Athens County and the Original Declaration of Independence

Fog drifts across the Hocking River as the sun begins to rise over Hockingport, Troy Township, Ohio on April 9, 2019.
[Photograph by Joel Prince]

As we celebrate the 4th of July and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, learn how a small fort built along the Ohio River in eastern Athens County jumpstarted America’s quest for freedom and democracy, with the penning of the Fort Gower Resolves.

Fort Gower was established in November of 1774 at the confluence of the Hocking River and the Ohio River in what is now eastern Athens County, Ohio.  Created by Lord Dunmore and his soldiers, the encampment was built after fierce fighting with the Indians along the Ohio River, often referred to as Lord Dunmore’s War.  After defeating Chief Cornstalk at the Battle of Point Pleasant, and the signing of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, Lord Dunmore and the Virginia Militia built Fort Gower on their return to Virginia.  Fatigued from months of fighting, but hopeful their efforts would open the doors for occupancy of the Ohio Country, the soldiers received news of the conclusion of the first Continental Congress, held in October of 1774 in Philadelphia, while camped there.

The first Continental Congress issued a Declaration of Rights, affirming loyalty to the British crown, but challenging being taxed by the British Parliament.  Delegates also agreed to an embargo of all imports from the British Isles, and warned they would cease exporting goods to Britain if their grievances were not considered fairly.  Of most interest to the Fort Gower soldiers was the restriction by the British government on occupying any land west of the Appalachian Mountains, land they had just fought so hard to open.

Upon hearing the news, the soldiers were compelled to respond.  They disagreed with British taxes on the colonies and supported the decision of the Continental Congress to halt imports. And after months of fighting in the region, the militia felt strongly in their right to maintain and defend American rights and privileges.  In fact they felt so strongly they agreed to put their sentiments in writing for publication in the Virginia Gazette.  Their opinions became known as the Fort Gower Resolves.

In their statement, the soldiers declared their faithful allegiance to King George III.  But the Fort Gower Resolves further declared they would exert “every power within us for the defense of American Liberty”.  The Resolution further stated the colonies would defend American “not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen”.    It was the first time a group of colonists declared they were prepared to use force against Britain to defend their American Liberty.  This would be viewed as treason by England. This was indeed a bold assertion of colonists’ rights and grievances.

The Fort Gower Resolves was published in December of 1774 in the Virginia Gazette, and with news traveling as fast as it could in those days, the Resolve was read aloud on the floor of the House of Lords in March of 1775.

While the Fort Gower Resolves was the capstone on Lord Dunmore’s war, it ignited a storm of further resolutions by colonists. Six months later was the infamous “shot heard round the world”, leading to the second Continental Congress in 1776 and the 4th of July signing of the Declaration of Independence.  And the rest, they say, is history.  In a strange twist, Lord Dunmore sided with England on the issue of American Independence and railed against the colonists’ efforts to separate from the King.  He eventually returned to England.

Fort Gower was located in what is now Hockingport, Ohio, a small river community that hosts many visitors and locals for fun on the Ohio River.  Only a historic marker exists near the site of Fort Gower today, recognizing Lord Dunmore’s War.  But this section of the Ohio River is beautiful in its present day setting.  To get an idea of Fort Gower’s original location, find where the Hocking River meets the Ohio River in Hockingport, near State Route 124 and Pearl Street.  The drive from Hockingport to Point Pleasant following the Ohio River Scenic Byway is a beautiful one-hour trip.  If you make it to Point Pleasant, stop at Tu Endi Wei Park to learn more about Lord Dunmore’s battle with Chief Cornstalk.

For more information on Fort Gower, visit the Ohio History Connection

Find Hockingport

The Fort Gower Resolves, November 5, 1774

Resolved, that we will bear the most faithful allegiance to his Majesty King George III, whilst his Majesty delights to reign over a brave and free people; that we will, at the expense of life, and everything dear and valuable, exert ourselves in support of the Honour of his Crown and the Dignity of the British empire. But as the love of liberty, and attachment to the real Interests and just rights of America outweigh every other consideration, we resolve that we will exert every power within us for the defense of American Liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges; not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen. Resolved, that we entertain the greatest respect for his Excellency the Right Honorable Lord Dunmore, who commanded the expedition against the Shawnee; and who, we are confident, underwent the great fatigue of this singular campaign from no other motive than the true interest of this Country.

 

Fort Gower Site
Courtesy Ohio History Connection