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The Legendary Azgens

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The Legendary Azgens:
A White People In Prehistoric Kentucky?
by William D. Conner, FMES, Columbus, Ohio

In May 1773, a white man, Thomas Bullit, visited the Shawnee Indian town of Chillicothe on the Little Miami River in what would become the southwest corner of the state of Ohio, which was then still part of the northwest frontier of Colonial America. Bullit, as a representative of Lord Dunmore, the governor of Colonial Virginia, was seeking permission from the Shawnee for the Virginians to establish settlements in Kentucky.

In his 1967 novel The Frontiersman, author Allan W. Eckert recreates this meeting, and tells us that a chief of the Shawnees, Black Fish, told Bullit the land was not the Shawnees’ to give because it did not belong to them. Eckert closely based his novels upon actual oral and written history. With Eckert’s enthusiastic permission, I quote Black Fish’s reply to Bullit: “The Shawnees cannot tell you that you are allowed to settle in the Can-tuc-kee lands. We have never owned that land. It belongs to the murdered ghosts of the murdered Azgens—a white people from the eastern sea. Their bones and their ghosts own and occupy every hill and valley of the country. Long ago our fathers and our grandfathers killed off the Azgens, but we now fear the spirits of these people more than our fathers and grandfathers feared them when they were flesh.” (1)

The expression “their fathers and grandfathers” apparently refers to a long period. How long? Was it several hundred years, 500, or 1000? From my long study of the evidence, I believe a prehistoric arrival of Iron Age Europeans in what would become south-central Ohio could have come anywhere from about a.d. 500 (the Celts) or to around a.d. 1000. (the Norse). Who the Azgens really were remains a mystery whose solution may yet lie buried somewhere in the Bluegrass State.

The extensive coverage of 19th-century historian Lyman C. Draper’s work, as detailed in the chapter notes of the Eckert’s Frontiersman, leaves little room for the existence of some three-score pit iron furnaces in south-central Ohio as being the work of early white American settlers. Iron-making is an economic activity that implies the existence of a demand for goods or services by consumers, and the existence of the means of production and the creation of the workforce to respond to that demand. Before white settlers arrived around 1800, the economic conditions for the production of iron simply did not exist in what is now Ohio.

The story of the Azgens may reveal those who furnished the economic conditions suitable for the production of iron from the extensive bog ore deposits in the rolling terrain of glaciated south-central Ohio. The boggy glaciated terrain abruptly ends just north of Chillicothe, where the Scioto River Valley begins winding through the hills of Southern Ohio. The prehistoric Azgens would not find ore deposits in such easily recognizable terrain in northern Kentucky, and especially not among its rugged hills across the Ohio River south of the mouth of the Scioto.

Iron tools and weapons produced by Azgen work parties in south-central Ohio could easily have reached their homeland in Kentucky by boat via the Scioto and Ohio rivers. With superior iron and steel-edged weaponry, the Azgens could have defended themselves from the native peoples for a time until the final attack by Black Fish’s “fathers and grandfathers.”

1. Allan W Eckert, The Frontiersmen: A Narrative, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1967, p. 65. [Editor’s Note: In Note 4 on p. 593, Eckert speculates that the Azgens could have been remnants of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.]