Chapter I
Old Westmoreland


The County of Westmoreland was erected by the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania by an act signed by Lieutenant Governor Richard Penn, on Friday, February 26, 1773. It was the eleventh county of the Commonwealth and the last erected under the proprietary government. Like all the earlier counties of Pennsylvania, except Philadelphia, it received its name from a county in England. This name, as applied to the most distant territory of the Province, was especially appropriate.

The land comprised in the new county was bought by the Penns from the Six Nations or Iroquois Indians, at a treaty held at Fort Stanwix, N. Y., in November, 1768, and was opened for settlement in the following April. Its northern boundary was a line extending from Canoe Point, on the West Branch of the Susquehanna river, west by north to the site of the Indian town called Kittanning, on the Allegheny river, thence down along the Allegheny and the Ohio rivers to the western limit of the Province, while its western and southern lines were to be the western and southern boundaries of Pennsylvania, not yet definitely ascertained. In 1771 this wide region was included in the county of Bedford, but settlements grew so rapidly west of the mountains during the year 1772 that a new frontier county was soon demanded. The evacuation of Fort Pitt by the British troops, in the fall of 1772, also led the borderers to demand a stronger civil organization.

When Westmoreland was erected it covered all of the Province west of the Laurel Hill, being what is broadly known as Southwestern Pennsylvania. In included the present counties of Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene and Washington, the parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties south of the Ohio river, about two-thirds of the county of Indiana and one-third of the county of Armstrong, the total area being about 4,700 square miles.

While this was the area of Westmoreland in theory, it was restricted in fact by Virginia's seizure and government of a large portion of the territory. After the capture of Fort Duquesne from the French in 1758 and the construction of Fort Pitt in the following year, a few settlements were made along the Forbes and Braddock roads, by permission of the Fort Pitt commandant. These permissions were granted to tavern keepers, that they might give shelter and entertainment to persons traveling on the king's business. (1) The general settlement of the country west of the Alleghany Mountains did not begin until the Pennsylvania land office was opened for the granting of warrants, in the spring of 1769.

Population flowed into the new region through two channels. Scots from the Cumberland Valley and other settled parts of the Province made their way westward by the Forbes military road and planted their cabins along its course, from the lovely Ligonier Valley to Fort Pitt. These men were faithful to Pennsylvania, under whose seal they held their lands. From the Valley of Virginia other Scots crossed the mountains by way of the old Braddock road and occupied the rich lands along the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers and Chartiers creek. These men were Virginians and believed that their settlements were still within the territory of the Old Dominion. It had not yet been determined by survey how far Pennsylvania extended westward of the mountains. Virginia claimed all the interior country west of Pennsylvania and asserted that the entire valley of the Monongahela, including Pittsburg, was within her jurisdiction.

A lively contest for the control of the region tributary to Pittsburg began between Pennsylvania and Virginia. The organization of Westmoreland county was designed to strengthen the Pennsylvania authority, and sixteen magistrates were appointed to administer justice within its boundaries. The county seat was established at Robert Hanna's little settlement on the Forbes road, 35 miles east of Pittsburg, and at Hannastown the first Pennsylvania court west of the mountains was held in April, 1773. These proceedings stirred up the Virginia authorities. The Earl of Dunmore, governor of Virginia, took forcible possession of the disputed territory. He appointed John Connolly, of Pittsburg "captain commandant of Pittsburg and its dependencies." Connolly mustered the militia under Virginia law, seized and garrisoned Fort Pitt, intimidated the Pennsylvania magistrates, marched some of them off to prison, and established the authority of Virginia throughout all the region between the Monongahela and the Ohio. Pennsylvania, having no militia law, was powerless to resist this usurpation.(2)

Thus it came about that, during the Revolution, the authority of Westmoreland county was limited to about half of its actual area. It was not until the summer of 1780 that Virginia agreed to accept the results of a joint survey which would extend the southern boundary line of Pennsylvania (Mason and Dixon's line) to a distance of five degrees of longitude west of the Delaware river. This joint survey was delayed, by official quibbling and the hostility of the Virginia settlers, until the fall of 1782. In the the spring of 1781 that part of Westmoreland lying west of the Monongahela was set off as a new county, named Washington, so that the officers of Westmoreland never had the privilege of exercising their authority over the whole extent of their large territory.

In 1775 the Ligonier Valley, extending along the eastern border of the county, was well settled. The focus of settlement was the village of Ligonier, where a British fort had been built in 1758, and the principal man was Captain Arthur St. Clair, a Scotchman who had served under Wolf at Quebec and had afterward become the agent of the Penn family in Western Pennsylvania.(3) West of the Chestnut Ridge, along Loyalhanna and its little tributaries, settlements were rather numerous as far as Hannastown, on the Forbes road. To the north of the road, between the Loyalhanna and the Conemaugh, was the Derry settlement, so called from the city of Ireland whence most of its people came. Nearly all the pioneers in this eastern part of the county were Scots from Ulster, or their immediate descendants, with a slight sprinkling of Irish of Presbyterian faith. Another center of Ulster settlement was at the Braddock road crossing of Big Sewickley creek, a tributary of the Youghiogheny; while lower down on that creek and on Turtle and Brush creeks were the cabins and blockhouses of German emigrants from the Rhine Palatinate.

Among the Virginia settlers along the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers and westward to the Ohio there were not many natives of either Scotland or Ireland. The people were two or three generations removed from the old country, but nearly all were of Scotch stock. The larger land owners had brought their slaves with them from Virginia and negroes were held in bondage in Southwestern Pennsylvania until long after the Revolution.

At Pittsburg some of the principal characters, chiefly traders, were members of the Church of England, and it was among these men that the tory sentiment developed, during the Revolution. Old Westmoreland was, however, decidedly a Scotch and Calvinistic settlement. While the territorial dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia was very bitter, it was doubtless because the opposing forces consisted of men of the same race and creed that no homicides were committed during the long period of contention.

The Scotch pioneers of this western region were bold, stout and industrious men, sharp at bargains, fond of religious and political controversy and not strongly attached to government either of the royal or the proprietary kind. In nearly every cabin three articles were to be found: a Bible. a rifle and a whisky jug. A strong characteristic of the settlers was an intense hatred of the Indians, for whose treatment the extermination policy of Joshua toward the heathen beyond Jordan was generally considered to be the proper model.(4)

At the opening of the Revolution the village of Pittsburg was the largest center of population west of the mountains. When Washington visited the place in the autumn of 177o, he found about twenty log houses ranged along the Monongahela shore, "inhabited," he wrote in his journal, "by Indian traders."(5) During the succeeding four years emigration to the west was so heavy that by 1775 the town had probably trebled in size and the traders were no longer in the majority, although they formed the influential element. These traders were nearly all Pennsylvanians, but most of the other inhabitants were Virginians. With its taverns, its hard drinking traders, trappers and mule drivers, its fugitives from eastern justice and its frequent Indian visitors, Pittsburg was a rude and boisterous frontier settlement. Rev. David Jones, a Baptist missionary who visited the town in June, 1772, described it as "a small town chiefly inhabited by Indian traders and some mechanics. . . Part of the inhabitants are agreeable and worthy of regard, while others are lamentably dissolute in their morals.(6)

The one man of most influence in this community was the fat old trader and Indian agent, Colonel George Croghan, who lived on a pretentious plantation about four miles up the Allegheny river. He was an Irishman by birth and an Episcopalian by religion, when he permitted religion to trouble him. He had long been a resident of Pennsylvania, but his landed interests attached him to Virginia. His nephew, Captain Connolly, who was the official representative of the Virginia government and a petty despot on the frontier, was under Croghan's guidance. Other leaders of the Virginia party on the border were John Campbell, a trader and land owner at Pittsburg; Dorsey Pentecost, who dwelt on a large estate called "Greenway" in the Forks of the Youghiogheny, and William Crawford, surveyor, land owner and agent for George Washington, living at Stewart's Crossing (now New Haven), on the Youghiogheny. Pentecost and Crawford were Virginians who had once held commissions as Pennsylvania magistrates but had later become violent partisans of the Virginia claims.

In 1775 the most prominent representative of the Pennsylvania interest in old Westmoreland was Captain Arthur St. Clair, at Ligonier; while others who took active parts were John Proctor and Archibald Lochry, living near the Forbes road west of Chestnut ridge; Robert Hanna and Michael Huffnagle, at Hannastown; James Cavet and Christopher Hays, of the Sewickley settlement; John Ormsby, Devereux Smith and Aeneas Mackay, traders and storekeepers at Pittsburg; Edward Cook, living in the Forks of the Youghiogheny a short distance below Redstone, and George Wilson, whose plantation was on the Monongabela at the mouth of George's creek, in the very heart of Virginianism.

1 Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Richmond, 1875, vol. 1., under date of March 10. 1777.

2 See St. Clair Papers, Cincinnati, 1882, vol. 1.; and Force's American Archives, vol. 1, many letters under date of 1774.

3 St. Clair Papers, vol. 1., p. 7.

4 Doddridge's Notes of the Settlements, etc.

5 The Writings of George Washington, P. L. Ford, New York, 1889, vol. IL. p. 290.

6 A Journal of Two Visits, etc., New York, 1865. See also the Diary of David McClure, New York, 1899, for an accurate account of social conditions at Pittsburg In 1772 and 1773.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 5-10: 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 (

Westmoreland County Genealogy Project Notice:

These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format, for any presentation, without prior written permission.



Return to Westmoreland County Home Page

(c) Westmoreland County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project