Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fort McCord

PA Historical Marker for Fort McCord
I really had no idea at the time what I was exactly looking for or where it was located at, which tends to my adventures more exciting. At the time of my search I knew two things due to Sipe's The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania 10 there was a monument with a listing of those killed, injured, or taken prisoner in an attack on Fort McCord and 2) the fort was located northwest of Chambersburg.

After a little research, I discovered where the Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Fort McCord was located, so I used that location as the starting point of my search for the memorial that Sipe mentioned. For the record, when I sought the location of this monument, there was nothing online about it. There is a lot more information about the fort available now in comparison to when I was searching for it.

Leaving Chambersburg, I headed northwest into the rolling hills of the Cumberland Valley to begin my search. I was immediately taken in by the beauty of the lands that were overshadowed by the Blue Mountains. No wonder the early pioneers had the desire to settle here despite the dangers that they would face clearing the lands on the frontier - the area was beautiful and the land fertile..

I soon found myself traveling on Fort McCord Road and a short distance later I found the blue historical marker at the intersection of Fort McCord and Rumler Roads. After taking a couple pictures of the historical marker, I continued a short distance along Fort McCord Road, but did not find any other monuments to the fort.

Returning to the historical marker, I turned onto Rumler Road and almost immediately spotted the memorial I was searching for. From my initial stopping point along Fort McCord Road, the monument had been hidden by the barn it was beside.

Built by William McCord in 1756, the private fort was poorly constructed and from all accounts could not be easily defended. A note of interest: While the historical marker lists it as John McCord’s Fort, most of the information about this fort has it listed as William McCord’s Fort. From what I've found, I believe that John and William were brothers who both settled at the location.

Had it not been for the events of April 1, 1756, Fort McCord might have only been a footnote in the history of the state. However, on that fateful day Shingas arrived in the Cumberland Valley.

Shingas (also recorded as Chingas and Shingiss) became a noted leader of the Delawares in 1752. A member of the Turkey Clan, Shingas was a feared warrior and his name created dread in the hearts of those living on the frontier. John Heckwelder, the noted Moravian missionary, described Shingas as having a small stature, but made up for it with his fighting and courage.

Shingas had made previous raids into the Cumberland Valley. One particular raid happened on October 31, 1755, when his raiding party entered the Cumberland Valley and for several days murdered settlers and took captives. Among those captured were members of the Martin and Knox families who lived in the Big Cove region.

The memorial for Fort McCord
While many of his raids and skirmishes have been lost to history, April 1, 1756 would secure his place in history when Shingas and his band of warriors attacked and burned Fort McCord. The exact events of the attack on and burning of Fort McCord have been lost over the years and have remained a debate among those who have studied the attack's recorded history. 

What is known about the destruction of Fort McCord is the twenty-seven settlers who had sought refuge there were either killed or taken prisoner. After burning the fort to the ground, Shingas and his men started back into the wilds of western Pennsylvania; his intention was to take their prisoners to Kittanning.

Almost immediately a group of militia and settlers, led by Captain Alexander Culbertson, started after Shingas and his raiding party. At Fort Lyttleton, Captain Culbertson's party was reinforced by nineteen men from the fort, along with a group of men from Fort Granville who were also searching for Shingas and his warriors. The combined group of rescuers caught up with Shingas and his warriors at Sideling Hill – the exact location of this battle has been lost.

What followed was a two hour battle. During the battle, Shingas' group was reinforced and they dealt a terrible blow to Captain Culbertson's force. Twenty-one members of Captain Culbertson's combined group were killed and another seventeen were wounded. While the fighting was going on, Captain Culbertson was shot and killed. With his death, the Pennsylvania forces lost a loyal and brave man.

Shingas' warriors were victorious in battle and they continued their journey into the wilderness of Pennsylvania. Though the battle was a victory for the raiding party, most of the captives managed to escape during the fighting - only five prisoners were taken to Kittanning. Of the original group of captives, five died along the way to Kittanning. One of those killed was Mary McCord who was accidentally shot by those trying to rescue her.

Another sad incident that happened to the captives was the brutal death of  James Blair. At one point during their captivity (and I'm assuming this happened after the battle on Sideling Hill, but sources are not clear on this) an Indian killed Mr. Blair and cut his head off. They then tossed it on Ann McCord's lap, claiming it was the head of her husband. Ann knew it was not her husband, but I cannot imagine the terror she endured during her captivity. She would be recovered later that year when General Armstrong attacked the Indian village at Kittanning.

A close-up of the plaque
The Fort McCord Memorial
As I stood there taking in my surroundings, I see the rolling hills that were farmed over two centuries ago are still being farmed. A sense of emptiness fills the air - the remoteness of long ago still exists here in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. Though the modern world has caught up with the region, it still holds the excitement and emptiness that existed years and years ago when this was the American frontier.

After its destruction, Fort McCord was not rebuilt. The fort became one of the most famous of Pennsylvania's private forts, but unfortunately it was only due to its destruction that the fort was (and still is) remembered.

I’ve had the chance to debate the fall of this fort with a number of people and something seems to be missing out of the recorded history of the battle. If Shingas attacked the fort on the morning of April 1, how did the militia out of Chambersburg get there so fast? My guess is one of the settlers, rather than seeking shelter within the fort, fled to Chambersburg. However, Sipe records that there was a group of men out already searching for Shingas from Fort Granville, so it is possible Culbertson and his men were already out searching for the raiding Indians at the time of the attack and happened to be in the area when the attack occurred.

Another question that has been thrown around is why Culbertson led his men to Fort Lyttleton, which seems to be out of the way. Rereading Sipe’s The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania, I found an answer to that question. Robert Robinson, who was a part of the party pursuing Shingas, wrote that they were following the path the raiding Indians had taken and that path passed by Fort Lyttleton 

A glance at Wallace's Indian Path of Pennsylvania, the Raystown Path passes near Fort Lyttleton before moving towards the northwest. Wallace records that the Raystown Path passed through the gap created by Sideling Hill Creek, between the present-day towns of New Grenada and Waterfall (on Route 913). In Hanna's The Wilderness Trail he states that the Ray's Town Path was the major route through the mountain used by Indians and traders alike and it passed through this gap in Sideling Hill. Neither Hanna or Wallace mention any other path crossing Sideling Hill.

With the information from the books by Wallace and Hanna, I am confident is stating that the Battle of Sideling Hill occurred in this gap. Unless Singas and his raiding party used a path that has been lost to history, the Battle of Sideling Hill happened here. The lay of the land would provide a perfect trap if Shingas had his men wait to ambush their pursuers as they entered the gap



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