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Published: Monday, 2/24/2003

History of Ohio region began 15,000 years ago

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When you think of 200 years of Ohio history, some things come to mind immediately: eight U.S. presidents, aviation's start in a Dayton bicycle shop, and Thomas Alva Edison and some of America's greatest inventors.

But the country's seventh largest state (population 11,353,140) is more than that. Geographically, it has always been an important transportation crossroads. Culturally, it's as diverse as any state in the union. Economically, it has been a vital contributor to the nation's prosperity.

It's hard to fathom, but there is abundant evidence of man's existence in Ohio during the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago. The first people, known as the Paleo-Indian People, likely made their way to the region by going overland from northeastern Asia to modern Alaska, and finally working their way to the Mississippi and into the Ohio River Valley. Nomadic hunters who lived in caves, they remained there for thousands of years before vanishing.

Next came the Archaic people, also hunters, who lived in the region until about 1000 B.C. They were followed by the most prominent of the early settlers, the Adenas and Hopewells, who resided in the region from about 800 B.C. until 600 A.D. Burial mounds found throughout the central, south, and southeastern parts of the Ohio region left plenty of artifacts to provide archaeologists with an understanding of how these people lived.

The Hopewells, savvy traders and exceptional artisans, were considered the most sophisticated of the early settlers and remained unmatched for more than 1,000 years, until Europeans began exploring the region. Remnants of two lesser-known groups, the Fort Ancients and the Whittlesey Focus, revealed that these people lived in the Ohio region sometime around 1000 A.D. After they vanished, no one inhabited the region for about 500 years.

As historian George W. Knepper wrote of Ohio's early settlers in his book, Ohio and Its People: “For some 15,000 years, prehistoric peoples had lived out their lives in the Ohio Country. Yet they left the land essentially unchanged. Unlike the Europeans who followed, they did not cut down the forests, strip the soil, drain the swamps, level the high places, and fill the low. Nor did they [alter] the course of river and stream. Least of all did they pre-empt vast acreage for cities, highways, airports, and all the other works of modern societies. A dynamic western culture has transformed their Ohio, yet today one can gaze at their great mounds and earthworks, at their implements and artifacts, and feel a kinship with those distant people who called Ohio home.”

The first of the Native American tribes - the Miami - arrived in western Ohio in the 1660s, followed by the Mingo of the Iroquois Nation, the Wyandot, the Ottawa, the Shawnee, and the Delaware.

“The Indians' claim to Ohio lands rested upon conquest and possession,” according to Ohio Lands: A Short History, written by the state auditor's office. “They did not claim ownership of the land, as the white men did. Rather they claimed the right to use the land for various purposes. Therefore, different boundaries existed for hunting, fishing, farming, and villages. These overlap in claims often led to wars among various tribes.”

The French were the first Europeans to arrive. Robert Cavelier, who explored the northern lake area in 1669, claimed all of the Ohio country for France. But the French turned over the territory to the British in 1763, after the Treaty of Paris - the result of their defeat in the French and Indian War (1755-63). The British, in turn, gave up the Ohio country and all of its western holdings after its defeat in the Revolutionary War.

The land, including Ohio, became known as the Northwest Territory. (Chillicothe, Ohio, became its eastern capital for one year, in 1800.) It's hard to imagine now, but Ohio was the first of the wilderness lands west of the 13 original states. The Northwest Territory, at the time, was made up of Ohio and Illinois country, and modern day Michigan and Wisconsin. Most of the land west of there, but east of the Mississippi River, was controlled by Spain and called Spanish Louisiana.

Rich in hardwoods, soil, water, and wildlife, the Ohio country was a prized resource. And, as a public land, it became the centerpiece of a unique experiment. The new democracy decided by resolution in 1780 that such public lands could not be claimed by other states, a number of which had claims on western lands. Rather, they had to be organized as individual states and join the Union.

In 1803, Ohio - “great river” in the Iroquoian language - became the 17th state, but the first organized under the 1780 resolution concerning public lands.

As a result, Mr. KnepPer says, “the territorial development of Ohio is much more complex than that of other new states formed from the public domain. Ohio would be its testing ground.”

Statehood was not a simple matter. Arthur St. Clair, the territorial governor, led a faction that sought to divide the state and delay statehood indefinitely. However, Thomas Worthington, a statehood supporter, led another group that persuaded Congress to reject St. Clair's plan. As a result of his success, Worthington became known as “the father of Ohio statehood.”

Although the majority of Ohio's land - 17 million acres - was obtained in 1795 through the Treaty of Greenville after a series of armed conflicts between American troops and Native Americans, seven additional treaties were signed between 1805-18, adding 8 million acres. The decisive battle of the period occurred in July, 1794, at Fallen Timbers, near present-day Toledo, where American troops were led by “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

Settlement of Ohio moved quickly after the Greenville Treaty. Edward Tiffin became Ohio's first governor on Jan. 11, 1803. The state's first legislature met on March 1. Chillicothe became the first capital, until 1810, when Zanesville took the honor for two years before Chillicothe resumed control from 1812-16. Seeking a central location, the legislature had named Columbus the capital in 1812, but the area was wilderness at the time, and the town did not become the permanent capital until 1816.

While Ohio grew quickly after statehood, skirmishes with indigenous tribes and the War of 1812 resulted in some setbacks. The war's most significant battle was fought on Lake Erie at Put-in-Bay, where Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry led his sailors to victory over the British. After the war, the state's population was about 300,000. In five years, it doubled. By 1840, it reached 1.5 million and by the beginning of the Civil War it was 2.3 million.

Immigration was fueled by commerce on the Ohio River; the state's canal system, and, later, railroads; and its mining, manufacturing, timber, and agriculture industries.

Also during the years preceding the Civil War - and during the early part of the war - Ohio became one of the leading northern states of the Underground Railroad, which guided African-American slaves to freedom after escaping the South. The Buckeye State sent nearly 200,000 men to battle in defending the Union.

The emergence of the automobile at the turn of the century, coupled with the state's robust farming industry, fueled an economic growth that made Ohio one of the country's wealthiest states for the first 70 years of the 20th century. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton, Akron, and Youngstown became important commercial centers. Foreign competition and the flight of companies to the Sun Belt states, beginning in the early 1970s, sent Ohio on a downward spiral which, like other Rust Belt states, it has been struggling to overcome.

The state has not yet been as successful as some other Midwestern states in attracting high-tech and other new technology industries. Census figures show that between 1990 and 2000 the state lost 23.6 percent of its population aged 20 to 34 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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