The Trib article did not mention Arthur St. Clair’s 1791 military defeat in The Battle of the Wabash. I had to learn about this defeat by reading, first, The Red Heart (a fiction novel by James Alexander Thom) and later from Wikipedia.
The Trib article also did not mention that St. Clair faced a court martial after he retreated from Fort Ticonderoga – and left it in the hands of the British – in 1777.
From what I read about General St. Clair, his supporters argued that St. Clair didn’t have adequate resources to succeed at Fort Ticonderoga (which is in present-day New York) or at the Wabash (which is in present-day Ohio).
The road sign on Route 30 commemorates the Westmoreland County home where St. Clair lived at the very end of his life. The location of St. Clair’s grave a few miles away in Greensburg became a prominent public park named after him.
I myself travel on Route 30 between my current home and my hometown in Somerset County. I’ve never actually noticed the PHMC marker, or the monument installed by the county. That section of Route 30 is sort of tricky to safely drive, so I’m glad that the Trib notified me to the presence of this sign.
If you want to learn more about Arthur St. Clair without leaving Route 30, you can head on over to the museum at Fort Ligonier. The museum has pieces of Arthur St. Clair’s parlor installed in it. From what I read, the United States failed to repay a substantial debt owed to St. Clair. St. Clair lost most of what he owned, including the residence that contained this particular parlor. His possessions were sold to repay his own creditors. According to local folklore, General St. Clair’s ghost and his wife’s ghost haunt the fort’s museum. My fourth grade class visited Fort Ligioner several decades ago. I didn’t see any ghosts. I re-visited the museum in 2018. I still did not see any ghosts.
Just as an aside, I’ve previously blogged – several times – about Simon Girty. I learned from Wikipedia that Girty fought with the Native Americans at St. Clair’s defeat.
If you want to learn more about General St. Clair (or about Simon Girty), I recommend the website for the Heinz History Center.
I’ve blogged in the past about Simon Girty. I don’t feel like linking everything that I’ve ever wrote about him. I created “Girty” as a new category on this blog tonight, so you can just click on this to see what I wrote.
So, I mentioned before that the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission installed a marker along the Susquehanna River to note Girty’s birthplace near Harrisburg. I actually Googled the distance between Girty’s birthplace and my very first childhood home in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Turns out that I spent the first seven years of my life only ten or twenty miles from Girty’s birthplace. We both started out in Central PA and then went on to have new adventures on the OTHER side of the Allegheny Mountains.
I’m a Central PA native because of economics. Both of my parents grew up in the Greater Pittsburgh area. (My mom grew up in Carrick.) My dad’s first teaching job out of college came from rural Perry County. So, he moved there a month before their wedding. Mom moved to Perry County the weekend that my parents got married.
I mean, if you want to get technical about it, the Girty family and all of their fellow colonial settlers of European descent lived in what became of Perry County due to economics, too. They moved into the already-occupied lands along the Susquehanna. They struggled with the indigenous people who already called dibs on that whole place. Girty grew up to see the the non-European point of view on this whole mess. If you want to get even more technical, this land around the Susquehanna wasn’t Perry County back then. The county was later named after the War of 1812 hero Oliver Hazard Perry. Girty was born in the early 1700’s. He was an old man taking refuge with the British when the War of 1812 happened. (Though, I just found out through a Google search that Simon Girty only preceded Oliver Hazard Perry in death by a year and a half. Girty died old. Perry died young. So, I guess that nobody wins in the end? Except for me. I made out well because my husband just made me fresh stove-popped popcorn to eat as I write this.)
I should have warned you about tonight’s history dump. That way, you could have closed out this post to go read a Reddit message board about vaccine shaming or about that physical fight that happened last weekend at a Bath & Body Works store.
Anyway, I spent the first seven years of my live in a pretty rural town in Perry County, near the farm where Simon Girty was born in the 1700’s. I wasn’t born in the 1700’s, but some days I feel as if I am indeed that old. “My first hometown” in Perry County was so tiny that it made my “second hometown” in Somerset County seem like a regular little city.
For instance, back in the Perry County days, we lived next to the town’s elementary school. (The high school was twenty miles away.) It was still light outside when I feel asleep each night in the summer. I fell asleep looking out of the window at cows in a field on a mountain. The other thing that I saw on that mountain each summer night were trees with no leaves or dead leaves. (The area had a gypsy moth infestation in the local forests.) The town itself was only about one mile long or so. I walked and biked the entire length of it many times before we moved away.
An Amish community farmed in the area. Some of these Amish were teenagers. Some of these Amish teenagers hung out with the teenagers who lived next to us. These teenagers all drove around in a car meant to emulate the jalopy known as the “General Lee” from the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” That is, the neighbor’s car played the song “Dixie” just like the car in the TV show did. Also, the neighbor’s car was orange and I think that it had Confederate battle flags on each side, just like the “General Lee” did.
We all had huge backyards. The neighbor’s teenagers allegedly grew weed in their backyard garden, according to my mom. One day, a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter flew low over our little neighborhood in our little rural town.
So, back to the house that became my first childhood home. My parents bought it shortly before I was born. It was an old house. It was a fixer-upper. (I keep ending up living in fixer-uppers in interesting neighborhoods. Story of my life.) Also, somebody was electrocuted on the power lines. Whoever this poor man was, he died right in front of the house. This happened before my parents bought the place. This was all before The Internet happened to us, by the way. Google didn’t exist. After my parents moved into their new home in their little town in Perry County, the neighbors came over and told my parents all about the terrible accident. Caveat emptor!
So, my parents told us kids this story about the electrical accident after we had moved away and we were all adults. And one of my siblings said,
“I used to hear a man’s voice calling out when we lived there. I used to call back “Dad, is that you?” I thought that it was Dad. Except, Dad was at work when this happened.”
This particular sibling was five years old when we moved away from the house.
And that’s how I found out that my first childhood home was haunted.
So, for a few years now, I’ve casually followed the efforts of local preservationists to purchase and restore the Old Stone Tavern, aka Elliott’s, in Pittsburgh’s West End. Daniel Elliott, or perhaps somebody else, built the tavern / inn during the late 1700’s.
I took an interest in the tavern because it appeared in Agnes Sligh Turnbulls’s historical fiction about late 1700’s Western Pennsylvania. (Turnbull graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and she wrote several books including The Day Must Dawn and The King’s Orchard.)
In The King’s Orchard, the protagonist, James O’Hara (an early Pittsburgh business leader and also philanthropist Mary Schenley’s grandfather) lived for a while at Elliott’s while he established himself as a fur trader. Also in Turnbull’s fiction, the famous / infamous Colonel William Crawford and Simon Girty drank at a colonial Pittsburgh tavern that I believe may have been based on Elliott’s. Daniel Elliott himself appeared in Turnbull’s fiction.
Turnbull’s historical fiction also referenced either a Pittsburgh innkeeper or Pittsburgh store owner named Sam Semple. I haven’t yet figured out whether Semple’s establishment later became Elliott’s, or if these were two different operations.
I can’t ask Turnbull about Sam Semple and his connection to Elliott’s because she published The Day Must Dawn in 1942 and The King’s Orchard in 1963. She passed away in 1982. She is buried in her hometown of New Alexandria, Pennsylvania.
Everything that I know about the preservation of Elliott’s Tavern came from Wikipedia, the preservationist group’s Facebook page, and the first articles that appeared when I Googled “old stone tavern Pittsburgh.”
For instance, here is an article that appeared in Pittsburgh Magazine in December 2019:
The last post of the “Old Stone Tavern” Facebook page showed a February 2020 date. It detailed a fundraiser held that same month in order to raise money to purchase the building.
Less than a month after this Facebook posting and the fundraiser, Pennsylvania’s governor shut Pennsylvania down due to Covid-19.
So, will Elliott’s ever open as a tavern again? I wonder. If currently open restaurants struggle right now to stay open, who knows what will happen to a tavern that closed years ago?
I’ve never looked into becoming involved in the tavern preservation group’s fundraising efforts. My husband and I have enough frustration trying to preserve our own 1890’s house. For instance, this past weekend, Jonathan transplanted a baby Japanese maple tree that was growing into our house’s foundation over to a different part of our yard, and the tree didn’t get blown over in the next day’s giant windstorm. This was a major accomplishment in our house restoration. I don’t need to get my heart broken over a 1700’s tavern.
That said, I’ve thought about Elliott’s and compared it to what I know about the Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford. I’ve come to the conclusion that Elliott’s needs to have its own ghost. Or ghosts. Or, at least, ghost stories.
I’ve heard that you can purchase “ghost in a bottle” kits on the internet. I think that these are all Caveat Emptor deals, though. What if the ghost that you ordered turned out to be a woman who had unpopular opinions about things?
On a more serious note, what if the ghost was one of the Native Americans slaughtered in the Gnadenhutten Massacre of 1782, or else one of the Native Americans slaughtered by Colonel William Crawford’s men, or else one of the Native Americans who received a smallpox blanket from the soldiers at Fort Pitt?
You never know what you’ll actually get when you order a ghost online. Also, a preservation group can’t purchase ghosts for a building that it doesn’t currently own.
Most of the articles that I read emphasized the tavern’s role in colonial and very early American history. I read about more recent (1870’s and Roaring Twenties) history that happened there; I’d love to blog more about that later.
Thanks for sticking by my side on this blog. I’ve blogged before about the tavern, but I owed you an American history post.
Okay, so Route 30 as it winds up and down through Central and Western Pennsylvania – the Lincoln Highway – is one of this blog post’s biggest stars. Other writers have already published books and internet content about the ghosts and legends of the Lincoln Highway. (It definitely helps that Gettsyburg is located along Route 30!) I won’t regurgitate what they already said. I’m not gonna steal someone else’s piece of the ghost story pie. It’s totally okay with me if you go off and Google “Route 30” and “history” and “haunted.” Just please come back.
I spent my early childhood in Central Pennsylvania (near Harrisburg) and all of my living grandparents lived west of us, in the Pittsburgh area. Sometimes, when we drove between Central PA and Western PA, my dad wanted to save money on PA Turnpike tolls. On such trips, my dad drove us across the western half of PA on Route 30.
Now, once you travel from Bedford County into Somerset County, you will climb to the top of a mountain summit, then drop down said summit, and then climb to the top of another summit. Over and over again. More than once, my parents’ fully-loaded station wagon followed fully-loaded coal trucks up and down these summits. If you’re from Western PA, then you understand the pain of these trips. When I was seven, my family actually moved to a town on the top of one of these Allegheny Mountain summits, in Somerset County. We still followed coal trucks to my grandparents’ houses, but we didn’t have as many summits to climb and descend.
(Side story: Flight 93 crashed less than 20 miles from our family home in Somerset County in 2001. When the National Park Service established the Flight 93 Memorial, they built the memorial’s main access road off of Route 30. I read the Flight 93 Memorial reviews on Trip Advisor. One reviewer noted that she drove her camping trailer from the Flight 93 Memorial, up and down Route 30, into Bedford County. She described her trip as “hellish.”)
So, as you leave Bedford traveling west on Route 30 en route to the Flight 93 Memorial, Saint Vincent College (my alma mater), and Pittsburgh, you will come upon the Jean Bonnet Tavern.
Again, I won’t steal somebody else’s piece of ghost story pie by getting too deep into the history of this place. The Pittsburgh news runs at least one story every Halloween about the ghosts. Several writers published books about the stories here. A bunch of other ghost bloggers wrote about the Jean Bonnet Tavern much more thoroughly than I have the patience to do so.
Here are the basics: The tavern probably opened in the mid-to-late 1700’s. It now sits at the intersection of Route 30 and Route 31. Back in the 1700’s, these were both trails. Modern-day Route 30 was a major trail that ran from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The tavern sat at the bottom of the first of a series of summits that travelers crossed to reach Pittsburgh. Since this was a crossroads, local lore claims that people in trouble with the law were hung here. George Washington might have stopped here.
The tavern today includes a restaurant and a bed and breakfast. I have eaten there several times as an adult. The basement dining room and the first floor dining room have different menus. The first floor dining room includes the option of outdoor seating. I’ve dined at all three options.
I never saw any ghosts when I dined at the Jean Bonnet. My sisters and I hope to see one each time that we visit.
Well, my husband and I finally booked a room on the second-floor bed and breakfast when we travelled to the area for a family event. We booked for a one night stay, which meant that I had ONE CHANCE to see a ghost overnight. Our room had one of those little books where you can write about your stay. Some of the recent entries noted, “I didn’t see any ghosts,” but most of the recent entries for that little book for that particular room DID mention ghost encounters. In most of these entries, the room guests reported being shoved or held down as they slept.
I sat in our room and said to my husband, “I will be really disappointed if I don’t meet a ghost tonight!”
Jonathan told me that I better be careful what I wish for.
I fell asleep because I was actually really tired from all of my quality time with my family.
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, I WOKE UP TO FEEL SOMEBODY PINNING ME DOWN IN THE BED.
The entity pinning me down wasn’t my husband. My husband was asleep on the other side of me.
I tried to wake up my husband, but I couldn’t move and I couldn’t talk. So, either I suffered sleep paralysis, or else a ghost put its arms around me when I was in bed.
I slept some more.
I woke up to the sound of classic rock music. It was Credence Clearwater Revival or something. And then an Elton John song. It sounded as if the music was coming from the floor below, from the restaurant area. As if somebody had turned on the restaurant’s sound system. I looked out the window. The only cars in the parking lot appeared to be ours and those of the other bed and breakfast guests. It didn’t appear that any Jean Bonnet employees had arrived for the day. It was only 5 a.m. I considered dressing and leaving my room to investigate the source of the music, but I was too tired to put that much effort into the investigation.
I fell asleep again.
I woke up again around 8. I no longer heard music.
Jonathan and I dressed and went to the dining area for our breakfast. The Jean Bonnet Tavern’s owner greeted us and asked us if we had encountered any of the ghosts.
I didn’t ask about the early-morning musical wake-up call. Perhaps another guest played the music from their room. Perhaps, as I suspected, the music did originate from the restaurant’s sound system. Perhaps one of the ghosts turned it on. Perhaps the sound system was set up on an automatic timer programmed incorrectly. Perhaps one of the restaurant employees screwed up. Perhaps a living human did it on purpose to perpetuate the ghost stories. (I watched too much Scooby-Doo in my childhood.) If a living, breathing human did cause the early-morning music, would the tavern owner cop to it? Or would she play it off and blame it on the ghost anyway? After all, the ghosts seem to be a pretty major part of the tavern’s marketing campaign.
I said, “Perhaps.”
Postscript from the blogger: See my post “Meeting Aaron Burr in the Alleghenies.” Former FLOTUS Julia Dent Grant wrote in her memoir that her own mother, Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent, encountered Aaron Burr at a tavern in the Alleghenies. Mrs. Dent was traveling between her home in Pittsburgh and her school in Philadelphia at that time. The memoir does not provide the tavern’s name. However, I speculate that this happened at the Jean Bonnet Tavern.
Mrs. Dent was born in 1793. I am under the impression that Mrs. Dent would have been a schoolgirl in the first decade of the 1800’s. Keep in mind that Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in 1804. The Burr conspiracy allegedly happened in 1804/05 – 1807. Aaron Burr was arrested for treason in 1807.
So, was Burr in the process of planning the alleged Burr conspiracy when JDG’s mother saw him at the tavern? When JDG wrote in her memoir of “Aaron Burr and his army,” did JDG mean the militia that Burr allegedly raised for the conspiracy?
This story stands out to me because, in my mind, Mrs. Dent said to her children (including future FLOTUS Julia Dent Grant), “Did I ever tell you about that time that I met a very famous person? Wait until you hear this story!”
If you enjoyed reading this blog post, please share it with someone else who also loves history and folklore.
Lochry’s Defeat started in 1781 when Archibald Lochry raised a militia unit in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. About one hundred men set off down the Ohio River from Fort Pitt (which later became Pittsburgh). A few weeks later, the entire group ended up captured or killed.
Archibald Lochry was a Westmoreland County leader during the American Revolutionary War. The British occupied Detroit. The American colonists in Western PA were at war with the British and their Native American allies. Many of these Native American allies attacked from the Ohio territory west of PA.
(The colonists referred to the British general in Detroit as “Hair Buyer Hamilton” because the British paid for the scalps of American colonists.)
Thomas Jefferson, then the governor of Virginia, promoted George Rogers Clark to the Virginia rank of Brigadier General. In 1781, Clark left Fort Pitt to navigate down the Ohio River into the Ohio territory.
Lochry and his militiamen followed in their own flotilla some time later. Lochry was supposed to meet up with Clark’s expedition downriver. Unfortunately, after a number of issues including supplies, communication, and the threat of desertions among Clark’s men, Lochry missed Clark several times. Lochry never caught up to Clark.
In August 1781, Joseph Brant and George Girty led Native Americans allied with the British. (George Girty was Simon Girty‘s brother.) This group set out looking for Clark.
Brant and Girty instead surprised Lochry, who had stopped on the banks of the Ohio River in present-day Indiana. Brant and Girty ambushed Lochry and killed him. They killed dozens of his men and took the rest prisoner.
The families back in Westmoreland County didn’t learn about this until a significant time later.
The Wikipedia entry for this event also refers to it as the Lochry Massacre. I chose to not use the word “massacre” because indignenous people were involved in the victory. I explained my choice of semantics in this other blog post.
If you want a much more detailed account of Lochry’s Defeat and Clark’s expedition, by all means go read the Wikipedia entry on this. The Wikipedia page includes a photo of the Lochry’s Defeat site in Indiana. I also saw in this photo some military equipment that I believe came from a 20th century war. To be honest, at first glance I mistook this equipment to be an empty boat trailer. (This is IS along the Ohio River banks.)
I wrote today’s blog post for all of the people who, like me, don’t remember learning about this in high school history class. In fact, I never even heard this story from my Westmoreland County family members who first told me about Simon Girty. I learned about Lochry’s Defeat from the historical fiction novel “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.
Just to keep this in context with other local history, Lochry’s men from Westmoreland County set off from Fort Pitt in the summer of 1781. Lochry’s Defeat happened in Indiana in August 1781. The Crawford Expedition set off down the Ohio River in May 1782. (William Crawford led this expedition. Most of his militiamen came from Westmoreland and Washington counties.) The British and their Native American allies captured and executed Crawford in Ohio in June 1782. Simon Girty was present at Crawford’s execution. Then, the British and their Native American allies attacked and burned Hannastown in Westmoreland County in July 1782. The Revolutionary War ended in 1783.
According to Wikipedia, Joseph Brant allegedly got into a violent, drunken brawl with Simon Girty over the issue of whether Brant or George Girty deserved the credit for Lochry’s Defeat. Brant was a Mohawk military leader and Girty (who was himself raised by Native Americans) has an infamous reputation in frontier America. At least one Canadian monument refers to Simon Girty as a British Loyalist. Keep this in mind when you read such tales.
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.
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. (To my knowledge, the PHMC dedicated one plaque to Girty in Pittsburgh (near the Waterfront shopping district) and another plaque to Girty along the Susquehanna River in the Harrisburg area. This second plaque commemorates Girty’s birthplace in Perry County. I remember this because I was also born in Perry County.)
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.
(Postscript, 09/16/20: Per the photo at the top of this blog post, there is a MONUMENT to Fort Crawford AND to Colonel William Crawford still standing in my neighborhood! How surreal, right? The Daughters of the American Revolution (you know, the DAR, the lineage-based social organization featured in the Gilmore Girls?) dedicated it in 1943.)
If you spend time in Pittsburgh, then you heard of Schenley Park and Schenley Plaza. You heard of their benefactor, Mary Schenley. You probably know more than I do about Mary Schenley’s maternal grandfather, James O’Hara. This first part of my blog post is for all of the other fantastic, generous folks who read my blog.
I’m well aware that you can read all about James O’Hara on Wikipedia. I typed the first half of my post from memory specifically so that I don’t regurgitate Wikipedia.
James O’Hara was born in Ireland in the 1700’s. He sailed to colonial America in the 1770’s, after the French and Indian War and shortly before the Revolutionary War. Now, from what I understand:
1.) O’Hara did NOT land in Philadelphia as an impoverished immigrant.
2.) He grew up privileged and highly educated.
3.) He sailed to the New World shortly after he received an inheritance.
4.) So, he arrived in Philadelphia with a nest egg that he was eager to invest and grow.
Now, back in the 1770’s, nobody had the internet. Suppose that you were a Philadelphia businessman. One day a man showed up on your doorstep and introduced himself as James O’Hara. This man who claimed to be “Mr. O’Hara” announced that he came from a wealthy family and that he had a bunch of capital that he wanted to invest in colonial Pennsylvania. Furthermore, “Mr. O’Hara” advised that he wanted YOU to introduce him to your fellow Philadelphia businessmen. Well, you couldn’t just Google “James O’Hara” in order to vet him. You couldn’t check his social media to make sure that his network included the “correct” people back in England or Ireland.
Since the internet didn’t exist, James O’Hara arrived in Philadelphia with several “letters of introduction” from prominent men in England and / or Ireland. He presented these letters to Philadelphia leaders as “proof” that he, James O’Hara, was good enough to be received into their social circles. This is how O’Hara met the members of Philadelphia’s elite families. I’m under the impression that O’Hara met Robert Morris, a Philadelphia financier, this way.
O’Hara decided that he could make money in the fur trade in Western Pennsylvania. At that time in history, the British had just won the French and Indian War. They established Fort Pitt at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio River. They called this location the “Forks of the Ohio.” This spot later became downtown Pittsburgh.
O’Hara travelled to Fort Pitt. He purchased beaver pelts from Native American trappers, and he resold them to East Coast merchants who shipped them to the Old World. In England and Europe at that time, fashionable dressers wore hats made of beaver fur. O’Hara profited from the fur trade.
The Revolutionary War started. O’Hara served in the Continental Army as one of George Washington’s quartermasters. The United States won its independence. The war ended.
O’Hara went into more business ventures. From what I understand, O’Hara was really good at getting richer. O’Hara obtained large amounts of land that later became Pittsburgh, including portions of downtown Pittsburgh.
O’Hara also established Pittsburgh’s first glass factory.
O’Hara and his wife Mary Carson had six children. One of their daughters married a man named Croghan, and this union produced Mary Croghan.
Mary Croghan’s mother died young. Mary was an only child. She became the wealthy heiress to part of James O’Hara’s substantial fortune when she was a young child. Mary’s father sent Mary to boarding school. The teenaged Mary fell in love with her significantly older British teacher, Mr. Schenley. Mary Croghan eloped with Mr. Schenley and she became Mary Schenley. She moved to England with her new husband.
This union caused such a scandal that, from what I read, Queen Victoria refused to receive Mary Schenley socially.
Now, while this happened, Pittsburgh developed into a manufacturing hot spot for the Industrial Revolution. Mrs. Schenley owned some of Pittsburgh’s prime real estate.
Andrew Carnegie visted Schenley in England. He asked her to donate land in Pittsburgh for a public park. Schenley donated the land that became Schenley Park.
I learned about the “James O’Hara” part of this story from the 1963 historical fiction novel The King’s Orchard by New York Times best-selling author Agnes Sligh Turnbull.
Here is a curious thing that I discovered from reading The King’s Orchard :
James O’Hara had an Irish Catholic father and a Protestant mother. O’Hara’s parents lived apart. His mother raised him. However, O’Hara attended a prestigious Catholic boarding school in France. Turnbull mentioned O’Hara’s Catholic background in passing about five times in the entire several-hundred page book.
From what I understand, O’Hara married a Protestant and he and his wife raised their children in a Protestant faith.
I learned from the last chapter of The King’s Orchard about O’Hara’s generosity to Pittsburgh’s early Presbyterian church. I learned through a Google search about O’Hara’s generosity to to Pittsburgh’s early Catholic church.
Now, Turnbull (the author of The King’s Orchard) grew up in New Alexandria, PA (in Westmoreland County) in a family with Scottish and Presbyterian roots. (New Alexandria is near Greensburg and Latrobe.) Turnbull moved to New Jersey after World War I, but she wrote several novels about Western PA. Almost all of these explore the adventures of Presbyterians of Scottish descent. I read some of these other books. So, I speculated that Turnbull “glossed over” James O’Hara’s Catholic background.
I personally think that Turnbull’s novel The Day Must Dawn, about Hannastown’s destruction (and the failed Crawford Expedition) during the Revolutionary War, is a better novel.
However, I think that you will enjoy reading about the following in The King’s Orchard:
1.) Fort Pitt originally had a moat.
2.) When workers dismantled Fort Pitt in the 1790’s, James O’Hara purchased most of the fort’s brick. He also purchased an original Fort Pitt block house. (Schenley inherited this block house from O’Hara. Schenley donated this block house to the Daughters of the American Revolution. This Fort Pitt Block House is now a public tourist attraction, located inside Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. This is the oldest existing structure in Pittsburgh and also the only remaining part of Fort Pitt. )
3.) One of James O’Hara’s friends, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, founded the school that became the University of Pittsburgh.
4.) Brackenridge grew up poor on a New England farm. Brackenridge borrowed books and put himself through Princeton. A cow ate one of the borrowed books.
5.) The first time that Hugh Brackenridge saw his wife Sabina, he was a lawyer headed to the courthouse in Washington, PA and she was a farmer’s daughter chasing after a runaway cow. He watched her vault over a fence without touching the fence, and he told the other lawyers that if she did it again, he would ask her to marry him. She did it again. Her father said that Brackenridge couldn’t marry her because he needed her to shrub the meadow. Brackenridge paid her father $10 to hire somebody else to shrub the meadow.
6.) After Brackenridge married his wife Sabina, he sent her off to a Philadelphia finishing school for a year so that she would learn how to be a suitable wife for his political career.
7.) Angry protestors almost burned down James O’Hara’s house during the Whiskey Rebellion. Brackenridge talked them out of it.
8.) When O’Hara first arrived in Pittsburgh in the 1770’s, he lived in the inn section of Elliott’s, aka the Old Stone Tavern. I learned that many of Pittsburgh’s earliest historical figures, including Colonel William Crawford and Simon Girty, drank in Elliott’s bar. I found this notable because this building still exists in Pittsburgh’s West End. A local preservation group seeks to restore it.
9.) Finally, in the introduction to Turnbull’s 1963 book, she thanked several parties, including the Denny family, for their assistance with her research. Ebenezer Denny was Pittsburgh’s first mayor. Ebenezer Denny also appeared as a character in The King’s Orchard. Now, I mention this because I just read a memoir written by public figure with a notable connection to the American Civil War and also to the White House. This memoirist referenced “the Dennys” in her tale about her own parents’ journey down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Missouri. I intend to blog about this mystery memoirist in the future.
I actually learned about Turnbull when I worked as a student at St. Vincent College Library in Latrobe. One of the librarians discovered that I liked historical fiction. He told me that I should check out Agnes Sligh Turnbull, “a local author,” as he put it.
Turnbull graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). My sister, herself an IUP graduate, told me that IUP used to have a Turnbull Hall. “But,” my sister said, “they tore it down a few years ago. The site is now a parking lot.”
Turnbull passed away in the early 1980’s. Turnbull is buried in New Alexandria.
I, personally, visit Schenley Park and Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh several times each summer.
I purchased The King’s Orchard and The Day Must Dawn used on Amazon since both are out of print.
I attended a few author visits and book launches at local bookstores. At such visits, the author talks a little bit about his or her new book and usually takes questions from the audience. The audience has the opportunity to purchase the book and to have the author sign it.
I show up at these things to learn about other people’s writing processes.
Anyway, last week I attended Laurel Houck’s local book launch for “The Girl with Chameleon Eyes.” This Y.A. (Young Adult) novel also qualifies as teen romance, paranormal, and historical fiction. Laurel Houck lives in the Pittsburgh area.
I say “historical fiction” because the plot included this event: In July 1782, at the end of the American Revolution, the British (some websites claim “Canadians”) and their Seneca allies under Guyasuta attacked and burned down Hannastown (also called Hanna’s Town), Pennsylvania.
See, Greensburg is now the county seat of Westmoreland County, PA. However, the county seat actually “sat” in Hannastown in 1782. Hannastown was the first county seat west of the Alleghenies (the Allegheny Mountains). Westmoreland Countians attended to court business as the attack started. Many settlers from surrounding farms took refuge inside Hannastown’s fort as their farms, crops, and town burned.
Peggy Shaw got shot as she chased after a runaway toddler during the attack. Poor Peggy went onto the historical record as the attack’s only fatality.
Today, we can all visit Historic Hanna’s Town on the site of the Hannastown that the British, Guyasuta, and their allies burned. The Westmoreland County Historical Society now runs an archeological site there. They maintain several colonial homes and a museum at the site. In the summer, a festival re-enacts the attack on “Hanna’s Town.”
“The Girl with Chameleon Eyes” introduced me to a supernatural teen named Summer who manifested herself behind a Sheetz convenience store. Summer soon found herself enrolled in a high school history class that took a trip to Historic Hanna’s Town. Then, Summer had a flashback to her own experience at Hannastown in 1782.
So, “The Girl with Chameleon Eyes” is the first paranormal novel that I read about Hannastown.
Here are two non-paranormal historical fiction stories about Hannastown:
1.) Hannah’s Town, by Helen Smith and George Swetnam, copyright 1973
I bought this book used from the Caliban Book Shop in Pittsburgh.
This book introduced me to a fictional little girl named Hannah who lived in Colonial Hanna’s Town, and considered it to be “her” town.
Spoiler: Hannah and her family conveniently moved away from Hanna’s Town about a year or so before the British and Guyasuta attacked it. This book was written for young readers. It didn’t include any violence or terror. The book merely described how Hannah and her family built their house, established their farm, completed their chores, etc. In fact, this book reminded me of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie.”
Turnbull dedicated “The Day Must Dawn” “To the residents of Westmoreland County.” At the beginning of it, she wrote: “When I was a small girl, driving with my parents from the village of New Alexandria in Western Pennsylvania to Greensburg, the county seat, I always used to beg them to stop the horse at one spot in the road and tell me again about Hannastown-that-was-burned-by-the-Indians.”
Turnbull was born and raised (and is now buried) in New Alexandria, which is about five miles from the site of old Hannastown.
In “The Day Must Dawn,” one of the (fictional) main characters watched (the real life) Colonel William Crawford burn at the stake while Simon Girty laughed. This character later returned to his family in Hannastown and then watched his own home and town burn. This novel described the aftermath of several other violent deaths in the years leading up to the burning of Hannastown.
In “The Day Must Dawn,” the town lost a significant portion of its able-bodied fighting men in the Crawford Expedition during the American Revolution. (William Crawford, the leader of the expedition, previously founded Fort Crawford in Parnassus, New Kensington.) The Native Americans and British attacked and burned Hannastown less than a year later.
“The Day Must Dawn” is actually a romance about Scotch-Irish Presbyterians named Hugh and Violet.
See, before the novel opened, white settlers moved onto Native American lands along the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania. The Native Americans retaliated with violent attacks on these settlements. All of Violet’s siblings and also Hugh’s parents died in these attacks. Violet’s parents informally “adopted” Hugh.
So, at the beginning of “The Day Must Dawn,” Hugh and Violet called each other “sister” and “brother” and they considered each other as siblings. Then they fell in love with each other.
Hugh decided that he must join a colonial militia and prove his manhood. He planned to ask Violet’s parents (his own foster parents) for permission to marry Violet. In the meantime, Violet’s mother planned to marry Violet (her only living biological child) off to a lawyer who will take her to an easier life in Philadelphia. (Or what passed for easier in that era. One tenth of the population of Philadelphia perished during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.)
In 1782, Pennsylvania was the frontier, and life was cruel and primitive. Parents were admonished by neighbors not to grow too fond of their children, lest they tempt fate. Several children died in this novel. Violet’s father mocked Violet and her mother for bathing in the winter. He bragged about the long period of time since his last bath. (I suspect that this may be one reason why the spark apparently died in the marriage of Violet’s parents.) Violet learned that her mother ate off of plates decorated with flowers during her own childhood in Philadelphia. Violet told her mother that she would die happy if she herself could eat off of such a plate just once. The family’s prized possessions were three books (a Bible and two volumes of Shakespeare) and a mirror.
The author described a folklore treatment actually used by the Pennsylvania German – or, as the book refers to them, the Pennsylvania “Dutch.” Here’s what happened:
A rattlesnake bit Viola (on page 237) as she worked on farming chores. Viola’s mother treated the wound with contemporary medicine. (Chestnut bark poultice. Boiled chestnut leaves. Nanny tea – tea made with dried sheep dung.)
Meanwhile, Viola’s father and Hugh dissected the offending snake. They roasted the snake over a fire. They said “words of the dark charm” over the cooking snake. Then, they applied the snake meat to Viola’s wound.
Viola’s mother turned away, ashamed that her husband and foster son used “witchcraft” (her words) to treat the snakebite.
Simon Girty appeared in the story and declared his sympathy for the Native Americans. (I love that Simon Girty appeared in this story!) In one scene, Girty bought Hugh a drink in a Hannastown tavern. Girty proceeded to tell Hugh why he supported the actions of local Native American chiefs. (Girty also spied Crawford sitting on the other side of the bar, and talked about his dislike of Crawford.) Later, after Girty and Hugh rode together in this campaign.
Girty told Hugh how the outcome of the campaign (several dead Native American women) disgusted him. Girty defected from the Pennsylvania militia and joined the British.
“The Day Must Dawn” has been out of print by The Macmillan Company for years. The Westmoreland County Historical Society’s website used to sell a paperback reprint of this book. I bought my own hardback copy used on Amazon.
I found some good biographical information on Turnbull at Peter Oresick’s The Pittsburgh Novel and Goodreads. However, one of the librarians at Saint Vincent College introduced me to Turnbull when I worked at the library as a student. As I mentioned above, Turnbull grew up in New Alexandria, PA. Saint Vincent College is a very short drive from New Alexandria.
Turnbull actually graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). (IUP used to have a building named “Turnbull Hall” in honor of her. My sister, a double-graduate of IUP, told me that the school tore Turnbull Hall down a few years ago.)
Turnbull married a man who then left to fight in World War I. Afterward, Turnbull and her husband moved to New Jersey. Turnbull became a best-selling author. She set several of her novels in Western Pennsylvania.
So, I’ve just outlined three very different historical novels about Hannastown (Hanna’s Town), Pennsylvania.
Check back for future updates about my favorite podcasts and travel adventures.
Here’s a Monongahela (Mon) River secret: I believe that one of the most “Pittsburgh” things about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania isn’t actually within Pittsburgh’s city limits.
By this, I mean the stretch of the river about ten or so miles upstream from where the Mon meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh. By this, I mean the communities of Braddock and North Braddock, PA. The Mon flows south to north here.
Here are my reasons:
1.) Every Pittsburgh “origin story” includes the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian War. In 1755, the French and their indigenous allies ambushed British General Edward Braddock’s army and his indigenous allies at Braddock’s Field (this land is now present-day Braddock and North Braddock, PA). A young George Washington served as an aide-de-camp to General Braddock. Braddock died from his wounds during the retreat. Washington lead the retreat and he oversaw Braddock’s burial.
Any internet search on “Braddock’s Defeat” and “folklore” will overwhelm you. For fun, throw in these search terms: “Simon Girty,” or else, “missing gold.” One legend even claims that divine intervention saved Washington from death. Another alleges that one of Braddock’s own soldiers (intentionally) shot him.
2.) In 1794, rebels of the Whiskey Rebellion gathered in this very same Braddock’s Field before they marched into Pittsburgh to protest the U.S. government excise tax on whiskey. President Washington sent federal troops to put down the insurrection. In the fiction novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, angry frontiersmen threatened to burn down the houses of Pittsburgh’s leaders during this rebellion.
(My own hometown in Somerset County, PA later celebrated the Whiskey Rebellion with a festival out of memory for rebellion leader Robert Philson. Another rebellion leader, “Whiskey Dave” Bradford, fled to Louisiana and established the famously “haunted” Myrtles Plantation.)
3.) Braddock’s Field sits very close to the present-day Edgar Thomson Steel Works.
In 1872, Andrew Carnegie and his business associates built this steel mill. They named the plant after J. Edgar Thomson, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. They equipped the plant for the Bessemer process.
U.S. Steel owns this working steel mill today.
I found one travel blog in which the writer (a military history enthusiast) visited the Braddock community and attempted to retrace the Battle of the Monongahela. The blogger recounted the battle (in great detail) and provided maps. The blogger complained that later “progress” corrupted this land to the extent that he couldn’t actually view the battlefield in its pristine state from 1755.
The blogger’s complaint stuck with me. Just think about the tragedies and injustices (including labor disputes and the Johnstown Flood) that some blame on Pittsburgh’s Industrial Revolution leaders. If the blogger wants to complain about Andrew Carnegie and his business associates, he needs to take a number!
What do you consider to be the most “Pittsburgh” places in Pittsburgh?
Little Buffalo State Park includes the site of the Blue Ball Tavern, established in 1811.
This place attracted canal and furnace workmen in the mid 1800’s.
The Blue Ball Tavern’s property owners later used the tavern’s foundation to build the farmhouse pictured at the top of this blog post. At one point, they ran a smaller tavern out of a room in this farmhouse.