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A Colony Sprung from Hell

Pittsburgh and the Struggle for Authority on the Western Pennsylvania Frontier, 1744-1794

Daniel P. Barr

Publication Year: 2014

The early settlement of the region around Pittsburgh was characterized by a messy collision of personal, provincial, national, and imperial interests. Driven by the efforts of Europeans, Pennsylvanians, Virginians, and Indians, almost everyone attempted to manipulate the clouded political jurisdiction of the region. A Colony Sprung from Hell traces this complex struggle. The events and episodes that make up the story highlight the difficulties of creating and consolidating authority along the frontier, where the local population’s acceptance or denial of authority determined the extent to which any government could impose its will. Ultimately, what was at stake was the nature of authority itself.

Author Daniel P. Barr demonstrates that deep divisions marked efforts to exercise power over the western Pennsylvania frontier and limited the effectiveness of such attempts. They developed roughly along provincial lines, owing to a fierce competition between Pennsylvania and Virginia to incorporate the region into their colonies. This jurisdictional dispute permeated many social and political levels, impacting all those who sought power and influence along the western Pennsylvania frontier. Individuals, businesses, provincial governments, and British policymakers competed for jurisdiction in the political and legal arenas, while migrants, settlers, and Indians opposed one another on the ground in a contest that was far more confrontational and violent. Although the participants and the nature of the conflict changed over time, the fundamental question—who was going to make the important decisions regarding the region—remained unsettled and unanswered, resulting in a consistent pattern of discord and contention.

A Colony Sprung from Hell is an important contribution to the understanding of power and authority along the late colonial frontier.

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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Introduction: The Most Unaccountable Country and Inhabitants in the World

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pp. 1-10

During the summer of 1761, Colonel Henry Bouquet took measure of his surroundings. The son of a prosperous innkeeper from the town of Rolle, near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the forty-two-year-old professional soldier had led an interesting life. At age seventeen, Bouquet enlisted...

Part I: Competition

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pp. 11-12

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1. Provinces Will Be Jealous of One Another

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pp. 13-34

In the early 1740s, a Pennsylvania fur trader named Thomas Kinton observed a curious ritual during a visit to a Delaware Indian village near the intersection of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Kinton watched in amazement as the village’s inhabitants gathered around a rat that they had...

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2. Great Application, Many Arguments, and Much Difficulty

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pp. 35-54

Prior to 1750, neither Pennsylvanians nor Virginians were able to achieve a meaningful advantage in the struggle to assert authority over the Ohio forks. In Pennsylvania, Richard Peters and proprietor Thomas Penn formed a loose expansionist faction that sought to press the colony’s claims to the region...

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3. War Against the English

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pp. 55-78

Following Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity, the contest for the Ohio forks changed dramatically. Prior to 1754, the competitive nature of westward colonial expansion shaped the contest for the region in both Pennsylvania and Virginia, as proprietors, provincial officials, land speculators, and Indian traders all asserted claims to the Ohio forks and jockeyed...

Part II: Regulation

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pp. 79-80

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4. Quiet and Peaceable Possession?

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pp. 81-103

News of Fort Duquesne’s destruction reached Philadelphia in mid- December 1758, sparking public celebrations and an outpouring of relief and joy. “Blessed be God, the long looked for day is arrived,” trumpeted the Pennsylvania Gazette, the colony’s leading newspaper. After nearly four...

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5. Shadows of Law and Justice

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pp. 104-132

In 1760, Colonel William Clapham, like many migrants, had come across the Forbes Road after the fall of Fort Duquesne seeking to carve out a new life in the lands surrounding the Ohio forks. A former commander of the Pennsylvania regiment during the war, Clapham entered into a partnership...

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6. A Spirit of Hostility

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pp. 133-166

The Treaty of Fort Stanwix did not resolve the contest for control of Pittsburgh and the surrounding settlements. Instead, the incorporation of the region into the colonies set off a free-for-all marked by self-interest and greed. No civilian government existed at Pittsburgh when the Treaty of Fort...

Part III: Revolution

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pp. 167-168

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7. A Party Spirit Prevails

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pp. 169-193

The American Revolution manifested itself differently along the frontier than it did in the eastern portions of the colonies. The issues that motivated protests and riots in Boston, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg were far removed from Pittsburgh and seemed mostly unimportant to local residents...

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8. A Bad Character of Quarrelling

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pp. 194-220

For the population of the western Pennsylvania frontier, the American Revolution was an Indian war. Although the Continental Congress established a western military department at Pittsburgh and dispatched military commanders and Indian agents to exercise authority at Fort Pitt, defense...

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9. Mutual Distrust and Jealousy

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pp. 221-251

The last years of the Revolutionary War on the western Pennsylvania frontier were the most chaotic and contentious. The continued inability of either the local population or the Continental Army to bring stability to the war-torn settlements around Pittsburgh remained a critical point of contention...

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10. The Ends of the American Earth

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pp. 252-272

Late in 1781, William Irvine received a petition signed by 105 “inhabitants of the western country.” The petitioners, who included a cross-section of Washington County landowners and squatters, militia captains and volunteers, and even the former Continental Army chaplain at Fort Pitt, expressed...


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pp. 273-313


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pp. 314-327


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pp. 328-338

E-ISBN-13: 9781612778280
E-ISBN-10: 1612778283
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351901

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 882713099
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Colony Sprung from Hell

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Pennsylvania -- History -- 18th century.
  • Pittsburgh Region (Pa.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Jurisdiction -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh Region -- History -- 18th century.
  • Jurisdiction -- Pennsylvania -- History -- 18th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh Region.
  • Pennsylvania -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Pennsylvania -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783.
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