Iroquois claims to lands in northwestern Pennsylvania encompassing the watershed were not ceded until the second treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, delaying permanent settlement in the region until after that time. In 1788, the first European settlement in the French Creek Watershed was established at Meadville, site of the former Delaware town of Cussewago. Erie and Franklin, PA were surveyed in 1795 and settled thereafter. Many of the early settlers in the watershed were veterans of the Revolutionary War who received land patents in exchange for their service.

In 1800, there were approximately 2,500 settlers in Crawford County. Ten years later there were 6,000, and by 1830 there were 16,000. Most were engaged in farming and the lumber industry, occupations attributable to rich soils in the watershed. From the 1840s to the turn of the century the region was profoundly affected by the Industrial Revolution and related events occurring during that era, including the opening of the Erie Extension Canal in 1844, founding of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1846, and the discovery of oil near the watershed in 1859.

Today approximately 40 percent of the land in the watershed is farmed and slightly more than half is forested. The rural character of the watershed has helped to minimize pollution and is a significant factor contributing to French Creek’s remarkable biodiversity.