is one of the range contiguous to the western boundary of the
State. It was taken from Allegheny County by the act of March 12,
1800. Length, thirty-two miles; breadth, twenty-six miles; area,
seven hundred and sixty-five square miles. Population in 1800,
3228; in 1810, 8277; in 1820, 11,681; in 1830, 19,729; in 1840 32,873.
Mercer County was a wilderness until several years after the passage of
the celebrated land law of April, 1792 providing for the survey and
settlement of all the lands "north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny
Rivers and Conewango Creek." Soon after peace was restored to the
frontier, in 1795, settlements were made extensively about the southern
end of Mercer County, in the forks of Mahoning, Shenango, and
The adventures of these worthy pioneers were few, and of little general
interest. The county was for many years retarded in its growth,
and the actual settlers were greatly harassed by the various and
conflicting titles to land growing out of the acts of 1785 and 1792.
The pioneer settlers were principally Scotch-Irish, and all Presbyterians.
"The surface of the county is undulating, but little broken, and
peculiarly well watered. It is covered with springs and small
streams running into the larger creeks. These creeks consist of
the Big Shenango on the west, which rises in Crawford County;
Neshannock in the centre, with heads all over the northern central
portion of the county, and Wolf Creek on the east. These streams
all run in a southerly direction, and eventually are swallowed up in
the Big Beaver, that empties itself into the Ohio River at
Rochester. In addition to these there is the Little Shenango,
that runs across a portion of the northern end of the county from east
to west, rising six or seven miles east of the central line from south
to north, and that empties into the Big Shenango at Greenville; and
also Sandy Creek, that takes its rise in Crawford County, and, running
diagonally through the northeast quarter, empties itself into the
Allegheny River about twelve miles below Franklin. Sandy Lake, a sheet
of water about a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, situated
near the centre of the northeast quarter of the <pg. 580> county,
discharges its surplus water into Sandy Creek. The character of
its general surface, its bountiful supply of water, and richness of
soil was well calculated to make it the foremost agricultural county in
this part of the State; nor has it disappointed the anticipations of
its early settlers, for it is now not only a fine agricultural, but a
heavy and prosperous mining and iron county, notwithstanding that it
lost nearly a fourth of its territory in the erection of Lawrence
The territory comprising Mercer County was filled with Indians and wild
animals before the white man's advent, and for several years
after. The Indians were Senecas and popularly called
Cornplanters. They lived by hunting and fishing.
There were three large Indian towns, one where Mercer is now,
containing seventy lodges; one at the big bend, and the other at Pine
Swamp, what is now Jackson Township.
About 1804 a noted hunter, James Jeffers, entered this region.
"There are a number of incidents related concerning his hostility to
the Indian race, which had been aroused on account of the cruelty with
which some of his relatives had been treated by the savages.
Whether these are true or not cannot now be determined. They
belong, however, to the folk-lore of the county, and as such deserve
recital. It is said that on one occasion, while roaming through
the forest, he suddenly met two Indians. They instinctively knew
him to be a foe, and both at once dodged behind the cover of friendly
trees. Jeffers perceived that the contest of one against two
would be an unequal one, if carried on squarely, so he resorted to
artifice to overcome the odds. Taking off his cap be placed it
over the muzzle of his rifle, and exposed it, apparently incautiously,
to the view of his antagonists. This had the desired
effect. Thinking it was his head which they saw, one of them
instantly shot and sent a ball through the empty cap. Jeffers
dropped the cap to the ground, giving a death-like groan as he did
so. The two Indians at once sprang from cover, and were rushing
forward to secure the scalp of their supposed victim, when the latter
stepped forth, cocked his rifle and prepared to shoot. He was at
first at a loss to know which of the two had the loaded rifle, but
perceiving one of them lift his weapon to his shoulder, he surmised
that he was the dangerous foe, and accordingly shot him. The
remaining savage sprang forward with a huge knife and engaged in a hand
to hand conflict, but the superior cunning of the white man caused
victory to perch on his side. As the savage was about to make a
final thrust, Jeffers detected the course of the knife, and it sheathed
itself in the breast of the Indian himself, instantly killing him.
The wild animals in what is now Mercer County were the usual kind that
inhabited this region, and the following story will give you an idea of
the snake inhabitants.
1800, or 1803, John Johnson lived on a piece of land near the Asa
Arnold farm. This farm is situated on the west of Yankee
Ridge. Johnson's wife went out from her cabin early one morning
to get her cows. She had not gone far until she found herself
surrounded with rattlesnakes. They were in such numbers that she
was compelled to climb a dogwood that stood near by. Her cries
for help reached her husband, and he came to her relief. In
excitement, he said, "Polly, I can't relieve you myself, there are too
many snakes;" and then running to his neighbor, Asa Arnold, he came
back with new courage. With hickory poles, these two men cut
their way through the snakes until Mrs. Johnson was relieved.
Both men sickened in this work and had to rest fur a time, and then go
at the destruction again. The yellow rattlesnakes were counted
and piled, two hundred in number, while there were many black and other
snakes left on the ground uncounted. Some of the rattles counted as
many as twenty-five. The rattlers of Northwestern Pennsylvania
are the banded variety, called timber rattlers.
Reserve room for map image ---
In the fall of the year 1806 several families came in from
Westmoreland, Allegheny, and Washington Counties, and made an
opening. The only one remaining over that winter was John
Findley, but the others came back in the spring. John Findley's
neighbors at that time were John Pugh, James Braden, John Carvin,
William Alexander, Mr. Hawthorn, and Mr. McCullough.
MERCER - THE COUNTY SEAT
the fall of the year 1806 several families came in from Westmoreland,
Allegheny, and Washington Counties, and made an opening. The only
one remaining over that winter was John Findley, but the others came
back in the spring. John Findley's neighbors at that time were
John Pugh, James Braden, John Carvin, William Alexander, Mr. Hawthorn,
and Mr. McCullough.
"Mercer, the county
seat, is situated near the Neshannock Creek, on elevated ground,
fifty-seven miles northwest from Pittsburg by the turnpike. It
was laid out in 1803 by John Findley, William Mortimore, and William
McMillan, trustees, on two hundred acres of land given to the county by
John Hoge, of Washington County, who owned large tracts of land in the
vicinity. The hill on which it is situated was formerly a dense
hazel thicket. The first courts were held in an old log
court-house. The court and county officers are now accommodated
in elegant public buildings of brick, surrounded by a verdant lawn
planted with trees, and enclosed by a neat white <pg. 584>
fence. In 1807 there were only two or three houses in the
place. In 1840 it had a population of seven hundred and
eighty-one. The dwellings are neat and substantial, and display a
pleasing variety of architectural embellishment. Besides the
county buildings, there are in the town an academy, Methodist, Union,
Seceder, Old and New School Presbyterian churches, a foundry, and the
usual stores and taverns. Daily lines of stages pass through on
the Pittsburg and Erie turnpike.
Greenville is situated in the northwestern part of the county, on the
Shenango River, and is surrounded by large bodies of fine land.
The Erie Extension Canal passes through the town, affording every
facility to commerce. There are in the immediate vicinity
extensive beds of iron ore and mines ot very superior coal, which will
form an important article of export to the lake. The rapid growth
of the town, and the taste and beauty exhibited in its embellishments,
indicate the advantages of its location. Seven years since the
population was not more than three hundred; it numbered in 1840, six
hundred and twenty-six. The Shenango River affords a very ample
water-power, which drives several large mills, and is still not all
In 1840 there
were twelve churches in the county, and special attention was paid to
common school education.
The public road
from Pittsburg to Erie through Mercer, Meadville, etc., was authorized
and laid out when the territory was under the control of Crawford
In 1817 the Mercer and Meadville
Turnpike Company was chartered. In 1821 the company opened the
line for general traffic. The streams of the county at first had
to be forded, but later temporary wooden bridges were erected.
BEAVER AND ERIE CANAL
In 1822-23 the Legislature authorized a survey. In 1824 the
United States Government did the same. In 1827 the Legislature
passed an act for the construction. Ground was broken on the French
Creek feeder at Meadville, August 24, 1827, and it was completed to
Conneaut Lake in 1834.
In 1843 ninety-seven
miles of the main line had been finished, and four million dollars had
been expended on the improvement by the State. The work was now
turned over without cost to the Eric Canal Company, and was finished by
the company December 5, 1844, when the first two boats, the "Queen of
the West," a passenger packet, and the "R. S. Reed," loaded with Mercer
County coal, passed through to Erie.
William Fruit, of Clarksville, was a pioneer in the coal business, and
made this his first shipment of coal to Erie. The canal-boat held
twenty-seven tons of coal.
At Erie his new fuel was not in demand. He eventually sold it at two dollars per ton.
Other coal operators were General James Pierce and Rev. George McCleery.
SOME PIONEER POST-OFFICES AND POSTMASTERS
In 1806 a weekly mail was established from Pittsburg to Erie by the way
of Mercer,—a horseback route; a semi-weekly in 1818; a tri-weekly in
In 1821 a stage route was opened, and a daily mail line was authorized in 1827.
Mercer, July 1, 1805, Cunningham S. Semple. Sharon, August 11,
1819, Elias Jones. Greenville, January 9, 1828, Alexander P.
Waugh. Jamestown, April 3, 1833, John Williamson, Jr.
Clark, July 14, 1833, John Fruit. New Vernon, July 20, 1837, John
M. Montgomery. Perrine, February 16, 1833, William H.
Perrine. Salem, March 6, 1832, William Leech. Sandy Lake,
January 30, 1833, Thomas J. Brown. North Liberty, January 15,
1840, Robert Shaw. West Middlesex, August 30, 1839, Robert B.
Young. Grove City, July 11, 1844, William Fleming.
Centretown, January 9, 1840, John Tumelson. Leesburg, December 3,
1836, Arthur Johnston. London, March 16, 1848, David
Gilson. New Lebanon, December 17, 1849, James A. Leech.
In 1846 there were ten iron furnaces in Mercer County.
The pioneer agricultural society was in existence as early as January
5, 1828. Joseph Justice was president, Nathaniel McElevey,
secretary, and Joseph Emery, treasurer.
Mercer Whig began June 15, 1844, John B. Butler, editor. In 1830
the West Greenville Gazette was started by Richard Hill. In 1848
J. W. Mason started the Weekly Express. In 1852, the paper was
purchased by the Rev. William Orvis, and was published as an
antislavery educator. This antislavery paper was in Greenville.
Who the pioneer doctor was in Mercer County is not known. Among
the early ones were [ ____ ] Clark, the two Cossitts, Dr. Magoffin,
Sr., Dr. Magoffin, Jr., and two Mehards.
The antislavery agitation began in Mercer County about June 15, 1835,
by the Rev. Nathaniel West and others.
THE PIONEER JUSTICE
Alexander Dumars was appointed justice of the peace in 1810. Allan Hill
prosecuted Joseph Nesbit before Squire Dumars for damages done by
Nesbit's cows to Hill's cornfield.
parties to the suit appeared. Nesbit claimed that it was Hill's
<pg. 586> fault; that he would not keep up a fence around his
field; that he had himself worked to repair and put up his fence, and
had also sent hands for that purpose, but that Hill would do nothing to
preserve his own grain. The Squire said, 'If that is the kind of
a man Hill is, he ought to be loaded with powder and blown to
hell.' The wily Irishman, Nesbitt, immediately said, 'If that is
the judgment of your honor, please give us an execution, and let us
have it carried out at once.'"
The pioneer industries were saw-mills, grist-mills, and whiskey
distilleries, built as early as 1801-02, and flaxseed oil-mills in 1812.
A fulling-mill was erected in 1803 by Benoni Tuttle.
"In 1849 the townships of Mahoning, Neshannock, and Slippery Rock,
together with a strip of territory of about half a mile in width taken
from the southern sides of the townships of Springfield, Wilmington,
and Shenango, were detached from Mercer to contribute to the erection
of Lawrence County. In these townships were the villages of
Harlansburg, New Wilmington, Pulaski, New Bedford, Hillsville,
Edenburg, Eastbrook, and the borough of New Castle, containing
altogether quite a third of the population of the county. And
thus stand the bounds of Mercer County, with its subdivisions into
townships in the one hundred and twelfth year of independence and the
eighty-eighth year of its erection as a separate county by the
Legislature of Pennsylvania."
The pioneer fire company of Mercer Borough was organized June 28, 1824.
The pioneer missionary society in Mercer County held its first meeting
in Mercer on June 11, 1834, Rev. Samuel Tait, president; Rev. J. L.
Dinwiddie, secretary. It was a Presbyterian society.
The first school-house in the borough of Mercer was a one story brick
about twenty feet square, heated by a ten-plate stove.
I copy the following from Egle's "History of Pennsylvania:"
"Although declared a county by act of Assembly in 1800, for all
practical purposes it constituted a part of Crawford until February,
1804, when the first and second courts were held at the house of Joseph
Hunter, situated on Mill Creek, on the mill property near Mercer, now
owned by the Hon. William Stewart, in February and May of that
year. The commission of Hon. Jesse Moore, as president judge of
the circuit composed of the counties of Beaver, Butler, Mercer,
Crawford, and Erie, was read; also the commissions of Alexander Brown
and Alexander Wright as judges for Mercer County. The various
commissions of John Findley (who was the eldest son of the historic
William Findley that was so prominent in Congress in the support of
Thomas Jefferson) as prothonotary, clerk of the courts, etc., was also
read; so also that of William Byers as sheriff, James Braden as
coroner, <pg. 587> and John W. Hunter as deputy prosecuting
attorney. The sheriff and coroner, as well as a board of county
commissioners, consisting of Robert Bole, Andrew Denniston, and Thomas
Robb, it is presumed were elected in October, 1803.
The attorneys admitted to practice at the first court were John W.
Hunter, Joseph Shannon, C. S. Sample, S. B. Foster, A. W. Foster, Ralph
Marlin, Edward Work, Patrick Farrelly, William Ayres, Henry Baldwin,
and Steel Sample. The two Fosters, Farrelly, Ayres, Baldwin, and
Steel Sample, all afterwards turned out to be men of mark and ability.
At the second term of court, held in May, the commission of William
Amberson as an additional judge for Mercer County was read. This
gave three associate judges. The writer of this, who, as a little
boy, occasionally dropped into the court-house, along between 1814 and
1820, was indelibly impressed with the grand dignity of the president
judge. He was a heavy, solemn-looking man, retaining the costume
of the old-style gentleman,—small clothes, shoe-buckles, knee-buckles,
bald head, but hair long behind and done up in a queue, and head and
hair and collar of the black coat covered with a white powder sprinkled
thereon. He has since seen the Supreme Court of the United States
in session. The black gowns of the judges sitting in a row, the
low colloquial tone in which causes are argued, and the quietness
enforced certainly gave it a very dignified aspect, but still there was
lacking the grand old powdered head and queue that gave Judge Moore the
advantage in solemn and imposing dignity.
It was with the funds arising from the sale of town lots that the first
court-house, standing in the centre of the public square, was
built. On the 19th of May, 1807, John Chambers, John Leech, and
William McMillan, the then county commissioners, contracted with Joseph
Smith and John McCurdy for the building thereof, for the sum of seven
thousand one hundred and sixteen dollars. It was a square brick
building, two stories high, with wings for the offices. In 1840,
there was an addition put to it to get better office accommodations, at
a cost of about two thousand dollars. The first court-house and
jail, however, was a log structure on the ground now occupied by the
First National Bank, the lower story for a jail being built of squared
logs let down f[____ a]nd dove-tailed at the corners, and the
court-room above, which was reached by stairs on the outside of the
building. Until this construction was ready for prisoners, the
county prison was a room in the house of James Braden, which the
commissioners rented and fitted up for that purpose.
"The travelled route through northwestern Pennsylvania was that
established by the French in 1752,—water communication up the Allegheny
River to the mouth of French Creek, then up that stream to Waterford,
and from thence by an opened road to Erie. It was this route that
was followed by Colonel Washington in 1753, when sent by Governor
Dinwiddie, of Virginia, <pg. 588> to demand from the French an
explanation of their designs in establishing military posts on the
waters of the Ohio. This route left Mercer County entirely to the
west, and may explain why settlements in Venango, Crawford, and Erie,
which it traversed, preceded those formed in Mercer. There were
no settlements made in it until after Wayne's victory over the Indians
and the peace with them that followed in 1795. After this, in the
fall of 1795, the surveyors began their labors, followed closely by the
first settlers. Benjamin Stokely now occupies the farm on which his
father thus commenced the settlement.
"Among the first settlers along the Shenango were the grandfathers of
the present generations of the Quinbys, Budds, Carnes, Beans,
McKnights, McGranahans, Campbells, Hoaglands, Mossmans, Leeches, Fells,
Hunters, and Christys. In the Neshannock and Mahoning regions,
the Byers, Sankeys, Fishers, Watsons, Chenowiths, and Pearsons made
their first settlement. In the centre, the Stokelys, Zahnisers,
Garvins, Alexanders, Findleys, Junkins, Dennistons, McCulloughs, Pews,
Rambos, Coulsons, and Hosacks. In the southeast corner, the
Roses, McMillans, Breckenridges, McCoys, and Courtneys. In the
Sandy Lake and French Creek region, the Gordons, McCrackens, DeFrances,
Carnahans, Browns, Carmichaels, Carrols, Kilgores, Riggs, Condits, and
McCloskeys. In the way of startling adventure, these men were not
history-makers. Their mission was to open up a wilderness for the
use of civilized man, and secure to themselves and posterity
comfortable homes. In striving to do this they underwent many
privations. It took time to open out fields and get them under
cultivation, so that bread could be got without transportation on
horseback from Pittsburg or the settlements in Washington County, and
before they could provide properly for the keeping of their stock over
winter. The first stock was only wintered by the felling of
maple- and linwood-trees to enable the cattle to browse on the
buds. The forest then afforded them bear meat, venison, and
turkey in abundance, but their appetites tired of this as the only
food, and "hog and hominy," diversified with mush and milk, was the
first change they could hope to make in their diet. Wolves,
panthers, and bears were by no means scarce, but as other game was
plenty, these animals did not indulge in the more dangerous chase of
man. A wolf scalp then brought a premium of eight dollars out of
the county treasury, and was a source of profit to quite a number of
"In the war of 1812 the people of
Mercer County were frequently called upon to give their aid in the
defense of Erie, where the fleet of Commodore Perry was being
built. On these alarms, which were about as frequent as a vessel
of the enemy hove in sight in the lake offing, the whole county would
be aroused by runners in a day, and in a very few hours most of the
able-bodied male population, whether belonging to a volunteer company
or the militia, would be on their march to Erie. On one occasion
the news came <pg. 589> to Mercer on a Sunday while the Rev. S.
Tait was preaching in the court-house. The sermon was suspended,
the startling news announced from the pulpit, the dismissing
benediction given, and immediate preparations for the march
commenced. On the next day the military force of the county was
well on its way to Erie. At another time the news of a threatened
invasion came in the middle of the grain harvest. This made no
difference; the response was immediate. It was on this occasion
that Mr. John Findley dropped the sickle in his tracks in the
wheat-field, hastened to his house, and, seizing his gun, with such
provisions as his wife had at hand to put in his haversack, started on
his way to the defense of his country. On his return, six weeks
afterwards, the sickle was found by him where it had been
dropped. It was on one of these occasions that but a single man
was left in the county town,—Cunningham Sample, an old lawyer,
completely unmanned by age and obesity.
"The history of Mercer County schools is commensurate with the
organization of the county in 1800. Although at that time there
were no school-houses in the county, the education of the children was
not entirely neglected. At that time, we find in some localities,
schools were organized in families, and teachers secured for
seventy-five cents or one dollar per week. Five or six years
passed away in this manner, when, in 1805, two school-houses were built
in the western part of the county, one in Salem Township, in what is
now known as the Fell settlement, another in the present Hickory
Township; and in the same or following year, in the southern part of
the county, one was built in the Henderson settlement, in the present
Worth Township; also one near that time in Pine Township. These
were round log cabins. For ceilings, poles were thrown across
overhead and brush placed on these poles and covered with earth.
Above this was a clapboard roof held down by weight poles. Some
of the better class of houses had puncheon floors (the floors in many
of the dwelling-houses were constructed in the same way); others had
nothing but the green sward, as nature left it. For light, a log
was left out of the building, and newspapers greased and pasted in this
opening. Seats were rude benches made of split logs, and desks
were constructed by boring into the logs and placing a slit piece of
timber on pins driven into these holes. The fireplace made of
stone, mortar, and sticks, included the entire end of the
building. Wood for this huge fireplace was hauled from
surrounding forests by neighbors, who would appoint a day, and all turn
out with oxen and sleds, and thus the wood was brought to the door, and
there cut to suitable lengths by the larger boys in turn. It was
also the rule for the larger boys to build the fires in turn, which
required very early rising. The distance to the school-house from
many of their homes was often five or six miles, and even
farther. The time taught was eight hours per day. Boys were
seen winding their way at daybreak along the trackless paths, save the
track of a wolf or perchance that of a passing bear.
1800 Mercer County was divided into six townships,—Salem, Pymatuning,
Neshannock, Wolf Creek, Cool Spring, and Sandy Creek. Afterwards,
twenty-five subdivisions were made, each independent in their local
school affairs, containing a number of houses, ranking from three to
twenty-three (boroughs excepted), Wolf Creek the least, and Hickory the
"Before the 'free school
system' the amount of subscription was about fifty cents per month for
one scholar. The houses were built in a day. The site
agreed upon, the neighbors would assemble on an appointed day, with
axes and ox-teams, and erect a rude structure, considered 'good enough
to keep school in.'
"No test of scholarship
was required, further than an article of agreement for parents to sign
was written by the proposed teacher, setting forth his terms, what he
proposed teaching, and how far. A teacher who proposed in a
winter school to teach as far as the 'double rule of three,' now called
compound proportion, was considered quite proficient in
mathematics. He who proposed to lead a class through 'tare and
tret' (custom-house business) was thought a master mathematician.
This article of agreement was all the patrons had by which to judge his
"No black-boards were used; no
classes heard, except reading and spelling. Pupils were required
to copy all their examples in a blank-book prepared for the purpose,
for future reference.
"But little moral
suasion was used in the schools. Corporal punishment was almost
the sole remedy for all offences. One of the favorite modes was
what is termed 'cut jackets.' This was resorted to in case two
were to be punished. Each offender selected his rod, and, at a
given signal, they began a most furious attack upon each other, and
would continue in the most brute-like and wicked manner, until often
the blood would trickle down on the floor, and clothes were lacerated
by the infuriated contestants, and the boy with the most physical
strength and endurance was the envy of the school, a terror to those
who had to 'cut jackets,' and the boasted pride of his parents.
Another barbarous mode of punishment was sometimes practiced, taken,
doubtless, from the old Indian mode of massacring the whites. A
day was selected to carry the offender, on his back, in a prescribed
circle, around the stove, and two or three boys selected to stand in
convenient distances of the line, at regular intervals, with rod in
hand, whose business it was to strike once at the offender as he was
carried past. After he was carried a few times around the circle
(according to the nature of the offence) he was considered sufficiently
punished, which was often brutally severe. This was termed
'running the gauntlet.'"
The number of
schools in the county in 1846 was two hundred and fourteen.
Average number of months taught, five months and five days.
Number of male teachers, one hundred and seventy. Number of
female <pg. 591> teachers, one hundred and forty-five.
Average salary for males, thirteen dollars. Average salary for
females, six dollars and nine cents. The pioneer school-teacher
is not positively known. It may have been Thomas Rigdon, in 1800.
The pioneer Masonic Lodge was organized July 4, 1822. The Lodge
grew until 1827, and its warrant was vacated February 6, 1837.
The Lodge was known as Mercer Lodge, No. 182, A. Y. M.
INCORPORATION OF BOROUGHS
Sharon, October 6, 1841, M. C. Trout, pioneer burgess.
Greenville, May 29, 1837. Clarksville, May 5, 1848.
Return to Title Page
A 1905 Pioneer History..