eorge Washington, the Father of his Country, is equally the Father of Pittsburgh, for he came thither in November, 1753, and established the location of the now imperial city by choosing it as the best place for a fort. Washington was then twenty-one years old. He had by that time written his precocious one hundred and ten maxims of civility and good behavior; had declined to be a midshipman in the British navy; had made his only sea-voyage to Barbados; had surveyed the estates of Lord Fairfax, going for months into the forest without fear of savage Indians or wild beasts; and was now a major of Virginia militia. In pursuance of the claim of Virginia that she owned that part of Pennsylvania in which Pittsburgh is situated, Washington came there as the agent of Governor Dinwiddie to treat with the Indians. With an eye alert for the dangers of the wilderness, and with Christopher Gist beside him, the young Virginian pushed his cautious way to "The Point" of land where the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers forms the Ohio. That, he declared, with clear military instinct, was the best site for a fort; and he rejected the promontory two miles below, which the Indians had recommended for that purpose. Washington made six visits to the vicinity of Pittsburgh, all before his presidency, and on three of them (1753, 1758, and 1770), he entered the limits of the present city. At the time of despatching the army to suppress the whisky insurrection, while he was President, in 1794, he came toward Pittsburgh as far as Bedford, and then, after planning the march, returned to Philadelphia. His contact with the place was, therefore, frequent, and his information always very complete. There is a tradition, none the less popular because it cannot be proved, which ascribes to Washington the credit of having suggested the name of Pittsburgh to General Forbes when the place was captured from the French. However this may be, we do know that Washington was certainly present when the English flag was hoisted and the city named Pittsburgh, on Sunday, November 26, 1758. And at that moment Pittsburgh became a chief bulwark of the British Empire in America.II
As early as 1728, a daring hunter or trader found the Indians at the head waters of the Ohio,—among them the Delawares, Shawanese, Mohicans, and Iroquois,—whither they tracked the bear from their village of Logstown, seventeen miles down the river. They also employed the country roundabout as a highway for their march to battle against other tribes, and against each other. At that time France and England were disputing for the new continent. France, by right of her discovery of the Mississippi, claimed all lands drained by that river and its tributaries, a contention which would naturally plant her banner upon the summit of the Alleghany Mountains. England, on the other hand, claimed everything from ocean shore to ocean shore. This situation produced war, and Pittsburgh became the strategic key of the great Middle West. The French made early endeavors to win the allegiance of the Indians, and felt encouraged to press their friendly overtures because they usually came among the red men for trading or exploration, while the English invariably seized and occupied their lands. In 1731 some French settlers did attempt to build a group of houses at Pittsburgh, but the Indians compelled them to go away. The next year the governor of Pennsylvania summoned two Indian chiefs from Pittsburgh to say why they had been going to see the French governor at Montreal; and they gave answer that he had sent for them only to express the hope that both English and French traders might meet at Pittsburgh and carry on trade amicably. The governor of Pennsylvania sought to induce the tribes to draw themselves farther east, where they might be made to feel the hand of authority, but Sassoonan, their chief, forbade them to stir. An Iroquois chief who joined his entreaties to those of the governor was soon afterward killed by some Shawanese braves, but they were forced to flee into Virginia to escape the vengeance of his tribe.
Louis Celeron, a French officer, made an exploration of the country contiguous to Pittsburgh in 1747, and formally enjoined the governor of Pennsylvania not to occupy the ground, as France claimed its sovereignty. A year later the Ohio Company was formed, with a charter ceding an immense tract of land for sale and development, including Pittsburgh. This corporation built some storehouses at Logstown to facilitate their trade with the Indians, which were captured by the French, together with skins and commodities valued at 20,000 francs; and the purposes of the company were never accomplished.III
Washington's first visit to Pittsburgh occurred in November, 1753, while he was on his way to the French fort at Leboeuff. He was carrying a letter from the Ohio Company to Contrecœur, protesting against the plans of the French commander in undertaking to establish a line of forts to reach from Lake Erie to the mouth of the Ohio River. The winter season was becoming very severe, in despite of which Washington and Gist were forced to swim with their horses across the Allegheny River....