In 2016, the Library of Congress mounted the exhibition "Mapping a New Nation: Abel Buell’s Map of the United States, 1784." Exhibit curators wondered what it would have been like to travel across the eighteenth-century American landscape depicted by the map, and how to recreate that experience for visitors to the exhibit at the Library. They found an answer in a journal kept by George McCully, an Indian trader and Revolutionary War soldier who lived near Pittsburgh. McCully kept the journal as he traveled through the wilderness area between Pittsburgh and Detroit in June and July, 1783. Today the journal is at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.
McCully was traveling as a companion to fellow veteran, Indian trader, and Pennsylvanian Ephraim Douglass. Douglass had been sent by Secretary of War Benjamin Lincoln on a mission to the Indians of the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York frontiers. Among Douglass’s qualifications was his ability to speak several Indian languages, apparently fluently enough to confuse the Indian he heard “hollow” (“holler,” or call) near the Scioto River. Douglass’s mission was to tell the Delaware, Wyandot, Shawnee, Mohawk, and other tribes of these regions that the United States and Britain were about to sign a treaty ending the war and the Indians would have to accept American sovereignty. Since some Indians of this region had sided with the British, and the British remained entrenched in their forts on the Great Lakes, Douglass found the Indian leaders he met politely resistant to his message.
McCully’s journal stops just as he and Douglass reached the British fort at Detroit, but the delegation continued on to the British forts at Niagara and Oswego and then to Princeton, New Jersey, where the American Congress was meeting. Ephraim Douglass’s August 1783 report to Secretary Lincoln covers the same ground as McCully and then continues where McCully left off.
Even though McCully’s journal isn’t complete, and despite the irregularity of his spelling and punctuation, his observant descriptions make the journal an extraordinarily rich primary source. Teachers and students can use McCully’s journal to learn more about the Revolutionary War, the landscape and inhabitants of eighteenth-century Pennsylvania and Ohio, and what it felt like to travel through the wilderness before there were the cars, planes, highways, and bridges that make the same trip quick and comfortable today.
The Internet Archive has a publication available online which includes the text of McCully's journal along with commentary and related materials. The journal transcription is found on pages 39-49.
Compare McCully and Douglass’s trip with a modern trip from Pittsburgh to Detroit. Try using a GPS or mapping website or application to see how modern forms of transportation have transformed the experience of travel through this region.
1. What was the same trip like during the age of railroads? Use the Railroad Map Collection of the Geography and Maps Division of the Library of Congress.
2. How did the population of this region change after the Revolutionary War? The first federal census was in 1790. From 1790 until the present the federal government has performed a census every ten years. Use the Social Explorer, or the National Historical Geographic Information System a historical census browser, to track population changes over time.