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The only new arts which the French adopted, in consequence of their change of residence, were those connected with the fur trade. The few who were engaged in merchandise, turned their attention almost exclusively to the traffic with the Indians, while a large number became hunters and boatmen. The voyageurs, engagees, and couriers des bois, as they are called, form a peculiar race of men. They are active, sprightly, and remarkably expert in their vocation. With all the vivacity of the French character, they have little of the intemperance and brutal coarseness usually found among boatmen and mariners. They are patient of fatigue, and endure an astonishing degree of toil and exposure to weather. Accustomed to live in the open air, they pass through every extreme, and all the sudden vicissitudes of climate, with little apparent inconvenience. Their boats are managed with expertness, and even grace, and their toil enlivened by the song. As hunters, they have roved over the whole of the wide plain of the west, to the Rocky mountains, sharing the hospitality of the Indian, abiding for long periods, and even permanently with the tribes, and sometimes seeking their alliance by marriage. As boatmen, they navigate the birch canoe to the sources of the longest rivers, and pass from one river to another, by laboriously carrying the packages of merchandise, and the boat itself, across mountains, or through swamps or woods, so that no obstacle stops their progress. Like the Indian, they can live on game, without condiment or bread; like him they sleep in the open air, or plunge into the water at any season, without injury.
The French had also a fort on the Ohio, about thirty-six miles above the junction of that river with the Mississippi, of which the Indians obtained possession by a singular stratagem. A number of them appeared in the day time on the opposite side of the river, each covered with a bear-skin, walking on allfours, and imitating the motions of that animal. The French supposed them to be bears, and a party crossed the river in pursuit of them. The remainder of the troops left their quarters, and resorted to the bank of the river, in front of the garrison, to observe the sport. In the meantime a large body of Indian warriors, who were concealed in the woods near by, came silently up behind the fort, entered it without opposition, and very few of the French escaped the carnage. They afterwards built another fort on the same ground, which they called Massacre, in memory of this disastrous event, and which retained the name of Fort Massac, after it had passed into the hands of the American government.
SETTLEMENTS ON THE OHIO.
It is not our design to trace the footsteps of the pioneers through all their wanderings, to depict their personal adventures, or to describe their various conflicts with the savage tribes. These minute details, however interesting, must be left to other hands. We shall only attempt a rapid summary of a few prominent events.
We have no means of ascertaining how the early English colonists became impressed with a sense of the importance of the country west of the mountains, or what was the extent of their knowledge. It was probably derived chiefly from the French, who were not solicitous to publish their discoveries, and came with all the vagueness of rumor, and all the exaggerations of surmise. Certain it is, that a belief was entertained in Virginia, at a very early period, of the existence of a wide and fertile territory beyond the mountains; and the English governors cast a jealous eye at the movements of the French in that direction. In 1719, Law's celebrated Mississippi scheme was at the climax of its popularity, and this event, if no other had previously attracted notice, must have turned the attention of our ancestors to that region.
In a work entitled “The Present state of Virginia, by Hugh Jones, A. M. chaplain to the honorable as sembly, and minister of Jamestown,” printed in 1724, we find the following information:
“Governor Spotswood, when he undertook the great discovery of the passage of the mountains, attended with sufficient guard of pioneers and gentlemen, with sufficient stock of provisions, with abundant fatigue passed these mountaias, and cut his majesty's name in a rock upon the highest of them, naming it Mount George; and in complaisance, the gentlemen, from the governor's name, called the mountain next in height, Mount Alexander.
6 For this expedition they were obliged to provide a great quantity of horse-shoes (things seldom used in the lower part of the country, where there are few stones), upon which account the governor, upon their return, presented each of his companions with a golden horse-shoe (some of which I have seen studded with valuable stones, resembling the heads of nails), with this inscription on one side: sic juvat transcendere montes; and on the other is written, the tramontane order.
6 This he instituted to encourage gentlemen to venture back, and make discoveries and new settlements; any gentleman being entitled to wear this golden shoe, who can prove his having drunk his majesty's health upon Mount George.”
These facts, the accuracy of which we have no reason to doubt, are very curious. One hundred years ago, the region that we inhabit was almost unknown, and entirely inaccessible to the inhabitants of Virginia. Governor Spotswood - undertook the great discovery," in a spirit of enterprise similar to that which prompted the ardent genius of Columbus; we can imagine the preparation, the pomp, pride, and circumstance, which must have preceded and attended this novel enterprise. The colonial governor was no doubt arrayed in all the imposing insignia of vice-royalty. A body of pioneers preceded his march, guards surrounded his person, and a long train of pack-horses carried tents and provisions. The chivalrous gentry of Virginia pressed forward with a noble emulation, to share in the dangerous adventure. They had long looked towards the blue summits of the distant mountains, that lined their western frontier, with intense curiosity, and perhaps had ventured singly, or in small parties, to the bases of these rocky acclivities, which seemed to present an impassable barrier against the advance of civilized man. Now they came prepared to scale the ramparts of nature, to discover new lands, and to extend the empire of their king into new regions. “With abundant fatigue,” they reached the summit of one of these ridges, and looked back in admiration upon the broad plains and wooded valleys of the ancient dominion. But we do not learn that they obtained a glimpse of the fertile west; and knowing as we now do, that the Alleghany chain consists of a number of parallel ridges, occupying a space of more than sixty miles in width, we suppose it probable that they did not penetrate far into these mountainous recesses. It is even possible that one of the lesser range, called the 6 Blue mountains,” might have been the limit of their travels.