George Washington, traveling down French Creek to deliver the message and his return journey, set a chain of events in motion that resulted in American independence. Washington’s actions helped determine who would control the Ohio River valley and ultimately, the fate of three empires. He discovered the Indians called French Creek In-nun-gah roughly translated to Venango, but the French called it La Riviere aux Boeufs, for the countless numbers of buffalo that had once ranged over the land it drained. One of its branches sprang up in Lac Le Boeufs, just south of the divide separating the waters of the Ohio River from Lake Erie. The general course of French Creek, although twisted like a pretzel, resembles a semi-circle. One of its main forks flows into New York State and others through Northwestern Pennsylvania. Its three large branches, called The Forks, unite a few miles below Waterford.
In his journal, George Washington called Le Boeuf Creek the western fork, and correctly so, but there are three other forks and numerous tributaries besides the western fork. All of the forks rise in lakes and after much meandering find their way along the channel in French Creek on a long journey to the Gulf of Mexico or flow from the lands near Lake Erie empty into the Lake and ultimately flow into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Other branches of French Creek flow to the Allegheny River or the Moheyu, as the Indians called it. Most of French Creek‟s tributaries flow through thick woods and in the nineteenth century, many sawmills and grist mills dotted the banks of French Creek and its tributaries. Boats carrying up to twenty tons could navigate it as far as Waterford, about fourteen miles from Erie in certain seasons, but even then only canoes could make their way up it in the summer.
In an article about French Creek in the Alleghany Magazine back in the 1800s, Timothy Alden estimated that the distance from Franklin to Waterford is about 52 miles on the public roads, but if you travel down French and Le Boeuf Creeks, it is nearly one hundred miles. George Washington thought the distance was 130 miles when he traveled it.