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225 years later, anthropologist reveals Hanna's Town attackers 8-07

By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI
HANNA'S TOWN, Pa. (AP) - Tucked away in the rolling green hills
southeast of Pittsburgh are a few log cabins and a fort, a
reenactment of what the colonial Hanna's Town would have looked like
before it was burned down in a destructive post-Revolutionary War
attack.

On the eve of the attack in June 1782, Hanna's Town had more than 30
log cabins, three taverns and a courthouse. It was the first county
seat west of the Allegheny Mountains and was considered a rival to
Pittsburgh on the western frontier.

Now, 225 years after the town's demise in an attack by more than 300
American Indian warriors and two dozen British troops, anthropologist
Jim Richardson has uncovered who conceived and led the assault.

Richardson, curator emeritus of the Carnegie Museum of Natural
History's anthropology department, has concluded Seneca chief
Sayenqueraghta planned the attack. The conclusion breaks with
long-standing belief that the British had riled up their Indian
allies to make a last attempt at victory after their 1781 surrender
in Yorktown.

“It was the biggest attack that occurred during the Revolutionary
War in western Pennsylvania. It was also, in some ways, a nonevent
and historically it never got into literature,” said Richardson, who
is publishing the findings in the summer and fall issues of Western
Pennsylvania History magazine.

“Yorktown had already occurred, the British had already surrendered
and the British in Fort Niagara were trying to hold back anymore
attacks,” Richardson said. “They were doomed. The war was over.”

But Sayenqueraghta had different ideas. An Indian chief better known
as Old Smoke, he was revered by his people and respected by the
British because he commanded a contingent of at least 3,000 men.

Hanna's Town - the only true example of civilian government in the
western Pennsylvania frontier - was a prime target for Sayenqueraghta.

“At the time the town was burned down, people were beginning to get
established here,” said Joanna Moyar, educational coordinator of the
Westmoreland County Historical Society, pointing to pieces of Chinese
porcelain and other artifacts that archeologists have found at the
site.

The Indian chief was bent on revenge after members of a Westmoreland
County militia burned down his town, forcing his displaced tribe to
establish a new village near Fort Niagara. Sayenqueraghta long had
his eye on both Hanna's Town and Fort Pitt, the military encampment
about 30 miles away in what is now Pittsburgh.

Based on correspondence Richardson sifted through, the British
opposed such an attack, knowing that if they captured Fort Pitt they
would not be able to resupply the stronghold in the middle of
rebel-controlled territory.

“(The British) kept holding him back,” said Richardson, who has
been studying the attack for 37 years. “In June 1782, he had enough
and took off to go down and attack Hanna's Town.”

Realizing they could not stop him, the British commanders at Fort
Niagara attached to Sayenqueraghta's contingent of 300 warriors
another 20 or so of their own men, Richardson said. The motley crew
of fighters - the Indians apparently dressed in castoff uniforms from
the King's Eighth Regiment - made for Hanna's Town.

Reapers spotted the attackers and had enough time to inform the
settlers, who were ill-prepared for a siege.

“Everybody got in this crummy little stockade and held out with nine
guns,” Richardson said.

Lisa Hays, executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical
Society, points at the log fort that has been rebuilt, noting how
little protection the flimsy structure would have afforded the
colonial residents.

“It was more of a foot race than a battle. ... There was probably
just enough of a battle to keep them from burning the fort down,”
said Hays, who had surmised, along with other scholars, that the
British were the instigators behind the attack.

By the end of the attack, Hays said only two buildings were left
standing, one of them the fort. Letters written in the days after the
ambush talk about the capture of the wife of the town's founder,
Robert Hanna, and the suffering of the residents who had nothing left
but the clothes on their backs.

Two of the town's residents were killed.

The warriors continued to nearby Miller's Station, where residents
were even less prepared. In total, about a dozen were killed and
another 12 captured in the two towns.

“It was the fifth-largest attack by an Indian contingent in the
western arena,” Richardson concluded. “It really disrupted the
whole political system of western Pennsylvania because of the
destruction of the courthouse.”

After the attack, Hanna's Town reverted to farmland. Westmoreland
County's seat moved to Greensburg in 1786.

However, newspaper accounts from the 19th century show that the
attack on Hanna's Town was very much a part of people's lives.
Annually they held memorial services at the site. The Steele family
that owned the property was aware of its historical significance and
eventually sold it to the county.

Today, several log structures depict the town's two-story homes, the
fort and Hanna's Tavern, which also served as the courthouse. There's
also a jail, complete with a pillory and whipping post.

Moyar said Richardson's findings will help provide visitors with a
more accurate depiction of the devastating attack.

“One of the things that we have really tried to do is give kids a
sense of what life was like on the frontier,” Moyar said.
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