The Brutal Tale of Colonel William Crawford

Monument to Colonel William Crawford. Dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Monument says, "FORT CRAWFORD ERECTED MAY 1775 THIS STOCKADE WAS USED AS A MUNIITION-SUPPLY AND REFUGE POST FROM 1776 THROUGH THE INDIAN RAIDS OF 1791-1793 NAMED FOR COL. WILLIAM CRAWFORD. PLACED BY MASSY HARBISON CHAPTER D.A.R. 1942)
The Massy Harbison Chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) dedicated this monument to Colonel William Crawford in Parnassus, New Kensington, PA, in 1943. Photo dated October, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I just learned that Parnassus (in New Kensington, PA) shares a man’s brutal life story with downtown Columbus, Ohio. In fact, this story even left its mark on Columbus’ current National Hockey League arena.

I discovered this from an episode of Haunted Talks – The Official Podcast of the Haunted Walk, hosted by Creative Director Jim Dean. In Episode 68 – Columbus Ghost Tours, the host interviewed the Columbus tour co-owner Bucky Cutright.

Cutright shared one ghost story from his tour – the tale of haunted (cursed, even) Nationwide Arena, the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, an NHL team. Cutright revealed that the arena was built on the parking lot for the former Ohio Penitentiary.

Cutright noted that an indigenous Mingo village (Salt-Lick Town) once stood on this entire property. He talked about the village’s destruction in 1774. He noted the tragic death toll of Mingo families, at the hands of white settlers led by a man named William Crawford.

Wait a minute,” I thought. “Our William Crawford?

See, I live in the Parnassus neighborhood in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Parnassus emerged from the remains of Fort Crawford, at the confluence of Pucketa Creek and the Allegheny River.

Colonel William Crawford’s troops in the Continental Army built Fort Crawford in 1777. This was during the American Revolutionary War. Crawford previously fought with the British in the French and Indian War in the 1750’s. Crawford survived the Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock’s Defeat) in 1755. Crawford knew George Washington!

I Googled “William Crawford” and “Columbus.” I saw the portrait of the man who led the attack on Salt-Lick Town in present-day Columbus. This was indeed “our” William Crawford!

Now, to be clear, I do realize that William Crawford doesn’t “belong” to New Kensington. Crawford was born in Virginia. Connellsville, PA, reconstructed his Pennsylvania log cabin. Crawford County, PA, was named after William Crawford. Crawford County, OH, was also named after William Crawford.

I just read a bunch of Crawford’s top Google search results. I skimmed his Wikipedia page. He incites controversy today. He led military expeditions during a time when colonial America was at war with various Europeans and also with various Native Americans. Carnage resulted. I could write an entire blog just on Crawford’s bloody travels and still not get my hands around his legacy.

For instance, Crawford entangled himself in Lord Dunmore’s War. The white settlers and the Shawnee and Mingo tribes attacked each other in this conflict. Virginia and Pennsylvania also violently challenged each other over their border, including a chunk of Western PA. The Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh has an exhibit about this.

Let me tell you a little bit about how Colonel William Crawford died.

First, keep in mind that the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783. However, in the years before this, the settlers in colonial Pennsylvania and Ohio fought the British and they also fought assorted Native American communities. The settlers killed Native Americans, and the Native Americans killed settlers.

In 1778, Crawford led an expedition of colonial settlers that massacred a village of Native American women in Ohio. (The men who lived in this village were away from home at the time.) This colonial expedition included a guide named Simon Girty.

Girty witnessed the slaughter of these Native American women. He later expressed his revulsion for this violence.

Girty returned to his “home base” at Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh. However, Girty then fled west from Pittsburgh. Girty defected from the colonial settlers and joined the British who were in Ohio and Detroit. (Again, this was during the American Revolutionary War against the British.)

The whole “Simon Girty thing” was a big deal at this time because Girty was a white man from Central PA who had been captured by Seneca warriors as a child. Girty grew up learning the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee languages. Girty built relationships with several Native American communities. He worked as a guide and interpreter. Can you imagine the talent and “institutional knowledge” that he could provide to the British?

(Alexander McKee, of McKees Rocks fame, defected with Girty.)

Then, in 1782, Crawford led the Crawford Expedition against Native American villages along the Sandusky River in Ohio. These Native Americans and their British allies in Detroit found out about the expedition, and they prepared to engage it. These Native Americans and the British troops defeated Crawford and his militiamen. 

A force of Lenape and Wyandot warriors captured Crawford. They tortured Crawford. They executed him by burning him on June 11, 1782.

Simon Girty was there, at William Crawford’s execution.

In fact, witnesses alleged that Girty “egged on” Crawford’s captors as they tortured him. Witnesses even alleged that Crawford begged Girty to shoot him as he burned alive, and that Girty laughed at Crawford.

Girty denied that he encouraged the warriors who tortured Crawford.

Girty settled in Detroit, among the British. Years later, Detroit became part of the United States and Girty fled to Canada. At least one internet source listed Girty as a Canadian historical figure. I learned that Girty’s name appears on an Ontario memorial for “Loyalists” (to the British Crown).

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) dedicated at least two plaques in Girty’s memory.

Now, Hannastown was the first county seat of Westmoreland County, PA. I read that the town lost a significant portion of its able-bodied fighting men in the Crawford Expedition. On July 13, 1782, Seneca warrior Guyasuta and his men burned Hannastown and its crops. Greensburg became the county seat after this.

If you want to read historical fiction in which William Crawford and Simon Girty appear, then I suggest “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.

Pay-What-You-Want / Can

In January, Planet Money released Episode 889: The Pay-What-You-Want Experiment. In this episode, host Sarah Gonzalez interviewed Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich. Shaich opened a small chain of “pay-what-you-want” eating establishments operating under the name of “Panera Cares” in 2010. Unfortunately, all of the “Panera Cares” locations eventually closed.

However, New Kensington, Pennsylvania has its own independent, non-profit “pay-what-you-can” restaurant: Knead Community Cafe.

I ate breakfast this morning at Knead. I breakfasted there several other Saturday mornings in the past year. Knead opened in February 2017. I took all of the photos in this blog post in April 2018.

To clarify, New Kensington’s Knead Community Cafe is NOT affiliated in any way with Panera Bread. I mentioned the Planet Money episode merely to illustrate that Planet Money did a story on an innovative type of establishment similar to one that exists in my own town.

The above linked Planet Money episode referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-want.” The website for Knead referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward.” I based my below explanation on Knead’s website. If you want specific information on how the restaurant works, its hours of operation, or its menu, please visit its website and / or its Facebook page.

The booth inside of Knead’s front door explained “pay-what-you-can” as it applied to Knead:

Before each trip to Knead, I first checked Knead’s Facebook page to review that day’s menu. Note that the menu changes each day. On my first trip, I had a choice of three breakfast options.

We ordered our food and our choice of juice at a counter. Cafe volunteers brought our food to our assigned table. We helped ourselves to coffee, tea, and iced tea at the cafe’s beverage bar.

In addition to Knead’s indoor seating, Knead has an outdoor courtyard. I never sat in the courtyard, but I took a few photos of it. People who sit in the courtyard can enjoy this old city’s “ghost signs.” (Ghost signs are hand-painted advertisements on the sides of old buildings. Many ghost signs advertise now-defunct products or businesses.)

In fact, if you chose to eat at Knead, you might work off your meal with a short photo walk around downtown New Kensington. You will be able to photograph several ghost signs.


Finally, parking options are very important to me when I visit a place. I am satisfied with Knead’s parking options. Visitors can park along the street for free. Visitors can also park in a large, free public parking lot directly across the street from Knead’s front entrance.

My husband and I live within walking distance from Knead. When we visit, we often run into people that we know. However, we also chat at Knead with people that we never previously met. Knead provides an excellent place for the community to partake of a meal as fellow human beings.

Have you ever visited a “pay-what-you-want / pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward” restaurant? Tell me about your experience.

Rachel Carson Graduated Here From Parnassus High School

I spent a day on Chatham University’s main campus in Oakland (Pittsburgh) for an event last fall. I grabbed lunch at Cafe Rachel, Chatham’s coffee shop.

Chatham named the shop after environmentalist Rachel Carson. Carson graduated from Chatham in 1929 when the school was called Pennsylvania College for Women. She wrote Silent Spring in 1962.

One wall of Cafe Rachel detailed Carson’s life. This wall noted that Carson was born and raised in Springdale. (Springdale is across the Allegheny River from New Kensington.) The wall told me that Carson graduated from Parnassus High School in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

(I already knew this. Wikipedia already knows this. However, I was psyched to see the Parnassus reference on a wall at Chatham University.)

Do you have any fun facts to share? Post them here. 

Parnassus Memoir

Local history buffs are in the planning stages of organizing a historical society for Arnold, Lower Burrell, New Kensington, and Upper Burrell.

I wasn’t able to attend the first meeting this month, but I will be keeping an eye open for the group’s upcoming events.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in New Kensington history, here’s a redux from my older blog:

I live in the Parnassus section of New Kensington. Parnassus is older than New Kensington. It sits along the Allegheny River. It existed as its own place until New Kensington annexed it in the 20th century.

A few years ago, I googled combinations of “Parnassus” and “history” and “Pennsylvania.” I found this link to a Chicago Tribune reprint of a New York Times article that Jeffrey Simpson wrote in 1996 about his family’s experience in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

I posted the link to a Facebook group about local history.

Somebody on the Facebook group responded to the effect of “Oh, yeah, we already know about that article. Jeffrey Simpson wrote a whole book about Parnassus back in 1996. It’s titled American Elegy: A Family Memoir.”

So, I found American Elegy: A Family Memoir on Amazon. It’s out of print now. I bought a used copy pretty inexpensively.

As the title promises, this is a family memoir.

About half of the story takes place in Parnassus, within walking distance from my own current house. The rest takes place at a farm about ten or so miles outside of Parnassus, or else in an upscale suburb on the opposite side of Pittsburgh.

The author changed the names of his relatives and also the names of some of the places. However, I figured out the actual places whose names he changed. Also, he kept the actual names for still other places. (For instance, he kept the name “Parnassus.” I posted at the top a photo of a church that the book actually mentions.)

I found a Pittsburgh-area newspaper article, archived online, that referenced American Elegy. The article listed some of the “real” names of the family members from the memoir. Armed with this information, my husband and I researched the people and places mentioned in the book. For instance, American Elegy references a farm and cottage that was the author’s “family seat” for about two hundred years.  Since Westmoreland County’s property records are online, my husband figured out the location of the old farm – and also the cottage, which still stands.

We actually drive past this farmhouse every time we visit my own family. Each time, I say, “There’s the American Elegy cottage.”

Drop me a line if you want to discuss the book or the research that my husband and I did on the book.

My New Ken Haunted History Walk

Last week, my husband Jonathan and I learned about the history of Brackenridge and Tarentum during Prospect Cemetery’s ghost walking tour.

This tour raised funds for Prospect Cemetery’s upkeep.

Some of the volunteers involved with the cemetery tour have also in past years performed ghost walking tours of downtown Tarentum.

In these tours, guides lead their groups to actors dressed up as local historical figures. The actors tell stories about their assigned figures.

Jonathan agreed to attend past tours of Prospect Cemetery and Tarentum with me because the tour organizers indicated in media posts that these tours weren’t the type of events where people jump out of the darkness to scare guests. (Jonathan refuses to attend scary ghost events.) Nonetheless, we heard true tales of murders, fires, accidents, and illness.

New Kensington could host its own haunted history walk. I didn’t grow up in New Ken (and neither side of my own family ever lived here), so I don’t know many of the old yarns. However, I compiled my own list of historical figures and events based on my knowledge of Western PA history. I welcome anybody with intimate knowledge of New Kensington history to supplement this list. In fact, if you have anything to add, please feel free to tell me in the comments!

Robert E. Lee . . . Just kidding! I don’t have any reason to think that Lee ever came to New Kensington.

Simon Girty  –  Girty  went just about everywhere in Western and Central Pennsylvania. Also, in olden days, Girty’s name was arguably more controversial than Lee’s. (Spoiler: Girty defected from the Americans and fought with the other side.)

Girty was born in Central PA in 1741. During his violent childhood, Seneca warriors raided the Girty family farm and took him prisoner.

Girty grew up learning the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee languages. He lived with (and fought alongside) the Senecas during several battles of the French and Indian War. The Native Americans returned Girty to the British colonists during a prisoner exchange in 1764.

Girty worked as a trader and interpreter. He frequented Pittsburgh and travelled these rivers, including the Allegheny River.  Girty originally served with the American forces during the Revolutionary War. However, he changed his mind after American troops attacked a Native American settlement. (The campaign came to be known as the Squaw Campaign because the Americans killed the women found in this settlement.)

Girty defected to the British in 1778.

Girty was present at the execution of American Colonel William Crawford in 1782 and sources allege that he actually egged on the Native Americans who tortured Crawford.

(See my blog post The Brutal Tale of Colonel William Crawford.)

Girty eventually fled to Canada, where he died in 1818. Some sources list Girty as a Canadian.

I believe that Girty travelled the Allegheny River past present-day Parnassus and downtown New Kensington.

My own grandma in North Huntingdon Township often joked about mischief caused by the Ghost of Simon Girty.

Soldiers of Fort Crawford in Parnassus  – Settlers built Fort Crawford next to the confluence of Pucketa Creek and the Allegheny River in the 1700’s. The remains of Fort Crawford later became the Parnassus neighborhood of New Kensington. A stone marking the fort, and also remembering Colonel William Crawford, now sits next to the grounds of the Presbyterian church and cemetery there. For a history walk, actors could dress up as soldiers and tell the fort’s story.

We could even have an actor dress up as Colonel William  Crawford. In 1782, at the end of the American Revolution, Crawford led American forces into Ohio as part of the Crawford Expedition against Native Americans. Lenape and Wyandot warriors defeated Crawford and his men. They tortured and executed Crawford. Simon Girty was there.

The Frank Alter Family – Frant Alter Sr. was one of the founders of the Keystone Dairy Company in Parnassus. Alter and his family originally owned my present-day house in Parnassus. In fact, an Alter child carved his initials into the woodwork in my attic. The Alter family are now buried in the cemetery owned by Parnassus Presbyterian Church. Here is some research that Jonathan did on the Alter Family.

Johnstown Flood Debris –  We residents of New Kensington live alongside the Allegheny River, downstream from Johnstown. After the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 killed at least 2,209 people, flood debris (and bodies) washed downstream. It washed past our current home and also past all of the other Allegheny River towns downstream from us.  In fact, David McCullough noted in The Johnstown Flood that rescuers pulled a living baby out of the river at Verona.  This happy-ending story is perfect for a history walk.

Here are some more ideas that I blogged about in 2014:

Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

The Logan Family 

Aaron Burr

(See my blog post Meeting Aaron Burr in the Alleghenies.)

Victorian Houses in Parnassus

If you have more stories, feel free to add them to this list. I didn’t grow up here. I would love the insights of those who did.

Aaron Burr and the Two Logan Inns

Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.

Did he then hide out at the Logan Inn, mere blocks from present-day downtown New Kensington? Here in the land of Sheetz and the Black & Gold?

Or, did he flee to a different Logan Inn, in present day Flyers & Eagles Country?

Here is the link to Mrs. Luella Rodgers Frazier’s “The Early Years of New Kensington, Pennsylvania.” Halfway through this history, Frazier wrote that Alexander Logan owned the land that became Parnassus.

Frazier wrote that Aaron Burr stopped at Logan’s property “for a few days” after he dueled Alexander Hamilton. Per Frazier, “the Logans did not know about the duel and did not recognize Mr. Burr.”

As Frazier noted, Burr proceeded (by way of Pittsburgh) to Blennerhasset Island in the Ohio River.

Harman Blennerhasset owned the island and he allowed Burr, General James Wilkinson, and others to store men and supplies on the island in their  bid to create a new nation in the southwest.

Burr’s accusers arrested Burr in Alabama. They chained him. (This, during a time when men chained their slaves. During a time when Burr’s own son-in-law owned a plantation.) The accusers brought Burr to Virginia in these chains. They tried him for treason.

Burr won his freedom by acquittal.

This follows the history and lore of Aaron Burr.

History buffs know about the Logan family’s prominence here. I even added to this blog post the photo that Jonathan took of the former Logan Trust Company in downtown New Kensington.

However, ANOTHER Logan Inn on the opposite side of PA – along Ferry Street in New Hope – also claims that THEY hosted Burr after the duel. The OTHER Logan Inn markets itself with Aaron Burr lore.

Perhaps Aaron Burr did in fact shelter at two Logan Inns, on opposite sides of the state. Perhaps both ends of the Pennsylvania Turnpike own this story.

What do you think?

Here’s my post from my other blog about the novel My Theodosia by Anya Seton. 

Pittsburgh Sunrise

Good morning!  Here’s the sunrise view from the window closest to my desk at my job in downtown Pittsburgh.

So, many years ago, a woman from my employer’s Manhattan office came to visit my co-workers here in our Pittsburgh office.

(I shall henceforth call her “the Manhattanite” even though she may live in Jersey, for all that I know.)

The Manhattanite looked out of our office’s windows onto downtown Pittsburgh.

( Maybe the Manhattanite looked out of this very window.)

The Manhattanite said, “My, my, my. That’s a regular little city out there!”

Why, yes, it is.

Do outsiders ever damn a place that you love with faint praise?

Murphy’s Law At the Basket Blessing

Holy Saturday morning in my house means a frantic “grocery store hop” in which we visit every store in New Kensington.

You see, families in our traditionally Polish Catholic parish in New Kensington assemble baskets of the food for their first meal on Easter morning. We bring the baskets to church Saturday for a short ceremonial basket blessing by our priest.

Our baskets include very specific foods, including beet horseradish. Every year, we forget to purchase beet horseradish until Easter weekend.

And of course, the store closest to our house is clean out of beet horseradish the morning of Holy Saturday. Because this store is, like, 2 minutes away from the church and other people beat (beet) us to all of  it!

So, we walk into our third store of the morning. We can buy the last remaining bottle on that store’s shelf.

Then we meet up with our in-laws at the church. They tell us similar stories of frenzied dashes to assemble their baskets five minutes before the ceremony.

Then it happens all over again the next Easter.