Salena Zito
UNIONTOWN – On July 4, 1776, Henry Beeson put up a sign on what was part of the ancient Indian trail known as Nemacolin's Path: He had laid out a two-street town, humbly referred to as Beesontown, and had 54 plots for sale.

The grist mill operator had no idea what was happening that day in Philadelphia, 300 miles east.

Walk along Main Street in this county seat and you may cast your shadow where George Washington, another mill operator in the county, once did.

You can walk into the majestic courthouse, sign the guest log, and look at the deed book recording Washington’s purchase of a couple thousand acres of Fayette County land on June 17, 1795.

How interesting that the Pittsburgh theme in history never goes away. Whether it is her people or the surrounding region, this one-time edge of the wild west threads itself over and over into our country’s founding.

"My sister-in-law once said, 'I think it's just great the way you always work Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania into your books,' " recalls David McCullough, distinguished journalist, historian and author of 1776. "I said, 'I don't work Pittsburgh into my books, history works Pittsburgh into my books.' "

George Washington did sleep here. He also bought land here and, as a young colonel, surrendered his only battle right up the road from here, ironically signing the surrender note on July 4, 1754.

His surrender led to the French and Indian War, the first all-out world war. Afterward, the Brits needed to pay down the debt of their victory, so they issued a direct tax on the colonists called the Stamp Act.

Americans didn't much like that but their reaction – which eventually led to the American Revolution – was never about waging another war.

It was more about challenging the conventional thinking of the day with a masterful display of words in newspapers and pamphlets from all corners of the colonies, all tantalizing people with the idea that liberty and freedom were rights worth pursuing.

People who lived here at the time had no idea they were going to do anything of consequence for the country. Yet when word reached the backwoods frontiersman, they felt obliged to form militias and head east to do battle.

Washington loved the backcountry. He spent years surveying the plunging valleys, rolling meadows and rushing rivers; he shared pipes with Indian chiefs. He felt a great kinship with the soil – but with the people, not so much.

In his continental army, those backwoods folk gave him the most grief. Mostly of Scots-Irish decent, they were rougher, more belligerent, lacked discipline or common manners, and were impossible to manage; more than once, he wrote in his diary about how their behavior drove him to the brink.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.