Shannopin Town

Long before the the night spots of Pittsburgh’s Strip District and Lower Lawrenceville, even before the English or French arrived at the Forks of the Ohio, there was a Lenni Lenape’ (Delaware) Village along the Allegheny known as Shannopin Town. The town was believed to be occupied by around 20 Lenni Lanape families. The village is believed to have been roughly from the shoreline of the river to roughly where Penn Avenue is today, and from 30th Street to Roughly 39th Street. The Lenape had fled westward to avoid the Iroquois and British colonists, and established a village here where they also were trading with both French and British traders, many traders and travelers would find Shannopin Town a hospitable place to stay in their travels. The town or village is believed to have been settled in the mid 1720’s.

In April 1730, the Pennsylvania Governor received a letter carried by three traders who often visited Shannopin Town asking the Governor to limit the free trade of rum and the numbers of people traveling the path from the European settlements in the East. The letter signed by Shawnoppean (which was also translated as Shannopin and Shannopean) and other from the village. The traders had also complained that the rum trade had caused traders in Shannopin town to go into debt to the traders.

The Kilbuck Map showing Shannopim’s Town. (Shannopin’s town is #6 on the map)

In late 1753, George Washington and Christopher Gist would both stay at Shannopin’s Town during Washington’s mission to keep the French from taking the Forks of the Ohio. When George Washington traveled up the Venango Trail to deliver a message to the French, insisting that the French were trespassing on British land, Washington came back by following “The Piney Creek” based on he writings of Christopher Gist The creek meets the Allegheny river at current day Etna, Pennsylvania. Washington and Gist expected that they would find the river frozen, The river however had not completely frozen that late December day, so Gist and Washington had to make a raft to cross the river. Once they attempted to cross the unfrozen section of the river they were struck by an ice jam. Washington was thrown from the raft but managed to grab onto it with Gist pulling him aboard and they made their was to an island in the river staying overnight and continuing on the next day to Shannopin Town.

When the French found out that the English had begun to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, French military units sailed down the Allegheny river from Venango landing at Shannopin Town. The French Commander sent notice from Shannopin Town that they French Army intended to lay siege to the building the next day. The officer in charge at the Forks of the Ohio decided that it would be better to abandon the position rather than try to fight with a very small crew of tradesmen, so the next morning the men left with their belongings, and the French went on to build Fort Duquesne.

Shannopin town may not be the most recognizable name in the history of Western Pennsylvania. However, for the travelers who passed through and to the native population, the town was very important for trade and treaty.

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