Over half of Bedford County's land area today is forest, much like the way it was in 1710, before the first white traders came into the area. They disturbed what until then was the province of the Indians. Artifacts have been found showing people have been in Bedford County at least 2500 years ago. About 400 years ago the Seneca, part of the Iroquois Federation, came to the area while game was plentiful. The Shawnee came into the area around 1680, and it was they who had most of the conflicts with the early European settlers. By 1730, a few settlers began moving north into Southern Bedford county from Virginia and Maryland. Most of these settlers believed they were still in their home states.
In the 1750's, the county took on a greater importance. The British had been unsuccessful in removing the French from the forks of the Ohio by attacking from the south. They planned on trying again, but this time they would try from across the Pennsylvania mountains. In 1758, British General Edward Forbes erected a fort to serve as the main base for the final thrust west. The fort was named Fort Bedford, in honor of one of England's most powerful families. From there, the British hacked a trail through100 miles of mountain and forest and used it as a military highway for the capture of the French Fort Duquesne. Today, that trail still remains widely used and is now called U. S. Route 30. The road follows the historical trail almost exactly.
After the fall of Fort Duquesne, renamed Fort Pitt by the British, Ft. Bedford became an important outpost to the western frontier. Soon, it was the scene of a major event in American history, though one largely ignored today. It was the first British fort captured by American rebels.
In 1769, 16 colonials were being held in the fort for crimes against the crown. They were to be transported to Carlisle to stand trial. Captain John Smith, a colonel agitator, and his men advanced up Juniata Valley during the night. They used black paint to avoid detection, and were therefore known as the Black Boys. At dawn they surprised the British, captured the fort, and freed all the prisoners. News of this capture spread throughout the colonies and showed that the British were not invincible, and could be overtaken. Many believe that this helped encourage the colonists several years later to challenge British authority.
At this time, the Indians were also resisting the onslaught of the white man. At Tulls Hill, west of Bedford, eleven members of the Tull family were killed in 1763. They had decided to stay on their land when most others had fled to the safety of Fort Bedford, trying to avoid the Indian raids.
Another massacre occurred in 1780 in Woodcock Valley, which is west of Saxton. This was during the American Revolution, when the British were encouraging Indian uprisings, and men were scarce on the frontier. Captain William Phillips of Williamsburg and his "rangers" rode through the area to protect the settlers, and drive the Indians out. They arrived in Woodcock Valley to find the families had fled, and they spent the night in one of the deserted cabins. The next morning they found themselves surrounded by a band of sixty Indians and two renegade whites. After fighting all day, Captain Phillips and his rangers surrendered, only to be executed by their captors.
In 1794, one of the most important events in the young nation's history took place, although it is largely forgotten. The farmers in Western Pennsylvania made whiskey, using a large portion of their grain crops. They did this because it was too difficult to transport the grain over the mountainous roads to larger markets. By making whiskey, the value of bringing a load to market increased greatly.
When the new federal government imposed a tax on whiskey, the farmers thought they were being treated unfairly and many felt that they should not have to abide by this tax. So in response, President George Washington led an army of 13,700 men into Bedford - the first (and only) time an American President commanded an army in the field. If the protestors could refuse to pay the tax, the authority of the government would be forever challenged, and could result in 13 independent states, instead of the one unified country that had recently been established
President (General) Washington used the Espy House as his headquarters, and today it still stands in the heart of downtown Bedford . That is as far as Washington went, and the revolt collapsed, if not peacefully, at least without a major confrontation.
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