Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fort Lyttleton / Burnt Cabins

Fort Lyttleton / Burnt Cabins 
Fulton County, Pennsylvania

 Western Side of Tuscarora Mountain
The engineering team of General John Forbes headed west with a well paid civilian road building crew that was mostly comprised of German immigrants now living in the British controlled colony of Pennsylvania.  Many were members of local militias from various communities back east but had traded in their muskets and rifles for picks and shovels.  The war would mostly be fought by a professional fighting force of British Marines imported from the mother country of Great Britain.  The arriving troops were within the realm of the British Empire but quickly discovered they were also in a foreign land.  America beyond the coastline, was a vast wilderness, cloaked in wooded mystery and unseen dangers.  They were forging a roadway into the unknown forest, blind to the hidden enemy who watched their every move.  The target was the French Army and their accompanying Native American allies stationed at Fort Duquesne far to the west, beyond a series of steep mountains and deep valleys.    

Forbes Road / Museum Diorama
The British command of the war effort in America were also discovering a surprising reality.  The people of America, who had been displaced from the distant reaches of Europe, were a new breed of British subjects who possessed a different mindset.  Unlike the English population back home on the other side of the world, the American colonists were not as concerned with Crown and Country as they were with their own rights as individuals.  Even settlers living in the dangerous frontier close to the fighting wanted to negotiate their terms of service in the militia war effort.  Supplies were readily available for the cause from the local civilian population but their price needed to be met, not willing to make a contribution to removing the French threat if it meant hurting their bottom line.  The British leadership on all levels would be forced to make concessions with their American brethren to get the job done.  British Prime Minster William Pitt did just that by taking all financial restraints out of the equation and bought what was needed without attention to price.  To use a recent reference from current events, William Pitt raised the debt ceiling of Great Britain all by himself on his own authority with the future consequences being what they may. 

Map of Forbes + Braddock's Road West
William Pitt was more concerned with the task at hand rather than worrying about paying the bills.  The climbing debt would be resolved later by financial councils, usually ending in new taxes paid by the loyal subjects of King George, as was customary and expected.  As the money flowed into Philadelphia, workers were hired, supply wagons were built, and the war-time economy thrived.  General John Forbes rendezvoused his troops in Carlisle, just west of the Susquehanna River, and prepared to forge his road toward the enemy.  Unlike his predecessor, General Edward Braddock who was defeated and killed two years earlier, Forbes would construct his road west slowly and with caution.  He planned to protect his right-of-way by building a series of forts along the route to secure his slowly advancing position as he approached the Forks of the Ohio, in present day city of Pittsburgh.  With unlimited resources at his disposal granted by the Prime Minister, General Forbes could afford the time and expense to construct fortifications along his route, increasing his chances for success and victory.

Fort Lyttleton PA Historic Marker
Fort Lyttleton was built in1755 a short distance from the western side of the Tuscarora Mountains in the first valley just inside territory claimed by New France.  It was originally constructed as a simple palisade wall to protect several settler's cabins from Indian attack following Braddock's defeat, earlier the same year.  Fort Lyttleton's construction was overseen by George Crogan, a well known fur trader, explorer, and veteran of Braddock's March.   During Forbes' March west the fort's defenses were strengthened and reenforced as it took on the role of supporting the troops between Fort Loudoun to the east and Fort Bedford to the west near Raystown.  Fort Lyttleton never saw battle action during Forbes' March but did serve as an active base to recruit Indian allies who agreed to side with the British and serve the war effort as frontier scouts.  It was also occupied by local militia briefly during Pontiac's Rebellion in the last year of the war but was decommissioned by the British Army and abandoned by 1764.

Fort Lyttleton Roadside Monument
Donnie and I were traveling west on Route 522 in Fulton County, close to the original path of Forbes Road.  A teacher friend of ours had just retired and had left Lancaster County to move back home, where she was from originally.  Her house was located right along Route 522 close to the western foot of the Tuscarora Mountains.  We pulled in unannounced, which was our method of choice when visiting friends and family on this trip but unfortunately she was not home.  Unbeknownst at the time, her home was actually located right next to the former site of Fort Lyttleton and even shared a property line with the historic location.  We went down to read the Pennsylvania Historic Marker and found a nice sized monument to the former fort mounted on a large white rock.  Donnie and I climbed the fence and walked up to the top of the knoll above the monument to take in the view of the surrounding valley.  I was hoping we could have seen evidence of the outline of the earthen walls of the former fort but the meadow grass was high and obstructed our efforts.  It was a yet another beautiful site of rural Fulton County and was preserved to stay that way.

The Grassy Knoll of Fort Lyttleton
Just to the east of Fort Lyttleton is a community curiously named Burnt Cabins, which was the town address of our former colleagues' house.  It is a strange name for a town on the map but it has roots in the history surrounding the post-war problems of the area following the French and Indian War.  Most people would assume that the name suggests a tragedy involving an Indian attack on a group of settler's cabins that were burned to the ground.  However, the cabins set ablaze were not the victim of an Indian war party raid in the aftermath of the war.  They were actually destroyed by American agents acting on orders issued from the Colonial Government and British officials.  As the old saying goes... Be careful what you wish for... because you just might get it!  This was very true for Americans living along the edge of the frontier at the conclusion of the French and Indian War.  In the end, the war solved one problem but created many more.

Virginia's View of the Map / 1760
The French and Indian War was one of those conflicts in history that were fought to solve a single problem, which in this case was removing French interests from North America.  The British eventually succeeded in that goal when the majority of the French Army was defeated on the Plains of Abraham, just outside Quebec, the capital city of New France.  The Treaty of Paris was signed and the British got their way but sometimes the peace causes a series of post-war problems, whose sum total can sometimes surpass the original objective and make things worse than they were before.  The most pressing problem was how to answer the question of how to divide the Ohio Valley between the original 13 Colonies.  Pennsylvania, Maryland, and especially powerful Virgina, along with Massachusetts and New York in the north, were all in the process of taking acreage in the newly open west by redrawing the map of their colony's boundaries to their own advantage.   There was no fair way to slice and dice the Ohio Valley apart fairly to make all invested parties content.  Would the bickering colonies fight over the spoils of war and cause a civil war to erupt between the colonies in the process? 

Fertile Ohio Valley Prize
In addition, there were complex questions of how to defeat the Indians still vowing to continue the war since they never signed a peace treaty and were never even given the option.  Who would march into the wilderness to eliminate the Native American threat and better yet, who would pay for it?  It was a multifaceted problem and Parliament did not want to rush to judgment and make a decision they would later regret.  What they needed was time, a period of time to sort it all out and consider their options and weigh potential solutions.  Their decision turned out to be... not to make a decision.  Instead, Parliament issued a royal proclamation, closing the newly won territory of the Ohio Valley, ceasing all new settlement and thwarting all individual colonial claims.  The controversial Proclamation Line of 1763 closed the Ohio Valley along the near eastern ridge of the Appalachian Mountains from north to south.  Settlers who had been poised to rush into the cheap fertile farmland within the valleys beyond the Blue Mountains were restrained, stuck on the outside looking in... Parliament had shut and locked the door. 

Settlers Defiantly Cross the Blue Mountains
(Painting Credit / John Buxton / Fort Pitt Museum)
Land to the west was the only affordable tillable soil available for poor settlers who had recently arrived in the colonies or had their indenture contracts expire.  In a land where ninety percent of the population made their living from small subsistence farming, the future growth of the colonies was now boxed in by their own government.  Looking back from a historical perspective, Parliament's decision to close the Ohio Valley was the right choice, given the potential threat of infighting.  However, to the individual settler living on the edge of the frontier in 1763, it was tyranny, plain and simple.  A group of American settlers of Scotch-Irish descent decided to ignore the line and take their chances with Indian war parties. They crossed the Tuscarora Mountains in defiance and settled illegally just inside the line mandated by British law.  The small community began to clear the land and build cabins with the trees they felled to make way for crops.  They built a grist mill to process their grains into flour and seemed to thrive in the forbidden zone beyond the reach of legal civilization.  However, their presence did not go unnoticed by government officials and local Indians.  Action against their defiant act was pending on the eastern horizon. 

Burnt Cabins Grist Mill
In May of 1750, colonial authorities instructed Colonial Secretary Richard Peters to go west with a delegation and remove the squatter settlers who were in violation of the Proclamation Line of 1763 by whatever means necessary.  Secretary Peters was accompanied by Indian interpreter Conrad Weiser, fur trader George Grogan, local magistrates, and members of the local Iroquois Nation who had filed the official complaint through lines of communication with the Governor of Pennsylvania.  They crossed the Tuscarora Mountains by way of Forbes Road and scouted the valley below for settlers living in violation of the law.  The delegation confronted one settler after another, forcibly evicting them and burning their homes to the ground.  A collection of eleven cabins that made up a town called Sidneyville, were collectively burned by Secretary Peters and his escorts.  As a result, the location of Sidneyville gained the new name of Burnt Cabins and has been known by that name ever since.

 The Line is the Law
However, the efforts of Secretary Peters to evict squatters in violation of British law did little to stem the influx of settlers crossing the Tuscarora Mountains in Pennsylvania.  They quickly reappeared and increased in number, despite the harsh actions in the name of government authority.  The defiant attitude of those Scotch Irish setters would soon spread throughout the colonies and in time, produce a new nation... The United States of America.      

 Early Political Cartoon of Internal Tensions
(Image Source / Library Company of Philadelphia)
In this early political cartoon from the time period, Scotch-Irish settlers pay the price as a Quaker and Indians ride on their backs while one of their homes burns in the background.  Several settlers lie dead at their feet.  The drawing captures the growing tension between western settlers and eastern politicians over the issue of land rights.  Immigrants complained that the colonial government, who were mostly Quakers, were more concerned with the Indians needs than that of white settlers.  Ben Franklin is seen standing off to the left watching the scene without action.  The tension bubbled over into violence when the Paxmore Boys took vengeance by massacring the remaining members of the Conestoga Indian Tribe living peacefully in Lancaster County.  They later went on the city of Philadelphia to face off against Franklin himself but backed down when British troops arrived in force.  Native Americans across the expanding west would fight a slow, continuous, losing battle to retain their lands for the next century. 
You can't get there from here!
A big thank you to Donnie Miller who accompanied me on this trip and his Fulton County family who I enjoyed meeting.  Their hospitality was greatly appreciated!  I look forward to returning to the area soon to continue exploring the old Lincoln Highway! (AKA: The Forbes Road

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