Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty Site: Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania

The Fort Pitt stronghold played an important role in early American history. Its location at the intersection of three major rivers (the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio) was strategically important for anyone wanting to secure the area. During the mid-18th century, England and France jockeyed for position and claims to land in the Americas. During the 1750s, the French tried to gain an edge on the English by denying them access to Ohio country. To accomplish this task, the French captured many English settlements in the area now known as western Pennsylvania. One such captured outpost was that founded by the English settler William Trent in the late 1740s at the intersection of those most important three rivers.

The French captured this key outpost in 1754 and immediately began to construct Fort Duquesne. The escalating tension between the French, the English, and the Native Americans peaked in 1756 at the start of the French and Indian War. In the winter of 1758, the English army, led by Gen. John Forbes, was accompanied by George Washington, John Armstrong, and the Swiss officer Col. Henry Bouquet. Washington commanded 1,900 troops from Virginia, and John Armstrong commanded 2,700 men from Pennsylvania. The troops marched across the Juniata River and over the Allegheny foothills on a course to Fort Duquesne. Washington, sent forward to the fort with 2,500 men, was quite surprised to find only 500 French troops at Fort Duquesne. The French, seeing Washington's forces, burned the fort and ran for cover. On November 25, 1758, the English secured Fort Duquesne and renamed it Fort Pitt in honor of the English statesman William Pitt.

Once the English controlled the strategic area of Fort Pitt, they began construction on a new and improved fort. Construction on the fort officially began on the arrival of Gen. John Stanwix's chief engineer, Capt. Harry Gordon. The crew arrived in August, and work began on September 3, 1759. The crew felled trees and dug coal and limestone from the surrounding hills in the area that is now Mount Washington. A sawmill was built upstream from the fort, and lumber was sent downriver to the fort. Due to a lack of necessary lumber resources in the area, Gen. Stanwix ordered the fort to be a dirt one.

Fort Pitt was not only an important geographic location for the French and Indian War, it was the first place where a treaty was signed between the United States and the Delaware. The Treaty of Fort Pitt (1778) was signed on September 17 and was composed of six articles. The first article stated that "all offences or acts of hostilities by one, or either of the contracting parties against the other, be mutually forgiven, and buried in the depth of oblivion, never more to be had in remembrance." This historic document was signed by Andrew Lewis, Thomas Lewis, White Eyes, the Pipe, and John Kill Buck at Fort Pitt.

Arthur Holst


Further Reading
Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994; O'Meara, Walter. Guns at the Forks. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1965; Steele, Ian K. Warpaths: Invasions of North America. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1994; Williams, Robert A., Jr. The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
 

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