Celeron de Bienville's Expedition
File:Bienville, Joseph Pierre Celoron de: Lead Plate.jpg|
Photograph of a partial lead plate discovered at the mouth of the Muskingum Rivernear Marietta in Washington County, Ohio. The plates were buried by French explorer Joseph Pierre Celoron de Bienville and his scouting party in 1749. The plate's inscriptions is in French and claim King Louis the XV of France the ruler of the Ohio Valley region. This plate was part of a group of plates placed near strategic tributaries of the Ohio River by Celoron and his party. The expedition and the ceremonies conducted when the plates were buried was intended as a show of force and an attempt to reclaim land for France on which British settlers were encroaching.
From 1744 until 1748, England and France were engaged in King George's War. During the conflict, England managed to blockade France's colonies in North America. This greatly inhibited the French fur trade with the Indians of North America due to a lack of manufactured goods from Europe that could be exchanged for the natives' furs. English businessmen quickly stepped in to fill the void, becoming the major trading partners with the Native Americans in the Ohio Country.
At the war's conclusion, little changed in North America. The respective sides controlled the same territory as they had prior to the conflict. They also both claimed ownership of the Ohio Country. England had a somewhat greater presence in the region due to their improved ability to trade with the natives. In 1748, Comte de la Galissoniere, the highest-ranking French official in North America, ordered Celeron de Bienville (also spelled Celeron de Blainville) to take 250 French soldiers to the Ohio Country to renew old friendships with local Native Americans and to drive the English traders from the region.
De Bienville carried out the mission in the summer of 1749. He made his way from Montreal by descending the Allegany River to the headwaters of the Ohio River (modern-day Pittsburgh), where he then proceeded down the Ohio. De Bienville carried several lead plates with him. On these plates were pronouncements laying claim to the Ohio Country. At the places where major rivers joined the Ohio, the party stopped and buried one of the tablets. On a nearby tree, a metal plaque was placed, asserting the claims of France and stating that the tablet lay nearby. This practice of burying plates first began in Europe in the Middle Ages and was a common way to show landownership. In total, De Bienville is believed to have buried six plates. Only one has been found intact.
The French soldiers proceeded from Pittsburgh to the Great Miami River, planting the plates as they went. Along the route, the soldiers encountered large numbers of British traders, especially at Lower Shawnee Town at the Scioto River's mouth. De Bienville demanded that the English leave, but most simply refused. Five months after his expedition began, the French commander returned to Montreal. He had failed in driving the British from the Ohio Country and in reestablishing alliances with the natives. The French did not simply give up after De Bienville's expedition. French traders quickly moved into the region, hoping to recreate the favorable trading arrangements that they had enjoyed with the Ohio Country's Native Americans before King George's War. With both the French and English claiming the Ohio Country, future conflicts were inevitable. The French and Indian War (1756-1763) and the resulting Treaty of Paris (1763) would finally settle the issue. Due to its victory in the French and Indian War, England emerged from the conflict as the European owners of the Ohio Country. Many Native Americans in the region failed to recognize British ownership or control, and conflicts continued in the region for a number of years.
- Howe, Henry. Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes. Vol. II. Cincinnati, OH: C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Printers and Binders, 1902.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.