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Louis Michel

The explorer and land speculator Louis Michel of Bern, Switzerland, was among the earliest advocates of Swiss settlement in Western Virginia. In 1703, he wrote from Pennsylvania of his plans to visit the western mountains. He associated himself with Bern druggist George Ritter, who proposed to settle several hundred Swiss merchants, traders, artisans, and farmers in America. However, nothing came of the Ritter plan.

In 1706, Michel and other explorers visited present Harpers Ferry and established at least a temporary settlement there. As a result of this trip, Michel produced and later published the first map of the region. His map clearly shows the forks of the river at Harpers Ferry, where the Shenandoah River enters the Potomac. It depicts the Shenandoah upstream from Harpers Ferry with considerable accuracy, but demonstrates no sound knowledge of the upper Potomac or the present Eastern Panhandle.

Returning to Switzerland, Michel joined with Baron Christopher De Graffenreid in another plan to establish a Swiss colony in Western Virginia. The desired land at Harpers Ferry was caught up in conflicting claims, and Indians warned against settling there. When North Carolina made the Swiss promoters a better offer, the plans were shifted southward. New Bern, North Carolina, was settled about 1710 but soon uprooted by Indians.