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02-10-03: Rockford founder lived in 2 cultures
Standard Correspondent
    Anthony Shane, who founded the village of Shanesville, later Shane's Crossing, later Rockford, early in the 19th century, was not your typical founding father, if the words "founding father" make you picture a stiff and portly old gentleman in white wig and knee breeches.
    Anthony Shane was an ambitious, restless, individualistic pioneer, a true frontiersman. He played an important role in much of the late 18th and early 19th century history of this area, and he lived a fascinating life - fascinating enough, at least, to have captivated one local historian.
    "If you look at the important events that happened around here, he was involved in all of it," said Harrison Frech, who teaches history, economics and government at Parkway High School. Frech, who has taught at Parkway for 32 years, researched the life of Anthony Shane for his thesis when he obtained a master's degree in history.
    Frech will speak on the life and times of Anthony Shane at a presentation at the Mercer County Historical Society Museum, 130 E. Market St. in Celina, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17.
    There is plenty to tell, as Shane lived an eventful life. Born in an Indian village along the Maumee River to a French-Canadian father and a mother who was an Ottawa Indian, Shane lived his whole life between two cultures.
    "He was living between the Native American society, and the new Anglo society that was moving into the area. He was caught in the middle in a society that was changing," Frech said.
    The Chenes, Anthony Shane's French forebears, played an important role in the establishment of the Detroit colony, according to Frech's research. The family supported the British during the French and Indian War and even during the American Revolution. But as Anthony Shane realized that the new United States was to become the dominant power in the Northwest Territory, he changed his allegiance after the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Born Antoine Chene, he became Anthony Shane.
    Shane, who could speak French, English and five Native American languages, became an interpreter and messenger for the United States government. He made a lot of important friends in the military community, Frech said.
    "He really had a rather impressive military record," Frech said. "He was involved in all the major battles of the war of 1812."
    After the war, more and more farmers, merchants and other settlers made their way to the Northwest Territory. The land that Shane had always called home was changing, becoming settled. Shane himself considered settling down; he was rewarded for his service with two land grants on the St. Marys River.
    Shane was convinced that his land would be of strategic importance, Frech said, since it was located along a well-used route from northwest Ohio to the growing young settlement of Fort Wayne. But it took some imagination to see what the town would become.
    "Everything around here was a swamp back then," Frech said.
    Still, Shane plotted his new town with wide, straight streets. He gave them names (Front, Market, Columbia, Franklin) that they still carry today. And Shane himself settled on a farm north of town, with his wife, Lamatesche, a Delaware Indian who was proud of her Native American heritage. Although lighter in color than Shane, she never tried to pass as a white woman.
    Shane actually was a successful farmer, Frech said. He was an investor, who used the new village as a business venture, and he was proud of his war-hero reputation around Shane's Crossing. But he didn't make the village his final home.
    "That wasn't the life he wanted," Frech said.
    Shane always loved and admired his Native American family and friends, and as tribes moved west, he and Lamatesche and their family eventually moved too. Shane took a federal job as an interpreter working on a Shawnee reservation in Kansas. He died there in 1826, leaving no Shanes in Shane's Crossing (plotted as Shanesville, a name that Shane later learned was already taken, Shane's Crossing was incorporated in 1860. The name was changed by the U.S. Post Office to Rockford in 1890).
    It was a notable life, yet Anthony Shane left curiously few traces in recorded history, Frech said. Researching Shane's life was not easy - his birth, for instance, took place around 1770, but no one really knows for sure.
    "I thought when I chose him as a subject, there would be a lot of local sources. That proved not to be true," said Frech, a native of Niles, Ohio, who now lives in Van Wert. "Whenever you are researching someone who lived on the fringes of society, it's hard to trace him."
    But it was worth it, said Frech, who remains captivated by the story of a frontiersman who spent his life between two worlds.
    "Through it all, he kept his identity. He did what he had to do to survive in a changing society," Frech said. "Some of the things he did may seem self-serving, but he knew how to make the best out of any situation."


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