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County native pens book on ancestor’s journey

May 12, 2020 GMT

INDIANA, Pa. (AP) — Bradenton, Fla., is quite a long way from Indiana, Pa. It’s where author Craig Pennington lives, but his roots are here in Indiana County and they are roots that go deep.

Pennington grew up near Indiana on Sleepy Hollow Road where his Grandfather Moorhead built a cabin in the 1920s. He graduated from high school here in 1973 and graduated from IUP in 1977. His father was Nick Pennington and his mother was Patt Moorhead and it’s from his mother’s side of the family that he drew inspiration for his latest book, “West of the Alleghenies: A Story of Survival During the Revolutionary War.”


The story follows Fergus Moorhead, an ancestor of Pennington’s, who was one of the first pioneers to cross the Allegheny Mountains in 1769, eventually settling in Indiana County. But the journey was not an easy one.

Moorhead’s story is something legends are made of. While trying to build a settlement, Fergus was captured by Indians in 1777 near Kittanning. According to history, Moorhead was taken to Montreal, Canada, sold to British soldiers and exchanged for prisoners before returning to Chambersburg and being reunited with his wife and family. The entire journey took a year and he traveled over a thousand miles.

“Fergus was family lore,” Pennington said. “There’s a historical marker dedicated to Moorhead’s Fort in Indiana.”

The marker is located at the intersection of Philadelphia Street and Heritage Run Road and highlights the fort Fergus built near the site to protect his family and neighbors from hostile Indians. It was a family history and legend that Pennington grew up knowing, but some research allowed him to delve deeper.

“I was researching more into my family tree about a year ago,” Pennington said. “No one had really done a thorough one and I decided to put one together and do as much research as I could.”

As he was researching, Pennington came across several accounts of Moorhead’s story, including “Indiana County, Pennsylvania: Her People, Past and Present” by J.T. Stewart, the first volume of which discussed Moorhead’s journey.

“It’s told as a typical pioneer story,” Pennington said. “Lots about the danger, et cetera. But it’s still an amazing story. He goes through hell for a year and then makes it back to his wife and family.”

At a dinner party, Pennington relayed this incredible family story to a friend who had helped him work on another novel. “I told her about Fergus and she looked at me and said: ‘That sounds like your next novel.’”


So that’s what Pennington did. He delved further into his research and in doing so, he noticed that the timeline of Moorhead’s journey matched up with dates of multiple historical events. From there, he decided to take a turn into historical fiction, allowing him to flesh out Moorhead’s story.

“The further I looked into it, the more I realized it was possible for him to have been at these events,” Pennington said. “It’s impossible to tell if these things absolutely happened and I’m not saying they did, but it’s all a possibility. All we really know is that he was captured by Indians, went to Canada, then returned. But I wanted to be able to flesh out his story more than just ‘was captured, went to Canada, escaped.’”

And that’s what Pennington did. The book follows Moorhead as he goes to the Great Council Fire of Oswego, bears witness to the siege of Fort Stanwix and the Battle of Oriskany. He travels to Montreal and to Fort Ticonderoga and makes his escape only to then be captured and put on a British prison ship in New York. Pennington also focuses on how Moorhead’s love for his wife is his driving force to return home as he makes his way through the wilderness to return to her once again in Chambersburg.

“These are all very real events and battles that happened during the timeline of his journey,” Pennington said. “I only took the liberty of adding Fergus to their stories.”

Adding these events, however, meant even more research for Pennington.

“Thank goodness for being able to look stuff up online,” he said. “Not only was I researching these events but lots of things about life back then. How to build a cabin, how to make a canoe, what they called their particular muskets. It seemed like every sentence I wrote I had to go look something up or check some fact.”

Further details of Moorhead’s journey were provided to him by Gazette archives. “There were all sorts of articles and anniversary stories written about him through the years,” Pennington said. “I also got in touch with Charles Spence at the (Indiana County) Historical Society.”

Pennington said that the book includes a list of his resources in case anyone is interested in looking more into this interesting history themselves, which is something that he hopes the book accomplishes.

“These sorts of histories aren’t being told much anymore; they’re starting to disappear,” Pennington said. “It’s not just because he’s a relative; he’s a legend and that’s a story worth preserving.”

Pennington said he also wanted to tell the story and give a reasonable account of the missing paragraphs of the history of Moorhead. “I just want to reacquaint people with the history of Indiana and what their ancestors went through. What made people do that? What made them travel into the unknown as pioneers?”

“West of the Alleghenies: A Story of Survival During the Revolutionary War” is Pennington’s second novel. His first, “Dead Reckoning,” is a thrilling tale of smuggling set in Montserrat and Dominica, which, according to Pennington, was a little less of a challenge research-wise.

After graduating from college Pennington “went to Key West to work for a treasure hunter. I was captain of one of his salvage boats. There is a Gazette story about me in 1978. I met my wife, Claudia, there. After a few years in Key West we both worked for a company in the West Indies looking for Spanish shipwrecks.”

Pennington used that time to inspire him to write “Dead Reckoning.” Both novels are available through Amazon, where Pennington chose to self-publish.

“It’s impossible to send a book to a publisher and get it picked up,” he said. “Self-publishing seems to be the way to go.”

Physical author’s copies of his newest book had just arrived at Pennington’s house not long before the interview. “It’s really exciting to see a whole box of the book you just wrote,” he said.

As of right now, the book is available as a digital copy or a paperback through Amazon. Pennington also sent out a synopsis to multiple historical societies around the region in the hopes that they will help get the word out in their newsletters or on their websites.

“I’d love to get the word out about the book,” he said. “It’s an incredible story and an incredible history that I hope readers will find exciting and informative.”





Information from: The Indiana Gazette, http://www.indianagazette.com