The Franklin County Visitors Bureau is excited for the 250th Anniversary of the Black Boys Rebellion at Fort Loudoun! During the weekend of September 25-27, visitors can experience what life was like on the frontier in the 18th Century and watch as Colonists rebel against the British before the Revolutionary War.
Just as the Franklin County Visitors Bureau has been able to bring county namesake Benjamin Franklin into the 21st century as an ambassador of Franklin County, it is extending the circle of history to include James Smith, the leader of the rebellion 250 years ago. Recently, Lauren Cappuccio of the FCVB staff “interviewed” Mr. Smith and here is the story of his life from Indian captivity to Fort Loudoun Rebellion and the Constitutional Convention.
“Looking back at everything I have done, I cannot find one thing I would have done differently. Legally and effectively, despite what the British will tell you, we have fought back against their illegal behavior that has contributed to the deaths of so many innocents at the hand of the native tribes.
I saw first-hand the torture of British soldiers being burned alive at Fort Duquesne in 1755 when I was taken captive by one of the Iroquois tribes. After several years of living with them and learning some of their Indian style of warfare, I escaped. General Braddock’s campaign was a failure and I watched the men die as a result.
After I was able to escape, around 1763, I was able to start a life along the Conococheague frontier, including getting married and having seven children. I led a militia unit I called the Sideling Hill Volunteers. These men were with Col. Henry Bouqet at the battle of Bushy Run that eventually broke the Indian siege of Fort Pitt.
Some of these men joined me and began to help me protect settlers from attacks from natives in the Conococheague Settlement. I heard them call us The Black Boys because we blackened our faces using crushed walnut shells. We made red stripes across out face, using crushed red shells. To protect our homes and families, we used tactics I learned when I was a captive. We wore Indian garments as we fought them back.
On March 6, 1765, we stopped George Corghan’s eighty-one pack horse train containing illegal trade goods. These eastern merchants were supplying weapons that the Indians were using! They were probably the same that the Ohio Indians used during Pontiac’s Rebellion! So, we did what any law-abiding citizens would do and held search warrants to go through their wagons to take anything from them that was illegal. When we found they had rum and gunpowder that he was going to be traded to natives, we confiscated them and burned them so they wouldn’t be taken back.
After all the work we did to keep these items from falling into the wrong hands, can you believe the British sided with Corghan?
We tried to keep these things out of the hands of those who would hurt us and explained ourselves but it was hard and often times felt like nothing was being accomplished. So, for nine long months, we continued to keep these goods from being transported in an effort to help keep weapons out of the hands of the Indians. Eventually, we decided to raid one of the stores where they were coming from in an effort to stop these trains once and for all at Fort Loudoun. We drove the military units out of the fort and forced the British 42nd Highland Regiment to abandon the fort.
Later, I was jailed and charged with murder and for four months, I was held while I awaited my fate. Members of the Black Boys visited often and wanted to break me out, but I told them to go home. It was not the time for confrontation. After being exonerated and released, I returned home and in 1776, I was elected to the 1776 Constitutional Convention, representing Westmoreland County. During my time there, I signed the state constitution on September 26, which included the right to bear arms, the first gun law in America.
It’s been a long and trying journey to get where I am, but I wouldn’t regret anything I have done. I worked hard to protect the innocent and yes, my men and I have acted bold at times, but it was for the good of everyone more than ourselves. It was done to help continue our great nation and is for the best.”
The 250th Anniversary events take place over the weekend of Sept. 25 through Sept. 27. For more information and a listing of the events, visit https://www.explorefranklincountypa.com/event/250th-anniversary-of-the-black-boys-rebellion.