The city of Lancaster is one of the older towns in Ohio. The initial settlers came here in the late 1700’s, with the town itself being officially founded on November 10,1800.
Each year the Frontier Spirit Festival takes place. This festival has numerous actors who represent people who were instrumental in the settlement of the area in 1799.
Pre dating Ohio becoming a state, the area was wilderness for the first settlers. The festival does an excellent job describing, and demonstrating what it took for these settlers.
The festival takes place in a large park at the south end of Lancaster. After an introduction, you are lead on a mile long hike with stops along the way for more detailed interpretations from the actors.
The first large group of settlers came from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, thus the name. So many of those who came were of German descent that one of the first newspapers was a German language newspaper, Der Ohio Adler.
All of the actors are volunteers. Their period clothing and other items, such as their guns add to the presentation.
They spoke of the challenges in settling in the wilderness. There are more than 150 players in the group.
Lancaster was founded by Ebenezer Zane, who was a famous merchant, trail blazer, pioneer and soldier. Zane was instrumental in treaties with the Native American’s (much debate about how equitable those treaties were, but that is another story).
Zane was given a contract by the United States government to open a road from Wheeling, West Virginia (then Virginia) to Maysville, Kentucky. In payment for this road he was given 3 square mile tracts of land at the crossing of the 3 major rivers – the Muskingum, the Hockhocking and the Scioto Rivers.
To make money he needed settlers to come buy some of this land, so he offer bounties to people to lead groups of settlers through the wilderness to each of the towns that developed. These leaders often were wanted by the law back east, so they were more than happy to move to the wilderness and earn some money.
Anyone settling in the wilderness then had to fend for themselves, being hunters, building their cabins, becoming farmers, and generally having no dependency on anyone else.
The promise of a better life in Ohio in 1799 was often not what they were lead to believe. This actress portrayed a frontier wife who wanted nothing more than to go back to Philadelphia and civilization.
The husband and daughter wanted to make a life here. As with today, many marriages were strained by the stress of the move.
This actress portrayed a young woman who was moving to the frontier to be married. She carried with her a dowry, a bag of salt.
The theme of this years presentation was about salt, and how important it was to the pioneers. They needed salt to cure their meat so it would last for long periods of time, as well as many other uses.
Salt was so rare, and in so much demand that in the Ohio frontier of 1799 it was worth more per ounce than gold.
Along the way we met Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman. All American school children know the story of Johnny Appleseed, who went from place to place scattering apple seeds for trees to grow,
Only that wasn’t quite how it was. John Chapman did indeed travel around to encourage the planting of fruit trees, but they were much more structured in orchards. He would plant the orchards then work with a local farmer to tend to the orchard, and share in the profits.
There were numerous Native tribes in the area when it was being settled. Obviously not happy about losing their land with nothing in return, the local tribes tended to push back against the settlers.
Some tribes, such as the Wyandotte, had made deals with the US Government prior to 1799, thus allowing the development to continue faster.
Our leaders into the wilderness.
Once our tour down the trail was over, we visited the camp that was set up where they had a number of demonstrations.
A band was playing.
One tent had candle making – a very important item in pioneer life.
Another musician with a zither.
The Frontier Festival in Lancaster was far better than expected, with the actors and musicians all passionate about their presentation. It made for an entertaining and educational afternoon.