The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.
By Homer M. Beattie
Sir Robert Walpole once said “All history is a lie.” He must have had the history of the British Fort Sandusky in mind. For a hundred years, controversy has raged over its location. It has been variously placed all the way from the mouth of Pipe Creek to Fremont, in Ohio.
One writer even goes so far as to locate it on the Marblehead Peninsula near Port Clinton and then after badly confusing the data by unwarranted assumptions winds up by twice showing a sketch of De Lery’s French Fort Sandusky and the second time indexing it in the book – “Fort Stephenson as sketched by De Lery” – thereby not only confusing two separate forts but confusing Pontiac’s War of 1763 with the War of 1812. Fort Stephenson was sometimes called Fort Sandusky. Henry Howe in his Historical Collections of Ohio does so. But De Lery who records French Fort Sandusky on the Marblehead Peninsula had been dead thirteen years when Fort Stephenson was built, and Howe’s text and sketches leave no room for any confusion as to the fact he means Fort Stephenson of the War of 1812.
We shall examine a few documents in an effort to straighten this out, but first here again is the usual story about British Fort Sandusky.
It is usually told that in 1745 the Huron Chief Nicolas gave English traders permission to build a fort on Sandusky Bay, and that in 1748, following his defeat by the French, he burned this fort. The story continues that in 1750 the British rebuilt the fort, that it was “usurped by the French in 1751,” fell into disuse, was rebuilt by the British in 1761 and was destroyed May 16th, 1763, with the entire garrison slaughtered except Ensign Pauli, the commandant. This version not only garbles facts but jumps at the entirely unwarranted conclusion that three forts stood at the same place.
The discovery of the site of British Fort Sandusky was entirely by accident. In the winter of 1949 the author and W. B. White, of Milan, Ohio, set out to draw a map of the Firelands from the original survey notes of Maxfield Ludlow and Almon Ruggles made in 1808. These notes are partly in the Museum of The Firelands Historical Society and partly in the Huron County Recorder’s Office in Fire-Sufferers Book NO. 1, at Norwalk, Ohio. We intended to spot locate on our map the two hundred odd settlers’ cabins located on the Firelands prior to the War of 1812. As the map developed, instead of coming forward from 1808, we were relentlessly pushed backward by the surveyors’ notes. Here, for instance, was the noted Detroit-Fort Pitt trail – here, John Flammand’s1 trading post about one and a half miles up the Huron River from Lake Erie – established so far as we know in 1804 or 1805. Here was the trail to the Moravian village at present day Milan, not to be confused with Zeisberger’s New Salem, about three miles farther down the Huron River, which was abandoned in 1790. Here was Chief Ogontz’s cabin; all these things located by two skilled surveyors and named in the notes.
In platting the south shore of Sandusky Bay we made a startling discovery. Almon Ruggles, who traversed the Bay, started at a point one and three quarters miles east of the mouth of Sandusky Bay. A previous survey made in 1806 had ended at that point. He traversed the south shore of the bay, recording the mouth of Pipe Creek, and located the Indian landing place and a portage from Sandusky Bay to Pipe Creek across a narrow neck of land. Note this portage, for it has been completely ignored or more commonly confused with the portage across the Marblehead Peninsula on the north side of Sandusky Bay.
At a point 492.23 surveyors’ chains or 6.15 miles from his starting point, Ruggles records this item in his notes, “North 68 degrees West chains to a large white Oak marked XII, west of the Old Fort.” This puts him at a point in the present day town of Venice in Erie County, and raises the question “What Old Fort?” Certainly not an Indian Fort, for Ruggles specifically so designates such, as in the case of the Indian mounds on the edge of Norwalk, which he records in his notes as “Indian Fort.”
Now let us examine a few documents.
First we have the notes and maps of Chaussegros De Lery dated 1754 and 1755. He tells of his journey in 1754 into Sandusky Bay which in common with other early explorers he calls “Sandusky Lake.” He says “I thought some trace must remain of the fort built by the French in 1751 and later abandoned. To find it I followed the northern coast of said Lake (Sandusky Bay) which runs east and west. After covering about three leagues I perceived a clearing where I landed at noon and found the remains of the old Fort.” Note that De Lery says definitely “built by the French” (not the English) in 1751 – not 1750. And note, for this is vital, De Lery’s Old Fort is on the north shore of Sandusky Bay whereas Ruggles’ Old Fort is on the south shore of the Bay. Two separate and distinct forts at two different locations! De Lery leaves us a sketch of the French Fort Sandusky, giving dimensions and its relationship to the portage across the Peninsula.
In his journal of 1755 he leaves us a sketch of the mouth of Pipe Creek and an Indian landing place and portage which coincides with the Indian landing place recorded by Ruggles in 1808, on the South shore of Sandusky Bay.
A comparison of De Lery’s sketches will show definitely that there are two separate and distinct portages, one on the north shore of the bay and one on the south shore. The arrows indicating north on his maps rule out any confusion here, and his text, if carefully read, leaves no room for doubt. He also records an Indian village in ruins on the west bank of Pipe Creek to which he says Chief Nicolas and his followers fled following their defeat by the French. Was this the Fort Sandusky of Chief Nicolas? It looks plausible but this item needs more research, and may show that Chief Nicolas’ Fort Sandusky was merely a palisaded Indian village. De Lery in his 1755 notes leaves an account of the Indian use of a water passage from Sandusky Bay to Lake Erie through the former marsh at the foot of Cedar Point. This water passage was known to Firelands pioneers as the Black Channel. Cedar Point at times was and is an island. Evidently it was in 1755 and surely in 1808, for Almon Ruggles so records it. He did not survey it as part of the Firelands tract – at least in his survey of 1808. The use of this Black Channel was doubtless the reason for the Indian Landing Place and Portage near Pipe Creek, recorded by both De Lery and Ruggles, as it kept canoes in quiet water rather than in the open Lake.
Second. An examination of some records in the Pennsylvania Archives reveals much information concerning Ruggles’ old Fort. Here is a very definite and interesting order:
Orders for Lt. Elias Meyer R. A. R. from Col. Henry Bouquet
Fort Pitt August 12th, 1761
You are hereby directed to take your command and march tomorrow, thirteen August, a detachment of one Sub. Two Serj. Two corp and ‘Thirty Private of the first Batt R. A. R. and proceed with convenient Dispatch to Sandusky Lake on the South side of which2 and at the most convenient place you are to build a small Block-house with a Pallisade round it, to serve as a halting place for our partys going and coming to and from Detroit.
Note that Bouquet’s orders definitely say the south side of the lake as he calls the Bay.
Next, we have the map of Captain Thomas Hutchins dated 1764. If Hutchins was not the father of our modern method of subdividing the public lands, he was, at least, one of the first to use it. Later he was Surveyor General of the United States, a reliable and competent witness. Hutchins’ map definitely locates British Fort Sandusky on the south shore of Sandusky Bay. His table of distances from Fort Pitt to Fort Sandusky also checks to the spot where Ruggles found the “Old Fort,” in 1808.
William Darlington in his notes to Christopher Gist’s Journal says, “In the latter part of 1761, the British erected a block house on the south shore of Sandusky Bay,” and gives Colonel Bouquet’s letter to General Amherst December 2, 1761 as authority for the statement.
Darlington also says, “Its location (i.e. the block-house) is correctly marked on the map of Thos. Hutchins of 1778 and also on his map of the Bouquet Expedition of 1764.” Further on he says that Hutchins visited British Fort Sandusky in 1762 and confirms the statement by reference to Bouquet’s letter to Ensign Pauli dated April 3rd, 1762 and published in the Philadelphia Gazette of April 27th, 1791. Pauli’s letters to Bouquet also substantiate the English fort as being on the South shore of Sandusky Bay.
Now let us examine some most pertinent evidence in the Court House at Norwalk, Ohio, in the shape of public records, maps, deeds and legal documents officially recorded, mostly under oath.
In 1815 while the Firelands were all Huron County and the County seat was at Old Avery, the commissioners were interested in roads and appointed various committees to view and report regarding suggested roads to be built.
The following is from Commissioners Journal No. 1, Huron County, Ohio, December meeting 1815:
Road No. 15. From the old English Fort on Sandusky Bay on a Southern direction toward Mansfield to the south line of Huron County.
Abner Young, Surveyor.
Seth Brown, Daniel Page, Charles Blanchard Committee.
The road designated is today Ohio State Highway No. 99 whose northern tenninus is in Venice and which runs approximately along the route designated above. And the northern terminus is very close to Ruggles’ Old Fort and the Fort Sandusky shown on Hutchins’ Map of 1764. Nor is that all.
Major Frederick Falley at one time owned all the land in Margaretta Township, formerly called Patterson, and the land in the fraction lying north of the whole township. March 1st, 1815, he sold 400 acres of land to one Ely Hunt. The somewhat lengthy contract cannot be abridged without spoiling it as evidence, so it is given here in full:
Contract Copied From Deeds (transcribed) old Series Vol. 2, Page 840-842 Incl.
Norwalk, Huron County Court House, Recorder’s Office
* * *
Frederick Falley to Ely Hunt -Contract March 1st, 1815.
This article of agreement entered Into by and between Frederick Falley, of Wheatsborough, In the county of Huron and State of Ohio, of the first part, and Eli Hunt, of the same town, County and State aforesaid of the second part,
WITNESSETH : That the party of the first part agrees to sell and convey to the party of the second part three hundred acres of land lying partly In the second Section of Township Number six (called Patterson) In the twenty fourth Range in said County of Huron and partly In the fraction North of said Township. Beginning at a white ash tree marked about four rods West of the head of the said Eli Hunt’s Mill Race on Cold Creek, running thence crossing Cold Creek East 5 degrees North two hundred and forty Rods thence North 5 degrees West two hundred rods crossing the said Township line on the North line of said Township at right angles eighty-one rods from the comer last mentioned. thence West 5 degrees South two hundred and forty rods crossing Cold Creek thence South 5 degrees East two hundred rods to the first bounds. Also one hundred acres (called the Marsh Place) adjoining North on the aforesaid tract and beginning on the North line on the East bank of Cold Creek, running thence East 5 degrees North one hundred and sixty rods, thence North 5 degrees West one hundred rods, thence West 5 degrees South one hundred and sixty rods to said Cold Creek. thence un the Creek on the East bank following the various angles of the Creek to the first bound
containing In the whole four hundred acres with the improvements thereon and one set of sawmill irons which were on the premises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The party of the first part also holds In reserve the privilege of four rods wide through the last mentioned tract (called the Marsh Place) most convenient to carry a canal from Cold Creek to the head of the Swall near the old English Fort (so called) erecting said Canal and the water which It delivers at the Swall near the English Fort
The party of the first part having full rights to carry other waters into Cold Creek and to take the same quantity of water out again at any convenient place above the head of said Mill Race to carry a canal to the Old English Fort or other place
Note that the Old English Fort is mentioned three times.
Confirming this contract is Johnson and Johnson’s survey of Margaretta Township dated April 14th, 1831, and recorded in Huron County Records, Old Series, vol. 8, page 482 and transcribed to vol. A, Town plats. The land described in the contract is definitely shown, and Cold Creek and the Canal mentioned are shown on the map, making it clear that the “head of the Swail” and therefore the Old English Fort are near the Bay on the west side of the Canal very near where State Route 99 intersects U. S. 2 and U. S. 6.
But the final and clinching document of all is the town plat of Venice recorded in Plat Records of Huron Couuty vol. A, page 43 and transcribed from Old Series, vol. II, page 19 with the following affidavit written on the map:
Town Plat of Venice – Huron Town (Old Avery) Huron County, State of Ohio, 18th October, 1816.
This day personally appeared Frederick Folley (sic) and acknowledged the within to be the map of the 1st Section of a town plat by him laid out on his land, bearing the name of Venice, on the Fraction north of Township number 6, in the 24th range of Townships in the Connecticut Western Reserve In said County of Huron, on the south side of Sandusky Bay embracing the Old English Fort so-called. Sworn to before David Abbott, Huron Town.
Recorded Oct. 18th, 1816.
Ichabod Marshall, Recorder.
The eastern boundary of the town was the canal mentioned above, so the Old English Fort is again shown to be west of the Canal within 100 rods of Lake Erie as 100 rods were the north and south limits of the town according to the description recorded. The above evidence shows clearly that the English Fort Sandusky stood on the south shore of Sandusky Bay, that De Lery’s Fort Sandusky stood on the north side of Sandusky Bay and that historians have been wrong in assuming that the various Fort Sanduskys stood at one and the same location. British Fort Sandusky destroyed May 16th, 1763 stood on the south shore of Sandusky Bay within the limits of that part of the Town of Venice, Erie County, Ohio, lying west of the canal, and if the Commissioners Journal is correct, approximately where Ohio State Highway 99, U. S. 2 and U. S. 6 intersect.
To sum up the evidence:
1st. Colonel Henry Bouquet’s orders to Lieutenant Meyers to build a block house on the south shore of Sandusky Bay.
2nd. Map drawn by Hutchins who personally visited it, locating Fort Sandusky on the south shore.
3rd. Pauli’s correspondence recording it on the south shore of the bay. Pauli was a survivor of the massacre of British Fort Sandusky – no one disputes that and he certainly should have known where the fort stood.
4th. Almon Ruggles’ field notes recording an old fort at the spot shown by Hutchins as Fort Sandusky of Pontiac’s War.
5th. Huron County Commissioners Journal No. 1 which locates an English Fort as the northern terminus of an early road which today is State Highway No. 99.
6th. Falley’s land contract mentioning an Old English Fort three times and supported by the Johnson Survey and recorded map showing various items mentioned in the contract which help to identify the location of the Fort.
7th. The town plat of Venice and sworn statement that the town plat includes an old English fort on the south shore of Sandusky Bay and west of the Canal, where Cold Creek enters Sandusky Bay today.
Some have said “You have Fort Junandot.” Three things rule that out :
Junandot has never been definitely proven to be other than at most a palisaded trading post or even an Indian village.
De Lery makes no mention of a Fort Junandot supposedly built in 1754, and he was in the supposed vicinity in 1754 and 1755. Again conclusions have been hastily drawn here and lack proof.
Junandot was (if a fort at all) of French origin. There never has been any controversy about that point.
The fort so well documented at Venice is universally referred to as an old English fort, and all the evidence coincides its location with Hutchins’ Fort Sandusky, destroyed during Pontiac’s War.
And the author is personally inclined to believe that the Anioton described by De Lery on the west bank of Pipe Creek at the entrance to Sandusky Bay is the probable site of the so called Fort Sandusky connected with Chief Nicolas. That particular item needs further research. But in any event the historian who believes that British Fort Sandusky stood on the north shore of Sandusky Bay, has powerful evidence to the contrary to refute, including public documents duly recorded, as well as evidence left by men who were there and the order of Colonel Bouquet to build it on the south shore.
- The name also appears as Flemond, Flemoned and Fleming.
- Italics are the Author’s.
About the Author: John Borman was born and raised on Put-in-Bay and knew Captain Parker all his life. John even helped raise three of Captain Parker’s grandchildren and wrote, “I am very proud of them!” Borman has many fond memories of riding alongside Parker in his wheelhouse.