Among the Shawnee Nation (Lexington)

Remembering the missing Town Branch (photo Lexington Herald-Leader)

At the beginning of New France, the Erie people were called “Shawnee”. During the Franco-Iroquois wars, from 1609 to the Treaty of the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701, the Shawnee Nation vacated the Ohio Valley moving southward.

Many of them resettled in Kentucky, which means “Land of Tomorrow” in the Iroquois language. It is said that there was a Shawnee village on the site of what is now Lexington along the Town Branch Creek, buried since 1890 and resurrected in turquoise paint in 2010 for remembrance purposes and historical value.

Pierre Chartier (also written Chartiers) was a fur trader. He was born in Nashville, Tennessee (a neighboring state of Kentucky), in 1690 from the union of Sewatha, a Shawnee woman, and Martin Chartier, a French-Canadian and the first white resident of Nashville. In 1743, in the footsteps of his father, Pierre erected a trading post at the confluence of the Ohio River and Chartiers Creek near Pittsburgh’s actual downtown in Pennsylvania. Today, Chartiers is a district of Pittsburgh named in his honour.

Martin Chartier, Pierre’s father, was born in 1655 in Poitiers, France. He arrived with his father René in the port of Quebec City in 1667. During the ocean crossing, René and Martin met Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who was also emigrating to New France. In 1672 and 1674 Martin accompanied Louis Jolliet on his expeditions to the Illinois Country. In addition, he helped build Fort Crèvecoeur in Peoria on the Illinois River in 1680.

On the Warrior’s Path

Shawnee village and cornfields (photo Deidre Mercer)

Pierre Chartier and his French-Canadian colleagues Pierre Bisaillon, Nicole Godin and Jacques Le Tort enjoyed the wild. They fluently spoke the Shawnee language, which is part of the Algonquian language family. They are said to have been among the first to deal with the Shawnee Nation in Kentucky as well as the inhabitants of the great Shawnee village of Eskippakithiki that the French called “Les vieux champs de maïs des Amérindiens” (Indian Old Fields) near Lexington. According to a 1736 census conducted by New France’s Administration, this village had about one thousand inhabitants or two hundred families. It was situated along a bison trail that the Shawnee people used to travel to the Great Lakes in the north or to Georgia in the south and which the French interpreted as the “Le sentier du guerrier” (The Warrior’s Path).

The Warrior’s Path became Kentucky’s first road. It did significantly facilitate trade between the French and the Native Americans occupying the wooded Appalachian valleys of the present day Carolinas and Georgia.