History Corner

History has so many stories to tell!

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

The frontpage headline on May 7, 1915: “GERMAN SUBMARINE SINKS THE CUNARDER LUSITANIA OFF IRISH COAST; MANY AMERICANS INCLUDED IN PASSENGER LIST OF CRACK BRITISH LINER

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.