Christopher Gist was an explorer, surveyor and accomplished frontiersman. He was born about 1706 in Maryland to Richard and Zipporah Gist. Little is known of Gist's early years. He received some schooling as well as formal training as a surveyor, possibly from his father who helped plat Baltimore, Maryland.
By 1750, Gist had moved to northern North Carolina along the Yadkin River. One of his neighbors was frontiersman Daniel Boone. In that same year the Ohio Company selected Gist to survey along the Ohio River from its headwaters near Shannopin's Town, Pennsylvania (modern-day Pittsburgh), to what is now Louisville, Kentucky. That winter Gist mapped the Ohio countryside between Shannopin's Town to the Scioto River. There he crossed into Kentucky and eventually returned to his home. During the winter of 1751-1752, Gist returned to the Ohio Country and explored much of modern-day West Virginia.
Gist returned to the Ohio Country, this time with George Washington, in the winter of 1753-1754. The Ohio Company sent the two men to the region to negotiate with French military forces. The French had constructed Fort Duquesne near Shannopin's Town to prevent English settlement of the Ohio Country. Negotiations failed, but during the trip Gist saved the young Washington's life on two separate occasions. During the summer of 1754, Washington, Gist, and a detachment of Virginia militia attempted to drive the French from the region. The French soundly defeated the Virginians at the battle of Fort Necessity on July 4, 1754. Gist also was present the next year when the French and their American Indian allies defeated General Braddock's combined force of British soldiers and Virginia militiamen. In 1756 Gist traveled in eastern Tennessee among the Cherokee. He reportedly was there to seek allies for the English and their colonists during the French and Indian War that was currently raging in North America. After this trip, little is known of his whereabouts. He died three years later, possibly of smallpox, in either South Carolina or Georgia.
Gist provided England and its colonists with the first detailed description of southern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky. While Daniel Boone is generally given credit for opening Kentucky to white settlement, Gist preceded the frontiersman by more than fifteen years.
- Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: Random House, 2000.
- Bailey, Kenneth P. Christopher Gist: Colonial Frontiersman, Explorer, and Indian Agent. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1976.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.