Pittsburgh -- Diondega
by George P. Donehoo
Heckwelder says that the Delawares called the site, after its occupation by the French, Menachk-sink, "where there is a fence." Menachk, "a fence," is also "a fort." Zeisberger gives the word, Menachkhasu, "a fortified place." In the boundary dispute with Maryland, concerning the situation of the Conestoga fort at the mouth of Octorara Creek, James Hendricks said that some Indians told him that the Indians called the site, "Meanock, which they said, in English signified a Fortification or Fortified Town" (Archives, Sec. Ser., XVI. 522). This word is the same as both Heckwelder and Zeisberger give, Menachk. Darlington gives the Iroquois form, Cheonderoga, as being the name of the place at the junction of the two rivers (Gist's Jour. 273). The Seneca name, which has been variously corrupted, was Diondega. This is the name used in "The Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet" (20, 140). The "Gaiwiio" reads, "They land at Diondega. It is a little village of white people. Here they barter their skins, dried meat, and fresh game for strong drink. They put a barrel of it in their canoes. Now all the canoes are lashed together like a raft. Now all the men become filled with strong drink. They yell and sing like demented people" (p. 20). The "Gaiwhiio" then goes on to tell of the drunken fights, debauchery and crime caused by "goniga-nongi" (strong drink). The various Seneca names given by various writers are all, no doubt, corruptions of this name, which probably gave Washington and other early visitors to the place, the common English name of "The Forks." Pownall's note, which Darlington uses, in explaining the situation of "Trois Rivieres," which he places at Pittsburgh, is the cause of Darlington's error. "Trois Rivieres," as used in all of the French documents, had reference, not to the site of Pittsburgh, but to the "Three Rivers," on the north side of the St. Lawrence River, in Canada. While the name "Trois Rivieres" might have been applied to the site of Pittsburgh, by the French writers, it never was so used, but was, without a single exception, used of the place in Canada, long before the site of Pittsburgh had been visited by a white man. All of the children of Pierre Couc were born at "Three Rivers." Andrew, the first to hear the name of Montour, was born there in 1659 (Egle's Notes and Queries, Fourth Ser., II. 327, 1895). Father Lambing, in "The Centenary of the Borough of Pittsburgh," (p. 10) says, "Da-un-da-ga, which stood directly in the forks--the name is of Seneca origin, and is said to mean simply "the forks." He also says that he can find no authority for this name (Consult, Frontier Forts, II. 163-164). The name used by Father Lambing and others is a corruption of the name Diondega as used in the Code of Handsome Lake, before mentioned. This Seneca name is a form of the other Iroquois names used for the junction of the two branches of the Susquehanna at Tioga Point. This name, variously written, Diahoga, Tionioga, etc., has been corrupted to Tioga (which see). The "Written Rock" village mentioned by Celoron in 1749, was not, as is stated in Frontier Forts (II. 164) at the site of Pittsburgh, but at the present McKees Rocks, where "Queen Allaquippa" was then living (See Allaquippa). The only Indian village at the site of Pittsburgh, at the time when the region was visited by the French and English, was Shannopin's Town (which see). The Iroquois, chiefly Seneca, used the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers as a war trail to the villages in the Illinois region, long before the occupation of these rivers by the Delaware and Shawnee, of historic times (Archives, Sec. Ser., VI. 57). The earliest name, therefore, for the site of Pittsburgh, was probably the Seneca name Diondega.
The first white man to travel down the river past the site of the present city was probably Arnold Viele, the Dutch trader from Albany, who went from the Minisink country on the Delaware, to Wyoming and then over the Shamokin trail to the Ohio in 1692. He returned from the Shawnee region along the lower Ohio in 1694, with a band of Shawnee, some of whom probably settled on the upper Delaware (See Allegheny, Minisink, Ohio, Shawnee). James LeTort was probably the first Pennsylvania trader to cross the mountains to the site of Pittsburgh (See Le Torts Springs). At about the same time, before 1727, Hugh Crawford, Edmund Cartlidge, Peter Chartier, and other traders from the Susquehanna were trading at the Indian villages along the Ohio and Allegheny, and going westward to the Muskingum and Sciota Rivers. Thomas Cresap, George Croghan, Barney Curran, Jonas Davenport, James Dunning, and a host of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland traders were on the Ohio before the commencement of the French and Indian War (Mr. Hanna gives a very complete list. Wilderness Trail. II. 326-343). A list of traders licensed by the Province from 1743 to 1748, is found in Archives, Sec. Ser., II. 619-621, and from 1762 to 1775, in same vol. from 621 to 627. The Ohio region, about the "forks," came into the field of real history about 1731, when Jonah Davenport, James LeTort and Edmund Cartlidge, Indian traders, were examined by the Provincial authorities concerning this then almost unknown wilderness (Archives, I. 299-306). The examination of these traders revealed the fact that a Frenchman, named Cavalier (the family name of LaSalle) had been trading on the Allegheny in the Kittanning town, every year, save 1729, since 1726. The rivalry of these French and English traders on the Allegheny was destined to bring the region into world history. This was the actual commencement of the events which led France and Great Britain into the struggle for the possession of the Ohio. The migration of the Delaware and Shawnee from the Susquehanna commenced in about 1724. This migration drew the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia traders to the Ohio, where they came into conflict with the French traders from Canada. As early as 1732 William Jamieson and Edward Warren, two traders who were employed by Peter Allen, reported that the "french People, from Canada, were busy building a Fort with Loggs, at or near the said River Ohio" (Archives I. 309). It is possible that this "Logg" building was erected at the site which became known as "Loggstown," the historic Logstown (which see). From this time onward the "forks of the Ohio" occupied an important place in the history of the development of the "woods," as the region west of the mountains was called.
Pennsylvania and Virginia were pitted against the French power in Canada. The Shawnee, because they had left the Susquehanna against the wishes of the Iroquois, were seeking the protection of the French in Canada, and were also seeking to draw the Delawares from the Susquehanna, and into an alliance with them. The struggle which was soon to commence on the Ohio was not only between France and Great Britain, but also between the Shawnee and Delaware and their conquerors, the Iroquois. The various expeditions, Weiser, in 1748; Celoron, 1749; Gist, 1753; Washington, 1754; Braddock, 1755; Forbes, 1758, led to the final occupation of "the Forks" by the British, November 25, 1758 (Consult: Frontier Forts, II. 1-194; Darlington, Gist Journals; Weiser Jour., Col. Rec., V., 348-358; Post Jour., Archives, III. 520 et seq.; Thwaites, Early Western Travels; Parkman, Conspiracy of Pontiac; Sargent, Braddock's Expedition; Smith, Bouquet's Expedition of 1764; Albach, Western Annals; Craig, History of Pittsburgh; Boucher, History of Westmoreland County; Crumrine, History of Washington County; S. H. Church, History of Pittsburgh; Ellis, History of Fayette County; Chapman, French in the Allegheny Valley; Loudermilk, History of Cumberland, Md.; Sparks, Life of Washington; Craig, Olden Time; Rupp, History of Western Penna.; Walton, Conrad Weiser, and the various vols. of the Colonial Records and Archives). See Chartier's Town, Kittanning, Logstown, Shannopin's Town, Allaquippa, Allegheny, Ohio, Venango, Conewango, etc.
There were a number of historic Indian Trails which led to "the Forks." The oldest of these was probably the Iroquois Trail, which came down the Allegheny River, from the Seneca country. This was used by the Iroquois on their war expeditions to the Mississippi and to the Carolinas. The Kittanning Trail ran eastward to the Susquehanna, by way of the Juniata. The Shamokin Trail, which was perhaps the oldest trail eastward, ran by way of Clearfield, Lock Haven, Williamsport, Sunbury, Wyoming, etc., to the upper Delaware. The Allegheny Path, which ran by way of Ligonier, Bedford, Fort Loudon, Chambersburg, Carlisle to Harrisburg (this was perhaps the path which the Shawnee and Delaware followed westward from the Susquehanna. Some of them going by way of the Juniata and Frankstown Trail to Kittanning). A later Trail followed along this course to the Kittatinny Mountains, and then cut through "Croghan's Gap" (now Sterritt's) to the Cumberland Valley, and then up to Harrisburg. The Monongahela River was used by the Seneca as a trail to the Catawba and Cherokee country. This water trail was joined by a branch which crossed Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, which is frequently mentioned as the "Catawba Trail." Even after the British occupation of the Ohio, the Seneca went down the Allegheny and then up the Monongahela, and across Virginia to the Carolinas (Col. Rec. IX. 252). It is probable that the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers were both used by the Shawnee, as they went southward, when expelled by the Iroquois, before the commencement of the historic period. Nemacolin's Trail ran from the mouth of Dunlap's Creek (Brownsville) to Gist's Plantation, and then across the mountains to the Potomac, at Cumberland, Md. This trail crossed the Catawba Trail, which ran across from Kittanning to the mouth of Dunkard's Creek. Nemacolin's Trail was followed by Washington (1753 and 1754), and also by Braddock (1755) to the present Mount Braddock, where it then joined the Catawba Trail, running northward through Connellsville, Mount Pleasant and Hannastown to Kittanning. Near Turtle Creek the trail to Pittsburgh left a branch of this Catawba Trail. This trail down the valley to McKeesport was that followed by Washington and Braddock. General Forbes in 1758 followed the trail from Bedford, through Ligonier, Hannastown, Harrison City, to Pittsburgh, via Penn Avenue (For distances along these trails from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, consult: Archives, II. 12, 24, 47-48, 133-136; Col. Rec. V. 750-760; VI. 84). Consult: Hanna, Wilderness Trail; Hulbert, Historic Highways. See Frankstown, Kittanning, Raystown, and the notes on any of the places along any of these trails. For other data relating to the region of Pittsburgh, see Allegheny, Ohio, Shannopin's Town.
In 1731, according to the estimate of Jonah Davenport, there were 300 Delaware, 260 Shawnee, 100 Asswekalaes (Shawnee, see Sewickley), and some "Mingoes" (Seneca), living on the Ohio in this region (Archives, I. 299). As the Indian trade increased on the Ohio many other villages were settled by Delaware, Shawnee, Iroquois, with a mixture of Miami, Wyandot and other tribes living in Ohio. See Venango, Kittanning, Chartier's Town, Shannopin's Town, Logstown, Shinga's Town, Kuskuski, Shenango, etc. After the British occupation of Fort Pitt the Indians commenced leaving the villages in the entire region, going westward into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and northward along the upper waters of the Allegheny. A number of important Indian Councils were held at Fort Pitt (Col. Rec. VIII. 264, 382, 429, etc.; Archives, III. 744; Iv. 471, 531, etc.).
From A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania with Numerous Historical Notes and References, by George P. Donehoo, 1928.