When necessary, two disparate individuals can often forge a relationship based on a commonality, be it a mutual cause, a belief, a similar situation, or a character trait. Leadership, and the responsibility that inherently accompanies it, can be one of those binding elements.
George Washington and Guyasuta must have recognized great leadership abilities in one other. These two titans, who crossed paths in southwestern Pennsylvania, couldn’t have been a more unlikely pair to establish a relationship. History tells us that these two men, whose lives are woven like a subplot in the story of this land’s early history, regarded each other with deep respect.
Forget Oscar and Felix, Washington and Guyasuta were an even odder couple. George Washington was born in 1732 and was raised as part of the landed gentry of Colonial Virginia. When he was merely 17, Washington was appointed the official surveyor for Culpepper County, Virginia, and was later made a major in the Virginia militia.
In contrast, Guyasuta, whose name has also been interpreted as Kiasutha, was one of the most powerful Native American chiefs of that era. He is believed to have been born in 1724 into the Seneca tribe in New York, which was one of six tribes in the Iroquois nation. During his childhood, Guyasuta moved into the Ohio Country. He was described as a great warrior and skillful hunter, and most probably belonged to a mixed-blooded tribe referred to as the Mingo people who lived along the banks of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.
Guyasuta’s name is translated to mean “It Stands Up the Cross.”
He and Washington first met in 1753, when the French began to encroach into the “Ohio Country,” territory that the British claimed for the Virginia and Pennsylvania colonies. Washington was dispatched by the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddy, who had received orders from the British government to warn the French to withdraw. Washington, who was only 21 at the time, and the members of his eight-man expedition were led by Guyasuta on his journey from Logstown (now Harmony Township) to Fort LeBoeuf (now Waterford, Pennsylvania) near the shores of Lake Erie.
The commander of Fort LeBoeuf, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, received Washington and his men with hospitality but dismissed Washington’s demand that the French vacate the land.
A year later hostilities erupted between the French and the British over this disputed land. This bloody conflict became known as the French and Indian War and would bring Washington and Guyasuta together a second time.
While the Iroquois aligned with the British, Guyasuta cast his lot with the French. In 1755, General Edward Braddock led an expedition for the British to capture Fort Duquesne, now the site of Point State Park. George Washington was among those men under Braddock’s command. Initially, the bloody battle favored the British, but the French and Indian forces, of whom it is believed that Guyasuta was a member, regrouped and defeated the British, consequently killing General Braddock.
George Washington presided over his general’s burial as the chaplain was severely wounded in the conflict.
During the summer of 1758, General John Forbes led an expedition over the Alleghenies. A part of this group was led by Major James Grant, who advanced on Fort Duquesne ahead of the expedition. The French and Indians at the fort got wind of his approach and met Grant outside the fort in battle (on what is now Grant Street). Guyasuta is believed to have fought in this battle, which ended in the defeat of Grant. However, the British eventually prevailed over the French, seizing the disputed land.
In opposition to the British policies after the war, Pontiac, the Ottawa chief, led an uprising in 1763, in which Guyasuta was a major leader. Pontiac was unsuccessful in his attempt to capture Fort Detroit, but he and Guyasuta conspired to take Fort Pitt. Colonists in western Pennsylvania took refuge in Fort Pitt when Pontiac’s War began, and by the summer of 1763, it was reported that more than 500 people were crammed into the small fortification.
On June 22, the fort was attacked by the Indians. With the fort under siege, Colonel Henry Bouquet was dispatched from Carlisle by the British to relieve those surrounded in Fort Pitt. When Guyasuta and the other Indians learned of Bouquet’s approach, they left the area of the fort and met the British in open engagement at Bushy Run, where the British triumphed.
Pontiac’s War had at one time been known as Pontiac and Guyasuta’s War because Guyasuta played such an integral role in the uprising. Eventually, it was squelched.
When it became clear that the British were here to stay, Guyasuta helped with the peace negotiations of 1764 and 1765. He was particularly instrumental in the release of prisoners taken during the uprising. After the war’s conclusion, it was reported that Guyasuta was a frequent visitor to Fort Pitt and acted as a liaison between the British government, settlers, and Native Americans.
When revolution broke out in the colonies, Guyasuta chose to remain neutral, but as the conflict raged, he was forced to choose sides and fought for the British in battles at Ligonier and in the burning of Hannastown. When this war found the colonists the victors and once again, Guyasuta worked to establish peace in the region.
The great chief is believed to have died in 1795. There are conflicting reports as to where he is buried: some say near the Allegheny River in Sharpsburg, and others say on land granted to his nephew, Cornplanter, near the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River.
While Washington’s influence in the area’s history is more conspicuously acknowledged by the numerous streets, landmarks, and towns bearing his name, Guyasuta’s influence has not gone unnoticed. There is a Boy Scout camp bearing his name and a life-sized statue of him at the intersection of Canal and Main Streets in Sharpsburg. There is even a bar in Sharpsburg named after him called The Guyasuta Lounge.
Perhaps the most significant and newest tribute to two of this area’s most influential players is the “Point of View” monument installed in 2006 on Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington. Created by artist James A. West, the bronze sculpture depicts an October 1770 face-to-face meeting of Guyasuta and George Washington, when the two met for the third time to discuss future settlement along the Ohio River.
While both of their lives intersected over this land, sometimes in conflict, they are forever united through their influence on our history and the legacy of their leadership. It continues to echo across Southwestern Pennsylvania, even to this day.
By Janice Palko