The Lead Plates
By Mrs. Delta A. McCulloch, of Point Pleasant, West Virginia
November 20, 1924
The Lead Plates
By Mrs. Delta A. McCulloch, of Point Pleasant, West Virginia
I wish to present to you some interesting history in connection with the burial of the leaden plates, by the French. Time will not permit me to go into many details.
The first aggressive movement by the French for possession of the Ohio Valley was the sending out of a flotilla from Montreal 15th of June 1749, by the Governor General of Canada, which consisted of large boats and canoes propelled by oars and paddles. The flotilla contained 216 French and Canadians and 55 indians, under the command of Captain Bienville De Celeron. On the 29th of July they reached the Allegheny river, and as the large boats followed by the smaller ones moved out into the Ohio, it must have been a very imposing pageant. The boats, getting into line, moved slowly away and were soon out of sight of the Ohio into an unknown country where civilization had not yet placed its hand, not a cabin, stockade or fort to be seen.
The forests were beautiful and there were large ponds resembling lakes filled with wild geese and ducks, that had returned here from their winter outing in sunny slimes. Over all there was a supreme solitude, only broken by the ripple of the water caused by oars and paddles.
The expedition carried with it lead plates inscribed in raised letters in the French language, taking possession of all the country watered by the large tributaries of the Ohio river for the French Crown. This expedition has been called one of exploration, but it certainly was one of invasion.
The first plate was buried at the mouth of Canewago Creek, the second at the mouth of French Creek and the third at the mouth of Wheeling, while the fourth was buried at the mouth of the Muskingum river, at the present site of Marietta, Ohio. When they reached the Great Kanawha they were driven by heavy rains to seek protection at the mouth in its fine harbor. Here they were detained by the storm from the 18th to the 20th of August and encamped on the Monument Square, and before leaving they proclaimed with a loud voice "Vive le Roi," Love live Louis XV, and took possession in the name of the King of France. Celeron's account of the interment of the plate is very brief and as follows: "Buried at the foot of an elm, on the south bank of the Chinondaista, the 18th day of August 1749." This is taken from his journal which he wrote while on this expedition and is preserved in the Archieves of the Department de la Marine, at Paris. The Royal Arms were also affixed to a neighboring tree, a Verbal was drawn up and signed as a memorial of the ceremony and witness by the officers present. This document is as follows:
"In the year 1749, we Celeron, Chevalier of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, commander of a detachment sent by order of the Marquise of Gallissoniere, Governor of Canada to the Ohio, in the presence of the principal officers of our detachment, have buried here a leaden plate and in the same place have affixed to a tree the Arms of the King. In testimony whereof we have drawn up with the officers the present Proces Verbal, at our camp, August 18, 1749." They then proce[e]ded to the mouth of the Great Miama at Cincinnati, where they buried the sixth plate, from which place they returned as they came to Montreal, reaching there the 10th day of November.
Three of these plates have been found. The other two were broken but the one found at Point Pleasant is perfect except for a little corrosion on one corner. The Wheeling plate has never been found on account of the locality of its burial blace [sic] not being clearly given, but it is known to have been placed on the north bank of Wheeling Creek at its mouth, and it is though[t] perhaps to be under the approach to the Baltimore and Ohio Bridge. If it has not been washed away and lost.
When I was elected historian of the Col. Charles Lewis Chapter in 1905 I became interested in the important events that had occurred in the locality of the Chapter.
The first article I wrote was on the "Burial of the Lead Plate at Point Pleasant" and had it published in the "Morgantown Chronicle[.]" The article contained the same facts which I am now presenting to you. My information has been gathered from the research of easly historians. the [sic] article was received with interest and many letters came to me asking for more information and where the plate was now. My ambition was aroused to locate it, and Captain Joe V. Meigs of Boston, made a careful search for me at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington and at the Virginia Historical Rooms at Richmond, Virginia, and wrote me the plate could not be found.
I then wrote to the boys who had found the plate, and who were now old men living in the far west, and they gave me some of the details of the discovery of it. Two of the boys were the sons of John Beale, eldest son of Col. Tavener Beale of the Revolution. John Beale at this time was proprietor of the hotel at Point Pleasant. The third boy was the grandson of the old Scotch lawyer James Wilson, who walked from Alexandria, Virginia, to Wood county, West Virginia and became the lawyer of Blannerhassett [sic], and was arrested with him at the time of the Burr conspiracy, but as Burr was not convicted they were never tried. Mr. Wilson later moved to Charlestsn [sic] and became a distinguished lawyer. These boys told me they were hunting for two little stones for sinkers for their fishing lines and saw the plate cropping out from the tangled roots of an old elm, from which the soil had been entirely swept away by the current of the river. They carried the plate to an uncle of the Beale boys, Mr. James Beale, youngest son of Col. Tavener Beale, who had been a member of Congress from Shenandoah county, Virginia, and who had recently moved to Point Pleasant. He went with the boys to the little brick schoolhouse on the Kanawha river front, and the teacher was able to read the inscription and also to tell them its historical value. Mr. Beale took the plate from them and they understood he gave it to Mr. James S. Laidley, who deposited it in the Virginia Historical Society in 1850. Mr. Laidley was a member of the Virginia Legislature and no doubt was here waiting for a boat to take him to his home at Vienna near Parkersburg. As a notice of the plate appeared that month, April 1846, in the Parkersburg newspaper and then in the May number of "Ye Olden Times" published by Captain Neville of Pittsburg[h].
Mr. Craig in his sketch compliments a Mr. Gillispie on his steel cut of the plate and gave a fine reproduction of it in his magazine. Mr. Craig mentions that he had returned the plate, but did not say to whom, or from he had borrowed it.
Great secrecy seemed to surround the plate for it was not shown to near relatives of the boys at Point Pleasant when found.
At the time I wrote my article I borrowed this copy of "Ye Olden Times" magazine from descendants of Captain Craig on Nevill's Island. The lead plate was also loaned to Dr. Wills DeHass, when he wrote his book "Indian Wars of Western Virginia" and he made a copy for it. The copy of the plate I added to my sketch was taken from the magazine "Ye Olden Times."
Hon. Virgil Lewis made the copy for his "State Bulletin" from DeHass's book.
A statement recently appeared in the Point Pleasant Daily Register copied from a Charleston paper and signed "Savage," saying the plate fell into the hands of fakirs and had been lost. I think this is a mistake for I give credit to those who are in charge now of the Virginia Historical Rooms at Richmond, Virginia for the true value of their relics.
If you were in Richmond and should call up and ask in what department the plate could be seen, and introduce yourself as from West Virginia and express a wish that the plate be returned to West Virginia, you might receive a reply some what like this. "If a petition asking for its return would be signed by every man, woman and child in West Virginia, it could not be returned, for we own it by right of possession, and it is one of our most valued possessions, and we should be as likely to give you the home of Lee.
If Virginia thus values it, how should West Virginia regard it?
The square at Point Ple[a]sant on which the Battle Mountain stand has been deeded to the State and here the plate was found, not at Jamestown, Williamsburg or on the James river, but at bhe [sic] mouth of our Great Kanawha river. When it was deposited in Richmond we were a part of Virginia and had no place to care for it and I suppose had a right to claim a place in the Virginia Historical Rooms for our relics. It was not purchased by Virginia, but placed there for preservation.
We hope sometime in the near future upon request, our Mother State will generously return it to its rightful owners, the State of West Virginia. We, the citizens of West Virginia do greatly appreciate the care that has been taken of it, but we would also greatly enjoy its long delayed home coming to our interesting historical rooms at Charleston.
Exploration, Settlement and Conflict (1600-1799)