The French Grant was a land tract in the Northwest Territory, present day Scioto County, that was paid out by the U.S. Congress on March 31, 1795. The French Grant (also known as the French-Grant Estates.) This was after a group of French colonists were defrauded by the Scioto Company of purchased land grants which rightly were controlled by the Ohio Company of Associates. Not all of the settlers took the grant, some preferring to stay on the East Coast others preferring to stay in Gallipolis,- in Gallia County. (Gallia and Gallipolis were named for Gaul, the ancient Latin name of France.)
In 1795 Major Isaac Bonser, who had been sent out by parties in Pennsylvania, staked out land preparatory to settlement at the mouth of the Little Scioto River. In August of the succeeding year, he returned with five families and descending the Ohio River in flatboats they took possession of this land. These five families were those of Isaac Bonser, Uriah Barber, John Beatty, William Ward and Ephraim Adams.
It can be very likely claimed that Isaac Bonser was the first man that came into Scioto County with a view to make his own permanent home. He was born a few years before the Revolutionary War. He was raised in the midst of those perilous times and as well acquainted with all the troubles, trials and hardships of that period. His father was one of the victims who suffered death from exposure to the hardships incident to the life of a soldier. He was too young to take a part in the service of the colonies, but he did render some service, not – withstanding. Uriah Barber, half-brother, was called out to guard some mills in the neighborhood. It was a matter of the utmost importance to protect the mills of the country from being captured or burned by the enemy, as supplies for the army depended upon them. So Barber was stationed there as a guard to protect the mills, and young Isaac had to carry his dinner to him every day. It was not every boy that rendered that much service.
After the close of the war Bonser was hired as hunter for a surveyor party. The Indians were always a threat to such endeavors and knew that most of the surveyors would venture a distance from safety of settlements. Bonser accompanied a party of surveyors that were further west then other parties. The alarm was sounded that Indians were near and the surveyors broke for the nearest settlement. The surveyors didn’t stop at their camp to take any of the equipment they brought with them. As they were racing toward the settlement they passed an abandoned camp, left by other surveyors. There was a small creek that ran between them and the deserted camp. The only way into the camp was to go across on a single log over the creek. Bonser told them to wait for him, and he would go over to the camp and check it out. He crossed over to the camp, and all that he found was a half barrel of flour. He thought that was worth saving but he had nothing to carry it in. So he pulled out the front flap of his shirt and gathering it up in his hand like an old woman in her apron, he filled it with flour and returned to the party. They of course applauded him for his quick action and foresight to save a little flour to make bread to eat with their game.
He set out in the spring of 1795 on foot, alone, with nothing but his rifle, blanket, and such equipment he could carry. He crossed the Ohio River and traveled the right hand bank till he reached the mouth of Little Scioto River. Here he marked out some land with his hatchet, supposing he would be entitled to it by priority of discovery. This may truly be said to be the first settlement attempt in Scioto County. When Bonser was heading back he fell in with a Surveying party lead by a Mr. Martin; who had just finished surveying the French Grant.
Bonser was returning to Pennsylvania to report his progress. Upon discussion, he and five other families built a boat large enough to transport their families and household goods to their place of destination. They arrived at the mouth of the Little Scioto on the 10th day of August 1796 and took possession of the ground Bonser had staked out one year before. Possibly being the first settlers in Scioto County. Bonser died in 1849 and buried at the old Wheelersburg cemetery, he was 81 – 82 years of age.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: [email protected]