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Pa. town's history worthy of attention

March 19, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

FORT LOUDON, Pa. - The first blood of the American Revolution was not spilled on the village green at Lexington in 1775, but by a frontiersman 10 years earlier in what today is Fort Loudon.

That historical account came in a speech in Philadelphia in 1952 by Neil H. Swanson, author, historian and executive editor of the Baltimore Sun, to the Society of the War of 1812. His remarks appear in the commemorative publication on Fort Loudon's 150th anniversary in 1953.

Swanson said the first American rebel to take a British soldier's bullet was a Pennsylvanian named James Brown. Brown was killed when his unit of frontier rebels captured a platoon of the famous Black Watch Regiment in 1765.

Fort Loudon is named for the frontier fort built there in 1756 by the British. The town's history mirrors that of the nation, and members of the Fort Loudon Historical Society are trying hard to get the word out.

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Last week, Richard Hurst, 65, society vice president, spoke at the community's senior center. Hurst has been researching the town's history since 1976.

"There's a lot of information," he told the seniors. "It's hard to keep it all in my head."

He said fur traders first came to the area around 1722. Farmers started moving in around 1750. Indian attacks wiped out entire families until the British began putting up a chain of forts along the frontier stretching to Fort Duquesne, now Pittsburgh.

Fort Loudon's most famous son is James Smith. In 1765, he led an armed rebellion against a British move to arm the Indians to fight against American settlers.

Smith, who survived five years of capture by Indians, and his band of "black boys," so named because they put black paint on their faces before battle, swept the British from the fort. In that battle, James Brown become the first casualty in what would become the American Revolution, according to local history.

Smith continued to fight the British. He and his men captured the first two British forts of the Revolution, Swanson said, diminishing the glory that has always gone to Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys' capture of Fort Ticonderoga in New York.

"Allegheny Uprising," a 1939 Hollywood movie depicting the exploits of Smith and his men, featured the Fort Loudon fort. The movie starred John Wayne.

Anna Rotz, historical society president, said the film is shown every year during the town's annual Frontier Days celebration. This year's celebration, which always features re-enactors, is scheduled for June 3 and 4.

A plaque in the middle of town also tells of Smith's exploits.

After much archeological research to find its location, the 127-foot square was rebuilt in 1993 by the Pennsylvania Historical Society and Museum Commission in cooperation with the Fort Loudon historical Society.

It became an official state historic site. A sign on U.S. 30, a mile east of the village of Fort Loudon, directs visitors to the reconstructed fort.

Hurst likes to tell about Fort Loudon's more recent history, too.

He knows its role in the Civil War, its industrial history with its string of grist mills and iron furnaces, and the moonshining that went on in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There were distilleries all through the peaks and hollers of Pownell Mountain, which looms over Fort Loudon.

There wasn't much water on the mountain to run a still, Hurst said. Being ingenious, one family of moonshiners rigged up a windmill to power their operation, he said.

"My grandpap said you could go up the mountain, put your jug on a rock, leave money and come back later and the jug would be filled."

Today, Fort Loudon is a dry town, meaning no alcohol is sold there, Rotz said.

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