Christopher Gist

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Christopher Gist has usually been credited throughout American history as being the first white man to set foot in Ohio, but this is clearly not the case as evidenced in his own journals. There was a whole network of white traders operating in Ohio and sometimes living in Native American villages before Gist arrived. Nevertheless, Gist is a very colorful figure.

He was born around 1705 or 1706 in Maryland, son of Richard and Zipporah Gist. His grandmother was Edith Cromwell, daughter of Oliver Cromwell. His father, Richard, helped lay out the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

Gist trained as a surveyor and moved to North Carolina in 1750. That year, he was hired by the Ohio Company to do some mapping of the Ohio area from the Ohio River near Pittsburgh down to the Scioto River. He was also to gauge the temperament of the natives he encountered in preparation for white settlement. He was not to be caught with his compass due to suspicions of the natives. He kept detailed journals along the way, but of course, he did not have all the familiar landmarks that we have today.

Gist arrived at Coshocton on December 14, 1750, where he encountered the Irish trader, George Croghan, and Andrew Montour, who was part French and part Huron and Seneca. On January 15, the three of them set out together after hearing rumors of other traders being captured by the French (Montour was a British sympathizer). They traveled five miles west to White Woman’s Town (near today’s Warsaw), so named because 50-year-old Mary Harris lived there. She had been captured at ten years old. On January 16 they “set out southwest 25 miles to Licking Creek,” as stated in Gist’s journal. This would have brought them to or near the area known today as Montour’s Point in Marne. On January 17, they went five miles west, which would have taken them to the forks of the Licking River in Newark, and then fifteen miles southwest to a great swamp. History tells us that this was the area that became Buckeye Lake.

The three split up on March 1, 1751, and Gist continued on with his pack horse toward the Scioto River, then down into Kentucky and back home. He made another trip to the Ohio Country during 1753-1754 with George Washington on a mission to negotiate with the French. During this trip, Gist was credited with saving Washington’s life twice.

Gist’s neighbor in North Carolina was Daniel Boone, who also moved to that state in 1750. Boone is known for opening up Kentucky for white settlers; however, Gist did much of this work fifteen years earlier.

Gist had a son, Nathaniel, who married a Cherokee woman and had a son, George. George learned the Cherokee language and developed its written alphabet in 1821. He took the name, Sequoyah, and the giant Sequoyah trees in California were named after him.[1][2][3]



  1. “Christopher Gist.” Ohio History Connection internet site: , January 31, 2017.
  2. Darlington, William M. Christopher Gist’s Journals with Historical, Geographical and Ethnological Notes and Biographies of His Contemporaries, ca. 1923, repr. 2009.
  3. Fleming, Dan. “Explorers through the Valley,” Licking Valley Ledger, July 2012, Vol. 4, No. 3.