18th century life displayed during Pennsylvania Charter Day at Bushy Run Battlefield

Mar. 14—A British victory in the 1763 Battle of Bushy Run helped to prevent a takeover of Fort Pitt, the fortification that would grow into Pennsylvania's major western city — Pittsburgh.

Putting that historic event into context, the Bushy Run Battlefield site in Penn Township welcomed visitors Sunday to learn how the state got its start, during recognition of Pennsylvania Charter Day.

"We're celebrating the 341st anniversary of the day William Penn signed the charter of Pennsylvania," said Bonnie Ramus, president of the Busy Run Battlefield Heritage Society. That's the date in 1681 when Penn received a grant of 26 million acres from English King Charles II, land that would become the present-day commonwealth.

"We're trying to bring the community in to make them aware of this special day and let them know what we do here at the society, with a little bit of history in between," Ramus said.

Because of frigid temperatures and the site's snow-covered grounds, the event was held inside the battlefield's visitor center. It featured a drill and living history presentation by the reenactment group Ourry's Company — 60th Royal American Regiment, which is inspired by a British unit that had soldiers present at the 1763 battle.

Henry Bowden of Turtle Creek, portraying Penn, signed facsimile copies of the charter.

During free tours of the center, visitors could learn about military and civilian aspects of Colonial life in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Making a repeat visit was Brad Tomasello of Vandergrift, accompanied by his wife, daughter and four grandchildren.

"I really enjoy history," he said, noting, "A lot of people don't even know what Bushy Run is.

"I thought this was a nice opportunity to introduce this to my grandkids. It gives them a chance to learn about local history."

Another visitor, Mackenzie Gray of Ligonier Township, expressed interest in possibly joining the ranks of Ourry's Company.

"I thought it would be pretty interesting to be a part of it," he said.

Dan Balzarini of Jeannette was among other reenactors on hand. When he portrays a British-allied ranger, he usually dresses in a rustic hunting shirt and moccasins, but he donned more upscale period garb in honor of the charter anniversary.

Bushy Run Battlefield "is kind of like my backyard," he said, explaining he fell into reenacting after taking on the role of black powder safety officer for simulated 18th-century battles that are frequently staged on the grounds.

"There I am in front of all these pretty soldiers and officers doing my inspection wearing a bright yellow staff shirt and ruining everybody's photograph," Balzarini said. He began to wear an outfit more in keeping with the time period being portrayed.

"One thing led to another," he said, "and I became a ranger."

While the regular soldiers of units like Ourry's were armed with smooth-bore muskets, Balzarini said rangers would have been shooting rifles, targeting key members of an opposing force.

"With a smooth bore, 50 yards is about the best you're going to do," he said. "With a rifled gun, you could hit someone at 200 yards. It's just the rate of fire is so much slower."

In the two-day Battle of Bushy Run, British forces repelled an attack by Native American foes and prevented the capture of Fort Pitt. It was a turning point in a campaign led by Pontiac, an Ottawa chief in the Detroit area, who retaliated against British policies and control by attacking British outposts.

Summer camp among slated events

After two years in a virtual format, because of pandemic restrictions, Bushy Run Battlefield's annual summer day camp for kids is slated to return in person June 18-25. Participants will learn about Colonial life through activities including arts and crafts, games and a clothes-washing competition.

The camp is intended for 30 children who have completed grades 1-5. Details will be forthcoming on the battlefield website, bushyrunbattlefield.com.

Other upcoming events at the site include: Pontiac's War Symposium, an inaugural day of presentations by historians and authors, Saturday; a spring nature walk, May 7; a spring tea, May 14; a Colonial cocktail hour, May 21; a car cruise, July 9; and the Battle of Bushy Run reenactment, Aug. 6 and 7.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, jhimler@triblive.com or via Twitter .