Chapter IV
Capture of Andrew McFarlane


The first depredations, in the fall of 1776, were along the eastern shore of the Ohio river, between Yellow creek and the Big Kanawha, by small parties of Mingoes from Pluggystown. It was in 1777 that the frontier war really began, with fury, on the part of the Indian tribes in general. The first outrage on the frontier of Westmoreland was the capture of Andrew McFarlane, at the outpost of Kittanning.

McFarlane, who was of Scotch descent, came from the County Tyrone, in Ireland, to Philadelphia, soon after the close of the French and Indian war, and made his way to Pittsburg. There he was employed in the Indian trade and was joined by his brother James. When the territorial dispute with Virginia became acute, in January, 1774, Andrew McFarlane was one of the additional justices of the peace appointed by Governor Penn, and he was vigorous in his efforts to uphold the Pennsylvania authority in the neighborhood of Pittsburg.(1)

In April, 1974, Captain Connolly, with his Virginia militia, interrupted the sessions of the Pennsylvania court at Hannastown and arrested the three Pennsylvania justices who lived in Pittsburg. These were Andrew McFarlane, Devereux Smith and Captain Aeneas Mackay. They were taken as prisoners to Staunton, Va., and there detained four weeks, until released by the order of Governor Dunmore.(2)

On the evening of his arrest in Pittsburg, McFarlane managed to send a letter to Governor Penn, in which he said: "I am taken at a great inconvenience, as my business is suffering much on account of my absence, but I am willing to suffer a great deal more rather than bring a disgrace upon the commission which I bear under your honor." One result of his arrest indicates that McFarlane did not really suffer much during his captivity at Staunton. In that town the young trader formed the acquaintance of Margaret Lynn Lewis, the daughter of William Lewis, one of five brothers famous in the military history of Virginia. It must have been a case of love on sight, for Andrew McFarlane and Miss Lewis were married that summer and she went with her husband to his log home at the frontier post at the forks of the Ohio.

To escape from the exactions and persecutions of the Virginia militia officers, Andrew and his brother removed their store, in the autumn of 1774, from Fort Pitt to Kittanning, on the Allegheny, the extreme limit of white settlement toward the north. At that time probably not more than half a dozen huts existed there. Joseph Speer, another Pennsylvania trader, established a branch store at Kittanning, and the two houses soon built up a vigorous fur trade with the Indians on the tributaries of the upper Allegheny. When the Revolution came the McFarlanes were prospering.

In July, 1776, when it began to appear probable that the Iroquois were going to war, the Continental Congress ordered the raising of a Western Pennsylvania regiment, consisting of seven companies from Westmoreland and one company from Bedford, to build and garrison forts at Kittanning, Le Boeuf and Erie, to protect that region from British and Iroquois attacks by way of Lake Erie. This battalion of frontier riflemen was raised rapidly, largely out of the ranks of the Associators, and the following officers were appointed to its command: colonel, Aeneas Mackay; lieutenant colonel, George Wilson; major, Richard Butler.(3) After its formation it went into camp at Kittanning and was there preparing for an advance up the Allegheny, to build the two other forts, when a call was received for it to march eastward, across the State of Pennsylvania, to join the hard-pressed army of General Washington on or near the Delaware.

This call raised a storm of protest on the frontier but it was not to be disobeyed, and early in January, 1777, Colonel Mackay's regiment, afterward known as the gallant Eighth Pennsylvania, set out on its long and disastrous march across the mountains.

At that time many persons, not well informed, thought the frontier was not in danger, but this was not the belief of Andrew McFarlane and his neighbors living at the exposed settlement of Kittanning. Immediately after the departure of Colonel Mackay's regiment, Magistrate McFarlane wrote to the commissioners of Westmoreland county, begging that a company of armed men be sent to Kittanning. He feared that the Iroquois would attack the little settlement. His neighbors were uneasy and he said that he remained only to keep them from running away.(4) It seems, however, that most of the other settlers at Kittanning did run away during the winter, for in February, when McFarlane was taken, the only other men at the place were two servants in charge of Joseph Speer's store.

It appears that no soldiers were at once available to occupy Kittanning and guard the stores left there by Colonel Mackay. In this emergency Samuel Moorhead, who lived at Black Lick creek, north of the Kiskiminetas, began the formation of a company of volunteer rangers for frontier protection. He chose McFarlane as his lieutenant and these two men were at work during the winter trying to embody the scattered settlers into a small company.

The story of McFarlane's capture is preserved in two forms. One is gathered from letters written at the time, while the other is a tradition handed down in the Lewis family of Virginia. These two accounts illustrate the frailty of tradition as a source of historical narrative. No tale transmitted by word of mouth for two or three generations is to be relied upon unless corroborated by contemporary documents, though the tradition often forms the more interesting story. The Lewis story is now preserved in a a history of Lynchburg, Va., and runs thus:

"When Margaret Lynn Lewis married Mr. McFarlane, of Pittsburg, and left the parental roof, she traveled ,through a wilderness infested with hostile Indians till she reached that place, where they did not consider themselves safe, constantly expecting attacks from Indians. Once, when they least apprehended danger, a warwhoop was heard, her husband taken prisoner, the tomahawk raised and she averted her eyes to avoid witnessing the fatal stroke. The river was between them, and she, with her infant and maid servant, of course, endeavored to fly, knowing the inevitable consequences of delay. After starting the servant reminded Mrs. McFarlane of her husband's money and valuable papers, but she desired the girl not to mention anything of that sort at such a moment; but, regardless of the commands of her mistress, the servant returned to the dwelling, bringing all of the money and as many of the papers as she could hold in her apron, overtaking, in a short time, her mistress, as the snow was three feet deep. On looking back she saw the house in flames, and pursuing their journey, they, with incredible fatigue, reached the house of Colonel Crawford, a distance of fourteen miles.

"Through the space of three years the brave heart of this remarkable woman was buoyed up with the firm hope and belief that she should again behold her beloved husband alive, and at length she received intelligence that he had been carried captive to Quebec, where he had encountered incredible hardships; but the chiefs had agreed that for a heavy ransom he might be restored to his friends. Of course, this ransom was paid with the greatest alacrity, his brother going on and returning with Mr. McFarlane to Staunton. In a short time the husband and wife returned to their desolated home at Pittsburg, where they literally found nothing left, the Indians having destroyed house, stock and everything pertaining to their establishment. They rebuilt their dwelling in the same spot and for many years they happily and peacefully resided there, leaving a large family, all respectably settled about Pittsburg, with the exception of two sons, who engaged in the fur trade."

The contemporary account of this event is found in letters from the frontier, written to the officers of the Pennsylvania government at Philadelphia and. made public in recent years.(5) The British authorities, in Canada, who were preparing to send rangers and Indians against the Western Pennsylvania border, wished to get a reliable account of the situation in the neighborhood of Fort Pitt and decided to send down a small party to take a prisoner and carry him to Canada, that he might be examined.

Two British subalterns, two Chippewas and two Iroquois were sent out by the commandment at Fort Niagara, to descend the Allegheny. At a Delaware town not far from the site of the present Franklin the white men were exhausted and stopped to rest, but the four Indians continued their journey down the west bank of the river. On February 14, 1777, they arrived opposite the little settlement of Kittanning. Standing on the shore, they shouted over, calling for a canoe. Thinking that the Indians might have come to trade or to bring important news, McFarlane decided to venture across. The instant he stepped from his boat he was seized by the savages and told that he was a prisoner.

His capture was undoubtedly seen by his wife and by two other men at the settlement, but it is not likely that a tomahawk was brandished over his head. The Indians had orders from the officer who sent them to treat their captive kindly and to return with him as quickly as possible to Niagara. To that point McFarlane was hurried, through the deep snow, and there he was subjected to the most rigid examination concerning the condition of the frontier defenses. He was then taken to Quebec. His capture caused great alarm on the border and stimulated the frontiersmen to the enrolling of the militia. Captain Moorhead hurried with his recruits to Kittanning and took charge of the houses and stores there, and all along the border preparations were made to repel the expected attacks of the savages, which carne quickly with the opening of spring.

It is probable that Mrs. McFarlane did flee from Kittanning after the capture of her husband, for there was every reason to expect an Indian attack; but the place where she took refuge could not have been the house of Colonel Crawford. That gentleman lived at New Haven, on the Youghiogheny river, nearly sixty miles away, in a straight line. At the time of the capture Crawford was in Maryland, on a journey to Philadelphia. Fourteen miles would have taken the fugitives to a little settlement of two or three huts at the mouth of the Kiskiminetas river, but the nearest place of real refuge was Carnaghan's blockhouse, not less than 20 miles south of Kittanning. The Lewis tradition knows nothing of Kittanning but locates the event in the immediate vicinity of Pittsburg.

At the time of Andrew's capture his brother James was a lieutenant in the First Pennsylvania, under General Washington. It was through his efforts that Andrew was exchanged, in the fall of 1780. The released man rejoined his wife and child at Staunton, and they soon afterward returned to the vicinity of Pittsburg. Kittanning was now deserted and exposed to frequent Indian raids, and Andrew McFarlane opened a store on Chartiers creek, within the present limits of Scott township, where he lived for many years. During the later years of the Revolution he was a commissioner of purchases for the continental troops serving on the border.

His eldest son, Andrew, doubtless the infant whom Mrs. McFarlane carried in her arms when she fled from Kittanning, became one of the pioneer settlers on the Shenango, near the present New Castle, Pa., and his descendants are numerous in Lawrence county.

1 Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, vol. x., under date of January 19. 1774.

2 Warner's History of Allegheny County, chapter Iv. Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. iv., pp. 487, 488. American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. i., p. 264.

3 American Archives, Fifth Series, vol. 1., pp. 1300, 1574, 1578, 1583, 1588.

4 Notes and Queries, W. H. Egle, Fourth Series, vol. l., p. 19.

5 Historical Register, September, 1884; Notes and Queries, Third Series, vol. ii., p. 281; Hilldreth's Pioneer History, Cincinnati, 1848, p. 114.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 24-30: 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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