The John Hains Letter of 1758
On Thursday, the 5th of October, Mark and Sally Haines, of Hendersonville, North Carolina presented a historic letter to the Friends of the Fortified Bedford House. The letter is historic because it was written by a member of the Forbes Expedition to capture Fort Duquesne at the beginning of the French and Indian War. Participating in the presentation ceremony were members of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Fortified Bedford House: Larry Smith, Tyna Walker-Lay, Bonnie Haga, Adam Osman, Rev. Jack Miller and Jeff Claycomb and the following: Roberta Miller, Sonya Horner, Kevin Kutz and Breton Claycomb. Absent from the ceremony was Patrick Lay.
In the summer of 1758, the British Army, commanded by General John Forbes, embarked on an expedition westward from Carlisle to capture Fort Duquesne from the French. The Army was led into the Pennsylvania frontier by Colonel Henry Bouquet and in that army was a young Sergeant named John Hains.
Near the end of June 1758, the British Army arrived at the vicinity of John Wray's trading post where the Dunnings Creek empties into the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River. On June 24, 1758, Sergeant John Hains wrote a letter to his parents who resided 'near Lancaster'. In that letter, John told his parents that the army planned to start building a fort to house provisions and ammunition the next day, the 25th. That fort would eventually be named 'Fort Bedford'.
The somewhat cheerful style of the letter indicates that John Hains' view of his future was that he would participate in the campaign and then return home to Lancaster County to be reunited with his father, mother, brothers and sister. But that was not to be. Sergeant John Hains did not live to see his family after writing the letter on June 24, 1758. He was killed on 13 April 1759. The circumstances surrounding his death are a mystery though. It would not have been in active conflict because there is no recorded action in western Pennsylvania on or around the 13th of April 1759. Perhaps he participated in a scouting party, and was waylaid and killed by Indians during it. His death is recorded with just four words in the Pennsylvania Archives. A List of Lt. Colo. Shippen's Company In The Second Battalion Of The Pennsylvania Reg't recorded in 1759 noted, beside the name of John Hains: Serj't; killed 13th April.
In 1995, Mark Haines was at an antique shop in San Diego and noticed the letter. He bought the letter because he thought that he and the writer might have been related. That was not the case, but Mr. Haines kept the letter because it was interesting. In April of 2010, Mark Haines, a resident of North Carolina, contacted Larry Smith, a resident of East Freedom and the webmaster of MotherBedford.com about the letter. A digital image file of the letter was sent to Mr. Smith for inclusion on the MotherBedford website. The possibility of the existence of a document such as this, written by a person who actually took part in the construction of the fort, that would come to be named Fort Bedford, was amazing. And more astounding than the mere existence of such a document was the sequence of events that brought it to attention at this time ~ the letter ending up in an antique store in San Diego, California, the chance that a customer would be in that store and notice the similarity of the writer's name and his own, and then the subsequent finding by the new owner of the letter of a website devoted to the history of Bedford County during the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. At any point in time and place, the letter written by John Hains on a summer day in 1758 could have been destroyed and lost to history. It could have been lost while in the possession of his own family and their descendants. It could have been lost in its transport from Lancaster, Pennsylvania across the country to San Diego, California. And it could have been lost during however many years it sat in the antique store, possibly changing hands between more than one antique shop before finally ending up in the one into which Mark Haines decided to venture in the 1990s. Mark Haines might have given the letter away or sold it to some later owner who would never have made contact with the webmaster of MotherBedford.com.
In any case, all of those variables fell into place and during the Spring of 2023, Mark Haines contacted Larry Smith once more. He wanted the letter, now a 265-year old document, to go to a new home and he thought about Mr. Smith. Larry was ecstatic to be told that Mr. Haines wanted him to have the letter.
Mr. Smith, a collector of antiques and ephemera associated with the American Revolutionary War, felt that the letter was too important to the history of Bedford County to be owned by any single individual. Instead, he proposed to Mr. Haines that the letter be donated to the non-profit Friends of the Fortified Bedford House. The Fortified Bedford House is the name of the building at 111 S. Juliana Street, Bedford Borough. The building, once the home of Mitchell Jewelers, was purchased by Patrick Lay and Tyna Walker-Lay and was being remodeled to expand Tyna's Peppercorn Market. In the process, it was discovered that the building was built in the half-timber construction style in which hand-hewn timbers form the structure with the spaces between the timbers being infilled with hand formed and sunbaked bricks. Subsequent testing of the structural elements suggest that it could possibly have been originally constructed to serve as the fort's powder magazine. The Fortified Bedford House, with its link to Fort Bedford, is therefore the appropriate home for John Hains' letter.
The 265-year old letter is finally home.