Chapter XXVI
The Destruction of Hannastown


Hannastown, the county seat of Westmoreland, was destroyed by Indians on Saturday, July 13, 1782. This was the hardest blow inflicted by savages during the Revolution within the limits of the Western Pennsylvania settlements. It put an end to Hannastown, effacing it so thoroughly that thousands of the inhabitants of Westmoreland county do not know where its first county seat was located.

Hannastown was a little more than three miles northeast of Greensburg. It grew around the tavern of Robert Hanna, who set up a house of entertainment for travelers on the old Forbes road, some time before the Revolution. It never grew much, containing only about 30 log houses at the time of its destruction. One of the structures was the court house, two stories high, and another was the jail, only one story. At the northern end of the village a small stockade fort, made of pointed logs set upright, had been constructed in 1773, around a blockhouse and a spring. It was this fort, called Ft. Reed, that saved the villagers when the attack came.(1)

Hannastown and its neighborhood had suffered heavy loss in the preceding year by the destruction of Colonel Lochry's party on the lower Ohio. Many of the best men in the settlement had joined that expedition, and they carried with them most of the good guns. In '782 the Hannastown community was not in fit condition for defense against the Indians.

The blow that fell upon this frontier county seat cane from the North. Early in the summer the Johnsons and the Butlers, the tory leaders of Western New York, gathered a strong force at Niagara to descend the Allegheny river and attack Fort Pitt. Three hundred British and Canadian soldiers and five hundred Indians, with twelve pieces of artillery, advanced to Lake Chautauqua and lay there while spies penetrated the neighborhood of Pittsburg. The report of these spies, that General Irvine had greatly strengthened the fort and increased its ordnance, caused the abandonment of the expedition, as far as its primary aim was concerned. Most of the British force returned to Niagara, but the Indians were not willing to go home without scalps and plunder. They divided into war parties, and went against the New York and Pennsylvania settlements.

The largest predatory band consisted of more than 100 Seneca warriors, under the command of Guyasuta, and about 60 Canadian rangers. Most of the white men Were dressed and painted as Indians. This was the force that attacked and destroyed Hannastown. It descended the Allegheny river, partly in canoes and partly on horseback along shore,(2) to a point a short distance above Kittanning, left the canoes on the river bank and marched overland into the Westmoreland settlements. While the expedition was at its bloody work, many of the canoes worked loose and floated down the river. Several of them were picked up at Fort Pitt.

At that time the people of the frontier were in constant apprehension of Indian raids, but there was no expectation of an attack by a large band of savages. Men never went to their farm work without their rifles, but so long had the frontiersmen been exposed to alarms and dangers that they had grown indifferent and careless. Thus it occurred that at Miller's station, about two miles south of Hannastown, men and women were gathered at a frolic, wholly unprepared to resist an attack.

On the Saturday when the blow fell, a party of harvesters was at work cutting the wheat of Michael Huffnagle, about a mile and a half north of Hannastown. Huffnagle was the county clerk and lived at the county seat. One of the harvesters, going to the edge of the field, discovered, creeping through the woods, a band of Indians, stripped and painted for war. He quietly informed his companions, and the harvesters, taking up their guns, fled unseen to the village.

The alarm was spread in the little settlement and everybody was warned to take refuge within the stockade. Great was the consternation and confusion. About 6o persons, men, women and children, were in the village that day, and most of these fled into the stockade without pausing to save any of their goods. Huffnagle and a few other men rescued the bulk of the county records and carried them safely into the fort. Sheriff Matthew Jack mounted his horse and rode away to warn the neighboring settlers, while four young men went out scouting, to observe the movements of the enemy. They came upon the savages advancing cautiously through the thick woods across the valley of Crabtree creek, and narrowly escaped capture. They fled back to the fort with the whole pack close at their heels. The Indians evidently expected to take the place by surprise, for they did not shoot or yell until they rushed in among the log houses. All the whites escaped except one man. He had lingered to gather up his personal property, and was slightly wounded before he reached the stockade gate.

About one hundred Indians and white men attacked Hannastown.(3) They drove into the woods all the horses found in the pasture lots and stables, killed a hundred cattle, many hogs and domestic fowls and plundered the deserted dwellings. Some of the white raiders threw off their jackets and donned better coats found in the houses, and after the assailants had retired several jackets were found bearing buttons of the King's Eighth regiment.

From the shelter of the cabins a hot rifle fire was opened on the stockade. The fort contained 20 men, who had 17 guns. It was found, however, that only nine of these were fit for use, and with this small number of weapons the men took turns at the loopholes. The main thing for them to do was to prevent the Indians from assaulting and battering the gates, and in this they were successful. The borderers were good marksmen, and kept the besiegers at a distance. It was certain that two of the Indians were killed, and the defenders believed that they killed or wounded several others.

But one person inside of the stockade was wounded. This was Margaret Shaw, 16 years old, who exposed herself before a large hole in one of the gates to rescue a child, which had toddled into danger. Margaret received a bullet in the breast, from which she died after suffering for nearly two weeks. She is buried a short distance north of Mt. Pleasant, and her memory should be kept green.

The firing on the fort continued until nightfall. Then the assailants set fire to the town, and danced and whooped in the glare of the flames. Only two houses escaped destruction. These were the court house and one cabin. Fire was set to them but went out, and as they stood near the stockade a renewal of the attempt to burn them was frustrated by the rifles of the frontiersmen. Fortunately the wind blew strongly from the north, and carried the flames and blazing embers away from the little fort.(4) After the buildings were well consumed, the savages and their white allies retired to the valley of Crabtree creek, where they feasted and reveled until a late hour. There was little sleep in the fort, and those who watched along the stockade heard the voices of white men mingling with those of the Indians in the enemy's camp.

A renewal of the attack was looked for in the morning, but it did not come. Parties of horsemen from other settlements began to arrive early at the little fort, and when a reconnaissance of the creek valley was made, it was found that the enemy had slipped away. Guyasuta's raiders had departed with many stolen horses, laden with household goods, and they left a plain trail, but it was not until Monday that the borderers had the nerve to follow them, and then 6o men pursued the trail only to the crossing of the Kiskiminetas.

The enemy being gone, it was soon learned that great devastation had been inflicted in the surrounding country. A strong detachment of the savages had fallen upon Miller's station, two miles south of Hannastown, where they had killed eleven white persons and carried four into captivity. This station took its name from Samuel Miller, a captain in the Eighth Pennsylvania regiment, who was killed by the Indians in July, 1778.(5) His widow married Andrew Cruikshank, but the settlement retained Miller's name. A wedding took place at Cruikshank's house on July 12, and on the following day many persons were gathered there for the celebration. Upon this gay party the Indians swooped down.

The warning was barely sufficient to allow the escape of perhaps a dozen persons, who found hiding places in grain fields and forest thickets. Several men were shot dead while preparing for defense, and 15 men, women and children were taken prisoners. The houses were plundered and burned, and the Indians set out to rejoin their main force at Crabtree creek.

Among those taken captive were Lieutenant Joseph Brownlee, his wife and several children, Mrs. Robert Hanna and her daughter Jennie, a Mrs. White and two of her children. Lieutenant Brownlee had served in the Eighth Pennsylvania, but had been discharged because of a wound. As the prisoners were being driven through the woods, Mrs. Hanna addressed Brownlee as "Captain." The Indians at once fell upon Brownlee and killed him, as well as a little son whom he was carrying, and nine others of the captives. Mrs. Brownlee and her infant and Mrs. Hanna and her daughter were spared and taken to Canada, but were afterward released when the war was over. Tradition says that Jennie Hanna married a British officer in Canada.(6)

On Sunday morning a band of Indians attacked Freeman's settlement, on the Loyalhanna creek, a few miles northeast of Hannastown, killed one of Freeman's sons and captured two of his daughters. At the same time a demonstration was made against the Brush creek settlement, to the westward, but the damage was confined to the killing of live stock and the burning of some farm buildings.(7)

At Hannastown a small force of militia was stationed by Colonel Edward Cook, the county lieutenant, and the settlers were advised to return and rebuild their houses. Only a few of them did so. Court was continued there for a few sessions and the owners of the property made an effort to retain the county seat. The General Assembly ordered the construction of a new road from Bedford to Pittsburg, and its course was located nearly three miles south of Hannastown, on the line of the present pike. This destroyed the last chance of the original county seat, and in January, 1787, the Westmoreland court began its sessions at Greensburg, on the new road.

At present Hannastown does not rise to the dignity of a village. Three or four houses and a blacksmith shop cluster at the cross roads, with a schoolhouse on the hill half a mile to the westward. Between the cross-roads and the schoolhouse the pioneer settlement lay, on what is now the farm of William Steel. The plow still turns up numerous bits of burned wood, and Mr. Steel has many little relics gathered from the fields. Among these is a ponderous iron key, which once unlocked the oaken door of Westmoreland county's log jail.

1 Ft. Pitt, p. 220, memorandum in General O'Hara's notebook.

2 Some of the raiders were mounted; see Wash.-Irvine Corr., p. 176.

3 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 596.

4 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 806; Washington-Irvine Correspondence, pp. 176, 250, 251, 252; Frontier Forts, vol. II., pp. 298 to 821.

5 See page 72 of this work.

6 Pension petition of Mrs. Elizabeth Guthrie, formerly Mrs. Brownlee, made Feb. 5, 1829, published in Westmoreland Democrat, May 24, 1899; Frontier Forts, vol. ii., pp. 308, 324; Washington-Irvine Corr., p. 251.

7 Washington-Irvine Correspondence, p. 883.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 176-181: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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