Christopher Gist


Christopher Gist (1706–1759) was one of the first white explorers of the Ohio Country in what would become the United States. He was credited with providing the first detailed description of the Ohio Country to Great Britain and her colonists. At the outset of the French and Indian War, Gist accompanied George Washington on missions in the Ohio Country.

Born in 1706 in Baltimore, Maryland, Gist is thought to have had little formal education. Historians believe that he received training as a surveyor, more than likely from his father Richard Gist, who helped plot the city of Baltimore. Gist's nephew Mordecai Gist served as a general under Washington in the Revolution.

By 1750 Gist had settled in northern North Carolina, near the Yadkin River. One of his neighbors was the noted frontiersman Daniel Boone. During that same year, the Ohio Company chose Gist to explore the country of the Ohio River as far as the present-day Louisville, Kentucky area. That winter Gist mapped the Ohio countryside between the Lenape (Delaware) village of Shannopin's Town, site of present day Pittsburgh, to the Great Miami River in present-day western Ohio. There he crossed into Kentucky and returned to his home along the Yadkin.

When Gist returned to North Carolina, he found that his family had fled to Roanoke, Virginia, because of Indian attacks. He rejoined them. In the summer of 1751 he again went west to explore the Pennsylvania and western Virginia (present day West Virginia), country south of the Ohio River.

In 1752 Gist represented the interests of the Ohio Company at the Treaty of Logstown.

In 1753 Gist again returned to the Ohio Country, this time accompanying George Washington. Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia, sent Washington to Fort Le Boeuf to deliver a message to the French demanding they leave the Ohio Country. (The French were constructing forts in the Ohio Country to prevent the British colonies from expanding there; they ignored Dinwiddie's letter.) Washington took Gist along as his guide. They traveled on the Venango Path through the Ohio Country to get to the fort. During the trip, Gist earned his place in history by twice saving the young Washington's life.
See also: Battle of Jumonville Glen

As Washington awaited orders, the French finished their fort and named it Fort Duquesne after their governor.[1] Captain Contrecoeur, in command of the French forces in the fort, had been forbidden to attack the Virginians unless provoked, so he sent out his subordinate Joseph Coulon de Jumonville out with a party of men to order Washington out of the area on May 23. Washington received reports that a French force was approaching, and assuming that they were preparing a surprise attack, Washington ordered his men to dig in.[2]

On the 27th, Christopher Gist arrived at Washington's camp and told him that 50 French troops had stopped at his cabin and threatened to kill his cow and break everything in his house. In response, Washington sent out Captain Hog with 75 men to pursue the French troops.[2] However, shortly after Hog left, Washington called together some young Indians and told them that the French had come to kill Tanacharison, and the Indians also left to go a pursue the French. That evening, Washington received a message from Tanacharison who said he had found the French encampment.[3] Washington decided to attack himself and brought 40 soldiers with him towards Tanacharison's camp. That morning, they met with Tanacharison's 12 Indian warriors, and Washington and Tanacharison agreed to attack the French encampment.[4] Washington ambushed the French, killing 10 to 12, wounding 2 and capturing 21.[5]
See also: Battle of Fort Necessity

In 1754, Washington, Gist, and a detachment of Virginia militia attempted to drive the French from the region. At the Battle of Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754, the French soundly defeated the Virginian colonists. This was the beginning of the French and Indian War, a part of the Seven Years' War between France and England.

Gist owned land near the present city of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He called it Gist's Plantation and began to build a town there. At the outset of the war, the French burned all the buildings.

Gist was a member of the Braddock Expedition in 1755 when it was defeated by the French and their Native American allies. Following the defeat, Gist traveled into Tennessee, where he met with various native groups to seek their support during the war.

His whereabouts during the final years of the war were uncertain. It is said that in the summer of 1759 he contracted smallpox and died in Virginia, South Carolina, or Georgia. Other reports having him surviving until 1794 and dying in Cumberland, North Carolina.

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