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Bridgeville military exhibit begins with 18th-century warriors

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

This spring, the Bridgeville Area Historical Society will host an exhibit on servicemen and women from the local area, coordinated by my brother, Joe Oyler.

Joe is well qualified for this assignment; the research he did for his book “Almost Forgotten” has given him a remarkable knowledge of this subject.

Since his information is focused on individuals who died while serving in the military, it is limited to the Civil War, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. Information on fatalities prior to the Civil War is very limited. Since he wants the exhibit to cover the entire history of the area, Joe asked me what could be displayed for the colonial times.

The place to begin is the monument on Christian Lesnett's grave in the Old St. Luke's Church and Burial Ground. On it is inscribed “Christian Lesnett, Pvt. Capt. Reed's Co, PA Militia, Revolutionary War, 1728-1807.” The term Pennsylvania Militia referred to any of a number of companies of Rangers organized on the frontier after the beginning of the Revolution, to provide protection against Indians friendly to and supported by the British.

The historical archives include a number of documents that list frontiersmen and their service in specific Ranger companies. In an earlier column we reported that Christian Lesnett is documented as a member of four different companies at different times. Reed's company roster also included Lesnett's sons, Frederick and Francis; Richard Boyce and his cousin John Fawcett; and Adam Hickman. Adam's brother, Peter, is listed in Capt. Robert Ramsey's company.

Since then I have uncovered a number of other familiar local names. William and John Boyce, and Charles Reno, are listed in Capt. John Wall's company; “Stokeley's Rangers include Moses and Nathan Cook; Lloyd, Zephaniak, and Robert Bell; William and James Blackmore; and James Coulter.

One historian reported that a careful comparison of tax rolls in Western Pennsylvania and the rosters of the militia suggest that every able-bodied man in the area was involved in this service. We suspect that the brief list we have included is merely representative and that all the frontiersmen were active as Rangers.

Then, of course, we must consider the regular army and the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line. It was organized in western Pennsylvania in the summer of 1776, to garrison the frontier forts against the threat of invasion from the west by British forces and their Indian allies. Consisting of eight companies of men, the organization was originally known as Mackay's Battalion, in honor of its commander, Col. Aeneas Mackay.

When the situation in the east became serious, the battalion was renamed the Eighth Regiment and ordered to join Gen. Washington's army near Philadelphia. After a difficult march across the mountains in mid-winter, so severe that 50 men died, including Col. Mackay, the regiment came under the command of Col. Daniel Brodhead.

They performed commendably in the battles of Bound Book, Brandywine, Paoli and Germantown. We have no documentation that any of our local Rangers also served in the Eighth, when it was part of Washington's army, but it certainly is possible. The Eighth spent the 1777-78 winter in the encampment at Valley Forge, then returned to their original mission in western Pennsylvania, where several successful campaigns were conducted against the Indians.

Any discussion of this period must include John and Presley Neville. When John Neville was commandant at Fort Pitt in 1775, he began construction of “Woodville.” He stayed at Fort Pitt until 1777 when he and his son Presley joined Washington's army. Presley served for several years as aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1779 they were assigned to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln's army in the Carolinas; when Charleston was surrendered to the British, they became prisoners of war, eventually being exchanged for British officers.

We also are aware of one anecdote from the War of 1812, thanks to Lesnett family history. Christopher Lesnett was a member of Gen. William Hull's army that surrendered to British Gen. Brock and Shawnee Chief Tecumseh. Lesnett and a friend refused to be taken by the enemy, and escaped into the woods. Although his friend died, Lesnett found his way back to safety. This adventure is captured in the Andrew Knez Jr. painting “Escape.”

We hope this discussion will encourage some of the old-timers to take another look at their family histories and let us know of other frontiersmen whom we should remember.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343- 1652 or

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