If superstition thrives amid uncertainty and fear, there was no better place for that than Southwestern Pennsylvania in the mid to late 1700s.

Our ancestors were ruled by beliefs we find childish and strange today.

It was not a good place to be if you were a woman, and managed to stay alive into old age. Your neighbors might think you were a witch.

Okay . . . yeah, it’s easy for us to judge.

We don’t live moment to moment concerned about our children starving, or a tomahawk crashing through our spouse’s skull, or illness snuffing us out in a day or two.

But, it can be fun to be judgmental, so let’s judge.

Plus, we’ll look at superstitious practices in Pittsburgh since then. I guarantee that where we find superstition, we’ll find fear.

Tales From the Wilderness

My main source for the crazy worldview of settlers comes from Joseph Doddridge, who was brought into the wilderness south of Pittsburgh in 1773 as a 4-year-old.

His memoirs were published in 1824.

Let’s start with witches.

Has your cow stopped giving milk?

That’s easy. There’s nothing wrong with your cow. And, it’s not anything you did, or didn’t do.

The old woman next door stole the milk, of course.

No, she didn’t sneak over and milk your cow. (What a dolt!) She’s a witch.

She just pinned a new towel over her door with a new pin, said a few words, and milked your cow at her house by pulling on the towel fringe.

That, wrote Doddridge, is what many people he grew up with, mostly Scotch-Irish,  thought.

They didn’t make this stuff up here. They brought it with them when they crossed the ocean

Doddridge’s neighbors might have related to the people of Salem, Mass., a century before. But, as far as we know, they didn’t kill any suspected witches here.

Wizardry in the Wilds

They didn’t have to go that far. They had their own magic.

First, you could always hire a wizard, a male witch, to undo what the old woman did.

Wizards rarely used their powers for bad purposes, you understand.

Victorian cod liver oil bottle was found in kitchen chimney of house in England. It has residue of urine and is festooned with ritual pins to fight a witch’s spell.

Doddridge said he knew several who had as many patients as any medical doctor in the region.

I should point out that Doddridge thought bloodletting was the epitome of good, modern medical practice.

Witch masters, as wizards also were called, made no secret of their powers. Accused witches, on the other hand, always denied everything.

Funny how that works.

Is your child ailing from a mysterious disease? It’s a witch’s spell.

You should hang a sealed container of the child’s urine in the chimney. Why?

Well, the witch will develop a urinary infection. She will not be able to urinate. If she does, she will experience dire pain.

That will force her to remove the spell. Unless . . .

. . . well, unless she uses another option.

Something Borrowed, You’ll Be Blue

She can undo any spell placed on her by borrowing something — anything — from the person who cast the spell on her.

Doddridge sadly recalled several old women with nearly broken hearts.  They asked to borrow something, were denied, and then they were told why.

Doddridge studied German so he could preach among German settlers as a Methodist minister.

One of the things he learned is that German glassblowers threw puppies into their furnaces to drive witches out.

Colonial glass blowing is demonstrated at Jamestown historic site.

Only a witch could be responsible for the mysteries behind a failed bottle,  right? She probably didn’t want you peeing in it, then hanging it in the chimney.

German farmers east of Monroeville blamed sorcery when their hunting shots were off target, recalled Thomas Mellon, the patriarch of the banking family.

” . . . they all expressed undoubting belief that no matter how unerring the aim, if someone with an evil eye or possessed of the power of sorcery should happen to put a spell on their gun, no game could be killed until the spell was taken off,” Mellon wrote.

The Silver Bullet

That was easy enough to take care of, though. Just fashion a bullet out of a silver coin and shoot the witch. . .

Well, not exactly. Draw an outline of the witch on a tree and shoot the silver bullet into the figure with the affected gun. I presume, since the gun’s aim was cockeyed,  it was done at close range.

Oh, yeah. The silver bullet trick also works if your child is sick and you don’t want to hang urine in the chimney. That can be SUCH a bother!

Just draw the old woman who cast the spell on a stump or board (not a live tree) and shoot her, er  . . . it.

She will feel extreme pain in the part of the body hit — until she removes the spell.

Frontier farmers took pride in their independence, but the moon told many what to do

Farmers and Lunacy

Mellon said his German neighbors just shook their heads at the ignorance of the Scottish-Irish such as himself, people who didn’t know there was a right time and a wrong time to do farm work based on the phases of the moon.

If you clean out a springhouse during the decline of the moon, for instance, well any fool knows, it will surely go dry.

The Zodiac calendar also ruled farm work. Put up a fence under the wrong sign, and it will rot much sooner. Spread manure or plant potatoes under the wrong sign, that is absolute folly!

“Science had not yet greatly disturbed their thoughts,” Mellon observed.

But, on the other hand, they were able to explain everything.

Many of the people you know, and perhaps yourself, have thoughts undisturbed by science.

These thoughts come out during times of stress. Is anything more stressful than putting your house up for sale?

There is one sure way to find a buyer quickly, and it’s not lowering the price — although that will work, too.

Not Just Any Ole Joe

You must lower St. Joseph.

Simply get Joseph out of the nativity scene in the attic, and bury him upside down next to the “for sale” sign in the yard.

Perhaps because he prefers to be right side up and not buried, the figurine uses its powers to attract a willing buyer. You then must disinter Joseph and give him a place of honor in your new home.

If you don’t, well don’t be surprised if the old place keeps going up for sale after you’ve left.

The fog of myth surrounds many religious practices, but the makers of the above home-selling Joseph kit, God bless them,  want to clear things up for you. Play the video, if you dare.

The Catholic Church calls such magic practices evil. Many churches stopped selling Joseph in their saint shops.

A good portion of the statues are bought by non Catholics any way. They’ll try anyone’s magic, if it will sell their house.

The Church says one should just pray to the foster father of Jesus. He’d be sympathetic. He often changed where he lived. 

Superstition is no more characteristic of Christians than anyone else who tunes in to the spiritual.

Sage Advice

Long before Christianity, and continuing today, people carry smoldering sage through a house while they think happy thoughts.

It relieves the home of negative energy and replaces it with positive. That causes lookers to become buyers.

The Chinese also have long addressed good and bad energy in a living space. The practice is called Feng Shui.

For instance, Feng Shui devotees say one should eliminate clutter. Nothing magical in that.

Use red, a good luck color, where possible.

Line the walkway to the house with red flowers, and it will draw in buyers. I suspect the positive energy generated by that comes from thinking the owner has taken care of the property.

Fortunately, none of that endangers anyone. Well, you might lose your soul to the Devil’s magic, but otherwise it’s harmless.

Superstitious Driving

However, superstitious Pittsburgh drivers do pose a danger.  Many sound downright obsessive/compulsive.

Some hold their breath while passing cemeteries. Don’t want to make the dead people jealous, you know.

Some lift their feet and touch the car ceiling while crossing railroad tracks. This will keep a loved one from dying within the week, or keep your lover from leaving you, or. . . (you fill in the blank).

I suspect it goes back to bad vehicle suspension, when it was more comfortable to hang from the roof-mounted hand grip rather than absorb rail-induced jolts with human hindquarters that were not as well padded as today.

Many drivers race through a yellow light and feel compelled to slap the sun visor afterward. Why?

Because you’re supposed to. That’s why.

People from out of town bring a common superstition that doesn’t work here. They try to hold their breath while driving through our tunnels. Pittsburghers know better.

The tunnels are fairly long, but not too long. The average healthy person can stop breathing for one to two minutes before they pass out and careen into tunnel walls.

That’s plenty of time to clear Pittsburgh’s longest tunnels, if you maintain your speed. There’s the problem. Many do not.

Maybe those who slow down are heeding a superstition. You know, the one in which the tunnel walls close in on your car the faster you travel.

Fearful Athletes

Lastly, I’ll mention what has been reported time and again: the superstitions of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and athletes in general.

What do those big tough guys fear that would cause them to rely on superstition? Losing, of course.

Actually, that’s not quite true. They fear not winning.

What’s the difference?

Well, their superstitious tendencies arise mostly when they are winning.

Penguins players seek to replicate the small things leading up to their wins and incorporate them into a pre-game routine: the socks they wear, where they place their hockey stick, who they arrange to “accidentally” bump into, the order in which they take to the ice,  whether they shave or not– the lists go on.

In the end, it’s fear. They fear bad luck can trump championship skills.

The magic they employ helps them survive what passes for danger in the 21st Century, in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Not as bad as being burned at the stake. I guess that makes us . . . what?


BTW: The font color in this post is a new color marketed by PPG Paints. It’s called “Superstition.”

Logstown6: Jesus Never Came

Harmonists Farmed Site

Of Indian Village for Much of a Century


Historical Trajectory Followed to an End

We’ve seen how Logstown, the Indian village site near Pittsburgh,  was visited by the likes of George Washington, Meriwether Lewis, Charles


Dickens,  Chief Guyasuta and even batman’s namesake.

In this final post on Logstown, we’ll see how its most anticipated visitor never arrived — at least not yet.

We’re talking about Jesus. The one from Nazareth.

The Harmonist Society established a happy and phenomenally successful commune on 3,000 acres around the abandoned Indian town, all in anticipation that Christ would arrive on Sept. 15, 1829.

They expected to go with him to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, and walk with him for 1,000 years before the Final Judgment.

Imagine how tidy and productive your home or community would become, if you knew such a judgmental visitor was coming? That’s what happened at the place we now call Old Economy Village.

Pious Germans

The Harmonists were pious Germans.  They called their commune Oekonomie, understood to mean a divinely inspired  economy.

That inspiration took them far beyond what you might normally expect of a commune. The hippie communes of the 1970s made candles. These people made much of what was being made in the U.S., and a great deal of wealth — more wealth than the U.S. Treasury.

Well. . ., that comparison to the Treasury has a caveat. It refers to the Panic of 1837, which eventually drained the coffers of many governments and banks. So, during that period, it happened that the Harmonists were sitting atop more silver and gold than most anyone else.

They didn’t start out rich, though. Capitalists and economic thinkers from throughout the world came to see how they did it.

The Harmonists got wealthy by a devotion to work, investment rather than spending, and the wisdom and good luck to be where a startup called the United States was booming to life.

Married Farm and Factory

Under the direction of a bigger-than-life leader, George Rapp, and his adopted entrepreneurial son, Frederick, they efficiently merged agriculture and manufacturing. Few, if any, had placed factories next to farms before.

They raised sheep for wool, used new-fangled steam-powered machines to spin and weave it, created products, and then they distributed and retailed them. The market was favorable. Continued difficulties with Great Britain made woolen goods expensive and highly profitable in the growing United States.

They took those profits and built enterprises that included: cotton, silk, wine, coal, oil, railroads, banks, and real estate ventures.

Well-healed Europeans traveling around North America  had to go to Niagara Falls, of course, but they also went to Oekonomie.

In 1826, only two years after the Harmonists built the town from nothing,  the Duke of Saxe-Weimar wrote:

“Mr. Rapp conducted us into the factory again, and said that the girls had especially requested that visit that I might hear them sing . . . The girls sang four pieces, at first sacred, but afterward, by Mr. Rapp’s desire, of a gay character. All the workmen, and especially the females, have very healthy complexions and moved me deeply by the warm-hearted friendliness with which they saluted the elder Rapp. I was also much gratified to see vessels containing fresh sweet-scented flowers standing on all the machines. The neatness which universally reigns here is in every respect worthy of praise.”

Didn’t Marry Men and Women

Only 600 people lived at the commune, and they were supposed to avoid baby-making intimacies. Jesus was coming, you know.

Further, Rapp didn’t seek out new followers. That meant outsiders had to be hired as business boomed, and as the commune members aged and died.

So, what happened when Jesus didn’t show up on Sept. 15, 1829? Not much.

The date obviously was wrong, but Harmonists couldn’t have felt too disillusioned. Surely, Jesus would be coming  in their lifetimes. Even better, he’d come in Father Rapp’s lifetime, and he was getting really old.

GEORGE RAPP portrait at village

Besides, all they had to do was look around to see that their devotion had not been wasted

True, they were denied sex and intimacy. But, they were living amid flower gardens in neatly arranged two-story frame and brick houses. Most people in Pittsburgh were living in one-room log cabins.

Harmonists got food, clothing, shelter and camaraderie at no charge. They would be cared for in sickness and old age, and, if they decided to leave, they knew they could get a sizeable piece of change — their vested interest in the Harmonist enterprises.

Not Married to Sites

George Rapp first brought his followers from Germany (the Lutheran state there didn’t like them much) to Butler County in 1804. He established Harmony, his first commune. It did very well, but George and Frederick had bigger ideas.

They moved the Harmonists to 30,000 acres along the Ohio River in Indiana, calling it New Harmony.

It also did very well, but it was more acreage than they needed, it wasn’t close enough to markets, and it was flat and damp and very unlike their native Germany.

So, while in Pittsburgh on business, Frederick heard that 2,400 acres was for sale around Logstown.

The Rapps never had trouble finding buyers for their profitable communal villages, and they promptly unloaded New Harmony on one of the many rich men of the time interested in social reform through utopian living.

Harmonist attorneys — they never did anything without them — may have been the ones who dug up old plans by someone to build a new town over the Indian village.

Those plans are on display at Old Economy Village, which has been a state-operated historic park since 1919.

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Logstown5: Batman’s Ancestral Connection

Indian Village Becomes

Training Center for Fighting Them

Because of this series on Logstown, Batman’s true identity will be revealed.


We’ve reached the point when a guy turns the abandoned Indian town into a large military center to train young men how to fight Indians.

He was Major General “Mad Anthony” Wayne.

You know one of his descendants: Bruce Wayne, the wealthy but gloomy socialite who dons a bat outfit and fights wacky criminals.

Yes, the creators of Batman in 1939 wanted a colonial family connection for their rich hero. They chose “Mad Anthony.”

It’s a big name among buffs of U.S. wars fought for independence and against Indians.

President George Washington chose the general in 1792 to create the Legion of the United States here at Pittsburgh.


New Country Embarrassed

The new nation wasn’t doing too well when it sent troops to sweep Indians out of the Northwest Territory.

Today, that territory includes Ohio, Indiana,  Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and northeast Minnesota.

They called it the Northwest Territory because it was Indian land northwest of Pittsburgh and the Ohio River.

Wayne came out of retirement, came to Pittsburgh and came to shake his head. This place was way too crazy.

It was a frontier town with heavy drinking, whoring, gambling and violence.

The general had gotten his nickname for being a bit crazy when battles started during the Revolutionary War, but he wanted to instill discipline and new tactics into the legion.

He chose the term legion to hearken back to the formidable Roman legions that built an empire.

So, Wayne nixed the idea of training troops at Fort Fayette, a newly built facility in what is now Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.

Instead, he chose deserted and isolated Logstown, 18 miles downriver where the boroughs of Ambridge and Baden are today.

In a matter of months, 2,500 young men were living in wooden barracks on a 35-acre, well-defended site that Wayne called Legionville.

It’s not likely he or Washington saw any particular irony in selecting the site of a noted Indian village to train Indian fighters.

To them, the extinction of the people originally on this continent was inevitable, a part of “manifest destiny.”

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Logstown4: Indian Land Grab Increases

George Washington came to Logstown, just downriver from modern-day Pittsburgh,  several times to add to his substantial land holdings.


When he died, he was holding more than 52,000 acres. All of it, of course, had at one time been Indian land.

Sound like alot of acreage?

That paled (a rather appropriate verb) compared to land scouted and surveyed by a later visitor.

Meriwether Lewis made an unwilling stop at Logstown just as he was beginning the famous Lewis&Clark expedition to explore what white men could do with 530 million acres of Indian land America just bought from the French.

But, before we get into that, let’s take a quiz to review information about Logstown covered in the first three parts of this series.


Do You Know Logstown Yet?

1. A hollow tree on the river bank at Logstown was so large that:

2. Logstown is best described as:


3. George Washington's Seneca name was Conotocaurious, which means:


4. Members of many Indian nations lived at Logstown, including the Shawnee and Lenna Lenape (Delaware), but the two chiefs in charge at the village represented who?

5. French companies and their employees wanted continued access to furs in this region. English companies, their customers and freelancing settlers wanted land. What did Indians want?


How did you do?

If you got all five right, you can treat yourself to a free keg of rum at the trading post.

Lewis & Pittsburgh

If not, don’t worry about it. You know enough now to read how Meriwether Lewis got past Logstown to become one of America’s biggest celebrities, and likely its first celebrity suicide.

His Corps of Discovery expedition boat was built in Pittsburgh. That was a mistake.

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Logstown3: Diplomacy on a Sea of Rum

Bill Hunt of Charleston, W.Va., portrays Montour for historical groups and schools. A clip of his presentation is at end of post.


His Name Is Everywhere,

His Memory Is Not


Let’s look at a man who stood out in a town of historic lions.

After reading the first two parts  of this series on Logstown, you know it was not so much an ideal Indian village as a company town. You also know young George Washington was a  land speculator who spent time there on business.

You don’t know the man with the name Montour.

It’s everywhere: Montour High School, Montour Creek, Montour Trail, Montour County,  Montoursville, Montour Falls, NY.

You’d think he was a distinguished gentleman, a proper model citizen.

He wasn’t.

In fact, if they were to do a movie of him, only actor Johnny Depp could do him justice.

Andrew Montour was very much like the fictional character Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribbean.

And yet, Montour was the only man trusted by both sides as pale-faced settlers pushed west, and Indians pushed back.

His grandparents had been Oneida, Seneca and French. He was fluent in English,  French, and six Indian languages.

More importantly, as an interpreter, he had the ability and the burden to communicate not what chiefs and governors said to each other, but what they meant.

Painting of Moravians telling Indians of their relationship with Jesus.

Missionary Diaries Revealing

Recently translated and digitized diaries of Moravian (German/Czech) missionaries indicate Montour may have developed his skills in a Susquehanna River town as wild as any pirate seaport.

Drinking, dancing, whoring and whooping went on day and night at Shamokin. Killing did, too.

It was a cosmopolitan village populated by refugees of many tribes, most speaking different language and dialects, during a time of particularly violent warring and raiding.

It’s not the same place as the city called Shamokin today. The village was 15 miles to the west, where Sunbury sits.

We get our first description of Montour from the man in charge of the missionaries. He hoped to get help moving among the Indians.

“Andrew’s cast of countenance is decidedly European, and had not his face been encircled with a broad band of paint, applied with bear’s fat, I would have certainly taken him for one.

“He wore a broadcloth coat, a scarlet damasque lapel-waistcoat, breeches, over which his shirt hung, a black Cordovan neckerchief, decked with silver bugels, shoes and stockings, and a hat.

“His ears were hung with pendants of brass and other wires plaited together like the handle of a basket. He was very cordial, but on my addressing him in French, he, to my surprise, replied in English.”

That was when he was in his early 20s. His flashy appearance, among Indian men, was not extreme. They take cues from nature. Male birds are more about display than female birds.

Montour had just happened to stop by his mother’s house. It was in an alcohol-free Indian village she operated 35 miles up the Susquehanna from Shamokin.

Madam Montour, as she called herself, was half French and half Algonquin. She was famous for her interpreting skills.

Working among men, and being half French, she also promoted style and beauty. She and her family, by this time, were decidedly pro British and anti French. They had moved to Pennsylvania from Canada.


Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf,  a wealthy patron of the Moravian Church, wanted to hire Madam Montour. She recommended her young son.

The count and Montour then crisscrossed Pennsylvania, operating out of the Moravian headquarters in the idyllic Christian community founded at Bethlehem, PA.

Government Needed Him

Conrad Weiser, the main guy dealing with Indians for the Pennsylvania and Virginia governments, eventually enlisted Montour’s help, as well.

It wasn’t just Montour’s language abilities people wanted. He had considerable  respect and trust among tribes.

Indians didn’t call him by any of his European names: Montour, or Andrew, or Andre and Henri . To them, he was Sattelihu or Eghnisara, both esteemed tribal names.

Sattelihu apparently had proven many times he was a warrior. That was very important.

“His forehead was painted bright red, strange assortment of bright colored clothes . .  soft spoken and pleasant, perfectly fearless, with marvelous endurance, great tact, the gift of leadership, a chief and counselor of the Iroquois, trusted with important missions by them.”

Swimming in Rum

Montour, the literal embodiment of blended European and Indian cultures,  tried for 25 years to bring that blend to the world around him. Ultimately, he failed..

He struggled amid towering waves of rum that engulfed and swept away Indian friends. This frontier was one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Weiser spoke highly of his interpreter,  but reported Montour’s drinking problems to the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.

“I must say something to you about Andrew M., not to ridicule him but to inform you how to act with him.

“In the first place, when we met at John Harris’ (for whom Harrisburg would be named). He called for so much punch that himself, the Half King (Tanacharison, a Logstown chief) and other Indians got drunk, the same at Tobias Hendricks’ (a Cumberland County settler). . .

Following a conference with Indian chiefs at Aughwick in Huntingdon County, Weiser said he tried in vain to get Montour to dress so they could move on to their next diplomatic destination.

“I left him drunk at Aughwick, On one leg, he had a stocking and no shoe, On the other, a shoe and no stocking.”



Montour, as he often did, raced after Weiser after he sobered up. He begged forgiveness.

Weiser, likewise, begged his bosses in Philadelphia to appreciate that Montour was invaluable — when sober.

Jack Sparrow’s  struggle with rum and sobriety is evident in the following clip. Coincidentally, Sparrow’s mother was an Indian maiden.

Sometimes, a Great Hero

Montour, or perhaps his Sattelihu ego, could play the hero, though.

The following comes from a diary of Martin Mack, who with his wife, Anna, were in Shamokin stepping over and around drunks to talk about Jesus.

They had been staying in Montour’s tiny bark hut for seven weeks. Most of that time, Montour was away in Philadelphia, trying to reverse his impoverished state. Sound like Jack Sparrow?

Fortunately for the Macks, he was home the evening of Nov. 2, 1745. Oh, by the way, he had yet another name. The Moravians called him Anderius.

. . . In the evening, 12 Indians arrived here by water who are coming from Canada. They are going to war with the Cherokees. Anderius knows them, there was a friend of his among them. Anderius said these Indians had come from very far away. They came from over 400 miles further away than Onondago (Syracuse, N.Y.)

They looked very bloodthirsty. They camped near Anderius’ hut. They soon prepared the place to dance. They got an empty barrel of rum. Knocked the bottom out of it and made a drum out of it.


They began according to their custom to celebrate. They shouted and danced for nearly two hours, during which time the enemy [Satan], to whom we are a thorn in his eye, was very occupied and would have loved to get rid of us.

They soon got rum to drink and became so full of it that they behaved like wild animals. They were close to pulling down our hut.

Just after midnight, four of them came in here who looked terrifying and bloodthirsty.

Anderius was afraid that they wanted to do harm to us. He took them out of the hut, but an hour later another one came and acted like a madman, picked up a large brand from the fire and said he wanted to burn the white people.


Anderius quickly stood up and grabbed the brand out of his hands. He [the Indian] went for his flintlock. Anderius, however, also took that away from him.

He grabbed a piece of wood and came towards us. Anderius took that and said he should leave.

He said he did not want to. So, he (Anderius) said he should sit down by the fire.

He sat down, but soon left. [He was later murdered by another of the visitors.]

Anderius was very worried that the drunken Indians would do us harm. We said to him that, if he thought we should, then we would spend this night in the bush. But he did not think this was advisable because it is so cold. (Anna had already gotten quite ill sleeping in the woods to avoid crazy drunks while Anderius was in Philadelphia).

So we stayed, commended ourselves to the watchfulness of the Lamb and wished that it would become day soon. Soon, they beat to death the one who wanted to kill us.


The next day Montour told the Macks he was leaving town, perhaps for good. He took them to old chief Shikellamy, who offered his large hut.

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