the story of fort hand  

Massy Harbison-Fort Hand Chapter, NSDAR

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The Story of Fort Hand
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    Fort Hand was built during the darkest days of Westmoreland County history.  The Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment had been formed and was ordered East to serve with George Washington in the Revolution.  This left the frontier settlements  open  to attack by Indians eager to earn the scalping bribes offered by the English Colonel Henry Hamilton, the "hair-buyer."

    In the present Washington Township, a small group of settlers had farms.  The "large log house" of one John McKibben became a shelter from Indian attack.  It is believed that during the summer of 1777 it was necessary for many families to stay at the  McKibben house with the men going out only to harvest crops and meet the Indian threat.

    The nearest fort, Carnahan's Blockhouse, was three or four miles to the east but communications were often cut off between McKibben's and Carnahan's Blockhouse.  A small military force of sixty men ranged the area of northern Westmoreland and assisted the settlers around both settlements; however, this was not enough to provide for the safety of the frontier.  In August of 1777 when men from Carnahan's Blockhouse were reaping oats, they discovered an Indian raiding party and warned both settlements.  Carnahan's was subsequently attacked.  To protect the area, General Edward Hand, in a letter, ordered the building of a fort at Continental expense.  This fort was built near the McKibben house in the fall of 1777.  It was named after General Hand.

    A station or blockhouse is a fortified place used by settlers for protection whereas a fort is used specifically to garrison troops.  During 1778, at different times, many small stations were garrisoned by militia, but besides Fort Pitt, there were only two fixed stations west of the Allegheny Mountains occupied by Continental troops.  These were Fort Randolph in West Virginia and Fort Hand.  Fort Hand played an important part in the defense of the frontier in 1778.

    The most serious attack on Fort Hand itself came on April 26, 1779.  Two men plowing near the fort were fired upon by Indians.  They escaped into the fort but the Indians killed horses and oxen used for plowing as well as all cows and sheep.  The fort, commanded by Capt. Moorhead, had only 17 soldiers inside.  The Indian force was thought to number not less than a hundred, including some white renegades.  The few women inside the fort made bullets for the men using their pewter spoons and dishes when lead ran out.  There was one death.

    The siege lasted from 1 p.m. on the 26th to about noon the next day when the Indians left, probably fearing relief for the fort.  During the night of the siege Indians set fire to an empty building near the fort.*

    A four ton boulder, pictured above, bearing a bronze tablet identifying the location of Fort Hand was erected by the Fort Hand Chapter, NSDAR, on a corner of the old foundation of the fort.  Land for this monument was deeded to the Fort Hand Chapter on January 12, 1931, by the late John B. Kerns, owner of the farm.

*Information provided courtesy of the Leechburg Museum, Leechburg, PA


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