the 17th century, the land at the fork of the Allegheny, Monongahela
and Ohio Rivers was a wilderness crossroads were Native Americans traded
furs with French and British frontiersman. It was well recognized as
a strategic spot, however.
England were struggling to establish an empire in North America. France
claimed the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and the rivers that flowed
into it. The were extracting great profits from fur trade with the Indians.
The British had settled the East Coast, but colonists were coveting
the land and fur trade west of the daunting Allegheny Mountains. With
a short over-land portage from Lake Erie to French Creek, the French
had an all-water route through the continent. They established forts
along their interior waterway -- the Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi
Rivers -- to keep British settlers from overrunning their land.
Virginians had discovered the rich mineral resources west of the mountains
and were preparing to settle and develop it. Conflict was inevitable,
and it centered on the land that would become Pittsburgh. Whomever controlled
this river post would control the people and the commerce that depended
on it--the Mississippi Valley and all its tributaries; in other words,
the entire middle of the continent.
prized site that came to be Pittsburgh was chosen by one of the nation's
greatest heroes. George
Washington served his first military duty at the "Forks
of the Ohio" in 1755, when he was just 23, while scouting for Virginia's
Ohio Land Company. He declared the site "extremely well-situated
for a fort, having command of both rivers" and left a tiny group
of men to build Fort Prince George for the British. In 1755 the
French descended on the fort by canoe and captured it without bloodshed
(the small garrison could see they were clearly out-numbered!). They
built a stronger Fort Duquesne, a title it held for three years. After
several failed attempts to cross the mountains with a big enough army
to recapture the Forks, the British finally took possession again in
1758. Again, no blood was shed: the treaty ending the French
and Indian War was signed in Europe, so the French simply abandoned
their Fort after setting it on fire. This time to firmly establish their
control, the British built a then state-of-the-art fort, Fort Pitt,
named in honor of William
Pitt, the Prime Minister of England. The small village of "Pittsborough"
soon grew around Fort Pitt.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks
Redoubt, more commonly known as the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, was
added on to Fort Pitt in 1763. It is the only surviving piece
of the fort and the oldest building still standing in Pittsburgh.
Fort Pitt, which covered most of the area now known as Point State
Park, was the third fort built at the Point during the French
and Indian War.
In the late
1700's Western Pennsylvania's main business was agriculture. At first
the farmers who first broke the land were limited to subsistence farming--in
which farmers were only able to produce enough to feed their own families.
Gradually they began to produce a surplus, which could be bartered for
other goods. The population was well-distributed throughout the countryside.
In 1796, Pittsburgh itself still only had a population of 300, many
of them skilled craftsmen who took the raw materials produced by the
region's farmers and turned them into new goods for Pittsburgh merchants
to sell. Wool became cloth, livestock provided the materials for everything
from meat to leather to lard, and grain was used to make alcohol.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks
of Pittsburgh in 1796, commissioned by French General Victor Collot.
French Minister to the U.S., as part of his report on the western
part of the new nation.
that alcohol became the focal point of a conflict considered to be the
first true test of the newly formed United States of America. President
George Washington -- that same soldier who recognized the significance
of the land at the Forks of Ohio when he was just 23 -- headed a new
Federal government that had the power to levy taxes on its citizens.
However, the first tax that was created was on whiskey, which didn't
please Western Pennsylvania farmers at all, since producing whiskey
was their most profitable way to ship grain. Tensions escalated due
to the fact that farmers often traded their whiskey for other goods,
a system known as "bartering." Payment for whiskey might take
the shape of a new horse, a rifle, or farming equipment.
cash profits were one thing, argued the farmers, but how could the government
collect taxes on a percentage of bartered goods? The farmers marched
to protest the tax that they didn't have the cash to pay, and George
Washington facing his first real challenge as President
responded by sending troops to Pittsburgh to enforce the tax laws. The
episode became known as the Whiskey Rebellion, and is recorded
throughout history books as the first major challenge to the Constitution
of the United States.
Collection of Susan Donley
post card from the early 1900s shows an early log house that still
standing on Penn Avenue. Until the 1800s, most of Pittsburgh's
buildings were constructed of logs.
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