George Washington & Pine Creek by Jack Kearney
Pine Creek Stream Notes, December 27 – 29, 1753
The title might be a little bit misleading, but the notes do talk about Pine Creek here in Allegheny County and they were written in 1753. On December 27, 28, and 29, 1753 George Washington and his guide Christopher Gist were traveling alone on foot through the Pennsylvania wilderness toward the forks of the Ohio. They were returning from Fort Le Boeuf with an important letter addressed to the Lt. Governor of the colony of Virginia. Now their destination was a small Delaware Indian town called Shanapins. It was located near present day Lawrenceville about two miles up the Allegheny River from what Pittsburghers call the Point. Shanapins was one of the very few places they could find shelter from the cold and ice.
Washington and Gist had been traveling together for hundreds of miles, accompanied most of the time by interpreters, important Indian leaders, and people to tend to the horses and supplies. Both men kept personal journals with daily entries of important things that happened along the way. Their overall mission, which lasted more than two months, was to deliver a letter from the Lt. Governor of Virginia to the Commandant at Fort Le Boeuf which the French had just built near present day Waterford, PA. The letter ordered the French to abandon the fort and leave the area because it was on land owned by the British. The following portions of the journal entries for December 27, 28, and 29, 1753 are quoted here because they refer to Pine Creek and they talk about what happened when Washington decided to quit the path and travel alone with Gist on the quickest route back to deliver the French Commandant’s written response to the Lt. Governor of Virginia. That’s why they were headed to Shanapins. Washington and Gist spent most of their time those days along Pine Creek from its headwaters near present day Wexford to its mouth where it enters the Allegheny River near Etna.
Christopher Gist’s entries
Dec. 27: “Major Washington insisted on travelling on the nearest way to the forks of the Alleghany.”
“…we made a fire, set our compass, and fixed our course, and travelled all night, and in the morning we were on the head of Piney Creek.”
Dec. 28: “We travelled all the next day down the said creek, and just at night found some tracks where Indians had been hunting. We parted, and appointed a place a distance off, where to meet, it being dark. We encamped, and thought ourselves safe enough to sleep.”
Dec. 29: “We set out early, got to Alleghany, made a raft, and with much difficulty got over to an island a little above Shannopin’s town. The Major, having fallen in from off the raft, and my fingers frost-bitten, and the sun down, and very cold, we contented ourselves to encamp upon that island.”
George Washington’s entries
Dec. 27: “The day following, just after we had passed a place called Murdering town (where we intended to quit the path and steer cross country for Shanapin’s town) we fell in with a party of French Indians, who had laid in wait for us. One of them fired at Mr. Gist or me, not fifteen steps off, but fortunately missed. We took this fellow into custody, and kept him until about nine o’clock at night, then let him go, and walked all the remaining part of the night without making any stop.”
Dec. 28 “The next day we continued travelling until quite dark and got to the river about two miles above Shanapins. We expected to have found the river frozen, but it was not, only about fifty yards from each shore.”
Dec. 29: “There was no way for getting over but on a raft, which we set about, with but one poor hatchet, and finished just after sun setting. This was a whole day’s work: we next got it launched, then went on board of it, and set off; but before we were half way over, we were jammed in the ice, in such a manner, that we expected every moment our raft to sink, and ourselves to perish.”
I like to walk along (or wade in) Pine Creek to fish for trout and smallmouth bass and to help with our club’s projects. It’s good to know that the first president of our country walked there too. Washington and Gist’s journals are both included in a 47 page booklet from Kessinger Publishing, LLC. If you are interested in getting a copy, go to www.kessinger.net and search for “The Journals of George Washington and his Guide, Christopher Gist, on the Mission to the French at Fort Le Boeuf in 1753”.
Thanks to Library of Congress for sharing their work on Unsplash.