At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the newly formed United States found itself in possession of an empire that included most of the land east of the Mississippi River.
This was a fortunate occurrence, since the new country virtually was penniless and looking at an army of 8,000 or more men who had not been properly paid in seven years. (Note the word properly; in many cases, the men had been paid in Continental currency that literally was not worth the paper it was printed on. The phrase "not worth a Continental" was popular in those days.)
To resolve the issue, the Continental Congress looked to the immense Ohio Country north and west of the Ohio River and decided to divide it into land grants, pay soldiers in land rather than money and sell the rest.
The land that was divided first was most of what is now the state of Ohio, since that was the land closest to the new nation on the other side of the mountains. One of the divisions of land came to be called the Virginia Military District and was set aside for Virginia veterans and others. It was a pie-shaped wedge from the Scioto River in the east to the Miami River in the west.
To make this land available, it would need to be surveyed. To that end, the House of Burgesses in Virginia had appointed Col. Richard Anderson to supervise the survey. A Revolutionary veteran, Anderson, in turn, appointed a number of deputy surveyors to go forth and find out what Virginia had acquired.
Some of the surveyors appointed were well-known, such as politician Nathaniel Massie and soldier Duncan McArthur. Others were less well-known -- among them, a man named Lucas Sullivant.
Sullivant was born in 1765. The family had been in the United States for many years but had fallen on hard times with the drinking habits of Sullivant's father.
Favored with a good basic education and following the death of his mother and last close relative, Sullivant set off to make his fortune.
Like many young men of his generation after the Revolution, this meant crossing the mountains to "Kain-tuck-ee." In Kentucky, Sullivant, who was trained as a surveyor, found work with Anderson.
According to an older account, Sullivant "organized at Limestone, now Maysville, Kentucky, and comprised about twenty men, including assistant surveyors, chain carriers, scouts, porters and other helpers."
In 1795, Sullivant "began surveying operations within the present limits of Franklin County." It was not an easy task, as more than 20,000 Native Americans had not been asked their opinion on the matter.
But the greatest challenges faced by the expedition came from the animals along the way, as the local account attested:
"Wolves, howling and barking, hovered constantly around the camps of the expedition, seeking its offal, and the American panther or catamount, was more often than once seen prowling about on the same errand. ... When Mr. Sullivant awoke the next morning after this adventure, he felt some incubus on his person, and soon discovered that a large rattlesnake had coiled on his bed. Giving both blanket and snake a sudden toss, he sprang to his feet and soon made away with his uninvited bedfellow."
Sullivant's survey party of more than 20 men "carried with it a supply of bacon, flour and salt, but depended for its subsistence on the wild game of the woods. ... On one occasion, coming in at night, weary and hungry, the men, to their great delight, were regaled with the appetizing odors issuing from a steaming camp kettle. When the men were ready each one received his share of hot broth in his tin cup, the chief being awarded as his portion the boiled head of some small animal. Opinions differed as to what the animal was, the racoon, rabbit, groundhog, squirrel, porcupine and opossum each having its partisans.
"Finally, on being driven to the wall, the cook acknowledged that the soup had been made from the bodies of two young skunks he had captured 'without damage to himself' in a hollow log. The effect of this announcement was curious. Some of those who had partaken persisted that the soup was excellent, others wanted to whip the cook; only one, involuntarily, emptied his stomach."
Life on the frontier was an adventure, even in a culinary sense.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.