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The Blockhouse At New Brighton

By Karen L. Heibling

Milestones Vol 7 No. 1

The Blockhouse at New Brighton was also known as the "Big Beaver Blockhouse" erected in 1788 by Col. Harmar and his troops from Fort McIntosh.

It was on Thursday, October 2, 1788, by order of the War Department, that Fort Mcintosh was "ordered to be demolished, and a blockhouse to be erected in lien thereof, a few miles up the Big Beaver, to protect the communication of the same and also to cover the country."

This Blockhouse was built by Colonial Josiah Harmar and his troops from Fort Mcintosh, on the present site of New Brighton. It stood on the west side of Third Avenue below Fourteenth Street. A formal name was never given to the Blockhouse.

In 1872, J.W. Thorniley built a dwelling house on this site. In 1878 ex-sheriff, Oliver Molter, bought the house from Thorniley. The little stream emptying into the Beaver just below New Brighton is still known as "Blockhouse Run."

The Blockhouse was commanded in 1789 by Lieutenant Nathan McDowell, who had served under Colonel Harmar. It was while Lieutenant McDowell was in command that a tragic event occurred near the Blockhouse.

Major General Samuel H. Parsons, a distinguished ex-Revolutionary officer, a friend of George Washington, and one of the commissioners who held the treaty with the Indians at the mouth of the Miami, was drowned. General Parsons and some companions left the Blockhouse to proceed on horses to finish survey of lands of the Western Reserve at Lake Erie.

They journeyed forty-five miles to Salt Springs, in which General Parsons had financial interest. General Parsons, who had been suffering from a cold, became ill and a sudden change in the weather caused him to return to the Blockhouse. He started the return journey, by -canoe, with Captain Joseph Rogers, leaving the third man with instructions to bring the horses by land. Parsons remarked that he intended to dine that evening with Lt. McDowell at the Blockhouse. General Parsons and Captain Rogers never made it to the Blockhouse. While descending down the Big Beaver, General Parsons insisted on passing over the rapids, a route not usually attempted by the navigators of that stream. In this experiment, the canoe upset and the General was drowned.

The man with the horses arrived at the Blockhouse on the evening of November 17th. To his surprise the General had not arrived. He conveyed to Lieutenant McDowell that the General had intended to dine with him at the Blockhouse that evening. Lieutenant McDowell told him that a partly smashed canoe, a pair of saddle bags, and some other articles had floated past the fortification earlier that day. Because of high waters, the soldiers could not retrieve the belongings, but they were recognized as belonging to the General.

Lieutenant McDowell and his men searched for days, without success, for the General and his companion.

Major Ebenezer Denny arrived at the Blockhouse on November 18, 1789, the day after the Generals accident. Major Denny gave the following account of what he saw the afternoon before: "About one o'clock we entered the mouth of the Big Beaver creek, and met the wreck of a canoe, with a good deal of her cargo drifting down, all seperately. Part of the loading we took up and upon arriving at the Blockhouse we were informed of the death of General Parsons." The articles found belonging to General Parsons.

Conflicting reports have been found as to the fate of Captain Rogers. One source tells he escaped the raging river, with his life, only to be killed a few years later by the Indians. According to the journal of Major Denny, Captain Rogers was drowned along with the General. The second account is believed to be fact.

On May 16, 1790, six months after the accident, the body of General Parsons was recovered at the mouth of the Big Beaver creek. He was buried in the Blockhouse graveyard. The body of Captain Rogers was never recovered.

In the spring of 1791, Captain Samuel Brady, with the help of others, went in search of a raiding party. They failed to locate the party, so they continued to the bank of the Beaver opposite the Blockhouse. This is where Brady was to get his revenge for the death of his father and a brother, who died at the hands of Indians. From that moment on, Brady vowed a vengeance against all Indians.

When Brady and his men arrived at about where Fallston is now, opposite the Blockhouse, they discovered a party of nine Indians, with horses, who were engaged in trade with William Wilson, at his trading post. Brady and his men hid near the west end of the present (1982) Fallston bridge, in a dense thicket, where the Indians often secreted themselves for the purpose of attack, where, when observed, they would be fired upon by the soldiers in the blockhouse. The men opened fire, killing several of the Indians, among them being two women. The rest fled while Brady and his company crossed the creek and secured the horses, arms, and merchandise that the Indians purchased from Wilson. An Indian boy took refuse in the house of the trader who protected him from Brady.

This deed, by the better portion of the people of the frontier, was denounced as an atrocious murder. On May 20, 1793, Captain Samuel Brady was tried for murder in the criminal court in Pittsburgh. No denial was made of the killing, but the perjured testimony of Gyasuta, an Indian, who declared himself a friend of Brady, led the judge to believe Brady was not guilty. The judge gave the jury no chance. He said that in his opinion Brady was not guilty; and if the jury agreed the charges would be dropped. Brady was found not guilty, but ordered to pay the costs.

In 1792, John Steele took command at the Blockhouse. In a letter dated August 15, 1792, Steele requested more provisions from General "Mad Anthony" Wayne who, at this time, commanded the post at "Legionville." Steele also reported since his take over at the Blockhouse his spies have not seen any Indians, but his men continued to practice shooting marks. Upon hearing this, General Wayne sent fifty pounds of rifle powder and twenty-five pounds of lead along with the provisions needed at the Blockhouse.

Troops were held at the Blockhouse as late as 1793. The Blockhouse was the most advanced position held against the Indians in the Ohio country at that time.

Sergeant Major John Toomey replaced John Steele, as commander of the Blockhouse in 1793. Sergeant Major Toomey reports in 1793 that the following men served there between June 1, and July 1, 1793:

James Marston, Pvt. (died June 3, 1793) George Silverthorn, Pvt.

John Patterson, Pvt. Michael Roe, Pvt.

William Crummey, Pvt. William Lollar, Pvt.

William Sterling, Pvt.

Nathaniel Herron, Pvt. George Gest, Pvt.

Joseph Hancock, Pvt. Richard Carter, Pvt. Michael Welch, Pvt. Solomon Gale, Pvt. (died June 13, 1793) Brinn Hanlon, Pvt.

John Chatterton, Pvt. (died June 13, 1793) James White, Pvt.

Michael Dingher, Pvt. Edward Suples, Pvt.

The soldiers who died during their stay at the Blockhouse were buried in the Blockhouse graveyard which was located on Third Avenue, just south of Fallston Alley. When the Indians were pushed farther west, the Blockhouse was no longer needed and was abandoned.