List of presidential visits to the Chartiers Valley is small
I had assumed that the only visit of a sitting president to the Chartiers Valley was the trip President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife took to Washington, Pa., to visit relatives of Mrs. Grant.
Recently I learned that I was grossly mistaken and that President James Monroe had indeed visited Canonsburg on September 5, 1817, and then gone on to Pittsburgh.
A monograph by S. Putnam Waldo describes a remarkable trip Monroe took during the first year of his incumbency. He left Washington early in June 1817, traveled up the East Coast through New England, then through upstate New York to Buffalo.
At that point, he boarded a sailing vessel and traversed Lake Erie to Detroit. He then came back through Ohio, arriving at Zanesville in late August. A week later, he arrived in Canonsburg, where he was met by a company of mounted militia and escorted to Emory's Tavern for refreshments.
Following the repast, a reception was held where he met the president of Jefferson College, students of that institution, and others.
At that time, Jefferson was by far the largest college in the state and one of the largest in the young nation. Monroe praised it as the center of literature in the West.
The militia then accompanied him on the Black Horse Trail to the Allegheny County line, where he was met by Allegheny County officials who went with him on to Pittsburgh.
It is intriguing to imagine Monroe's trip down the Black Horse Trail from Canonsburg into Pittsburgh. He certainly would have been curious about Morganza, Col. George Morgan's plantation.
The colonel had died in 1810, but Monroe would have been well-informed about Aaron Burr's visit to Morganza in 1805 and his attempt to recruit Morgan for his scheme to set up an empire in Louisiana. Morgan reported this incident to President Jefferson and testified as a witness in Burr's treason trial.
If the president inquired about local residents when they reached the county line, one presumes the Boyces, Fawcetts and Lesnetts would have been mentioned.
His coach would have stopped at Harriotts' Inn briefly before continuing on to “the bridge” over Chartiers Creek and Colonel Noble's storehouse there.
The next landmark would have been Woodville Plantation, by now the estate of Christopher Cowan. Monroe would have been quite familiar with the Whiskey Rebellion and would have asked to have someone point out to him the location of Bower Hill, before the rebels burned it down.
After passing St. Luke's Church, the trail slowly climbs Green Tree Hill before winding its way down to the Old Stone Tavern. In 1817, it was a major watering hole for travelers heading into Pittsburgh on the Black Horse Trail and had already seen a lot of history by then.
The more I read about Monroe, the more obvious it becomes that he is the most underappreciated of the Founding Fathers. The fact that he chose to visit the West during his first year in office and get a feel for his constituency is especially impressive.