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Pittsburgh: The Story of a City, 1750-1865

Leland D. Baldwin
Copyright Date: 1937
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The standard history of Pittsburgh tells the city's story from its violent days as an eighteenth-century outpost of empire to the onset of its great age of industrial expansion.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7127-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Prologue Lewis Evans, His Map
    (pp. 1-12)

    About the year 1750 the scarce-dispelled clouds of war between Great Britain and France began once more to lower, and it became apparent to the thin line of merchants and farmers along the Atlantic seaboard that the two nations would soon engage in a struggle for control of the Ohio Valley. As a consequence, Governor James Hamilton of Pennsylvania engaged philadelphia‘s best-known cartographer, Lewis Evans—“a gentleman of great American Knowledge,“acclaimed Ben Franklin—to go on a secret mission to spy out the land across the mountain wall at the headwaters of the westward flowing rivers.

    There is some doubt...

  2. I Virginia Takes a Hand in the West
    (pp. 13-26)

    Had an observer been able to station himself with a spyglass on the hill now known as Mount Washington on a bleak day in late November, 1753, he would have been rewarded by panoramic view of the region about the Forks of the Ohio that was soon to engross the attention of the world. The glory autumn has passed and the leaves hang lifelessly upon the branches or carpet the ground beneath. Save for the very shores the rivers and for the little fields of the Indians and traders, trees are everywhere, spreading over the plains and the hilltops and...

  3. II How Are the Mighty Fallen!
    (pp. 27-37)

    June 18, 1755. General Edward Braddock—a red-faced, stouthearted Irishman, slightly stupid when military routine did not prescribe an easy course of action, an elderly libertine and rakehelly if you wish, and a crusty martinet, but not the supercilious cad of American tradition—watched the long wagon trains of his army toil up the rocky heights of Meadow Mountain, as infantrymen tugged at the ropes or strained at the wheels, their scarlet coats gleaming in the cursed, unnaturally bright, American sun. There had been ten eternal days of this crawling up and down the sides of inhospitable mountains, of decrepit...

  4. III Robbers’ Roost
    (pp. 38-47)

    For more than a year after Ward’s surrender of Fort Prince George in April, 1754, the axes of the French woodsmen rang across the low plain between the rivers, and when they ceased the primeval forest had vanished forever from what is now the Golden Triangle. In its place a small, compact fort had risen at the Point, while between the fort and the forest remaining on the higher ground stretched from river to river an immense field of waving corn that in wet seasons was partially inundated by ponds about which mosquitos and ducks loved to congregate.

    The rude...

  5. IV The Head of Iron
    (pp. 48-54)

    The British campaign of 1758 in Pennsylvania was under the direction of the doughty, dourly handsome General John Forbes, known in western legend as the “Head of Iron,” who, since he was already in the last stages of the malady that was to cause his death the next year, had to do his marching in a litter. His right hand was a Swiss lieutenant-colonel of the Royal American Regiment, Henry Bouquet, a soldier who had been trained in the wars of the European continent, but who was probably the first to develop the open order of battle that was to...

  6. V Britannia Rules the Ohio
    (pp. 55-65)

    When Forbes and Bouquet left the Point less than two weeks after its capture, Colonel Hugh Mercer, a Scotch medico who had marched with Bonnie Prince Charlie and was later to lay down his life at the battle of Princeton, was left in command with two hundred green-coated Pennsylvanians, about eighty Marylanders and Virginians, and a scattering of kilted Highlanders and scarlet-clad Royal Americans. Mercer and his soldiers worked frantically to erect a stockade as a protection both against the approaching winter and against any surprise move on the part of the half-pacified savages. The new fort, which was located...

  7. VI Pioneer Village in War and Peace
    (pp. 66-75)

    The storm that Pontiac and his conspirators had been conjuring up in the Northwest during the winter burst in May, 1763, and of the frontier posts only Detroit, Niagara, Pitt, Ligonier, and Bedford held out. There had been a number of murders of whites by Indians in the vicinity of Fort Pitt during May, and Ecuyer had done everything he could to put the fort into a state of defense, not a very easy matter, because of the damage caused by the late flood. Ecuyer, however, filled the gap in the ramparts with a palisade strengthened by a fraise with...

  8. VII “Intestin Broyls”
    (pp. 76-84)

    Squire George Washington, late colonel in the provincial forces of Virginia and now gentleman farmer and speculator in western lands, looked gravely across the table at the handsome young medico who was recounting tales of his adventures at the siege of Martinico in 1762. They were in the taproom of that “very good house of entertainment” kept by Samuel Semple at the corner of Water and Ferry Streets in Pittsburgh, and the company included a dozen gentlemen of town and who were being wined and dined by Colonel Washington in return for their attentions to him. The Virginian’s eyes traveled...

  9. VIII Revolt in the West
    (pp. 85-102)

    It must have been about the first of May, 1775, that a weary man, riding a no less weary nag, slowly descended the Laurel Ridge into the Monongahela country and spread the news from Ligonier to Pittsburgh that the farmers of Massachusetts had taken down their squirrel rifles from over their sooty fireplaces and had penned the redcoats into the narrow confines of Boston town. The Pittsburghers had already been represented by John Harvie in the provincial convention that had met at Richmond to protest against parliamentary usurpation and to formulate measures for resistance, so now the decisive action of...

  10. IX Between Revolts
    (pp. 103-116)

    In 1784, when Colonel George Woods of Bedford, with a surveyor’s rod that by some oversight was too long by an eighth of an inch in ten feet, laid out the familiar plan of the Triangle for the Penns, he was so accommodating as to make Market Street only forty feet wide instead of sixty because the owners of the log cabins that extended out over the proposed thoroughfare begged him to save their property. Supremely unconscious of the traffic problems he was posing for future generations, Woods continued John Campbell’s plan of 1764 to Grant Street, then laid out...

  11. X Tom the Tinker Comes to Town
    (pp. 117-128)

    Hugh Henry Brackenridge rested his elbow on a bale of furs in the rear of Beaumont’s store and watched the cooly indifferent clerk wait upon a woman whose homespun garments and misshapen figure, stooped with years of field labor and childbearing, proclaimed her to be from the country. Anger was evident in the tone of her voice and in the way she flung back on the counter the ribbon she had been holding. As she stalked from the store the lawyer came forward.

    “What was it she said?” he asked.

    “She said she’d get it for less in a few...

  12. XI The Gateway to the West
    (pp. 129-144)

    The customhouse of Marseilles was a squat stone structure not unlike a prison, so that it was no wonder that the ruddy-faced American seaman was a little apprehensive as he walked across the quay toward its grim portal. A slim youngster, wearing the uniform of the “Little Corporal” who was at the moment in Tilsit dictating terms to the Czar of all the Russias, saluted courteously and opened the door of an office. Almost lost behind the vast expanse of table littered with papers and books was a man who somehow seemed to fit the grim fortress in which he...

  13. XII Genesis of an Industrial Empire
    (pp. 145-153)

    The impetus given to Pittsburgh’s growth by its strategic location in the early days as the gateway to the West has never been lost, though it is no longer the only important gateway. River transportation had aided in setting the mold for the development of the region. The fact that goods could be floated to the markets in the West and South not only made Pittsburgh an entrepôt for eastern wares, but led to the early utilization of western Pennsylvania’s ore and wood in the production of iron. This start, together with vast coal deposits, enabled the region to hold...

  14. XIII Life Under the Poplars
    (pp. 154-171)

    During the two decades that followed the Whiskey Insurrection of 1794 Pittsburgh spread out over the flood plain between the rivers with all the gangling awkwardness of a rapidly growing youngster. The town that at the beginning of the period had perhaps twelve hundred inhabitants boasted eight thousand at the end, but it was still small enough for everyone to hear the courthouse bell, which was rung for courts, public meetings, church gatherings, and fires. Then, as now, the citizens liked to change residences frequently, and April I was recognized as the official moving day. The log houses that had...

  15. XIV Clapboard Democracy
    (pp. 172-183)

    Pittsburgh politics before the Whiskey Insurrection had been dominated by the “gentlemen of respectability,” chief among them the members of the Neville connection. Though the Nevilles were openly Federalist and aristocratic in their sympathies they managed to keep their offices and influence even in a predominantly democratic region because their enemies had not learned to unite. As a matter of fact that was the situation allover the country. In consequence, Jefferson, presumably in innocuous retirement upon his Virginia hilltop, was actually devoting himself untiringly to the work of building up a democratic opposition party. The growth of the Democratic party...

  16. XV From Turnpike to Railroad
    (pp. 184-200)

    The decade that followed the War of 1812 was one of hardship and humiliation for the proud “Gateway to the West.” The slump that came as the result of the cessation of the wartime demand for manufactured products and the dumping of British goods could be counteracted by time and the tariff, but the looming threats to Pittsburgh’s supremacy as an entrepôt were more serious.

    The first blow to Pittsburgh’s commercial prestige was the decision of Congress to make Wheeling rather than Pittsburgh the point at which the National Road should cross the Ohio—thus, it was argued, affording access...

  17. XVI Civic Pittsburgh, 1816-1860
    (pp. 201-217)

    By 1816 Pittsburgh had so far outgrown the provisions of the borough charter that, just as a parent fits his growing son with a larger suit of clothes, the state legislature formulated and passed a bill incorporating as a city “The Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of Pittsburgh.” This measure, signed by Governor Simon Snyder on March 18, set up a city government that consisted of a mayor, select and common councils, a recorder, and twelve aldermen. The select council consisted of nine members, and the common council of fifteen; both were elected by popular vote, and were to enact ordinances...

  18. XVII “The Birmingham of America”
    (pp. 218-230)

    “To this place is the attention directed of everyone, who speaks of America and her prospects. To it the emigrant looks; and if he asks, which is the most flourishing town, or where he is the most likely to succeed, in almost any branch he may mention, ‘Pittsburgh,’ is the answer.”

    This statement, made by a British traveler in 1818 during the post-war depression when Pittsburgh was industrially at its lowest, speaks volumes for the optimism of the American and of the immigrant who came to these shores. Their confidence was more than justified. Pittsburgh began a phenomenal recovery soon...

  19. XVIII The Emergence of a Metropolis
    (pp. 231-247)

    Until about 1840 most of the business activities of Pittsburgh were confined to the triangle bounded by the rivers and Wood Street. Market Street was the hub of the town, and anyone who went beyond Wood was moving to the country. It is said that in the 1840’s a storekeeper who had quarreled with his Wood Street landlord moved his business around the corner to Fifth Avenue. There he prospered in spite of the dire prophecies of his friends. Others followed and drew trade after them—one shoeman is claimed to have sold his wares to the blare of a...

  20. XIX Moral and Cultural Advancement
    (pp. 248-267)

    There is a story told of an old Scotsman named John Cameron who kept the best vegetable garden in Pittsburgh but who refused to sell produce on Sunday. It seems that General Jackson had stopped in Pittsburgh over the week-end and the landlord of his inn sent to Mr. Cameron on Sunday morning for some fresh vegetables. Cameron refused, and though the landlord came himself and threatened to withdraw his patronage the old man proved obdurate. “Well, let me go into the garden myself, and I will pay you Monday,” begged the landlord.

    “No!” returned the Scotsman. “It is far...

  21. XX High and Low Life
    (pp. 268-284)

    The life of Pittsburgh’s streets was a never ending drama replete with color and human interest. At two or three o’clock in the morning the farmers’ wagons began to lumber in from the country, and their iron-shod horses and heavy tired wheels hit the city’s cobbled pavements with a crash. Milkmen soon appeared and began making the rounds of the retail establishments, leaving at each place an ungainly can of lacteal fluid that was often “as pure as water could make it.” From the fertile market gardens on Neville Island or “Shirties” Creek appeared flat-bottomed “John boats,” piled high with...

  22. XXI National Politics on a Local Scale
    (pp. 285-299)

    The so-called “Era of Good Feeling” brought little of that tender quality to the politicians of Pittsburgh, and the newspapers, as usual, were in the thickest of the fray. In 1820 a journalistic observer wrote: “We have been somewhat amused of late with thetriangular warfarecarried on between the Pittsburgh newspapers—the editors of these papers are allgrand dignitariesof the empire—one isalderman, anotherprothonotary, and the thirdsheriffof Allegheny county. But we say nothing! When the big folks fall out—we little folks have nothing to do butlook on.’” The three editors referred...

  23. XXII Prelude to Strife
    (pp. 300-310)

    Periods of social unrest and change are sometimes characterized by a multiplication of reformers, each with a panacea that he sincerely believes will cure the woes of the world, and of quacks with plausible—and profitable—economic nostrums. The forties and fifties bred a vast number of these peculiar doctrines, some of them good and some of them bad, but each of them was advocated with deadly, humorless earnestness by its devoted adherents. There were the Antimasons, the Mormons, the Native Americans, the phrenologists, the socialists, the Millerites, the Fourierists, the Spiritualists, the free-traders, the tariff advocates, the temperance people,...

  24. XXIII The Sinews of War
    (pp. 311-326)

    Thursday, December twenty-seventh, 1860, two o’clock in the afternoon of a crisp day: the great portico and steps of the court-house, the grounds about the building, and Grant, Diamond and Fifth Streets were jammed with thousands of Pittsburghers—not a good-natured throng, but sullen and even angry. Presently a large, bewhiskered man, who looked very much the born leader, shouldered his way through the courthouse door and down the steps to the balustrade of a platform overlooking Grant Street. At his appearance there was a murmur from the crowd that soon swelled into an articulate shout of “Moorhead! Moorhead! Speech!...