Exploring Upper St. Clair’s early history
The May program of the Bridgeville Area Historical Society focused on the early history of Upper St. Clair with a presentation by Marjorie Stein entitled “Memory Lane.”
She prefaced her talk with the statement that her information was based on family lore and was not necessarily historically correct.
Mrs. Stein is a descendant of John Fife, the first permanent settler in what is Upper St. Clair today; much of her presentation was based on Fife family lore.
The Fife family was living in Fifeshire, Scotland, in the early 18th century when William and John Fife were born. The brothers emigrated to Ireland and lived near Londonderry.
According to the speaker, they served in the English army and were awarded grants of land in the colonies in North America.
John Fife came to Winchester, Virginia, in 1756, where he earned his living as a tailor.
At some point he settled in Western Pennsylvania and acquired a significant amount of land in what is now Upper St. Clair.
The township’s website states that this occurred in 1762. This is probably incorrect; no settlement was permitted west of the Allegheny Mountains until the Treaty of Fort Stanwix late in 1768.
Mrs. Stein reported that John Fife found an Indian village there and purchased his land from an Indian for a pair of buckskins and some firewater. This too is highly unlikely; there is certainly no record anywhere else of Indian habitation anywhere in this area. Confirmation of such a village would be a significant addition to our knowledge of the early history in this region.
Mrs. Stein showed a number of interesting photographs of the Fife farm in the early 20th century, located in the Old Washington Pike/Johnson Road vicinity.
The speaker related a family story involving the Rev. John McMillan. According to it, he and George Washington were friends and “every time Washington came here to collect rents from tenants on his farms, McMillan would entertain him lavishly to distract him from this task.”
This story also is questionable. McMillan came here in 1774; the only visit Washington made after that was the well documented trip in 1784 to confront David Reed and the Seceders.
She ended her talk with a discussion of the first years of Upper St. Clair High School, a subject of great personal interest to a number of folks in the audience, including Lou DeLach and Karen and Larry Godwin.
This particular program highlighted the fact that we students of history are obligated to retain the distinction between well-documented historical facts and hearsay. Every family has interesting tales which are fun to hear, but are unlikely candidates to be recorded as history.
The next historical society program is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 26 at the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department.
Kathleen Lugarich, director of education at the Fort Pitt Museum, will discuss “Point of Empire, A Brief Overview of Fort Pitt.” This presentation will be of special interest to those of us participating in the “Second Tuesday” series of workshops on Washington in Western Pennsylvania.