Searching for the Forts and Indian Villages of Sandusky Bay
By Charles E. Frohman
Volume I, Number 1
It is natural to try to find the exact site of old forts and Indian villages, but often indefinite descriptions and lack of precision in maps, charts and journals make this impossible. Such is the case with Fort Sandusky and the other forts of the Sandusky Bay area. The changing water level of the Bay and accompanying erosion have further complicated the problem of locating the original sites, although Fort Sandusky's location can be determined within a thousand feet or so.
The best study of Sandusky Bay was written by Edwin L. Moseley in 1904,1 and a good summary of the erosion problem is given in an article by Paul R. Shaffer published in 1951. 2
Moseley explained that Sandusky Bay was an enlargement of the Sandusky River valley, formed by both preglacial and glacial erosion, and that depression of the land (tilting) caused marshes to be formed along the valley. Waves then cut away clay between the valleys and gradually enlarged the Bay. In the early 17th century, Moseley said, the area west of the present Bay Bridge was a large marsh with little or no open bay. However, by the 18th century, a bay, described by French traders, was distinguishable from the river which the Indians had known for years.
The early maps of the region are not accurate. In 1775, Lewis Evans produced a map which served as a basis for many subsequent efforts by others. But all of it was not drawn from his own observations, and it is necessary to examine his Analysis, wherein Evans says: "the Routs across the Country, as well as the Situation of Indian Villages, trading Places, the Creeks that fall into Lake Erie, and other affairs relating to Ohio and its Branches, are from a great Number of Informations of Traders and others, and especially of a very intelligent Indian called The Eagle, who had a good notion of Distances, Bearings and Delineating."3
There are three rough maps of the 18th century that outline the Bay in its present shape: the Bouquet map of 1768(?); the de Lery drawings of 1754-55, both of which are referred to hereafter; and a Journal of the South Shore of Lake Erie made in 1789, the original of which was presumably destroyed in a New York Capitol fire in 1911, although a copy is printed in the Sandusky Registerof July 15, 1893.
The first actual survey of the east end of the Bay was done by Almon Ruggles in 1809 as part of his survey of the Firelands in the Western Reserve. The west end of the Bay was surveyed in 1820 by Sylvanus Bourne, who published his map the next year, and it is the western area with which we are concerned.
Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, has a maximum depth of 210 feet. The western end, however, has a depth which seldom exceeds 40 feet in the island area and beyond. Strong winds have a great effect on its water level, and at Toledo, the wind-produced fluctuations can range between extremes of nine feet above and six-and-a-half feet below low-water datum. Sandusky Bay shares in this rise and fall. 4
Moseley cites many northeastern storms and the damaging effect that they have produced along the Bay shore. As the Bay enlarged (estimated at 20% between 1820 and 1905) 5 and as the water level increased, the damage to the shore also increased. The soil especially along the southwest shoreline of the Bay had little resistance to wave action, and here the progress of erosion has been greatest.
Meanwhile, the tilting of the land, causing depression, with its consequent rise of water over the land, has also been responsible for the disappearance of much dry land, and for the creation of marshes in the area. Moseley figured the tilt to be 2.14 feet per century, although others have calculated it at only eight or nine inches each century. The low, flat lands of northern Sandusky County make this tilt an important factor in the disappearing shoreline.
All this complicates the problem of locating Indian villages and forts on Sandusky Bay. Rough calculations based on the Bourne map of 1821, and then on aerial surveys made in 1970, indicated the distance to the Bay from a section line in Townsend Township of Sandusky County changed during 150 years as follows:
West line of Section 6 5200 feet 3100 feet
Center line of Section 6 3000 feet 1650 feet
West line of Section 5 3000 feet 1950 feet
Center line of Section 5 3000 feet 1375 feet
East line of Section 5 4000 feet 2700 feet
Center line of Section 4 5280 feet 4300 feet
The Sandusky River had long been an Indian highway and home, and the neutral villages on the site of present-day Fremont are of particular interest to archeologists and historians.
When the Wyandots [Hurons] at Detroit decided to migrate, they settled in the Sandusky Bay area about 1740 to 1744. Chief Nicolas, whose followers comprised one of the early settlements, gave the French much trouble throughout the 1740's. Attempts today to locate their original village site on the Bay are difficult because erosion has altered the shoreline so much.
1. Anionton Village
On Friday, March 21, 1755, Chaussegros de Lery was returning eastward from a visit to Detroit. He came by way of the south shore of Lake Erie to the portage at the present site of Port Clinton, and crossed over to Sandusky Bay. When he was ready to proceed eastward again he paddled to what is now called Cedar Point, but finding Lake Erie full of ice, returned on the Bay "to the portage of Anioton village . . . where only three cabins and some palisades remainwere in the place where the Hurons took refuge after they had left Isle du Bois Blanc and killed the Frenchmen." They had built a fort here.
De Lery also drew a chart of the eastern part of Sandusky Bay and designated the Anioton portage at the approximate location of present-day Venice. 8
The distance from the Bay to the site of Anioton is given as one league; this is the approximate distance from Venice to Crystal Rock on Wahl Road east of Northwest Road in Erie County. Crystal Rock is an ideal site for a village and fortification, with several small caves and flowing springs. A level-topped hill rises about thirty feet above the surrounding land. The fact that many Indian artifacts have been found at this site confirms it use.
A map called "The Bouquet Map" 9 shows an Indian village at the site of Anioton, calling it "Contontia" with the statement that it was not inhabited at that time. This map has written on it "1786" and it is certain to have been drawn after July 26, 1763, when Captain Dalzelle, in revenge for the burning of Fort Sandusky earlier that year, destroyed a village listed on the map as "Contuntuth" near the site of present-day Castalia. 10
The site of Anioton was near Sandusky Bay, just west of the narrowest part where the bridges now span the Bay. Northerly from the site to the Bay the land is low and flat, and it was undoubtedly subjected over the years to erosion and flooding. It had some degree of protection from the full force of the northeast storms because of the narrowness of the Bay just to the east. Originally there was very little if any swampland bordering the Bay at this point. There are swamps there now, but these were caused by the excavation or mining of marl for the Sandusky Portland Cement Company plant at Bay Bridge (later the Medusa Cement Company) which began operation in 1892. The marshes caused by the overflowing of Cold Creek before it was canalized, lie to the southeast of Crystal Rock.
The name "Anioton" is that of one of the chiefs of the Wyandots associated with Nicolas, who headed the conspiracy against the French at Detroit. The third chief was Angouirot who also lived on the Bay.
2. Nunqunhanty Village
Because they had some fear of remaining in the Detroit area with the French, the Hurons [Wyandots] under Orontony [baptismal name "Nicolas"] requested permission to settle near Montreal, then changed their minds and settled at Sandusky. On September 16, 1740, Monsieur De Noyan wrote that the third chief of the Hurons, named Angouirot, had just arrived from "Sandoske," where he had left nearly all his brothers cutting down trees to extend their fields. The location of the village, and what was later Nicolas' fort, in the marshes of Sandusky, was not fully determined. 11 It was evident from this document that some of the Hurons had settled at Sandusky prior to 1740. By 1742 the Detroit Hurons began to join their brothers at Sandusky. The Pennsylvania traders came to these villages, entered into cordial relations with them, and in 1745 built a large blockhouse in the principal village. 12
The Huron or Wyandot village of Nunqunhanty, headquarters of Chief Nicolas and his tribe, was probably located at the southwest extremity of Sandusky Bay, near the mouth of Racoon Creek and probably extending toward Pickerel Creek [known in other days as "Poisson D'Ore"]. This low-lying land was near, if not in, the marshes at the head of the Bay. We have seen that there were no bay-bordered marshes near Crystal Rock, for former site of the Wyandot village of Anioton.
The Bourne map of 1821 also indicated the Indian trails, the easternmost of which led southeast from a point at the Sandusky River mouth, then west of Raccoon Creek to a crossing of Pickeral Creek and eastward to the Castalia area. Other trails on this map led up the west side of the Sandusky River and crossed Muddy Creek Bay, to the mouth of the Portage River, now Port Clinton, on Lake Erie. One would be inclined to believe, in view of the tilting theory affecting the land and the resultant deepening of the water, that this trail was laid out before Muddy Creek Bay was wet; this is partially confirmed by the fact that another trail branches off of this trail to go around Muddy Creek where the land is dry, and again joins the first trail.
The Bouquet map, to which we have referred, shows southeast of the Sandusky River mouth, and a short distance from the Bay, a village named "Nunqunhanty" where 400 Indians could assemble. The map also shows a trail in the same direction as the Bourne map, leading through the Castalia area to Fort Sandusky.
In 1756 Colonel James Smith "arrived safe at Sunyendeand which was a Wyandot town that lay upon a small creek which empties into the Little Lake [Sandusky Bay] below the mouth of Sandusky [River]
. . . The town was about eight rood [sic] above the mouth of the creek, on the south side of a large plain, on which timber grew, and nothing more but grass or nettles . . . As the Wyandots at Sunyendeand and those at Detroit were connected, Mr. Campbell [a prisoner] was taken to Detroit." 13
Remains of fortifications were found throughout this area, and artifacts indicating Indian occupation appeared. 14 More than any other site on Sandusky Bay, Nunqunhanty was probably affected by tilting of the land and erosion of the shore. The west line of section six of Townsend Township (which would be the east line of Riley Township) is the closest to the probable location, and in 150 years, 2100 feet were eroded along this line. There was probable erosion along the west shoreline also, and encroachment from the north and east by marshes.
In the record of occurrences during the years 1747-48, it was reported on June 28, 1747 that Nicolas, with 119 warriors of his nation, men, women, and baggage, had taken the route to the White River after having burned the fort and the cabins of the village. 15 This statement would indicate that the village (or one of the villages) was completely destroyed, so that the Nicholas village could not have been located at Anioton, which de Lery described as partially remaining. Upon his return from the abortive raid on Detroit, Nicolas possibly went to Anioton, because it may have been less vulnerable to attack if the French pursued him, which they did not do. After Nicholas left, his village must have been rebuilt by others, or it must have been one of a group of villages, since there are later references to Indian occupation of the area.
In 1760, Major Robert Rogers set out from Detroit for Pittsburgh by land. On January 2, 1761 he arrived at "Lake Sandusky" and recorded: "We came to a town of the Wiandot Indians where we halted to refresh." Then his courses and distances took him to a small Indian town of about ten houses, where there was a remarkable fine spring, rising out of the side of a small hill with such force that it boiled above the ground in a column three feet high, discharging ten hogsheads of water in a minute. Assuming that this was an original spring of the Rockwell Springs Trout Club two miles southwest of the present village of Castalia, and one worked backward along the courses and distances laid down by Major Rogers, it would lead to Nunqunhanty, while in Sandusky County it would have followed generally the trail marked in the Bourne map. Referring to the Ruggles survey of the Firelands 16 "a plain path from Huron to Detroit" was crossed about four and a half miles south of the Bay, along the west line of the Firelands, where it joins Sandusky County, and this could be the extension of the trail of Bourne's map.
3. The French Fort
Often called "French Fort Sandusky" for want of any official designation, this fort was located on the north shore of Sandusky Bay, approximately at the south end of the present Fulton Street, or Sloan Road, in Ottawa County, which road is about 57 arpents (10260 feet) long. It is quite possible that the actual site may be more to the south and is now covered with water, due to erosion and tilting of the land, but erosion was not so severe in this area because it did not receive the full force of either southwest or northeast winds, and was in the lee when the wind blew from the northwest.
After he entered Sandusky Bay (which he called Lac Dotsandoske) de Lery wrote on August 4, 1754: "I thought some trace must remain of the fort built there by the French in 1751, and later abandoned. To find it, I followed the northern coast of said lake which runs E & W. After having covered about 3 leagues, I perceived a clearing where I landed at noon, and found the remains of the old fort." On his return eastward on March 16, 1755, he drew a plan of the fort and of the bay with relation to the fort.
On September 24, 1764, Captain John Montresor and his party of the Bradstreet expedition, came down the Sandusky River and "entered the lake or rather the Bay of Sandusky and continued on it till we arrived ¾ of a mile above where the French Fort stood on the carrying Place between the Lakes Sandusky and Erie, where we encamped." 17
Reference is often made to the statement of John Patten that he was told by the French that Fort Sandoski was built in the latter part of 1750, and abandoned by the French in 1752 or 1753, possibly soon after Pickawillany was destroyed; and further, "that the French go in three days from Fort Detroit to Fort Sandoski, which is a small Pallisadoed Fort, with about 20 Men lying on the South side of Lake Erie, and was built the latter end of the year 1750." 18
Thomas Bourke, another trader captured by the French, gave his statement "That in the month of November 1750, the Deponent & two more English Men named Luke Erwin & Joseph Faltener were Seized by a Detachment of about 50 French Soldiers Commanded by Captain Baugier Lieutenant Courtemanche & another Officer whose name he does not know at a place called Cuiahago about ten leagues from the Fort which the French have built on Lake Sandouske which joins to the Great Lake Erie." 19
4. Fort Sandusky
Last of the forts to be built, and one whose location is fairly certain, was Fort Sandusky, located on high ground at the present site of Venice (now a part of the city of Sandusky) on the northerly side of Fremont Avenue (U.S. Route 6) east of the junction of Ohio Route 99. Its site was chosen with the approval of Sir William Johnson, who inspected the site and the fort during construction. On Tuesday, September 22, 1761 he recorded in his diary:
Then I crossed the carrying-place, which is almost opposite one of the Wyandot towns, about six miles across the lake here. I sent Mr. Croghan to the Indian town, and went down the lake in a little birch canoe to the place where the block house is to be built by Mr. Meyer. This place is about three leagues from the mouth of Lake Sandusky, where it disembogues itself into Lake Erie. They have a view of all boats which may pass or come in, from said post. It is about three miles from another village of Hurons, and fifteen by water from the one opposite to the carrying-place and nine by land. The Pennsylvania road comes by this post. This is one hundred and seventy miles from Presque Isle, and forty miles from Detroit. In the afternoon, set off from the post in the little canoe. . . .21
Capatin John Monstresor, of the Bradstreet expedition to Detroit, recorded that on September 18, 1764:
About 2 o'clock entered Sandusky Lake and arrived in the afternoon where our old fort stood that the Indians burned last year, a bad place for the Boats. The whole set sail and arrived at Thistle Creek about one mile and ¾ to the Eastward of it but the water failing returned and encamped ½ a mile to the westward of the old Fort. A good clay beach. 22
Colonel Henry Bouquet gave explicit instructions to Lieutenant Meyer for the building of Fort Sandusky in a letter of August 12, 1761, beginning:
You are hereby directed to . . . proceed with convenient Dispatch to Sandusky Lake, on the south side of which, and at the most convenient Place, you are to build a small Block House with a Pallisade around it, to serve as a Halting Place for our Party going and coming from Detroit. 23
The correspondence of Lieutenant Elias Meyer, in charge of the building of Fort Sandusky, is preserved among the Bouquet papers. On September 1, 1861, he wrote in part:
Yesterday afternoon, I went out 5 or 6 miles in a boat to the eastern part of the lake, to look for a good place opposite the point which all boats are obliged to double in order to go to Detroit. But either the land is too low, and there is no timber, or the landing is too dangerous on account of the rocks below or above water. Therefore, I have decided on a place here, to build a blockhouse, which is three miles from a village which the savages call Canoutout Chanondet, and where all the horses of the merchants unloaded and loaded the merchandise for Detroit. It is about in the middle of the small Lake Sandusky.24
On November 8, 1761, Meyer reported that the blockhouse would be covered the next day, and hoped it would be completed in two weeks. If he had enough lumber all four of the rooms would be completed at the same time. On November 15, Meyer reported that there remained to be built: a chimney, some beds, benches, tables, doors, the ladders to the second floor, the partitions, an outhouse, and a little more than half of the palisade around the blockhouse. Under the dateline "Fort Sandusky, November 29, 1761" Meyer said "I am very pleased, Sir, to tell you that the blockhouse, stockade, banquettes, etc., were finished today."
At the time of building Fort Sandusky, Cold Creek did not empty into Sandusky Bay at Venice, but crossed present U. S. Route 6 west of Venice at the cemetery, and meandered northward to the Bay. Before canalization, Cold Creek marsh covered nearly a thousand acres to the north of the "Great Springs" in Castalia. There were four branches into the Bay, according to a map in the Huron County records. The canal at Venice was dug in 1816, and a contract between Frederick Falley, proprietor, and Eli Hunt, miller, dated March 1, 1815, reserved:25
the privilege of four rods wide through the last-mentioned tract (called the Marsh Place) most convenient to carry a canal from Cold Creek to the head of the Swail near the old English Fort (so-called) . . .erecting said Canal and the water which it delivers at the swail near the English Fort . . .
At the conclusion of the contract, the Old English Fort is again mentioned.
One of the early roads to be opened in this area was Huron County road number 15 (now Ohio Route 99) which the county commissioners authorized in December, 1815 "from the old English Fort on Sandusky Bay in a southerly direction towards Mansfield to the south line of the county of Huron."
The plat of Venice was recorded in Huron County records, volume 2, page 19, on October 18,1816. It is described to be "on the south side of Sandusky Bay embracing the old English Fort (so-called). Bounded southeast by a canal. . ."
The original Ruggles survey of the Firelands also confirms the location of the fort: "To a large white oak marked XII west of the old fort." Homer Beattie, a former Huron County surveyor, fixed this as 6.15 miles west of Pipe Creek in Sandusky's east end.
The Bouquet map hereinbefore referred to also substantiates the location on the south shore of the Bay, at the approximate site of Venice, with relation to Castalia and other Indian settlements on the south shore.
1Edwin L Moseley, Formation of Sandusky Bay and Cedar Point, Ohio Academy of Science Proceedings, IV (1905), 179 ff.; reprinted by the Ohio Historical Society as Lake Erie Floods, Lake Levels, Northeast Storms (Columbus, 1973).
2Paul R. Shaffer, "Shore Erosion on Sandusky Bay," Ohio Journal of Science, LI, No. 1 (1951), 1-5. See also Thomas H. Langlois, "High Lake Levels Virtually Beyond Control," Toledo Blade,March 30, 1952, Sec.2, p. 3.
8The de Lery journals are in Laval University, Quebec. Translations are reproduced in Charles A. Hanna, The Wilderness Trail (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1911), II, 168 ff.; Lucy Elliot Keeler, "Old Fort Sandoski of 1745 and the Sandusky Country," Ohio Archaeological & Historic Publications, XVII (1908), 380; Sylvester K Stevens and Donald H. Dent, (eds.), Journal of Chaussegros de Lery, 1554-1755. Northwestern Pennsylvania Historical Series. Prepared by Frontier Forts and Trail Survey, Federal Works Agency and Works Projects Administration (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1940), 55 ff. English translation, microfilm. go back
11Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed.), Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1906), XVII, 286, and note 2; Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1896-1901), LXIX, 300, note 48.
18Howard Nicholas Eavenson, Map Maker and Indian Traders (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1949), 36, 119.
20Benjamin Franklin, Plan for Settling Two Western Colonies in North America (Philadelphia, 1754), quoted in James Wickes Taylor, History of the State of Ohio (Cincinnati: H. W. Duby & Co., 1854), 73.
23The Bouquet-Meyer correspondence is in "The Papers of Henry Bouquet," Northwestern Pennsylvania Historical Series (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1942); also, Michigan Pioneer & Historical Society, Historical Collections, XIX (Lansing: Wynkoop Holinbeck Crawford Co., 1892).