Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Terry Rensel.
I despise driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so for my drive from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Erie, Pennsylvania to visit family for Thanksgiving I decide to go cross-country to Cumberland, Maryland and then play it by ear from there. As I realized that I was going to be close to Fort Necessity, I decided to make that a stop since I’ve never been there, then see what the day held.
Although a child of NW Pennsylvania, and getting plenty of young George Washington in school, Fort Necessity was a place that I have never been before. It appealed to both my interest in, and desire to visit as many, National Park Service sites as possible. I also have an interest in travelling historic roads, so the fact that US 40, the National Road, was included made it a bit of a two-for for me.
I knew that Fort Necessity itself was a small fortification, I had no idea just how small until I saw it with my own eyes. I can’t believe that this unassuming stockade was the place was a place where the opening acts of the French and Indian War occurred.
The National Park Service has signage, and recently planted trees, where the historic 1754 tree line was. There wasn’t much room for maneuver. The Visitor Center isn’t a very large building, but their exhibits were fantastic. Along with battle related items, there is also a series of items and interpretation for the National Road.
Unfortunately, the Mount Washington Tavern was closed for the season, which was probably for the best, as I didn’t want to pass through the Pittsburgh area during or afternoon the lunch hour on the day before Thanksgiving anyway. I more or less followed Washington’s route through western and northwestern Pennsylvania all the way to Erie.
I am naturally hard-wired to want to avoid all the madness of Black Friday, so I decided to turn it into History Friday. On Friday morning I headed out for Waterford, PA., which is about 30 minutes from my mom’s house, to pay a visit to Major George Washington of the Virginia Militia and Fort LeBoeuf.
Fort LeBoeuf was the site that the 21-year old Major Washington arrived at in 1753 to deliver Lt. Governor Dinwiddie’s ultimatum that the French leave the area, as it was claimed by Virginia. Washington remained for three days at Fort LeBoeuf before returning to Virginia with the knowledge that the French were not going anywhere.
It is here, in Waterford, across the street from the Fort LeBoeuf Museum, and in the approximate area of where the entrance to the fort was that the only statue of Washington in uniform, other than an American uniform, stands. Washington is depicted in the uniform of a Major in the Virginia Militia.
After departing Fort LeBoeuf I headed for the Watson-Curtze Mansion at the Erie Historical Society on the lower west side of Erie for what was mostly a Civil War research visit, but there is a piece of Revolutionary War history there that is a must see.
General “Mad” Anthony Wayne was returning to Philadelphia from a trip to Detroit he stopped in Erie due to being ill. It was there that he died in December 15, 1796. He was originally buried at Fort Presque Isle, where today stands the Wayne Blockhouse.
In 1809 his son traveled to Erie to exhume his remains for burial in Philadelphia. In what is arguably a weird historical footnote, and an even weirder artifact, the pot that his son boiled his remains in to remove the remaining flesh, resides on the third floor of the Watson-Curtze Mansion.
The only connection that General Wayne has to Erie, is that is where he died. That has not stopped Erie from honoring him in many ways. There’s a street named for him, as well as a what was at one time Wayne Middle (now Elementary) School, the Wayne Blockhouse, on the site of the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home, and my personal favorite, the Mad Anthony American Pale Ale from Erie Brewing Company.
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