Looing Forward While Appreciating the Past
French victims of a land speculation scheme arrived by flatboats in what is now Gallipolis on October 17, 1790. Fleeing from turmoil in France, these settlers sought a land of peace and freedom, which they had been led to believe awaited them in America.
Landing in Alexandria, Virginia in May 1790, they quickly discovered the deeds they held to the expected paradise were worthless. Made aware of their plight, President George Washington sent a group of New England woodsmen to construct log cabins and four blockhouses (one on each corner of the site).
Undaunted and brave, many of the French arrivals decided to continue on to Gallipolis. It was a tedious trip by wagon and flatboat.
On October 17, 1790, approximately 500 men, women and children arrived at what is now the Gallipolis City Park. They found 80 crudely constructed log cabins and the four blockhouses awaiting them. This was a far cry from homes these nobles, craftsmen, doctors, lawyers, merchants, artisans and teachers occupied in France. What they had anticipated as a land of milk and honey turned out to be wilderness, surrounded on three sides with virgin forests and inhabited by Native Americans.
Frontier life was more than these Frenchmen had expected. Due to disease, deprivation and the lack of food, they saw their population decrease by half during the first years. By 1795, they had purchased the land in Gallipolis a second time, and the community began to slowly grow beyond the public square. In 1796, the French writer Volney visited, and described the settlers as having forlorn appearances and sickly looks – yet the group remained.
They were proficient in making apple and peach brandy and cultivating grapes for wine. Of most importance, they lived in harmony, free of the threat of the French guillotine and other horrors.
Ohio became a state in 1803. That same year, Gallia County was formed and named in honor of the settlers who had been there for 13 years. By 1811, a sufficient number of New Englanders and Virginians had joined the French to have Gallipolis be considered a Yankee town – one that would soon thrive with a successful river trade. The towns-people proudly boasted a courthouse, an academy, a number of mills, an iron foundry and several churches – along with other evidence of prosperity.
In 1840, Gallipolis achieved a population of 1,413. By 1860, the number climbed to 3,418, and in 1865, Gallipolis became a city after reaching a population of 5,000.
Today, the residents of Gallia County are proud of the past and continue to work hard as they anticipate the future. Committed community leadership and abundant civic pride are responsible for this ongoing success.