We have been living on the lands of the Shareholders of the Ohio Company

Posted by | May 19, 2011

In October 1790, Gallipolis (“City of the Gauls”), OH was settled by a group of French immigrants who later became known as the French Five Hundred. Many of the Frenchmen were fleeing the French Revolution and seeking refuge in America.

The settlers sailed on several ships to several ports, the main one being Alexandria, VA, on their way to the final destination of Gallipolis. At that time Gallipolis was pure wilderness and the French, primarily artisans and craftsmen, were totally unprepared for what they would find…100 cabins in what is now the City Park, with lookouts on each corner.

The following extracts from a letter written in Gallipolis on September 24, 1795 by a Mrs. Marest to a Citizen Leuba in Paris convey a feeling for the colony’s tentative situation.

The translation by Marie-Claire Wrage, a French-born resident of southeastern Ohio, precisely follows the original French text. The letter is in the collections of the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library, Greenville, Delaware, item W 2-5654.

The 'French 500' arrive at Gallipolis, OH, October 1790.

The 'French 500' arrive at Gallipolis, OH, October 1790.

“Note: Gallipolis is a newly built town on the banks of the Ohio,
across from the mouth of the Great Kanawha River, in the territory north west of the Ohio River, United States of America.

“You must have received news of us through Mr. Monnot, who is supposed to come back to America. We haven’t heard anything from him yet, about which we are sorry. That means one fewer worthy citizen in the Colony. Besides, they have distributed land to the inhabitants of Gallipolis and, since he isn’t here anymore, he won’t be able to have any. It’s too bad for him the distribution is over, if he really intends to come back here.

“Each colonist here owns 207 acres of land on the banks of the Ohio. We owe this present to the Congress, you probably know that the Scioto Company went bankrupt. There are three of us; my husband Marest and our two sons, Joseph and Pierre Marest, each owning 217 acres, which amounts to 651 acres for the family. The land-surveyors are presently at work measuring the lots.

“Until now, we have been living on the lands of the Shareholders of the Ohio Company, which leads us to hope that we will get the lands we are occupying. To get this letter to you, since I am already worried about the one I entrusted to Mr. Monnot, I am taking advantage of the trip of a trusty young man named Joitot, a friend of mine, who is going back to France to visit his family; he will present you with a beautiful Bison skin as a gift from us.

“The country where we are has an abundance of all kinds of game: wild turkeys especially are so numerous that Joseph, by himself, since the beginning of July, that is to say in less than three months, has killed more than 200. The turkeys weigh 16 to 18 pounds, some as much as 30 pounds. Joseph and Pierre do a lot of fishing, which brings variety to our menus.

“For besides turkeys, there are, as meat, lots of deer, bears, buffaloes and doves. But since the streams are teeming with fish, we prefer that catch, as it is much easier. Joseph and Pierre have caught 12 fish in a single day. Each of these fish weighed 16 or 18 pounds; some fifty-pounders were caught, and even one 88-pounder; all that is caught by angling, and one becomes good at it easily when there is hope of such total success.

“We hear from our eldest, my dear Marest. He probably has been affected by the fire at the Cape. He was at the time in the offices of the Administration.

“Felicite is very well established, married to a 26-year-old man, who comes from a good family, very clever and well educated. Before the revolution, he was an officer in the Queen’s regiment, where his father was a captain. The family is from Epernay, in Champagne, their name D’Hebecourt. Felicite’s husband is a commander in our militia. He receives forty dollars a month.

“The dollar is worth just a little less than 50 sols tournois and 3 deniers. As for my husband Marest, he is a soldier, as are his two sons, and between the three of them, they make twenty dollars a month. Besides that, my husband is a baker, so we live a respectable and comfortable life.

“None of us has been ill since we left France.

“The climate here is not bad at all for us, although it is very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer.

“Poverty doesn’t exist here.

“Sugar is 2 shillings a pound, coffee and chocolate three shillings. Bread is 2 sols 6 deniers a pound. But at the height of summer, there are short periods of drought when the mills can’t grind, and then bread goes up to 4 sols a pound.

“Deer meat is worth 1 sol 6 deniers a pound. Bear meat is between 2 and 3 sols a pound. Medium-sized turkeys go for 12 sols and 9 sols, and the smaller ones, which weigh only 4 or 5 pounds, go for 6 sols apiece. Meat at the butcher’s is 3 sols a pound. Pork is the same.
1790 view of Gallipolis

“Wine isn’t common, yet it can be obtained everywhere easily if you are willing to pay. What you get is wine from Madeira. It costs about half a dollar a bottle, about a petit ecu. French brandy is worth the same price. Whisky or apple brandy is 12 sols a bottle. Peach brandy, which is excellent, is worth 24 sols tournois or 2 shillings.

“Some of our colonists make wine and sell it for 4 shillings a gallon (a gallon contains 4 bottles Paris-size).

“We don’t need to be afraid of the savages any more, peace was signed with them last month.

“Good cheese is worth 9 sols a pound. Butter 12. Eggs right now are 1 sol apiece, and 8 deniers in the summer. A hen is worth 12 sols, chicken 9 sols, ducks 4 sols 4 deniers. Hens lay eggs all year round except for moulting season, and they set 3 or 4 times a year. A six-month-old pullet begins to lay eggs and it broods right away, and sometimes a nine-month-old pullet has had two broods.

“Clothes are expensive here, but it doesn’t bother us, because people dress informally here.

“Felicite is as tall as I am, but of a much bigger build. She is a good-looking woman with a pretty face. You wouldn’t recognize her; she swims like a fish, she speaks English well. She may have the pleasure of seeing you again soon, since her husband is still thinking of going back to France to see his family, and since they own property there, they may stay.

“As for my other children, Joseph, Pierre, Madeline, Marianne and Eulalie, they have but one desire, to stay here, and my daughters often wish their cousins would come over too. As for good Marosteau, be sure to tell him that laborers are scarce here; they earn half a dollar or 50 sols. Because it’s easy to find work here, it’s possible for a laborer to set money aside; but the lazy ones, let me tell you, they would be even less well-off here than in France.

“Our crops are corn, wheat, melons, cucumbers in abundance, pumpkins, turnips, potatoes. One has trouble growing onions, but parsnips, carrots, beans, peas, leeks and cabbages do very well.

“Hard cider isn’t expensive. Peach trees bear a lot of fruit, and fruit trees grow so fast that a peach stone planted in the ground will produce a tree in four years, which bears fruit as early as that 4th year. Peaches are most useful: they are made into brandy and a kind of wine; they are dried for the winter and, cooked with a little maple sugar, they make excellent stewed fruit.

“Could you possibly have the following sent to me in a small crate (but as cheap as possible): manna, emetic, some hipecanuana in a small bottle, also in small bottles 3 or 4 ounces of jalap, in a leather pouch 2 curved combs, 2 ivory ones, 2 ordinary snuff-boxes at 2 sols apiece, some senna, some Epsom salts, some rhubarb, some germander, 50 sols worth of veronica.

“You will be a tremendous help to me because in America medicine is very rare, very expensive and, on top of all that, not very good. It will be good if you can add some miramionnes unguent, or any dissolving unguent.” …

from ‘A Settlement That Failed: The French in Early Gallipolis, an Enlightening Letter, and an Explanation,’ by Lee and Margaret Soltow, in “Ohio History, A Scholarly Journal of the Ohio History Society,” Volume 94/Summer-Autumn 1985

online at:

http://publications.ohiohistory.org/ohstemplate.cfm?action=detail&Page=009456.html&StartPage=46&EndPage=67&volume=94&newtitle=Volume%2094%20Page%2046

One Response

  • Lisa Quigley-Moon says:

    I enjoyed reading this article. I bought the book about the French 500 but it’s in French so it’s slow going reading it. I believe my ancestor Louis Labille was one of the passengers on the ship Liberty. It’s been very difficult trying to find anything about him the first year or two. We don’t even know for a fact who his wife was or if one came with him although his first child appears to have been born in 1790 his name is in the District of Columbia news papers in the late 1790′s & up to his death which has helped tremendously. He died in 1841 so no photos but could be drawings out there. I have seen a water color of his son & my direct ancestor Robert A. Labille. It’s too bad the very early census didn’t give more info. His obituary did not mention his wife or children’s names which would also have been helpful.

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