Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Westmoreland County, estab­lished by the Provincial As­sembly with an act signed on February 26, 1773, by Lieut. Gov. Richard Penn, was the eleventh – and last – county created by the proprietary government. Taken from part of Bedford County and named for a remote county in En­gland, it has played many significant roles in the origin and development of both the Commonwealth and the United States. Its native sons and daughters have contrib­uted greatly to the settlement and growth of Pennsylvania, and its villages, towns, and cities make up what has be­come the rich mosaic popu­larly called the Keystone State.

The territory of present-day Westmoreland County was actually purchased in 1768 by the family of William Penn from the Six Nations during a treaty meeting held at Fort Stanwix in New York. The region was formally opened to settlers six months later, in April 1769, with the establish­ment of Pennsylvania’s Land Office, which issued warrants for land purchases. Originally, Westmoreland County was so large – encompassing nearly five thousand square miles!­ – that it included what is today generally considered south­western Pennsylvania; from it were later carved Washington, Greene, and Fayette counties, as well as sections of Alle­gheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Indiana, and Somer­set counties. By approving the county’s original boundaries, members of the Provincial Assembly, convened in Phila­delphia, created a vast wilder­ness empire:

Beginning at the province line, where the most westerly branch commonly called the South of Great Branch of Youghiogheny crosses the same; thence drawn the easterly side of said branch and river to Laurel Hill, thence along the ridge of said hill, northeast­ward, so far as it can be traced, or till it runs into Allegheny Hill, thence along the ridge dividing the waters of Susquehanna and the Allegheny River, to the pur­chase line at the head of Susque­hanna; thence directly west to lite limits of the province, and by the same to the place of beginning.

The Provincial Assembly readily confirmed the appoint­ments of several justices in 1773 to preside in the court of the new county, including Arthur St. Clair of Fort Ligo­nier, Thomas Gist of Gist’s Plantation, and William Crawford, who had settled near the Youghiogheny River. The three had previously served as jus­tices in both Bedford and Cumberland counties. Ap­pointments were also given to George Wilson, Alexander McLean, Joseph Spear, James Cavitt, Robert Hanna, Michael Rugh, William Lochry, James Pollock, Samuel Sloan, Wil­liam Bracken, Aeneas Mackay, Alexander McKee, and William Thompson.

The Act of the Provincial Council passed in 1773 author­ized these justices – or any three – to conduct Courts of Quarter Sessions of the Peace and General Jail Delivery, and County Courts for the Holding of Pleas. The house of Robert Hanna of Hannastown, Hemp­field Township, was the site of the first election of the county commissioners and officers. In fact, the courts of Westmore­land County were to be held at Hanna’s tavern until a court­house could be erected­ – fourteen tumultuous years later. But there seemed no better place to suit the court’s purpose, for Robert Hanna was the consummate pioneer and the inveterate entrepreneur.

Robert Hanna established his namesake settlement along the Forbes Road in 1769, after he had purchased the military title from Lieut. Col. John Wilkins, who held the com­mand of Fort Pitt (now Pitts­burgh) during the previous summer. Ambitious and ag­gressive, he first built a large log tavern for travelers of the Forbes Road, and within two years, began selling lots in Hannastown. Hanna’s selec­tion of a site on the Forbes Road was wise and farsighted: in 1939 historian Robert Lewis Walkinshaw characterized it as “the commercial highway of its day.”

Pack trains kept continually going back and forth along this Great Road, each one containing from five to ten horses, tied tan­dem, each horse carrying up to two hundred pounds, these trains traveling from fifteen to twenty miles a day. It was considered a fair day’s journey with pack trains from Fort Ligonier to Hannas­town. When these trains put up for the night at either of these localities, one could well visualize how busy the place was. Until the improvement of the roads follow­ing the Revolution, there were few wagons used except the het1V1J military ones. The roads had no broken stone foundations and were very deep with mud in winter. In swampy places corduroy roads were constructed by placing logs crosswise. There were few bridges, and large streams were forded by the horses. The pack saddle was easily made and consisted of four pieces of wood, two of these being notched limbs, the crotches filling along the horse’s back, and joined by two flat pieces about eighteen by five inches, thus giving the resemblance of a cavalry saddle. When these saddles were used for riding, stirrups were fastened to the side. The saddle was held to the horse by rope or girth, and pieces of cloth or blankets were placed under it to keep the load from chafing the horse. Diverse kinds of merchandise were ar­ranged on the saddle, ranging from kegs of powder, bags of salt, and rolls of calico, to bars of iron bent in the middle and hung across it.

In addition to the traffic along the Great Road, one can readily picture the town full of interested pioneers for that first session of court on April 6, 1773. The greater part of them had come by horseback, with saddle bags strung to their horses. Robert Hanna would have made consider­able alteration to his big reception room in his hotel, that it might be transformed into a court room. All of the participants ht this new tribunal were seasoned attendants at court at Bedford or Carlisle for the past four years, and it ill becomes the later Colonel Mackay to suggest that there would not be ample accommodations for the administration of justice; the records of the court indicating otherwise. One can readily picture also the rustic but substantial bench on which at least five jus­tices sat at times, more often three. There would be a rustic jury box at the side, and a place for the seasoned Arthur St. Clair, as first prothonotary, register, recorder of deeds, and clerk of the Criminal Court, to perform his duties and keep the records. He had little difficulty in this regard, having performed the same duties back at Bedford, and the court was assured a good start.

It was fitting also that Justice William Crawford, of Stewart’s Crossing, experienced both at Carlisle and Bedford, should be chosen to preside at the court’s first session at Hannastown…. The first action of the court was to divide the county into townships. Many of the lines of the former townships in Bedford County were retained, but three new ones were carved out…

Following the creation of townships in Westmoreland County, the justices immedi­ately attended to judicial mat­ters, including criminal proceedings and the seating of the county’s first grand jury; consideration of new roads; appointments of countians to serve as “overseers of the poor” and as township super­visors; and recommendations of individuals who would sell liquor. The court at Hannas­town was too busy to process civil matters, which were han­dled by a tribunal – later the Court of Common Pleas­ – beginning in July 1773, and presided over by William Crawford. It was customary for individuals to hold several positions in the fledgling counties, and Arthur St. Clair, also a justice, kept court re­cords. Trusted by the proprie­tary government, St. Clair was issued a commission by Rich­ard Penn on behalf of the “Proprietors and Governors of Pennsylvania” on February 27, 1773.

The Honorable Richard Penn, Esquire, Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Prov­ince of Pennsylvania, and the Counties of New Castle, Sussex and Kent on Delaware, to Arthur St. Clair, of the County of West­moreland, with the said Province, Esquire;

Greeting:- Reposing special Trust and Confidence in your Loyalty, Knowledge, Care and Fidelity, know that I have or­dained, constituted and ap­pointed, and by these presents do ordain, constitute, and appoint you, the said Arthur St. Clair; to be Prothonotary or principal Clerk of the County Court of Common Pleas of and for the said County of Westmoreland, giving hereby and granting you full power and authority to execute the said office of Prothonotary or Principal Clerk of the County Court of Common Pleas in and for the county afore­said, in all the several parts and branches thereof, and the keeping of all records, books, and writings whatsoever to the said office be­longs. To hold, excercise and enjoy the said office with all fees, profits, perquisites, emoluments, and advantages from thence lawfully arising, or thereunto of right in anywise appertaining, until my further pleasure shall be made known therein.

Actually, most of the re­cords of the early courts were written by James Brison, who served not only under St. Clair, but several prothono­taries who succeeded the fa­mous general. Brison, incidentally, served as the first prothonotary of Allegheny County when it was created fifteen years later, a post he held for nearly two decades.

Hannastown did not serve very long as the center of Westmoreland County’s court – and commerce, for that matter – as the court was moved to Greensburg five years after the settlement’s burning by Indians on July 13, 1782. Although some of Han­nastown’s inhabitants were able to flee from their attack­ers, most were taken captive, including Robert Hanna’s wife and daughter. All of the vil­lage’s buildings were burned to the ground in a fierce con­flagration, fueled by mounds of clothing, provisions and household goods the Indians had ignited. Twelve days after the assault on Hannastown, Gen. William Irvine, com­mander of Fort Pitt, dispatched a report to William Moore, president of the Provincial Council, noting that “the de­struction of Hannastown put the people generally into great confusion for some days; the alarm is partly over, and some who fled are returning to their places; others entirely went off. I got the lieutenant of the county and others prevailed on to encourage some of the inhabitants to re-occupy Han­nastown by keeping a post or small guard there.” In his missive to Moore dated July 30, 1782, Michael Huffnagle, a court justice, reported that “they found several jackets, the buttons marked with the King’s 8th Regiment, twenty inhabitants killed and taken, one hundred cattle and a num­ber of horses and hogs killed. Such wanton destruction I never beheld, burning and destroying as they went. The people of the place behaved brave, returned to the fort, left their prey to the enemy, and with twenty men only, and nine guns in good order, we stood the attack until dark. We cannot inform what number of the enemy were killed, but we saw them from the fort carry­ing off several.” Many of the court records and documents were taken to the stockade where they were safeguarded, and Hannastown continued to serve as the site of the county’s courts, until they were relo­cated in Greensburg and for­mally reopened on January 71 1787.

The incident at Hannas­town was not an isolated oc­currence. Even before Westmoreland County was created, early settlers wit­nessed, as well as took part in, both the triumphs and trage­dies of frontier life. Just one decade before the county’s founding a bloody skirmish­ – which has taken place in the annals of history as the Battle of Bushy Run – erupted near present-day Jeannette.

Bitterly resenting the en­croachment of settlement by British and Americans on the western frontier, members of the Ottawa, Wyandot, Potawa­tomie, and Chippewa tribes, led by Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas, mounted an assault on Detroit in spring 1763 that would last six months. Pon­tiac’s fearlessness prompted fellow chieftains to launch attacks on small forts sur­rounding Detroit, including those of Venango, Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, Bedford, Pitt, and Ligonier in Pennsylvania. Delaware and Mingo Indians attacked a plantation near Fort Pitt in late May, and several days later a dozen traders, on their way to the fort from the Delaware village of Tuscarawas, had been ambushed. Capt. Simeon Ecuyer dis­patched a letter to Col. Henry Bouquet at Philadelphia, the commanding officer of what was known as the Southern Department, who also alerted officials in New York. Wasting no time, Capt. Louis Ourry raised a militia at Bedford, and Lieut. Archibald Blane orga­nized forces to protect Fort Ligonier. Indian activities near Fort Pitt throughout the month of June were little more than troublesome, while Fort Bed­ford was spared hostilities. However, Fort Ligonier was attacked twice, the Senecas had burned Fort Le Boeuf, and Fort Presque isle had suffered two days of intensive siege. The time had come for Bou­quet to take action.

Colonel Bouquet forwarded reports to General Amherst in New York, who responded by sending reserves of the light infantry companies of the Forty-Second and Seventy­-Seventh Highland regiments, followed by a small detach­ment of Royal Artillery, to Carlisle. Pennsylvania’s Gov. James Hamilton, hampered by limited power and lack of resources, appealed to both the Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly and noti­fied members of the general Indian unrest on the western frontier. The Provincial Assem­bly responded after hearing that three forts, Venango, Presque Isle, and LeBoeuf, had been destroyed, and in early July passed a bill to re­cruit additional forces. Unfor­tunately, it was too late for these troops to reach Bou­quet’s expedition.

Nevertheless, Col. Henry Bouquet continued with his strategy, and directed advance troops to reinforce Fort Bed­ford, Fort Ligonier, and Fort Loudon. On July 18, after provisions had been secured, Bouquet and his expedition departed Carlisle, where they had been assembling for sev­eral weeks. Bouquet and his troops arrived at Fort Bedford a week later, rested one day, and pushed on through the wilderness to Fort Ligoner, a journey which lasted eight days. Meanwhile, at Fort Pitt to the west, the situation grew more serious, as the Wyan­dots, Delawares and Mingoes, now joined by the Shawnees, attacked for four days without relent. The assault ended only because the Indians realized
that in Col. Henry Bouquet’s forces they had a truly vulner­able target.

Colonel Bouquet departed Fort Ligonier on August 4, expecting to arrive at Bushy Run – midway between Fort Ligonier and Fort Pitt – the following day. At Bushy Run, Bouquet’s army was immedi­ately surrounded by Indians who launched an attack that lasted from early afternoon until dark. By evening Bou­quet was grim; sixty of his stalwart soldiers were either killed or severely wounded. He could only expect worse the following day.

Throughout the night, Bouquet’s little army – or what was left of it – worked tirelessly to erect a “fort,” a circle of flour bags, in which they would protect the wounded, and from which they could, hope­fully, protect themselves. Just as Bouquet anticipated, the Indians resumed their assault early the following morning, and their stealthiness in the deep wilderness posed the greatest problem to the British troops. To stave off the contin­uing attacks, a bold plan was needed – and needed quickly, as Bouquet was losing men and horses with every Indian assault. According to historian Niles Anderson, author of The Battle of Bushy Run, “Bouquet formed an ingenious plan to fool the Indians into thinking that part of the line had bolted and to thus draw them into that part of the circle. The men who had feigned retreat would then surround and attack the Indians. The plan worked perfectly; the Indians rushed into the weakened line and were quickly routed by the very men who had ‘retreated.’ Having no time even to reload, the Indians were thoroughly dispersed and chased back into the forest for two miles.” Col. Henry Bouquet and his men were able to continue on their way to Fort Pitt.

The British victory at the Battle of Bushy Run halted Indian hostilities; it also allowed courageous settlers to return to their farmlands, of which at least fifteen hundred had been evacuated. Col. Henry Bouquet – a brilliant military commander known for his keen analytical abilities – had arrived at Fort Pitt in time to quash further Indian attacks. “Bushy Run was no small skirmish in the wilderness,” Anderson wrote, “from the standpoint of results achieved or even from the standpoint of troops involved in open encounter in that day and age. It was a major victory – a decisive battle – in quelling the 1763 Indian upris­ing.”

On each day of the Battle of Bushy Run, Bouquet wrote a letter to General Amherst describing the day’s activities. The letter written on the sec­ond day of battle, August 6, provides his spellbinding eyewitness account.

I had the honour to inform your Excellency in my Letter of yesterday of our First Engagement with the Savages.

We took Post last night on the Hill where our Convoy halted when the Front was attacked / a commodius Piece of ground, & just Spacious enough for our Purpose/ There we encircled the whole & covered our wounded with the Flour Bags.

In the morining the Savages Surrounded our Camp, at the distance of about 500 yards, & by Shouting and yelping quite round at that extensive Circumference thought to have terrified us with their numbers: They attacked us early, mid under Favour of an incessant Fire, made Several bold Efforts to penetrate our Camp, and tho’ they failed in the at­tempt, our Situation was not the less perplexing, having experi­enced that brisk attacks had little Effect upon an enemy who always gave way when pressed, and appeared again immediately. Our Troops were besides extremely fatigued with the long march, and as lo11g action of the preceding Day, and distressed to the last Degree by a total want of Water, much more intolerable than the Enemy’s fire.

Tied to our Convoy we could not lose Sight of it without expos­ing it & our wounded to fall a Prey to the Savages, who pressed upon us on and most of the Driv­ers stupified by Fear, hid them­selves in the Bushes, or were incapable of hearing or obeying any Orders.

The Savages growing every moment more audacious it was thought proper Still to increase their Confidence; by that means, if possible, to intice them to come close upon us, or to Stand their ground when attacked. With this View two Companies of Light Infantry were ordered within the Circle, & lite Troops on their right and lefft opened their Files and filled up the Space; that it might Seem that they were intended to cover the Retreat. The third Light Infantry Company, and the Grenadiers of the 42d were ordered to Support the two first Companies. This manoeuvre Succeeded to our Wish, for the few Troops who took Possession of the ground lately occupied by the Two Light Infan­try Companies, being brought in nearer to the Center of the Circle, The Barbarians mistaking these motions for a Retreat hurried headlong on, and advancing upon us with the most daring intrepid­ity galled us excessively with their heavy Fire; but at the very mo­ment that certain of Success, they thought themselves Masters of the Camp, Major Campbell at the head of the two first Companies Sallied out, from a Part of the Hill they could not observe, and fell upon their right Rank. They resolutely returned the Fire, but could not Stand the irresistible Schock of our Men, who rushing in among them, killed many of them, and put the rest to Flight. The Orders Sent to the other two Companies were delivered so timely by Captain Basset, & executed with such celerity and Spirit that the routed Savages, who happened to run the moment before their Front, received their full Fire, when uncovered by the Trees. The four Companies did not give them time to load a Second time, nor even to look behind them, but pursued them till they were totally dispersed. The last of the Savages, which had not been attacked, were kept in awe by the Remains of our Troops posted on the Brow of the Hill for that Purpose: nor durst they attempt to support, or assist their Right, but being witness to their Defeat, followed their Example and fled.

Our brave Men disdained so much to touch the Body of a vanquished Enemy that scarce a Scalp was taken, except by the Rangers & Pack Horse Drivers.

The woods being naw cleared and the Pursuit over, the four Companies took possession of a Hill in our Front, and as soon as Litters could be made for the wounded, and the Flour and every thing destroyed, which for want of horses could not be carried, we marched without molestation to this Camp. After the Severe Cor­rection we had given the Savages a few hours before, it was natural to Suppose we Should enjoy Some Rest; but we had hardly fixed our Camp when they fired upon us again; This was Provoking! How­ever the Light Infantry dispersed them before they could receive Orders for that Purpose. I hope we Shall no more be disturbed, for if we have another Action, we shall hardly be able to carry our wounded.

The behaviour of the Troops on this Occasion Speaks for itself So Strongly, that for me to attempt their Eulogium would but detract from their merit.

More than two centuries later, Bouquet’s stirring ac­count still reverberates with the excitement of a hard won victory. As a monument to the valiant commander and his brave soldiers, the site of the Battle of Bushy Run is pro­tected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Com­mission. Marking the turning point in Pontiac’s War, as well as deciding the territorial fate of the frontier, the Battle of Bushy Run is interpreted for visitors to the one hundred and eighty-three acre historic site in Westmoreland County.

In spite of the Indian hostilities and boundary disputes­ – the contest for the possession of the Westmoreland region between the Dominion of Virginia and the Colony of Pennsylvania (whose claims were supported by Arthur St. Clair) ended only with the Revolutionary War – settlers re­turned to the vast wilderness area and pioneers slowly be­gan clearing the dense forests for farmsteads. Because resi­dents refused to return to Hannastown after its destruc­tion by the Indians, Greens­burg, named the county seat in 1787, began to grow stead­ily. The site, originally owned by Col. Christopher Trueby and Gen. William Jack, was laid out not long after the burning of Hannastown, and the settlement was officially incorporated as a borough in February 1799. Little did Sher­man Day realize that Greens­burg would become an extremely busy and bustling community with the opening of coal mines in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when he described the village in 1843 as “one of those tran­quil places that contains little of historical incident. Its growth has been gradual, corresponding to the progress of the surrounding agricultural region: having no manufactur­ing facilities, and in mercantile business obliged to compete with a number of similar towns, it will probably not increase with great rapidity.”

Greensburg, much like many surrounding communi­ties in Westmoreland County, did prosper and grow, despite Day’s gloomy prophesy. Not only was Jeannette well known for its proximity to the Bushy Run Battlefield, but for its glass-making houses as well. Monessen for its highly re­fined steel products. Vander­grift for its sheet iron. And Overton for its distilling opera­tions.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, West­moreland County echoed the development of industry and transportation systems in the Commonwealth. Yet much of the excitement of its history has been derived from the role it played in the settlement of the western frontier, a role that countians can truly treasure. They can also remember those who helped make the area a welcome – and safe – haven: Arthur St. Clair, Henry Bou­quet, William Crawford, Rob­ert Hanna, and the early pioneers who braved both isolation and uncertainty to open Pennsylvania’s last fron­tier.

Welcome to Westmoreland County. Welcome to the west­ern frontier.


For Further Reading

Albert, George Dallas, ed. His­tory of the County of West­moreland, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Company, 1882.

Anderson, Niles. The Battle of Bushy Run. Harrisburg: Penn­sylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1991.

Bomberger, C. M. A Short His­tory of Westmoreland County. Jeannette, Pa.: Jeannette Publish­ing Company, 1941.

____. Brush Creek Tales. Jeannette, Pa.: Jeannette Publish­ing Company, 1950.

Boucher, John N. History of Westmoreland County, Penn­sylvania. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.

Buck, Solon J. and Elizabeth Buck. The Planting of Civiliza­tion in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: University of Pitts­burgh Press, 1969.

Ferguson, Russell J. Early West­ern Pennsylvania Politics. Pittsburgh: University of Pitts­burgh Press, 1938.

Foley, Helene M. and Marion L, Berger. This is Murrysville. Murrysville, Pa.: Woman’s Club of Murraysville, 1959.

Gregg, James. The History of Greensburg. Greensburg, Pa.: Greensburg Sesqui-Centennial Corporation, 1949.

Gresham, John M., ed. Bio­graphical and Historical Cy­clopedia of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Phila­delphia: John M. Gresham and Company, 1890.

Harpster, John W., ed. Pen Pic­tures of Early Western Pennsyl­vania. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1938.

Hassler, Edgar W. Old West­moreland: A History of West­ern Pennsylvania During the Revolution. Pittsburgh: J. R. Weldin and Company, 1900.

Kent, Donald H. The French Invasion of Western Pennsyl­vania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commis­sion, 1981.


Michael J. O’Malley III is editor of this magazine.