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The Forge of History 1760-1794: Powers in the Transallegheny Region

Milestones Vol 28. No. 2

by Rex Downie


Several months back I was pleasantly surprised upon learning that a consortium of historical associations in Western Pennsylvania have undertaken a six year observation of the "French and Indian War" to be undertaken between 2004 and 2010(1). As a board member of BCHR&LF I'm very interested in that period for a number of reasons and had been reading about that general period for the last ten years.(2)

One Saturday morning I sketched out a pencil diagram, trying to get in mind how the various forces played out in that period of history, roughly 1760 to 1795, for I see that period as a time of "Border Wars," begun by the F&I war and not concluded till the battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The sketch matured into a colored-ink "map," which was presented and handed out to membership at the annual meeting on March 18, 2003. What follows is a somewhat expanded version of the talk I gave that night.

I might also say some things, by way of personal background. I taught Political Science at Geneva College in 1966-67, and much later Law-related courses at CCBC. I have always been interested in government and how various forces, the Germans term, Zeitgeists, "Spirit of the Age," play out in history. Add to this my own life and having lived trough the wars of 1940-2003, and gone through Basic Training in the US Army, and general family life all are part of the mix of my reflections which emerge below.

First, we here deal with "history," a topic as broad as it is deep.

I am convinced that we must always see it as nearly as possible in the values and perspectives of the time which we consider. Thus when contemporary forces, "liberalism' and "politically correct thought," and the infamous "race card" are read back into history, we convert truth to propaganda for the various fanatacisms our age is prone to. Liberalism, as I see it, is no more than romantic idealism, the misconceived notion that humanity can create a utopian existence, an ever futile hope. And here I deal mostly with broad outlines of forces, NOT particular dates, as they are the least important aspects of this discipline. So here I will deal with a broad outline, as it were, avoiding specifics as much as possible. Two very large forces were at play in the time under consideration, and these must be seen as prior matters, foundational conditions prevailing when this bit of history we consider was working out.

1. Colonialism
This idea swept Europe in the 14th through the 19th centuries, catching up with it the explosion of scientific knowledge, education and art and the zeal of exploration which carried these explosions throughout the earth to rest in the various continents of the earth. It's own form of European civilization caused most Europeans to ignore the civilizations of other continents and regard them as "uncivilized" or "savages," most generally a misconception, save that cannibalism, torture and tyranny also existed among the peoples subjugated, so that in some sense European civilization had more respect for human life than did the colonized peoples.(4) The major colonial powers were England, France, Spain, Germany and Portugal, which with unutterable gall assumed that anything they claimed to own, they did own by right of discovery, irrespective of who else might be living there at the time.

2. Technology
Part and parcel, nearly inseparable from Colonialism, is the Renaissance/Scientific Revolution that swept Europe in the 15th and 16th Centuries and endures in various forms to this day. By technology, I mean the human ability to use creation and things in it in a developmental way, i.e. changing the form of the material into another form. A tree becomes a violin or an axe handle. Rock becomes a Venus de Milo, a Pieta .... or paving stones. Granted, the Indians took a lump of flint and from it made arrowheads. But they never melted sand to make glass or refined iron ore to make iron and steel. In the forces of Culture, a superior technology usually wins. In other words, the first Iron pot bought by a brave in Boston or Philadelphia spelled the end of the Indian form of civilization. Another aspect of the situation is that technology requires a certain permanence of abode, a "settlement," i.e. a relative permanence of living circumstances. The smelter from which the pot emerged needed miners for the ore, workers to cut wood or dig coal for the furnace, smiths to form the metal made. All of these had to dwell near the work. Thus the very force and form of technology was at odds with the hunter gatherer lifestyle, a matter unperceived by either side.

Colonialism and Technology then became forces in North America that required human blood to prove out, for, it seems, the race must pay an occasional tithe in gore for its occupancy of the globe and the conflicts that are endemic to "social progress."

We might observe here that politically correct thought is no more than a convention or censorship that cannot contemplate evil or sin or its consequences, thus blurring much of what needs to be seen.(5) As a Christian, I do agree that the State's role is to do "justice," in the Biblical sense of that word, i.e. treating all citizens fairly and with substantial equality even as "order" must be maintained. Another feature of my perspective is whatever I've learned in the practice of law in Beaver County for 35 years, i.e. I've worked in a State Shaped system for all that time. Much more could be said along those lines, but here is not the place for it.

So, I turn to the captioned topic. By Transallegheny I mean the part of Pennsylvania lying west of the Allegheny Mountain Range, roughly the same area as the drainage basin of the headwaters of the Ohio River. Hereafter I refer to it as "Our Area." By "Forge" I mean the play of forces that formed Counties, Courthouses, Schools, all the complexities that underlie our present hypertechnical culture. The time period I refer to as Border Wars is roughly 1753 to 1794, the period from Braddocks' Defeat to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. I do not defend this time period as a historical fixity, but rather as an era or period in which the greatest outbreak of violence and warfare existed.

Further, all these events seem to swirl, or focus, on "Trois Rivieres," the forks, the confluence, the origin of the Ohio. The French, the English, the Indians, all saw the strategic centrality of the location. Were it not for what became Pittsburgh, Washington would not have come up from Virginia to confront the French, and the shooting at Jumonville Glen would not have taken place. So in a sense, what is now Pittsburgh is on a par in historic centrality with Boston, Philadelphia and that other town down in the swamps near Baltimore.

Historical Background

The Delawares

First, it seems clear that our area was almost free of settlement by Delawares until 1723-4 when several thousand of them fled white settlement to the east and came through the Cherry Tree portage(6) and down Mahoning creek to the Allegheny. No debate exists that the Six Nations, the Iroquois, had long before defeated the Delaware, and had ordered that our area remain more or less unsettled and reserved for a hunting preserve for all the tribes in the area. Sort of a no-man's land. I use the term "Delaware" as a generic term unless otherwise noted. The Delaware were animists, seeing spirits in all things, and had no conception of the private ownership of real estate, a matter which becomes vital when contrasted to Common Law. To them, the tribe was the "family," and those out of the tribe were seen as hostile, or of no-account. Hence wars were often fought as extirpation. And the Delaware males were trained in a quite Stoic/Spartan fashion, so as to be warriors, hunters, and ones who could endure extreme hardship and pain. Thus to endure extreme torture without outcry was a noble thing, Paradoxically a kind of training not wholly different from that of the "basic training" used in our own armed forces.

The Settlers

The settlers, for the most part, were from the poorer classes of Europe, the ethos of which was that 'Land Owners" were deemed "aristocracy" and those who did not own land were of the other sort. Obviously, then, ownership of land in the continental sense was a big ambition and social magnet for those who crossed the Atlantic in the prior century, and again drew settlers west when the coastal plains became crowded. Moreover, to many of them, "the land" was seen as a means of support. The planting of crops and grazing of livestock were integral with the more rooted nature of European Society, and again, diametrically opposed to the Delaware lifestyle. Warfare, to the European, was the task of a professional military, and women and children were generally seen as non-combatants and spared. Thus when Indians scalped and killed women and children it was a deep violation of the European ethos.

The Common Law

The English Feudal system, in which the King owned all of the land and let his "feifs" hold it and pay rent back, was the origin of the "fee simple absolute" i.e. the notion that ownership of land was personal to an "owner" unfettered by any other concerns. Thus ownership of land was intimately tied up with personal freedom: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as one man put it. It was the antithesis of serfdom, or being an "indentured servant," a slave. This uniquely British(7) legal theory came across the Alleghenies as unseen baggage of the settlers. The Indians may have understood this better than the settlers, for Christopher Gist in one of his journals remarks that it wasn't wise to let Indians see a compass or surveying instrument as it would provoke them. All of America now is governed by this legal theory of land that has its roots in the England of the 12th and 13th centuries. Thus the very legal system imported was hostile to the Delaware way. "Title" is the term used for ownership now, so if you have "good title," a bank will loan money for its purchase - a "Mortgage." But if your title has a "cloud" on it, you might then nee d to file a quiet title action. But these are mysteries for another writing. Now we turn to the major players, keeping in mind the places of Delaware and Settler alike.

The French

The French were a large military force in Europe, and had extended their presence in the New World for the purpose of trade. It will be seen as a bit paradoxical, then, that the French traders were content to trade goods for furs and had no desire to see French families move into the territory. Nonetheless, they energetically pursued and claimed the legal right to our area because LaSalle had made claim to the whole Mississippi drainage much earlier, and Celoron placed lead plates at various strategic places in the Ohio drainage basin as confirmation of the earlier claim. The great disadvantage the French labored under was the long supply line crossing the Atlantic, and the paradox that none of their citizens moved into our area to lend existential force to the prior claim. Remember that "possession is 90% of the law" is not a wholly empty phrase.

The English

England had undergone some large social upheavals during the age of Industrialization, and this produced a class of disenfranchised citizens always held on the brink of starvation and ridden by various plagues. Thus the New World became a repository for all hopes of a "better life," and hundreds of thousands, including Dutch and Germans had settled along the Atlantic Coast from Boston south to Charleston. But the laws and customs embedded in the laws were indisputably English. England reached its pinnacle of power in 1900, when the "sun never set" on it. It might be helpful to recall that Australia was..."settled" by convicts, - criminals sent there because the British prisons were full to overflowing. The reasons for that are for another consideration.


Paradoxically, a British King who was deep in debt to William Penn's father, manipulated a cash free settlement of the claim by granting outright to William Penn what became known as Pennsylvania," i.e. Penns Woods. Thus Penn "owned" the given land, putting aside Indian claims for a moment, so it was on a different plane than other Colonies such as Maryland or Delaware, which had no stated land grant as their point of origin. Penn, a devout Quaker, bought the land from the Indians as fairly as possible at that time, and sort of "established" the pacifist Quaker Christianity just by drawing other Quakers along with him and letting them develop a center of power in Philadelphia.


A state of confusion in laws and currency reigned among the Colonies, even though they wanted a great deal to continue inter-colony trade. This disorganization tended to force people west into a place of conflicting values and lifestyles. It was the very confusion among the Colonies that drove the resolution of those confusions into the shaping of the United States Constitution. Remnants of that confusion can be seen in that document that preserves to the United States the coining of currency and handling of the mail. I will not deal here with - as an example of confusion-the conflicting boundary claims between Pa. and Va. In the period in question, the succession of armed conflict between 1753 and 1794 left the frontier without military support or legal order. The settlers were a "law unto themselves." For survival, as many as 300 blockhouses were put up for defense. And the idea of an "armed citizenry" came into existence through that necessity. The idea of a "Citizen's Militia" was accepted.

War Zone

By this term, I refer to the very general terrain in which the various wars were fought and were the site of conflicts with the Indians. It is marked by the irregular semi circle on the map. I know that Delawares raided beyond the line; but the focus here is "our area," the Transallegheny, pivoting, as it were, at the forks of the Ohio.

Bouquet's Road

Braddocks' march cleared a road, but his defeat in 1755 so enticed the Indians that they thought the English were defeated and could be moved from the Country and pushed raids as far East as the Great Valley. Recall that at that time the French held Ft. Duquesne and were generous in their supplying the Indians with powder, lead and flints. And the Indians were satisfied that the French were less territorially dangerous than were the English. A whole series of ferocious Indian attacks came 1755, 1756 and1757. Thus it was Bouquet's road in 1758 that made the path for a large influx of settlers. Bouquet notes in his order/journal book that there were about 4000 citizens in Ft. Duq/Pitt when he got there in 1758.

The Ohio Land Company

Another facet of the complexities of the era came with the formation of the Ohio Land Company. Formed by a group of Virginia landholders with the hope of vast profits coming with the development of the areas of Kentucky and Ohio, they got a grant from King George of 200,000 acres with the stipulation that they sell land to 100 settlers and build one fort. This became a further inducement (bait) for the "settlers" to venture across the Alleghenies. The OLC was formed in 1748, existed for about 20 years? and then collapsed. But it was part of the mix.


I suppose it is only human to think that our own little turf, our home-town, is the focal point of great cosmic forces. I have always maintained, in the face of considerable opposition, that Beaver Falls is the cultural epicenter of the western hemisphere, but the verdict on that is not in yet.

Nonetheless, it is credible to assert that events in the Transallegheny so work out that much larger nation-shaping events could take place. These are set out as follows:

1) Had not France lost its presence in the area, the later Louisiana Purchase would have been impossible.

2) Had not Fallen Timbers defeated the Shawnee Forces, the British, who held Detroit long after the close of the Revolutionary War(8) would likely have taken what is now Illinois and Indiana and annexed it to Canada.

3) Had not Britain been at war with France during the Seven Years War, its defense against the American Revolution would have been stronger, and the same period allowed a growth in consolidation of the Colonial powers.


1 War for Empire Consortium may be contacted at 425 e Ave.. Suite 1000, Pgh. Pa, 15219. empire@,
2 Generally speaking, the works of Alan W. Eckert are a very good introduction to the period of history I refer to in this article.
3 I was permitted to demonstrate the working of a flintlock rifle at the meeting - but could not fire it. These rifles could hit a mark at 200 yards, and were the chief instrument of our military efforts versus the British. A ranger, Tim Murphy, was asked by Col. Rogers to shoot at a General at the foot of a hill at Saratoga. Murphy shot the general from his saddle at a measured distance of 319 yards, and the attack failed, the Americans won. This so astonished the British that they took a captured frontiersman to England who could easily hit a man sized target at 200 yards, and at 300 hit I out of 2 shots. This got into the press and enlistments dropped, so the British had to hire Hessian mercenaries. Braddock was beaten by marksmen shooting from cover. The British missed the point, so over 2500 British soldiers were slain at New Orleans as they marched abreast across an open field against the fire of frontier marksmen who could reload and fire up to four shots per minute. A good weapon.
4 For example, "suttee" was in India the practice of requiring wives to be burned on the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands. Their Caste System also worked much injustice.
5 I hear people around here call Capt. Sam Brady an "Indian killer." They have no idea that Indians were Indian killers as well, or that the Indians that Brady fought were in effect mercenaries hired at one time or another by the English and the French.
6 For an interesting venture go up to Cherry Tree, Indiana County, and hike west along the Conrail line that crosses this height of land to the drainage basin of the Allegheny. This was the Chicago of its day. Many settlers followed this route coming west.
7 1 should say somewhere, I suppose, that Anglo Saxon society was far from perfect. Slavery de facto existed, class distinctions were rigid.
8 Remember that in Britains' view, America was an upstart nation, ungrateful rebels, and doubtless its government thought that it might just fall back into English hands where it belonged. The war of 1812 seemed to test this idea against our national resolve. America became a nation among nations.
The following works give deeper dealing with details and are generally valuable in considering the period in question:

1. Zeisburger, David, History of the Northern American Indians, Wennawoods Pub. Lewisburg, Pa. 1999.

2. The Papers of Henry Bouquet, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, 1951.

3. George Mercer Papers, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1954

4. The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania, C. Hale Sipe, Wennawoods, Lewisburg, Pa. 1995

5. A Sorrow in Our Heart, Life of Tecumseh, Alan W. Eckert, Bantam Books, 1992.