As it were

General, chief meet in Franklinton


It was a very important moment in American history and it happened here 200 years ago. Columbus has just spent a year celebrating its bicentennial. And rightly so. But in doing so we have occasionally paid only casual attention to the anniversaries of other important events in the story of America and central Ohio. Early in July we hopefully all will remember the bloodiest three days in American military history at a place called Gettysburg. More about that on another day.

Today we return to an earlier war. The Ohio General Assembly first met in Chillicothe when the state was brought into being in 1803. The capital moved to Zanesville for a couple of years but then moved back to Chillicothe. Through all of those years, people living in northern Ohio had wanted a capital closer to them. It is not hard to see why. Today we drive from Columbus to Cleveland in a few hours. In 1803, it took more than a week of hard riding on virtually nonexistent roads for travelers to reach Chillicothe from Cleveland.

In 1812, the Ohio General Assembly responded and selected the "High Banks opposite Franklinton" at the Forks of the Scioto "known as Wolf's Ridge" to be the site of the new capital. It would not be an easy beginning for the new capital city. On May 18, 1812, the first sale of lots in the new town was held.

On that same day, the United States declared war on Great Britain. Some people in the East who made their money trading with Europe thought the war to be a foolish idea at best and would one day consider secession from the United States. Other people like Henry Clay of Kentucky were "War Hawks" and thought all of Canada should be seized by the United States. In the end, neither side prevailed. Most of New England did not secede from the United States and --- as we know -- Canada is not part of the United States. At least not yet.

But what did happen was one of the nastiest little wars in American history. Many of the most important parts of it were fought out not all that far from here. And a meeting here in 1813 insured that we would win many of those battles.

The War of 1812 was a rematch bet-ween the United States and Great Britain over many of the issues that had led to our successful American Revolution. We detested the British policy of stopping American ships on the high seas and "impressing" sailors into the British navy. We had other grievances -- British forts supposedly to be abandoned had not been abandoned ... and the list went on.

In the end, we went to war.

It was not a happy beginning. War-hawks like Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun had argued that all we had to do was assemble a few men and Canada would be ours. It turned out to be not all that easy.

In the summer of 1812, against his better judgment, General William Hull assembled an army of 2,000 volunteers and led them north to take Fort Detroit. In short order, General Hull surrendered his entire force to the British. It was and continues to be one of the great defeats in American Military history.

In the wake of that defeat, Gen. William Henry Harrison, the victor of Tippecanoe in Indiana, began to mold a new army and a new defense. Critical to that defense was Fort Meigs on the bluffs overlooking the Maumee River near Lake Erie. The British absolutely had to have that fort and hit it with all they had. It was not enough and the fort held out.

Now in the summer of 1813, Harrison needed the support of Native America. Leaving Fort Meigs, he traveled to frontier Franklinton and asked local residents to help organize a meeting.

That meeting was held on June 21, 1813 -- 200 hundred years ago.

At that meeting, Harrison made a long and extended appeal to the Native Americans to hold their allegiance to the United States. Tarhe, the aging leader of the Wyandots, rose in response to Harrison and pledged the loyalty of his people to the American cause. He would be followed by representatives of other American tribes.

All of this was done under a magnificent elm tree in the lower backyard of the man who founded Franklinton -- Lucas Sullivant. By 1900, the old tree was gone and the old lower yard had been laid out in streets. Today a marker at Studer Avenue remembers the event.

From this meeting, William Henry Harrison went on to victory in Canada. In a very real way, something of who we are today began with the success that followed that meeting under a tree in old Franklinton.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.