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History Lesson: Lucas Sullivant, Pioneer of Franklinton

Doug Motz Doug Motz History Lesson: Lucas Sullivant, Pioneer of Franklinton
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On February 14th, 2012, Columbus will turn 200 and our city is really preparing for a terrific celebration! But even before there was a city laid out on the eastern side of the Scioto River, there was Franklinton nestled in the river-bend on the west side of the Scioto…and before there could be a Franklinton, there was a young man named Lucas Sullivant who was searching to make his place in the world. But where did he come from and what were some of the events that shaped his life?

Lucas Sullivant, courtesy DM

The Sullivan family emigrated from Ireland to the British colony of Virginia in the early 1700s. Lucas’ grandfather is credited with adding the “T” to the end of the family name, thus establishing the ‘Sullivant’ line in North America. Lucas’ father, Michael Sullivant, married a Miss Hannah Lucas in Lunenburgh County Virginia. Lucas’ son Joseph Sullivant wrote in the Genealogy and Family History of the Starling, Sullivant and Related Families, that his grandfather Michael was:

“Well-off, owning a plantation and holding slaves, but was of a social disposition, careless and rather dissipated, wasting his property”

In other words, Michael was kind of a ‘party-animal’ and didn’t mind running up some large debts. Hannah and Michael Sullivant had three children: Lucas, Michael and a daughter, Anne. Michael Sullivant Sr. died when Lucas was just a boy – and after paying off his father’s many creditors, the Sullivant family was left with just enough land on which to farm tobacco. As if losing his father early on in life was not enough, Lucas’ brother drowned in the Roanoake River while they were getting their tobacco crop to market and subsequently, he lost his mother in 1781. When his sister Anne married a cousin, Lucas was left on his own.

At the age of 18, he traveled west to Kentucky and it was here that he met and befriended Colonel William Starling who assisted him professionally as well as socially and introduced Lucas to his daughter, Sarah. During this time, Lucas apprenticed himself to become a surveyor. This was an extremely useful occupation for a young man with few means as the U.S. government was aggressively now in the real estate business.

Virginia Military Land, courtesy OHS

When the Revolutionary War ended, Virginia and other formerly “sovereign” states were asked by Congress to give the western territory they had previously claimed to the infant U.S. government. The United States later used these lands to create what we now know as the Northwest Territory.

Then, in 1784 Virginia relinquished its claim to lands to the northwest of the Ohio River with the notable exception of the Virginia Military Lands. These lands were intended to be used as payment to Virginia veterans and were located within the following boundaries: West of the Scioto River, North of the Ohio River, East of the Little Miami River and North at the confluence of the Miami and the Scioto. Enter Lucas Sullivant – Surveyor.

In 1795, the Commonwealth of Virginia hired him to lead a crew of about twenty men into the wilderness of the Ohio territory. In return he would have the choice of land he wanted. Lucas and his team endured near starvation on more than one occasion and were forced to make do with greasy bear meat as well as skunk stew. They also encountered cougars and on one morning Lucas woke up to find that a rattlesnake had curled up on his chest during the night, just trying to keep warm! They traveled by foot and by canoe and Lucas did his best to avoid any encounters with the many Native Americans still in the area.

By 1797, Lucas had acquired 6,000 acres of land and proceeded to lay out a small village of 220 lots in Ross County (Franklin County did not come into existence until March 30, 1803 when it was carved out of Ross County) which he named Franklinton in honor of Benjamin Franklin.

Franklinton Plat Map, 1798, courtesy DM, left and Columbus Platting Map 1818, right, courtesy Columbus Metropolitan Library

Incidentally, we have no photograph or engraving of Lucas Sullivant except for a cameo carved upon his gravestone in Green lawn Cemetery but according to his son Joseph,

“Mr. Sullivant was of medium height, muscular and well-proportioned, quick and active in his movements with an erect carriage and a good walk, a well-balanced head finished off with a cue which he always wore, a broad and high fore-head, an aquiline nose, and blue-grey eyes, a firm mouth and a square chin. He was firm and positive in his own opinions, but courteous in manners and expression.”

Lucas knew the land here was very good because the Native Americans he did encounter had corn fields nearby his settlement. The Scioto River was deeper then, albeit narrower and prone to flooding, which it did in 1798 on the day before he was to start the first sale of lots to his new town. This flooding forced him to push the boundary of Franklinton further west. The lots sold for as little as 25 cents to as much as $333.33. To induce folks to move in, he actually gave away some lots near the eastern border on the aptly named “Gift” street and became the first in a very long line of Columbus Real Estate developers.

During this time, Lucas sent to Philadelphia for 15,000 bricks and glass panes so he could build the first and finest brick home in Franklinton, which he intended to offer to his fiancée Sarah Starling. Most homes in the pioneer village were literally log cabins that had oilskin paper stretched across the windows, but Lucas wanted something that would be palatial by comparison for Sarah. In 1801 he returned to Kentucky and married the daughter of his mentor, Miss Sarah Sullivant.

The Lucas Sullivant Homestead, photograph courtesy Columbus Metropolitan Library

Sarah brought with her servants from her home in Kentucky to attend her and her newborn son, William, who was born in Franklinton on January 15, 1803. During this time, one of her servants gave birth to a son as well who was named Arthur Boke. Shortly after giving birth, she gave Arthur to Mrs. Sullivant to be raised by the Sullivant’s. In addition to William and Arthur, the Sullivant family would eventually grow to include 2 more sons, Michael (born August 6th 1807) and Joseph (born on December 3rd 1809) as well as a daughter Sarah Anne, who died at age two in 1814.

Even though Lucas was not interested in political office, in 1803 he was appointed the first Clerk of Courts of Franklin County. He built the first jail in Franklinton in 1804 and assisted in building the First Presbyterian Church in 1806 of which his wife was an original member. In 1807 he was appointed County Recorder.

In 1809, the legislature began searching for a suitable spot to house the permanent Capitol of the State of Ohio. Franklinton was found unsuitable due to its propensity to flood. However, Lucas Sullivant provided the financial backing to his brother-in-law Lyne Starling, friend James Johnson, Alex McLaughlin and John Kerr to convince the Ohio Legislature to build the new permanent capital across the river on the High Banks of the Scioto. On February 14, 1812 – the legislature did just that.

[Please see the November 2011 History Lesson Article for some further detail.]

Chief Tarhe the Crane, courtesy Columbus Metropolitan Library

Lucas was also instrumental in building an alliance between the Native Peoples and the European Settlers of the U.S. who were fighting the British yet again in the War of 1812. In 1813 Lucas hosted a great meeting on his property in Franklinton between U.S. General William Henry Harrison and the gathering of Shawnee, Delaware, Seneca, and Wyandot tribes. At this meeting Chief ‘Tarhe the Crane’ of the Wyandot tribe rose to shake hands with General Harrison and an agreement was struck that the Native Peoples would support the American cause against the British.

On February 15, 1815 at the age of 50, Lucas secured the right to build the first bridge between Franklinton and Columbus. Until that time, most travel back and forth had been by ferryboat. In 1816, the first toll bridge opened. Lucas permitted folks attending religious services to traverse back and forth free of charge on the Sabbath – until he discovered that a great deal of ‘Sabbath-day’ traffic consisted of people who were staggering back home to Franklinton after having too much to drink in Columbus the night before!

In 1820 he gathered together several of his friends and built the Columbus Academy Schoolhouse on Third Street. In 1822 he engaged to build a large milldam and grist-mill to be powered by the Scioto River.

Lucas Sullivant died on August 8, 1823 at the age of 58. Here is the obituary notice from the Columbus Gazette dated August 14, 1823:

“Died – In Franklinton, on Friday last, Lucas Sullivant, Esq. In the death of this active and enterprising citizen, the community has lost a member whose place cannot well be supplied, his relations a valuable friend, and his children a beneficent protector. The deceased early emigrated to this county, which is indebted to him for many of its most valuable improvements. He possessed a great spirit of liberality, which an ample fortune, acquired by his own industry, enabled him to gratify to an uncommon extent. He was a man of strict integrity, of the most persevering industry and rigid economy. He was a kind and indulgent father, a sincere and hospitable friend, a generous neighbor and the poor were never turned away empty from his well-fed granaries.

He evinced in his last illness the same invincible fortitude and firmness which had sustained him in the midst of the privations and dangers of the wilderness, in the early settlement of the State. After long struggling with a most malignant disease, which resisted the power of medicine, he terminated his active and useful life at the age of fifty-eight years, without a struggle or groan.”

Columbus has often been called a smart, open and generous city. It would seem to me that those characteristics could arguably be considered the greatest inheritance we received from Lucas Sullivant.

Join the Columbus Historical Society on February 14, 2012 at COSI for the unveiling of their new space and Columbus’ 200th Birthday Celebration! The party starts at 7pm. Come view the new exhibit, enjoy cake and find out the winner of the 2012 Arch Award! They are still looking for volunteers! Click here for more details.

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