Fort Pitt, Virginia?
Here’s a trivia question for you.
Assume that a soldier was carried as a sergeant on the rolls of Colonel Campbell’s Company, 13th Virginia Regiment, on a company muster roll dated 5 April 1779 at Fort Pitt.
The record indicates that he was on the company rolls from October 1778 through March of 1779.1
If you were entering this into your genealogy database software, and had to include a state as part of the location description, which state would you list?
Now, everybody knows that Fort Pitt was right in the area where the City of Pittsburgh sits today, at the forks of the Ohio River, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge2 — the city where The Legal Genealogist will be headed tomorrow for the 2015 Conference of the North Hills Genealogists.
But before you roll your eyes at the question… stop and think for a minute.
Because it wasn’t so clear in 1778 and 1779 just what state would end up with the area where Fort Pitt stood.
You see, there were competing claims to that area by Virginia and Pennsylvania. William Penn’s 1681 charter for Pennsylvania had some very fuzzy language about where the western border of his province would be, while the land grant to the Ohio Company by the British Crown put the area squarely into the area that should be considered Virginia. Adding to the confusion was a British map that disagreed with the claims of both the Pennsylvanians and the Virginians and the fact that Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon — surveyors of the Mason-Dixon line — didn’t complete the survey to fix the southwestern border of Pennsylvania.3
The history of the area can be set out in a timeline:
• February 1754 – William Trent, a British Indian trader, shows up and builds a fort near where Fort Pitt was later built.4
• April 1754 – The French are not amused. They march down the river and make the British leave. They then start building their own fort.5
• November 1758 – The British still claim the area, and send an army to take it back. The French burn their fort to the ground when they realize they’re outnumbered and will have to surrender.6
• November 1759 – The British start building Fort Pitt.7
• 1771-1772 – Pennsylvania creates Westmoreland County, with the area of Fort Pitt inside its borders, and the British army takes a powder, leaving Fort Pitt in private hands.8
• 1774 – Virginia’s Governor, Lord Dunmore, claims authority over Fort Pitt and send John Connolly to assert that claim. Pennsylvania responds by arresting Connolly, who cons his way out of custody and gets a Virginia court to commission him as a justice of the peace for the area. He comes back with his own troops and arrests a bunch of Pennsylvanians.9
• 1775 – Virginia’s Augusta County begins holding court sessions at what was then called Fort Dunmore.10
• 1776-1778 – The Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, court doesn’t meet at all.11
• 1775-1780 – After John Connolly backs the British and the frontiersmen look to independence, Connolly hightails it back to Virginia and a Pennsylvania militia captain takes over at the Fort.12 Fort Pitt becomes the western headquarters for patriot troops during the Revolutionary War,13 with most troops and most commanders being (yep, you guessed it) Virginians.14,
• 1780 – Congress gets tired of the squabbling15 and gets Virginia and Pennsylvania to agree to extend the Mason-Dixon line to the west, and the whole area becomes — officially and forever — Pennsylvania.16
So… service at Fort Pitt, 1778-1779?
Or maybe just Fort Pitt, somewhere.
Image: “A Plan of the New Fort at Pitts-Burgh,” John Rocque (1759), via “Wikimedia Commons”.
- Compiled Military Service Record, Peter McCune, Sgt., 9th Virginia Regiment, Revolutionary War; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, microfilm publication M881, 1096 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives Trust Board, 1976); digital images, Fold3.com (https://fold3.com/ : accessed 28 Oct 2015), Peter Mc Cune file, p.2. ↩
- See Jane Ockershausen, “Forts at the Forks: Frontier History Comes to Life at the Fort Pitt Museum,” Trails of History, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (http://www.phmc.pa.gov/ : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩
- See Charles A. Grymes, “Virginia-Pennsylvania Boundary,” Virginia Places (http://www.virginiaplaces.org/ : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩
- “Chronology by Decade: 1750 – 1759,” Historic Pittsburgh (http://digital.library.pitt.edu/pittsburgh/ : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩
- “Fort Pitt Timeline,” Fort Pitt Museum, Heinz History Center (http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/ : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- “Chronology by Decade: 1770 – 1779,” Historic Pittsburgh (http://digital.library.pitt.edu/pittsburgh/ : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩
- Boyd Crumine, The County Court for the District of West Augusta, Va., … 1777-1780 (Washington Co. Historical Soc. : n.p., 1905), 16-18; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩
- Ibid., 17. ↩
- Ibid., 18. ↩
- “Chronology by Decade: 1770 – 1779,” Historic Pittsburgh ↩
- “Fort Pitt Timeline.” ↩
- See E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra, compiler, A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American Revolution, 1774-1787 (Richmond : Library of Virginia, 1978), 60-61. ↩
- See Journals of the Continental Congress 15: 1411 (Washington, D.C. : GPO, 1909)digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩
- See Resolution of the General Assembly of Virginia, 23 June 1780, agreed to by the Assembly of Pennsylvania, 23 September 1780, in Samuel Hazard, ed., 8 Pennsylvania Archives 352-354 (Philadelphia : Jos. Severns & Co. Printer, 1853); digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 28 Oct 2015). ↩