John Filson -
Spanning toward endless horizons, constantly, discovering the enduring beauty of earth and the wild inhabitants it bore.
John Filson was a school teacher by trade, but at the end of the Revolutionary War, he decided to expand his ambition and develop some land he purchased out west in Kentucky. He ended up developing the entire 18th century frontier.
His many explorations across the hinterland eventually led him to publish the first detailed map of "Kentucke" in 1784. It was a substantial improvement over what was available and helped countless others navigate the terrain behind him.
The map was created with the help of the other settlers who knew the land and traveled it like him. John met many of them on his journeys. Sometimes they fed him and put him up for the night, though most evenings were spent less than satisfied under the stars. One settler John met had such incredible adventures he asked him if he could include them in the book he was writing about Kentucky. The man agreed but didn't know how to write, so John sat with him and wrote the stories as he recalled them from his memory. The book was soon published, and the legend of Danial Boone was born.
Like others in the territory, John greatly admired Daniel and thought he nearly symbolized the rugged, free spirited nature of the independent, heart-filled frontier pioneer. Daniel's epic tales were so inspiring they prompted thousands to stream into the region, settle and start families. John often followed the instinctual trails he thought were true, knowing that course sometimes led to the most wondrous views.
A few years later, in the summer of 1788, John Filson, Col. Robert Patterson and Mathias Derman started what is now the City of Cincinnati. They bought a large track of land across from the Licking River, surveyed the initial streets, created parcels and offered them for sale. John named the town Losantiville (changed to Cincinnati 3 years later). The town quickly became a great center of activity and spawned countless villages and towns in the Northwestern Territory and the homes and families that filled them. Within 50 years Cincinnati was known as the crown jewel of the west, and today the downtown streets are still laid-out very close to the original design.
In the fall of that year John joined an expedition up the Great Miami River to explore, map and investigate Indian activity. October opened with a familiar midnight sky, starry and black, just like the ones John had seen and fell asleep to many times before, but the day closed with a unfamiliar and terrible darkness.
According to Alta Heister's West to Ohio John left the party he was traveling with after a dispute and went off on his own. The last they saw, he was moving through the primeval forest then disappeared within its well hardened maple and oak. It is believed he was killed by the Indians several hours later.
The Shawnee lived on the Great Miami River and called it their own. At its union with the Ohio river they had a large, flourishing settlement that included a soaring hilltop view of the dense canopied valley below. Today the hilltop is called Shawnee Lookout. It's a Park just outside Cleves. Past the golf course, wooden picnic tables, public restrooms and an old log cabin that was moved there years ago, all the way back to were the road dead-ends and the daylight is muted by the approaching trees, it's an amazing place. From there a trail leads up a steep hill to an ancient Indian ceremonial ground still surrounded by earthen walls. If you ever come to the city, you should visit this place. Many people do. You'll pass them on the trail that runs along the ridge overlooking the farms and fields, now, of the valley floor. And if your imagination wonders, even for a moment, walking through this primordial haunt, you'll see the Indians up there, too, quietly standing at a clearing surveying the view or gathered together around a fire at night, dancing and singing, celebrating the spirit of the darkness, the spirit of the light and the great unknown, forever.
John's friends searched for his body afterward, but it was never found.
He was 41
The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke (1784) -
John Filson's book about Kentucky. The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon begin on page 39. My favorite anecdote is when the Indian's kidnapped Daniel's daughter. He rounded up only 8 men, pursued the Indians for 2 days, found and fought them, killed two, rescued his little girl then went home.
This Map of Kentucke (1784) by John Filson. The first map of Kentucky.
Recollections on Encounters with Indians (1786) - John Filson's 23 page hand-written account of Indian encounters where he narrowly escapes with his life.
For your convenience, I've transposed some pages of his account. A few words were difficult to make out. A hyphen means an indecipherable word; Three dots means several indecipherable words together. Anything in enclosed parentheses ( ) are my comments. Overall, the transposition flows well.
On the night of the first of June 1786 left Port St Vincent
in a pirogue (canoe) with three men;
The night was gloomy, clouds and double darkness filled the skies,
the descending moisture appeared to mourn our approaching fate.
Two of my men were much disposed to sleep,
having taken too freely of the noxious juices;
nor was it in my power to awake them either to
a sense of their duty or their danger.
Their - - silenced the oars, amicably added diligence to mine
I sailed incessantly during the night,
with one of my men who was sober and sensible to our situation...
we advanced within two leagues of the place where adversity assailed us.
The unwelcomed day began to dawn.
I blamed my men for their conduct,
attributing our tardy sailing to their stupidity,
endeavoring to convince them that danger might probably be at hand
being desirous of refreshment we floated with the stream
not thinking it safe to go to land had scarcely time to ... our ...
when lo we espied some canoes fastened to shore
and a large wigwam near under the spreading foliage of - trees
I told my men there was Indians,
and immediately about fifteen guns were fired at us,
accompanied with that infernal yell,
which ever carries the idea of horror with the sound.
Being to far distant from the shore to receive much damage,
though several bullets lodged in our boat,
... we steered across the river but was immediately
pursued by a pirogue, crowded with savages,
firing upon us and yelling to discourage flight;
my place being in the steerage they directed their balls at me,
numbers struck the boat but although they came like hail,
yet we gained the shore. unhurt, my hat only received damage.
It is impossible to paint the manner of our flight & the pursuit;
no human warrior more violently pursues the unhapy objects of their rage, than savages.
Our arms consisted only of two - (guns) and one sword;
the savages being advanced within sixty yards of shore,
I desired my men to stand & fight them
they being advanced a few steps to flee
turned to me with a melancholy look,
and saw cruel death approaching;
self preservation determined their - for escape.
i then told them with speediest flight
to save themselves if possible.
As I advanced to land took up two small trunks,
containing some valuable articles; There i cast under the -
little distance from shore and entered the woods
in a different direction from my men.
Like the unhapy mariner ready to sink with his vessel
in the foaming surge, used prayer and a vigorous flight for safety
The last hope of relief. These were not ineffectual;
a wonderous deliverance indeed
sure some guardian angel averted the impending danger
Who can reflect upon the circumstances without horror?
The shore red with bloody savages
I may say just at my heels,
who, that have not experienced such a situation can
possibly conceive the distress?
In flight I - turned my eyes from behind
some ancient friendly tree to view some blood
thirsty savage in full chase, with his terrible right hand
to lodge me in the land of silence.
From there he goes on to tell how he evaded the Indians by a "crafty flight", making many turns and walking backward in his tracks and on logs to conceal his footsteps. Of the three men he was with, two were killed. The other survivor saw the Indians leaving the area carrying their scalps.
His adventure continued up north (page 15, 16):
About 25 were employed in a field
a little distance from town
and attacked by a like number of savages
who wounded one with several bullets and took his scalp
but being repulsed carried of the wounded man,
who, though dangerously wounded
through the body was expected to recover.
This brought on something extraordinary.
Capt. Sullivan dragged the Indian out of the house
of a Frenchmen where he lay concealed;
and brought him to the fort,
where the wife of the wounded man
shot and scalped him immediately.
The French inhabitants were exasperated
by this to the highest degree.