19. Logstown and the ‘Ohio Country’

Aliquippa, a Matriarch of the Seneca

Nearly all of us who grew up here in Aliquippa, Beaver County, Western PA, are familiar with Logstown and Aliquippa, the Native American matriarch who is our town’s namesake. However, most things we think we know about them are either slightly mistaken or entirely wrong. But that doesn’t make them less important in our ongoing broader tale.

We can start with Logstown. Many of us knew it as part of the town of Aliquippa, on its northern edge. That’s true, but it’s not the real and far more important Logstown, which was directly across the Ohio River on a flat area between what is now the towns of Baden and Ambridge. By 1750 or so, it was a major Native settlement with a unique history and no single population source. It was founded by mixed peoples fleeing westward to escape the diseases of the Europeans. Its peoples included the Shawnee, the Lenape, and the Mingo, or Seneca, a subset of the Haudenosaunee, or ‘Six Nations.’ All saw the area as their ‘hunting grounds.’ Game was plentiful due to ‘salt licks’ in the region.

Artist rendering of ‘Logstown’ homes

The French also had a hand in building the town, viewing it as a convenient trading center. Naturally, it wasn’t called Logstown, a later English name, but Chiningué, itself a corrupted French version of ‘Shenango,’ a nearby Native-named river just to the north. For the times, it was large, with 50 to 100 structures, depending on the time of the counting, and perhaps 500 inhabitants at most. It had extensive nearby crops of corn, squash beans, and berries.

But Logstown was also a diplomatic post, where the French, English, and Americans, as well as six or so tribal groupings, negotiated and made deals. Detroit’s commander of ‘New France,’ Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville, visited there, as did George Croghan, an Irish fur trader, and Andrew Montour, a Metis interpreter, and George Washington. Washington also met with Aliquippa, the strong Mingo-Seneca matriarch. But her tribe lived a few miles further upriver near what is now McKee’s Rocks.

Washington, as is well known, had his eyes on grabbing ‘the Ohio country,’ the term of the time for all of the lands in Western PA and Ohio situated on the southern and western banks of the Ohio River. The ‘Six Nations’ had supposedly ‘ceded’ them to the British, much to the anger of both the Shawnee, the French, and other Native people.

‘Queen’ Aliquippa was partial to the British but decided to avoid the conflict by moving eastward to central PA, where she died. Serving later under General Braddock, Washington was trounced by the French, the Shawnee, and the Mingo-Seneca under the war chief Guyasuta. The British had tried to build ‘Fort King George’ at the ‘Forks of the Ohio,’ but the French trashed it and built Fort Duquesne.

Logstown would be abandoned in a few years, but Washington would return, defeat the French at their new fort, and build Fort Pitt. Guyasuta had met Washington before, calling him ‘the tall hunter,’ and later worked with him against the French. According to Wikipedia, ‘Guyasuta was a major player in Pontiac’s Rebellion—indeed, some historians once referred to that war as the Pontiac-Guyasuta War.’ The paramount consistency was his skill at playing one group of Europeans against another.

Ultimately, Guyasuta saw the independence-seeking ‘Americans’ as more land-hungry and hence more dangerous. In his last years, he aimed at keeping ‘the Ohio Country’ as an independent native homeland, but that battle would have to be taken up by his young nephew, Cornplanter.

Cornplanter called the new American government the ‘Thirteen Fires’ and signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix with it in Rome, NY, in 1784. The treaty was ostensibly for peaceful co-habitation of lands west of the Alleghenies. But it was soon clear the Americans had other ideas that did not include any sharing.

‘The Six Nations council at Buffalo Creek,’ states Wikipedia, ‘refused to ratify the treaty, denying that their delegates had the power to give away such large tracts of land and asked the Americans for return of the deeds and promised to indemnify them for any presents they had given. The general Indian confederacy also disavowed the treaty because most of the Six Nations did not live in the Ohio territory. ‘

The Ohio Country’s native peoples, including the Shawnee, the Mingo, the Lenape, and several other tribes, also rejected the treaty. The stage was being set for much longer and wider battles.

So how did Aliquippa get its name? Until 1900, only a small and sleepy hamlet named ‘Woodlawn’ was there. Still, as the name suggests, it had a wide pleasant place on the riverfront, which local entrepreneurs turned into an amusement and picnic grounds they named ‘Aliquippa Park.’ When Mr. Jones and Mr. Laughlin decided to build the world’s largest steel mill and adjoining town there, ‘Aliquippa’ seemed more suited. More to come on the ‘Ohio Country’.

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