FORT JENNINGS — Fort Jennings: population 533. Until mid-August, that is.
Five to six thousand people annually migrate to this small town, calling Fort Jennings, one of the state’s oldest settlements, “home” for a three-day celebration of American military history during Fort Fest.
In 1788, the first law enacted for the Northwest Territory initiated a militia where men between the ages of 18 and 50 were required to arm themselves with a rifle or musket and the necessary powder and flints. These future Ohioans were armed and prepared to fight the British and the Native Americans for the right to own this densely forested land, to hew timber to build their homes and cultivate the soil into farmland.
In 1803, Ohio became the nation’s 17th state, the 17th star on the American flag.
Built by Lt. Col. Jennings and his men just nine years later, Fort Jennings served as a westward gateway to the frontier itself set among the swampy wilderness, protecting against potential attacks by the British, or the native Wyandot and Ottawa tribes who lived in what is today Putnam County. Though Brigadier General William Henry Harrison — an Ohio farmer and military leader who took command of the Army during the War of 1812 and would later become the ninth U.S. President — said at that time, Northwest Ohio had belonged to the Miamis.
Forty-seven militiamen of the 2nd Kentucky Regiment were stationed at Fort Jennings in 1813, but over the course of its history hundreds, perhaps thousands, served there or passed through while helping to escort provisions to and from the American frontier.
Fort Jennings was abandoned after the War of 1812 ended in 1814.
By the 1820s, most Native Americans were confined to reservations. Their former lands were divided that year into 14 counties, including Putnam County in 1824. When settlers arrived, all that remained of Fort Jennings were two block houses, a stockade, several cabins, and a small cemetery.
Each year, residents and guests of Fort Jennings relive the historical events leading to the formation of their town. On Friday evening between 5 and 9 p.m., Aug. 19, the War of 1812 encampment is set up. Following a tavern demonstration at 7:30 p.m., there will be a twilight reenactment starting at 8:15 p.m. The 1812 reenactors dress in period clothing to represent militia members, firing muskets in a mock battle and performing hand-to-hand combat scenes with actors playing the role of Native American warriors. The morning colors and “1812 Opening Ceremony” begins Saturday at 9 a.m. with “Camp 1812” lasting until 1:30 p.m. Then, at 4 p.m., there will be an 1812 skirmish reenactment.
The event itself is a tribute to all American troops who fought in subsequent wars, including the Civil War, WWII, and Vietnam. Drawing veterans from all wars, the event honors “hometown heroes,” POW/MIAs, and unknown soldiers with a Vietnam Mini Wall, The GoldStars Tribute Wall™ and much, much more.
In addition to other demonstrations (including a Civil War living history encampment) and exhibits, visitors will have an opportunity to fly in an American Huey helicopter and enjoy live music, food and beer, as well as participate in cash and prize giveaways.
A full schedule of events and labeled map are available online.
Reach Shannon Bohle at 567-242-0399, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Bohle_LimaNews.