GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis is celebrating its founding 225 years ago this Saturday with an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Our House Tavern located at 432 First Ave.
Soup beans, corn bread, apple butter and desserts will be served beginning at 11 a.m. Crafters will be onsite at the Tavern and the event is free to the public.
The story of the city’s founding is intriguing, with twists and turns and accounts of duplicity by unscrupulous land speculators.
With the murmurings of revolution, the promise of a new beginning across the ocean was alluring to members of the French upper class. Five hundred of those French citizens sold their belongings and purchased land, or so they thought, in what is now Gallipolis.
Carrying only a few belongings, the 500 crossed the Atlantic in seven boats in February 1790, expecting to find beautiful homes located in a mild climate. What they found when they reached Alexandria, Va., was that the man they had entrusted with their money to purchase the homes and lands had absconded, leaving them penniless and without title to the land.
The Scioto Company, formed by William Duer and his associates, had been given the right to sell the land by Congress. They did not own the land, but their plan was to sell the land to the French people at a high price, collect the money and use it to buy the land from Congress at a lower price.
The company sent Joel Barlow to France to find buyers. After having little success, he enlisted the help of William Playfair, an Englishman living in Paris. Advertising the land as a paradise, the two had no difficulty selling the land. When the first group of settlers arrived in the United States, the land had not been purchased and Playfair had fled with the proceeds.
After petitioning George Washington, a close friend of Marquis de Lafayette, and Duer, the Scioto Company arranged to have the settlers transported to the new settlement. Thirty six woodsman were sent to construct 80 log huts for the French. The houses were constructed around a public square in what today is known as City Park.
Their new home was nothing like the brochure suggested, and the 500 (287 was the actually number of French settlers who came to Gallipolis) found themselves unsuited to their wild environment. Lacking the skills necessary to survive, the colony was weakened by disease and infections. Half of the original colonists moved within the first two years. Other perished as a result of conditions for which they were unprepared.
As a result, few residents of Gallipolis can trace their ancestry to any of the French 500. But their legacy lives on in the town named for the 500, and those whose only wish was to make a new life in the “City of the Gauls.”
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551.