Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Amazing Waterford Hero

Western Pennsylvania was pretty much considered the frontier around 1800. When settlers began pouring over the Allegheny Mountains to settle this frontier, they did what most settlers tended to do. They flocked together because the Indians and the French were pretty hostile to their predecessors and there was greater safety in numbers. They built forts so that the town and surrounding farms had a place to run to safety if these enemies attacked.

Another thing that people tend to do when settling a frontier is to remain close to water. If you look at the vast majority of old cities of the world this becomes apparent. Water was life, transportation, power for mills and a ready source of food. It is not surprising that the settlers of Western Pennsylvania gravitated to Pittsburgh and Erie, the former at the confluence of three major rivers, the latter on the Great Lake which leant it its name. Naturally a path formed between these two settlements. Today that path is State Rt. 19, commonly known as the Perry Highway.

The Highway was named after Perry because most of the materials needed to build the fleet that made Oliver Hazard Perry a war hero had to be brought from Pittsburgh to Erie. It followed the path that now bears Perry’s name. But Oliver Hazard Perry is not what this story is about.

When George Washington was a Captain in the British Army he traveled extensively in Western Pennsylvania on behalf of Virginia Governor Dinwiddie. His objective, put quite simply, was to make it clear to the French that it was in their best interest to leave the Allegheny Valley. Several forts went up through the valley, one of them being Fort LeBoeuf is Waterford, on State Rt.19. There is a tree in Waterford that Washington himself, according to legend, climbed to get a good look at this French fort in 1753. The site of Fort Leboeuf boasts the only memorial to Washington that portrays him as a very young man and in a British military uniform. But even Washington is not the star of this story.

If you really love obscure and amazing historical figures as I do, you might give the Fort a passing glance on your way to Waterford Cemetery. In the center of this old cemetery you will find some graves of soldiers who fought in the Revolution. Under a grizzled old tree you will also come across a horizontal tombstone that years of weathering has rendered barely readable. A sign was erected some years ago that tells a remarkable story. The stone reads:

Michael Hare, born Armagh County Ireland June 10th 1727, was in the French War at Braddock’s defeat, served through the Revolutionary War, was with General Arthur St. Clair and was scalped at his defeat by Indians. Died on March 3rd, 1843 aged 115 years, 8 months and 13 days. His wife Elizabeth died March 3rd 1813 aged 90 years.

French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and survivor of a scalping (an unpleasant and typically fatal event). Then you pick up the pieces of your life, get married, survive your wife by over 20 years (the tombstone math doesn’t quite work out) and die at 115! Mr. Hare had certainly led an extraordinary life, even when you leave out the fact that Michael Hare enthusiastically volunteered to fight in the War of 1812. Apparently there was still some fight in Mr. Hare, even if he was 85 at the time.

If you ever find yourself traveling through Waterford on Pennsylvania Rt. 19, take a short detour to pay your respects to a truly amazing hero. Look for the 300 year old maple in the middle of the cemetery, Michael Hare is lying at its base, likely making the tree tougher.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I liked your article on Michael Hare. He was one of my ancestors and I have always been fascinated by this tough old patriot. If you ever run into more information about him or would like to know a little bit more about him, I would appreciate it if you would let me know. Thanks again, Pam Payne (