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Tom Faucet's legend — did he really kill Gen. Edward Braddock?

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 7:23 a.m.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF OHIOPYLE STATE PARK

Editor's note: This weekend, the Connellsville Area Historical Society will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its presentation of the Braddock's Crossing. The event highlights Gen. Edward Braddock's crossing of the Youghiogheny River. In recognition of this celebration, today — who was Tom Faucet.

By all accounts, he was a burly giant of a mountain man who went to his grave around 1820 claiming that he shot and killed his commanding officer — British Gen. Edward Braddock — at the Battle of the Wilderness near Fort Duquesne in July 1755.

His name was Tom Faucet, or Tom Fawcett or Tom Fossit, depending on the source. But local authors who wrote articles about him all told similar tales: that Tom mortally shot Braddock because the general had stabbed Tom's brother, Joseph, because Joseph had refused to fight the “open battlefield” warfare that Braddock demanded, choosing instead to fight “Indian Style,” firing his weapon from behind a tree.

When Tom passed away many, many years ago — at the age of 100 or more — he was poverty-stricken and lived in Stewart Township with a man named Thomas Stewart. Tom's grave is located near Ohiopyle, including his headstone, upon which his last name is spelled “Faucet.”

In “The History of Fayette County,” writer Franklin Ellis quoted Sherman Day, who described Tom as a man of “gigantic frame, of uncivilized, half-savage proportion.”

That description is in stark contrast with the soft-hearted, loving Tom described in a 1916 article written by Henry Wharton Shoemaker.

According to Shoemaker's story in “Juniata Memories: Legends Collected in Central Pennsylvania,” Tom started out in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, as a handsome young man who was unlucky in love.

In the article “Tom Faucett: The Record of a Triple Love Tragedy,” Shoemaker noted that “All three (of Tom's) wives were murdered by Indians — two of them before his very eyes.”

Shoemaker claimed that, as a young man, Tom moved from Cumberland Valley to Juniata Valley, where he married a young Irish girl. He built a cabin and they settled down. A few months later, he came home after hunting one day and found her scalped, her throat cut.

Eventually, Tom married another Irish woman, a hardy lass who was unafraid of Indians and frontier life. According to the legend, six months later she was killed by an unseen Indian's arrow while the couple was walking outside hand-in-hand.

The second wife's brother, knowing that Tom's first wife had died, called Tom a murderer and smashed him in the head with a piece of wood, knocking Tom unconscious for a week.

After he awoke from his coma, Tom — who Shoemaker described as “a pretty man of 33” — grieved so badly that he left the area, heading west. A few miles later, he met a Dutchman named Jacob Reningher, who invited Tom to his home. Tom fell in love with Reningher's oldest daughter, a buxom, blue-eyed 15-year-old named Annie.

The couple decided to marry, but before the wedding could take place, tragedy once again intervened. Tom and Reningher left Reningher's wife and three daughters (including Annie) at home to go bear hunting. When they returned, Reningher's wife and the two younger girls were bound and gagged — and Annie was kidnapped by Indians.

Tom vowed to find Annie and bring her back, according to Shoemaker. With help from French trappers and several Native Americans, Tom finally found Annie in Canada. They escaped to Albany, New York, where they finally married. He and his “Little Dutch Wife” returned to Juniata Valley in 1746 — four years after she was kidnapped.

Tom and Annie finally settled in what is Blair County today. One evening, as they tended their livestock, Annie was shot dead by an Indian. According to Shoemaker's article, Tom was so grief stricken, he eventually moved to Western Pennsylvania to get away from his bad memories. When Braddock marched toward Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh) in 1755, Tom and his brother, Joseph, were among Braddock's soldiers.

Sherman Day, quoted in Ellis's “History of Fayette County,” that Tom witnessed Joseph's murder by Braddock … ”And (Tom) shot Braddock — partly in revenge for the outrage upon his brother, and partly … to get the general out of the way and thus save the remainder of the gallant band (of soldiers).”

Along the trail

After Braddock died, the general was buried along the dirt roadway that his troops had made through Southwestern Pennsylvania's forests on their trip towards Fort Duquesne. That roadway was named Braddock's Trail.

One source included a written account from the summer of 1812, detailing the effort of workers searching for Braddock's remains so the bones could be properly interred. Along Braddock's Trail, a man named Andrew Stewart said that Tom “Fawcet” emerged from the woods to talk to the workers.

“He was dressed in a buckskin tunic and leggings and huge moccasins. (He had) silver hair and a white beard and held a hunting knife, a powder horn and a rifle,” Stewart claimed.

“Fawcet” advised the workers to “Dig a little deeper along about even with that white oak yonder, boys. When ye git down far enough, ye'll find the gin'ral.”

When the digging yielded only dirt, Stewart accused Fawcet of “rainbow chasing,” according to the article.

Undeterred, the giant mountain man jumped into the hole and kept digging, unearthing “an epaulet (from a British Army uniform) and “a bone or two from the man who wore it” — including his skull.

The bones were reinterred nearby — and a century later, a monument was erected there to honor Braddock, according to the article, which was dated 1913, the year the monument was dedicated.

In 1925, Edith Fawcett Zebley claimed in an article that she was Tom's relative — and credited Tom with Braddock's death.

Mere legend or truth?

The only thing known for certain is that Braddock was mortally wounded as his army tried to capture Fort Duquesne in 1755 and that there is a monument honoring him. It is located along U.S. Route 40 — the National Road — near the Fayette County village of Farmington.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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