Strolling down Front Street and admiring the many Murals on the flood wall. There is one that depicts an Indian village, in the throes of winter. Before Portsmouth was ever thought of, a proud and noble people lived at the confluence of two rivers (the Scioto and Ohio.) The Shawnee Indian inhabited the forest land and waterways in this picturesque countryside. I discovered a blog “All Things Wildly Considered,” (posted by Frank Thompson July 2017) which had a reference to Shawnee Town (later to become Alexandria.) Here is the story I came across.
“Lower Shawnee Town, was one of the earliest known Shawnee settlements within the boundaries of the present state of Ohio. Established in 1738, it was located at the mouth of the Scioto River where it empties into the Ohio River at present day Portsmouth, Ohio. Some accounts of historians say the Shawnee knew the river as “Kiskepila Sepe” because of the eagles that nested along the bank. Whatever the Shawnee name, the river eventually took on an Iroquoian word, O-hee-yuh meaning “good” or “beautiful” river. The river of the 1700s would certainly look different from the Ohio today. The Ohio River is a naturally shallow river that was artificially deepened by a series of dams. The natural depth of the river varied from about 3 to 20 feet.”
“Along the stretch of the Ohio River near Lower Shawnee Town, Indians frequently attacked and killed American settlers as they attempted to float down river to the new settlements opening in Kentucky and around Ft. Washington. It became the most hazardous sections of the whole Ohio River. The Shawnee were receptive to trade with Europeans, but colonization was vigorously opposed. The large community of Lower Shawnee Town was less a village and more of a “district extending along the wide Scioto River and narrower Ohio River floodplains and terraces.” It was said to be a sprawling series of Wickiups and Longhouses.”
“The English referred to the village as “Lower Shawnee Town” and because the English came to conquer and settle this region (rather than the French), it is the English name by which we know it today. The word Lower in “Lower Shawnee Town” derives from its location down river from the other Indian villages that were established higher in the Upper Ohio Valley beginning in the 1730s.”
“Pressure from the growing European populations on the east coast of North America and in southern Canada had caused Native American populations to concentrate in the Ohio River Valley, and Lower Shawnee Town was situated at a convenient point, accessible to many native communities living on tributaries of the Ohio River. The founding of Lower Shawnee Town coincided with the return of the Shawnee, who had been expelled from their homeland by the Iroquois in the mid-1600s. Mainly a Shawnee village, it included members from most if not all five Shawnee divisions, as well as an assortment of other Native Americans including the Seneca and the Lenape, Europeans, and Africans. During its peak it is estimated that the town had an estimated total population of 1,200 or more people.”
“The famed Raven Rock, located approximately two miles west of Portsmouth on U.S. Rte. 52, is an outcropping said to have been a lookout used by the Shawnee to watch for flatboats along the Ohio. Some believe Raven Rock was named for an Indian chief that was killed along the area. However, the Indians used the term as a description of the rock cliff because the form of the hill looks like a giant bird. Some stories hold that Daniel Boone and Tecumseh each stood at its edge, 500 feet above the Ohio River. Folklore relates that Daniel Boone escaped the Shawnee by taking a daring jump from the cliff onto a tree and climbed down to safety.
An historical marker there notes, “Whether or not settlers died after having been first spotted from Raven Rock can never be known. However, it is almost certain that warriors stood in this very spot and watched the endless stream of settlers with a sense of foreboding over what it would mean for their families and their future.”
So you have it, a reckoning for more movement toward what we now regard as Portsmouth, Ohio.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org