Bridgeville Remembered

Bridgeville in Pre-Colonial Times

By John F. Oyler

Bridgeville’s pre-history is dominated by two geological events that had a major influence on this area. First was the development of the Pittsburgh Seam, perhaps the most significant deposit of coal ever mined. It resulted from the positioning of the portion of the North American tectonic plate near the Equator several hundred million years ago. The lush tropical rain forest that prospered in those days deposited the organic matter that later was compressed into bituminous coal, the mining of which brought hundreds of workers to the Bridgeville area, transforming it from a sleepy rural village into a vibrant industrial community.

The second event was the last Ice Age, an age in which glaciers two miles high covered northwestern Pennsylvania and completely reorganized the river network in this area. Prior to the arrival of the glaciers all the rivers in this region flowed north, into an ancient sea in northern Canada. After the glaciers retreated, the current Ohio River system remained, providing an easy route for west-bound settlers in the early 1800s with Pittsburgh as the true “Gateway to the West”.

The earliest humans in this area were the primitive immigrants from Asia who left traces of their presence at the Meadowcroft Rock Shelter. Some archaeologists believe that these artifacts date back eighteen thousand years and are the oldest in the Americas.

Much later were the Monongahela People, whose artifacts from one thousand years ago were found on Gould City Hill in the 1920s when that neighborhood was developed. By the time the first Europeans arrived in the early 1700s there were few permanent Native American residents in this area. It was primarily a hunting ground for the “Woodland Indians”, administered by the Iroquois.

An important Indian path led from Catfish Camp (Washington, PA) to the forks of the Ohio; appropriately it was called Catfish Path. Logstown (Ambridge) was an important village and the headquarters of Half King, the Iroqois’ representative in this area.

In 1748 Celeron de Blainville led a French military contingent down the Allegheny and Ohio, establishing their claim to the Ohio Country. This was followed by an expedition in force in 1753 that established French forts at Presque Isle (Erie), Le Boeuf (Waterford), and Venango (Franklin). George Washington’s well publicized mission to Le Boeuf to dispute the French claim to this area was followed by his ill-fated Fort Necessity campaign the next year.

In 1755 General Edward Braddock led a large, well equipped army attempting to dislodge the French from the fort they had built at the forks of the Ohio, Fort du Quesne. They were decisively defeated by the French and their Indian allies at a site that now bears Braddock’s name.

Three years later General John Forbes led an equally large army from Carlisle to Raystown (Bedford) and then to Loyalhannon (Ligonier), building permanent forts at each site to support a final assault on Fort du Quesne. After a failed attempt by a detachment led by Major Grant and heated battles near Fort Ligonier, the pressure of Forbes’ campaign proved too great for the French, who decided to abandon the fort, and to send the Indians back to their homes in the Ohio country.

The English then built Fort Pitt, their most impressive fortification in North America, and firmly established their presence in this area. In response to the influx of settlers in their hunting grounds, the Indians, led by charismatic Ottowa chief Pontiac rebelled in 1763 and captured English forts throughout the Great Lakes region. Fort Pitt was subjected to siege and cut off from its supply lines to the East.

The siege was eventually broken by an army led by Colonel Henry Bouqet in a campaign that included a major victory at Bushy Run. Included in Bouquet’s army were many men who returned to this area as settlers when the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 made land here available. One of them was Christian Lesnett.

The Author

  • John Oyler's column,
    "Water Under The Bridge",
    appears weekly in the
    Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication.
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