Chapter II
The Outbreak of Revolution


During 1774 the pioneers of Westmoreland were so occupied by their labor in clearing the forest, by the civil contention with Virginia and by the war between Virginia and the Shawnee Indians, that most of them heard little and thought little of the eastern agitation against the oppressions of the British Parliament. Yet scraps of news concerning the struggle going on in Boston occasionally reached the frontier and a few of the pioneers who had personal and official connection with Philadelphia kept in touch with the momentous contest then beginning with the mother country.

In May, 1774, on an appeal from Boston, a committee of correspondence was formed in Philadelphia. Under the date of June 12, a circular letter was addressed by this committee to certain of the principal inhabitants of the other counties in the Province, advising the formation of a similar committee in each county; and on June 28 the Philadelphia committee called a meeting of delegates from the several county committees. In response to this call, a "very respectable body of people"(1) met at Hannastown on Monday, July ii, and chose Robert Hanna and James Cavet to represent Westmoreland in the delegate convention. On July 15 this convention met in Philadelphia and its minutes show the presence of Hanna and Cavet. They could not have reached the provincial capital within four days after their election, but were doubtless in attendance before the meeting adjourned on July 21.(2)

This convention was not revolutionary. It expressly declared allegiance to King George, but denounced recent acts of the British Parliament, especially those for the closing of the port of Boston and the annulment of the Massachusetts charter, as unconstitutional. It approved a proposal for a colonial congress and pledged the readiness of the people of Pennsylvania to cease all commercial intercourse with Great Britain if necessary to secure a repeal of the obnoxious laws.

A fair inference from these proceedings is that a committee of correspondence was organized in Westmoreland in the early summer of 1774 and continued its existence until succeeded, a year later, by the revolutionary association. No records of this committee have been found. They were probably destroyed when the Indians burned Hannastown.

The American cause was, at the same time, arousing the sympathy of the leaders among the Virginia settlers in Southwestern Pennsylvania, although they were actively engaged in an Indian war. On October 1, 1774, while serving in Dunmore's army against the Shawnees, Valentine Crawford, brother of William Crawford, wrote from Wheeling to George Washington that the frontiersmen all hoped for an early peace with the savages, "in order that we may be able to assist you in relieving the poor distressed Bostonians. If the report here is true that General Gage has bombarded the city of Boston, this is a most alarming circumstance and calls on every friend of the liberty of his country to exert himself at this time in its cause."(3)

After the Shawnees had been forced to make peace in the valley of the Scioto river, the officers of Lord Dunmore's army, on the homeward march, held a meeting at the mouth of the Hocking river, on November 5, 1774, and unanimously declared their intention, as soldiers, to exert "every power within us for the defense of American liberty and for the support of our just rights and privileges."(4)

When it began to appear probable, early in 1775, that an armed conflict would occur between the colonies and the home government, Captain Connolly undertook to organize the chief men in Pittsburg and its neighborhood in the interest of Great Britain. He was of Irish-English blood, a member of the Church of England and a devout follower of the Earl of Dunmore. He wholly misapprehended the spirit of the Presbyterian Scots with whom he had been associated in the Virginia boundary contest. His efforts to seduce the pioneers from the American cause were almost entirely unavailing. They had stood by him in opposition to the territorial claims of the Penns, but when he sought to enlist them in opposition to the general colonial cause, they and he parted company.

The news of Lexington and Concord reached Pittsburg during the first week in May, 1775. To the liberty loving Scots and Irish of the frontier it was a signal to forget, for the time, their local jealousies and quarrels and to unite and organize in defense of their mutual rights as Americans. Pennsylvanians and Virginians joined hands to resist the hard enactments of the British Parliament. The committees of correspondence, one in eastern Westmoreland and the other in West Augusta, as the Virginians called the portion of the border which they controlled, at once called meetings of the settlers to declare their minds on the sudden crisis.

The Pittsburg meeting was held on Tuesday, May 16, being the day for the opening of the Virginia court in that village, and the attendance was large. The assembly chose a committee of 28 men, nearly all of whom are more or less famous in the border annals. Colonel George Croghan, who was afterward suspected of being lukewarm in the American cause, was chairman, and other committeemen were Edward Ward, who surrendered the site of Fort Pitt to Contrecoeur in 1754; John Canon, the founder of Canonsburg; John McCulloch, a daring frontiersman; John Gibson, the interpreter of the celebrated speech of Logan the Mingo; Edward Cook, the founder of Cookstown, now Fayette City; William Crawford, the surveyor and land agent of Washington, and David Rodgers, a partisan leader who fell in combat with the Indians on the site of Newport, Ky. Of the 28 members of the body, at least five were Pennsylvania partisans in the territorial dispute. This committee adopted unanimously a resolution approving the acts of the New Englanders in resisting "the invaders of American rights and privileges to the utmost extreme," and formulated plans for the organization of military companies to be ready for the country's call.(5)

These proceedings gave great offense to Connolly and were a stinging personal rebuke to his royalist schemings. His uncle, Croghan, and his father-in-law, Samuel Semple, were members of the committee. Two days after the meeting Connolly sat for the last time as a member of the West Augusta court at Pittsburg, but for two months he remained in the settlement, endeavoring perseveringly to influence his acquaintances to support the royalist cause and plotting with Indian chiefs to make war on the colonists in the event of an actual revolution.(6)

On the day succeeding the meeting at Pittsburg, "a general meeting of the inhabitants of Westmoreland" was held in the log cabin settlement at Hannastown. Here also the action taken was distinctly revolutionary, for while the assembled borderers declared their allegiance to King George, they voted it to be the duty of every true American, "by every means which God has put in his power," to resist the oppression of the British Parliament and ministry, and they proceeded to form a military organization called the Association of Westmoreland County, whose purpose was declared to be forcible resistance to the power of Great Britain.(7)

Captain St. Clair, who evidently took part in this meeting, was not in full sympathy with its radicalism. On May 18 he wrote to Joseph Shippen, Jr., the provincial secretary: "Yesterday we had a county meeting and have come to resolutions to arm and discipline, and have formed an association, which I suppose you will soon see in the papers. God grant an end may be speedily put to any necessity of such proceedings. I doubt their utility and am almost as much afraid of success in this contest as of being vanquished."(8)

In accordance with the Hannastown resolutions, meetings were held in every township one week later, on Wednesday, May 24, to form military companies. St. Clair wrote to Governor Penn on May 25: "We have nothing but musters and committees all over the country and every-things seems to be running into the wildest confusion. If some conciliating plan is not adopted by the congress, a America has seen her golden days: they may return, but will be preceded by scenes of horror."

His forecast was correct. It was because the prospect of civil war appalled him that St. Clair doubted and held back at the outset. But he did not hesitate long. When he realized that the crisis could not be avoided, he earnestly devoted his life and his fortune to the patriot cause.

The yeomen of Westmoreland formed themselves into companies, elected their company officers and were arranged in two battalions. Of the first battalion the officers were: colonel, John Proctor, the first sheriff of the county; lieutenant colonel, Archibald Lochry; major, John Shields. The officers of the second battalion were: colonel, John Carnaghan, then sheriff ; lieutenant colonel; Providence Mountz; major, James Smith, a famous character on the frontier, whose narrative of captivity among the Indians is one of the interesting stories of the border.(9) It was Colonel Proctor's battalion which adopted as its banner the celebrated rattlesnake flag. It is of crimson silk, having, in the corner, on a blue field, the red and white crosses of St. George and St. Andrew. The emblems are worked in gold. Above a rattlesnake, coiled to strike, are the characters, "I. B. W. C. P.," meaning, First Battalion, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and below the serpent is the motto, "Don't Tread on Me." Near the flag's upper margin is a monogram of J. P., the initials of John Proctor.

This flag was never carried into battle, but it was, doubtless, borne to Philadelphia when the battalion was called to the succor of that city at the beginning of 1777. The standard bearer was Lieutenant Samuel Craig, of the Derry settlement, and the silken relic is still carefully kept by his descendants in Westmoreland.

The tory conduct of Captain Connolly at Pittsburg became so bold and obnoxious that in June, 1775, he was seized by twenty men, under the orders of Captain St. Clair, and carried to Ligonier, with the intention of delivering him to the revolutionary government in Philadelphia. His arrest was misunderstood by many of the Virginia settlers, who thought it a blow at their territorial claims, and they made such violent demonstration that Captain St. Clair considered it advisable to let the prisoner go.(10) Soon after his release, Connolly fled from Pittsburg by night and made his way to Portsmouth, Va., where he joined Lord Dunmore on a man-of-war. From that refuge he continued his efforts, by correspondence, to influence border leaders in the king's cause and to stir up the Ohio tribes against the colonists. (11)

Some knowledge of Connolly's machinations and a fear of an Indian uprising persuaded the Virginia convention, in August, to direct Captain John Neville, a militia officer and a member of the patriot committee at Pittsburg, to occupy Fort Pitt with his company from the Shenandoah Valley. With about one hundred men, Captain Neville marched from Winchester and took possession of the fort on September 11.(12) He continued in command there until June I, 1777, when he transferred the post to General Edward Hand, the representative of the United States of America. For a year and a half after the Revolution began the ,civil government of Western Pennsylvania was under the control of the two committees, one meeting at Hannastown and the other at Pittsburg, acting in conjunction with the justices of the peace who espoused the patriot cause; and this loose system of government continued until the autumn of 1776, when both Pennsylvania and Virginia had adopted state constitutions.

1 St. Clair Papers, Vol. 1., p. 825; American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. 1., p. 549.

2 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. 1., p. 555,

3 The Washington-Crawford Letters, Butterfield, Cincinnati, 1877, p. 99.

4 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. I., p. 962.

5 Craig's History of Pittsburg, p. 128.

6 Connolly's Narrative, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. xii., pp. 314-321.

7 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. 11., p. 615.

8 St. Clair Papers, vol. I., p. 363.

9 Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, vol. xiv., p. 675.

10 Connolly's Narrative, Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Blog., vol. ail., pp. 817-820; Washington-Crawford Letters, p. 102.

11 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. 111., p. 72.

12 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. 111., pp. 870, 876 and 717.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 11-17: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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