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Our Rich History: The first Anglo burial in Cincinnati? Unknown soldier was part of ‘Bouquet’s Expedition’

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

Although the area of Southwest Ohio we now call Cincinnati wasn’t settled until late in the year of 1788, it certainly didn’t mean Europeans hadn’t viewed the grounds here.

Robert de La Salle, the intrepid French explorer, viewed the three terraces of Cincinnati. He was presumed to be the first European to float down the Ohio River, in 1669. Later, French soldier Céloron de Blainville buried lead plates at the mouths of tributaries along the Ohio River all the way to the Great Miami River. In 1754, the English entered the picture with James McBride viewing the land, as he floated down to the mouth of the Kentucky River. Both the French and the English knew a good thing when they saw it; they even thought it was worth fighting for — hence, the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Year’s War.

“The Indians delivering up the English captives to Colonel Bouquet near his camp at the forks of Muskingum in North America in Nov. 1764,” Library of Congress.

The French and Indian War of 1756-1763 was a global war. It was fought on five continents by every major country in Europe at the time. The dispute in North America centered around the Ohio Valley’s land and trade relations with the Native Americans. Both the French and English sent troops to the Ohio Valley. One such detachment of British soldiers visited here in 1764.

A story, probably taking place in 1805 or 1806, is recalled in Charles Greve’s Centennial History of Cincinnati and Representative Citizens (Vol. I, p. 114). Workers were digging a drain near where the Roebling suspension bridge was later built.

Apparently, there was a white-haired gentleman sitting on the porch of the “old red tavern,” just above where they were digging. Leaning on his cane, he approached the workers. Taking stock of his surroundings, he informed the workers that “within six feet of where you are digging there is a man buried.” He then pointed with his cane to the location he was referring. Going into more detail, the old gentleman said, “… you will find a bullet hole over the right eye.”

To humor the old man, the workers dug where he pointed. After digging about three feet down in the soil, one of the workers struck something with his shovel. Sure enough, it was a skull. As the bewildered worker brought it out of the ground, the skull rattled from a musket ball inside. Upon inspection, there was found a hole over the right eye. The amazed workers inquired of the old man how he knew this.

According to the gentleman, when he was younger, he had been a British soldier during and shortly after the French and Indian War. He served on the frontier at Fort Pitt, now Pittsburgh. Soon after the war, Ohio tribes of Native Americans attacked all English outposts in the Ohio Valley. This Native American uprising became known as Pontiac’s War or Pontiac’s Rebellion. From April of 1763 through 1764, the frontier was aflame with Indian attacks on settlers. Many British forts had fallen, several with their garrisons slaughtered. In response, a British force of soldiers, under Colonel Henry Bouquet marched to the heart of “Indian Country” near modern-day Coshocton, Ohio. Having this force so close to their villages and with the threat of a British attack, the tribes sued for peace.

“Bouquet’s Expedition,” as it became known, was successful in stopping Pontiac’s Rebellion as well as returning white captives to their families back east.

Soon after the force returned to Fort Pitt, a small detachment was sent down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh. They were to check and see if the recently defeated French had established any new trading posts north of the Falls of the Ohio, that is, present-day Louisville. It just so happened that one of their campsites was at the future site of Cincinnati. He explained that during the trip, the small detachment of soldiers had camped on the very site that they stood. While having supper by the fire they had built, a shot rang out, killing a soldier. They quickly put out the fire. No other shots followed, but the little group was afraid to move too far from their campsite. They carefully dug a grave near the campsite and buried their comrade. At first light, the detachment left the site, leaving behind one of their own, interred just south of Main Street.

This unknown soldier lay at rest in Cincinnati over two decades before the first settlers in John Cleves Symmes’ purchase set foot on the land and over 40 years before being disturbed by progress in a growing city.

There is no record of what became of the mortal remains. Most likely he was reinterred.

Cincinnati’s first cemetery was a burying ground, a square plot bordered by Fourth, Fifth, Walnut and Main Streets. It was maintained by the First Presbyterian Church.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

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