He is one of those shadowy figures born in the early part of the American story.

We know more about him than many colonial American figures, but we still know so little.

There was no recording equipment -- audio or video -- in those days, so most of what we know about people of this era is what they wrote -- if they could write -- and what others wrote about them.

Based on what we do know, Lucas Sullivant was a man worth remembering.

He was born in western North Carolina in 1765. Too young to have been directly involved in the American Revolution, he grew up quickly in a small family without a father. His father had been born into that secondary nobility of landholders in the rural south in colonial America. The Sullivants had arrived from Ireland a few generations earlier and for reasons not fully clear, their name was changed from Sullivan.

Lucas Sullivant's father had been heir to some land and other property -- read slaves -- but he had, in the words of a descendant, lost his property through idleness and "dissipation." He died young and poor, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves.

Sullivant's mother was a determined and strong-willed woman and held her small family together. Sullivant learned at a young age that he would have to work hard to support himself and his family. He did that by learning surveying, becoming an accomplished surveyor at a young age.

In the years after the American Revolution, most of the land north and west of the Ohio River became open to settlement. Great Britain had ceded that land to the new United States after the Revolution. Most of that land -- except in the most cursory way -- had not been surveyed.

Sullivant went west to help survey the new country, accepting a job offer from Richard Anderson, who was given the task of surveying the Virginia Military District. This vast stretch of land ran from the Miami River in the west to the Scioto River in the east. Sullivant was employed to lead a team to survey the northern part of this tract.

Like many surveyors of this period, Sullivant took his pay in land. The difference with Sullivant was that he stayed in the surveying business longer than many others. By the time he was done, he held a huge chunk of land in the new state of Ohio.

Always on the lookout to maximize his return on investment, Sullivant laid out several town sites in places he thought favorable to settlement and where he owned the real estate in question. One of them was near what is now Plain City; another was near what is now Bellepoint in Delaware County.

But the place he liked best was at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. In 1797, he laid out a town at that place on the west bank of the river. He could not cross over to the high banks on the other side of the river; that land had been set aside as the Refugee Tract for people from Nova Scotia who had lost property to the British in the Revolution.

He called his town Franklinton. He was a great admirer of Ben Franklin, and soon the nearby township and the entire county would be named for Franklin as well.

Franklinton was the settlement farthest north of the Ohio River when it was settled in 1797. The village had problems with flooding and the persistent fear of attack by Native Americans from the north. But Franklinton survived all these challenges and profited greatly from trade with transient American armies in the War of 1812.

When Ohio began looking for a new capital city site, Sullivant lobbied hard to have his town selected. But when the flooding issues became an obstacle, Sullivant changed tactics. He came to support the bid by his brother-in-law, Lyne Starling, to put the capital on higher ground across the river. That bid succeeded, and the new town came to be called Columbus.

Sullivant provided for his new community after he came to live there. He gave land for the first church and the first cemetery. To induce people to come to his new town, he offered free lots on the appropriately named Gift Street if people would build there and stay. They did, and the town grew. Then, in 1816, Sullivant built the first bridge across the Scioto to connect Franklinton with Columbus.

Sullivant married Sarah Starling in 1801 and was the father of three sons. Sarah died in 1814 of a fever. Sullivant never remarried and raised his three sons on his own. He died in 1823 of a different fever in a different season. He was 58 years old.

Sullivant is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery, where his best portrait can be seen on his gravestone.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.