Prelude to Independence: Unrest in the Ohio Country

With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French and Indian War had formally come to a close, but conflict and violence continued to abound on the frontier.  With its defeat, France had ceded all of its holdings in North America to Great Britain.  However, King Louis XV’s negotiators had not consulted their Native American allies in crafting the Treaty, and powerful indigenous peoples such as the Iroquois Nations, Shawnee and other tribes maintained their territorial claims throughout the Ohio Country; a vast, unsettled and exceptionally fruitful hunting ground encompassing much of present day Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

While the English Crown at first tried to close the Ohio Country to further settlement (via the Royal Proclamation of 1763), frontiersman from the Pennsylvania and Virginia colonies continued to push into the region, and increasingly came into contact and conflict with the indigenous populace.  Clashes between the native peoples and settlers grew increasingly violent and numerous, once again resulting in bloodshed and unrest across the region.

In an attempt to de-escalate tensions, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix was negotiated and signed in 1768 between Great Britain and the Iroquois Nations, intended to settle outstanding land claims, finalize the boundaries of the Ohio Country, and formally delineate between Indian Lands and British colonial settlements.  Each of the six Iroquois Nations signed the treaty, hoping that the release of the lands in the Ohio Country would alleviate and deflect settlement pressure and colonial encroachment away from their home territories in New York and Pennsylvania.  In contrast to the Iroquois, Algonquin-speaking tribes such as the Shawnee and Mingos - traditional adversaries of the Iroquois – did not participate in the treaty, instead choosing to separately maintain their claims and strongly contest the escalating colonial intrusions and growing settlements.

With the stage set, a new round of conflict erupted in the Ohio Country, especially the region running along and to the south of the Ohio River, including the northern portion of modern day West Virginia.  Despite the signing of the new treaty in 1768, tensions continued to flare and intensify, as Shawnee hunting parties and colonial settlers collided with increased frequency.  By the 1770s, hostilities had escalated to near war footing.  Throughout this turbulent period, names made prominent in later years would slowly emerge for the first time, including Daniel Boone, Chief Cornstalk and George Rogers Clark, among others.  In addition, past visitors of the Ohio Country would make return appearances, including a rising colonial leader, George Washington.

By 1774, the Governor of Virginia, John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, would organize and lead a multi-pronged expedition into the contested area, headquartered and launched from Fort Pitt.  Lord Dunmore’s War, as it became known, would end in defeat for the Shawnee and Mingo forces at the Battle of Point Pleasant in October, 1774.  While the battle would bring an end to Dunmore’s War, within six months the entirety of the North American continent and all thirteen colonies would be plunged into open rebellion and war with King George.

A living history event titled, “Prelude to Independence – Unrest in the Ohio Country” will be held at the Fairgrounds in Cochranton, Pennsylvania on Saturday, July 11 and Sunday, July 12, 2020. An acclaimed group of authors, historians, re-enactors and living historians will stage two full days of presentations and exhibits to explore this pivotal time period and the events that happened both in western Pennsylvania and throughout the Ohio Country.

The event - set to run from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on Saturday, and 9:00 am to 3:00pm on Sunday - will feature an assortment of presentations, artifact displays and living history demonstrations. The central feature of the grounds on both Saturday and Sunday will be the speaker’s tent.  The programs will cover a variety of topics relating to the 1764-1774 period, including a background of the region’s inhabitants, underlying tensions, and competing claims to the region, as well as Lord Dunmore’s War. 
An assortment of exhibitors will be included on the grounds, including members of the Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology and the local French Creek Archaeological Society that will display and discuss 18th Century artifacts unearthed in the region.  A variety of demonstrations including military drill, flint knapping and blacksmithing by members of the Augusta County Militia, French Creek Living History Association and and other re-enactment and historical groups will provide educational and entertaining activities for all members of the family. A variety of period “sutlers” will demonstrate crucial trade skills of the period, including forging, tinsmithing and fur trading.

Other activities during the event will include a waterborne expedition, with a group of colonial and Native American re-enactors paddling down French Creek. Coming ashore near the junction of Sugar Creek, where they will establish military encampments and foraging camps. These camps will be open to the public and visitors will have an opportunity to observe and experience the lifestyle and hardships of the period.  For those with an interest in the field of Archaeology, Mercyhurst University’s Anthropology and Archaeology Department will conduct a series of “dig boxes” for the aspiring artifact hunters, as well as provide demonstrations of the modern procedures and technologies used to rediscover the past.

The event is open to the public, and attendance and parking will be free. Primary parking will be at the Cochranton Junior-Senior High School. Food and beverages will be available for purchase throughout the day on Saturday at the Fairgrounds.  The event’s sponsors and participants are hopeful that the event’s activities will be truly interesting and engaging for the public, and are excited about the prospects for what is becoming an annual event in our community and region.

The French Creek Heritage Event is a project of the Cochranton Area Redevelopment Effort (CARE), working in conjunction with the Fort LeBoeuf Museum, to promote the longstanding and deep heritage of the French Creek watershed. This event will showcase not only the local history but promote the unique natural resource that French Creek is to the entire region. Throughout its history, French Creek has played a pivotal role in the growth and development of the northwest Pennsylvania, affording the region an astonishingly rich heritage and a place in history that deserves to be celebrated. This event has features that will not only entertain and educate but provide a unique opportunity for discovery for all ages.