Christopher Gist (1706-1759)
Christopher Gist was an explorer, surveyor and accomplished frontiersman. He was born
in 1706 in Maryland to Richard and Zipporah Gist. Little is known of Gist's early years. He
received some schooling as well as formal training as a surveyor, possibly from his father
who helped plot Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1750, Gist established his home on the north side of the Yadkin about one mile
west of the present town of Wilkesboro. Gist, the first white man to settle in what is
now Wilkes county, was one of the most distinguished Indian scouts and surveyors
of his day, and maintained a friendly contact with the Cherokee Indians. One of his
neighbors was frontiersman Daniel Boone, who Gist showed the way to Kentucky.
In 1750, the Ohio Company selected Gist to survey along the Ohio River from its
headwaters near Shannopin's Town, Pennsylvania (modern-day Pittsburgh), to what is
now Louisville, Kentucky. That winter Gist mapped the Ohio countryside between
Shannopin's Town to the Scioto River. There he crossed into Kentucky and eventually
returned to his home. During the winter of 1751-1752, Gist returned to the Ohio Country
and explored much of modern-day West Virginia.
Gist and George Washington, crossing the Allegheny River
Gist returned to the Ohio Country, this time with George Washington, in the winter of
1753-1754. The Ohio Company sent the two men to the region to negotiate with French
military forces. The French had constructed Fort Duquesne near Shannopin's Town to
prevent English settlement of the Ohio Country. Negotiations failed, but during the trip
Gist saved the young Washington's life on two separate occasions. During the summer
of 1754, Washington, Gist, and a detachment of Virginia militia attempted to drive the
French from the region. The French soundly defeated the Virginians at the battle of Fort
Necessity on July 4, 1754. Gist also was present the next year when the French and their
native allies defeated General Braddock's combined force of British soldiers and Virginia
militiamen. In 1756 Gist traveled in eastern Tennessee among the Cherokee Indians. He
reportedly was there to seek allies for the English and their colonists during the French
and Indian War that was currently raging in North America.
Gist provided England and its colonists with the first detailed description of southern Ohio
and northeastern Kentucky. While Daniel Boone is generally given credit for opening
Kentucky to white settlement, Gist preceded the frontiersman by more than fifteen years.
Gist had three sons, one of whom was Nathaniel. Nathaniel married an Indian girl named
Wurteh, a sister of the great Indian Chiefs, Old Tassel and Doublehead. They were the
parents of Sequoyah, the famous genius who invented the Cherokee alphabet.