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|02-10-03: Rockford founder lived in 2 cultures
|By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
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
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
"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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