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The Origin of Some Indian Place Names in Western Pennsylvania

Signals, October 2017

The first inhabitants of the valley of the Allegheny and Ohio of which tradition affords reliable information were the Talligewi. Our knowledge of this people is vague in the extreme; but the fact of their existence and their occupation of the basin of these rivers is beyond question. But when or whence they came, how long they maintained their ascendancy, and when they disappeared in the conflict of tribes, it were all but useless to inquire. They have succeeded, however, in leaving a name as imperishable as a range of mountains or a flowing river. The Lenni Lenape, better known as the Delawares, one of the most powerful tribes, or families of tribes, in North America, succeeded at length in gaining the mastery. But before the advent of the white man the vicissitudes of savage warfare had wrested the supremacy from them and bestowed it upon the indomitable Iroquois, or Five Nations, the ‘Romans of America.’ That powerful confederation oc- cupied the territory south of Lake Ontario, but claimed much more; and the dread of them reached from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, and from the head waters of the Ottawa to the Carolinas. They laid claim to all Western Pennsylvania, and their claim was readily acknowledged by the remnants of the other tribes who occupied it, especially the Delawares, their former rivals, whom they had subjected, and, in the language of the rude sons of the forest, ‘made women of.’ The Shawanese, who had been conquered by the Iroquois in 1672, were allowed to make their homes in the valley of the upper Ohio and in other parts of the state of the same name. Members of a few other tribes were also found scattered throughout the territory of Western Pennsylvania, but not in considerable numbers. Such in brief was the disposition of the aboriginal races in the territory now engaging our attention, at the opening of the historic period.

“It is interesting to inquire, what was the origin of the name “Allegheny,” now occupying so important a place in the world’s history? and when did it come into general use as the designation of a stream and a range of mountains? It is not the intention to perplex the reader with a learned disquisition on this name; but some remarks are necessary to give him an intelligent understanding of a term to be in constant use in these pages. It appears certain that the county was named rather after the Allegheny Mountains, than after the river of the same name; for the mountains had no other name, while the river was for a long time known as but a part of the Ohio.

The designation of both, however, is derived from the same source, the aboriginal tribe mentioned above. The Lenni Lenape in their earliest traditions speak of the Allegewi, whom they first met on the banks of the Mississippi. Schoolcraft [Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1783-1864], who is generally regarded as the standard authority on Indian history, says: “The banks of the Allegheny were, in ancient times, occupied by an important tribe, now unknown, who preceded the Delawares and Iroquois. They were called Alleghans by Colden [Cadwallader Colden, 1688-1786], in the London edition of his work, and the river is named Allegan by Lewis Evans [c.1700-1756] in his celebrated map of 1755.” The name Allegheny was never used by the French, nor is it found as the designation of the stream in any of the numerous documents relating to their occupation of the basin. The Shawanese named the river the Pelewasepi—the orthography of which, like that of most Indian names, is not uniform—which means Turkey river, so called either on account of the abundance of wild turkeys in the surrounding country, or from the Turkey tribe (the Unalachtgo) of the Delawares; and the Delawares themselves called it Kitthanne, or the principal stream, whence the name Kittanning. The Senecas, the tribe of the Five Nations occupying the country around the headwaters of the river, named it O-he-yu, which in their dialect signifies the Beautiful river, and which the French simply translated into La Belle Rivière. The English took the sound rather than the sense of the Indian term, and named the river Ohio, a designation which was at first applied to the entire stream, but which came, in process of time, to be applied to that part of it only which lay below the confluence with the Monongahela . . . .

“The character of the Indians naturally gave rise to numerous towns and vil- lages, or what were popularly designated as such, composed sometimes of the members of one tribe, and at other times of the members of several tribes living together in harmony. These villages, usually quite small, consisting at times of only a few cabins, were situated for the most part along streams, and were frequently removed from one place to another as necessity or caprice dictated . . . . One of the principal of these was Kittanning, which was known to the French as Attiqué, situated where the town of the same name now stands, and which figured conspicuously in the French war prior to its destruction by Col. Armstrong, in September, 1756. Another was Shannopinstown, located on the eastern bank of the Allegheny about two miles above its confluence with the Monongehela; and Céloron, in the journal of his expedition . . . , declares it to have been the most beautiful place he saw on his journey. But it was of little or no historic importance. Eighteen miles further down on the north bank of the Ohio stood Logstown, the most important of all the Indian towns. It was the principal point in the western part of the colony for trading and conferring with the whites . . . .”

From History of Allegheny County Pennsylvania, published by A. Warner & Co., Chicago,1889, p. 11-12


War in the Peaceable Kingdom The Kittanning Raid of 1756

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 7:30 p.m., at the Old Sewickley Post Office

A PowerPoint Presentation by Brady J. Crytzer

BRADY J. CRYTZER is returning to SVHS to discuss his book War in the Peaceable Kingdom: The Kittanning Raid of 1756. Crytzer holds an MA in History from Slippery Rock University and teaches History at Robert Morris University. He is the author of five books studying empire in North America and is the host of the hit cable television series “Battlefield Pennsylvania” on PCN. He is the winner of the Donald S. Kelly and Donna J. McKee Awards for Outstanding Scholarship and Service in the field of History.

In this book, historian Crytzer follows the two major threads that intertwined at Kittanning: the French and Indian War that began in the Pennsylvania frontier, and the bitter struggle between pacifist Quakers and those Quakers and others—most notably, Benjamin Franklin—who supported the need to take up arms. It was a transformational moment for the American colonies. Rather than having a large, pacifist Pennsylvania in the heart of British North America, the colony now joined the others in training soldiers for defense. Ironically, it would be Pennsylvania soldiers who, in the early days of the American Revolution, would be crucial to the survival of George Washington’s army.

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