As it Were: Lucas Sullivant’s run ended at the forks of the Scioto, Olentangy rivers
At the end of the American Revolution, an immense body of land west of the Appalachian Mountains extending to the Mississippi River passed from Great Britain to the newly created United States.
The eastern part of this region – loosely called the Ohio Country – began to be platted and occupied first by settlers from the east.
Much of what is now the state of Ohio was set aside in various tracts and land grants to settle conflicting title disputes among the states and to settle claims for losses incurred during the Revolution. In central Ohio, several land grants were aligned closely to each other.
One of those land grants was called the Refugee Tract. It began at the Scioto River and ran east between what is now Fifth Avenue to the north and Refugee Road to the South. It was set side for people from Nova Scotia who had lost property because they supported the Revolution.
But the largest of the land grants was called the Virginia Military District and ran from the Miami Valley in the west to the Scioto River in the east. Set aside for the benefit of Virginia’s soldiers and citizens, the district was viewed with interest by residents of Kentucky and other points nearby.
Col. Richard Anderson of Kentucky was given the task of organizing a survey of the Virginia Military District. He hired several surveyors with the assumption that the area would be safe to survey.
It was a mistaken assumption.
One of the men he had hired was Lucas Sullivant.
Born in 1765 in Virginia, Sullivant had been too young to fight in the Revolution. But trained as a surveyor, he sought and obtained work in the new territories over the mountains. He later was described as a man “of medium height, muscular and well-proportioned, quick and active in his movements, with an erect carriage good walk, a well-balanced head, finished with a que he always wore, a broad and high forehead, an aquiline nose, and a blue-gray eye, a firm mouth and a square chin.”
In the spring of 1795, Sullivant led a survey party into the Deer Creek valley in what is now Madison County. A later account noted that his party had been “comprised of about 20 men, including assistant surveyors, chain carriers, scouts, porters and other helpers.”
“While running his lines along Deer Creek, he encountered a mounted French trader accompanied by two Indians. Soon after this party had passed him, Mr. Sullivant heard shots and going back found, to his dismay, that his rear guard had fired on and killed the Frenchman and put his Indian companions to flight.
“Sullivant reprimanded his men severely for this unprovoked and unnecessary attack, well knowing that it could not fail to incite early retaliation from the Indians at the villages on the Scioto.
“His fears were soon realized. While he was running his last lines, four days after the affair of the Frenchman, Sullivant descried a band of Indians, larger than his own party, crossing the prairie at a considerable distance. … Sullivant proposed to fight, but his men were averse to it and remained concealed in the high grass while the warriors passed by.
“After they had passed and Mr. Sullivant had cautioned his men to be quiet and not to use their firearms, he resumed his work, which he was just finishing at nightfall, when a flock of wild turkeys flew up into the trees nearby. Tempted by these birds, the men disobeyed orders and fired several shots. Sullivant warned his companions to be ready. … He had scarcely ceased when the warriors rushed at them with a whoop and a volley.
“Sullivant lifted his compass, which was on the Jacob’s staff standing beside him and, tossing it into a fallen tree top, unslung the light shotgun he carried strapped on his back and fired at an Indian who was advancing upon him with uplifted tomahawk, and turning about to look for his men, saw they were in a panic and rapidly dispersing, and he also took to his heels, and fortunately in a quarter mile fell in with six of his men. Favored in their flight by the darkness, they journeyed all night and most of the next day.”
The compass lost in the treetop was recovered by a relative many years later and eventually ended up in a local museum exhibit.
Sullivant had many other adventures in the course of his survey work for the next several years. Like most surveyors of that time, he took his pay in land and eventually ended up as one of the largest landowners in Ohio.
Sullivant laid out plans for several towns, but the place he liked best was at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. In August 1797 on the west bank of the Scioto, he laid out the village of Franklinton. He made it his home and eventually saw the new capital city of Columbus emerge across the river in 1812.
It was a good end to a long run.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.