Students in Milan Elementary learn from an early age that their little town was founded by the pioneer Ebenezer Merry, but this information is wildly inaccurate. In reality, the area which is now Milan was settled twice before the Merry family even arrived. Milan was first a camp for French fur traders, then the site of a Moravian mission settlement, and finally home to the “founding” party which included the Merrys.
The Huron River was once home to fur traders who developed a semi-successful settlement near the mouth of the river. Iroquois relations with the French were considerably better than those with the English because the French were dependent upon them for their living. European goods were so foreign and special to the Native Americans that they would trade pelts for common objects like wool blankets, metal cookware, and guns. With this trade system set up, Iroquois would hunt animals and the French would simply ship the pelts to Europe in exchange for goods to give their hunters. This exchange lasted until the 1760s when the French-Indian War began, and most traders were sent to fight the British.
The Moravian church during this time was looking to expand their membership, and what better way than to, “save the savage Indians?” Setting out on this quest, they set out down the Huron River to start a missionary settlement. Eventually, after passing the French trading camp, they settled on a small hill which they named Pettquotting. This was in 1787, a full thirty years before Ebenezer Merry and his family came to the area. Their missions were fairly successful, having grown from a community of 107 to 212 in just three years. Soon they had a church, decent housing, and even a school where they prided in educating the Native Americans; adults even participated in the education process. Unfortunately, these largely isolated missionaries’ lifestyle was to be spoiled by a band of misinformed settlers. After an unrelated group of Indians in Pennsylvania raided towns, militiamen retaliated against the peaceful and neutral Christian Indians of Pettquotting. Ninety-six men, women, and children were killed in all. Because of this incident, the innocent missionaries fled to Fairfield, an area in what is today Ontario. After some time, the Natives came back to settle Pettquotting once again. This time the settlement was much more permanent, and the little town lasted until the U.S. Government sold their land to fire victims from Connecticut. The missionaries and believing Indians were forced off their land in 1809 as surveyors came.
The buildings, however, remained intact long enough to be of use to the next and final settlement group. Ebenezer and Charlotte Merry traveled into the Ohio territory with a group of largely German settlers who intended to move into the Firelands area. Finding the abandoned village of Pettquotting to be a suitable habitation, they soon settled into the houses which once supported the small community of forty-six people. In fact, the main street of Pettquotting lives on today as Front Street of Milan. Their settlement was first platted as Beatty in 1816 by Merry and another influential man in town, N. M. Standart. It was incorporated in 1817, and soon the name was changed to Milan.
Milan became a successful little town in the years to come. By the late 1840s they had established a booming canal industry, escalating them to the second largest grain shipping port in the world. The industry ended abruptly in the 1850s, however, and Milan has not changed much since, producing the historic village it remains today. While the Merry family may have been members of the party which founded Milan as we know it today, their success could not have been what it was without the efforts of their predecessors, the Moravian missionaries and the French fur traders.
Charles E. Frohm’s “Milan and the Milan Canal”
Milan Museum Historical Archives Milan, OH