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Evans City historian to discuss local portion of George Washington's journey

| Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dr. Carl Robertson stands in a field dressed for his job as historical interpreter for George Washington aide Christopher Gist at Providence Plantation, which he and his wife formed as a non-profit in 2002.
Washington's Trail leads through the Evans City area and local historian Carl Robertson plans to share information about the 1753 trek.

A local historian plans to shed some light on a mystery that is more than 250 years old.

Carl Robertson, CEO of Providence Plantation of Evans City, will speak Wednesday, April 9, at 7 p.m., at the Cranberry Public Library about then-21-year-old George Washington's famous trip through the region on what now has become known as Washington's Trail.

Robertson will be focusing on Murdering Town, a facet of the trip that usually is a mere footnote in Washington's life but could have changed the country forever.

In 1753, Washington, who recently had been appointed as the adjutant general of the Virginia Militia, was on a mission from Williamsburg, Va., to Fort Le Boeuf, which was near what currently is Presque Isle, in Erie.

He was delivering a diplomatic message on orders from Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie from the British to the French to order them to evacuate the region, which the British claimed as their own.

It was during this trip that a Native American, referred to as a French Indian, tried to shoot Washington near a Native American Indian village that historians agree was somewhere between present-day Harmony and Evans City.

In his journal, Washington referred to this village as Murdering Town, likely because of the botched attempt on his life.

Ultimately, Washington completed his mission to Fort Le Boeuf and returned to Williamsburg to deliver the news that the French intended to remain entrenched in the region. This marked the beginning of the French and Indian War.

“The exact location of Murdering Town is a mystery for many reasons,” said John Ruch, president and CEO of the Harmony Museum.

“The Indians moved often, every few years. They would farm corn and then move to fresh ground. We know it is somewhere between Harmony and Evans City.”

While this topic has been debated for many years, concrete proof of where this village was has remained unknown.

But Robertson, who has been doing years of research on the topic, said he thinks he has uncovered important information that could nail down the location.

He has compared and contrasted information in Washington's personal journal and that of his guide, Christopher Gist.

“Gist is one of keys,” said Robertson, who is in the process of chronicling this event in a book.

“Usually historians leave out the journal of Gist, which had a lot of details.”

Then, by cross-referencing that information with maps, landmarks and by walking portions of the trail himself, he is confident in his findings.

However, perhaps the most interesting information is Robertson's use of geologist Gary D'Urso's findings about glacier flooding to support his suggested path of Washington.

“There are many misconceptions that I think need to be cleared up,” Robertson said.

“The location of Murdering Town is actually three miles north of Evans City. The information from my research and from Gary's support this.”

By showing the topography of the region from the era, particularly about waterways that existed, Robertson is planning on shedding new light on the long-debated issue.

Anybody interested in history or George Washington or who simply loves a good story is welcome to attend the free event.

Historians often agree to disagree about subjects, and the history of Murdering Town is no exception. But one thing that everybody can agree on is that history was nearly altered irreparably that day.

“If Washington had actually been killed that day … what a different history our nation would have,” Ruch said.

David McElhinny is the North Bureau Chief for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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