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History of The Borough of
Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania
Part 1

Chief Guyasuta (1730--1795) / James Sharp (1784--1861)
Indelible Figures

[This is a five-part series on the History of Sharpsburg. It is presented by The Herald in observance of our 90th year of continuous publication in this community.]


Sharpsburg is a placid little river community that stretches for some 300 acres along and beyond the banks of the Allegheny. Its 8,000 inhabitants, mostly of German, Italian and Polish stock, work and play in what many American historians have come to respect as one of the most colorful and significant historical pockets in Allegheny County.

Here was once the formal tribal grounds of the feared Seneca Indians, and here sturdy pioneers took a stand.

In commemoration of those early settlers, without whom there would be no Sharpsburg or, for that matter, Aspinwall, Fox Chapel, Shaler or any of the other suburban communities that have sprung from Sharpsburg, here is assembled an account of the beginning of this Sharpsburg.

We will trace the history from the early days through the turn of the century and up to the present.

Flamboyant Indian

Sharpsburg really began with the flamboyant personality of an indian who splashed across the pages of the early history of Allegheny County -- Guyasuta -- one of the Senecas, largest and most treacherous of the tribes in the league of six Indian nations.

Guyasuta was born in 1730. History tells us he was a warrior of great physical strength and a skilled hunter. Because of these qualities, he was selected as hunter-guide in the party headed by George Washington who, with two Iroquois chiefs, inspected the French forts along Lake Erie in 1753.

That first encounter with Guyasuta must have impressed General Washington because 17 years later when the two men met in Ohio, the General greeted him with warmth and affection.

Guyasuta responded by placing himself at Washington's disposal, although a few years later Guyasuta was to oppose Washington in some of the bloodiest battles recorded in American History.

In 1758 Guyasuta was involved in a bitter battle at Grants's Hill, present site of the County Court House, as well as attacks on Hannastown in Westmoreland County. Bushe Run, however, proved to be Guyasuta's waterloo when he met General Bouquet and was defeated.

Seeks Peace

When British might began to exert itself in the indian country, Guyasuta was the first to ask for peace.

In 1764 he hastened with four chiefs to meet Colonel Bradstreet on the southern banks of Lake Erie to talk peace. To General Bouquet he surrendered 15 white hostages, then hastened to the Delawares and Shawnees to advise them to adopt peaceful ways. He conveniently forgot he had precipitated all the trouble.

"The Pittsburgh Dispatch" recalled that Guyasuta was a politician who made a very good impression on Washington and pleased Congress, but he needed to be watched. His speeches, the newspaper said, were generally accompanied with pleas for rum and tobacco.

Guyasuta's peace efforts culminated with a formal peace treaty signed in the presence of George Groghan, a Pennsylvania agent. Peace came in 1784 when the six nations deeded to the government a tract of land that extended from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River.

From this enormous tract of real estate, Col. James O'Hara purchased 2,150 acres of choice river land, including what today is part of Sharpsburg, PA and the whole of Aspinwall, PA.

To Guyasuta, he gifted a small portion of land upon which he built a log cabin in the area where today is found the Sharpsburg ramp to the Highland Park Bridge.

With Two Squaws

As became the position of a fallen leader, Guyasuta spent his fading years in the company of two squaws. One, old and plain, chose to be subservient and attend her man's every wish, except one. This was fulfilled by another squaw chosen for her youth and comely features.

Near the end of his life Guyasuta walked the streets of Pittsburgh warning of the evils of war and the necessity for peace. He died in 1795.

As to the site of his burial, there are conflicting opinions. One historian recorded that in 1900, a delegation of Iroquois Indians held ceremonial rites at a mound of a grave on the little plot of land where Guyasuta spent his last years.

However, a man from Mercer County insisted that he buried Guyasuta in Mercer County. Many eminent scholars accepted this claim.

When Western Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the land in 1905, seven indian graves were found and the remains moved to Carnegie Museum, but there is still some doubt as to whether Guyasuta's bones are among them.

The earliest settler in this virgin land was James Powers who purchased a parcel in 1796 near what is now Powers Run Road.

Indian Fested

When Powers came, the area was heavily infested with hostila Indians. It is recorded that Powers never left his cabin without taking a rifle.

In 1798 the first settlement was formed near the mouth of Pine Creek by a man named William Preston. A pair, by the names of Strohm and Huddle, preceded him in what is now Indiana Township, PA.

In the year 1826 a man named James Sharp rode into this fertile territory along the Allegheny, and he was enchanted.

He took note of the protective hills that flanked the area to a height of 2,000 feet, and all that was deeply religious within him thanked God for creating such unmatched beauty.

Sometime later he purchased 200 acres of the land from General William Wilkins, not for a handful of money and a barrel of whiskey, but for $2,700 at a marshall's sale.

Sharp returned to his land with his bride of four years and James Stewart, a school teacher who helped him survey the property.

Sharp 42 Years Old

They found no other settlers but only two unoccupied cabins. Sharp was 42 years old at the time. For his wife he built a one-and-a-half story log cabin at the base of a hill between what is now Tenth and Clay Streets. In the summer, vines and full trees all but covered it.

Cabin Preserved

The cabin was preserved along with another built by Frederick Jutte at the lower end of Sharpsburg, as relics of the area's pioneer days. Unfortunately, it deteriorated before the end of the century, and together with the Jutte cabin was razed to make way for redevelopment.

This was no ordinary man who rode into the wilds and founded a town. A plaque erected in Sharp's honor in 1916 by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, still may be found on the front entrance of old Sharpsburg High School at Penn Street.

The plaque reads: "In honor of James Sharp, a captain in the expedition of General Forbes against Fort Duquesne, 1758; and his son Matthew Sharp, a soldier in the war of the revolution, and James Sharp, son of Matthew Sharp, born 1784, died 1861. Founder of the borough of Sharpsburg, 1826.


Next, History of Sharpsburg Part 2
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