Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hanna's Town Resolves

On May 16, 1775, settlers in the far west of Pennsylvania, along with Arthur St. Clair (The Penn government’s local representative) gathered at the tavern “also serving as the seat of government” in Hanna's Town and affixed their names to the Hanna's Town Resolves agreeing to bind themselves together and to take up arms if necessary to resist further "tyrannical" acts of Parliament. More than a year later, the Declaration of Independence would be signed in Philadelphia.

The full and original text of the Hanna’s Town Resolves are included here. There is also a more detailed history of the place and time at the end of this article.

The Hanna's Town Resolves

"Resolved unanimously, That the Parliament of Great Britain, by several late acts, have declared the inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay to be in Rebellion, and the ministry, by endeavoring to enforce those acts, have attempted to reduce the said inhabitants to a more wretched state of slavery than ever before existed in any state or country. Not content with violating their constitutional and chartered privileges, they would strip them of the rights of humanity, exposing lives to the wanton and unpunishable sport of licentious soldiery, and depriving them of the very means of subsistence." "Resolved unanimously, That there is no reason to doubt that the same system of tyranny and oppression will (should it meet with success in Massachusetts Bay) be extended to every other part of America: It is therefore become the indispensable duty of every American, of every man who has any public virtue or love for his country, or any bowels for posterity, by every means which God has put in his power, to resist and oppose the execution of it; that for us we will be ready to oppose it with our lives and fortunes. And the better to enable us to accomplish it, we will immediately form ourselves into a military body, to consist of companies to be made up out of the several townships under the following association, which is declared to be the Association of Westmoreland County." "Possessed with the most unshaken loyalty and fidelity to His Majesty, King George the Third, whom we acknowledge to be our lawful and rightful King, and who we wish may long be the beloved sovereign of a free and happy people throughout the whole British Empire; we declare to the world, that we do not mean by this Association to deviate from that loyalty which we hold in our bounded duty to observe, but, animated with the love of liberty, it is no less our duty to maintain and defend our just rights (which, with sorrow, we have seen of late wantonly violated in many instances by a wicked Ministry and a corrupted Parliament) and transmit them to our posterity, for purpose which we do agree and associate together:" "1st. To arm and form ourselves into a regiment or regiments, and choose officers to command us in such proportions as shall be thought necessary." "2nd. We will, with alacrity, endeavor to make ourselves masters of the manual exercise, and such evolutions as may be necessary to enable us to act in a body with concert; and to that end we will meet at such times and places as shall be appointed either for the companies or the regiment, by the officers commanding each when chosen." "3rd. That should our country be invaded by a foreign enemy, or should troops be sent from Great Britain to enforce the late arbitrary acts of its Parliament, we will cheerfully submit to military discipline, and to the utmost of our power resist and oppose them, or either of them, and will coincide with any plan that may be formed for the defense of America in general, or Pennsylvania in particular." "4th. That we do not wish or desire any innovations, but only that things may be restored to, and go on in the same way as before the era of the Stamp Act, when Boston grew great, and America was happy. As a proof of this disposition, we will quietly submit to the laws by which we have been accustomed to be governed before that period, and will, in our general or associate capacities, be ready when called on to assist the civil magistrate in carrying the same in execution.'' "5th. That when the British Parliament shall have repealed their late obnoxious statutes, and shall recede from their claim to tax us, and make laws for us in every instance; or when some general plan of union and reconciliation has been formed and accepted by America, this our Association shall be dissolved; but till then it shall remain in full force; and to the observation of it, we bind ourselves by everything dear and sacred amongst men." "No licensed murder: no famine introduced by law? "Resolved that on Wednesday, the twenty-fourth instant, the township meets to accede to the said Association and choose their officer." Adopted at a general meeting of the inhabitants of the County of Westmoreland, held at Hanna's Town the 16th day of May, 1775 for taking into consideration the very alarming situation of the country, occasioned by the dispute with Great Britain.

Early History of Westmoreland County

Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania was the last county established under the Penn proprietary government during the tumultuous final years of British rule prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. I was probably named after Westmoreland county in northwestern England, but the origins of the word: “west of the dark land” were appropriate for this Westernmost land of King George’s land.

Nearly a century and a half passed from the time of the founding of the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, Virginia (1607) before Europeans entered the land west of the Allegheny Mountains and into what is now western Pennsylvania. That account is detailed in the diary of Christopher Gist, surveyor and agent for the Ohio Company of Virginia, who on November 12 through 14, 1750, stayed at a Delaware Indian town at Loyalhannon, near present day Ligonier, Pennsylvania. The first white settlement within the region of old Westmoreland was sponsored by the Ohio Company in what is present day Fayette County in 1752. Virginia continued to lay claim to the region through the onset of the American Revolution.

General Braddock's ill-fated 1755 military expedition to dislodge the French and their Indian allies at Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) established a major transportation artery, Braddock's Road, into Western Pennsylvania. This military road, from Virginia through Cumberland, Maryland provided easy access to Western Pennsylvania for immigrants from Maryland, Virginia and the western Carolinas. It was not until General Forbes built a military road from Carlisle, Pennsylvania to present-day Pittsburgh in 1758, that the door was opened for settlers from eastern Pennsylvania to start settlements in what is now Westmoreland County. The Forbes Road, or the "Great Road" as it was known to the thousands of settlers to follow, entered present-day Westmoreland County at the top of the Laurel Ridge near where a fort was constructed. It was named Fort Ligonier by General Forbes in honor of Sir John Viscount Ligonier, Commander-in-Chief of all of the kings forces. By the fall of 1758, Fort Ligonier was the military springboard for the assault on Fort Duquesne that drove the French from western Pennsylvania. The Forbes Road continued from Ligonier through present-day Hanna's Town (near Greensburg, Pennsylvania) and on to the forks of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers where General Forbes would rename the captured French fort, "Pittsbourgh" in honor of the British Prime Minister William Pitt. By eighteenth century frontier standards, the Forbes Road provided a "superhighway" into the western Pennsylvania wilderness. The duel for North America between England and France known to the Americans as the French and Indian War, ended in victory for the British in 1763.

The end of the French and Indian War resulted in the British government issuing the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Issued to placate the Native American tribes who were complaining about the encroachment of white settlers on their lands, the act forbade English settlement beyond the head waters draining into the Atlantic Ocean from the Crest of Laurel Hill. Neither the threats of arrest nor later enactment of a death penalty for violators of the law stopped squatters and some early traders from moving into the area. Fueled by glowing accounts of the land to the west, taken back east by the soldiers of Braddock and Bouquet's armies, settlers poured into western Pennsylvania in pursuit of land.

As the area of Westmoreland County began to be settled, the composition of the population began to take shape. In the main they were the landless, the disinherited and the disenfranchised. They were bold, aggressive, hardy, courageous and self-reliant. They often had little respect for authority or title. Having experienced arbitrary and capricious government in England, they were zealous defenders of personal liberty and self-government. Ethnically, the
majority of the population in early Westmoreland was composed of Scotch-Irish, German and English settlers.

Westmoreland County Created

The Penn government soon found it necessary to create a new county, both to establish the province's ownership of the land and to establish law and order in an area, where many unruly individuals cared little about civil law or the laws concerning land ownership. The same statute that created Westmoreland County also designated Hanna's Town along the Forbes Road, as the
temporary county seat. Robert Hanna and town residents Joseph Erwin and Samuel Sloan were appointed along with George Wilson and John Cavett as trustees to choose a permanent county seat. Hanna and his neighbors outvoted Wilson and Cavett who favored Pittsburgh. It was in Robert Hanna's tavern, on April 6, 1773, that the first English court west of the Alleghenies was organized with Robert Hanna as presiding judge.

Westmoreland County and the New Republic

In addition to the Hanna’s Town Resolves, a second event relative to Westmoreland's role in the American Revolution occurred during the brief life of Hanna's Town when some officers and men of the British Indian Department and their Seneca Indian allies attacked and burned Hanna's Town on July 13, 1782 in retaliation for American atrocities committed against them. Although rebuilt to some degree, the town never recovered. Archaeological surveys begun in 1969 have resulted in a partial reconstruction of the town and its stockade. The site is a designated National Historic Registered Site as well as a Westmoreland County Park and is administered by the Westmoreland County Historical Society. The need to re-establish the county, seat resulted in a committee of trustees, appointed by the General Assembly, selecting Greensburg (then called New-town) as the new county seat. Greensburg was located on the new state road which ran from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Parts of this road would later become the Lincoln Highway. The first court at the new county seat was held on January 7, 1787 in a log building on the site of the present court house. Rapid growth and the press of county business resulted in the construction of new courthouses on the same site in 1798, 1856 and the present French Renaissance structure completed in 1907. After the Colonial War for Independence, Westmoreland, the "mother county", gave "birth" in their entirety, to five counties that were carved from her original boundaries - Allegheny, Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Washington. After 1800, eleven other counties in the western section of Pennsylvania - Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, and Warren - were created in part from these counties making Old Westmoreland a "grandmother" county as well.

Findley, whose home was along the Loyalhanna Creek near Latrobe, served as Westmoreland County's first Congressman. A staunch anti-Federalist, he was elected to Congress in 1791 and served for twenty-two years. Findley opposed the tax on whiskey levied during Washington's administration. He also opposed the shortlived Whiskey Rebellion that followed.

Adapted from “WESTMORELAND COUNTY A Short History” Prepared by the Westmoreland County Historical Society 1997.