Historical Markers
Venango Path Historical Marker
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Venango Path

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
Intersection SR 3013 (old PA 8) and SR 3003 just North of Wesley

Dedication Date:
August 23, 1987

Behind the Marker

George Washington drew this map of his route upon his return from a trip to Fort LeBoeuf. He followed the Venango Path from the forks of the Ohio River, east to the village of Venango, then north to the forts of Leboeuf and Machault, depicted at the northern terminus of his route.
George Washington drew this map of his route upon his return from a trip to...
One of the most famous journeys undertaken in early American history occurred along the Venango Path in late 1753, when a twenty-one-year-old Virginia militia officer named George Washington traversed it to deliver a message Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie's marker warning to the commander of French troops in the Ohio Valley that they were trespassing on British land. Washington and his guide markerChristopher Gist nearly died several times along the way. Like many novice wilderness travelers, he did not pay proper heed to the season and soon found himself suffering cold and hardship in early winter snow storms.

Nor were the men he had chosen to rely on as his scouts particularly helpful. In fact, one Indian guide he hired on the return trip fired upon Washington and his other traveling companion without explanation. At one point, Washington and Gist almost drowned in the ice-choked waters of the Monongahela River after falling off a raft of their own hasty construction.
Map of Venango Path North.
Map of Venango Path, North.

After taking markerFort Duquesne in 1758, the British planned to use the Venango Path as a route of invasion into Canada, bu this part of the 1759 campaign never materialzied.  The path, however, remained an important route of European-Indian trade and warfare until the 1790s.

Washington was literally a "babe in the woods" during that eventful trip along the Venango Path; the most important overland route for north-to-south travel in western Pennsylvania. Connecting Lake Erie with the Forks of the Ohio, it provided an avenue for trade and communication between Indians living in the Great Lakes region with those living in the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio River watersheds. On a modern map, its northern terminus is Erie, and its southern terminus is Pittsburgh. Today, motorists traveling along Pennsylvania Route 8 follow the Venango Path.

During the Seven Years' War, it was the vital artery in the passage between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, especially at those times of the year when low water or inclement weather rendered French Creek and the Allegheny not navigable. The French built a string of four posts in 1753-1756 to assert their dominion over the route: Fort Presque Isle, Fort LeBoeuf, Fort Machault, and Fort Duquesne.       

While Washington's 1753 wilderness journey was certainly fraught with drama and intrigue, its difficulties were not all that different from the trials faced by anyone who traveled along the Indian paths of the Pennsylvania frontier. Such paths were notoriously difficult, covering terrain that could be high and rocky one day and low and swampy the next. A horse might help ease the way, but sometimes even the horse dropped dead from exhaustion or hunger.
Map of Venango Path, south.
Venango Path, south.

As it was for Washington, weather was a constant concern for such travelers. Summer travel offered the possibility of heat exhaustion and dense clouds of biting insects. Winter travel could leave a party snowbound in remote hill country or frozen in icy rivers. In the spring, waterways ran high, making the crossings risky and time-consuming. Fall was probably the best time to travel, but, as Washington discovered, "winter" snows could arrive as early as October.

Indians dealt with the difficulties of woodland travel in a number of ways. Snowshoes made winter travel much easier. A willingness to postpone travel for the sake of safety and comfort was another Indian trait that seemed sensible when compared to the European insistence on punctuality. Indians also traveled much lighter than Europeans. Indian men often set out on long journeys with little more than a tomahawk, tobacco pouch and pipe, gun or bow and arrows, and some corn meal. They often grew frustrated when asked to guide European travelers trailing packhorses and all sorts of other freight.

As Washington discovered in 1753, life in the Pennsylvania woods could be an education in its own right, and those colonists who became expert in frontier travel benefited from lessons learned from Indian companions. Indian traders and agents like markerConrad Weiser learned to dress like Indians when on the road and to use Indian canoes and snowshoes. They became accustomed to the lax standards of "Indian time" and grew to appreciate the Indian habit of eating well when food was plentiful so that the body had reserve calories to burn when hunger arrived. The mutual suffering of long trips through wilderness country also cultivated Indian habits of hospitality that Europeans were quick to admire, even if they were not always good at reciprocating.

Moravian missionary markerDavid Zeisberger,who endured many arduous journeys on Pennsylvania's Indian paths, compiled a lexicon of words and phrases in Indian and European languages. Much like modern phrasebooks designed for travelers in foreign countries, Zeisberger's lexicon emphasized the practical expressions necessary for navigating your way among strangers. Hence, it included translations for such phrases as "you have missed the road" and "I have miss'd the Way." Zeisberger came along too late to be of help to the young George Washington on the Venango Path, but there were, no doubt, many travelers in colonial Pennsylvania who appreciated his work.
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