The boundary between Virginia and Pennsylvania. -- Dunmore's War
It would be unprofitable to go further into our county's history without some further knowledge of the Virginia and Pennsylvania boundary troubles. To refresh the memory of the reader, we will say that Virginia claimed all territory west of the Monongahela river, at least, and many claimed that the crest of Laurel Hill was the line. The latter claim would have thrown all of our present county in Virginia, and the former a large part of the territory as it then existed. This boundary question had been agitated almost constantly for twenty years. As long as the territory lay unsettled or was not being sold by the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania, the boundary question did not demand an immediate adjustment. But when Westmoreland county was erected, that part which Virginia most coveted, the land at the forks of the rivers and Fort Pitt, was included in Westmoreland County, and under the dominion of the Proprietary government. Virginia must therefore assert her claims and defend them or retire from the field.
She had long since laid claim to it openly under Governor Spotswood, Dinwiddie had sent Washington to look after it in 1753. She had furnished about all the fighting element in Braddock's army. Furthermore, the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania, when asked to furnish soldiers to repel the French, replied that they were not certain that the French at Fort Duquesne were on their territory. Yet in 1752 Governor Thomas Penn instructed his soldiers to assist Virginia, to construct a fort at the forks of the river, but to do nothing which would injure his claims to the territory.
Christopher Gist, a very bold and enterprising Virginia pioneer, made a survey of the region and assumed that the territory was in Virginia, though he then lived in what is now Fayette county, Pennsylvania. On this survey, on February 19, 1754, Governor Dinwiddie granted large bodies of land about the forks of the Ohio. The question might have been easily settled then, for Dinwiddie and Governor Hamilton, who succeeded Penn, were in a friendly correspondence in which both claimed the territory. The French and Indian war required them to unite their strength, and the contention about it was for a time laid aside. When the question finally came up many of our best citizens took sides with Virginia, because they had purchased lands from Virginia, and had come here expecting still to reside in Virginia.
England had been very successful in founding colonies in America, and had fostered them in a most royal manner until 1765, when she passed the Stamp Act. The two colonies which rebelled most violently against this act were Massachusetts and Virginia. So the King of England in 1771 appointed John Murray to be governor of Virginia, a position he had held before in New York. He cared nothing for the interests of the colonists if they in any way conflicted with the interests of the King. He was a man of strength, but was utterly without character or kindness in his make up. Many are of the opinion that he was appointed to rule Virginia with an iron hand to punish them for opposing the Stamp Act, and for the growing spirit of dissent and independence so common among her people. John Murray has been known in history as the Earl of Dunmore. The early pioneers knew him as the "hair-buyer", because he paid the Indians for scalping mothers and babies of the rebellious colonists. It is said that his heartless design was to give the colonists plenty to do to protect themselves from the Indians, and thus diverting them from the growing feeling of opposition to the mother country. There is little doubt but that during the Revolutiony many colonists were slaughtered by his orders. There are few names in history more opprobrious in America than Dunmore.
In 1774 Dunmore determined to hold the country surrounding Fort Pitt as a part of Virginia. To represent him properly he sent an agent named John Connolly, who was a relative of his, though born in Pennsylvania. Connolly was highly connected by birth and marriage. He had been on terms of real intimacy with Washington, Gage, Johnson, (Sir William), Sir Guy Carleton, etc. In January, 1774, he took possession of Pittsburg, and raised an army along the banks of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. He at once changed the name of the fort to Fort Dunmore. He called the militia together, ostensibly to fight Indians, but in reality to fight for Virginia. His army was composed only of the worst men in the community. In marching through the country they stole horses, and shot down domestic animals in a wanton spirit of destruction. For these acts and for his most flagrant usurpation, St. Clair had him arrested and brought before him as a justice at Ligonier, from which place he was sent to the new jail in Hannastown. He gave bail, and when released went to Staunton, Virginia, where Dunmore appointed him a justice, and, on the supposition that Virginia included this territory, he had a right to act under this appointment, either in Pittsburg or Hannastown, that is, that they were both in Augusta county, Virginia. This section was called the West Augusta district. When he returned with this show of authority he was more aggressive and inhuman than ever. Court was to assemble in April in Hannastown, and he came there with one hundred fifty armed men. Some of these he stationed at the door, and refused to allow the justices to enter. He also had a sheriff appointed to keep the peace. His claim was that no one could derive any authority from the Provincial government, this power being lodged in Virginia, the rightful owners of this territory, and that it was now delegated to him. But the justices stood on their rights, and were accordingly arrested by Connolly. They refused to enter bail, whereupon he sent them in irons and under a guard to Staunton. Virginia, the county seat of Augusta county. Justice Mackay gained permission to go to Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, to lay the matter before Dunmore. Shortly after this the imprisoned justices were set free, and came home. St. Clair reported these outrages regularly to the Penns, and his correspondence as preserved in the archives of the state, is the basis of all history that has yet been written on this subject.
The council of Pennsylvania now sent two representatives -- James Tilghman and Andrew Allen -- to Virginia. They were directed to ask that both Virginia and Pennsylvania petition the King of England to determine the boundary in dispute, and that till this was done a temporary line be agreed upon. Dunmore, after hearing them, dismissed them haughtily and nothing came of the conference except to make Connolly much more impudent and oppressive in his action than before.
All this, as may be supposed, greatly unsettled our people. Moreover, no new settler wanted to locate in such a district, and the price of land was greatly decreased. Then an Indian outbreak was daily feared. This was threatened by the Indians, but the objective point of the proposed raid was Virginia, and not that part of this section which belonged to Pennsylvania, for all of the Proprietaries' territory was included in the new purchase of 1768, and the Indians seemed to intend to keep the treaty. Still, with the boundary in doubt, and the well known treachery of the Indians, there was great fear among the people of even the present Westmoreland territory -- the prospect of being subjugated by the outrages of Connolly on the one hand, or cut down in one night by an Indian incursion. Furthermore, if Dunmore and Connolly won, their titles from Pennsylvania would be of no value, they reasoned. Under this state of affairs many emigrants passed on through our section, and others left, never to return, or to return only when peace was effected.
The public men of the county did all in their power to induce the citizens to remain and fight it out. Many farmers, however, did not put out their spring crops, expecting to be driven from the locality before they would ripen. Many crops when grown were left unharvested in the fields. Connolly's bandit gang, seemingly through a spirit of wanton destruction, had burned fences for miles east of Pittsburg, and live stock had strayed away or was shot down by this lawless band of pretended soldiers. In May and June public meetings were held at various places over the country, to make manifest by petitions to the Governor of Pennsylvania the real conditions of affairs, and to ask for his assistance. These petitions, in addition to setting forth the outrageous conduct of Connolly's army, indicated a general fear of an Indian outbreak. They came from Allen's blockhouse, near the mouth of Crabb Tree, from Fort Shippen, at Sheriff Proctor's near Latrobe, from Pittsburg, and from other sections of the country. They set forth their troubles and distress as indicated above.
The justices, perhaps, became emboldened by being sent home from the Staunton prison, and at once endeavored to hold court in defiance of Connolly. Then his soldiers by his orders broke into their houses and insulted them in every way. This made a demand for a new militia composed of our best people, to unite and resist Connolly's forces. It had some good results, but still he and Cressaps, his chief lieutenant, rode roughshod over the country and assaulted men, particularly the justices and other conservators of the law. He waylaid a horse laden with gunpowder sent by William Spear for the use of the settlers. It is hard to overdraw the situation, if we rely on the reports made at that time. Connolly was little else than a drunken outlaw, with considerable shrewdness as a leader of desperadoes. His men were glad to emulate these examples. They had all the whisky they could drink, and their only duty seemed to be to steal enough from day to day to subsist on. Dunmore himself came out in September. He established land offices, though none in this county, set up courts, etc., and demanded submission on the part of all who resided west of Laurel Hill, as the price of peace.
The Proprietaries recognized Arthur St. Clair as the leader in Westmoreland, and left all military defense to him. He at once collected the militia from all directions, and supplied all the ablebodied farmers with firearms. His instructions were that they should be ready at the first outbreak to fly to each other's assistance. Stockades and blockhouses were erected in every settlement when there were sufficient people to justify it. The old fort at Ligonier was repaired. Among the new ones built were Fort Shippen, Fort Allen, and one at John Shield's, on the Loyalhanna, about six miles from Hannastown. St. Clair also raised an organization at Fort Ligonier called the Rangers. Of these thirty were posted at Hannastown, twenty at Proctor's, twenty at Ligonier, and the rest, about forty, were sent to what is now Allegheny county.
St. Clair himself says that hundreds of settlers left the county and returned east. Others, at the first false alarm, would flee from their houses and take refuge in the forts or blockhouses. He says, further, that it was shameful, if now cowardly, for the people to flee from Connolly in this way. St. Clair probably knew better than the people that the threatened Indian raid was not against this section. On July 11 reports were circulated that a party of Indians was seen at or near Hannastown, and another on the Braddock road, south of that. He mounted a swift horse and found the reports to be unfounded, or, at all events, highly improbable. But he could not make the people believe it. In twenty miles' ride, he says, he met no less than two hundred families and two thousand cattle, all enroute for some fort. Nearly all the residents of Ligonier Valley moved into the stockade. They too were determined to leave the country. They had not then cut their harvests, and had they gone, says St. Clair, they would undoubtedly have perished with famine.
About this time Dunmore's war was carried west, and the greater part of the real battling was done in the Ohio valley, near the Kanawha river. Dunmore, Connolly, Cresap, Simon Girty and Alexander McKee were all there, and peace reigned in Westmoreland. It also became apparent that there was no further danger of an Indian outbreak. But very shortly the war in the southwest ended, and Connolly returned and renewed his hostilities against the magistrates and the people. Even in Pittsburg many of the settlers contemplated leaving. In November a detachment of his army came to Hannastown, broke open the jail, and released two murderers who were sentenced to be hanged. Another party seized Mr. Scott, agent of the Penns, and made him give bail to appear at the next court to be held in Pittsburg for Augusta county, Virginia. In February, 1775, a raid was made on Hannastown; they broke open a blacksmith shop near by, took some large hammers and irons, and broke open the jail. They released all the prisoners, and told them to clear the country. This party was under Benjamin Harrison, a son-in-law of Judge Crawford, who opened the first courts in our county. Judge Hanna remonstrated with them from his upper window, but the outlaws only jeered him and the sheriff. On the 25th Justices Hanna and Cavett, were arrested, for no offense whatever but the general one of being magistrates under the Penns, and were confined at Pittsburg for three months.
The good people of neither Pennsylvania nor Virginia, took part in these outrages, but each side of the boundary question had its supporters, and on each side were most excellent people. John Gibson, father of the renowned chief justice of Pennsylvania, John B. Gibson, and a man of the highest character, sided with Virginia. No better man nor purer patriot lived than William Crawford, as he afterwards proved by giving his life in defense of the people. Yet he decidedly sided with Virginia, and when the Executive Council heard of it they advised the governor to dismiss him from the office of justice, and it was accordingly done.
Dunmore's war was now about ended, but still darker days were in store for our early settlers. The winter of 1774-75 was a very sever one. In the spring of 1774 crops, as we have explained, were not planted as they should have been and many were not harvested, because of the savages and Connolly and his men and through fear of the Indian outbreak. Late in the fall, when safety was assured, hundreds who had gone east came back to Westmoreland, and of necessity came empty handed. All who had been away, either as soldiers or refugees, had been consumers and not producers. The stock of provisions in the county was scarcely large enough for those who remained, and, when the list of consumers was augmented by those who returned, famine almost stared them in the face. But the settlers, with an altruistic spirit which would have done credit to our day, even, divided their scanty store with those who were in distress. Nevertheless many would have starved had it not been for the abundant supply of wild game in the woods. The actual supply of farm products, corn, rye and potatoes, was divided around. Yet it was but the beginning of long years of poverty and gloom, which culminated only with the close of the Revolutionary war.
Dunmore's war did not in itself settle the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Virginia, though there were no further hostilities concerning it. Dunmore and Connolly escaped into the British army with the breaking out of the Revolution. For years the names of both were most thoroughly detested among our people. Had the question in dispute been left to honorable men, it could have been readily settled, but with a man like Dunmore proved to be reason was out of the question. Men like Benjamin Franklin, of Pennsylvania, or Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, regarded these boundary disputes, as they were carried on, as unworthy of the citizens of either Pennsylvania or Virginia. On July 25, 1775, the delegates in the Continental Congress, among whom were Jefferson, Franklin and Patrick Henry, united in a circular asking the people of the disputed territory to use all mutual forbearance possible, and suggested that neither party should keep armed men. There was really no armed force except that of Virginia. On August 7, the Virginia convention directed Captain John Neville with a company of one hundred men to take charge of Fort Pitt. This was, at least, a display of hostility not sanctioned by the leading men of Virginia, and it is probable that the action was taken before the suggestion from the members of congress reached the Virginia convention. The Penns, willing to do anything for the sake of peace, permitted the matter to pass. The Revolution came at once, and Neville held the fort, not as a Virginian, but rather as an adjunct of the American army, though at first, at least, he was paid by the colony of Virginia. He held the fort till 1777, under the direction of the Continental Congress, and purely in the interests of the colonies. The boundary question was forgotten when both Pennsylvania and Virginia were fighting for freedom in the Revolution. It was afterward brought up by Virginia and Pennsylvania unitedly and was settled as the Proprietaries always claimed it should be, in 1779-84, in the following manner: Three Pennsylvanians and two Virginians were appointed to permanently locate the boundary. The agreement was signed August 31, 1779. By its terms they were to extend the then well known Mason and Dixon's Line west five degrees of longitude from the Delaware river. From the end of this line a line directly north to Lake Erie should be our western line or border. It was further agreed that the rights of all persons should be secure, no matter in which state they fell, and that, in all disputes as to ownership, preference should be given to the older right or claim. The agreement was ratified by Virginia on June 23, 1780, and by Pennsylvania on September 23, 1780, and again, after certain amendments offered by Virginia, on April 1, 1784. During 1784 the boundaries were surveyed and marked by stones set up, one every five miles. On the south side of each stone was cut the letter "V", and on the north side the letter "P". This then, finally and forever settled the boundary question, and, as settled then, it remains today.
Source: Page(s) 60 - 66, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed March 1999 by Tena Hanna for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Tena Hanna for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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