Some of the bones found in this ancient burying ground belonged to men of enormous size.
In 1798, American settlers from the east arrived in Ohio's Western Reserve, and started cutting down the forests on the southern shore of Lake Erie. They discovered many ancient earthen structures, and everywhere, they found well-crafted spear points and other artifacts of a long-lost and once-thriving native society. These people were clearly distinct from the Massasauga Indians then living in the area.
Before the first settlers arrived in western Pennsylvania and southern Ohio, they had heard stories of the extensive earthworks found in places like Circleville and Marietta, Ohio. When settler Aaron Wright and his companions arrived in the area that would later become Ashtabula County, Ohio, and started building their homes along Conneaut Creek, they were not surprised to find similar ancient earthworks.
The strange discoveries of Aaron Wright in 1800
Aaron Wright became known as the discoverer of the "Conneaut Giants," the ancient inhabitants of Ashtabula County, Ohio, with unusually large bones, for reasons that are not entirely clear. It could have been due to his being a young, energetic single man or his decision to settle on land that included a large burial ground of the Mound Builders. Whatever the case, he is remembered in history for this discovery.
According to an 1844 account by Harvey Nettleton, the ancient burial ground which was approximately four acres, was located in an area that would become the village of New Salem (later Conneaut) and extended northward from the creek bank to Main Street, in an oblong square.
Harvey Nettleton noted in his account:
The ancient graves were marked by small depressions in the earth arranged in straight rows, with spaces or alleys between them. It is estimated that the area contained between two and three thousand graves.
Esq. Aaron Wright conducted a thorough examination of these depressions in 1800 and found that they consistently contained human bones that had blackened with age. These bones quickly crumbled to dust when exposed to air.
The prehistoric cemetery on Esq. Aaron Wright's property was noteworthy for its large size and the layout of the graves. However, it was the contents of the graves and the nearby burial mounds that caught the attention of Nettleton.
The mounds located in the eastern part of Conneaut village, and the extensive burying ground near the Presbyterian Church, do not seem to be connected to the burial places of the indigenous people. They likely date back to a much earlier time and are the remnants of a vanished civilization, of which the indigenous people had no awareness.
The mounds were relatively small in size and similar in nature to those found throughout the country. The most remarkable aspect of these mounds is that, among the human remains they contain, there are specimens belonging to individuals of unusually large stature, suggesting a possible connection to a race of giants.
Skulls were taken from these mounds, whose cranial cavities were large enough to accommodate an average-sized human head, and jawbones that could easily be placed over a person's face.
The bones of the arms and lower limbs were proportionate and provided visible evidence of the decline in human size since the time when these individuals lived on the land currently inhabited by us.
What Nehemiah King found in 1829
Nettleton's account became widely known when it was included in Henry Howe's "Historical Collections of Ohio" in 1847. Howe mentions that Thomas Montgomery and Aaron Wright arrived in Ohio in the spring of 1798 and discovered an "extensive burying ground" and "human bones found in the mounds" in the area.
Howe repeats the claim that among the uncovered bones, "there were some belonging to men of gigantic structure." He also relates the story of how in 1829, a tree was cut down next to the ancient "Fort Hill in Conneaut" and the local landowner, "The Hon. Nehemiah King," counted 350 annual rings beyond some cut marks near the tree's center using a magnifying glass.
In conclusion, Howe writes: "Subtracting 350 from 1829 results in 1479, which must have been the year when these cuts were made. This was thirteen years before the discovery of America by Columbus. This could have been done by the mound-building race, using a copper axe, as they had the ability to harden that metal to a point where it could cut like steel."
In 1848, the same year that Henry Howe's history of Ohio was published, the Smithsonian Institution released a book titled "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley" authored by E. G. Squier and E. H. Davis. This seminal report includes the first known published description of "Fort Hill," the mysterious pre-Columbian site located on the property of Nehemiah King, who was a neighbor of Aaron Wright.