The Ohio Company — the Plan for the Ohio Country Starts the French and Indian War

1748–1769

The Ohio Company was a company formed to buy land in the Ohio Country for the purpose of settling the region and establishing trade with Native American Indian tribes. The company played a role in starting the French and Indian War.

Christopher Gist, Exploring Ohio Country, Illustration

This illustration depicts Christopher Gist exploring the Ohio Country on behalf of the Ohio Company. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Ohio Company Summary

The Ohio Company (1748–1769) was a land speculating company in Virginia formed to encourage settlement of the Ohio Country and to establish trade with Indian tribes living in the region. After receiving a grant for 200,000 acres of land, the Company built a warehouse at Will’s Creek and cut the Nemacolin Road over the Allegheny Mountains. However, the company invited French resistance, which ultimately led to the Battle of Jumonville Glen and the Battle of Fort Necessity, triggering the French and Indian War.

George Washington, 1772, Peale, Portrait
Portrait of George Washington, c. 1772, Charles Willson Peale. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Ohio Company Quick Facts

  1. The Ohio Company was granted 200,000 acres on July 12, 1749.
  2. The company hired Christopher Gist to explore and survey the territory.
  3. A trading post was established at Will’s Creek, Maryland, which served as the Ohio Company’s frontier headquarters. It was referred to as “the last Virginia outpost in the Ohio Country.”
  4. The company cut the first road over the Allegheny Mountains, known as the Nemacolin Road.
  5. The Company’s operations contributed to tensions between the French and British, leading to the first conflicts of the French and Indian War.
  6. The Ohio Company is often referred to as the Ohio Company of Virginia, in order to distinguish it from other land speculating companies with similar names.

Ohio Company History

The Ohio Company of Virginia was established in 1748 when a group of wealthy, influential planters from the Northern Neck region of Virginia formed a partnership with Thomas Hanbury, a London merchant. 

Prominent Founders of the Ohio Company

The Virginians were led by Thomas Lee, Lawrence Washington, and Lawrence and Augustine Washington. The Virginia group also included Robert Dinwiddie, George Washinton, and George Mason, along with members of the Lee, Mercer, and Carter families. Virginia merchant John Carlyle eventually purchased shares in the company as well.

Purpose of the Ohio Company

The investors intended to acquire land in the Ohio Country, west of the Appalachian Mountains, from the Crown, which they could sell to settlers. As land speculators, they intended to sell the land at a higher price than they paid, allowing them to make a profit.

Trading Posts

In 1748, the company started to establish trading posts along the Potomac River. Led by Thomas Cresap, the expedition blazed a trail over the Appalachian Mountains to the Monongahela River. Along the way, outposts were built at Long Meadow, Oldtown, and Will’s Creek.

500,000 Acres of Land Granted to the Ohio Company of Virginia

The following year, the Crown approved the company’s request for 200,000 acres near the junction of the Ohio River, on the condition that they settle 100 families there within seven years and build a fort to protect them. If the company was successful in meeting the requirements, it would be granted access to an additional 300,000 acres.

Ohio Company, Map of Land Grants, Illustration
This map shows the location of the 500,000 acres of land granted to the Virginia Company. Image Source: The Ohio Company, a Colonial Corporation, by Herbert T. Leyland, 1921, Archive.org.

Christopher Gist Explores the Ohio Country

In 1750, the Ohio Company sent surveyor and frontiersman Christopher Gist to explore the Ohio Country to identify lands suitable for settlement. Gist traveled as far as present-day Piqua, Ohio, and made at least three trips to the region.

On the journey back, Gist followed the path through the Cumberland Gap that became the Wilderness Road where he saw the fertile lands in Ohio and Kentucky. It is very likely the Ohio Company would have established settlements in the Ohio Valley if the French and Indian War had not started when it did.

The Ohio Company Instigates the French and Indian War

The French responded to the threat of new British settlements by building forts along the frontier, including Fort Le Boeuf, near present-day Waterford, Pennsylvania, and Fort Machault near present-day Franklin, Pennsylvania. 

French Forts in the Ohio Country

The French intended to build more forts in order to strengthen their claim to the region. Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia responded by sending a letter to the French garrison at Fort Le Boeuf, which was commanded by Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. The letter warned the French and told them to leave British territory. 

Virginia Responds — Washington’s First Expedition

Dinwiddie sent George Washington, Christopher Gist, and a small expedition to deliver the letter to Fort Le Boeuf. Despite their efforts, Saint-Pierre refused to leave. 

However, he graciously hosted Washington and his small party for three days. During that time, Washington took detailed notes about the fort. When Washington left, Saint-Pierre gave him a letter for Dinwiddie. Saint-Pierre’s letter told him that his demands needed to be sent to the Major General of New France, which was in the capital, Quebec City.

Ohio Company, Washington and Gist Visiting Indians, Illustration
This illustration depicts Washington and Gist visiting Indians. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Washington’s Second Expedition

After Washington returned to Virginia, Dinwiddie sent another group of Virginians to the Forks of the Ohio River with instructions to build Fort Prince George at the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

On April 2, Washington was part of a regiment under the command of Colonel Joshua Fry that was sent to reinforce Fort Prince George. Fry’s orders were to build a road to the fort and help defend it. 

On April 18, while Fry’s regiment was en route, a French force of 500 troops arrived at the Forks of the Ohio. They forced the Virginians to surrender, knocked down what they had built, and eventually constructed Fort Duquesne.

Battle of Jumonville Glen

Washington assumed command of the expedition on May 25, when Fry died from injuries sustained after falling from his horse. On May 27, at Jumonville Glen, the expedition became aware of a French scouting party in the area near them. 

Washington, along with a group of Mingo warriors, attacked the camp early on the morning of May 28. Washington’s forces were victorious at the Battle of Jumonville Glen, however, in the aftermath, one of the warriors, known as the Half-King, brutally murdered Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sier de Jumonville, the leader of the French scouting party.

Battle of Jumonville Glen, 1754, Illustration
Gerry Embleton, Incident at Jumonville Glen, 2005. Image Source: Heinz History Center.

Battle of Fort Necessity

Washington restored order and his troops returned to their camp at Great Meadows, where they built Fort Necessity. On July 3, 1754, Fort Necessity was overwhelmed by French forces. The French forced Washington to sign the Articles of Capitulation he was given by the French. Unfortunately, the document was written in French, and Washington’s interpreter misunderstood it. By signing the Articles of Capitulation, Washington mistakenly admitted to assassinating Jumonville.

Afterward, Washington and his men returned to Virginia. However, the incident led to outrage in France, where it was used to press for a declaration of war against England. 

Some consider these events in the Ohio Country to be the actual start of the French and Indian War and the Seven Years’ War, although Britain did not formally declare war until 1756.

Ohio Company Setbacks

For much of the next nine years, Britain and France fought for control of North America, including the Ohio Country. The war in North America came to an end in 1761 but was followed by Pontiac’s Rebellion, which kept the Ohio Company from moving forward with its plans to settle the Ohio Country.

In order to quell Indian resistance, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. All land claims in the Ohio Country, including those of the Ohio Company, were forfeited.

End of the Ohio Company

In 1763 George Mercer took on the role of representing the Company before the Board of Trade. Upon his arrival in England, Mercer found that the several grants made to the Ohio Company were entangled with grants given to other companies and Virginia veterans of the French and Indian War.

In 1769, Mercer agreed for the Ohio Company to become part of a new venture, known as the Grand Ohio Company. However, the other investors rejected this arrangement. One reason it was rejected was that the Ohio Company was opposed to another partner, the Walpole Company, which promoted Pennsylvania. The investors apparently believed a partnership with the Walpole Company would put the interests of Pennsylvania ahead of Virginia, which they could not support.

With the rejection of the arrangement, the Ohio Company essentially came to an end. The legal claims to the land were assumed by George Mason who tried until 1782 to convince Virginia to recognize the Company’s original 200,000 acre grant. When Mason died in 1782, so did the Ohio Company.

Ohio Company Significance

The Ohio Company is important to United States history for the role some of its investors played in starting the French and Indian War.

Ohio Company Facts

Official Name of the Ohio Company

The official name of the Ohio Company was “The Ohio Land Company.” It was a corporation that existed in Colonial America from 1748 until 1769.

Ohio Company Investors

The investors in the Ohio Company were prominent merchants and planters from Virginia and England.

The corporation was the project of Thomas Lee, President of the Virginia Council, who in 1747 conceived the idea of forming a company to purchase and settle land in the territory immediately west of the Alleghany Mountains.

John Hanbury a Quaker merchant, was the company’s agent in London.

Location of the Ohio Company’s 500,000 Acres

The Ohio Company was granted 200,000 acres on July 12, 1749, with the promise of an additional 300,000 if the company achieved its objectives.

The first 200,000 acres of land were located “on the south side of the river Alleghany between the Kiskiminites Creek and Buffalo Creek, and between Yellow Creek and Cross Creek on the north side.”

The additional 300,000 acres extended to “the Great Conhaway on the southwest, and to the west side of the Alleghany Mountains on the east.”

The entire tract was a triangular region south of the Alleghany River, northwest of the Kanawha, and west of the Allegheny Mountains, with a small portion north of the Alleghany River.

Lawrence Washington Replaced Thomas Lee

Shortly after the Company was organized Thomas Lee died, and Lawrence Washington took control of the direction of the Company. It was up to Washington to fulfill the terms of the grant, including the settling of 100 families.

The Treaty of Logstown Settles a Dispute with Indians

Virginia believed it had a legal title to the land, which had been acquired from the Indians by the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster. The treaty was made between the Iroquois Confederacy, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

According to the provisions, the Indians agreed to release to Virginia “all the lands that are now, or shall be by His Majesty’s appointment in the colony of Virginia” for £400.

After this treaty, the Virginia Council granted the land specified to the Ohio Company. The Indians, disputed the claim, arguing they understood nothing was granted to Virginia “west of the first hills on the east side of the Alleghany Mountains.”

To resolve the dispute, the Ohio Company petitioned the Virginia Council in 1752, asking to send commissioners to Logstown to obtain a confirmation of the Treaty of Lancaster. Logstown was located 18 miles from the junction of the Alleghany and Monongahela.

There were present also at this meeting George Croghan, a hunter named Andrew Montour, an interpreter, and Christopher Gist, an agent of the Company. The Treaty of Lancaster was read out loud to the Indians, who disputed it.

However, Croghan, Montour, and Gist met privately with the Indian leaders and worked out an agreement and the tribes agreed not to both any settlements established on the southeast side of the Ohio River. 

The agreement temporarily established pace, but the Indians revoked their permission in September 1753 and treated settlers with hostility.

The Expedition of Christopher Gist to Explore the Ohio Company Land

Gist set out from Wills Creek on the Potomac on October 30, 1750, and traveled to Logstown and from there to “Muskingum, a town of the Wyandotts,” now present-day Coshocton, Ohio. 

At Muskingum, he met with Croghan and Montour, talked with the Indians and found them to be friendly to the English. 

On January 15, 1751, the three men left Muskingum and traveled to an Indian village now the site of Portsmouth, Ohio, where another conference with the Indians took place. Those Indians were also friendly toward the English. 

From Portsmouth, the three went cross-country to Piqua, Ohio, the chief village of the Miami Indians. Another council was held which resulted in the dismissal by the Indians of three French traders who had come to oppose Gist and his associates. 

With this council over Gist considered his work complete — he had observed the land as he went over it — and he now started for his home, but did not reach the Yadkin River until May 1751. 

At each council, Gist invited the Indians to the council that was held at Logstown in 1752.

The Will’s Creek Storehouse — Field Headquarters of the Ohio Company

The Will’s Creek Storehouse was the “field headquarters” of the Ohio Company and was used by Gist as a starting point for his journeys. 

Will’s Creek, now the city of Cumberland, Maryland, was “the last Virginia outpost in the Ohio Country.” The 2-story storehouse was built in 1750 by Hugh Parker.

After receiving their charter, the Company purchased goods to trade with the Indians. The goods were shipped from London and arrived in Virginia around November 1, 1749.

When the Will’s Creek Storehouse was completed the goods were shipped up the Potomac River to that outpost, where they were the shipment was sold to Indians and the traders. However, the company failed to make a profit due to the expense of transportation.

The Nemacolon Trail — the First Road Over the Allegheny Mountains

The Ohio Company investors wanted to establish trade further west, so a road was needed. Gist was sent on another expedition, with instructions to “look out and observe the nearest and most convenient road you can find from the Company’s storehouse at Will’s Creek to a landing at Monongahela.”

Gist surveyed a road from Will’s Creek to a spot on the Monongahela which was called Redstone Old Fort, the present-day location of Brownsville Pennsylvania. The distance between these two points was about eighty miles.

Gist and Cresap hired friendly Indians to help cut the road, including Nemacolin. In honor of Nemacolin, the road was called the “Nemcolin Trail” after it was built. 

It was later improved and then known as “Braddock’s Road,” and later became the National Highway across the Alleghanies. It was the first road across the Mountains.

Ohio Company of Virginia APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study the Ohio Company of Virginia, the French and Indian War, and the Proclamation of 1763 for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Ohio Company of Virginia Definition APUSH

The Ohio Company of Virginia for APUSH is defined as.

Ohio Company of Virginia Video for APUSH Notes

In this video, Tom Richey visits the site of the Battle of Fort Necessity and the Battle of Jumonville Glen.