Essential Pittsburgh
1:49 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

George Washington's Near Death Experiences in Western PA

260 years ago this month, a 21-year old major in the Virginia militia named George Washington had two brushes with death in the Pittsburgh area, which could have dramatically altered the course of American history. Decades before he became the father of our county, Washington was on a dangerous diplomatic mission in the Western Pennsylvania wilderness.

We explored this little known chapter of Washington's life with historical re-enactor Daniel Nehrer, and retired Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Martin J. O'Brien at the Harmony Museum, not far from where Washington was on December 27, 1753, at the boundary of French and English territory.

At one point, Washington and his traveling companion, Christopher Gist, had a mishap on the Connoquenessing Creek.

“They tried to take this raft across the Allegheny River, and Washington was controlling it with a pole, and didn’t do a very good job because he ended up being thrown into the river. And with all the wet wool clothes that they used to wear, it was very fortunate that he was able to be saved by Gist,” said O'Brien. 

He goes on to talk about how different our world might be without Washington.

“Well, we think of democracy as being rather common today, but the United States was the first modern democracy. There are now approximately 195 countries, half of them are democratic. Washington was the catalyst of the Revolution, he was the leader of the Constitutional Convention, he held everything together throughout the Revolution and afterwards, when we formed our government. And I truly believe, had Washington been killed, that our nation’s history would be quite different and the history of the world, the modern world as we know it, would be quite different.

Find out more about Washington's travels through Western PA, and the annual trail hike, with local reenactors.