Historical Markers
Fort Lafayette [Indians] Historical Marker
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Fort Lafayette [Indians]

Pittsburgh Region


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

Dedication Date:
December 1958

Behind the Marker

Warfare returned to the Pennsylvania-Ohio borderland in the early 1790s. In two successive campaigns, U.S. troops were routed by allied Ohio Valley tribes defending their homelands from a new wave of white western migration. The second of these campaigns, led by Revolutionary War veteran Arthur St. Clair, was especially humiliating. In a battle reminiscent of markerBraddock's Defeat, the Ohio Indians killed or wounded 1,000 of St. Clair's 1,200 men. Relative to the size of the U.S. Army at that time, it was the single most devastating defeat the United States had ever met on a field of battle.
Line drawing of Fort Fayette with detailed listing of buildings.  Built in 1792.
Line drawing of Fort Fayette with detailed listing of buildings.

The American Revolution may have officially ended in 1783, but no one seemed to have told the Delaware, Shawnee, and other tribes of the upper Ohio Valley. At a series of treaties conducted in the 1780s, the United States government forced the Iroquois to cede their remaining claims to land east of the Ohio River. The United States claimed this territory by right of conquest from the markerSullivan Campaign of 1779, but the Indians of the Ohio Country had never really been defeated by either Pennsylvania militiamen or Continental soldiers. The Delaware, Shawnee, and Iroquois who had formerly inhabited the northern Susquehanna, Allegheny, and Ohio valleys moved farther west into Ohio and continued to ally themselves with British troops in Ontario and Detroit.

St. Clair's defeat in 1791 prompted the federal government to construct Fort Lafayette to protect Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. General Anthony Wayne, appointed by President Washington to subdue the Ohio Indians once and for all, arrived at Fort Lafayette in 1794 to train the raw recruits provided for him.

Wayne's army engaged the Ohio Indians near modern Toledo in the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794, and the following year, the Treaty of Greenville negotiated by Wayne forced the Indians to withdraw farther west into modern Indiana. After forty years of violence and bloodshed, the Indian defense of the Ohio-Allegheny watershed finally was broken.
Charles denounces British and Indian depredations on the American frontier during the War of 1812, alluding specifically to the practice of offering bounties for American scalps. The cartoon may have been prompted by the August 1812 massacre at Chicago and the purchase of American scalps there by British Colonel Proctor. On the left a British officer receives a bloody scalp from an Indian, who has a purse with "Reward for Sixteen Scalps" hanging from his flintlock. The Indian's knife and tomahawk bear the initials "GR" (for Georgius Rex, i.e., King George). The officer says, "Bring me the Scalps and the King our master will reward you." From a button on the officer's coat hangs a tag or sack labeled "Secret Service Money." At right, another Indian is in the process of scalping a fallen soldier; another dead, scalped soldier lies nearby. In the background two Indians and two soldiers dance about a campfire. Below are eight lines of verse: "Arise Columbia's Sons and forward press, / Your Country's wrongs call loudly for redress; / The Savage Indian with his Scalping knife, / Or Tomahawk may seek to take your life; / By bravery aw'd they'll in a dreadful Fright, / Shrink back for Refuge to the Woods in Flight; / Their British leaders then will quickly shake, / And for those wrongs shall restitution make."
A Scene on the Frontiers as Practiced by the Humane British and Their Worthy...

A decade later, Fort Lafayette - its name now shortened to Fort Fayette - was used as a staging ground for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When Meriwether 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 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Gateway to the West.

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 Monongahela to Pittsburgh.

Before leaving Washington, Lewis directed the wagon carrying the 3,500 pounds of supplies he had purchased in Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. There they were stored at Fort Fayette, whose commander, Moses Hooke, 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!)

The removal of Indians from within Pennsylvania's borders was completed 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. During the 1790s, the federal government 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."

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, and to study them. 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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