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59 Western Pennsylvania Settlers Petition the Governor to Supplement Frontier Defense
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This petition, signed by 58 Scotch-Irish settlers of the western frontier of Pennsylvania, must have been appreciated by Governor Mifflin, as it showed the settlers’ lack of confidence in the ability of the federal government to protect the frontier. Following the defeat of Harmar’s expedition in 1790, President Washington appointed Arthur St. Clair, Mifflin’s political rival and immediate predecessor, to build a string of forts along the western frontier. According to the petitioners, the positioning of these forts left much to be desired.

[PENNSYLVANIA].To his Excellency Thomas Mifflin Governor of the State of Pennsylvania. The petition of a Number of the Inhabitants on the Fronteers of Westmoreland County Humbly Sheweth…” Folio manuscript broadside, docketed on verso, entirely handwritten in ink, signed by 58 petitioners (mostly individually, though it appears that a few small groups may have one signer writing his own name and then that of a couple additional people who perhaps could not sign on their own), seeking the commission of three officers, Archibald McGuire, George Shrum and Matthew Dill, of an additional company for the protection of the Westmoreland County frontier. Ca. 1790-91.

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That the local situation of your petitioners, and the orders given for the arrangement of the Troops on the Fronteers of this County, bringeth us under the Necessity of applying to your Excellency to take our situation into consideration. We your petitioners understand that the station at the Ketanian is to be the heighest, which will then leave upwards of Forty Miles of our North-east quarter entirely open, which place has always been the very pathway that the Savage Nations has come in at. For it is a part that abounds with Elk and Deer licks, and serves them with provision until they come into our Neighbourhood. We your petitioners being but a few years settled in our desolate habitations since the late War find it very inconvenient to attend the Malitia calls. We wish your Excellency to grant orders to raise troops for this quarter of our fronteers, as it will be no more cost to the state than the Malitia would be…

We are also persuaded that Colonel Cample will concur with us, for we are all satisfied that if the frontier end of Legoner Valley be braught under the Necessity to evacuate the Communication of the old Pennsylvania Road will be cut off…

Westmoreland, the last provincial county formed, was created by an Act of Legislature on February 26, 1773. Bordering the wilderness, the early settlers were continually harassed by the Indians, and as late as 1782 Hannastown was burned by the Indian allies of the British. From 1782 to 1784 the settlers planted no crops and were gathered into forts and blockhouses. But from 1784 until 1790 there was peace along the frontier, and many settlers moved into the county. Because the petitioners had only recently been able to return to their “desolate habitations since the late War” for independence, they were much too busy to attend distant state “malitia” drill; so they request permission to raise a local company under the command of “men of Character and property and well acquent with our woods.

The settlers’ lack of confidence in federal efforts to protect them was soon borne out. On November 4, 1791, the St. Clair Expedition was defeated by the Indians at the battle of the Wabash, with the loss of over 700 men and his artillery. The Native Americans, emboldened by their rout of St. Clair’s forces, carried out frequent raids in Westmoreland County. Finally, Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s victory over the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers put an end to the fighting along this frontier.

Thomas Mifflin, first elected governor in 1790, served three successive terms, through 1799. Due to his opposition to Washington and the Federalists, he refused to call the legislature into session during the Whiskey Rebellion, although later he did aid in suppressing the rebels.

The insurrection began in Westmoreland County, fomented by mishandling of Indian wars and protection of the frontiers, arduous and ill-paid militia duty, the scarceness of specie and speculative prices of land, and in particular by the newly imposed excise tax on whiskey, which was the chief transportable and barterable Western product.