Sunday, August 19, 2012

An Intact pre-Revolutionary War Fort in the Middle of Morgantown

As mentioned previously in this blog (see the Iroquois Indians were a major power in what is now West Virginia before and during the French and Indian War. After the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Seven Years War in Europe, the British gained from France rights to all land east of the Mississippi River. However, conflicts remained with the Native Americans, resulting in a series of treaties to adjust claims and boundary lines.

In accordance with previous treaties, Native Americans, specifically the Shawnee and Mingo tribes, were using land around Monongalia County in West Virginia to hunt and fish. Hostilities arose with settlers in the area. Dunmore’s War, named for the governor of Virginia, was fought in 1774, to hopefully end these hostilities. The battle of Point Pleasant brought the end to this war, and the boundary line between settlers and Indians was established at the Ohio River.

It was during this time period that an immigrant from Holland, Michael Kern arrived in Morgantown, WV, an area covered with virgin chestnut tree growth. This is where Michael built his log cabin (later described as Kern’s fort) out of hand hewn logs. The structure survives to this day, where you can see his ax marks on the timbers and the gun ports in the wall. The gun ports were used to balance muskets, needed to protect the inhabitants from attacks. When Dunmore’s War started, Michael surrounded the cabin with a stockade, thus establishing the fort. The fort was important throughout the Revolutionary War period until at least 1791 when the last Indian raid in the area occurred.

Kern’s Fort has gained recent interest by archaeologists and work has taken place to non-invasively study the grounds. Artifacts have been recovered which are available for public viewing at the Morgantown History Museum.

Kern’s Fort is located at the intersection of Dewey and Arch Streets in Morgantown, WV at the coordinates of: 39° 37′ 31″ N, 79° 56′ 59″ W.

Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Harshman…Maybe Hersman, Hershman, or Hirschman?

If you have researched your family genealogy you probably know that the above names may indicate branches of the same family. I have Hersmans (pronounced hershman) in my familial line. And because of that, when I saw that Marc Harshman, the poet laureate of West Virginia, was scheduled to speak I planned to be in the audience.

Marc is a story teller. He recited poems, read and talked about the children’s books he’s written and told stories. He told stories about memories that influenced his writing…winters, storms, fires and childhood treasures.  While telling about everyday experiences in his books, Marc also discusses children’s challenges, fears, and successes.

I bought a copy of Only One, which Marc was kind enough to autograph, as a present for a new born baby girl. The message is important and the pictures are ones that a child can enjoy.

Here’s a link to his website so that you can take a look at what he’s written.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Skirmish that Set the World on Fire 258 Years Ago Today

Jumonville Glen is in a remote corner of southwestern Pennsylvania, among the outcroppings of Chestnut Ridge, covered by a forest of oak and maple. The skirmish there on May 28, 1754, led to the beginning of the French and Indian War, which extended into the Seven Years War in Europe, and ultimately the American Revolution.  It was the first battle test of a twenty-two year old lieutenant named George Washington.

In 1754, Jumonville Glen was in the important North American region, west of the Allegheny Mountains and south of the Great Lakes, into which the British and French wanted to expand. Both countries claimed this area and it was considered to be of great importance due to its location, both for settlement and trade. The third great power claiming the area was the Iroquois League, an alliance of six nations (the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora). 

The British traded in the area early in the 1740s, when they established a trading post at the forks of the rivers, currently Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1745 to lay further claim to this area, the British organized the Ohio Company, a for-profit venture of land speculators. This alarmed the French, who wanted to protect their trading potential and also to ultimately connect their territories of Canada and Louisiana. In the early 1750s the French began expanding south by constructing a series of forts south of Lake Erie.  

In the autumn of 1753, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, sent George Washington into the area to determine the strength and intentions of the French forces, and to request that the French commander, Saint-Pierre, abandon the area. Washington was politely told at Fort Le Boeuf that the request would have to be sent on to a higher authority. He left there in December and returned to Williamsburg, Virginia by January 1754. On his way back, he noted that the river fork location would be a good for a fort, an opinion that he later shared with Dinwiddie.

By February 1754, Dinwiddie sent Virginians to establish the first fort in the area, Fort Prince George, at the river fork location. He again dispatched Washington, this time to reinforce the construction crew. The fort survived under British command only until April, when a large French contingent forced the British to surrender. The French replaced it with Fort Duquesne. Washington, who had not yet arrived, received new orders to begin construction of a road going from Wills Creek (Cumberland, MD) into the frontier.

By May, Washington had progressed as far as a wide, marshy clearing he called the Great Meadows (nearby current Farmington, Pennsylvania). His commander, Joshua Fry, died on May 25 where upon Washington took command of the expedition. Two days later, he was alerted that there was a French scouting party of 35 soldiers nearby. In the middle of the night, aided by Tanacharison, an Indian allied with the British, he found the French contingent camped at Jumonville Glen.

There are two sides to every battle story and the history of the incident at Jumonville Glen is controversial. The French indicated that they were on their way east to warn Washington to not encroach into their territory, turning the table on what he had done just a year before. They recorded that the British ambushed their diplomatic delegation. The British recorded that they were fired upon and returned fire. Both sides agree that the skirmish lasted only about 15 minutes after which Washington’s men subdued the French. After the French’s surrender, the French commander, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville was killed by Tanacharison, who took his scalp. Nine others of the French contingent were scalped before Washington could intercede.  

Washington returned to the Great Meadows where he constructed a fort, Fort Necessity, and awaited retaliation from the French. By July 1, a series of protective mounds and trenches were built around the fort. On July 3, 1754, the French led by Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers, Jumonville's half-brother, surrounded the fort. After fighting all day, they sent word to Washington that they would accept surrender. Being outnumbered, hampered by rain, and defending a hopeless location, Washington surrendered. In the surrender agreement, since there had not been a declaration of war, he was permitted to withdraw with his life and his troops back to Cumberland. However, he additionally took responsibility for the assassination of Jumonville. Later, Washington indicated that this admission was due to the lack of an interpreter and that he did not fully understand the language of what he was signing. After his surrender at Fort Necessity, Washington resigned his commission and returned to his family plantation in Virginia.

The French and Indian War had begun. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Role of Women in Historic Preservation

Many people who have visited Washington, D.C. have also made the 16 mile drive to the south to visit Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. This historic site remained in the possession of Washington’s family for three generations after his death. Finally, it was sold by John Washington, Jr., and was procured by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, a group still in existence, is one of the earliest preservation groups in the US. It was begun in 1853 after Louise Bird Cunningham wrote to her daughter, Ann Pamela, about the home’s deteriorating conditions that she saw while on a steamship on the Potomac. Louise questioned that if the men of the nation would allow the home of the nation’s most respected citizen to deteriorate, perhaps the women could save it.

Ann Pamela Cunningham began a letter writing campaign, the first nation-wide fund-raising effort, to raise money to purchase the estate and the organization was begun. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association took possession of the property on Washington’s birthday in 1860.

This organization was used as a model for later organizations and soon The Ladies’ Hermitage Association, The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, and The Daughters of the Republic of Texas began.

The influence of women in historic preservation has been great. It continues today. If you are interested in reading more here’s a link.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Woodburn Circle

I think time sometimes travels in circles, and there are connections between past and present. And, that’s true of life in Morgantown. Woodburn Circle has seen time turn. Even the name Woodburn which today denotes the landmark building of West Virginia University was recycled from the original Woodburn Female Seminary. The Seminary was located on the same site as the existing building, overlooking the bluff which tumbles down to the Monongahela River.

My grandparents and parents, then I, and now my children all know of Woodburn. I have early memories of hopping up on the stone wall by the circle, carefully keeping one foot in front of the other, and holding on to my mom’s hand to keep my balance as we walked past.

Woodburn is connected to my past, but also looks forward to the future, with eager students ready to fill their minds within it. It is with this same anticipation that I begin this blog. I plan to write about things that interest me, and hope that you find it enjoyable to read.   

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Beginnings

Welcome to "The Woodburn Circle." This blog will chronicle events and information associated with the Woodburn Chapter of NSDAR. Woodburn Chapter is located in Morgantown, WV. Come join me!