Chapter XVII
The Summer of the Big Harvest


During the summer of 1780 the soldiers in Fort Pitt were hungry in the midst of plenty. It was a strange situation. The wheat harvest was bounteous, and afterward the corn came very heavy. It has often been noted that the land yields well when the winter has been hard. Some say that the deep frost, stirring and loosening the soil, makes the earth richer. The gardens are more productive in vegetables, but severe cold is hard on the fruit trees.

After the Westmoreland farmers had cut and threshed their wheat, beating it out with the flail, the streams were so dry that no mills could run, and so there was no flour for Colonel Brodhead to buy.(1) But this was not the only reason he did not get food for his garrison. His men suffered for fresh meat, and the farmers would not sell their cattle. To be honest with them, they did not have many cattle to sell. The Indian raids of the preceding three years had been destructive to the live stock. A dozen Indians would kill a great many domestic animals. They not only shot the animals for their own eating, but slaughtered them out of pure wantonness and to deprive the white men of food.

The settlers were reluctant to part with their cattle, because Colonel Brodhead had no good money to pay for them. He could offer nothing but due bills, to be redeemed by the government in its continental currency. This currency the western farmers did not desire, because it was so depreciated that $40 of it were equal to but $1 of the money of the state of Pennsylvania. Moreover, to get these due bills redeemed it was necessary to carry them or send them all the way to Philadelphia. The colonel might have been more successful with state money, but of that he did not have much. It maintained its credit largely because it was scarce. Even the state money, in this year of 1780, was not in full favor west of the Alleghany Mountains.(2)

The pioneers conceived that they had been neglected by the state, and a spirit of discontent and sedition was widely prevalent on the western border. This had been stimulated by the territorial dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia, which involved the entire Monongahela valley region. Many of the pioneers favored the erection of a new state, to be composed of the over-mountain lands of Pennsylvania and Virginia, believing that they would receive better treatment from a state capital in the Ohio valley, than from the distant governments at Philadelphia and Richmond. The agitation for a new state was vigorous during this summer, and the settlers who favored it looked with hostility upon the garrison of regular soldiers kept at Fort Pitt. The removal of that garrison by starvation would not have been considered by the pioneers as a calamity.(3)

Colonel Brodhead was driven to many expedients to get food. On August 18, 1780, he wrote to the president of Pennsylvania: "The troops have been without bread for several days and begin to murmur; but I expect to get a little grain chopped in a bad horse mill near this place, and, if possible, prevent a mutiny until a further supply can be procured. I hear the pack horse men have left the service, so that not a shilling have we to purchase with." At this time the lack of food had compelled the evacuation of Forts Armstrong and Crawford on the Allegheny river.(4)

The Pennsylvania authorities gave up the plan of carrying supplies to Fort Pitt on horses from the eastern part of the state, and made effort to furnish the garrison from the county of Westmoreland. For this work they appointed William Amberson, one of the earliest settlers of Pittsburg, as commissary, and directed him to furnish flour, corn and whisky to Colonel Brodhead. Amberson seems to have been but partially successful in getting supplies, for on September 5 Colonel Brodhead wrote: "The troops have alternately been destitute of bread and meat. At present

I am not possessed of two days' allowance, and I have a dull prospect as to further supplies. I have been compelled to hire a few horses to send to the mills below. . . . Unless something is speedily done, these posts, which are of the utmost importance, must be evacuated, and the country will, of course, be deserted, or, as some have hinted, join the enemy.(5)

About a week after this letter was written, the entire garrison of Fort Pitt paraded one morning before the house of Colonel Brodhead, ragged and gaunt, led by their sergeants. When the commander asked the cause of the demonstration, the sergeants replied that the men had been without bread for five days and were hungry.

Colonel Brodhead was able to tell them only that every effort was making to get food for them, and that, during the period of scarcity, their officers were suffering equally with the rank and file. The men were well behaved and quietly returned to their barracks. A few days afterward a few horse loads of flour and some live cattle arrived from Cumberland county, but this supply did not last long.(6)

During this time the surrounding country was being ravaged by the Indians, and a starving garrison could offer no protection. On August ix a party of Wyandot Indians killed ten men near the site of Morgantown, W. Va.(7) On September 4 two settlers were killed near Robinson's run, now in Allegheny county. The same day two men going down the Ohio river in a canoe to Wheeling were fired upon from the bank, and one of them was wounded.(8) About the middle of September the Wyandots fell upon the settlements on Ten Mile creek and killed and carried away seven persons.(9) Brodhead was fretting over his compulsory inaction. Time and again he summoned the militia to rally for a raid into the Wyandot land and each time he was baffled by the lack of supplies.

At length, in September, Colonel Brodhead, driven to desperation, determined to take extreme measures to get food for his hungry soldiers. He had received from the continental authorities permission to take supplies by force from the inhabitants, in case of dire need, and to this resort he was now driven. He chose Captain Samuel Brady to do this work, with a detachment from his company.(11)

Brady was instructed to attempt to buy cattle and sheep only from those who had them to spare, and, if the farmers would not sell, he was then to take the animals by force. He was not to molest the poor or those who had suffered from the Indians. All cattle and sheep seized were to be appraised and Brady was to give a receipt for them, so that the owners might have a chance some time to recover from the United States government. Brady went into the country along Chartiers creek and on the western side of the Monongahela river, while Lieutenant Uriah Springet headed another party east of the Monongahela.

News of Brady's mission seems to have spread rapidly before him. Many of the larger herds of cattle were driven into secluded forest recesses. In few places did the soldiers find stock to be spared, within the terms of their instructions. They did get some and sent them back to the fort, but they were not sufficient for the daily wants of the garrison. There was show of strong resistance to the impressing squad. In some places Brady was threatened with writs of trespass. Crowds of angry and armed settlers gathered and made show of forcible resistance. Brady's instructions commanded him not to provoke violence, without extreme cause, but the signs began to multiply that the country was preparing to rise against him. It was probably the most unpleasant task he was ever called upon to perform. He was himself a farmer, and could not fail to sympathize with these badgered and distressed pioneers. For two months he and Springer were kept in the field before the persistent Brodhead ordered their withdrawal.

Early in October, when Brodhead had hope that Brady would bring enough beef and mutton to supply an expedition into the Wyandot country, he sent out another appeal to the lieutenants of the adjacent counties to raise volunteers and join him at Fort Pitt. This appeal was a total failure. Colonel Beelor, of Yohogania county, replied that he could not get volunteers. The only way he could help Brodhead was to draft men, and this he feared to attempt, as he did not know whether to proceed under the law of Pennsylvania or Virginia. It was just about this time that the governments of the two states were coming to an agreement on the boundary line, and reports had reached the frontier that all the disputed territory would fall within the bounds of Pennsylvania. These reports caused legal chaos in what is now Southwestern Pennsylvania. The laws of Virginia lost their binding effect and the executive and judicial machinery of Pennsylvania had not yet been extended over the region so long in contention. Thus it was that Beelor found himself powerless to act, and in signing his name to his letter to Brodhead he rather pathetically added, "Without law to protect me.(11)

The reply of Colonel William McCleery, of Monongalia county, is interesting as revealing the stubborn self-reliance of the Scotch-Irish settlers on the upper Monongahela and Cheat rivers. The militia officers of that county met and decided that they could not spare any men to assist the regulars in an expedition to the northwest. Colonel McCleery wrote:

"From his (Brodhead's) never having it in his power, for want, as we conceive, of the necessary supplies to put his schemes in execution, during the whole course of last summer and fall, and our unhappy people daily falling an easy prey to the enemy, obliges them to throw off all dependence on any natural aid on this side of the mountains this fall, but that of themselves, for their relief, and therefore they mean to embody and and take the most plausible methods for their defense, and under the circumstances they think their number is already too small without any division.(12)

The Delaware chiefs, still true to their alliance with the Americans, came to Fort Pitt with a large band of warriors, to take part in the Wyandot campaign. Their chagrin was keen when Brodhead told them of his poverty and want of food, and that they could not have the opportunity of going with him on a war raid.

While these Indians, with their women and children, were encamped near the fort, a large party of settlers from Hannastown, led by militia officers, marched to Fort Pitt for the purpose of attacking the friendly savages. A majority of the pioneers of that day did not distinguish between one redskin and another. All were "pizen varmints," and equally deserving of death. Colonel Brodhead was forewarned and threw a heavy guard of regulars around the Indian camp. The design of the Westmorelanders was frustrated, and they were forced to return with bloodless hands to Hannastown. The same spirit which animated them led the men of Washington county, 16 months afterward, to murder the Christianized Delawares at Gnadenhuetten.(13)

It was fortunate for Brodhead that he was able to protect these Indians, for he found use for them after the failure of Brady's cattle impressment. He made arrangement for a considerable body of them, as well as some of the best hunters among his soldiers, to go to the Great Kanawha valley, to spend the winter there hunting buffaloes and to bring the meat to Fort Pitt as soon as the river should open in the spring.(14) It was to such measures that he was driven to feed his soldiers. During the winter, however, some meat and flour were procured from the eastern counties, and the garrison managed to live without leaving any record of a death from actual starvation. The number of the garrison during the winter of 1780-81 was about 300.

1 Archives, vol. viii., pp. 487, 514; vol. xii., p. 261

2 Archives, vol. viii., p. 515.

3 Archives, vol. vii., pp. 280, 713.

4 Archives, vol. vii., p. 513.

5 Archives, vol. viii.. p. 536.

6 Archives, vol. vii., p. 558.

7 Archives, vol. viii., p. 513.

8 Archives, vol. vill., p. 586.

9 Archives, vol. viii., p. 569.

10 Cramrine's History of Washington County, p. 89; Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., PP. 565, 589; vol. viii., Pp. 276, 278.

11 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., pp. 562, 588, 589; vol. x., pp. 171, 173; Craig's History of Pittsburg, p. 124.

12 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., p. 584.

13 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., p. 598.

14 Olden Time, vol. ii., pp. 877, 878.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 109-115: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

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