Historical Markers
Fort Lafayette Historical Marker
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Fort Lafayette

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
9th St. just N of Penn Ave., Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
December 1958

Behind the Marker

When markerMeriwether Lewis left Washington D.C. on July 5, 1803 to begin his long trek across the North American continent his well-supplied expedition still had no men or co-leader. Nor did it have the keelboat needed to carry the expedition and its supplies down the Ohio River to St. Louis. The Lewis and Clark Expedition began not in Washington D. C. or Philadelphia, but in markerPittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Gateway to the West.
A landscape scene of rivers meeting with hills on both sides, one river being further away in the distance. Clouds sit in the blue sky. Long, rectangular buildings (one of which is the arsenal) sit below the hills and in front of the river, and houses are visible to the left. A ferry boat is sailing in the middle of the river to the left, and another ferry boat sails below the rectangular buildings from the right. Each carries human and animal figures. Other human figures are on both sides of the river banks. Smaller boats appear in the painting in the background. There are also two cannons present in front of the arsenal building.
Junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers

On his way to Pittsburgh, Lewis stopped at the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, where he tested the weapons he had ordered earlier, then made his way by horseback through western Virginia to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Redstone Old Fort (now Brownsville), and then down the Monogahela to Pittsburgh. Before leaving Washington, Lewis arranged for a Conestoga wagon to carry to Pittsburgh the 3,500 pounds of supplies he had purchased in Philadelphia. There they were stored at what was then known as Fort Fayette, whose commander, Moses Hooke, had agreed to join Lewis as co-leader of his expedition, should William Clark not be able to accept his offer. (Had William Clark turned Lewis down, the expedition might well have become known as the Lewis and Hooke Expedition!)

Fort Fayette had been constructed in 1792 to protect against attack from the Miami Indians who had just won a decisive battle against American troops in the Ohio Valley - one of the worst defeats in the long history of the Army's wars against American Indians. At Fort Fayette, General Anthony Wayne [Links to the New Nation story] in 1794 had met the raw recruits he would train and lead to victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the Indiana Territory later that year.
Line drawing of Fort Fayette with detailed listing of buildings.  Built in 1792.
Line drawing of Fort Fayette with detailed listing of buildings.

The Indian defense of the Ohio Territory finally ended when the Americans delivered a crushing blow at Fallen Timbers. It also unleashed the settlers who had been eager to pour into the northwest corner of Pennsylvania - the last section of the state still under Indian control.

When Lewis arrived in Pittsburgh less than a decade later, Indian removal from Pennsylvania was complete. Indeed, in the preceding half century, Pennsylvania had driven Native Americans completely from their homelands through a succession of wars, massacres, and relocations that some historians have compared to what is now called "ethnic cleansing."

Bad blood had not always separated Native and European Americans in Pennsylvania. The "Long Peace" established by William Penn and the Delaware tribe had stretched from the colony's founding until the 1750s. But European settlers also had been pushing Indians steadily westward, and each generation of displaced natives had sought a new Indian homeland beyond the borderlands. In the 1710s, the Delaware of southeast Pennsylvania had tried to settle in the Susquehanna Valley. After the infamous markerWalking Purchase of 1737 drove the Delaware from much of eastern Pennsylvania they had moved west of the Alleghenies and into the Wyoming Valley.

Pennsylvania's population doubled between 1740 and 1760 to more than 200,000. The Long Peace officially ended with the French and Indian War of the 1750s. Supplied by arms from the French, the Delaware and Shawnee tribes struck back, and the Pennsylvanian borderlands became killing grounds. At the Treaty of Easton in 1758 and again in the Proclamation of 1763, British authorities barred colonists from Indian lands west of first the Appalachian mountains, and then the Allegheny mountains. But settlers had little respect for lines drawn on paper and even Pontiac's Rebellion could not hold back the flood of people pushing west. During the American Revolution, the Ohio Valley again became a killing ground. And when Britain in the Treaty of Paris gave the new United States all land south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi, its Indian allies were appalled and outraged.
1805 Map Of Pittsburgh
1805 Map of Pittsburgh

In the early 1780s, Pennsylvania adopted a yet another Indian policy: Natives must "immediately cease their outrages," or Pennsylvania would, in the words of markerJohn Dickinson, "extirpate them from the land where they were born and now live." That extirpation was complete by the time Lewis arrived in Pittsburgh in July, 1803. At that time, too, the federal government and officials in other states and territories were in the midst of massive grabs of remaining Indian lands east of the Mississippi.

While George Washington was president, his administration had adopted a new "civilization plan" to force Indians to abandon their traditional communal ways of life for European-style family farming - and to appropriate the "excess" land no longer needed for hunting and foraging. The year that Lewis and Clark began their expedition, President Thomas Jefferson wrote to Indiana territorial governor William Henry Harrison that he would "be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them [Native Americans] run into debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individual can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cessation of lands."

Jefferson planned to relocate displaced Native Americans onto the lands that Lewis and Clark were exploring. One of Lewis and Clark's primary missions on their great expedition was to make contact with tribes west of the Mississippi: to cultivate them as trading partners, win their allegiance to the United States, study them, and prepare the way for the relocation of eastern Indians. When Lewis departed Pittsburgh, Jefferson believed North America was so vast that it would take 500 years for his countrymen to spread across the continent. For many Native Americans beyond the borderlands the Lewis and Clark Expedition heralded the arrival of a people who, in fact, swept across their continent in but a handful of decades.

Fort Fayette last served the nation as Commodore Perry's supply base during the War of 1812. The fort was abandoned in 1814.
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