The first European settler of Kelleys Island, according only to legend, was a man named Cunningham (supposedly French or French Canadian). Legend tells us that he went to the island around 1803 while it was still inhabited by indigenous Americans. For a while Cunningham lived on the island and had a good relationship with the native people. He built a cabin near their village. He often traded and socialized with their hunters.
Legend then tells us Cunningham had an argument with some of the Native Americans resulting in a group of them destroying his cabin, stealing everything he had and attempting to kill him. Supposedly Cunningham escaped to the Ohio Peninsula with a canoe, but died shortly after due to wounds inflicted by the Native Americans.
For some years after Cunningham’s death the island, supposedly, was referred to as Cunningham Island; however, the contemporary Catawba Island had formerly been named Cunningham by the British prior to 1804 so it is difficult to know which island Cunningham visited if a Cunningham existed at all. Additionally, the surname Cunningham is not usually of French origin, but rather Scottish.
Before the War of 1812 there is documentation of several European frontiersmen settling on Kelleys Island, all of them eventually being driven out by the Native Americans or incoming US pioneers. By the end of the War of 1812 most of the Native Americans had left the island as well.
At the National Road and Zane Grey Museum you can learn about US 40 which is the old National Road once known as the Main Street of America. At the museum you can explore the Westerns and novels of famous Ohioan author Zane Grey (of Zanesville, Ohio) and see the artful pottery that this region of Ohio is famous for.
Learn about the history of the road from construction to transportation, wagons to cars and more. The exhibit demonstrates with period objects what is would have been to like to travel on the Main Street of America during the early 19th century to the mid 20th century. The 136 foot long exhibit is quite educational.
The Main Street of America was the busiest route west and traveled from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois. Construction on the road began in 1806 and in the early 19th century was the only significant link between the coasts of America. This route, the brainchild of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson was the vein which fed crops and goods back and forth between East and West and aided greatly in immigration.
Mr. Zane Grey was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1872. He authored over eighty books but is best known for his novels about the old West. Grey wrote sixty some Westerns, 9 novels about fishing, 3 books tracing the lineage and history of the Ohio Zanes, a biography of young George Washington and plenty of short stories—somewhat of a literary heavyweight. Zane’s novels remain popular in the present day. The museum has recreated the study in which Zane penned many of these work and includes many original manuscripts and personal items of Zane’s.
There is a town in Ohio that is so small it often does not appear on maps. Gist Settlement in Penn Township, Highland County Ohio is the name of the town too small for maps. This tiny town was established by a group of freed slaves during the 1820’s.
Yet the town is named after Englishman, Samuel Gist from Gloucester County, England. Gist was very wealthy owning not only land in England, but the Southern U.S. as well. While historians believe Gist probably never visited the U.S. his success was due in part to the work of slaves on his plantations.
Gist made many addendums to his will before he died. The final version called for his slaves in America to be freed one year after his death. Gist also set his will up so that everything he owned in the U.S. would be sold. The profits were to create a trust to care for his freed slaves.
After Gist’s passing his last wishes began to be executed. Executors searched for land on which the freed slaves could settle. The executors found several plots in Ohio. A portion of the freed people came to Highland County and the future Gist Settlement.
The Gist Settlement is still there today and still ignored by maps. The population has shrunk from the estimated 900-some freed people who settled Gist.
Ohio’s history can be explored at many locations around the state, but there may be no other place like the Johnston Farm—here one can explore thousands of years of Ohio history in one place. The location includes ancient mounds built by native Ohioans who knew the land by a different name. The 250 acre site also includes John Johnston’s farm.
There is restored home and several outbuildings that can be toured where you’ll about life in Ohio around 1829. There is also a museum dedicated to the Eastern Woodland Native Americans who lived in the area. You can also take a mule-drawn canal boat ride along a restored section of the historic canal.
For the small settlement of Piqua the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency was the life center of activity. John Johnston settled his here with his family in 1811. He was and Indian Agent but well respected by both the Native Americans and his peers.
Johnston performed Washington’s eulogy, was friends with William Henry Harrison and served as a canal commissioner for some time. He also served as president of philosophical and historical societies in Ohio. He also found the time and energy to help found Kenyon College and serve on Miami University’s board of trustees and was a member of the board at the famous military academy of West Point.