Colonies, Paris: press mark “Canada”, Correspondence General, Vol. 75, c 11, fol. 130. In the same reference is a speech (pp. 377-380) of the Governor-General of New France, the Marquis de Beauharnois, to three Huron chiefs of Detroit.
- S. Knapp, History of the Maumee Valley, Toledo: The Blade Mammoth Printing and Publishing House, 1872, p. 15.
- Charles A. Hanna, “The Sandusky Forts,” Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publi- cations, Columbus, 1913, XXII, 322-325. Additional confirmation of the moves to the Ohio Valley appeared in The (Cleveland) Plain October 26, 1958. Four Wyandot skeletons were found in a cornfield in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, near New Castle, identified as part of the refugee tribe of Chief Nicolas. The dis- coveries were made by Marco Hervatin. Secretary-Treasurer of the American Archae- ological Society, on October 17, 1958. Others involved in this find were Dr. Donald Dragoo, Archaeologist of Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, and John Witthoft, curator of the Pennsylvania State Museum, Harrisburg.
- Beverly Bond, Jr., The Foundations of Ohio, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Reprint, 1968, Vol. 1 of a series of 5 vols. edited by Carl Wittke and entitled History of the State of Ohio, 115-121. At the mouths of the larger Ohio tributaries, Celoron buried leaden plates asserting the validity of Louis XV’s claim to possession of the surrounding region. Two of the plates have been recovered, and are in mu- seums, one in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the other in Richmond, Virginia.
- Thwaites, cit., 1908, XVIII, p, 112.
- Bond, cit., p. 129.
- Lucy Elliot Keller, “Old Fort Sandoski of 1745 and the ‘Sandusky Country,’ “Ohio Archaeological & Historical Publications, 1908, XVII, 354-
- Elroy Avery, History of the United States and Its People, 7 vols. De Lery’s sketch map of Detroit is in vol. IV, (1908), p. 354. This work was published by Burrows Bros.. Cleveland, Ohio.
- De Lery’s Journal of 1754 is cited in Charles Hanna’s Wilderness Trail, 2 vols.New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1911. In addition to the Ohio Archaeological & Historical Publications already cited in respect to the de Lery Journal, translations of some of the other Journals were published in Journal of Chaussegros de Lery, Northwest Pennsylvania Series, prepared by Frontier Forts and Trails Survey, Federal Works Agency, W. P. A., ed. by S.K. Stevens and D.H. West, Pennsylvania Histori- cal Commission. 1940, Colonel Crawford Lindsay of Quebec was the translator of de Lery’s Journals.
- op. cit. Considering that these sketches must have been largely freehand, they are remarkable in their detail and relative orientation.
- Bond, Foundations of op. cit., pp. 148.149.
- Avery, cit., p. 353.
- Journals of Major Robert Rogers. London,
- Albert Volwiler, George Croghan and the Westward Movement, Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1926.
- Wilbur Jacobs, Diplomacy and Indian Gifts, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1950.
- James Sullivan, (ed.) The Papers of Sir William Johnson, Albany: The University of the State of New York, 1921, III.
- Charles A. Hanna cites this letter in his article in Ohio State Archaeological & Historical Publications, XXII, Columbus. 1913. “The Sandusky Forts.” in a controversy concerning the location of the British fort. Homer M. Beattie in his article “British Fort Sandusky” in INLAND SEAS® Vol. VI, 1950, also refers to Col. Bouquet’s letter to Lt. Meyer. of August 12, 1761.
- Francis Parkman, The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada, Boston, Little, Brown & Co. 1913.2 Vols. in 1.
- The Public Archives of Canada confirm the losses in the mid-November storm, within 90 miles of Detroit, citing the Haldimand and Bouquet Papers of December 22 and 28, 1763, and Sir William Johnson’s letter to the Lords of Trade, January
- Scull, (ed.) “The Montresor Journals,” Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1881, XIV, (1882). p. 312. Capt. John Montresor was an engineering officer of the Bradstreet Expedition.
- Earl R. Quebedeaux. in two articles in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, June 30, and July 7, 1968, gave a most interesting account of artifacts. relics, and even skeletons discovered over a century ago in the Clifton Park area near Lakewood and Rocky River, Ohio. It appears that the Wilkins disaster of 1763 took place east of the entrance to the Rocky River, and the Bradstreet wreck of 1764 occurred in the same area west of the entrance. One of the three officers drowned in the Wilkins debacle was a surgeon, and a surgeon’s amputating knife and case were among the artifacts In 1873, Dr. Jared Kirtland, a distinguished early Cleveland physician. natura- list, legislator, and one of the founders of the Western Reserve Medical School, determined that the skeletons were of white men. and not Indians. A resident of Lakewood, a historian of sorts, and interested in colonial times, he researched both incidents. The articles of Mr. Quebedeaux give support, at least, to the theory that both the Wilkins and Bradstreet expeditions were forced ashore in the vicinity of Rocky River and Lakewood.
- W. Butterfield, An Historical Account of’ the Expedition Against Sandusky under Colonel William Crawford in 1782, Cincinnati: Robert Clarke& Co., 1873.
About the Author: Mr. Paul F. Laning is a native of Norwalk, Ohio, and now resides in Sandusky. A High School teacher for thirty-five years –five years at Kirtland, Ohio, in the Lake County System, and thirty years at Sandusky High School in the English Department—he retired from this profession in 1968. He then became Bailiff of the Erie County Common Pleas Court, serving from 1968 to 1974, when he again retired, this time, he states “altogether.‘‘
A Past President of the Erie County Historical Society, Mr. Laning is a member of the Ohio Historical Society and the Great Lakes Historical Society. He is a longtime contributor to INLAND SEAS® and has written articles and book reviews which reflect his early interest in Ohio as well as the history of the Great Lakes area.