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Battle of Fort Hand 235th anniversary to open window into frontier life

Valley News Dispatch
The First Pennsylvania Regiment, based in Reading, marches past the historical marker for Ft. Hand during the Fort Hand Festival near Kunkle Park in Washington Township on Saturday, April 18, 2009.

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If you go

What: 235th anniversary of the Fort Hand siege

When: Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Kunkle Park, 235 Pine Run Church Road, Washington Township, Apollo, PA 15613

Admission: Free

Not Fort Hand Days

This weekend's events are not to be confused with Washington Township's annual Fort Hand Days, scheduled this year for Sept. 13-14 at Kunkle Park. That event serves as the township's “community days” celebration.

The Siege of Fort Hand

On April 26, 1779, about 100 Iroquois and British renegades attacked Ford Hand, named for General Edward Hand, a British officer who resigned his commission and served with the Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion, headquartered at Fort Pitt.

Fort Hand was adjacent to what is now Kunkle Park and was built in 1777 — the only fort in Westmoreland County financed by the Continental Congress.

A commemorative plaque was erected in 1931 by the Daughters of the American Revolution across Pine Run Road from Kunkle Park on what is believed to be a corner of the old fort.

The garrison at Fort Hand was led by Capt. Samuel Morehead and Lt. William Jack and consisted of 17 soldiers.

The attack started about 1 p.m. on April 26 and continued until nightfall. Firing resumed the next day, but ceased around noon.

The attackers feared that reinforcements from Fort Ligonier and other areas were on their way, so they pulled back.

Three garrison members were wounded, including Sgt. Philip McGraw, who died a few days later.

All domesticated animals such as horses and oxen outside the fort were killed by the attackers.

“This was the true frontier,” said local historical Rob Mallie of Washington Township. “There was nothing else around at the time.”

After the attack on Fort Hand, the frontier moved westward and places like Fort Hand, Fort Armstrong in Kittanning and Fort Crawford in the Parnassus area of New Kensington diminished in importance. Fort Hand became a militia station rather than a fort for military defense.

— George Guido

By George Guido
Sunday, April 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The Revolutionary War Era will come alive in Washington Township next weekend — right down to a frontier Sunday morning church service.

The 235th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Hand will be commemorated with a series of events from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Kunkle Park.

The Northwest Department of the Brigade of the American Revolution encampment activities include battle tactics and weapons usage, music and food preparation, period clothing and educational topics.

On Sunday morning, a late-18th-century military church service will be re-created on the park grounds.

“With the threat of attacks at the time, you'd have a church service and didn't know if you'd make it to see the afternoon,” said Rob Mallie, a Washington Township recreation committee member and avid historian who is coordinating the event.

Spectators will be treated to a demonstration of how meals — or victuals, as they were known — were prepared.

“We thank Naser's Foods for stepping up to provide the foodstuffs for the re-enactors,” Mallie said. “I think people will be surprised at the variety of ways meals could be assembled with similar ingredients.”

This will not be an actual battle re-enactment because there is no fort and no Iroquois re-enactors, but a demonstration of frontier life during the time period.

George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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