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Western Pennsylvania in Colonial Days

Signals, May 2014

The following is adapted from an article by George T. Fleming in The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, April 1915, entitled “Streets Named for Fierce Indians: Effects of the Enforced Migration of Redskins on Early City’s Growth.” The map shown accompanied the article. Although Fleming does talk about Indian street names, the article is primarily a history of the Indian tribes in Pennsylvania and their interaction with the English and French preceding the American Revolution.

According to Fleming, the Iroquois deserved the appellation “the Romans of America” bestowed on them by De Witt Clinton (1769-1868, American politician and naturalist who, as Governor of New York, was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal). They were conquerors. In what would become the Province of Pennsylvania, the Eries, the Susquehannas and the Juniatas were all largely destroyed by the Iroquois. Refugee peoples from the east fleeing the white man’s violence and his diseases, particularly the Delaware and the Shawnee, filled the empty space with the grudging permission of the Iroquois. The Lenni Lenape, named after their historic homeland the Delaware, initially enjoyed good relations with the Proprietor of Pennsylvania, William Penn, but his greedy sons and inexorable pressure from white settlers forced the tribe ever westward. For a time, the Juniata region became the hunting ground of the Delaware by permission of the Iroquois, but then they moved west of the mountains.

The Shawnee were a restless people originating somewhere in the south. About 1698, they first appeared in Pennsylvania at Montour’s Island (now called Neville Island, some six miles below Pittsburgh). Some of them went east to Conestoga and others settled at the headwaters of the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, but by 1728 they were again in motion to the west and located near the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. They had several villages within the present counties of Allegheny and Beaver.

Of the six nations of the Iroquois, the Senecas were the most western. Their home extended from the headwaters of the Allegheny River some distance down the Ohio. To this nation belonged the famous Tanacharison, as well as Guyasuta and Cornplanter. These various nations strangely mixed together, and yet preserving their distinctive and separate organizations, were dwelling here in western Pennsylvania in peace when the white man arrived.

The Englishmen claimed title under a charter from a distant king, strengthened by a treaty with the Iroquois. The Frenchmen rested upon the first discovery, that of LaSalle. It is useless now to inquire which had the better or worse title. France then held extensive possessions in North America, Canada and Louisiana, and she was anxious to strengthen herself and circumscribe her adversary by establishing a line of trading posts from her northern to her southern colony. The point at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers at once became a commanding position in this great scheme. The English provincial authorities of Pennsylvania and Virginia did not rest easy with the French efforts to bring the local tribes under their influence.

The Rev. George P. Donahoo (1862-1934, at one time Secretary of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission and State Librarian and author of such books as Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania and the 5 volume Pennsylvania: A History) made this observation about the stirring history of the region near the Forks of the Ohio:

Historic development works out along strange lines. Had there been no migration of the Delaware and the Shawnee to the Ohio, there would have been no rivalry between the French and the English traders—no French and Indian War.

Had there been no French and Indian War, there would have been no tax on tea. Had there been no tax on tea, there would have been no American Revolution and no United States. Consequently, when the first hardy pioneers began to build their cabins at Conodoguinet Creek [near Carlisle], they were commencing the erection of the greatest empire the world has yet known.

There are no trivial events in history. The migration of a red, feather-crested warrior with his squaw and pappoose [sic] from the waters of the Susquehanna was a trivial event in itself. But it meant the closing of one period of human history, and the dawning of a new era for a great continent.

It meant the final destruction of the forest and the wild, free life of the mountains and valleys and the beginning of the Empire of Cities, threaded by its network of steel highways.

The long silence of centuries which has brooded over the sweeping forest was to be broken by the sound of the woodsman’s ax, as he cut down the trees to build his home, and later on the Indian trail was to become a trail of steel over which a nation would send its wealth to the uttermost parts of the earth.


The Three Empires in North America

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 7:30 p.m. Old Sewickley Post Office

A Lecture by Brady J. Crytzer, Robert Morris University

Brady J. Crytzer holds an MA in History from Slippery Rock University and has served on the faculties of Robert Morris University and Southern New Hampshire University. A recipient of the Donald S. Kelly Award for outstanding scholarship, he has written three books exploring the history of empire in North America.

Major Washington’s Pittsburgh and the Mission to Fort LeBoeuf was published in 2011. Using firsthand accounts, including the journals of George Washington him- self, Crytzer reconstructs the complex world of eighteenth century Pittsburgh, the native peoples who inhabited it and the empires desperate to control it.

Fort Pitt: A Frontier History (2012) traces the history of Fort Pitt from empire outpost to a bastion on the frontlines of a new republic. It was the most technologically advanced fortification in the Western Hemisphere and the last point of civilization at the edge of the new American West.

In Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America (see at left), published in 2013, Crytzer traces, through the life of one of the period’s most influential figures, the ways in which American Indians were affected by the wars leading to American Independence. Hessians: Memoirs of an American Rebellion is due for publication in 2015.

Focusing on the British, French, and Indian empires that competed for control of the North American continent from 1753-1763, Crytzer’s lecture will concentrate on how the Ohio River Valley shaped imperial policy and set the stage for the first truly global conflict in world history.

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