The Burning of Hanna’s Town


History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Volume 1 (1906)

By John Newton Boucher

The Hannastown War
Burning of the County Seat
Destruction of Miller’s Blockhouse


Lochry’s Expedition(2)

The summer of 1782 was the gloomiest in our pioneer history. Many of our people did not pretend to do anything else than stand guard around the fields where others worked. The increased Indian hostility was due in part to the murder of the Moravian Indians(1) the year before. The enemy was also emboldened by the unfortunate termination of Lochry’s expedition.(3)

hannastown2Around Hannastown those who were looked up to as special defenders were Colonel Campbell, Captain Matthew Jack, Captain Love, Lieutenant Guthrie, the Brownlees, the Brisons, the Shaws and the Wilsons. As the Indian troubles accumulated the pioneers became more and more united until in the summer of 1782 they nearly all lived in the forts and blockhouses or in close proximity with them. When a field of grain was to be harvested it was done not by the owner alone, but by the community, so that the reaping party might be more formidable in the event of an attack by the Indians. In addition to the forts at Hannastown, Fort Walthour and Miller’s blockhouse, there was in the Hannastown community a stronghold known as George’s cabin, less than a mile southeast of Miller’s, and Rugh’s blockhouse, about one mile south of the present borough limits of Greensburg. Within these places of comparative safety were collected at all times in the summer of 1782 a large part of the population of the Hannastown settlement. The land surrounding these localities and between them had nearly all been taken up by pioneer settlers. Hannastown, it will be remembered, had been a county seat for more than nine years, and the country for several miles in each direction was pretty well cleared and, for that day, thickly populated. The farmers had fenced their land, some of it at least, with stake and rider fences to protect their crops against live stock. Each farmer had cattle, horses, sheep, etc., and the community bid fair to surpass all others in the county, if, indeed, it had not already done so. Its only rival was the Pittsburgh settlement.


Militia man

There had been militia soldiers guarding the garrison at Hannastown, but they had deserted their post because they were not paid. Nor can they be blamed for this, for they are said to have been actually in rags when they left. The settlers were, therefore, left to take care of themselves. Farther north from Hannastown, and in many other parts of the county, farms were deserted, the owners and their families having gone to their original homes east of the mountains. The Hannastown community, because of its prominence, had special fear that if a raid was made their settlement would be the objective point. They were, therefore, unusually vigilant, but they had had no particular warning to put them on their guard.


Harvesting with a scythe

On Saturday, July 13, 1782, the men of Hannastown and the near community were engaged in cutting a field of grain for Captain Michael Huffnagle. The reader will recall him as the prothonotary who succeeded Arthur St. Clair, and also as a captain of the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment. He had sat on the bench as a justice, had acquired considerable property, and was a man of great strength of character. In the Revolutionary service he had been wounded in the leg, and this incapacitated him for further duty in the main army, but it did not prevent him from taking a leading part in the defense of the frontier. His fields of grain lay one and a half miles north of Hannastown, the land now being owned by Jacob Longsdorf. The grain of that day, whether wheat, rye, or oats, was cut entirely by sickles, and the reapers, with their heads and bodies bent down, could be easily approached by the Indians. They had cut one field and eaten their cold dinners in the shade, and were about ready to begin on another field. One of the reapers crossed over to the side of the field bordering on the woods, and as he neared the woodland he detected Indians hiding behind the trees and stealthily awaiting till the reapers should resume their work. The reaper ran back and gave the alarm and immediately the entire party ran for their lives. Some of them secured their firearms, others ran to notify their neighbors, but the general trend was toward the fort at Hannastown. In a few minutes they reached the town, and then, in an instant almost all was commotion. Our court minutes show that court began on Tuesday, July 9, with Judge Edward Cook and his associates on the bench. It was held in the original log house built by Robert Hanna, which had been used as a court house since the formation of the county in 1773. The first thing the excited inhabitants did was to take the court records from the court room to the stockade. These are the records, heirlooms of the pioneer days, from which we have so frequently quoted, and which are yet in a good state of preservation. The door of the log jail was then broken open, and all the prisoners were set free. Able young people hurriedly assisted the children and decrepit old men and women from their houses to the stockade. The haste in which this was done may be imagined from the fact that they took with them none of their clothes, furniture nor belongings, not even provisions for a single meal. In a few minutes all were in the fort who wanted to go in, and preparations were made to close the gate of the palisades.

indian-fightThere were several young men who did not want to enter the fort, but who preferred to stay out and fight the Indians in their own way. These were rangers whose exploits in Indian warfare have been referred to before. They regarded it as their duty to seek the protection of the fortress only after they had warned the entire settlement of the presence of the Indians. Among these were James Brison, David Shaw and Matthew Jack. There were several others, but their names have not come down to us. James Brison, is by the way, the same young man who as clerk to Arthur St. Clair kept the early court records in such splendid shape. He and David Shaw and others volunteered to go north toward the approaching Indians and learn something of their strength and their intention. There was no way for them to go but on foot, yet be it said to their credit that they went willingly. But before Shaw, Brison and their associates started, Matthew Jack had mounted his gallant horse and set out, not directly to the north, but in a circular direction, intending to pass around and reconnoiter the enemy, and learn all that could be learned there, and also notify all the surrounding settlements of their presence.

indians-waitingThe Indians did not at once pursue the reapers. Their object had evidently been to make way with them and then attack the town without warning. Thinking, perhaps, that the reapers did not know the strength of the invaders, and that they would return to pursue them, they waited nearly an hour at the grain field, instead of chasing the reapers to the fort. Captain Jack was not a citizen of Hannastown, but chanced to be in the village that day, perhaps in attendance at court, By rapid riding he very soon reached the vicinity of the grain field and discovered the strength of the band. They were apparently deliberating upon the place of attack. Jack was a ranger whose perceptive qualities had been sharpened by much usage. He saw the Indians before they saw him, and turning to ride back was followed by them. On the way he met Shaw, Brison and the others, whom he warned to run for their lives, and said he would circle around somewhat before entering the fort, and still, owing to the fleetness of his horse, be able to enter with the scouting party. He was naturally daring and courageous, and had probably no more fear of the Indians than if they had been so many wild animals. He therefore rode to the south cast and came to the cabin of the Love family, (lately the John L. Bierer farm) whom he warned to flee. He took Mrs. Love and her children on the horse behind him, and galloped toward the fort. The scouting party– Shaw, Brison and their associates– took Jack’s advice and ran as rapidly as they could toward Hannastown.


Arthur St. Clair (4)

The Indians, following on Jack’s trail, soon caught sight of the scouting party, and gave them a hard run for their lives. They undoubtedly mistook them for the reapers, who, they supposed, had not yet warned the citizens of the town. If, therefore, they could catch them, they could still surprise the citizens of Hannastown. On any other theory, the Indians would have shot them while on the run, but a shot fired would have aroused the town. It was a very exciting race for life. The distance was about a mile, with this advantage only on the part of the scouts, namely, that they knew the ground thoroughly, knew every short-cut path to take or hill to evade. This familiarity with the ground probably won the race for them. They knew too, that if they could reach a stream which flowed into the Crab Tree Run, from a spring near the fort, they would be safe for there they would be practically under the protection of the rifles in the fort. The foremost Indians, they concluded, would not venture much nearer than the run until they were joined by the main forces. Before they reached the creek they could hear the foot sounds of their pursuers, and a backward glance revealed the naked breasts and glistening forelocks of the savages. All of them ran directly to the fort except Shaw. He first ran to his father’s house to see if they were all safe, and then made for the stockade gate. Before he reached the gate the savages were swarming on the banks of the Crab Tree below. The fearless scout drew up his long barreled gun and, taking deliberate aim, sent his unerring ball to end the career of a warrior, and then quickly ran into the fort. He was the last to enter, and the gate was closed and barred at once. Thus all the Hannastown people had passed the stockade gates before the Indians reached the town.

indians-take-townIn Michael Huffnagle’s report he says that at about two o’clock in the afternoon the town, consisting of about thirty houses and cabins, was attacked by about one hundred and fifty Indians and Tories. When they saw that they had failed to surprise the town, and that the scalps must be fought for, if gained by them, they gave forth a prolonged indescribable Indian yell, resembling the cry of an infuriated wild beast in torture, the recollection of which alone caused those who had escaped to shudder with horror, long years afterward. The Indians then took possession of the houses and cabins in the town, in full view of the fort. Clothes and household goods were thrown into the streets. Some of the bolder Indians arrayed themselves in these clothes, and brandishing knives and tomahawks, danced in full view of the fort, though at a safe distance from it. They soon assembled to consult as to what should be done. Their gestures and talk were most vehement, but they were apparently controlled by their leaders, who seemed to be white men dressed as Indians. There seems to be no doubt but that this assembly of Indians and their renegade white leaders could have been successfully fired on bv the armed forces in the fort. But those in the fort were slow to begin battle, knowing their own weakness. They knew also that the force of Indians, though at considerable loss, could take the fort, and that their own safety lay in receiving additional strength. After the consultation was ended, part of the band, perhaps about one-third, started off in the direction of Miller’s blockhouse. There were, according to Huffnagle’s report, about one hundred remaining and about fifty in the squad which went away. In a short time those remaining set fire to the town in many places, and perhaps in every house. These houses had been built some years, and their clapboard roofs were perfectly dry. In a few minutes the entire town, save two houses which were too near the fort for them to fire, was in flames. One house left standing was Robert Hanna’s, which had served as a court house since the county was erected. The Indians found some rum and whisky in the houses, and with the aid of this they had a very jovial time while the town was burning. They paraded in the garments of the settlers in full view of the fort, but at a safe distance. One Indian, however, decked himself out in a bright colored military coat which he had taken from one of the houses. He at length grew bold, and paraded, peacock-like, too close to the stockade. Some one within, it is not known who, took a steady shot at him. The Indian leaped into the air and fell dead. Thus his vanity cost him his life.


A late 1700’s stockade

All communication with the outside world was cut off when the stockade gate was closed. There were several scouts out, but they did not return. On the contrary, they kept moving about, alarming the settlement and trying to devise some means of rescuing the inmates of the fort. The stockade at Hannastown was naturally a strong one, but on this occasion its defense was very weak. Some reports say that they had only nine firearms, some say thirteen, but all agree that they were of a poor quality, being the cast-off arms of the militia. It is possible that a few of the scouts, like Shaw and Brison, had good arms. The Hannastown people in the fort were largely elderly men and women and children. The young people of the community were at Miller’s blockhouse that afternoon, as will be seen later on.


a similar stockade

This weak condition of the fortress was known to those outside, and hence their anxiety to devise some means of rescue rather than to try to save themselves. The whole number of those in the fort is not known, nor are their names given in any of the accounts, except such few who performed certain services worthy of special remark in the reports. At Miller’s blockhouse, two and a half miles southeast of Hannastown, were collected about forty people. Samuel Miller had been a captain in the Eighth Regiment of the Pennsylvania Line, but had been killed on July 7, 1778, while detailed in the recruiting service in Westmoreland. His widow had married Andrew Cruickshanks. At all times their house was open for all who came there socially or for safety. In addition to the blockhouse there were several log cabins built nearby, and all of them were strong in times of Indian raids, and were, moreover, capable of being quickly barricaded. The Millers were a lively, sociable people, and thither went the young men and maidens often for an evening’s dance. But these forty more or less people who were at Miller’s that day did not go there for safety, for it is well known that there were several people there from Hannastown, among whom were Judge Robert Hanna’s wife and daughters. Now, were they in quest of place of safety against the Indians, they would have remained at home for the Hannastown stockade was stronger than Miller’s blockhouse. It was the strongest fort between Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier. It has often been asserted that there was a wedding there that day and this was the chief attraction, but this has as often been denied. Justice Richard Coulter, who wrote his account of the burning of Hannastown in 1836, and who gathered much of his material directly from those who were captured at Miller’s, as well as from others who participated in the affair, says this about the wedding: “At Miller’s there had been a wedding the day before. Love is a delicate plant, but will take root in the midst of perils in gentle bosoms. A young couple, fugitives from the frontier, fell in love and were married.”


Early American Wedding Dress

From the best testimony the writer can obtain, the Justice’s story is reasonably well corroborated. Two families named Dunlap and Courla had some time previous to this moved farther west than Westmoreland, and were driven back by the Indians in the summer of 1782. James Duncan, who has been described as a young man of superior looks and bearing, belonged to one of the returning families, and Mary Courla, a young Scotch girl who was long afterward written of as a very lovely and beautiful woman, belonged to the other. Love in this case, like wild violets, blossomed in the wilderness, and they, on their hurried flight from their frontier homes, were married near Hannastown, on July 12, 1782. In the olden time the wedding day was the bride’s day, and the next day was the groom’s, and its chief gathering was called the “Infair.” This day was often a gayer and more festive occasion than the wedding day itself. It was celebrated at Miller’s blockhouse, and this is doubtless the reason why so many young people were there that fatal afternoon. From the fact that neither the bride nor the groom were then residents in that community, and that the gay assembly was not celebrating a wedding ceremony but an infair, has probably sprung most of the doubt surrounding it. It is, moreover, on the other hand, a fact that there were but few weddings among the pioneer families during the Revolution and Indian war troubles. But the very fact that these ceremonies were so few and far between may have been the reason that so many guests were bidden and present. All accounts agree that there were many women there, chief among whom were Mrs. Hanna and her daughters. The company had perhaps all assembled. There had been dancing to the tune of a fiddle, and playing and great glee among the guests, as was the custom in that day. Everything went off merrily until about the middle of the afternoon, when suddenly, like a peal of thunder from a cloudless sky, the war whoop burst upon their ears and a band of savages rushed into their midst.


8th Pennsylvania re-enacters (5)

Among the men who were there was Captain Brownlee, whose deeds as a ranger have been mentioned. He was also one of Captain Erwin’s bravest soldiers in the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment. When his enlistment expired he left the service and devoted his energies to Indian fighting on the frontier. In this he was very successful. He did not discriminate between a good and a bad Indian, thinking perhaps that there were none of the former class. He thought it his duty to kill an Indian as he would a snake or a dangerous wild beast. Yet he was an excellent neighbor and a good husband and father. Indeed, it was to protect those he loved that he remained at home rather than do service in the army. Few names are better or more honorably known in border warfare than that of Brownlee. He lived on a farm a short distance northwest of Miller’s blockhouse, lately the Frederick Cope farm, and now owned by the Jamison Coal Company.


Hanna’s Town today (6)

On the afternoon of the Hannastown trouble some men were mowing in a field not far from Miller’s blockhouse. Their quick ears caught the rumbling of firing at Hannastown, and this was the first intimation they had of any difficulty. At once they became apprehensive of danger and hastened to the blockhouse. They left the field none too soon, for, as they were leaving it, the fifty or more Indians from the Hannastown band of marauders entered it at the other side. Here again the Indians were foiled, for they undoubtedly meant to capture the men in the field and thus have an easy victory at Miller’s. By the time the mowers reached the blockhouse the Indians were but a short distance behind and the sound of the war-whoop had already terrified the festive women and children. Some shots were fired, but the Indians very soon closed in on the frightened party and all were in the wildest confusion. A few women ran over the hills and some of them escaped. A little girl, who lived to be an old and highly respected woman, hid herself among the blackberry bushes until night came. Most of those left behind were women and children. The cries of these helpless people, mingled with the Indian yells, added to the consternation of the few fighters who were left. But the mowers did not desert them. One or two, at least, lost their lives in trying to save those who were comparative strangers to them. But, though strangers, they were defenseless women and that has always called forth the best efforts of Anglo-Saxon manhood. Those who ran at the first sign of danger made their escape by going to the George cabin, while others made good their way to Rugh’s blockhouse. Some few, like the little girl, hid in the fields till nightfall. The majority, and perhaps the more timid ones, remained in the houses and were all captured.

indians at blockhouse.JPG

Early American Blockhouse under attack

When the Indians arrived, Brownlee was in the blockhouse, most likely as a guard, and Mrs. Brownlee and her children were also there. He seized his rifle and ran out to intercept two Indians who were just entering the yard. He could easily have escaped, and it was probably his intention to do so, with the hope of forming a strong party and overtaking them should they capture and carry away the women and children. But his wife cried to him, “Captain, you are not going to leave me, are you?” The brave man turned around and gave himself up as a prisoner to those to whom he had never before bent his knee. He had faced the hostile Indians time and again, but he could not resist the plea of his wife. No one who knew him imagined that he could make a selfish escape. Very soon the blockhouses and cabins were surrounded, and all were prisoners. Part of the Indian force was then sent out to hunt down the frightened women and children who had escaped. Most of them were soon overtaken and brought back to Miller’s as prisoners. Among those who escaped by flight was the daughter of Judge Hanna. She was taken on horseback by Samuel Findley, a pack-horse driver, and carried to the country, and thus escaped. A young man who had hastened to Miller’s to give the alarm, in making his escape took with him a child which it is said was one of Brownlee’s. He was very soon pursued by three or four Indians who were gaining on him although he could easily have distanced them in a foot race had he not been burdened by the child. This race was kept up for some time, and the young man’s strength was rapidly waning. Fortunately, he came to a thick growth of underbrush, and beyond it was a high rail fence which bordered a field of uncut rye. He passed through the brush, mounted the fence, and jumped from the top of it as far into the rye field as he could. While in the brush and crossing the fence he was out of sight of the Indians. Then he lay down on the ground in the rye with the child, which fortunately kept quiet. The Indians came up and passed him without discovering him. They soon returned and looked more closely, but did not find him. Their time was necessarily brief, and they left with many mutterings of disgust.

Another young man was escaping with his child, and was also assisting his mother, an elderly woman, in the race, for a number of Indians were in hot pursuit of them, when he found that all would be captured unless he abandoned one or the other. So he put down the child, and helping his mother, they both escaped. Now comes the strange part of the story, which, by the way, is well authenticated. The Indians passed the child, perhaps unnoticed; at all events they did not kill it. The next morning the child was found in the former home safe and sound. After the storm was over it had probably innocently wandered back to it’s home.

native_american_attack_1_lgMrs. Cruickshank also tried to escape with a child, and was assisted by her brother. They were pursued by but one Indian. Finally as he was gaining upon them, the brother turned and fired at him. The Indian dodged behind trees and the shot may have missed him. But he did not pursue them further. In the excitement of shooting at the Indian, they forgot the child and ran on without it. The next morning it, too, was found in it’s cabin home at Millers, sleeping the sleep of innocent childhood in it’s own little cot. This child lived to be an old woman. She was married to a man named Campbell, and often related the story as it was given to her from lips that had long since been silent.

All these and many more were the happenings of a half-hour after the Indians reached Miller’s. Soon after the Indian party captured Brownlee, true to his promise, Captain Jack came galloping toward the house to give the alarm. As he approached he saw he was too late, for he was not slow to perceive that the yard was full of Indians. He therefore turned his horse and galloped wildly away. The Indians had remained quiet as he approached, but as he turned they sent a shower of bullets after him. They all missed him, although they whistled about his head and one cut his bridle rein. From there he rode over the country to George’s, where the fugitives from Miller’s were collecting, and where a relief party of pioneers was rapidly being organized.

millers-blockhouseBut the alarm was not confined to this community alone. It was a still, calm afternoon, preceding a rain when sound traveled a long distance. Many in the neighborhood heard the excessive firing and were on the alert. At Unity church, six or seven miles east of Miller’s, the congregation had met for preparatory communion services when the rumor of the incursion came. The people hastened to their homes and the pastor, Rev. James Power, who lived long afterward to tell the story, rode with his utmost speed to his home near Mt. Pleasant. Men in fields heard the distant roar of muskets, and went to their homes to make bullets, call in their children, and barricade the openings in their cabins. All near Allen’s fort were gathered there. About one and a half miles north of Greensburg, on the Salem road, lived a man named Kepple. He was in his field, and noticed his dog frisking angily about as though he scented danger. He also heard the far off rumble, perhaps from Hannastown. He hastily unhitched his horses and went to his log house, which was built for a residence and fortress both. One or two families of the neighborhood also gathered there. They at once closed up the openings and were prepared far a siege.

The Indians proceeded hurriedly to secure the prisoners taken at Miller’s. The hands of the men were tied behind their backs and after taking from the houses all they wanted in the way of provisions, clothes, etc., they fired the blockhouse, which was consumed. The smaller cabins were not all destroyed. Those who went there for safety had taken with them their livestock, consisting of cattle, horses, and a few sheep. These were all shot by the Indians. Both Huffnagle and Duncan, in their reports, estimate that one hundred cattle were killed. Of the captive prisoners the most conspicuous man was Captain Brownlee. Two of Robert Hanna’s daughters were at Miller’s participating in the function that afternoon, and one was taken. They are said to have been very attractive young women. Their names were Marion and Jeanette.

indiancaptivesThe captive prisoners were made to carry the goods stolen from their houses. The women and children were driven in a flock. It was a sad march, yet some stout hearts kept up, perhaps in the hope of relief by pursuing neighbors, for this was not an unusual happening in border warfare. Brownlee kept up his courage, and undoubtedly added strength to the disconsolate party. At length an unthinking woman, said to have been Mrs. Robert Hanna, through her tears, said, “Captain Brownlee, it is well you are here to cheer us up.” This unfortunate remark was undoubtedly the first intimation the Indians had that their docile prisoner was their fearless enemy, Captain Brownlee. All the Indians knew him by name and reputation, but few Indians who met him face to face ever disturbed settlers afterwards. After all was over it was plain to Captain Brownlee’s friends that he was all the while attempting to conceal his identity with the hope of keeping up the concealment for a day or so, when all might be rescued. None knew better than he that his days were numbered when the Indians discovered who he was. It was thus to conceal his name that he gave himself up when resistance would probably have availed him nothing. He kept quiet and was extremely meek when they tied his hands and placed heavy burdens on his back. All this was entirely unlike the bold and fearless Brownlee, whom the Indians knew of only. All his acts were now apparently indicative of perfect submission. He was evidently trying to deceive them. All his friends, both among the prisoners and among those who were free, believed implicitly that he would soon escape, perhaps that night and return with a full knowledge of their strength and how best to follow and attack them. If so he could raise a company which would avenge the outrage at Miller’s. But at the time, his name was mentioned by the unfortunate woman his doom was decided on. Immediately there were hasty glances from one Indian to another, and two of them in guteral tones consulted together. In addition to his burden he was carrying one of his children on his back. As he bent down to enable the innocent child to cling more tightly with its arms around his neck, a savage sneaked up behind him and buried a hatchet in his brain. Brownlee fell dead, and the child rolled over him. As it was scrambling to it’s feet the Indian killed it in the same way. A woman near by screamed and fell swooning to the ground. She met with the same ill fate, the Indians doubtless mistaking her for the wife of Brownlee. Mrs. Brownlee, on account of her children and the other captives, was compelled to witness these barbarous deeds in the silent agony of despair. The Brownlees’ bodies and that of the woman were found about one half mile from Miller’s, and were buried as was the custom then on the spot where they fell. Over his grave stood a wild cherry tree which grew to immense size and marked the spot for many years. A second grew from its roots or stump, and it is now half grown, and is preserved by the owner of the field, Mr. J.J. Blank. It is but a short distance east from his residence. The farm was formerly the Meckling farm.

The march of the captives was toward Hannastown, and, when there, they joined the band which had remained to burn the town. About dark the entire band changed their location, moving to the northeast, and encamping for the night in the ravine, or hollow made by Crabb Tree creek. There they partook of what provisions they had. Some watched the prisoners, while others attended a council to deliberate what should be the next move.

blockhouse2While the detached band of Indians was destroying the Miller blockhouse and returning with their prisoners, the Indians at Hannastown kept a close watch on the fort. They also kept up an irregular fire on it all afternoon. They were evidently afraid to attack it; they did not know of its real weakness. Those within had only feelings of hope and fear. If their neighbors could not unite and rescue them they expected captivity and death the next morning.

The romantic event of the afternoon was the shooting of Margaret Shaw. The story of this young girl’s death has been repeated many times, but it never grows old. It has been exaggerated by romanticists but the simple story makes her character and actions so beautiful and attractive that no false coloring is necessary. She has lived since, and always shall live in the sad story of that day, as a genuine heroine of Hannastown. She was the daughter of Moses Shaw, and the sister of Alexander and David Shaw. Both of her brothers were hunters and scouts, and both were well known Indian fighters and rangers. David had entered the Revolution as a substitute for his father. When his term of enlistment expired he came home like Brownlee to assist in border defense. Like Brownlee, too, he thought it was always right to kill an Indian. Otherwise he was a man of most gentle nature, and was living up to his general reputation when, before he entered the fort he first ran to ascertain whether his father’s family had been taken in or not. Margaret (or Peggy as she was called), resembled him in the gentleness of her disposition. She was about fourteen years old, but large and strong for her age. During the afternoon in the fort the older people were devising means of defense should an attack be made, and perhaps the children were somewhat neglected. Inadvertently a small child wandered toward the picketing of the fort, and was in a section of the enclosure which was within the range of the enemy’s bullets. Seeing this, Margaret ran to it to fetch it back to safety. As she bent down to pick it up a bullet struck her in the breast and penetrated her right lung. With the skill in surgery of our present day she might easily have recovered. As it was, she lingered two weeks and had wasted away until she was but a mere skeleton, when death relieved her. She was buried at a Presbyterian graveyard two miles north of Mt. Pleasant, now known as the Middle churches.


Re-enacters at the Hanna’s Town stockade (6)

Thus it will be seen that there was a great deal of firing at Hannastown, and this, among other things, aroused the entire community. The men assembled at George’s are said to have fired all their guns at once to arouse the neighborhood. About forty men gathered there by dark. All were bent on rescuing the prisoners in the fort. The night fortunately brought dark clouds and rain which favored the rescuing party. Only about thirty of them were able to go to the relief of the fortress. Suspicions of cowardice were hinted for long years afterwards, concerning some who failed to accompany them. Of these thirty, many were on horses and all were armed. The location of the Indians, the destruction of the town, etc., was all reported by scouts who, by much practice, were as wary as the Indians themselves. The party advanced with great caution. They could see from the gleam of burning logs the outline of the fort with its whitewashed palisades. As they crept up to it the scouts made known their arrival, the gates were opened and all entered in safety.

As soon as the evening meal was over the Indians proceeded to divide their plunder. Many of them attired themselves in the new garments which fell to them. One unusually large Indian tried to array himself in a silk dress, but could not get his foot through the sleeve. His attempts were very ludicrous, and he seemed highly pleased that he could make others laugh so heartily. They also prepared to celebrate their victory. One captive was selected, his body painted with black stripes, and tied to a tree. He was to be tortured by being burned alive. They also made the prisoners run the gauntlet, the men first and then a number of the women. Some of them were very badly beaten. The daughter of Robert Hanna was put through, but had gained the favor of an Indian by laughing at his grotesqueness when arrayed in the silk dress, and therefore got through without great injury. But a young woman named Freeman, who had red hair, which was always held in contempt by the dark-haired race, was beaten nearly to death. More than a generation afterward she was treated by Dr. Postlewaite, in Greensburg, for injuries to her skull received that night. But about twelve o’clock the Indians discovered that forces were arriving at the fort. They did not have time to torture the prisoner, so they tomahawked him and soon afterward began their march.


Fort Pitt

It was believed by those in the fort that an attack would be made in the morning, so they tried to deceive the Indians by making them think that very large forces had arrived. Some old drums were brought out and beaten. There was a wooden bridge across the entrance to the fort, and all the horses were galloped across this bridge to the music of the drums. They were then taken around the bridge and brought over several times. All in the fort were now hilarious, or acting so, at least, and, as was intended, these acclamations of joy, apparently over the arrival of forces were plainly heard by the Indians. It was, moreover, not unlikely that by twelve or one o’clock forces should arrive from Fort Pitt or Fort Ligonier, and the stratagem had its desired effect on the minds of the Indians. As soon as possible, therefore, they moved with their prisoners and baggage, stealing away so silently that no one in the fort knew they were going. They traveled north, passing between Congruity and Harvey’s Five Points and on northward, crossing the Kiskiminetas at about where Apollo now stands. When morning came those in the fort were delighted to learn that the Indians had gone. The forces followed them as far as the place where they crossed the river, but could not pursue them into the Indian country, which was then a wilderness. For their failure to pursue them further they have been more or less censured, but we think unjustly. There were at least one hundred and fifty well-armed Indians and Tories, and the forces in the fort, including the relief party from George’s, did not amount to more than fifty, if both old and young should join in the pursuit, which was practically impossible.


Fort Ligonier

The Indians had with them about twenty prisoners, whom they had taken at and near Miller’s. Their march to Canada was comparatively without incident, unusual in such parties, though it was a trying ordeal on the cast down and over-burdened prisoners. Arriving in Canada they sold both prisoners and scalps to the English for beads, trinkets, firearms and whisky. The prisoners were kept until a final peace was effected between Great Britain and the colonies, after which most of them found their way back to Westmoreland county. It has been often said that one of the daughters of Robert Hanna, Marian, was married to a British officer but this has been partly disproved by recent researches.

Of those who are known to have helped to rescue the fort and follow the Indians to the river, not yet mentioned here, were the Craigs, the Sloans, Captain David Kilgore and two of his sons. Captain Wendel Ourry was also with them. James Moore, of Salem township, who died in 1846, aged seventy-three, was in the fort. He was a child living with his widowed mother in Hannastown when the great calamity overtook it. From Miller’s was taken Dorcas Miller, a daughter of Captain Samuel, and her younger brother, whom they killed because he could not travel rapidly enough. Dorcas was kept at Niagara, and some three years afterward was ransomed and sent home by a British officer named Butler, who knew her father. She came home, and was afterward married to Joseph Russell, residing most of her life on the farm where she was captured. She died in Greensburg, March 15, 1851.


Munsee Indians (7)

Who commanded the Indian forces on the Hannastown raid will never be certainly known. Some have written that it was Simon Girty. This is now known to be an error, for it is latterly pretty well proved that he was in Kentucky at that time. The leadership of nearly all incursions of that character was attributed to him. It was more likely Guyasutha on the part of the Indians, and Connolly of the Dunmore’s war fame on the part of the white Tories, though his presence was never proved. The Indians were mainly from a small tribe called Munsies, then in northern Pennsylvania.


Washington Suppresses the Whisky Rebellion (8)

Captain Matthew Jack and David Shaw were for many years justly called the “Heroes of Hannastown War.” Jack was sheriff of the county at the time, which probably accounts for his being at Hannastown that afternoon. He was also a county justice, and was all-around one of the most noted and daring Indian fighters of his day. He was a man of great strength and agility, and was without personal fear. Often in after years, at barn-raisings, musters, etc., he illustrated his manner of riding that day. He could place his hat on the ground and pick it up as he galloped by. Later he was known as General Jack, from his prominence in the Whisky Insurrection. He was born in 1755, and died November 26, 1836. Both he and his wife, Nancy (Wilson) Jack (born 1760, died September 20, 1840), are buried at Congruity, about seven miles northeast of Greensburg.

Hannastown was never rebuilt, though the courts were held there (the courthouse not being burnt) for more than four years afterwards. Cities of untold wealth and power have risen, but few of them have achieved as glorious a record in history as this little collection of mud-plastered log huts, built in the heart of a primeval forest in western Pennsylvania. It was perhaps at its best in 1782. when it was burned.


Lord Dunmore (9)

On February 5, 1829, a petition was presented to the legislature of Pennsylvania by the wife of Captain Brownlee, asking for a pension, and from it we gather the following: She was born in Londonderry, in 1755, her maiden name being Elizabeth Guthrie, and was a daughter of John Guthrie. With her father she came to this country in 1771, and settled in Westmoreland county, near the present town of Greensburg, in 1772. During Dunmore’s war they were repeatedly compelled to fly to Hannastown for safety. In 1775 she was married to Captain Brownlee, who was with Erwin as a rifleman in the Revolution, and was taken a prisoner at the battle of Long Island. After serving his time in the Revolution he came home and engaged in Indian warfare until the burning of Hannastown. He, with his wife and children, were captured at Miller’s fort. In that petition it is stated, also, that it was Mrs. Hanna, the wife of Robert Hanna, who mentioned Captain Brownlee’s name in the presence of the Indian captors, and thus led to his identification and death, as indicated above. From there they were taken to Cataraugus, a journey of thirteen days, during which the prisoners, unable to subsist on the scanty fare of the Indians, almost perished from hunger. From Cataraugus they were taken to Buffalo, where the Indians concluded, because of Mrs Brownlee’s weakness, she being greatly reduced by fever and ague, to burn her at the stake. But a white man, Captain Lattridge, told them she was too far reduced to afford them any amusement and prevailed upon them to sell her for whisky which would afford them much more pleasure. So they listened to his advice, and she and her child which she carried tied to her back, were marched to Niagara and sold for twenty dollars and two gallons of rum. There she was better cared for, and finally arrived in Montreal. When peace was declared, after many hardships, she returned to Hannastown. Two years later she was married to Captain William Guthrie, captain of the rangers in protecting the frontier. Guthrie was a good Indian fighter but a poor farmer, and afforded her but a scanty living. He lived until 1829, when he was killed by falling from a wagon which went over the side of a high bridge. John Beatty, Robert Orr, Sr. and Jane Beatty testify to these statements. By act of March 23, 1829, she was paid $60, and $60 per year thereafter as long as she lived.

Mrs. Robert Hanna’s maiden name was Elizabeth Kelly, a daughter of John Kelly, and she was a sister of Colonel John Kelly, a member of the first Continental convention, also a soldier in the Revolution. Both she and her daughter were taken to Montreal, where they were kindly treated, through the efforts of Rev. William Hanna, an Episcopal minister. They were released in December, 1782, and returned home by way of Lake George, Albany, New York and Philadelphia. Jeanette Hanna, the captured daughter, afterward married David Hammond, an officer in the Revolution. They were the parents of General Robert Hanna Hammond, who fought in the Mexican war. They were buried near Milton, Pennsylvania.


General William Irvine (10)

In a letter from General William Irvine to General Washington, dated January 27, 1783, we learn that the Indians had assembled near the headwaters of the Allegheny. Further the letter says: “In the year 1782 a detachment composed of three hundred British and five hundred Indians was formed, and actually embarked in canoes on Lake Jadaque (Chautauqua) with twelve pieces of artillery, with an avowed intention of attacking Fort Pitt. This expedition was laid aside in consequence of the reported repairs and strength of Fort Pitt, carried by a spy from the neighborhood of the fort. They then contented themselves with the usual mode of warfare, by sending small parties on the frontier, one of which burned Hannastown.”

The destruction of Hannastown and the injuries inflicted on the community in connection with it were much more serious and far-reaching than the reader may at first blush imagine. Its evil effects cannot be estimated in dollars and cents, though when viewed, even from that standpoint alone, it was a fearful calamity. For almost a quarter of a century western Pennsylvania had been gradually increasing, with Hannastown as its chief center and seat of justice. Rude though its log cabins may have been, they were the best in the community, and with their contents represented many years of toil and sacrifice. Here the hardy pioneer had expended his best energies in taming the land, and building up a civilization. Upon the perpetuity and growth of law and order depended the values of their properties, not only in Hannastown but all over Western Pennsylvania. But now all for which they labored had been swept away by a single blow, and the word went east to prospective settlers and land purchasers that in Westmoreland county, even under the shadow of the temple of justice, savage warfare prevailed, property was ruthlessly destroyed and life itself was in constant danger.

With the exception of a country store and a few old houses at Hannastown, built long since the original town was destroyed, there is nothing there to point the inquiring stranger to one of the most historic spots in western Pennsylvania. When it was burned the war for Independence was practically over, for Cornwallis had surrendered to Washington in October of the previous year. Its destruction was in reality the last instance in America during the Revolution, in which the English united with their savage allies to destroy the innocent pioneer by what can be called little else than common butchery. The site of Hannastown is now farming land, owned by Mr. William Steel.


See also:

  1. Moravian Massacre and and
  2. By Will Vawter (1871–1941) – Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio by William English, vol. 2, Public Domain,
  3. Lochry’s Defeat’s_Defeat
  4. Arthur St. Clair
  5. 8th Pennsylvania
  6. Hannastown,_Pennsylvania
  7. The Munsee Indians were part of the Delaware tribe, and related to the Moravian Indians that had been slaughtered a year earlier. For more info, see and and
  8. Whiskey Rebellion
  9. Lord Dunsmore’s War’s_War
  10. Willam Irvine

About jayhack2012

I help you find actionable insight.
This entry was posted in US-PA-West and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Burning of Hanna’s Town

  1. Pingback: William Ralston’s Friend Jeremiah Lochry (1731-1824) of Westmoreland County, PA – Voices of My Ancestors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s