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WASHINGTON'S WESTERN JOURNEYS AND THEIR RELATION TO PITTSBURGH

By

ROBERT M. EWING*

"Great men are the Ambassadors of Providence, sent to reveal to their fellowmen their unknown selves." This statement is credited to Vice President-elect Coolidge in a recent address in New York City. It contains food for thought, but doubly so when he continues. "There is something about them better than they do or say. They come and go. They leave no successor. Their heritage of greatness descends to the people."

The truth of these statements is verified in the life and influence of George Washington, the statesman and patriot. The things that he did, and the things that he said, have been indelibly stamped upon the heart of the nation, but the past, more than a century has exemplified that his greatness has descended to the people, and working through them to the nations of the world.

When President John Adams issued his proclamation recommending that "the people of the United States assemble on the 22nd day of February in such numbers and manner as may be convenient, publicly to testify their grief for the death of General George Washington by suitable eulogies, orations and discourses, or by public prayer, "the heart of the Nation was touched and it responded with an outburst of sentiment such as had never before been seen." Master minds, then, and since, have delivered fitting eulogies and orations, and nothing that I might say could either add to or detract from his greatness. It is the purpose of this paper to point out some facts and incidents showing the influence which he had in the development of what in early times was known as the Western Country.

*Read before the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania on February 21, 1921.

In 1753 it was reported to Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia that the French were making encroachments on what was deemed to be British territory beyond the Alleghany Mountains, and he thought it to be his duty to watch the movements of the French and defend British claims against unwarranted encroachment. Young George Washington, not yet twenty-two years of age, was selected as an emissary to the officer in charge of the suspected hostile movements, to ascertain his designs, and make such observations as his opportunities would allow. His known knowledge of Indians, his acquaintance with modes of living and travelling in the woods, which had been acquired in surveying expeditions, as well as the marked traits of character that he had already displayed, no doubt commended him for this delicate and important mission.

"Faith, you're a brave lad" was Dinwiddie's parting word as Washington left Williamsburg, Virginia, on October 31st, with Jacob Van Braam, as French interpreter, Christopher Gist, as guide, and four attendants. We are told in his journal that he reached Mr. Frazier's, an Indian trader, at the mouth of Turtle Creek, just above the present town of Braddock, on Thursday, November 22nd, and that the waters were impassable without swimming their horses; that they were obliged to get the loan of a canoe from Frazier and send their baggage down the Monongahela to meet them at the "forks of the Ohio."

In this manner he approached the spot that became Fort Duquesne, later Fort Pitt, and still later, Pittsburgh. It would be difficult to imagine his feelings upon entering this wilderness and unsettled country. He entered it no doubt, burdened with the importance, dangers and responsibility of his mission; yet faithfully noting the conditions as they came under his observation when travelling through rugged and pathless mountains and through lonely and cheerless wildernesses, where civilization had not yet appeared.

He made his way from Frazier's to the forks and says: "As I got down before the canoe I spent some time in viewing the rivers and the land at the fork which I think extremely well situated for a fort, as it has absolute command of both rivers. The land at the point is twenty five feet above the common surface of the water,

and a considerable bottom of flat, well timbered land all around it very convenient for building. The rivers are each a quarter of a mile more or less across, and run here very nearly at right angles, Allegheny bearing northeast and Monongahela southeast. The former of these two is a very rapid and swift running water, the other deep and still without any perceptible fall."

It appears that the Ohio Company in order to protect its interest, had in contemplation the erection of a fort at, or near what is now McKees Rocks, and Washington examined this proposed location and records his judgment as follows:

"About two miles from this on the southeast side of the river at the place where the Ohio company intend to build a fort, lives Shingiss, King of the Delawares. We called upon him to invite him to a council at Logstown. As I had taken a good deal of notice yesterday to the situation at the fork, my curiosity led me to examine this more particularly, and I think it greatly inferior, either for defence or advantages, especially the latter. For a fort at the fork would be equally well situated on the Ohio, and have the entire command of the Monongahela, which runs up our settlement, and is extremely well designed for water carriage as it is of a deep, still nature, besides, a fort at the fork might be built at much less expense than at the other place".

Here we have the clear headed, practical engineer, even at the age of twenty-two years differentiating between the practical and impractical in big things. The Ohio Company had evidently chosen this site for water defence, but Washington saw that there were other methods of attack to be guarded against and goes on to say:

"Nature has well contrived this lower place for water defence, but the hill whereon it must stand being about a quarter of a mile in length, and then descending on the land side, will render it difficult and very. expensive to make a sufficient fortification there. The whole flat upon the hill must be taken in, the side next the descent made extremely high or else the hill itself cut away, otherwise the enemy may raise batteries within the distance without being exposed to a single shot from the fort".

Shingiss accompanied the expedition to Logstown, at

which place they arrived between sun setting and dark. This point has been definitely located on the Ohio about fourteen miles below Pittsburgh. Here conferences were held with Indian chiefs and plans perfected for the journey to Fort LeBouf and Presque Isle where the City of Erie now stands. We will not follow this company further on the outward journey nor upon the return all of which was amid dangers, and in which Washington narrowly escaped death at the hands of a hostile Indian, but pick him up, so to speak, as he approached the Allegheny River, but of this he shall speak in the words of his journal.

"The next day we continued travelling until quite dark and got to the river about two miles above Shannopins. We expected to have found the river frozen, but it was not, only about fifty yards from each shore. The ice I suppose had broken up above, for it was driving in vast quantities. There was no way for our getting over but on a raft, which we set about, with but one poor hatchet, and finished just after sun setting. This was a whole days work; we next got it launched, then went on board of it and set off, but before we were half way over we were jammed in the ice in such a manner that we expected every moment our raft to sink and ourselves perish. I put out my setting pole to try to stop the raft that the ice might pass by, when the rapidity of the stream threw it with so much violence that it jerked me out into ten feet of water, but I fortunately saved myself by catching hold of one of the logs on the raft. Notwithstanding all our efforts we could not get to either shore, but were obliged as we were near an island to quit our raft and make to it. The cold was so severe that Mr. Gist had all his fingers and some of his toes frozen, and the water was shut up so hard that we found no difficulty in getting off the island on the ice in the morning and went to Frazier's.

The island to which reference is made is believed to have been what is now known as Wainwrights Island opposite the foot of 48th Street Pittsburgh, and Shannopins was a Delaware town about two miles up the Allegheny.

The date of this incident was December 26th, and is one of the events in history, of his marvellous protection from harm that he might yet serve mankind and his country.

While preparations were being made for Washington's return to Virginia, from Frazier's house, he made a visit to Queen Allequippa, who lived at the forks of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela, the site of Reynoldton opposite McKeesport, she having expressed great concern at having been passed by on his trip to the forks on November 22nd. Her favor was regained for he says "I made her a present of a watch-coat and a bottle of rum, which latter was thought much the better present of the two."

On Tuesday, January 1, 1754, the journey from Frazier's to Williamsburg began. The party arrived at Gist's on the Monongahela the next day. On the sixth day they met seventeen horses loaded with materials and stores for a fort at the forks of the Ohio, and the following day they met some families on their way to settle. Upon arriving at Wills Creek-the site of the present Cumberland, Maryland, apparently out of the wilderness. Washington sums up the difficulties of the trip in these words.

"This day we arrived at Wills Creek after as fatiguing a journey as it is possible to conceive, rendered so by excessive bad weather. From the 1st day of December to the 15th there was but one day on which it did not rain or snow incessantly, and throughout the whole journey we met with nothing but one continued series of cold, wet weather which occasioned very uncomfortable lodgings especially after we had quitted our tent which was some screen from the inclemency of it."

The sagacious eye of this emissary had selected the Forks as the commanding one for the whole disputed territory and upon his report having been made to Governor Dinwiddie, and the letter of the French Commander of which Washington was the bearer, having proved evasive and unsatisfactory-it was at once decided to send troops and occupy this site. To accomplish this was not an easy task. The Virginia Legislature hesitated to grant the necessary funds. They could not grasp the vision that Washington had, and could not believe that the people of Virginia could ever possibly have any interest in what might go on behind the Alleghany Mountains. In time, however, three hundred troops were raised and placed under command of Col. Joshua Fry with Washington second in command as a lieutenant colonel. In the meantime the French had struck the threat

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