Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gist Settlement

In a recent post from the Clinton County Seat Calendar, Christopher Gist's (1706-1759) name was mentioned as leaving the first written record of Clinton County.  Although he lived in roughly the same era as Samuel Gist (see below) he evidently was not a close relative, having been born in Baltimore Maryland as the son of Richard Gist who helped plot the city of Baltimore.

Christopher was a surveyor like his father and one of the first white explorers of the Ohio area.  He accompanied George Washington  during the French and Indian War and Washington later visited him in "Gist's new settlement," near Fort LeBoeuf in Pennsylvania according to the Chronicles of Border Warfare by Alexander Scott Withers, page. 74.  This Gist Settlement at For LeBoeuf is now Waterford, PA, and has no connection with the Gist Settlements in Ohio who were founded as a result of Samuel Gist.

Samuel Gist, according to Ohio History Central, was born in England c1717-23 and was orphaned at a young age, spending most of his youth in a hospital.  In order to improve his financial status he became an indentured servant to a tobacco farmer in Virginia.   After the farmer died in 1747, Gist married the widow, and thereby gained immense wealth, including hundreds of slaves and large landholdings.

Upon Gist's death in 1815, his will freed his former slaves.  About 150 of them stayed in Virginia while 350 moved to Ohio where they established several communities in Adams, Brown and Highland Counties.  While all three counties' Gist settlements survived into the 1900s, only the one near New Vienna in Highland County survived into the twenty-first century, still in the hands of the descendants.
Historical Marker in Sardinia Ohio
Gist Settlement
Through the terms of his will, British absentee landowner Samuel Gist (c1723-1815) freed his 350 Virginia slaves and provided funds for their relocation, the purchase of land, and the establishment of schools and homes.  The executors of Gist's will acquired over 2,000 acres of land in Ohio, including two large tracts in Scott and Eagle townships in Brown County in 1819.  In 1831 and 1835, an agent of the Gist estate purchased 207 acres in Highland County and divided the acreage into thirty-one lots.  This Gist settlement in Eagle Township was the first to be purchased and settled.  It was recorded at Brown County on august 4, 1819 as 1197 acres of land divided among "150 Negroes who were emancipated by the will of Samuel Gist."  in 2009, descendants of the freed Gist slaves still inhabited part of the original settlement.

According to the History of the Gist Settlement, "The last of the original Gist Settlement lands in descendants' hands is located in Highland County. It happens to be the last established settlement and the smallest. The Highland County settlement was inhabited by 18 families totaling 105 persons in 1840. Between 1840 and 1930 an average of 16 families, or 75 persons occupied the Gist Settlement (based on US Census Data, 1840-1930). The settlement had established an active church and school."

Several families, Burns, Pearl, Robinson, Rollins, and Turner children attended New Vienna schools beginning in the early 1900s.   It is unknown when the school at Gist Settlement closed.

In 2007-08 the Gist Settlement Archaeological Project took a first step in documenting the history of the settlement in the 1800s.  This was a collaborative project between Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc. and Paul LaRue and his Research History class students at Washington High School in Washington Court House with a grant from the History Channel.

As part of their historical research, the class studied the Gist Settlement cemetery, and did in-depth studies of eight civil war veterans buried there, mapping of the cemetery is included on their Archaeological Project website.

As mentioned by HH and in the Archaeological report "There are ongoing questions about the title to the land and the status of property taxes, lending some degree of uncertainty over the ownership and disposition of the land in the future." In other words, the property may now be owned by Highland County, because of tax forfeiture.

Sources accessed on 3/23/11:
Chronicles of Border Warfare by Alexander Scott Withers
Gist Settlement Archaeological Project
Gist Settlement Historical Marker
Gist Settlements - Ohio History Central
Samuel Gist - Ohio History Central
USCT Veterans and the Gist Settlent in Highland County Ohio

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