Welcome to Westsylvania…Feb 8th, 2009 | By Leonard Legends & Legacies | Category: Questions & Ancestors
You native Pennsylvanians probably know all about the state of Westsylvania, but news of the insurrection and subsequent attempt at secession is just now reaching those of us on the left coast. Nevermind that it happened 232 years ago, this is news to me.And guess who was right smack in the middle of that isolationist plot?
The idea that the same Leonards who got involved in the Whiskey Rebellion eighteen years later might have a hand in forming their own state is, well, predictable I guess. But it was news to me.
Jurisdiction of the areas west of the Allegheny Mountains had been a problem for governing bodies from day one. First for the British, who were busy fighting Indians and settling border disputes between the Pennsylvania and Virgina colonies, and later, for The US Government, which had racked up some serious debt in the Revolutionary War. In either case, the official seats of government were too far removed to give much of a hoot what what happened west of the Alleghenies.
So, in the summer of 1776, several thousand southwestern Pennsylvania pioneers petitioned the Second Continental Congress to recognize Westsylvania as the fourteenth state of the United States of America. Had it been granted, the new state would’ve included parts of present day Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. The petitioners argued that the continuing border disputes were likely to result in civil war and that warring land companies were increasingly pissing off the otherwise friendly local Indians.
Separatist agitation and petitioning continued all the way up until 1782, when Pennsylvania and Virgina settled their border dispute and the Pennsylvania Assembly declared any further agitation an act of treason, punishable by death. Congress, for its part, did what Congress is wont to do and ignored the petitions for statehood entirely.
The point of this whole exercise was to point out that the Leonard clan was right smack in the middle of it all. According to Howard L. Lecky and the petition he found in the Library of Congress, brothers Caleb Jr., Silas, and Abner Leonard of the Washington-Fayette-Greene County area had signed one of the separatist documents. Or did they?
There is some evidence to suggest that those gathering signatures simply went from county to county and took their names from militia rolls. In some cases, the alleged petitioners couldn’t read or write, let alone offer a signature. And in still others, the alleged petitioner was actually dead, and that puts a real wrinkle in your John Hancock.
But I’m inclined to think the Leonard signatures are real, given that they also stepped up and spit in the government’s eye over the whole idea of a whiskey tax some years later. What do you think?
(As always, there is more to the story than I’ve related here, but Wikipedia has a decent summary over here. I’m sure there are any number of books on the subject and the Greene County Historical Society claims to have reprints of Lecky’s The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families available for sale. That’s where I found the Leonard names, but I’d call to make sure they have the book before sending your money.)
Changing subjects now… with a question for those of you who signed up for e-mail notifications… when you get one, are you getting a notification, or are you getting the entire post? I only ask because I’m getting both and I haven’t quite figured out why. Technology. Ya gotta love it.
**Update 11:15am PST** I’ve just now enabled comment threading! Which means, for you non-geeks, that you can now comment on the post and reply to other people’s comments… which recreates a defacto discussion group! (Gawd [shaking head], I’m such a nerd.)
Related post: Inlaws and Outlaws: The Whiskey Rebellion