Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



Historic Maps
February 2, 2017



The most recent addition to the Bridgeville Area Historical Society archives is a collection of four large historical maps of Pennsylvania, donated by Dana Spriggs, a donation greatly appreciated especially by me. Being a Civil Engineer and surveyor and possessing an MOS (military occupational specialty) of cartographic draftsman, I am thrilled by every map I see and particularly old maps of this region.

The first map has a title in French, “La Pensilvanie, en trois Feuilles”. I think “trois Feuilles” refers to its size – three sheets. The print Dana sent is about twenty four inches high by forty eight inches wide; perhaps a sheet is sixteen inches by twenty four inches.

In a different spot a title in English states “A Map of Pennsylvania, exhibiting not only the improved parts of that province, but also its extensive frontiers: Laid down from actual surveys and chiefly from the late map of W. Scull published in 1770.” It goes on to document the fact that the map was produced for the benefit of the Penn family, proprietors and governors of the province.

Consequently this appears to be a pre-Revolutionary War map of the colony that eventually became the Keystone State. My continued interest in the Mason and Dixon Line immediately prompted me to look for the boundary between Pennsylvania and the Calvert colony of Maryland. Although the surveyors are not credited on this map, the boundary is indeed shown at the proper latitude – 39 degrees, 43 minutes, 20 seconds. It ends at the western border of Maryland; ignoring the additional survey beyond that point.

More significant of course is the fact that the sovereignty of what is now southwestern Pennsylvania is undefined. Also undefined is Pennsylvania’s northern border, the forty second parallel. In fact the map stops well below that latitude.

The map clearly shows Braddock’s Road from (Fort) Cumberland through Great Meadows to Dunbar’s Camp (near Uniontown) and on to “Guest’s” where it forked. One branch went west to Fort Burd and Redstone Creek (Brownsville). The other branch went on to Fort Pitt (designated “formerly Fort Duquesne”, crossing the Youghiogheny north of Connellsville before swinging to the northwest.

Braddock’s Field (“Champ” in French) and the Bushy Run site of Bouquet’s victory are also shown. Chartiers Creek is identified correctly. There is no other indication of life in this area except for a saw mill on what is now Saw Mill Run. The nearest Indian settlements are Sewickley’s Old Town and Chartier’s Old Town, up the Allegheny River near Oakmont.

The second map is entitled “Pennsylvania, entworfen von D. F. Sotzman” with a subtitle “Hamburg bey Carl Ernst Bohn, 1797.” Daniel Friederich Sotzmann was a prominent German mapmaker in the late 1800s; Herr Bohn ran a publishing firm in Hamburg. This map was one of their best-known products.

It is indeed a beauty. The legend (explanation or “erklarung” in German) is full of interesting detail. Roads varying from “Bridle Road” to “County Line” are each shown differently. All manner of colonial era industrial facilities are shown – forge (eisenhammer), grist mill (kornmuhle), saw mill (sagemuhle), etc., as well as Indian towns and Indian paths.

By 1797 Pennsylvania’s boundary disputes had all been resolved; the map shows the boundaries as they exist today, including “the Erie Triangle”, the portion of New York containing Presque Isle that we acquired in return for renouncing our claims to northeastern Ohio. In effect, we traded Cleveland for Erie.

In this part of the state the counties have been organized; the mapmaker calls them grafschafts, the German name for regions that have been the property of counts (grafs). The border between Greene (“Green” on the map) and Washington Counties is an east-west line, close to the irregular border that exists today. “Alleghany” County includes all the land north of the Ohio River and west of the Allegheny, all the way to Lake Erie.

The portion immediately north of the Ohio River and bounded by an east-west line several miles north of Butler is designated “Depreciation Lands”. The Depreciation Lands referred to tracts that were sold to raise money to underwrite depreciation certificates given to Revolutionary War soldiers who had received depreciated currency for pay, primarily men who had served in the Pennsylvania Line or the Pennsylvania Navy.

The rest of northwestern Pennsylvania was designated “Donation Lands”. These were tracts of land ranging from 250 acres to 500 acres that were awarded to Pennsylvanians who remained in the Continental Army or the Navy until the end of the Revolutionary War. Both the Depreciation Lands and the Donation Lands had been acquired from the Iroquois (Six Nations) as a result of the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. It is interesting that the area currently occupied by the (Seneca) Cornplanter Reservation is outlined on this map.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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