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Revolutionary War affected settlers in Chartiers Valley

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 12:36 p.m.

The third talk in our series “Bridgeville Remembered” was presented Dec. 13 at the Bridgeville Public Library. Subtitled “The War Years – 1774 to 1783,” it focused on the impact of the Revolutionary War on the settlers in the Chartiers Valley.

The series, a comprehensive look at local history, proceeding from pioneer days to the present, is a joint project of the library and the Bridgeville Area Historical Society.

This talk attracted an audience of about three dozen history buffs, including Christian Lesnett and his uncle, Woody Lesnett. Christian is the eighth generation of his family. He and his uncle are proud of their pioneer ancestors. It was quite rewarding for us to hear their comments regarding the first Lesnetts in this area.

The talk began with a recap of the previous month's presentation – the arrival of the Lesnetts, the Boyces, the Fawcetts and the Heckmans in the Chartiers Valley and the dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia regarding sovereignty in this area.

John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore, replaced Gov. Dinwiddie in 1770 as head of the colony of Virginia. After a successful campaign against the Indians in 1774, Dunmore forced Chief Cornstalk to sign a treaty ending hostilities.

He then stopped long enough at Fort Pitt to install a subordinate, Dr. John Connolly, there as commandant. Early in January 1775, Connolly renamed it Fort Dunmore, and initiated a number of measures establishing Virginia's claim to the area. His aggressive actions revived the debate between the two colonies over control of the Ohio Country. The dispute was still escalating when events in Massachusetts in mid-April precipitated the formal beginning of the Revolutionary War. Connolly and Lord Dunmore were exposed as Royalists and forced to flee on a British man-of-war vessel.

The situation in the Chartiers Valley changed dramatically when the Revolutionary War began in 1775. Instead of being responsible for protecting them against the Indians, the British Army was now their enemy. General Harry Hamilton, commandant at Fort Detroit, was accused of inciting the Indians against the settlers by paying a bounty for scalps –“ten bucks for an adult male, five bucks for a woman or child” – earning him the nickname “The Hair Buyer.”

The settlers responded by forming local militias. Christian Lesnett's name appears on the roster of four different militia companies at different times – those commanded by Captain Andrew Van Swearingen, Captain Bilderbock, Captain William Hoagland, and Captain David Reed. Captain Reed's roster also includes Francis Lesnett, Frederick Lesnett, Richard Boyce, Adam Heckman, and John Fawcett. Heckman also is listed as a member of Stockley's Rangers and Captain Robert Ramsey's Company.

In July 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the organization of the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line.

By December, it was obvious that Gen. Washington needed the Eighth more desperately than did the frontier; they marched across Pennsylvania in the dead of a severe winter and joined him in New Jersey in 1777 where they participated in a number of battles.

The Eighth spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge before being sent back west to continue its original mission. We have no proof that any of the settlers in this area were part of the Eighth during the years they were with General Washington, but it does appear to be highly likely.

The next talk in this series is scheduled for 7 p.m., Jan. 10, in the Community Room of the Bridgeville Public Library.

John Oyler, a columnist for Trib Total Media, can be reached at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@comcast.net.

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