Posted by: unclesamshistory | December 21, 2011

The First Shot

What an amazing life George Washington had.  He held a military commission of major when barely in his twenties, then was promoted to lieutenant colonel at age twenty six. He was sent on dangerous and important missions by Virginia Governor Dinwiddie.  If you have ever lived in western Pennsylvania I am sure you know about his 1754 trek from Virginia to Waterford in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania to tell the French to get out of British territory. Not only was the mission dangerous but it was carried out in the dead of winter. Yes he was one tough fellow.

An even more important mission came the following year. Washington had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and was given the task of taking a party of workers, along with Virginia militia, to the fork of the three rivers in western Pennsylvania. Also in this group were a number of Indians loyal to the British Crown. When the French at Fort Duquesne heard that such a contingent of British were headed in their direction they sent Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville with approximately thirty five men to meet with Washington and insist they leave French territory.

Washington’s party had made it to the rugged terrain of Fayette County when their scouts warned them of the French heading toward them. Taking only forty men plus the twelve Indian allies they crept up on the French camp. The Indians were sent to cover one side while the Virginians the other. According to reports Washington wrote the French discovered the men advancing so he gave the order to fire. It was over in fifteen minutes. Jumonville was killed along with nine of his men. The rest were taken prisoner.

There are many versions of the killing of Jumonville but we will not go into that here.

This action is considered the breaking point of relations between France and Great Britain, the Seven Years War  (aka The French and Indian War) was officially declared in 1756.

The site now is known as Jumonville and is a Christian retreat center.

Additional tid-bits of  historical information may be found in my books; Frontier Preacher and Frontier at Three Rivers, available from, Amazon or your favorite book seller.

Posted by: unclesamshistory | December 5, 2011

The Lead Plate Claim

The Lead Plate Claim

We tend to think of western Pennsylvania as being settled by the British. But who was really here first, after the Native Americans that is? A French Canadian by the name of Pierre Joseph Celoron de Blainville in 1749 led an expedition from Montreal across the Great Lakes and by following the waterways came down the Allegheny River with two hundred sixteen French Canadians and fifty five loyal Native Americans all in a huge flotilla of boats and canoes.

Celoron was not new to exploring these wilderness regions. Nine years before he had taken a force of cadets, regulars and Indians down into Mississippi to subdue the Chickasaw nation who had allied themselves with the British. But this trip down the Allegheny River was to cement the French claim on the territory.

As was the custom in Europe a copper plate was nailed to a tree at the mouth of each major tributary. This had the French seal and a claim to the land. Besides the copper plates a lead plate was also buried at this point. Again asserting the French claim to the land. History tells us most of the copper plates were torn from the trees by the Indians traveling with Celoron and one of the six lead plates to be buried was taken by an Indian traveling with the group.. This plate ended up in British hands. Two more have been found in the early 1800s which leaves three unaccounted for. What a treasure it would be to unearth one now.

When Celonor and his party reached Logstown, an Indian village just down river from present day Pittsburgh, he found English traders. In a rage that they would dare trespass on French soil he ordered them out of the territory, surprisingly they left without a struggle. Continuing down the Ohio River he buried plates at the mouths of the Muskingum and Kanawha rivers. Then again came upon English traders at the mouth of the Scioto River. These were not as easily intimidated and they refused to leave, and were backed up by the Indians they were trading with.

. Interested in history? You may want to check two books on western Pennsylvania fictional history, based on actual events: Frontier Preacher and Frontier At Three Rivers. Both available from Amazon or your local book seller

Posted by: unclesamshistory | November 26, 2011

Hanna’s Town

In the 1700s Westmoreland County stretched from Bedford County to the Ohio Territory. According to the Westmoreland County Historical Society Hanna’s Town wasn’t operating until 1773. Named for the tavern owner it became the county seat of this vast chunk of land.
Hanna’s tavern became the courthouse and he was the magistrate. The Hanna’s Town courthouse and jail were the only law west of the Allegheny Mountains. I have to admit in my book Frontier at Three Rivers I took a few liberties. In the book Griswalt’s tavern and trading post was patterned after Hanna’s Town which wasn’t even in existence in 1763 when the book opens. This imaginary tavern was the focal point of the settlers in the area but it served to weave the plot into a story.
In the second half of the book, ten years later, I still used Griswalt’s as a focal point but placed Hanna’s Town as the courthouse and jail, which they were. Events in the book concerning the arrest of Hanna and the subsequent rescue of the prisoners in Staunton’s jail in Virginia are all based on actual events. The actual attack on Hanna’s didn’t happen until 1782 and I had it at Griswalt’s in 1763 with a much more satisfactory ending.
That’s why the book is classified as historical fiction.
I invite you to read more about Frontier at Three Rivers and Frontier Preacher at

Posted by: unclesamshistory | November 14, 2011

Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Ligonier, Pennsylvania

The Ligonier Valley is well known throughout Western Pennsylvania. Tucked in at the foot of the western side of the Alleghany Mountains the charming town of Ligonier is home to beautiful horse ranches, a golf course that Arnold Palmer learned to play on, and more millionaires per square mile than any other area I can think of. But the charm of the town with its town square and interesting shops and restaurants is undiminished by all the surrounding nobility.

One of my favorite shops is the Second Chapter Book store. Laurier McGinnis is the owner and is most helpful in finding books you may be looking for. But that’s not what I want to talk about here.

Can you imagine how thrilled Bouquet was when as they came down the last mountain side into this lush valley. It was September, 1758 and General Forbes had mounted an expedition to take the French fort at Three Rivers. Years before General Braddock had suffered a crushing defeat when he tried to wrestle this same Fort Duquesne from the French.

Bouquet led an advance force across the mountains and began construction of Fort Ligonier which would serve as their winter quarters. Naturally the French took a dim view of this and had their Indian allies attack the British in raiding parties. You may remember Major Grant was sent to reconnoiter the French stronghold but instead tried to attack it and was not only defeated but captured.

The French then sent their whole garrison plus approximately two hundred Delaware braves to drive the British from French land. Fort Ligonier had cannon and mortars which rained shell and shrapnel on the attackers. Finally the Indians had enough and melted into the forest. The French returned to Fort Duquesne and eventually destroyed it retreating north.

If you are traveling through Ligonier on US Route 30 get off at the fort and visit the town, a well worth side trip.

A more detailed description of the battle of Fort Ligonier may be found in Frontier At Three Rivers available from or for a signed copy or Amazon

Posted by: unclesamshistory | October 28, 2011

Man’s Inhumanity to Man

The so called insurrection of western Pennsylvania against the new Federal Whiskey Tax had rubbed the nerves raw in the capital at Philadelphia. Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury, pushed Washington to teach these frontier folks a lesson. The uprising had all but disappeared, the leaders had fled down river to Spanish safety and an armistice of sorts had been reached among the radicals that were left. Despite their pleas that it was over Washington pushed on with a federal force of approximately twelve thousand men.

The army was divided with some going west over Braddock’s Road and the other half by Forbes Road.  Governor Henry Lee from Virginia was named General of the Army. A job he obviously relished. Remember Virginia had just been pushed out of western Pennsylvania after their attempted takeover. Was he spoiling to rack revenge on the settlers for this failure? History doesn’t say but we can speculate.

 General Lee sent a list of eighteen men that were to be captured and brought to trial. Unfortunately the list didn’t specify which were to be prisoners and which were witnesses, so they were treated equally. It was a cold November night with the temperature below freezing when the mounted troupe swept down on the unsuspecting homes. Men were drug out of beds, some not allowed to get properly dressed and herded to an outdoor pen. The guards built a fire but kept the prisoners away from the flames with bayonet thrusts. Finally the group was moved to Fort Fayette where the conditions were not much better.

 With mounted guards on each side of this band of straggling prisoners they began their walk to Philadelphia. It was winter, and it was cold; they are ill equipped for a hike over the Allegheny Mountains. General Lee gave the order for the guards to draw their sabers and if any man tried to escape they were to cut off his head. I marvel that any of them made it alive, but they did. Even after over a month of sleeping outside in the cold, little to eat and even less to keep warm.

A more detailed description of this inhumane act may be found in Frontier Preacher available from , Amazon or your favorite book seller.

Posted by: unclesamshistory | October 16, 2011

The Lost Erie Tribe

In the 1500s and 1600s the Erie Tribe of Native Americans occupied the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and New York. They were a fiercely independent people and just as fierce as warriors. Over the years the Erie’s and the Seneca’s held numerous peace treaty meetings. Unfortunately these always end in a fight and the battle was on once again.

The Seneca‘s had joined the Iroquois federation allying themselves with the powerful group of Indian nations that ruled the northern territories. The Erie’s would not join and became the outcasts. Somehow a treaty was made by the Iroquois with the Dutch traders in the Susquehanna Valley to the effect that no fire arms would be traded to the Erie’s. The black powder muskets the Dutch traded were primitive at best but definitely an advantage over bow and arrow.

The Erie tribe held its own by developing a poison to tip their arrows and spears in. This made the killing power of the Erie’s double fold as it didn’t take a killing shot to take out an enemy a cut would deposit enough poison to put him out of action. The battles between the two tribes raged for years. Until in the 1600s with the backing of the Iroquois Federation a great push against the Erie’s by the Seneca’s completely destroyed the Erie Nation. Those not killed were absorbed into the Seneca culture and no reference to the Erie tribe was made again.   

A fictional story of the demise of the Erie Tribe may be found in A Bloodstained Land, available from Amazon.

Posted by: unclesamshistory | October 10, 2011

Bully’s or Patriots

Western Pennsylvania was a hot-bed of unrest in the 1780s. The new federal government was searching for ways to pay for the devastating war against Great Brittan and little thought was given to those frontier territories in the West.

Separation talk in the western territories became so vocal that the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an act in 1782 declaring any attempt to set up a new state would be considered treason. The counties west of the Allegheny Mountains had better access to trade down the Ohio River than over the mountains, but that was forbidden. And what was the product they exported? Whiskey! Almost every farm had a still producing this liquid cash crop and it was accepted for trade throughout the territory. Although a whiskey tax was on the books for years western Pennsylvania farmers simply refused to pay it. In 1791 the new Federal government passed a tax based on the liquid gallon produced; now theoretically every still in the new nation would pay the tax.

Pennsylvania was the most vocal in refusing to pay so federal tax collectors were sent out to collect. The independent frontiersmen took matters in their own hands and met the tax collectors with tar and feathers, hair cut off and other degrading actions. An elusive phantom called Tom the Tinker kept the pot boiling with hand bills denouncing the tax and those that collected it.  As far as I can determine Tom the Tinker’s identity has never been discovered. To intimidate the farmers that did sign up to pay the tax gangs would descend on their still and farm, burn their barn and shoot up the still. It became known as mending the still when destroyed by musket fire.

Was this destruction of property and terror justified? It was a different time and culture, one we would have a hard time understanding. Or would we?

Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties were the hot spots of the protests and in the end received the harshest treatment by federal troops.


For more and a more detailed description of the whiskey war I invite you to read Frontier Preacher.


My new books, Frontier Preacher and Frontier at Three Rivers, are available from my web site, , or , Amazon or your favorite book seller

Posted by: unclesamshistory | October 3, 2011


The Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion was winding down. David Bradford had fled down river to safety from federal troops. Senator James Ross had been appointed to hear cases accusing residents of leading the insurrection and Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, came to Pittsburg for the hearings. I am not sure what the Secretary of the Treasury had to do with arresting people or calling out the troops, but he was the main instigator.
General John Neville, who was a large land holder in Washington County, owned a large still that supplied the fort at Three Rivers with whiskey. His son was the procurement officer for the fort. Large distillers favored the whiskey excise tax knowing it would squeeze the small producers out of business. A Pittsburg attorney, Hugh Breckenridge, had helped Neville and his son in the past but now the Neville’s turned on him accusing Brackenridge of being a ringleader in the insurrection.
This accusation was based on a letter they had found, supposedly written by Brackenridge to Bradford, a known leader of the uprising. Brought before Senator Scott, Hamilton entered the letter in evidence while Neville and an attorney by the name of Woods looked on smiling. Senator Scott studied the letter a full ten minutes while Hamilton, Neville and Woods made accusations that it surely was Brackenridge’s writing and there was no question he was the author.
Finally Senator Scott looked up and addressed the group, yes, he said it was Brackenridge’s hand writing but he saw nothing wrong as the letter was addressed to William Bradford, the Attorney General of the United States, not David Bradford the insurrectionist.
Can you imagine the huffing and puffing these arrogant politicians did finding they had made a fatal error in trying to railroad an innocent man.
For additional tid-bits on early Pennsylvania history my books, Frontier Preacher and Frontier at Three Rivers, are chock full of them.
Frontier Preacher and Frontier at Three Rivers are available from Amazon or or for a signed copy or your favorite book seller.
I invite you to visit my web site

Posted by: unclesamshistory | September 25, 2011

Gnadenhutten Massacure

In 1782 one of the gravest incidents of the early frontier was perpetrated on friendly Christian Indians. The Moravian monks had
succeeded in converting a settlement of Indians on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. They taught the converts how to farm and get the most from the land.  Soon the Indians were self sufficient, with good crops of corn, squash and other staples. Not far from their settlement, called Gnadenhutten, the settlers in western Pennsylvania were coping with failed crops and near starvation, plus the constant fear of Indian raids that were sweeping the territory.

Hostile Indians, loyal to the British, felt this peaceful group was a threat and with British encouragement forced the village
to move deeper into the Ohio Territory. Unfortunately this new land was ill prepared for the invasion of several hundred people. It was too late to plant crops and their fields of corn were ripe at the old village but their capturers forbid them to go back for the harvest. Starvation drives men to special heights and over one hundred, men, women and children went back to Gnadenhutten
to gather what corn they could salvage.

The western Pennsylvania residents had no knowledge that the village had been moved. Blaming this peaceful group of Indians for the raids by the hostiles a militia of 160 men was formed to march on Gnadenhutten and teach these Injins a lesson. It happened at the same time the Indians had returned to gather the crops standing idle in the field.

When the militia found the Indians in the field they herded them into the large storage building. No one tried to escape; the
captives went in and prayed throughout the night. In the morning as the Indians knelt in prayer each was systematically struck on the head with a bung hammer. Heads crushed they fell instantly in death, men, women and children. Two young boys escaped one by hiding the other by pretending to be dead, even while a militiaman scalped him. The bodies were piled in the building and the structure set on fire.

It was never proven that these Moravian converts had ever helped the raiding parties or that they were anything more than what they said they were, a peaceful community.. For a more detailed story of the Gnadenhutten Massacre a chapter is devoted to it in my book Frontier Preacher.

I invite you to visit my web site

Frontier Preacher and Frontier
at Three Rivers
are available from Amazon, or
or or your favorite book seller.

Posted by: unclesamshistory | September 19, 2011


We are all familiar with the savagery by the Indians in their war to regain the territory lost to white settlers. The barbarity of
white settlers against the Indians is not as well documented. Each side had their reasons for the brutality; it was a different time, a different culture.

In 1764 Indian raids were not confined to the frontier; as far east as Lancaster, Pennsylvania families had been slaughtered.
In this area the Moravian monks had created an village of  Indians converted to Christianity. Not a large community, approximately twenty was the whole contingent. They were Indians and tempers ran hot, a dead Indian was the only good Indian.

A group, known as the Paxton Boys set out to eliminate this cancer they perceived giving help to the attacking hostile
bands. On December 15, 1764 the settlement of the Christian Indians was attacked. Fortunately only three people were found, then murdered. The Lancaster government moved the remaining sixteen Indians to the Poor House in Lancaster for safety. On December 27 fifty Paxton Boys stormed the house and succeeded in killing all sixteen inhabitants.

No charges or arrests were ever made. Were these men justified in their actions? How many of you can remember the race riots in the last century?

Next week I will bring you the Gnadenhutten Massacre.  For more information check my web site
Frontier Preacher covers both sides of this bloody conflict and is available from Amazon or
or or your favorite book seller.

I invite you to visit my web site More information on the book Frontier Preacher and the new book Frontier At Three Rivers is available there.

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