Pymatuning Town

Delaware Indians had a large settlement called Pymatuning Town on the Shenango River in Mercer County as far back as 1761. It may have been occupied until after the Revolutionary War. Studies made in 1961 by Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, for the National Park Service, have located the probable town and its cemetery sites, but because the cemetery was looted in the 1890s, there are no artifacts to show it was there. However, the town has been located on the north bank of the Shenango River, about 3 miles east of Clark and 1 miles west of Big Bend. The first known mention of Pymatuning Town is by Thomas Hutchins about 1761, in notes accompanying a sketch map. Lt. Hutchins was a surveyor and an assistant to George Croghan who traded with the Indians in the mid-1700s. His description of the site is as follows: "Fifteen houses at Pymatuning last fall consisted of 40 warriors. The town is on the opposite side of the creek from Venango. The creek is 30 yards wide and very deep opposite the town. Near 400 yards below Pymatuning is a good shallow ford. Likewise, above it, there is a good ford. The road from Venango to Pymatuning goes over several little hills and in some places is pretty stony. From Pymatuning to Shenango the road is level and very good. In the month of April most of the Indians at Pymatuning talked of moving, some to Tuscarawas and some to Muskingum."

Historic site

Dr. Don W. Dragoo of Carnegie Museum participated in the museum's investigation in1961 of the historic Delaware Indian site of Pymatuning Town. Prime objective is the archaeological verification of the location of the site. He reported on the findings in an article printed in Pennsylvania Archaeologist, Bulletin of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Volume 34, September 1964, No. 2. Pymatuning Town was one of several Indian villages occupied by the Delawares in western Pennsylvania in the period between the French and Indian War and the Revolution. Although the Delawares were the chief occupants of these villages. The Six Nations claimed and dominated the area. Carnegie's interest in the town lay in the fact that it was not built over by later settlers as so many of the villages were. Andrew Henderson, a surveyor who laid out donation lands for payment of Revolutionary War soldiers, left accurate notes on the location of Pymatuning Town. He specifically mentions four donations on the site of Pymatuning Town as follows: "Lot 720-a very large quantity of bottom, containing a great part of an old Indian town-Pymatuning-appears not to be improved there eight or ten years." "Lot 712--part of an old Indian Town in the south side, near the creek. This is Old Pymatuning Town. In 1785 there were some cabins which would have been useful to settlers, but are long since destroyed by fire. I presume the Indian cornfields were mostly overgrown with hazel, and by this time will be nearly as hard to clear as the woods." "Lot 810--a great proportion of bottom on the creek, including a part of Pymatuning cornfields."

Site documented

William A. Hunter, chief historian of Pennsylvania Historical Commission, put together the historical documentation of this site. Using this documentation, William J. Mayor-Oakes visited the site in 1951 during Carnegie Museum's initial survey of the Shenango Basin for the National Park Service. Mayer-Oakes located the documented corner and examined a small collection of stemmed and notched points found on the hills north of the site, found by the owner of a large portion of the site. Mayer-Oakes conducted no excavations. But, he did draw a sketch map of the site showing the locations of excavations made in 1934 by Donald A. Cadzow of the state historical commission. Cadzow found potsherds and other artifacts, but because he didn't know about Pymatuning Town at the time of his excavations, he credited the items he found to a small Algonkin occupation. Mayer-Oakes didn't do any excavating himself, but he sketched a map showing Cadzow's diggings and the alleged location of Pymatuning Town.In 1961, the field work by Carnegie Museum was meant to check the validity of Hunter's historic accounts and to locate the burial ground shown on Mayer-Oakes' map. Dr. Dragoo, W.C.Reeves and Alan Mann of Carnegie Museum, John Zacucia, J.O. Sipe and Earl Roman of the Beaver Valley Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, did intensive investigations of the site from May 22 until June 16, 1961. Dr. Dragoo continued with a reduced crew to study the basin during several days of July and August of that year. Many years ago, the entire area of the Pymatuning Town site was cleared and cultivated, but during the 30 years or so to the time of the study, the area had been allowed to return to forest. As a result, the site was almost completely overgrown with small trees, dense brush and weeds.

Aerial photos

The party could not get a clear concept of the site from the ground, so it obtained aerial photographs from the U.S. Conservation Office in Mercer. From these photos, the party relocated old property lines and established the documented corner already mentioned as the junction of the four Donation Land lots. The group then made all of its survey measurements from this point. The party's first objective was to locate the burial ground since all surface evidence of the old Indian cabins had been destroyed many years before by settlers who farmed the area. If there were a cemetery, it would reveal Indian trade goods and prove this as the location for Pymatuning town. The party could find no specific clue to the location of the cemetery, but found other people had searched for the cemetery long before. Previous excavators had left holes all over the area. There also was a very large trench on the south edge of the site, dug just before the party's arrival. No human bones were found around any of the old diggings. Mayer-Oakes had noted on his map that the alleged burial ground was 400 yards southeast of the documented corner, but the party found no suitable land for a cemetery with 100 yards of the spot. Mayer-Oakes' location would have placed the cemetery on swampy ground near the river, so the party decided to look elsewhere. Local resident told them about burials that were found in the area several years before, but no one could tell of exact locations. However, a story that kept cropping up was about skulls being plowed out of the ground by the farmers and then placed them on fence posts. If these stories were true, the party felt the cemetery must have been near one of the fence rows that bisected the site, so it began a systematic testing of all areas near the fence rows.

Painting by Robert Griffing, Bonnecamps, 1749, Western PA

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