Ford Speaks to Graduate Colloquium about IUP Archaeology at Historic Hanna’s Town

Posted on 2/20/2013 5:34:41 PM

On February 19, 2013, Ben Ford spoke to the Anthropology Department Graduate Colloquium about recent archaeological investigations at the Revolutionary War-era site of Hanna’s Town.

Hanna’s Town, founded by Robert Hanna in 1769, became the first English county seat west of the Allegheny Mountains in 1773. It was the “capital” of Westmoreland County, which at the time included much of present-day southwestern Pennsylvania.

By 1775, the town included more than 30 houses, a stockade (Fort Reed), a blockhouse, a jail, three taverns, and numerous barns, stables, and outbuildings. The majority of these buildings were situated along Forbes Road near a spring. During the 1770s, Hanna’s Town rivaled Pittsburgh in terms of size and importance.

Ben Ford in Colloquium
Ben Ford speaking at the colloquium

Hanna’s Town provided a meeting place for the residents of the region; a place where they could come to trade, to socialize and politic, to register or transfer property, and to have their case heard in court. Hanna’s Town was also an embarkation point for settlers expanding further into southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

As a European foothold west of the Alleghenies, Hanna’s Town was contested both by other colonies and by the original inhabitants of the region. The town supported Pennsylvania’s claim to the region at a time when Pittsburgh (Fort Pitt) was inhabited by people who wanted the region to be part of Virginia. Similarly, the local Native Americans realized the threat that Hanna’s Town and the settlers that it supported posed to their lands in the Old Northwest Territory.

In part due to these conflicts, the town prospered only briefly as a regional political and commercial center, and on July 13, 1782, all but two of the town’s dwellings were burned by a combined force of Seneca and British. The destruction of the town hastened the end of its regional importance: limited rebuilding occurred after the attack, the new state road bypassed the town in the mid-1780s, and the Westmoreland County court was moved to Newtown (Greensburg) in 1787. By 1800, the town had ceased to function as such.

Following the abandonment of the town, the area reverted to farmland and was not subsequently developed. The active life of the site, consequently, spanned only one generation, making it a unique historical archaeological site with a short occupation and an identifiable marker horizon caused by the burning.

The IUP Anthropology Department has been working with the Westmoreland County Historical Society (WCHS) since 2010 to archaeologically investigate the site of Hanna’s Town. IUP conducted an archaeological field school at the site in 2011 and will hold another field school there this summer (contact Ben Ford at about the field school). There have also been several student projects, including a geophysical investigation and a study centering on one of the previously excavated taverns.

IUP faculty and students are also working to digitize the four decades of excavation records for the site. This work consists of creating an artifact database and a GIS to synthesize all of the previous field maps. The digitization project is funded by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and an IUP University Senate Research Grant. There are also many more projects that can be undertaken at the site.

The ultimate goal of the IUP/WCHS partnership is to increase both public and scholarly knowledge about the site and to ensure the long-term protection and accessibility of the archaeological collections.