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A Village Destroyed

Four Historical Markers were set up in Bedford Borough by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission which refer to the ‘village’ of Raystown. Three of them are identical. Dating from 1947 they are titled Bedford Village and they all include the statements: “Settled about 1750, known then as Raystown. Site of an early trading post and Fort Bedford, 1758.” The fourth, dating from 1982 and titled Bedford County, states: “Named for its county seat (formerly Raystown) incorporated 1795.” Visitors to Bedford Borough are, by reading any, or all, of these metal markers, under the assumption that the borough that exists today was ‘settled about 1750’ and that that village was originally called ‘Raystown’ ~ its name simply being changed. All indications, by the wording on the markers, is that Bedford was formerly called Raystown.

In the booklet produced by Hugo Frear for the Fort Bedford Bicentennial in 1958, a section is titled: Origin of ‘Rea’s Town’ First Village. The four historical markers along with Frear’s section title are perhaps the basis on which others have perpetuated the myth that there existed a village in the frontier of Cumberland County that simply changed its name from Raystown to Bedford.

When Henry Bouquet chose the spot to build Fort Bedford, he made no mention of finding a village anywhere in the vicinity. Neither did he mention that he appropriated the village for the use of the army and that he had to destroy that previous village on the site in order to build the fort. But he would indeed have had to because during the time that the fort was constructed and in use there was no village there.

If there was either a trading post or a village on the site of the present-day borough of Bedford, why didn’t Colonel Henry Bouquet mention it? Bouquet’s letter of 28 June 1758 to General John Forbes stated: “Since my arrival I have been almost constantly on horseback, searching with Captain Gordon for a terrain suitable for the proposed plan. We have searched without avail, and have found only high ground without water, or water in low and vulnerable places. Of the two inconveniences we finally chose the least and decided on the location which seemed least objectionable. The fort intended to contain our stores will be on a height, and will have a communication with a water supply which cannot be cut off." If a village stood on the slight ridge that Bouquet chose for the site of the fort, why didn’t he write in his letter to General Forbes something like: “There is a fine little village on the spot I chose. I will remove it with all haste and build the fort where the little white church now stands"?

Bouquet was famous for the detail in his letters. Surely he would have mentioned either the destruction of Ray’s trading post and/or the ‘village’ of Raystown. It is possible that instead of building new buildings inside a newly constructed fort, he might have had the fort built around Ray’s trading post. But why didn’t he mention in his letters that he incorporated the existing trading post buildings in his fort if that were the case?

It is known that Garrett Pendergrass’ tavern stood at the foot of the hill prior to and after the fort was built, so why wasn’t John Ray’s trading post permitted to remain standing at the top of the hill? Bouquet surely could have built the fort just a bit farther west of where he ultimately did.

If there was already a village on the site that Bouquet chose, why would he not have told General Forbes? Did he think that no one would notice that he was destroying a village in order to build the fort? There were hundreds of soldiers with him. Wouldn’t at least one of those hundreds of soldiers been so outraged at the destruction of a village in order to build a fort that surely someone would have been a whistle-blower and complained to General Forbes? And in regard to the residents of that village ~ what happened to them? Did Colonel Bouquet and his soldiers murder all of them so that no one would speak a word of the destruction of their village?

The fact of the matter is that there was nothing on the summit of the low rise prior to Colonel Henry Bouquet having the fort constructed there. Garrett Pendergrass’ building was located at the foot of the hill, and that is the only thing that can be proven by available records. Claims have been made that the King’s House might have been constructed in 1757, prior to Bouquet’s arrival, but there is no actual proof of that ~ it is just conjecture. Christopher Lems’ substantial stone building, known in later years as the Bouquet House, was not there before ~ Lems arrived with Bouquet’s army. The suttlers’ cabins and shops were not there ~ the suttlers came with Bouquet’s army, not before. So when people make the statement that the town of Raystown became the town of Bedford, they are making up history that never existed. Those people, including in their ranks many so-called 'historians' should have to explain what happened to the people and the village.

Hugo K. Frear, in the commemorative book for Fort Bedford’s bicentennial in 1958 suggested that: “There is good evidence that the original Raystown was located on flatland at the junction of the Juniata river and Dunnings Creek.” That suggestion that Ray’s trading post (despite Mr. Frear not realizing that the word town referred to a fenced in group of houses rather than a village, per se) was located just to the west of the Narrows makes more sense than it being on the low hill on which Bouquet built the fort. It makes sense that if Ray wanted his trading post to be found and visited by the Amerindians who moved through the region, he would locate it at the intersection of the two waterways and of the two Indian Paths which were known by the Euro~Americans as the Raystown Path and the Warrior Path from Frankstown to Maryland. That was on the flatland just west of the Narrows, along the north side of the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River near the mouth of the Dunning Creek. To have located it up on the small hill where the fort later was constructed, it would have been away from the natural paths developed over time by the Amerindians.

The statements made, in both print and cast iron markers, that Bedford Village began as the village of Raystown (the only change being that it was renamed after the fort was built and named Fort Bedford), are simply unfounded until someone discovers or uncovers evidence of the earlier village and the lives of (and more importantly the fate of) the people who inhabited it.