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Christopher Gist

Explorer Christopher Gist, one of the first white men to explore what is now West Virginia, was born about 1706 near Baltimore. He was an Indian trader, coroner, surveyor, and road builder, and considered an educated man for the time. He came from a prosperous family, but a fire destroyed his storehouse of furs in 1732 and left him penniless. Around 1745, he moved to near the Yadkin River in North Carolina.

In 1750, Gist was chosen by the Ohio Company to explore and survey the frontier west of the Alleghenies. He traveled much of Western Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley. He made a second expedition for the Ohio Company in 1751–52 through much of present West Virginia, and in 1753 he took residence in western Pennsylvania. In 1753, he guided young George Washington’s unsuccessful mission to warn the French away from lands the English claimed in the west. In the French and Indian War, Gist was a guide for Braddock’s disastrous military campaign against Fort Duquesne. In 1755, he joined the Virginia military commanded by Washington, serving as captain of scouts. In 1757, Gist was appointed an Indian agent and continued in this post until his death from smallpox in 1759.

He was known by the Indians as ‘‘Father Gist’’ because of his efforts in their behalf. The life of Christopher Gist covered much of the tumultuous colonial period of the 1700s. His three journals of his explorations made a valuable contribution to early knowledge of the region including what is now West Virginia. Gist did as much as anyone of his day to foster western experience, and biographer Kenneth P. Bailey felt that had historians chosen, Gist might have been recognized as ‘‘the outstanding frontiersman of colonial history.’’

Written by Dan B. Fleming


  1. Ambler, Charles H. West Virginia: The Mountain State. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1940.

  2. Bailey, Kenneth P. Christopher Gist. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1976.