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Chapter 37

This webpage reproduces part of
Fortescue Cuming's
Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country

published in
Thwaites, Early Western Travels, Vol. IV.

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 39
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[219] Vol. IV
Chapter XXXVII
Pittsburgh — Panorama round it

At the conflux of the rivers Allegheny and Monongahela, the French when possessed of Canada, had the principal of a line of posts extending from that country round the back frontier of the British settlements, for the purposes of awing the aborigines and commanding their trade, and to prevent the spreading of the Anglo-American colonization beyond these limits. It was named Fort Du Quesne, after the Marquis Du Quesne, a governour of Canada. It was always kept well garrisoned by European troops, and in time of war, was never without an army of auxiliary Indians encamped under its protection. This continual state of preparation cost the British much blood. In the year 1757, general Grant, with a regiment of eight hundred Scotch highlanders, arrived without discovery on a hill immediately commanding the fort, since named after him Grant's hill, where thinking himself secure of conquest, he alarmed the enemy by beating the reveille at sunrise. The garrison, without awaiting [220]to be attacked in the fort, which would not have been tenable, and reinforced by a strong body of Indians, stole out under the high river banks, and divided itself into two parties, one of which took the route upwards of the Monongahela, and the other that of the Allegheny, until they flanked Grant's little army, when profiting by the woods, with which the hill and surrounding country were  p243 then covered, they suddenly attacked it in flanks and rear, cut to pieces, tomahawked and scalped the greater number, while the rest with the general saved their lives by becoming prisoners to the French, on whose mercy they threw themselves.154

The following year 1758, was productive of greater slaughter to the British, by the defeat of general Braddock's army of five thousand men, being surprised by the French and Indians in great force on the banks of the Monongahela, when within eight miles of Fort Du Quesne, then a wilderness, but now well inhabited and ornamented on the very spot by the handsome brick house and fine farm of judge Wallace.155 The general and three fourths of the army, were shot down from behind trees, while in the parade of European tacticks, presenting four bold open fronts to the enemy, being formed in a hollow square. The few who escaped, did so under the protection of Col. since Gen. Washington's provincial militia, who by opposing a similar warfare against the savage enemy, covered the retreat of the few remaining regulars.

Some time afterwards in the same year, the fort capitulated to general Forbes, and the river Allegheny having made some encroachment on it by undermining its banks, a new and more extensive fortification of a square with four bastions  p244 was erected by general Stanwix just above, and named Fort Pitt, in honour of the then prime minister of England. — It cost government £60,000 sterling. A garrison [221]was kept here for several years after the peace of 1763, but it was withdrawn on the commencement of the disputes between Britain and America, and the inhabitants of the surrounding settlement, which had not yet taken the form of a town, occasionally forted themselves for defence against the Indians, and so late as the year 1781, there were only a few small houses and cabins on the banks of the two rivers, under protection of the fort, a noble row of brick and stone houses built by the French Indian traders on the banks of the Allegheny, having been undermined and swept away by that river since 1766, in the memory of some of the present inhabitants of Pittsburgh.156 After 1781, Pittsburgh began to improve slowly, and in 1784 a gazette157 was established in it.158 In 1783 Fort Pitt was repaired by general Irwin, but was afterwards neglected, and a stoccado fort called Fort Fayette, was erected on the bank of the Allegheny, half a mile above Fort Pitt.159 Fort Fayette is now  p245 used as a barrack and place of deposit of stores, but is useless for either offence or defence. The surrounding grounds were handsomely laid out, planted, and ornamented by general Wilkinson160 some years ago, and considering the smallness of the field he had to work on, shew much taste, and are an ornament to the eastern and principal approach to the town, in which situation the fort stands.

The town or borough, as it now is, has increased in a very rapid degree both in size and consequence since the last ten years. The plan, by its being designed to suit both rivers, is rather irregular, Penn and Liberty streets which are very fine streets, running parallel to the Allegheny, while the principal [222]part of the town is parallel and at right angles with the Monongahela.

In seventeen streets and four lanes or alleys in March 1808, were two hundred and thirty-six brick houses, of which forty-seven were built in the last twelve months, and three hundred and sixty-one wooden ones, seventy of which were added last year. There are fifty stores generally well assorted and supplied, and which divide the retail business of the town and adjacent country in tolerably good proportion.  p246 Some however have rather a superiority of custom, the owner of one of which, a man of veracity, assured me that he received in ready money, one market day with another, one hundred and fifty dollars, and that he had once taken one hundred and eighty besides the credit business. Either as a trading or a manufacturing town, I think Pittsburgh for situation, is not excelled in the United States, and that it bids fair to become the emporium of the centre of the federal union. There are 24 taverns, four or five of which are excellent ones, and the rest of every grade. An account of the manufacturies and tradesmen was taken in the fall of 1807, the result of which was — A cotton manufactury, having a mule of 120 threads, a spinning jenny of 40 threads, 4 looms and a wool carding machine under the same roof; a glasswork for green glass on the opposite side of the Monongahela, and another just erected for white glass on the town side of the same river; two breweries, where are made excellent beer and porter, equal to any in the United States; an air furnace, where all sorts of hollow iron utensils are cast; four nail facturies, at one of which one hundred tons of cut and hammered nails are made annually; seven coppersmiths, tinplate workers and japanners; one wire weaving and riddle factury; one brass foundery; six saddlers and harness-makers; two gun-smiths; two tobacconists; one bell-maker; three tallow-chandlers; [223]one brush maker; one trunk-maker; five coopers; thirteen weavers; ten blue-dyers; one comb-maker; seven cabinet-makers; one turner in brass, ivory and wood; six bakers; eight butchers; two barbers; six hatters; two potteries of earthen ware; eight straw bonnet-makers; four plane-makers; six milliners; twelve mantua-makers; one stocking weaver; two book-binders; four house and sign painters; two portrait painters; one mattress-maker; three wheelwrights; five watch and clock-makers and silversmiths; five bricklayers, five plasterers; three stonecutters; eight boat,  p247 barge and ship builders; one pump-maker; one looking-glass plater and maker; one lock-maker; seven tanners; two rope-makers; one spinning wheel maker; seventeen blacksmiths; one machinist and whitesmith; one cutler and tool-maker; thirty-two house carpenters and joiners; twenty-one boot and shoemakers; five windsor chair-makers; thirteen tailors; one breeches-maker and skin-dresser; twelve school-masters; four schoolmistresses; four printing offices; six brick-yards; three stone masons; two book-stores; four lumber yards; one maker of machinery for cotton and woolen manufacturies; one factury for clay smoking-pipes; and one copper-plate printing press.

The tradesmen above mentioned are all master-workmen, who employ more or less assistants in proportion to their business.

Besides the fine situation of Pittsburgh for manufacturies, another circumstance encourages much the settlement of industrious tradesmen in it, which is the cheap, plentiful and various market. There are two market days weekly, and the common prices of necessaries are, — good beef, from 2½ to 4 cents per lb. pork 3½, mutton 4, veal 3, venison 3 to 4, bacon 6 to 10, butter 10 to 18, cheese 8 to 12, hogs lard 8, [224]fowls each 10 to 12, ducks 25, geese 33 to 37, turkies 40 to 75, flour $1 75 to 2 50 per cwt. or from 3 50 to 4 50 per barrel, corn 33, potatoes 40, turnips 18, Indian meal 40 cents per bushel, onions a dollar, white beans a dollar, dried apples and peaches a dollar, and green 40 cents per bushel, eggs 10 to 18 cents per dozen, fresh fish 3 to 6 cents per lb. maple sugar, very good, made in the country, 10 to 12 cents a pound, whiskey 30 to 40 cents per gallon, peach brandy 75 to 80, beer 5 to 7 dollars a barrel, and cider 3 to 4, 700 country linen 40 cents, and tow cloth 33 cents per yard;161 but salt comes high, being generally 2½ dollars per bushel,  p248 which is occasioned by its being supplied from the Onondago salt works, in the upper part of the state of New York, from whence it is brought by water with a few portages, through part of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and down French creek and the Allegheny to Pittsburgh, where it is a great article of trade, giving employment to several keel boats on the river.

The situation of Pittsburgh is unrivalled with respect to water communication, with a great extent and variety of country; and would also be so in beauty was it not hemmed in too closely by high and steep hills. It may notwithstanding be called a beautiful situation, as there is a variety in those very hills, which all differ in appearance from each other, and admit between them fine vistas up the Allegheny and Monongahela, and down the Ohio, which river is formed by the confluence of the other two, and which after flowing eleven hundred miles through all its sinuosities, is itself lost in the Mississippi, at a point about W. S. W. from Pittsburgh, from whence eleven hundred miles more carry that chief of Atlantick rivers (whether with regard to unimpeded navigation, or the immense body of water discharged through it) into the ocean below New Orleans, in [225]about a south direction from its confluence with the Ohio.

Standing on the point which was the scite of the old French Fort Du Quesne, about the middle of the last century, and of which there is now no vestige, and looking up the Allegheny to the northward, a chain of hills, with a narrow bottom partially cultivated between the hills and the river, bound the view on the left, while two beautiful little islands, the uppermost one cultivated, and owned by a Mr. Wainwright from England, terminate the water prospect in front.

Turning gradually to the right, the eye looks over the dry ditch and old ramparts of the former English Fort Pitt,  p249 which succeeded Fort Du Quesne, beyond which are a few straggling apple and pear trees, being all that remains of the king's and artillery gardens, planted and cultivated by the first British garrison, and now laid out in streets and town lots. Looking onward up the bank of the river, which is about thirty feet above the surface, when the water is lowest, houses, trees, and cultivated fields, are seen for three miles to Mr. Davis's large, and handsomely situated house, about half a mile beyond the race course, and the same distance above Wainwright's island. Hills covered with wood, rising amphitheatre-like behind Davis's, terminate the view that way.

Turning a little more to the right, the eye follows the Quarry hill, which is a ridge of from two hundred and fifty to three hundred feet perpendicular height, crowned with lofty forest trees, under which is a quarry of fine building stone, about half a mile long, with a good wagon road along its whole length, from every part of which are most charming views of the town and rivers, the cultivated sides of the hill below, and the rich and luxuriant plain of a quarter of a mile wide between the foot of the hill and the Allegheny, [226]with the post and stage road from Philadelphia and the eastern states running through the middle of it two miles from Hill's tavern to the town, which in its most compact part, with the belfry of the court-house, the Episcopal brick octagonal church, a handsome Presbyterian brick meeting house, and the roofs of the dwelling houses intermixed with lombardy poplars and weeping willows, the eye still approaching itself, is the next object.

A little to the right of the last line of view, Grant's hill, with its sloping sides and regular ascent to about one hundred feet perpendicular height, covered with delightful short green herbage, seems to obtrude itself into the town, affording to the citizens a charming mal or promenade both for exercise  p250 and air. It lies within the bounds of the borough; but it is to be hoped that general O'Hara, who is the proprietor, will with true patriotism, reserve it for its present use, and not permit one of the greatest ornaments of Pittsburgh to be destroyed, by having it cut down and levelled for building lots. Its belonging to a man of such extensive property is a fortunate circumstance for the inhabitants, as that may prevent its being changed from pleasure to profit, to which it might be more liable was it owned by some needy person. Was the general to fence it in, terrace it, which could be done at a small expense, ornament it with clumps of evergreens and flowering shrubs, and erect a few banqueting houses in the forms of small temples according to the different orders of architecture, it would be one of the most beautiful spots, which not only America but perhaps any town in the universe could boast of.

Grant's hill is united to the Quarry hill, by a plain at first flat, then rising gradually, over the middle of which on a very commanding situation, is seen the handsome cottage of Mr. Tannehill, a continental officer during the revolutionary war, who now enjoys [227]the evening of life in the shade of the finest fruit trees of this climate, of his own planting, for which rational and delightful employment as well as horticulture in general, he has a good taste.162

Still continuing to turn to the right, the next prominent object is the house of Mr. James Ross, an eminent lawyer, which he purchased from a Mons. Marie, a Frenchman,  p251 who had taken great pains to cultivate a good garden, which Mr. Ross does not neglect, and in which, on the top of an ancient Indian tumulus or barrow, is a handsome octangular summer house of lattice work, painted white, which forms a conspicuous and pleasing object.

From Mr. Ross's, which is immediately behind the top of Grant's hill, there is a gradual slope to a small but elevated plain, called Scotch or Scots hill, from its being the residence of several families from the northern Hebrides. It is improperly called a hill as it is no higher than the general level of the town, which is about forty feet above the low water mark of the Monongahela, to the bank of which river this plain extends, from the foot of the hill below Mr. Ross's house.

A valley commencing at the upper extremity of this plain, divides Grant's and Grove hills (the latter the seat of Mr. Tannehill before mentioned) from Boyd's hill, which equally steep and twice as high as Grant's, is the most striking feature in the view, [228]still looking to the right over the principal part of the town. This valley is watered by a little rivulet called Suke's163 run, which flows past a pleasant retired situation, said to have been formerly inhabited by one Anthony Thompson, long before Pittsburgh was a town. A few indigenous plum trees are the only vestiges of its former occupancy. The rivulet passes Mr. Watson's large brick house, supplies a tanyard owned by general O'Hara, then crossing the Monongahela road, falls into that river at the shipyards, at a low inlet between Scots hill plain and Boyd's hill, where several vessels have been built, some as large as four hundred tons. The coal which supplies Pittsburgh with fuel, is brought on wagons from a distance not  p252 exceeding two miles, and is delivered in the town at six cents a bushel.

Boyd's hill was formerly named Ayre's hill, from a British engineer of that name who wished to have it fortified, but it changed its appellation about twenty years ago in consequence of one Boyd, a printer, hanging himself there on a tree. It was first cleared and cultivated by a Highland regiment, which built huts on it, no remains of which now exist.

The view from Boyd's hill exclusive of the Allegheny, which is veiled by Grant's and the Quarry hills, is as fine as that from the Quarry hill exclusive of the Monongahela, shut out from it by Boyd's, and is more uninterrupted down the Ohio to Robinson's point and Brunot's island, almost three miles.

The Monongahela is then the next object to the right of Boyd's hill. It is four hundred and fifty yards wide, and is seen to the N. E. in a vista of about two miles, when it takes a sudden bend to the eastward, and disappears behind the hills, at the extremity [229]of this vista, at the Two mile run, Mr. Anthony Beelen, a respectable merchant, has a neat ornamented cottage, opposite the bend, on the left bank, which commands a view of the reach above, as well as of that below to the town. The intermediate bank between Mr. Beelen's country seat and Pittsburgh, has a pleasant road along it, which is one of the principal avenues to the town, and which is surmounted by the ridge, of which Boyd's hill is the termination, whose round regular bluff verges into a bare rock, crowned with trees, impending romantically over the road in the whole distance from Two mile run.

Still turning to the right the opposite bank of the Monongahela presents to the eye a fine level bottom well cultivated and settled, with a ridge of hills half a mile behind it, which  p253 gradually approach the river until immediately opposite the town, where rising abruptly from the water's edge to the height of about five hundred feet perpendicular, they take the name of the Coal hill, from that fuel being formerly dug out of it for the use of the town, before pits were opened more convenient on this side of the river. It still supplies the coal for general O'Hara's glass-works, which, with the houses of the overseer and workmen, forms a village at the foot of the hill on the river bank, immediately opposite the point where the spectator stands, who has now gone round rather more than half a circle since his first view up the Allegheny. Window glass of a good quality and quart bottles, are made at this manufactury, which with a rival one at New Geneva, about sixty miles up the Monongahela, supplies all the western country.

The face of the Coal hill is very steep, and on the summit, major Kirkpatrick164 has a farm house and barn, which seem to hang immediately over Pittsburgh, to a traveller approaching from the north [230]eastern avenues. The bird's eye view from thence of the town and rivers is very striking. Every street, lane, alley, house and object, however minute (if visible to the eye) being delineated under the spectator, as a plan on paper, the inequalities of surface not being discernible, and even Grant's hill being flattened to a plain on the optick sense.

Continuing to turn to the right from our original centre, the point, we see the Ohio for about two miles, with Elliot's mills on Saw mill run below Coal hill on the left, an amphitheatre of lower hills about Chartier creek and M'Kee's farm to Brunot's island in front, and Robinson's point  p254 and Smoky island at the mouth of the Allegheny on the right.

The eye still keeping its circuit, looks over a fine level of three thousand acres, once intended as the scite of a town to be called Allegheny, to be the capital of the county, but the situation of Pittsburgh being very properly judged more convenient, it has eventually become the seat of justice of the county, and the most flourishing inland town in the United States. A chain of irregular hills, not so steep, but nearly as high as Coal hill, bounds this level, and completes the Panorama.

The plan of Pittsburgh by being designed to suit both the rivers, is in consequence irregular. The ground plot is a triangle. Some of the streets run parallel to each river, until they meet at the point, and they are again intersected by others at right angles, meeting at acute angles in the centre. At one of those acute angles at a corner of Wood street, is the Episcopal church, an octagonal building of brick not yet finished, and nearly opposite on the other side of the same street is a Presbyterian meeting-house of brick also, well built, neat, and roomy. In a remote street near Grant's hill, is a small old framed Presbyterian meeting-house, used by a sect a little differing from the other, and the German Lutherans [231]have a small house of worship near it — at the N. E. end of the town is a very good brick meeting-house for a large congregation of Covenanters — and without the town, near Mr. Woods's handsome seat, a handsome brick church is building for a society of Roman Catholicks. The court-house in the centre of the town is the only publick building which remains to be mentioned.

It is well built of brick, is spacious, and convenient for judiciary purposes, and serves for a place of worship for the Episcopal society until their own church is finished, as  p255 also occasionally for itinerant preachers to display their oratory — and the jury room up stairs is sometimes converted into a very good temporary theatre, where private theatricals are practised in the winter by the young gentlemen of the town.

A respectable society of Methodists meet at each others houses, not having yet any house for that express purpose.

From the number of religious houses and sects, it may be presumed that the sabbath is decently observed in Pittsburgh, and that really appears to be the case in a remarkable degree, considering it is so much of a manufacturing town, so recently become rich, and inhabited by such a variety of people.

Amusements are also a good deal attended to, particularly concerts and balls in the winters, and there are annual horse races at a course about three miles from town, near the Allegheny beyond Hill's tavern.165

On the whole let a person be of what disposition he will, Pittsburgh will afford him scope for the exercise of it.

The Editor's Notes:

154 Cuming's historical narratives are not as accurate as his observations. This defeat of Grant occurred in 1758, and but a third of the troops engaged were killed and captured — 540 out of 813 returning to Bouquet's camp at Loyalhanna. See Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (Boston, 1885). II, pp150‑154. — Ed.

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155 General Braddock's defeat occurred July 9, 1755; the site of the battle-field is now covered by the manufacturing town of Braddock, Pennsylvania.

Judge George Wallace, whose farm comprised the field of battle when Cuming wrote, was an eminent citizen of Allegheny County. First appointed presiding judge of Westmoreland (1784), then of Allegheny County (1788), he acted as magistrate until his death (1814). Wallace had not studied law, but held his position on account of being a large stockholder; his fairness and moderation, especially during the Whisky Rebellion, proving of great service to the settlements. — Ed.

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156 Brackenridge's Gazette Publications. — Cramer.

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157 Published by Mr. John Scull, the first press established west of the Allegheny mountains. — Cramer.

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158 The publication of the Pittsburg Gazette was begun July 29, 1786, and continued for several years under great difficulties. Sometimes the consignment of paper from Philadelphia failing to arrive, it was printed on cartridge paper obtained from the commandant of the fort. John Scull remained the owner and proprietor until 1818, when he retired to Westmoreland County where he died ten years later. The publication of the Gazette has been continuous to the present day, being now known as the Commercial Gazette. — Ed.

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159 For note on Fort Fayette, see Michaux's Travels, vol. III of this series, p32 note 12

General William Irvine was a Scotch-Irish Revolutionary officer who had been captured on the Canadian expedition (1776) and not exchanged until two years later. Commissioned brigadier-general, he was sent by Washington, at a critical juncture, to take command at Fort Pitt, and there remained until peace was signed (1783). Thereupon he retired to Carlisle, and after distinguished public services died in 1804. Pennsylvania granted him a tract of land near Erie in return for his services. — Ed.

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160 The career of General James Wilkinson is as remarkable as his character is despicable. His adroitness and power of inspiring confidence maintained him in his intrigues, and gave him the opportunity of playing a prominent part in the early western affairs. His share in the Revolution was indicative of the man, he being concerned in the Conway Cabal and other questionable movements. At the close of the war he migrated to Kentucky and engaged in mercantile business. His commercial connection with New Orleans furnished the opportunity for his intrigue with the Spaniards, whose paid agent he became, for attempting to dismember the union. In this position he first embarked upon, and then betrayed the schemes of Aaron Burr. Not able entirely to clear himself of suspicion, Wilkinson was removed from his Western position at the outbreak of the War of 1812‑1815; and after a futile and mismanaged campaign against Montreal demanded an investigation by court-martial. This being inefficiently conducted, Wilkinson was acquitted, but he soon (1815) retired to extensive estates which he had acquired near the City of Mexico, where he died ten years later. — Ed.

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161 Ohio and Mississippi Navigator — sixth edition. — Cramer.

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162 What adds to the beauty of Mr. Tannehill's seat is, a handsome grove of about two Ares of young black oaks, northwest of his dwelling, through the middle of which runs a long frame bowery, on whose end fronting the road, is seen this motto, "1808, Dedicated to Virtue, Liberty and Independence." Here a portion of the citizens meet on each 4th of July, to hail with joyful hearts the day that gave birth to the liberties and happiness of their country. On the opposite side of the road to the bowery, is a spring issuing from the side of the hill, whose water trickles down a rich clover patch, through which is a deep hollow with several small cascades, overhung with the willow, and fruit trees of various kinds. — Cramer.

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163 This rivulet derives its appellation from the circumstance of a woman named Susan, nicknamed Suke, having either hung herself in a thicket of plum trees her, or drowned herself in the run, about thirty-five years ago. — Cramer.

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164 Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, a Marylander by birth and a Revolutionary officer, was one of the earliest settlers of Pittsburg. A brother-in‑law of John Neville, he aided the latter in his difficulties with the insurgents in the Whiskey Rebellion. Nevertheless, he was popular in his vicinity, and left a number of descendants who became useful citizens. — Ed.

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165 We are sorry to have it to acknowledge that horse racing, contrary to an express law of the state, has been more or less practised within the vicinity of this place a few years back, but are pleased with the prospect of having it totally abolished by the influence of its evident impropriety, danger, and wickedness, operating on the minds of the more thoughtful and judicious. — Cramer.

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