RailsandTrails.com - Texts - 1854 Ohio Railroad Guide


ERIE, or PRESQUE ISLE--95 miles from Cleveland, 348 miles from Cincinnati, and 507 miles from New York, via the N. Y. and Erie Railroad.

We are now at a very remarkable place, naturally, historically and socially. We are at one of the great points on the great Lake frontier. I must tell you a little more of it than of most towns. The name was originally PRESQUE ISLE--so called by the French --which signifies almost an island; for such is the fact. On the west of the bay, a long peninsula runs nearly parallel with the eastern or southern shore, so as almost to inclose what is now the bay and harbor of Erie. This peninsula has latterly been converted into a real island, by the gradual wearing away of the isthmus, which connected it with the main land, so that the harbor of Erie has now two entrances. It will readily be seen that this geographical conformation makes one of the very best harbors that can be conceived; but for a long time a great difficulty was experienced, as in nearly all the Lake ports, by the formation of a sand-bar across the entrance. The United States government has expended here a great deal of money, in making piers and improvements for the harbor. The water on the bar is now from 8 to 10 feet-quite sufficient for such craft as navigate the Lake.

ERIE lies beautifully, on a bluff on the south side of the bay and peninsula. Erie is the modern name. As I said before, it was called by the French, who were the earliest settlers, Presque Isle. It appears to have happened this way: In 1748, several Virginians, among whom were Thomas Lee and two brothers of George Washington, associated themselves together, as the "Ohio Company," for the settlement of western lands. They obtained an order front the British government on the government of Virginia, for half a million of acres, two hundred thousand of which were to be located at once; which were to be held ten years without rent, on condition that within seven years one hundred families were put upon it, and a fort built for their protection. This the company proposed to do at once. Other companies were formed, and other grants made. But before this, the French had made settlements on the lower Ohio, and on a line between them and Canada. This attempt to settle the upper Ohio, therefore, at once excited their jealousy. They saw that if the English got a foothold here, they would descend and fall on the French posts below.

In February, 1751, Christopher Gist, the same person who went out afterwards with Washington, went out as the agent of the " Ohio Company," to examine the western lands, and was gone seven months, descending as low as the falls of Ohio. In November of the same year, Gist commenced a thorough survey of the lands east of the Kenhawa, which were to be occupied by the Kenhawa Company. In the meanwhile the French were not idle. They took imme diate steps to fortify posts on the upper Ohio. They began by establishing a post at this place--Presque Isle, or Erie, on the Lake. From Erie they opened a wagon road to a little lake at the head of French Creek-about fifteen miles-and there they built another fort. These w ere the first settlements of Erie county, and were made more than a hundred years ago.

Thus, too, began what is ca!led the "Old French War;" and in that began the military education of George Washington, the leader and hero of our revolution. The French continued to build their forts and posts. The English did the same. The French tampered with the Indians. The English counteracted then; and so mutual aggressions and encroachments were made, till blood was shed and the war commenced. "It was now," says Mr. Perkins in his Annals, "April, 1754. The fort at Venango was finished, and all along the lire of French creek, troops were gathering, and the wilderness echoed the strange sounds of a European camp--the watchword, the command, the clang of muskets, the uproar of soldiers, the cry of the sutler; and with these were mingled the shrieks of drunken Indians, won over from their old friendship by rum and soft words. Scouts were abroad, and little groups formed about the tents or huts of the officers, to learn the movements of the British. Canoes were gathering, and cannon were painfully hauled here and there. All was movement and activity among the old forests and on the hill sides, covered already with young wild flowers, from Lake Erie to the Allegheny."

So began, in these wild woods, on the shores of Lake Erie, and on the beautiful Ohio, the first clash -the first alarm-the first battle cry of that great war, which engaged all Europe; which was scarcely interrupted by the peace of 1763, when the murmurs of the Revolution began, and which continued to roll on from revolution to revolution, overturning and overturning, till the battle of Waterloo--sixty years of terrible conflict, resulting in the independence and liberty of America, and the commencement of a great social and political change in all the nations of Europe.

So began the settlement of Erie; but Erie was for half a century, though important as a position, but a small village. In 1763 it was attacked and taken by a confederacy of hostile Indians. In 1794, it was threatened by the celebrated Brant, in consequence of a dispute between the -United States and the Six Nations, as to the erection of a fort there.

In writing to the British authorities, Brant says, "In regard to the Presque Isle business, should we not get an answer at the time limited, it is our business to push these fellows hard, and therefore it is my intention to form my camp at Point Appineau; and I would esteem it a favor of his excellency the Lieutenant Governor, to lend me four or five batteaux. Should it so turn out, and should these fellows not go off, and O'Bail continue of the same opinion, an expedition against these Yankees must of consequence take place."

This was written in July; but the decisive victory of Wayne, in August, over the Indians of the northwest, ended, if there ever existed, any desire of the Six Nations to war about Presque Isle.

Connected with these Indian wars, was another event of great interest: the death of Anthony Wayne -the MAD ANTHONY of the Revolution. Wayne is one of the most remarkable names in American history; and it was here the great soldier died. He was on his return from Detroit, in 1796, where the treaty of Greenville had been made, and the British posts evacuated, when he was taken suddenly sick, and died at Erie. There was a good deal of mystery, and some talk about the circumstance of his death. He had a controversy with General Wilkinson, who was then, and indeed always, of rather doubtful standing in the public mind. It was said that Wayne had important papers affecting Wilkinson, in his trunk. However that was, Wavne suddenly died at Erie, and his bones were finally carried to Chester county, Pennsylvania, whence he came.

ANTHONY WAYNE was a remarkable man. He was born in Chester county, Pennsylvania, in 1745. His father was a farmer, of excellent character, who rendered considerable service to the government. He took great pains to educate his son, especially in the sciences. Anthony entered the army, as Colonel, in 1775, accompanied one of the expeditions to Canada, and was shot in the leg at the action of the Three Rivers. In 1776, he was made a Brigadier General. He fought at Brandywine, at Germantown, at Monmouth, and finally stormed Stony Point, on the Hudson, in 1779. It was for this desperate action he received the soubriguet of "Mad Anthony." He was in the campaign against Cornwallis, and was finally appointed to the command of the southern army. In fine, there was not an important battle, or hazardous enterprise, from the beginning to the end of the Revolution, in which he was not more or less distinguished. His career was a brilliant and successful one.

When the Revolution was closed, the constitution framed, and the Northwestern Territory constituted, Wayne was called upon a new theatre of action. Hamar and St. Clair had both been defeated by the Indians; the latter most disastrously. In this condition of affairs, our whole northwestern frontier was exposed, the people disheartened, and the Indians triumphant. It was at this time, that Washington, who well knew the character of Wayne, appointed him to the command of the Northwestern army. In the summer of 1792, he was busily engaged in collecting his troops, and in training and disciplining them for the particular service they were meant for. In December, 1792, the army which was called Legion of the United States, assembled at Legionville, twenty-two miles below Pittsburgh. There it passed the winter, till April, 1793--when, being taken down the river, it encamped on the present town plat of Cincinnati, and near Fort Washington. There--in consequence of the negotiations carried on by Commissioners--it remained till October, being engaged in drilling and preparations. On the 7th October, 1793, Wayne and his "Legion" left Cincinnati; but encamped at what is now Greenville, Darke county. In the meanwhile, the field of St. Clair's defeat had been recovered, and "Fort Recovery" built there. In June, 1794, Fort Recovery was attacked by Little Turtle, with 1000 warriors, but after a severe contest, he was repelled. Wayne declared that there were many white men with them, and the Indians were really instigated by the British. On the 8th of August, "Fort Defiance" was built at the junction of the Auglaize and the Maumee. At lenght, on the 20th of August, Wayne encountered the united forces of the Indians on the Maumee, and completely defeated and overwhelmed them in a decisive battle. This battle was in fact, the close of the Revolution. Up to this time, the British had never delivered up the western posts, in conformity with the Treaty of 1783. On the contrary, it was clearly proved that the British authorities in Canada, bad instigated and excited the Indians in their hostilities. The battle of the Maumee, however, ended all this, and soon after the posts in the northwest were delivered. The spirit of Wayne is very well illustrated by a terse and piquant correspondence between Major Campbell--who com-anded the British post on the Miami--and Wayne, after the battle of Maumee. Campbell demanded to know why the American Army had taken a post " almost within reach of the guns of a fort occupied by his Majesty's troops;" to which Wayne replied that " were you entitled to answer, the most full and satisfactory one was announced to you from the muzzles of my small arms yesterday morning, in the action against the horde of savages in the vicinity of your post, which terminated gloriously to the American arms; but had it continued until the Indians, &c., were driven under the influence of the post and guns you mention, they would not have much impeded the progress of the victorious army under my command, as no such post was established at the commencement of the present war between the Indians and the United States."

Wayne, after the battle, proceeded to Detroit, there to finish the business of the war, and the posts. Having remained in the northwest more than a year longer, at the close of 1796, he took passage in a sail vessel for Erie, on his way to Washington, to answer some secret charges preferred against him by Wilkinson, but which were known to few, and were never publicly made. When near Presque Isle, (Erie), he was taken (it was said) with gout in the stomach, suddenly died, and was buried on the shores of the Lake. Some years after, his body was taken up and removed to his native place-Chester, Pennsylvania. It was quite singular that when taken up, his body was still fresh and quite preserved. This was probably caused by some peculiar property of the earth or fluid, in which he was buried. Wayne was about 57 years of age at his death, and, on the whole, was probably the most successful General of the Revolution--and certainly one of the most brilliant, brave, and skillful. The soubriquet of "Mad Anthony" lives embalmed in memory, and fresh with glory.

ERIE CITY--Presque Isle-is now a large, beautiful and flourishing place. I have visited it three times in the last thirty years, and each time it had greatly improved. It lies on the south shore of the Lake, on a bluff situated on and overlooking Presque Isle Bay. The plan of the borough extends three miles along the Lake, by an almost equal depth. The principal street lies from the harbor, on the road to Waterford. It has eight or ten churches, schools, seminaries, banks; mills, factories, stores, and all the machinery and adjuncts of a busy, thriving place. It employs a large capital, and has some 8000 inhabitants.

During the war of 1812-15, this was a rendezvous and naval station for the United States marine on Lake Erie. Here Perry's fleet was built in about seventy clays from the time the timber was standing in the forest! To this place he returned, after a glorious victory, with his prizes, and his vessels were afterwards sunk in the harbor near the navy yard. The Lawrence, his flag ship, was recently in part out of water, and visitors would frequently cut relics from its hulk.

To the right of the town, on a high bank overlooking the bay, are the remains of the old French fort -Presque Isle-now overgrown with weeds. Half a mile beyond it, is the blockhouse, erected for the protection of the navy yard during the late war. Wayne was, at his own request, buried under the flag staff of the fort; but, as I before said, he was removed by his relatives. Forty years have elapsed since the victory of Perry, and Lake Erie has been no more disturbed by the thunders of battle. PERRY, the victor of Erie, has long gone to his final home, where the grass grows over his head.

How sleep the brave who sink to rest
By all their country's wishes blest!

The LAKE SHORE ROAD, upon which we have traveled, passes in the rear of Erie; so that in fact we get but a distant view of the town, which, as we go east, may be seen on the rising bluff to the left. A very good meal may usually be got at Erie; and if the traveler pleases, he can lie over a few hours, to walk round the town and then resume his journey.

The SUNBURY AND ERIE--now provided with ample means--will terminate here, and make a direct connection between Eric and both Philadelphia and New York. Beyond a doubt, this will greatly add to the prosperity of Erie, as well as add new facilities to the commerce of the northwest.

From this point the Lake Shore Railroad will conduct you to DUNKIRK and BUFFALO, thence to any point in the world you may desire to reach. But here, my fellow traveler; you and I must part. I will stop here, and then wend my way back to Ohio, perhaps to Misssissippi--who knows?

READER--whoever thou art-farewell! I have taken pleasure in your company, and, although we have met only by the way side, and may meet no more, yet it is pleasant to have met-to have seen together so much of our broad country-to have enjoyed the whirl of motion-the velocity unknown to our fathers-the consummation of modern ;art. Three hundred and fifty miles we have traveled together, and all has been green, and fresh. and beautiful, and grand; and all has been done by the light of a single day!

Let us call the PAST and the FUTURE to witness this same country under different aspects. The Past comes cold with the winds of the wilderness-dark with the solemn shadows of the forest; surrounded with Indian warriors, and lonely with civilization or art. Slowly she wanders by-overhung with clouds and darkness! Such is the past. The present is rich and beautiful. But here comes the FUTURE, draped in all the rich and gorgeous growth of an hundred years. What glorious city is that, panoplied in such vast magnificence? The Queen of the West sweeps by with her million of inhabitants, her splendid temples; her gorgeous paintings; her towers of science ; hor pictured gardens; her vast array of innumerable arts! And who is this that seems her sister, sitting on the Lake? Thou, beautiful Cleveland, art risen to high proportions! Gem of the Lakes--mart of commerce, thou lookest out upon the waters, like one who holds sovereignty over the waves! And thou, fair Ohio! spread out in all thy affluence of soil, thy culture and thy energy, thou hast become the Imperial State--the abode of millions, the seat of wealth, the residence of gory!

READER don't thou doubt, when beholding what is and what has been, that such shall be ? No, thou art made a prophet by this day's travel. Thou knowest-for thou past seen it--that here, in this central West, is the seat, and material, and power of an Empire. The course of Nature is onward and upward. Empires will be formed -in America, as they were in old Asia; but with far higher arts, far greater power of life and glory. Cities are rising here, before whose consummation of splendor, Babylon would have faded into twilight; and Genius will display its inventions on a greater and nobler scale, than the world has ever known.

READER-whoever thou art--farewell! Whereever thou goest, may thy dreams be pleasant, and thy soul at peace ! We have met, like the little waves on the deep-for a time blended, then scattered-rolling on in the bright sun, and presently breaking on the shore! Then, no drop lost, we shall be mingled in the great Ocean of Eternity. From that bourne, no traveler shall ever return!