Click Here to Return to Index

Click Here to Return to Milestones


George Washington in Beaver County
By Denver L Walton
Milestones Vol 22 No 4 Winter 1997

Did George Washington sleep here? A persistent local legend maintains that Washington slept in one of the old houses in Freedom - but nobody seems to remember which house. Fact is, George did come through this way on his first venture to the Ohio country.

But while he did meet with the Indians in what is today Harmony Township, he probably didn't get as far North along the Ohio as Freedom. In any case, there were no houses in Freedom then, nor any in Western Pennsylvania, except the cabins of a few scattered traders and the wigwams of the natives.

What was Washington doing here, anyhow? George was a Virginian, and the Governor of Virginia was concerned about the presence of the French in the Ohio Valley. To preserve the ownership of this vast wilderness for future English settlement, the French must be told to get out, and the Indians must be won as dependable allies.

Governor Dinwiddie's selection of an envoy for this difficult task was made easy when Washington, at 21 a major in the Virginia militia and an accomplished surveyor, went to Williamsburg and volunteered.

George Washington's capacity for leadership and diplomacy was clearly demonstrated on his first major encounter with history, and his thoroughness in handling any job is shown by the detailed report he submitted to the Governor. Let George tell it ...

"Wednesday, October 3lst, 1753-1 was commissioned and appointed by the Honourable Robert Dinwiddie, Esq.; Governor, & c. of Virginia, to visit and deliver a Letter to the Commandant of the French Forces on the Ohio, and set out on the intended Journey the same Day; the next, I arrived at Fredericksburg, and engaged Mr. Jacob Vanbraam, to be my French Interpreter; and proceeded with him to Alexandria, where we provided Necessaries; from thence we went to Winchester, and got Baggage, Horses & c. and from thence we pursued the new road to Wills-Creek, where we arrived the 14th of November.

"The excessive Rains and vast Quantity of Snow that had fallen, prevented our reaching Mr. Frazier's an Indian Trader, at the Mouth of TurtleCreek, on Monongahela, till Thursday the 22nd. We were informed here, that expresses were sent a few days ago to the Traders down the River, to acquaint them with the French General's Death, and the Return of the major Part of the French Army into Winter Quarters.

"The Waters were quite impassable, without swimming our Horses; which obliged us to get the Loan of a Canoe from Frazier, and to send Barnaby Currin, and Henry Steward, down Monongahela, with our Baggage, to meet us at the Forks of Ohio, about 10 Miles, to cross Aligany."

At the forks of the Ohio, Washington surveyed the landscape with a critical eye. He knew of plans to construct a fort near here, on the bluff at river's edge which would later be known as McKee's Rocks. Washing ton was quick to see the disadvantages of a defensive position at this site, and recommended instead that the fort bi~ built within the forks, at the point.

The latter site was ultimately selected, and would later become a landmark of tremendous strategic importance and the focal point of the French and Indian war in the West.

But that's another story. Near the controversial bluff lived Shingiss, King of the Delawares (and brother of Amockwi, King Beaver). Washington visited Shingiss, and invited him to accompany him. In George's words ...

"Shingiss attended us to the Loggs-Town, where we arrived between Sun-setting and Dark, the 25th Day after I left Williamsburg: We traveled over some extreme good, and bad Land, to get to this Place. - - -

"As soon as I came into Town, I went to Monacatootha (as the HalfKing was out at his hunting Cabin on Little Beaver Creek, about 15 Miles off) and inform'd him by John Davison my Indian Interpreter, that I was sent a Messenger to the French General; and was ordered to call upon the Sachems of the Six Nations, to acquaint them with it. - - - I gave him a String of Wampum, and a Twist of Tobacco, and desired him to send for the Half-King; which he promised to do by a Runner in the Morning, and for other Sachems. - - - I invited him and other great Men present to my Tent, where they stay'd about an Hour and return'd."

The site of Logstown is in present day Harmony Township, near Legionville. Logstown was an important trading center and the logical place for Washington to meet with the Indian leaders. The Indians of this area were chiefly the Delawares and a related tribe, the Shawnees. But they were subservient to the Six Nations (called "Mingos" by the English and "Iroquois" by the French) who lived to the North, and ruled as vast territory.

The Six Nations's chief representative to the Ohio country tribes was Tanacharison, whom Washington called "The Half-King", because his otherwise unlimited authority was passed down from the Council of the Six Nations in New York. The name of Tanacharison lives on only in history, but not so his able associate (and later successor) Monacatootha, who was immortalized by the citizens of Phillipsburg in 1892 when they changed the name of their town to "Monaca". (There were four or five other Phillipsburgs in the state).

Washington's diplomacy in this early contact led to a strong friendship between the Half-King's allies and the English, one which would prove to be very useful during the French and Indian War, but very disastrous to the Ohio Valley settlers during the Revolution.

Washington met with the leaders of the Indian tribes at Logstown to enlist their aid as guides through the wilderness between the Ohio River and the French position at Fort LeBoeuf (Waterford, Erie County). At Logstown (Harmony Twp., near Ambridge), he met and made a firm ally in Tanacharison, the "Half-King" of the Iroquois. Washington was less successful in making friends with Shingiss, Chief of the Delawares, who was destined to team up with the French in the war which would follow.

In Logstown, the Half-King related to Washington his own meeting with the French Commandant at Fort LeBoeuf, where he had been informed that the French had little regard for the Indian's interests and, indeed, "I am not afraid of Flies or Mosquitos, for Indians are such as Those."

This led the Half-King to eagerly accept Washington as "brother" and ally, and to tell him: "I rely upon you as a Brother ought to do, as you say we are Brothers and one People: We shall put Heart in Hand, and Speak to our Fathers the French concerning the Speech they made to me, and you may depend that we will endeavour to be your Guard.

True to his word, Tanacharison himself made plans to accompany Washington to the French fort at LeBoeuf (Waterford, PA in Erie County) along with three braves named Jeskakake, White Thunder and "The Hunter". Washington could not have known, but "The Hunter" was later to be known as the great Indian leader, Guyasutha.

An important part of this trip was the return of "the French speaking - belt", a symbolic piece of beadwork, or wampum, which represented a treaty of peace with the French. The return of this belt by the Half-King to the French was the equivalent of breaking off relations, and Washington was eager to accomplish this split between the French and the Indians.

Shingiss would have no part of this action and did not show up for the journey, sending word of his wife's illness as an excuse. He later led the Delawares against the English, having taken sides with the French.

The Half-King had told Washington that the usual trail to LeBoeuf was impassable due to flooding, and the path to Venango would be the best alternate route.

Thus, with four Indian companions, Washington and his party "set out about 9 o'clock ... and traveled on the road to Venango, where we arrived the 4th of December, without anything remarkable happening but a continued Series of bad Weather."

The road to Venango, historians tell us, was the Logstown Trail which followed the Ohio River to Crow's Town (at the mouth of Crow's Run, in Conway), then struck off eastward, threading past Big Knob, into Butler County.

Washington went on to a deceitful reception by the French at Fort LeBoeuf, where the Half-King and his men were nearly lost to drunkenness. The return trip was marked by an ambush by a party of "French Indians" near a place described as "Murdering Town", and an icy dip in the Allegheny when the party's raft overturned.

The final encounter of note was a meeting with the Delaware Queen "Aliquippa" (at present day McKeesport) to whom Washington "made her a present of a Matchcoat and a Bottle of Rum, which latter was thought much the best Present of the Two."

Washington made a second visit to what would later become Beaver County. It was in 1770, and he had become a prosperous Virginia planter, in search of new investments. While the trip was of shorter duration and certainly less eventful than the first, he had an opportunity to see a little more of the countryside.

George's earlier adventures in the Ohio country had led to the French and Indian War. Washington helped rout the French from the forks of the Ohio with General Forbes' expedition in 1758, but peace in the western wilderness was elusive. A great Indian rebellion, led by Pontiac, discouraged pioneer settlement until Col. Bouquet crushed the Indians at Bushy Run (1763). Finally, in the early '70's, the lure of fertile land in the Ohio country brought settlers looking for a new life and speculators looking for new riches. Among the latter was Washington, who, on Sunday, Oct. 21,1770,

"Left our Incampment abt. 6 o'clock and breakfasted at the Logs Town, where we parted with Colo. Croghan, etca. abt. 9 o'clock. At 11 we came to the Mouth of Big Beaver Creek, opposite to which is a good Situation for a House, and above it, on the same side (that is the West) there appears to be a body of fine Land. About five Miles lower down on the East side comes in Raccoon Ck. At the Mouth of which and up it appears to be a body of good Land also. All the Land between this Creek and the Monongahela and for 15 Miles bac , is claimed by Colo. Croghan under a purchase from the Indians (and which Sale he says, is confirmed by his Majesty.)

... Note the unsettled State of this Country renders any purchase dangerous. From Raccoon Creek to Little Beaver Creek appears to me to be little short of 10 Miles, and about 3 Miles below this we Incampd; ..."

On their way down the Ohio, the party passed through "Beaver County", never to return. George's journal indicates that after breakfasting at Logstown, he didn't set foot on land again until he was west of the Little Beaver, or beyond the eventual Pennsylvania state line.

Washington's big moment in history, of course, was yet to come. Events were already in progress, in 1770, that would result in a revolution that would upset the lives of even the few settlers in the "Beaver County" to be. But while George Washington was destined to lead his country to freedom, he, himself, never quite made it to Freedom, Pennsylvania.