Remarks & General Observations on

Mercer County, Pennsylvania, 1850





The revolution of 1775, and the subsequent difficulties occasioned by a patriotic republican community, struggling for liberty, and to free themselves from the tyrannical oppression of British bondage, without the means of supporting an army, led to considerations, which eventually resulted in a resolution to give to the soldier a permanent reward for his toil and pain, in defending the country.  The rapid depreciation of continental money, and the consequent rise in articles of necessity, from January, 1777, until February, 1781, rendered it essential that some additional provision should be made, not so much as a bonus or premium to induce men into public service; but as an act of justice towards those who bore the heat and burden of the day; those who had, from zealous patriotism, left their families, connexions, and homes, to save a beloved country from ruin and disgrace.

     Impressed with a deep sense of indispensable duty on this occasion, the legislature, as early as the 7th of March, 1780, passed a law declaratory of their design that the officers and soldiers of this state in the service of the United States, who should serve during the war or die in the service, should have lands granted to them at the end of the war, as a donation or gift, to remunerate them in some degree for services rendered, for the payment of which the continental wages were so inadequate.

     By an act of the 12th March, 1783, the metes and bounds of the space in which these donation lands were to be located, were particularly described, viz., from the mouth of Mohulbuckitum on the Allegheny River, up that river to the mouth of Conewango, thence north to the south boundary of the state of New York; thence west, along that line to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania; thence south, along the west boundary of the state last mentioned, to a point due west of the mouth of Mohulbuckitum aforesaid; and thence due east, along the north boundary of the Depreciation lands, to the place of beginning.

     By an act of March 24th, 1785, deputy surveyors were to be appointed, of the districts comprised within these limits, from District No. 1, to that of No. 10; each deputy was enjoined by law and directed by the Surveyor-General to complete the work committed to his care, on, or before the first day of February, 1786.

     By this act a Major-General is to have 2000 acres; Brigadier 1500; Colonel 1000; Lieutenant-Colonel 750; Surgeon, Chaplain, Major, 600 each; Captain, 500; Lieutenant, 400; Ensign and Surgeon's mate, 300 each; Sergeant, Sergeant.Major, Quartermaster Sergeant, each 250; and <pg. 67> each Drummer, Fifer, Corporal, and private soldier, 200 acres, and allowance.

     Twenty-seven miles of the west ends of Districts No. 5 and 4, and about nineteen miles of the western parts of Districts No. 3 and 2, lie in Mercer County.

     In September, 1785, the undersigned was called on by G. Evans, Esq., of the city of Philadelphia, who had been appointed by John Lukens, the then Surveyor-General, to be deputy surveyor of the 2d and 3d Districts.

     On the first day of October, 1785, I left Washington, Pa., in company with Robert Smith, Samuel Craig, Francis Beadle and others, to assist Mr. Evans in making surveys.  We arrived at Pittsburg (called Fort Pitt) on the second day of the same month, and on the eighth, we arrived in the 3d district, and commenced our business.

     Beginning on the east, we worked westward with two compasses, and carried ten ranges with us, keeping the tents and the provisions in the centre; in this way, we progressed until the 26th of October, when we closed our fall's work, at a place near where Joseph Shannon now lives, three miles southwest of the borough of Mercer.

     That day at about 12 o'clock, we set out for Fort Pitt, our horses loaded with skins killed by our Indian hunter, who supplied us the whole time with venison, fat and more than we could use; we had no bread for twelve days, but experienced no inconvenience from this deficiency.  Bears, wolves, deer, and Indians, in every direction, in plenty; peaceable and useful.

     On the day we set out for the white settlement, we saw three bears on and near one tree; we hastened to the tree, but before we arrived at the spot, one ran off, one came <pg. 68> down, and the other fell about forty feet, and all took to the swamps, every one its own course.  There were ten of us including the Indian; we pursued the bears about fifteen minutes, but gave up the chase, and gathered together and pursued our course, which went about south, 25 degrees east.

     At about three miles distance from the bear tree, we discovered a man was missing; we discharged our guns, and hallooed, but all to no purpose; we saw him no more. On the 29th we arrived at Fort Pitt, and separated each to his own home, never to meet again.

     On the sixteenth day of April, 1792, I received a commission to be deputy surveyor of the 4th and 5th Districts, then under a new arrangement called the 3d.  General Brodhead was Surveyor-General.  This commission was given under the Act of 3d April, 1792, for the sale of vacant lands north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, and Conewango Creek.  Although this district extended eastward to the Allegheny River, including the town of Franklin, then called Venango, consisting of the garrison and a few cabins, yet the western and better part of it, was included in Mercer County as now laid out; the residue of this county is comprised within the 4th and 6th Districts, new arrangement: the deputy surveyors of which were Thomas Stokely and John Moore.  Although the former of these gentlemen understood neither theory nor practice, yet he received the appointment for his activity and bravery in the massacre of Paoli, in the Revolution.  Thus went the offices and rewards in those days, and thus go pensions and places in these days, without very much respect to necessity or fitness, in many cases.

     From the 3d of April, 1792, until October, 1794, no attempt was made to settle Mercer County; this inaction of the public, when a fine country was opened by law for their reception, for nearly three years, was occasioned by the danger of the savages in that region.

     In June, 1794, John Powers was killed and scalped, eighteen miles from Fort Franklin, towards Pittsburg.  The bones of this man were left exposed on the surface of the ground, until May, 1796, when his head, which bore the plain mark of the incision of the scalping knife, and a hole in the skull two inches square, was found by a surveyor and his party and taken to Washington, Pa.

     In October, 1794, and February, 1795, 453 land warrants were entered in my office in Pittsburg for land, chiefly in Mercer County.  In the spring of 1795, I made arrangements to execute the surveys on those entered the preceding February.  Those entered in October, one hundred in all, were laid on Chenango a year after they were entered, by a deputy.  On the first day of May, 1795, after having collected hands and provisions, tents and the necessary apparatus for the woods, our party set out for the Indian country, and on the fourth, crossed the Ohio at Christlo's Ferry, and arrived at Mackintosh (now Beaver town).  Whence we proceeded up Beaver, to the old Moravian and Cuscusca towns; and on the tenth unloaded our horses at Beech Swamp, four miles southwest of the spot where Mercer now stands.  John Paxton and Dorsey Blackman our pack-horsemen, returned home with the horses a different route from that which we pursued in going out; this was through fear of meeting the Indians, or that the Indians would waylay them on the trail as they <pg. 70> returned home; these fears were excited from seeing Indians, as we traveled out.

     On the thirteenth day of May 1795, I made the first survey in my district.  We continued our business until the 7th of June, without any visible risk or danger; but on that day, when my men and myself were sitting in the tent late in the evening, I discovered something white waving in the air, about forty yards from the camp.  I immediately went to the place; there was an Indian behind a large oak, who had a letter from the officer commanding at Fort Franklin; he had split a small stick, and having put the letter in the split, was waving it about until I discovered it. I took the letter and read as follows:–

"Sir –
     "Having received information of two men's being killed by Indians, last Wednesday evening, near the mouth of Little Coneaught, in passing it on the borders of the district where I've heard you are at work, I send the bearer hereof, a friendly Indian, to find you if possible and give you this notice, that you may be on your guard, in case of the approach of any other hostile parties.
                    "I am, sir, your humble servant,
                      (Signed,)      "JH. Heth.
"Captain 3d S. Legion,
"Commanding Fort Franklin."
"June 6th, 1795."
"Findley and McCormick were the unfortunate men.
"J. H."

"Mr. Benjamin Stokely, by a friendly Indian."

     Having taken the Indian into the camp–given him something to eat, and invited him to stay with us till morning, I wrote to Captain Heth, by the Indian, whose name was "Scandashawa," as follows:–

"To Captain Heth, Franklin:–
     "Sir,–This evening I received your kind letter by the Indian, for which you will please to accept my unfeigned thanks.  It is, sir, with much satisfaction that I find a friend so near, and in possession of the means of securing our safety, should it be found necessary to claim your protection.
     "The times look dark and dangerous, and we have no doubt of the facts stated, but being engaged in the business of surveying land, on a large and extensive scale, it would be extremely inconvenient at present to lose much time in watching the motion of the enemy.  I have therefore consulted my brave companions in this critical conjuncture, and we have concluded to proceed on with our work at all hazards; but on any unfavourable change in the aspect of the perils which seem to surround us now, we intend to avail ourselves of that protection which we are well assured it will be no less your duty than your inclination to render.
(Signed,)    "BEN. STOKELY,
  "In the woods.
"June 7th, 1795."

     The next day, June the 8th, I received a letter from General Taylor, then at Franklin; an associate Judge of Washington County, an elderly gentleman, and an old and <pg. 72> particular friend.  As the General was a man, honest, friendly, and sincere, his letter had some weight with my men, and on a second balloting whether we should relinquish our business at present, or proceed, it was determined six for going home, and six for going on with the surveys:  The question being put, shall we proceed with the surveys.  Yeas, W. Ewing, Adam Deim, Samuel Craig, N. Lewis, Robert Linton, and B. Stokely.  Nays, David Norris, Jos. Swearingen, Wm. Connell, George Hackney, Levi Jacobs, Wm. Jacobs.

     Thus divided, and three surveyors being in the affirmative, our company was so broken that we concluded to return home, and therefore set out June the 9th, for Pittsburg.–Judge Taylor's letter, the efficient cause of this decision among us, read as follows, to wit–

"Fort Franklin, 8th June, 1795.

     "DEAR SIR,–I wish to inform you that I conceive you and your partiee in dangar.  There is a partiee of Indians out who seem to entend hostil meshures with the surveyors; how fare the may go it is doubtfull, but I would recommend your coming in heare as soon as posable; perhaps in a few day it may be better known how fare or how many the partiee is.  There is a number of people going off; I would be glad to see you before I go off.  I shall remain at this place a few days untill it may be better known the disposition of the Indians,–if it appears favourable will go to Cusawago.  I would be glad to know your opinion, with respect, in what way you will make your return of the surveys made on improvements rights, as I am about <pg. 73> purchising som; and a number is waiting for you approving of these surveys that the have already made.
     "It will not be necessary to tell you the damage done, as Mr. Swearingen has heard all the news of this place; but the number now known to be killed is five.
    "I am truly your sincear
     "Friend and humble servant,
        "HENRY TAYLOR."

B. Stokely, D. S. Y.

     There are three objects in view in giving the copy of this letter,–the first is to show the danger and peril of the times in which the preparatory measures were taken to settle Mercer County; the second, to show the singular friendship from the General towards me, notwithstanding a very disagreeable misunderstanding between him and my brother, Col. Thomas Stokely, on a point of military discipline; and the third object is to manifest to the public that a man may be good and great without much knowledge of literature.–In October, 1795, I returned to the woods with a full set of hands only for one compass.  The provisions we left in June preceding could not be depended on, and therefore we brought fresh flour with us and depended in some degree on wild meat for our support; but such was our bad luck in procuring venison or bear, that our hunter, Jno. Moore, killed but one deer the whole time from Oct.19 to Nov.30, 1795.  Under pressing necessity, were we obliged to search for Beech Swamp, where we had left our meat in kegs, in May of that year.  This bacon, when found, was blue with putrefaction, and stunk so as to be distinctly noticed near twenty yards; of this, such <pg. 74> was our hunger, did we eat, nay more, we feasted for some days; at length, closing our range, five miles north of Mercer, we set out for Mackintosh, on the 28th of November, 1795, and, after sinking our raft in crossing Chenango, wetting many things, and losing some, we arrived at that place the second day of December, hungry and tired, but, on getting refreshment at a public house, the only one then in the place, kept by Samuel Johnston, we were very soon as well as ever.  Our party this tour was composed of seven, viz., W. Ewing, Joseph Davidson, Noah Lewis, Jos. Brooks, John Moore, Jabez Coulson, and myself.  On the 9th of May, 1796, we returned to the woods, a third tour.  The ratification of Wayne's Treaty, on the 22d of December, 1795, having, as we supposed, secured our safety, we surveyed and improved the county, without fear or trembling.  Returned to the white settlements the 13th of June, 1796, and on the 14th of October following, I sat down as an actual settler, with my family, a wife and three children, on the very spot where I now reside, at Coolspring, three miles northeast of the borough of Mercer.

     My wife was the first white woman that settled in Mercer County; she saw no white female but one, as prisoner among the Indians, until April, 1797.  During the winter of 1796-7, Indians were very numerous, troublesome sometimes, and useful sometimes; we purchased two thousand eight hundred and forty-six pounds of venison of them, fifty skins, some fur, and a few bear-skins.

     I had two oxen and two cows; on the 7th of December, 1796, they left me, in a course towards Pittsburg. I pursued one day and gave up the chase; on the 17th they returned.  The snow fell 22d of November, went off 13th <pg. 75> of February; fell the 19th, went off in March.  It was an early spring ; good grass and plenty the 10th of April.  On the 9th of March, one cow died, for the want of food on1y.  Having an opportunity, I sent a letter to the white settlement, offering twenty dollars for six bushels of Indian meal, but failed to get any.  The 28th, the other was near dying; to save her life, I ripped open a pack-saddle pad, took out a part of the straw stuffing, cut it short, put on warm water and a pint of flour, reserving the residue of the padding for a future day; she recovered,–sharp times!  In the spring of 1797, as early as the middle of February, the county began to settle, so that in a few months the neighbourhood began to assume the appearance of civilization.  To me, who had been so long alone, and none but Indians to commune with, and particularly to my wife, the change was exceedingly acceptable.  It might be conceived, but cannot be easily expressed, when one day she saw two white women, the Misses Rice, coming to see her on a visit, the pleasure and satisfaction she felt at this circumstance.  The settlement at Coolspring being among the very earliest in the county, it may be considered as begun in the spring of 1797, though many had made small beginnings in 1796, but returned to the old settlements in the fall of that year, and returned again when I had resolved the great problem, that the Indians were no longer dangerous neighbours.  In the summer of 1797, I sent my plough irons forty-two miles to be sharpened, and paid upwards of two dollars for it.  The first mill was built in 1798, by Peter Wilson, an old and respectable settler, who settled in this county early in April, 1797.  On the 23d and 24th of August, in the year last mentioned, took place <pg. 76> the memorable compromise between the agent of the N. A. Land Company and the settlers who had been placed on the land by certain individuals, in opposition to the Company's title.  The leaders of the opposing party were Messrs. M'Williams, Dunning, Morrow, and Tannehill, of Pittsburg.  In this general settlement, however, of conflicting claims, peace was restored, and the settlers were made sure of their lands without any further contention.  Although the Act of 1792 never could be so construed as to sustain any but two kinds of title, viz.,–one under the eighth section, beginning with an actual bona fide resident settlement, and ending with money to be paid to the state within ten years from the passage of the act, free of interest ;–and the other under the ninth section, commencing with money, and ending with labour and residence; yet did the leading influential men, from a spirit of mere speculation, endeavour to monopolize large bounds of this and the adjoining counties, obtained settlers, made agreements, established settlements on surveys made without authority, promised a title, and in a word went on to complete the claim for their settlers, as if they had been supported by law until, as I have before observed, the compromise of August, 1797, put to rest all disputes, with the exception of a few individuals, who chose to try title at law, but failed.

     In 1798, the Rev. Jacob Garwell, member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, preached at Peter Wilson's, in the woods, and shortly afterwards in my barn.  This year seed potatoes sold for $1 33 a bushel; wheat was first reaped in this county this year, the seed of which had in 1797 cost $2 25 per bushel; corn had no price; wild meat was yet easily obtained. In the year of 1798, the smallpox <pg. 77> broke out and spread among the Indians, who had it in many cases extremely severe.

     In 1797, on the 19th day of September, was born the first white child in Mercer County,–Ariadne, my fourth child,–not a woman but the mother present.  This was a severe trial to me.  In 1799, the first missionaries were sent to preach to the settlers; these were the Rev. J. Stockton, E. Macurdy, J. M'Lene, Wm. Wick.  But the labours of the reverend gentlemen were not greatly blessed, or, in other words, no visible change was seen among the people until the next year, 1800, nor indeed until 1801, to any extent; but in that year and the next, 1802, under the preaching of the Rev. Samuel Pait, many of the most wicked, loose, and irregular, were brought to see the wickedness of their former life, and the necessity of fleeing from the wrath to come.  The first storekeeper was E. Magoffin,–the first lawyer that settled in Mercer was E. S. Sample.  The first Board of Commissioners was composed of Robert Bole, for three years, Andrew Denniston, two years, and Thos. Robb, for one year.  The first D. Surveyor, John Findley. The first President Judge, Jesse Moore; Associates, A. Wright, A. Brown, and W. Amberson.  It may be necessary here to remark, that Mr. Amberson, not residing in the bounds of Mercer County at the time it was struck off Crawford, nor within the latter county one year previous to that event, the tenure of his commission was not quite consistent with the constitution.

     It does not appear from any discovery made in the first settlement of this county, that it ever was a place where many elk and buffalo haunted; one buffalo horn and a few elk horns were found in 1795 and 1797; and a few <pg. 78> elk have been seen, and one killed, near the western boundary of the county, since the settlement commenced.  The animals which are now seen and sometimes taken, are foxes, red and gray, raccoons, opossums, wild-cats, deer, a very few white hares, and an animal called a wolvereen, of the feline or vulpine species, supposed to be engendered between a wolf and a fox, or a fox and a wild-cat.  It is one of the swiftest animals in the woods, a common cur-dog is left with ease, and being sensible of its own superiority in running, it will play around, as if it were mere amusement.  It is bold and cunning, and has never been taken by any white man since the county was first settled; and only by Indians before.

     The climate of this county may be considered, in its general character as cold and wet.  Winter usually sets in about the latter end of November, and corn is seldom planted much before the latter end of May, which makes nearly six months of cool, cold, and wet weather.  Snow is seldom more than eighteen inches deep; but on the 3d of February, 1800, and the 3d of February, 1818, it was about three feet.  Frost is seen, some years, in every month.

     This county has always been subject to annual tornadoes, which seldom happen before the middle of May, nor after the summer solstice.  In 1785 a tremendous one took place: the course was from northwest to southeast, commencing in Lackawanack township, thence through Springfield and the east end of Slippery Rock into Butler County, tearing ani prostrating everything that stood in its way; but as there were no buildings nor any improvements, the damage was not felt; but on the night of the 4th of June, 1801, a severe snow-storm began in Pymatuning township, and <pg. 79> passing from northwest to southeast through Delaware, Coolspring, Springfield, and Wolf Creek, laid the limber level with the surface of the earth, in almost every place.  It was about forty perches wide, and in the centre, about two rods wide it was unusually severe.  My own loss was in part as follows:–The destruction of timber, about forty perches in width and upwards of two miles in length, two hundred pannel of fence laid flat and scattered near fifty yards; rails were forced into the hard ground eighteen inches–every house, barn, or stable, stripped of its covering in less than the space of one minute–clapboards blown above a mile,–bars torn down, and one heavy black oak bar found seven years afterwards, in a swamp about two hundred perches from the place from which it was blown.  In one place about two hundred rails had been blown in a pile, and a large cow lay on the top of all; she had been blown across ploughed ground near forty yards.  A dead log twenty-two feet long, and twenty one inches in diameter, being a large limb of a very big oak which had fallen, and by the weight had been forced into the ground, and had lain so for some years; this fork, as I have described it, was blown endwise four feet and turned over–and such was the fury of the elements, that the rough bark was blown from the white oaks, that stood the blast until they were quite smooth in many places.  This excessive force was principally confined to a space in the centre of the gale, about forty feet wide.  Among other valuable timber, I lost about four hundred fine sugar trees. One man lost a mare, and had his place completely ruined; and many others were greatly injured.  The noise of the wind and rain and thunder was such that no distinction could be <pg. 80> noticed; it was one universal roar, impossible to be described.

     Thus pent and sequestrated from all aid in this awful crisis, with a wife and five small children, drenched with rain, our fire nearly out, the night dark, except when the vivid flash gave us a glimpse of the havoc all around,–I cannot describe my feelings on that dreadful visitation.  From the least estimate I can make of the time this ruin was effected on my premises, I think it did not exceed two minutes.  Such a change in so short a time appeared to me different from anything I had ever before or since experienced.  There are some places where the wind had fallen from above, and crushed everything before it, and having spent its force on the ground left no farther signs of destruction, but just in these spots, some not more than two perches square.  Such is the nature of the timber prostrated in a hurricane which happened in 1785, now near forty-eight years ago, and yet very visible in its effects, it is quite sound in hundreds of places, but chiefly in these cases it is chestnut.

     The county is generally healthy, and nothing of an endemical character can be distinctly known to exist in this county; coal-pits are few and near the surface, and in quality partakes of the bituminous kind.  The bridges in this county are numerous, and some good, but they are so frequently destroyed, repaired, and new ones building, that on this head little need be said, as the present situation will not remain the same six months.  One small beaver-dam may be seen in ruins on Otter Creek, two and a half miles from Mercer.  Some attempts have been made to procure salt water, but to no purpose.

<pg. 81>
     The Courts of Justice are now held at Mercer, the fourth Mondays of March, June, September, and December; President-Judge, John Bredin; Associates, A. Brown, W. Amberson; Pro., W. S. Rankin; Reg. and Rec., S. Holstein.

     Physicians not residing in the borough are Dr. Axtell, Dr. H. Cossitt, Dr. Wiley, Dr. Mitcheltree, Dr. Hull, Dr. J. Cossitt.  Those who reside in the borough are Dr. Magoffin, Jr., and Dr. Magoffin, Dr. Gleazon, Dr. Coffey, and Dr. Johnston.

     Ministers of the Gospel not residing in the county, but who have congregations or hearers in the county, and occasionally preach within the county, are Mr. Glenn, Presbyterian; Mr. M'Lene, Seceder; Mr. Black, Covenanter;–and a number of itinerant Methodist preachers, whose labours are divided throughout the county to the best advantage.

     With respect to the variation of the needle, I would just remark, that in 1785 we found the variation to be 2½° east; in 1795 we found it 3°; but knowing that a difference existed among corn passes, in some 30' and in others 1°, we were not able to determine what the precise difference was.  We have since pursued the oldest lines with the same degrees we run in 1795, and find no material variation.

     In Mercer County no measures of defence or security were taken against the Indians, except in one place, where a Mr. Mackmillon erected a block-house in Coolspring township; but they never had the honour of an attack.

     The Indian mode of killing bear is to have twelve or twenty dogs, a bow, and sheaf of arrows; thus equipped, <pg. 82> accompanied by a squaw, the man enters the swamp, preceded by all his dogs, and on starting Bruin, the dogs immediately seize him by the hind parts; the bear turns to relieve himself from the disagreeable incumbrance, which detains him some time, while the hunter comes up and discharges an arrow into his body–the arrow having a dart on the point with barbs on the edge.  The animal is then under the painful necessity of stopping to pull it out; at this time the dogs seize him again, and the hunter gives him another shot; the squaw, to her business, gathers up the arrows and hands them to her husband,–and thus they proceed until the poor animal, lacerated and torn by the arrows and the dogs, yields up his breath, and the contest is over.

     There are some large piles of stones, called Indian graves, where the ground has been totally cleared of stones for several acres to make the pile.

     The amount of taxes laid on seated, unseated, and personal property for 1832, is $17,926 66, composed of the following items, and applicable to the following purposes, viz.,

1st.        County tax on seated and personal property        $7790 67
2d.    Road tax on seated and personal property    6217 87
3d.    County tax on unseated property    1324 32
4th.    Road tax on unseated property    1056 43
5th.    State tax    1537 37
     Note.–The 1st and 3d items go to pay the county expenses, such as the jurors, elections, &c.
     The 2d and 4th are exclusively applied to repairing the roads already made, and in opening new ones.
     The 5th is to pay the interest on the State loan for internal improvements.


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