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History of Venango County PA

Transcribed by Nancy Piper


Fort Franklin Erected - Indian Depredations - Ransom's Deposition - Ellicott's Letter - Adlum's Testimony - McDowell's Statement - Cornplanter's Attitude - Location of Fort Franklin - The "Old Garrsion" - Suggestive Reflections

The country had been abandoned by civilization for years, and the Indian hunted at his own sweet will; but a change had come over the county. The Revolutionary war had left the country in the hands of the Americans, and the government would encourage emigration and settlement; for this purpose protection must be extended to settlers. So in the spring of 1787, Captain Jonathan Hart, with a company of United States soldiers, was sent up the river from Pittsburgh to erect a third fort, for the protection of possible settlers. This work was simply a stockade as a defense against Indians.

A new site was selected, passing by both the French and English positions. Singularly enough, this time, the ground chosen was on the south bank of French creek, just above the upper bridge. It was on the face of the bluff. Elbow street runs through it, and it is nearer Thirteenth than Fourteenth.

This was Fort Franklin, that afterward gave the name to the town. It was not a very formidable work, being about one hundred feet square, with the invariable bastions at the angles and surrounded by pickets set in the ground , some sixteen feet high. Inside of this was a ditch. A ditch was also run along the line of the bluff overlooking the creek, that was designed to serve the purpose of the modern rifle pit.

An interesting account of the fort is found in the "Military Journal" of Major Ebenezer Denny. Under date of April 10, 1787, the following entry appears:

"Fort Harmar, mouth of Muskingum river …….Captain Hart ordered to proceed with his company to a place called Venango on the Allegheny river, about one hundred and fifty miles above Pittsburgh, there to erect a suitable work."

In the spring of 1788 General Harmar made a tour of inspection of the western posts, arriving at Venango on the 3rd of May. Of this visit the journal gives the following particulars:

3rd. About eight o'clock this morning, after passing one island, we entered the mouth of French creek. The fort stands half a mile up. Several miles below we were discovered by some Indians, who cut across and gave notice to Captain Hart of our approach. The arrival of General Harmar was announced with seven rounds of a six pounder from the fort. Very kindly received by the captain and Lieutenant Frothingham, at the head of their command. The company reviewed and dismissed. Spent the day in examining Captain Hart's work, viewing the adjacent country and the old fortifications of the French and British. There is a fine flat of good land here, altogether on the lower side of French creek, but sufficient for several farms, the only flat land from Mahoning or Mogulbughtition up …. Captain Hart's fort, or Fort Franklin as it is called, is built precisely after the plan of the one which had been erected by the British, called Venango. It is a square redoubt, with a blockhouse three stories high in the center; stands better than half a mile up French creek, upon very good ground, but the situation, in my opinion, is by no means so eligible as that of old Venango, built by the English. The last work stood upon a commanding ground pretty close to the bank of the Allegheny, half a mile below French creek and a mile from Fort Franklin. The cellar wall and huge stack of chimneys of the blockhouse are of stone and are yet quite entire. The parapet and some other parts remain perfect, and the whole work might have been rebuilt with half the labor and expense of that built by Hart. The only reason the captain could offer for taking new ground was the convenience of timber.

It probably served its purpose, and was a place where the earliest settlers could resort, in case of attack from the Indians. In fact, in 1791, when trouble seemed imminent, the people of Meadville sent their women and children to Fort Franklin for shelter and protection.

Among those who fled from Mead's settlement to Fort Franklin at that time was Darius Mead, father of General David Mead, the founder of Meadville. He engaged in cultivating a piece of bottom land not far from the fort, and while one day plowing in his field he was taken prisoner by Captain Bull, a Delaware chief, and a companion, who professed to be friendly Indians, and hurried off through the forest. The following day his body, and also Bull's, were found near Shanango creek, in Mercer county, by Conewyando, a friendly Seneca, who sent his daughter to Fort Franklin to notify Mead's family. The officer in command sent two soldiers to bury the body. The found Mead and Bull close together, and from appearances it was belieed that during the night Mead got possession of Bull's knife and killed him, and after a fierce struggle was in turn killed by the chief's companion.

There is reason to think that in the year 1794 a plan was concocted to destroy all the white settlers in Venango County. But there was then no mighty genius like Pontiac. Cornplanter was the great man, but he hesitated to inaugurate such a scheme, and was even opposed to it, in all probability. His people, however, were hostile and jealous of the increasing power of the whites. Major Denny writes that "he had no doubt but that a plan was formed to destroy all the posts and settlements in this quarter."

In a deposition of Daniel Ransom, dated June 11, 1794, he states "that the Standing Stone, a chief of the Onondagas, also informed him at Fort Franklin that he thought the times would soon be bad, and pressed him very much to leave Fort Franklin, and assist him in packing up his goods, etc., that from what he had seen and heard from other Indians, he has every reason to believe that account to be true; that seven white men came down the Allegheny a few days ago to Fort Franklin, who informed him that the Indians appeared very surly, and had not planted any corn on the river at their towns."

On June 29th, Andrew Ellicott writes in regard to Fort Franklin:

On my arrival, the place appeared to be in such a defenseless condition, that, with the concurrence of Captain Denny, and the officer* commanding at the fort, we remained there some time, and employed the troops in rendering it more tenable. It may now be considered as defensible, provided the number of men is increased. The garrison, at present, consists of twenty-five men, one-half of whom are unfit for duty, and it is my opinion that double that number would not be more than sufficient, considering the importance of the safety of the settlement on French creek.

It is probable that outside Indians in western New York were trying to force this issue upon Cornplanter, but he resisted and ultimately became the friend and ally of the white people. Only about one hundred men were stationed here at any time, and it is not strange that fears were felt, not only for the people of the country, but for the safety of the fort itself. Eighty-seven soldiers had been the original number sent up from Fort Pitt, and there were over a dozen who came in the position of laborers, or adventurers in general. These soldiers brought their sustenance with them, yet there must have been some communication by the river, as supplies must be renewed from time to time. Yet there is no evidence that this communication was at any time cut off, or the movements of the camp interfered with by the Indians.

And yet withal it is evident from all the account we have that the year 1794 was considered a year of great danger. Nor is it clear that Cornplanter was not at that time involved in the plan for the forcing of the issues of war on the white settlers. We have a letter from John Adlum to Governor Mifflin, dated Fort Franklin, August 31, 1794, from which we make these extracts. **

He [Cornplanter] laughs at the idea of our keeping the posts, either at Le Boeuf or the mouth of French creek, should there be war; for, he says, it is not possible for us to supply them with provisions, as they will constantly have partied along the river and path to cut off all supplies, and that we soon would be obliged to run away from them. I don't know how far it may operate in our favor should General Wayne be successful to the westward; but it appears to me that war is inevitable, and, I think, Captain Brandt has a very great hand in it, and his policy is to get the whole of the Six Nations on the north side of the lakes, as it will make him the more consequential, for, at present, there is but a small number of them there. The Cornplanter desired me to give notice that it was unnecessary to send any more provisions to Le Boeuf, as they would soon have to leave it.

The son of the Black Chief at the Cornplanter's Town made me a present of a hog while I was there, and the morning before I came away. Half Town informed me he had dreamed that I made a feast, and dance with it; and as it is a general custom to give the Indians what they dream of (provided they are not too extravagant), and I wish for an opportunity to get the sentiments of the Indians generally, I told him he must have it, and superintend the feast, and that I would buy another, that the whole town might partake.

It is the custom of the Indians, at such times, to set up post and strike it, and brag of the feats they have done, or those they intend. Some of the old chiefs were very delicate, and only told of their feats against the Cherokees, as they said they might injure my feelings if they mentioned anything concerning the whites; others wished General Washington would not grant their request, that they might have one more opportunity of showing their bravery and expertness in war against us.

The Cornplanter bragged often, and appeared to speak as if war was certain. In one of his brags he gave me a pair of moccasins, saying as he addressed himself to me: "It is probable we shall have war very soon. I wish every person to do their duty to their country, and expect you will act your part as becomes a man; and I see your moccasins are nearly worn out. I give you this pair to put on when you come to fight us" I took them and thanked him, and said I would reserve them for that purpose. Du Quania, who headed the party of Indians from the north side of the lakes, in one of his brags said, that he was always an enemy to the Americans; that he served the king last war, and when peace was concluded he moved over the lakes, which some said was through fear. "But," says he, "you see it is not so, for I still love the king and hate the Americans, and now that there is like to be danger, you see me here to fact it." The Indians in general seemed to wish me to suppose that the British had no hand in the present business, but from several things they related to me, it appeared plain that they are at the bottom of it.

*Captain Heath

** Second Series, Pennsylvania Archives, pages 765-767

In the deposition of Colonel Alexander McDowell, takne by the Holland Land Company, we find strong confirmation of Adlum's statement, He says:

In June, 1793, I was appointed deputy surveyor of district No. 7, west of the Ohio and Allegheny rivers and Conewango creek in Allegheny county.

In July, 1794, I set out from Frankstown, where I then resided - prepared to execute all warrants that were entered with me, and went the length of Colonel Charles Campgbell's on Black, where I met with a Mr. Jones, who had been employed by John Adlum to purchase and forward provisions for his use.

Mr. Jones informed me that the Indians, about three days before, had attacked a boat or boats, going down the Kiskaminitas, and had killed one man, and wounded two other persons. Also, that the Indians had killed two men about twenty miles south of Fort Franklin, on the road leading from Franklin to Pittsburgh, and that he thought It unsafe to go any farther. I then returned to Frankstown and staid (stayed) until August, where Mr. John Adlum called on me to go out to the district to survey. I accordingly went out to Fort Franklin, met Mr. Adlum, and after remaining there a few days, I set out to the district to survey. During the time I was in the woods I was informed that the Indians had fired on a man (James Dickson) near Cassawago, now Meadville. Also that they killed a soldier belonging to Captain Heath's company, who commanded at Fort Franklin.

As the Indians appeared ill-natured and much dissatisfied, on the 7th or 8th day of September, 1794, John Adlum (who had been at Cornplanter Town to find out how the Indians were disposed), sent out a man of the name of Smith and an Indian to inform me that Cornplanter and his Indians were determined to go to war, and that Cornplanter requested him to send word to all the surveyors who were in the woods to quit surveying before the 13th of September, or they might expect to be attacked. Finding it impossible to attempt surveying any more, owing to the hostile disposition of the Indians, I accordingly left the woods and returned to Fort Franklin, where I found Captain Heath, the commanding officer, expected to be attacked, and the few inhabitants who resided in that place much alarmed.

On the 20th of September we left Fort Franklin. In June, 1795, I returned to the fort in order to resume surveying. When I got opposite the mouth of French creek, on the east side of the Allegheny river, and not more than one mile from Fort Franklin, I met a number of people who were in canoes, and appeared to be hastening down the Allegheny river. I inquired of them the cause of their going. They informed me they were going to Pittsburgh, alleging at the same time as their reason for so doing that they did not think it safe for them to remain in that country, as the hostile Indians had killed two men (James Findlay and Barnabas McCormick) in the neighborhood of Cassawago, now Meadville, and that the whole country was alarmed, which information I found to be true on my arrival at Fort Franklin, the people there being much alarmed notwithstanding there was a garrison kept at that place.

Finding it unsafe to set out to the woods I remained at Fort Franklin for some time until Messrs. Irvien and Ellicott, who were appointed to lay out the reserved towns of Franklin, Waterford, Erie and Warren would come forward knowing that they had fifty men with them to guard them while executing their appointment, expecting that when they would come forward it would have some effect to quiet the Indians, and in the same time I employed Nicholas Rosegrant (who understood the Indian language) to go to Cornplanter's Town to inform Cornplanter that I was authorized by the governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to survey the several tracts of land granted him by act of assembly. Cornplanter on hearing this information met me near Fort Franklin, and returned with me up the Allegheny river until I made all his surveys.

All the correspondence of that period shows that there was the greatest danger of precipitating a war in which the Six Nations would join in order to secure what they considered their right. But better counsels prevailed. The time passed by without any open attacks and matters began to assume a peaceful attitude.

Neither does it appear that any communication by land proved to be dangerous. The danger was more of a threatening character than from any real outbreak. If there was any determination to attack the settlement, it was probably by detached portions of the Indians here and there, without any qualified leader to direct the movement and give it effect.

Cornplanter evidently was not satisfied, yet he was too well acquainted with the numbers and resources of the white man to think of any organized resistance. His knowledge of the feelings of his people induced him to give the whites a word of warning at times, but there is no evidence that he meditated an attack upon the fort, or on the people.

The location of Fort Franklin was somewhat remarkable. It was not even in sight of the river, and was distant from the mouth of French creek. Its location was such that it could only cover the creek and at the same time overlook the path that led from Fort Pitt to Le Boeuf. This path crossed the creek a few rods below the fort, where there was good fording and an easy ascent of the opposite bank. The fort was occupied for nine years, or until 1796, when a new and more sensible selection was made and a new fortification, subsequently called the "Old Garrison," was erected near the mouth of the creek.

In the meantime arrangements were being made for the settlement of the country. General William Irvine and Andrew Ellicott, with an escort of fifty men, were sent up from Pittsburg in the summer of 1795 to protect surveyors and at the same time lay out a town at the junction of French creek and the Allegheny river. Changes had likewise taken place in the situation of affairs arising from treaties with the Indians in the Northwest. Dangers there might be from Indians, but it would be from predatory parties and not by any organized effort.

The old fort was dismantled as the new one was occupied, and in time its pickets fell, its ditch filled up, and the citizens of the new town took the stone of the large chimneys to assist in the construction of their dwellings. Time and the spirit of improvement have now swept away the last vestige of old Fort Franklin. Its position can only be learned from the map and the recorded history of the times.

The "Old Garrison" was the fourth fortress that was erected for defense. The site was changed again and to a more sensible locality. This was just at the mouth of French creek were there would be a view of both creek and river. It was built in 1796. The location was down in the bottom near the foot of Tenth street, near the creek. The site is now covered with water, with no landmarks to locate it, and will soon be referred to only by tradition. The building had no high-sounding name, but was always known as the "Old Garrison." It was a strong wooden building without ditch or bastions or embrasure. In plain language, it was a log house, strongly built, and well fortified. It was a story and a half high and thirty by thirty-six feet square. Outside it had the invariable line of pickets to avoid being surprised by the Indians. These pickets were simply small, round logs set in the ground close together and from ten to fifteen feet in length. In this the government kept troops stationed from the time of its erection until 1799, when all apprehension of trouble with the Indians having subsided, they were withdrawn, and the infant town was left to it own resources for defense against the savages, who were now on friendly terms and desirous only of trade and traffic.

But the "Old Garrison" was not dismantled or left to fall into decay for many years. It there were no longer enemies among the red men, there were among civilized men. There were in the new settlement men who needed to be restrained and punished. So it was resolved to utilize the "Old Garrison for jail purposes. It was well fitted for that use after strong iron bars had been fixed to the windows and other arrangements made for the security of the inmates. Before, the object had been to keep people out and at a safe distance; now it was to keep them within until wanted elsewhere. The county was organized in 1805. At that date a jail was needed, and the "Old Garrison" was brought into requisition for this purpose. It was so used until 1819, when the jail was built on the South park. During a part of this time it was occupied by Captain George Fowler, an Englishman, who had cast in his lot with this country after the Revolutionary war. He had been a good soldier of Britain, but after the strife was ended became a good citizen of the United States. At this time he was acting as justice of the pease, trying causes as they came before him, and probably performing the duties of jailor when there were prisoners in limbo. After this the work of dilapidation commenced. The small boy held his revels there; the elements beat upon it; the high waters of the creek encroached on its foundations, and it was overthrown and buried in ruin. Like all sublunary things, it lost its usefulness and fell out in the rapid march of time, as the thickly coming events demanded better service and improvements.

These old military works are but memories now and will soon be but dim traditions. But they tell of growth and progress. They remind us of the dangers and perils through which the country passed from the wilderness to the civilized land. They suggest to us the stern, enterprising fiber of the men of those early times, who pushed their way out into the forest in the fact of privation and sacrifice and prepared to do stern battle with the savage in maintaining their rights. They remind us of the struggle between ancient foes, England and France, that began here, and ultimately shook all Europe; and how, for one hundred years great principles were discussed on the field of battle by the stern arbitrament of the sword, finally resulting in a better government and a higher type of society.

{Source:  History of Venango County Pennsylvania : its past and present, including its aboriginal history, the French and British occupation of the country, its early settlement and subsequent growth, a description of its historic and interesting localities, its rich oil deposits and their development, sketches of its cities, boroughs, townships, and villages, neighborhood and family history, portraits and biographies of pioneers and representative citizens, statistics, etc., etc.. Chicago, Ill.: Brown, Runk & Co., 1890. Chapter VII, Pages 61-67]

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