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Christopher Gist (1706–1759) was an accomplished colonial British explorer, surveyor and frontiersman. He was one of the first white explorers of the Ohio Country (the present-day states of Ohio, eastern Indiana, western Pennsylvania, and northwestern West Virginia, USA). He is credited with providing the first detailed description of the Ohio Country to Great Britain and her colonists. At the outset of the French and Indian War (1754), Gist accompanied Colonel George Washington on missions into this wilderness and saved Washington's life on two separate occasions.
Early life and education
Born in 1706 in Baltimore, Maryland, Gist is thought to have had little formal education. Historians believe that he received training as a surveyor, more than likely from his father Richard Gist, who helped plot the city of Baltimore. Gist's nephew Mordecai Gist served as a general under Washington in the Revolution.
Marriage and family
Gist married Sarah Howard, a daughter of Joshua Howard of Manchester, England. Howard served with King James II of England's forces as an officer during the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, before settling in Baltimore, Maryland. The couple had three sons, Richard (1727–1780) who was killed at the Battle of King's Mountain, Nathaniel who led Gist's Additional Continental Regiment in the Continental Army, and Thomas. Christopher's brother Nathaniel Gist married Sarah's sister Mary Howard, and also partnered with Washington and two other veteran soldiers on a prospective land deal in the mid-1750s.
By 1750 Gist had settled in northern North Carolina, near the Yadkin River. One of his neighbors was the noted frontiersman Daniel Boone. During that same year, the Ohio Company chose Gist to explore the country of the Ohio River as far as the present-day Louisville, Kentucky area, and endear himself to the Native Americans along the way. That winter Gist mapped the Ohio countryside between the Lenape (Delaware) village of Shannopin's Town, site of present-day Pittsburgh, to the Great Miami River in present-day western Ohio. Gist was warmly received at Pickawillany when he arrived in February 1751, and cemented the alliance between "Old Briton" and English interests against expanding French interests. From there he crossed into Kentucky accompanied by a black servant and returned to his home along the Yadkin.
When Gist returned to North Carolina, he found that his family had fled to Roanoke, Virginia, because of Indian attacks. He rejoined them. In the summer of 1751 he again went west to explore the Pennsylvania and western Virginia (present day West Virginia), country south of the Ohio River.
In 1753 Gist again returned to the Ohio Country, this time accompanying George Washington. Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia, sent Washington to Fort Le Boeuf to deliver a message to the French demanding they leave the Ohio Country. (The French were constructing forts in the Ohio Country to prevent the British colonies from expanding there; they ignored Dinwiddie's letter.) Washington took (now Lieutenant) Gist along as his guide. They traveled on the Venango Path through the Ohio Country to get to the fort. During the trip, Gist earned his place in history by twice saving the young Washington's life: first, from an attempted assault by a hostile Native American; and, second, by pulling Washington from the freezing Allegheny River after Washington had fallen off of a makeshift raft. He was a part of the Battle of Jumonville Glen.
In 1754, Washington, Gist, and a detachment of Virginia militia attempted to drive the French from the region. At the Battle of Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754, the French soundly defeated the Virginian colonists. This was the beginning of the French and Indian War, a part of the Seven Years' War between France and England.
Gist owned land near the present city of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He called it Gist's Plantation and began to build a town there. At the outset of the war, the French burned all the buildings.
Gist was a member of the Braddock Expedition in 1755 when it was defeated by the French and their Native American allies. Following the defeat, Gist traveled into Tennessee, where he met with various native groups to seek their support during the war.
His whereabouts during the final years of the war were uncertain. It is said that in the summer of 1759 he contracted smallpox and died in Virginia, South Carolina, or Georgia. Other reports having him surviving until 1794 and dying in Cumberland, North Carolina.
- Chernow, Ron (2010). Washington: A Life. New York, NY: The Penguin Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-59420-266-7.
- "Christopher Gist". Appleton's cyclopædia of American biography 2. 1887. p. 662. Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography
- Darlington, William M. (1893), Christopher Gist's Journals, with Historical, Geographical and Ethnological Notes and Biographies of his Contemporaries, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: J.H. Weldin & Co.
- The WPA Guide to Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 1996, Federal Writers' Project
- The Journal of Christopher Gist, 1750-1751 From Lewis P. Summers, 1929, Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800. Abingdon, VA.
- Lengel, Edward G. (2005). General George Washington. New York: Random House Paperbacks. ISBN 0-8129-6950-2.