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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson v. Pittsburgh

Indian Wars, family weddings, and the “Great Wagon Road” bring Tigers and Panthers together in the historical record

Syracuse v Clemson Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images

In what has been a consistent theme since the last ACC expansion, the Clemson Tigers and Pittsburgh Panthers have little gridiron history between them. Indeed, the Tigers and Panthers have tangled just once, a 34-3 Pittsburgh victory in the 1977 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. As has been well-documented, that season under first-year head coach Charley Pell marked the first in which the Clemson program had qualified for a bowl in almost twenty years, a steak of futility that dated to the Frank Howard’s ‘59 Tigers’ 23-7 victory over TCU in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, Texas. Led by young emerging stars that would become household names in Tiger lore (QB Steve Fuller, RBs Lester Brown, WRs Jerry Butler and Dwight Clark, OLs Jeff and Joe Bostic, DL Jim Stuckey, LB Bubba Brown), the 1977 Tigers finished 8-3-1 and 19th in the AP poll despite the bowl blowout, setting the stage for a return to national prominence the following year with an 11-1 campaign capped off with a thrilling 17-15 victory over Woody Hayes’s last Ohio State Buckeye squad in another Gator Bowl that ushered in the golden age of Tiger football. Jackie Sherrill’s Pittsburgh program, meanwhile, came into that ‘77 Gator Bowl as the defending national champions, and would again finish in the top ten in the nation (#8 AP) after dispatching the upstart Tigers to finish 9-2-1.

Charley Pell, Clemson Head Coach, 1977-1978

This 2016 meeting between the two programs will mark the Panthers inaugural trip to Death Valley, South Carolina. But in doing so, these Pittsburghers will be following a well-worn migratory path from the state of Pennsylvania to the Carolina upstate that dates to the colonial era. Even this “Great Wagon Road” that brought waves of predominantly Scots-Irish and German settlers into the South is just one of many historical ties binding the University of Pittsburgh, Clemson University, and their respective states.

The “Great Wagon Road” that saw thousands of settlers migrate south from Pennsylvania through Virginia into the Carolinas and Georgia

Much of the territory that would eventually become the State of Pennsylvania following the American Revolution against Great Britain and the establishment of the United States of America was hotly contested between Dutch, Swedish, English, and French colonizers in the mid-Atlantic region of North America prior to 1681. Each of these European imperial powers laid claim to lands in what would become Pennsylvania during the seventeenth century, but the French and English emerged as the primary claimants after the Dutch ousted the Swedes mid-century, then the British emerged victorious in a series of Anglo-Dutch Wars that removed the official Dutch colonial presence in North America (centered in modern-day New York, renamed such after English acquisition of the Dutch settlement at New Amsterdam, the focal point of the New Netherlands Colony comprising much of modern New York State).

New Netherland, 1614-1667, 1673-1674

The English colony of Pennsylvania officially began with a Royal Charter in 1681 from Britain’s King Charles II to William Penn for the establishment of a British Colony in North America that Penn envisioned as a haven for English Quakers like himself. The Pennsylvania Colony quickly became a haven for other “dissenting” sects and marginalized groups as well, attracting scores of Scots-Irish, German, French, Dutch, and Swedish immigrants, many of whom reveled in the religious freedom promised by Penn and his proprietary colonial government. French Huguenots, English Puritans, Catholics, Calvinists, Anglicans and Jews all intermingled with the English and Welsh Quakers for whom the colony was primarily founded.

William Penn (b. 1644, d. 1718), Founder of the Pennsylvania Colony

Thomas Green Clemson, eventual founder of what would become Clemson University, was born in 1807 in the capital city of William Penn’s colony, Philadelphia, nearly a century after the Penn’s death in 1718. Clemson’s father, Thomas Green Clemson III, was a Quaker, while his mother Elizabeth Baker was Episcopalian. Well educated in the science of mining in both the U.S. and France, Clemson became an ardent advocate for agricultural, mechanical, and engineering education that would eventually come to fruition in 1889 with the establishment of Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina.

Thomas Green Clemson (b. 1807, d. 1887), Founder of Clemson University

The Fort Hill property that Thomas Clemson bequeathed to the state of South Carolina upon his death in 1887 eventually came into his possession because of his marriage to John Caldwell Calhoun’s daughter Anna Calhoun in 1838. From this point forward, Clemson’s star was connected to the Calhoun name and the State of South Carolina from whence it came. However, the Calhoun’s were only a couple of generations removed from immigration to South Carolina themselves. John Caldwell Calhoun’s grandfather James Patrick Colhoun (the spelling of the surname changed sometime after arrival in America) had immigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1733, settling near Lancaster, inland from Philadelphia. Upon his death, the family would move to be near relatives in Staunton, Virginia, namely James Patrick’s brother John Ewing Colhoun. John Ewing married Floride Bonneau, heiress in a prominent French Huguenot family in Charleston, South Carolina, bringing the Calhoun family into South Carolina. James Patrick’s son Patrick Calhoun, born in Ireland in 1727, would follow the family southward from Virginia, marrying Martha Caldwell and settling in Abbeville, South Carolina. John Ewing’s daughter Floride Bonneau would marry his first cousin, John Caldwell Calhoun, son of Patrick and Martha Calhoun, who would eventually found the Fort Hill Plantation in Pendleton County, South Carolina.

Pendleton County, South Carolina, created in 1789 following acquisition of formerly Cherokee lands in the Upstate with the Treaty of Hopewell (1785)

The historical connections run even deeper, however. John Ewing Calhoun’s brother-in-law was Andrew Pickens, born to Scots-Irish parents in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1793. His family moved down the Great Wagon Road and eventually settled in Abbeville, South Carolina, located within the Ninety-Six District, in the late 1760s. Andrew Pickens would marry Rebecca Floride Calhoun in 1765, and thus became uncle to John Caldwell Calhoun. Following his exemplary service in the Cherokee War (1760-1761), part of the French & Indian War in which Britain and France jockeyed for control of North America, then the Revolutionary War (1775-1781) in which American colonists severed their ties with Britain to establish the United States, Pickens was awarded lands on the Seneca River in upstate South Carolina, where he became a prominent figure in negotiations with various Native American tribes, presiding over the signing of the “Treaty of Hopewell,” three separate treaties with the Cherokees (Nov. 1785), Choctaws (Jan. 3, 1786), and Chickasaws (Jan. 10, 1786) that established terms for peace, land settlements, and trade relations between the United States and these native peoples. The Hopewell Treaties opened what would become Pendleton County to increased white settlement, opportunities that would later draw Pickens’s nephew John C. Calhoun to the area to establish Fort Hill, which eventually became the basis of Thomas Green Clemson’s vision, Clemson University.

Andrew Pickens

Andrew “The Wizard Owl” Pickens (b. 1739, d. 1817)

Similarly, the land upon which the University of Pittsburgh sits played a prominent role in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The present-day site of Pittsburgh lies where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge to form the Ohio River, making it a key strategic location for both the British and French forces combating one another for superiority in the region. In 1754, to counter increasingly threatening French encroachments into the area, British colonial forces from Virginia began construction on Fort Prince George at the fork in the Ohio River. However, French forces soon arrived from one of their many recently constructed frontier forts in the region to drive the small band of Virginians out, tear down the British fort, and construct one of their own, Fort Duquesne, in its place. A series of subsequent battles in the region during the spring and summer of 1754 between Virginia colonists, one column of whom were led by a young George Washington, proved the spark that ignited the French & Indian War. Continued conflict in the area resulted in British forces relinquishing control of the region to much stronger French forces and their Shawnee and Lenape Indian allies by the end of 1757.

North America on the eve of the French & Indian War (1754-1763)

Only in 1758 did the tide of the war begin to turn toward the British, due in large part to greater concentration of manpower and resources initiated by British Cabinet leader and chief military strategist William Pitt the Elder. This enabled a growing number of British regular forces to augment existing forces comprised of colonial militia and Iroquois allies and recapture lost territory, pushing the French further into the interior and away from British colonies seeking to expand westward from the Atlantic coast. A pivotal campaign in this shift resulted in the French destruction and evacuation of Fort Duquesne in the fall of 1758, which the British soon occupied and reconstructed as Fort Pitt, in honor of William Pitt.

William Pitt the Elder (b. 1708, d. 1778), for whom Fort Pitt and the city of Pittsburgh were named

Fort Pitt became the gateway to the Ohio River Valley, which fell under complete British control and severely crippled the French war effort. By 1763, the British had achieved substantial military superiority in both the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes regions, and forced the French to cede all their colonial lands in North America to Great Britain.

British North American in 1763 following the Treaty of Paris that officially ended the French & Indian War

The site of Fort Pitt would serve as the foundation of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which would be the major outpost in western Pennsylvania and a primary commercial center connecting growing colonial settlements along the Ohio River Valley to the more established colonial cities in the east. In 1787, Hugh Henry Brackenridge founded the private Pittsburgh Academy, which grew into the Western University of Pennsylvania, the western complement to Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania, when university status was conferred by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1813. After a series of fires in the nineteenth century destroyed much of the original campus, the university moved to its current location in downtown Pittsburgh in the 1880s. The school fielded its first football team the very same year, 1889, that Clemson College was founded. Western University would be renamed the University of Pittsburgh in 1908, and would transition from its private status to an official state-related institution in 1966.

Fort Pitt, British fortification during the French & Indian War located on the site of present-day Pittsburgh, PA

So despite their ever-so-brief history of football competition, the Clemson Tigers and Pittsburgh Panthers share much more than their jungle cat team names. The very land upon which they sit and many of the most influential figures in the histories of their respective states as well as their institutional development are bound by military conflicts, imperial rivalries, and familial migrations that span over three centuries. As the 2016 Pitt Panthers make the program’s first expedition to Clemson’s Memorial Stadium it is thus not without historical precedent on myriad levels. Whether the trip will result in the Tigers giving the Panthers slim “pickins” for yards and points and casting them back to their “pit” of despair will of course be decided on the field Saturday afternoon...and recorded in history for posterity.



Robert C. Alberts, Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh, 1787-1987, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986)

Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)

Alma Bennett, Thomas Green Clemson, (Clemson University Digital Press, 2009)

William M. Fowler Jr., Empires at War: The French & Indian War & the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763, (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005)

Ernest M. Lander Jr., The Calhoun Family & Thomas Green Clemson: Decline of a Southern Patriarchy, (University of South Carolina Press, 1983)

Stefan Lorant, Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City, (Esselmont Books, 1999)

Randall M. Miller & William A. Pencak, eds., Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth (Penn State University Press, 2002)

John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography, (LSU Press, 1988)

Jerome Reel, The High Seminary: A History of the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, Volume I, 1889-1964, (Clemson University Digital Press, 2011)

William R. Reynolds Jr., Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War, (McFarland, 2012)