History Corner

History has so many stories to tell!

Patrons of Carnegie Free Library can read many of them through our extensive collection.

An article inside the July 2, 1963, issue of The Connellsville Courier announces that the post office’s new Zone Improvement Program goes into effect. It will improve mail delivery speed by assigning five digit numbers to all addresses. 

What does “Commander in Chief” mean to you? You might envision Abraham Lincoln reading the latest reports from his generals at all hours of the night. Or, picture FDR discussing strategy with Churchill and Stalin. Or, wonder what George Bush thought as September 11 unfolded. Probably, you did not think about any active President leading troops in the field. However, ….

The first government of the new American constitution had many important issues to address. The Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, convinced Congress to assume and guarantee all thirteen states’ Revolutionary War debt in 1790. To pay for this, Congress created a duty on all foreign and domestic spirits the following year.

For various reasons this became especially unpopular in Southwestern Pennsylvania. People held rallies and conventions, elected delegates, and threatened tax collectors with tar-and-feathering. The resistance escalated to shootings and house burnings–including Benjamin Wells’ home in Connellsville–during the summer of 1794. President Washington responded by raising an army larger than any American force that had fought a battle in the Revolution. He rode with it in Carlisle, PA. This made the sixty-four year old the first and only President to lead troops in the field. Once it became clear that there would be little resistance, Washington transferred immediate command and returned to the capital.

Of course, you can read more about The Whiskey Rebellion at Carnegie Free Library. An historical marker regarding Mr. Wells’ home is along North Eighth Street, just before the bridge. The library has The Connellsville Courier available on microfilm dating back to 1879.

Found on the front page of the June 18, 1994, issue of The Connellsville Courier: "O.J. Simpson in custody on double murder charges"

Historians separate fact from fiction. This can be quite difficult when the actual participants have competing agendas. Add the passing of more than two hundred years, a military disaster, and gaps in the official reports, and it becomes nearly impossible.


On July 9, 1755, General Braddock’s army of British regulars and colonials suffered a terrible defeat to a smaller force of French and Indians just a few miles from what is now Pittsburgh. It was mass chaos. He had insisted that his men stay in the traditional formations rather than fight “the frontier way”. Most of his officers were killed or wounded. Braddock died from his own wounds a few days later not far from here.


It didn’t take long for conflicting information to appear depending upon whom you blamed for the disaster. A more troubling version has the British intentionally killing anyone who fought the “frontier way” which resulted in colonials shooting officers. This culminated in Tom Fausett killing the General. No proof exists that his own men killed General Braddock, but Tom Fausett settled in Fayette County and told his tale over the next sixty years.


Of course, you can read more about Braddock’s Disaster at Carnegie Free Library. The Connellsville Courier is available on microfilm dating back to 1879.

 Found on the front page of the June 4, 1937, issue of The Connellsville Courier:

"Italy and Germany have formed a definite defensive entente ... semi-official spokesman for Premier

Benito Mussolini announced today."

General Braddock’s expedition to drive the French away from Fort Duquesne made camp here on June 28, 1755, and crossed the Youghiogheny River two days later. His military disaster on July 9th impacted the frontier and influenced how the Continental Army fought the British during the American Revolution.


By today's standards thirteen hundred crossing the river with eight hundred more following far behind with much of the supplies seems small, but many familiar faces were present. Thomas Dunbar led the supply column, and his teamsters included Daniel Morgan and Daniel Boone. Of local interest, both Christopher Gist and William Crawford appear to have been present at Braddock’s defeat. Among the survivors, Thomas Gage, Charles Lee, Horatio Gates, Charles Scott and George Washington all had roles to play for both sides in the American Revolution.


Just a little crossing, some fifty years before the founding of Connellsville–but so much impact for many years to come.


Of course, you can read more about Braddock’s Crossing at Carnegie Free Library. The Connellsville Courier is available on microfilm dating back to 1879.

  Headline found on the front page of the May 21, 1927, issue of The Connellsville Courier


275 Miles From Paris at 3 O’clock

Those who associate George Washington with the Fourth of July may be surprised to learn that he completed his first and only military surrender on July 4th–in 1754. That May, Washington had engaged a few dozen French Canadians in the first battle of the French and Indian War. It is not clear what exactly happened, but in the end Washington won and the French commander, Jumonville, was dead. 

Expecting French retaliation, Washington erected a small stockade to protect provisions and gathered his forces at his military headquarters on Gist’s Plantation. Meanwhile, five hundred soldiers left Fort Duquesne to avenge Jumonville’s “assassination”.  When Washington realized his lack of men and supplies to fight the French, he fell back to this stockade about thirteen miles southeast. 

The French arrived on July 3rd around 11am. After nine hours of fighting in heavy rain, which flooded his trenches and damaged his guns, negotiations for surrender began. Sometime around midnight it became official. Washington and his men would leave Fort Necessity shortly after dawn. The French promptly destroyed it and Gist’s Plantation.

Of course, you can read more about Fort Necessity at the Carnegie Free Library. The Connellsville Courier is available on microfilm dating back to 1879.


On May 16, 1775, colonists from our county (Westmoreland) gathered at its seat of the time, Hanna’s Town, and signed resolutions to oppose tyranny and oppression like that of the British Government against the colonists in Massachusetts Bay. On May 16, 1775, colonists from our county (West Augusta) including William Crawford gathered at its courthouse of the time in Pittsburgh to sign resolutions supporting the Massachusetts Bay colonists, vowing to resist British tyranny, and making the necessary preparations.

Both Pennsylvania and Virginia claimed the southwest Pennsylvania frontier and organized their own counties to administer that ground. To our eyes, this border dispute may seem comical at times. For example, William Crawford presided over the court in Westmoreland County until the Governor learned that the justice now opposed Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction. However, the dispute’s long-term implications made it a very serious matter. Which land deeds have meaning? On March 1, 1780, Pennsylvania became the first democracy anywhere in the world to abolish slavery. Was it in effect here?

After much negotiation, and a few threats, the two states came to an agreement on September 23, 1780. The official boundary line appeared five years later. Finally!

Of course, you can read more about West Augusta, the border dispute, and the Revolutionary Era at the Carnegie Free Library. The Connellsville Courier is available on microfilm dating back to 1879.

Found on the front page of the April 23, 1915, issue of The Connellsville Courier:  “Yesterday evening ....[n]orth of the Ypres the Germans by employing large quantities of asphyxiating bombs…forced us [the French] to retire in the direction of the Yser canal.” This French War Office statement announced the first full-scale deployment of chemical weapons in World War I.

History is filled with random coincidences. Shortly after hiring Christopher Gist to explore its potential land holdings, the Ohio Company’s first president died in November 1750. Lawrence Washington was a major investor and succeeded him. The following winter, the acting governor of Virginia selected Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson’s father) to create a map of the colony. The first edition printed in 1753, as it became clear that France would be a problem through much of the Ohio River region. Gist’s work greatly influenced the 1755 revision.


Later that year, the Lt. Governor sought someone to carry dispatches to the French and gather valuable information. This person needed surveying experience as well as the physical strength  and endurance for wilderness work. He chose the 21-year-old George Washington (Lawrence’s younger brother). This mission brought Washington to Fayette County and Gist’s Plantation for the first time, and he hired Mr. Gist to guide him to the French and back. It has been said that Gist saved the young Washington’s life twice during that journey.


Washington’s intelligence resulted in a new expedition to take possession of the land that later became Pittsburgh and keep it out of French hands. Lt Col Washington commanded the first detachment of troops sent there. Col. Joshua Fry would follow with additional men. On May 31, 1754, he died en route having fallen from his horse, leaving Washington in charge of the entire Virginian force.


How would history be different without Lawrence Washington heading the Ohio Company? Gist guiding Washington? Fry falling off his horse?

Of course, you can read more about maps, Washington, and the French at Carnegie Free Library. The Connellsville Courier is available on microfilm dating back to 1879.

Two tidbits from the April 9, 1880, issue of The Connellsville Courier remind us how many things never really seem to change.

●     President Grant’s prospects of another term appear gloomy

●     US Senate issues reports of the select committee to inquire into alleged fraud in the prior presidential election

If the American Frontier began with the first farm home west of the Appalachians, a very strong case could be made for Gist’s Plantation atop of Mt Braddock. In 1750 the Ohio Company hired Christopher Gist to explore around the forks of the Ohio River and to recruit settlers. His expeditions yielded much information about mountain passes, rivers, native communities including possible trading possibilities, and exact descriptions of large fertile level areas for settlement.


By the end of 1752 Gist began work on the Plantation. Within two years at least eleven other families had homes there as well as a storehouse and fortifications. Some historians have suggested that Col. Crawford and William Stewart lived there, too, but we do not know for certain which families.


What is not disputed is Gist’s experience as a local surveyor, road builder, and Indian agent. Both Washington and Braddock utilized him in the French and Indian War–but that is another story.


You can find the Historical Marker on US 119 across from the airport, just south of the Burger King.


Of course, you can read books about Christopher Gist, as well as copies of his journals, at the Carnegie Free Library. The Connellsville Courier is available on microfilm dating back to 1879.