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History of Butler County Pennsylvania - 1883

Chapter 51 -- Venango Township

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Transcribed by Ed McClelland ( For an explanation and caution about this transcription, please read this page.





[p. 449]

VENANGO TOWNSHIP was named for Venango County, which joins it on the north. The township was much reduced in size by the re-organization of 1854.

The land is well adapted to grazing and a variety of crops. Coal deposits of considerable extent and value are found, but up to this time they have not been worked, except for local use.

The pioneers who came to this part of the county were generally men whose fortunes had to be gained by their own exertions after they arrived here. They generally came here from Westmoreland County, but were mostly natives of Ireland or of Eastern Penn- [p.450] sylvania. Probably no permanent settlers located here prior to 1796. It would be an impossible task to portray all of the disadvantages, hardships and privations under which these early settlers labored, but some idea of the same can be gathered from the sketches which follow.

Thomas JOLLY, Sr., was in the western part of the State some years before the territory northwest of the Allegheny River was settled. He came out under Capt. SLOAN to hunt Indians. In 1796, he and several others came from Westmoreland County, selected farms in Venango and Butler Counties, built shanties upon them, and the following spring returned with their families and took possession. A large body of land belonging to a Quaker named John FIELDS, residing in Philadelphia, was taken up by this company of immigrants. Fields was to give each settler one hundred and fifty acres for making an improvement, and residing seven years upon a tract. He became embarrassed, and never made the deeds. Hon. Walter LOWRIE acted as agent for the Fields land, and subsequently, in 1838, Samuel A. PURVIANCE was appointed agent. He, with Dr. A. W. CRAWFORD, settled up the business and the settlers secured titles to their lands.

Among those who came with or nearly at the same time with Mr. JOLLY were the following persons: Thomas BARRON and family located in the edge of Venango County. His house stood in that county, but his weave shop in this. He had five or six daughters, and several of them were married here. The house was so small that the weddings were held in the shop, for the better accommodation of the guests. James SCOTT settled where Alexander ANDERSON now lives. Mrs. COULTER and her son Peter John lived on the LEASON farm. John COULTER, afterward a Presbyterian minister, lived on the LAYTON place (now in Allegheny Township). Robert CUNNINGHAM settled where J. W. JOHNSTON lives. He was the father of Squire John CUNNINGHAM, who lived on the farm till his death. John WEAVER, who married a daughter of Thomas BARRON, settled on the place now owned by the Widow STALKER. Many others, the neighbors of these settlers, located in Venango County in 1796-97.

Thomas JOLLY, Sr., planted an orchard soon after making his settlement, obtaining trees from Mr. KNOX, of Armstrong County. Some of the trees are still alive, though they are now over eighty years of age. The children of Thomas and Betsey (MITCHELL) JOLLY were John and David, who settled in Venango County; James and Thomas, who occupied the old homestead; Jane (LAYTON), and Betsey (MCCDOWELL); James married Jane SLOAN. Their children were Eliza (ROSENBERRY), William, Elizabeth (JAMISON), Samuel S. and James, all living except the first.

Capt. Thomas JOLLY is one of the oldest residents of Butler County, having lived here since his father settled. He was born in Westmoreland County in 1793, and is still living, in hale and vigorous old age. The writer received from him many interesting reminiscences of pioneer days. Capt. JOLLY is one of the few surviving soldiers of 1812. He was in the service a little over two months. Afterward he was a Captain of militia and held the position about twenty-one years. He is a man whose qualities command the respect of all who know him. He married Rebecca JOLLY and is the father of four children--Samuel, Sarah (MCGINNIS), Jane (WILLIAMS) and Thomas. Capt. JOLLY has never been away from the farm for a year since he came with his father. He remembers when there were scarcely any clearings in the township and when only faintly-marked paths served as roads.

Capt. JOLLY, when a young man, devoted considerable attention to hunting, and often killed twenty deer in one season and helped to kill many bears. He estimates that his father, himself and brothers killed over a hundred bears in this vicinity, before wild animals became scarce.

The first mill in this section of the country was erected by Turner CAMPBELL, on little Scrub Grass, in the edge of Venango County. Hand mills were much used for grinding corn. Distilleries were numerous. Whisky was abundant and cheap, yet there was very little intemperance.

Samuel SLOAN, for many years an Elder of the Old Seceder Church was one of the first settlers and passed his days on the farm which is now Thomas MORROWs. He came from Westmoreland County, bringing his wife, with one child in her arms, and his household goods on one horse. For some years he obtained his supply of flour in Westmoreland County. Pack-horses did all the carrying. Groceries were used but sparingly, for in addition to their cost, tedious journeys, lasting several days, were necessary in order to procure them. Mr. SLOAN's farm was for a long time the muster ground for the militia of this part of the county, and the woods around often rang with the echo of the officers' commands, while the soldiers engaged in mimic warfare, with sticks for guns.

The old gentleman killed a great many deer and tanned the hides, which were made into breeches and moccasins for the men and boys. Samuel and Elizabeth (BRANN) SLOAN were the parents of a large family--Samuel, John, William, David, James, Robert, Joseph, Thomas, Andrew, Henry, Nancy (GRANT), [p.451] Jane (JOLLY) and Elizabeth (SLOAN), and their descendants are numerous. Of the original family but two survive--Joseph, in Venango Township, and Andrew in Allegheny Township.

Samuel SLOAN married Mary FOSTER. He died in this township in 1872. Of his children, Samuel, William, James, Joseph, David and Elizabeth (WILSON) survive.

Joseph SLOAN, son of Samuel, Sr., was born in 1806 and is among the oldest residents of the township. He was a pioneer on the farm he now occupies, and settled upon it in 1834. He has counted eleven deer in his field without moving from the doorway of his cabin. He was often obliged to chase away bears to prevent them from destroying his hogs. Mr. SLOAN's wife, who died in 1881, was Eleanor Leslie. Their children are George, Uriah, Washington, Mary A. (PARKS) and Eliza J. (SCOTT) living; and Mary and Martha (twins), Samuel E. and Marilda (CRAWFORD), dead. Samuel E. died in the army.

Among the well-known early settlers who played an important part in developing the resources of the township, was Hugh MURRIN and his family, who came from Huntingdon County, and settled on the land which their descendants still occupy. The children of Hugh MURRIN are now all dead. Their names were--Joseph, William, John, James, Philip, George and William, married sisters, daughters of Hugh KAETING of Huntingdon County. Judge KAETING, late of Clarion County, was a brother of these sisters and often visited them. The brothers took up several tracts of land, and were generally prosperous and successful in business. Murrinsville in Marion Township is named for this family. George MURRIN died in 1866, at the age of seventy-four. He and his wife Sarah had eleven children, nine of whom are living. Hugh and Peter never married. Peter, when a young man was very popular in society, and very fond of dancing. He was also something of a wag. He once stated to a company, speaking of the family, that there were eight brothers, and each brother had a sister. Comment was excited and the joke explained.

The first mill in the neighborhood was a small affair, run by horse power and owned by the Murrins. Soon after 1800 a man named ADAMS erected a log grist-mill on the Murrin place. Jacob and John MURRIN had a mill on the same creek later. Squire MURRIN had the first saw mill in the township.

Charles MCWRIGHT (a bachelor and a general favorite with the boys, often joining in their games, was a tailor who lived on the farm which is now William MARTIN's), Charles BRADLEY, Alexander DUNLAP and Joseph EDWARDS were early settlers.

James SIMPSON made a small improvement, and Michael KELLY bought his right to it. Kelly was a native of Ireland, but came here from Eastern Pennsylvania. He was the father of eight sons and two daughters, all born in this county, except one. Names of his children: John (dead), Joseph (dead), Margaret (MCFADDEN, dead), Daniel, now seventy-six years of age, Peter, Michael, David (died on the old homestead in 1882), William (deceased), Susannah (deceased), and James KELLY's father-in-law, Peter TRAXLER, came out with him and resided some years. While helping to build the old log church which the Catholics erected on the Murrin farm, he had his leg broken. The Kellys and Murrins were very intimate. Each family contained eight boys, and the entire sixteen could often be found working together in one field.

Previous to 1800, Thomas BARRON and a numerous family settled north of this township in Venango County. The Barrons owned, among them, over 1,000 acres of land lying partly in this county. But in 1812 the Barrons, "like a flock of sheep," says Mr. R. C. CAMPBELL, left these parts for the vicinity of Zanesville, Ohio. Some of the daughters who had married here remained, among whom was Sarah, the wife of Thomas CAMPBELL.

Mr. CAMPBELL was a native of Ireland, who came here a single man from Eastern Pennsylvania, in company with Robert COCHRAN. He settled south of Farmington, but afterward exchanged his tract for one in the northern part of the township, on which his son William now lives. Campbell and Cochran both got married about the same time, and lived together in a small double log house about the size of a pig pen. Bears gave them much annoyance. At one time the family heard a hog squealing, and running to it, found a bear eating it alive. Salt cost $10 per barrel, and it was poor salt, too. An old Irishman named James BOYD made a business of packing salt, groceries and iron from the eastern part of the State for the settlers. Coffee was then 75 cents a pound, and was used sparingly. John CAMPBELL died in 1853, in his eighty-sixth year. His children were Jane (BLAIR), Margaret (SLOAN), John S., Thomas, Mary (MCCLANNAHAN), William, James S., Robert C. and Thomas. Mrs. BLAIR, William, R. C. and Thomas are living. "Aunt Jenny BLAIR," as she is familiarly called, was born in 1802. Robert BLAIR, her husband, was killed in 1864, by being thrown from a buggy.

After nearly all of the tracts of land in this neighborhood which were considered desirable for settle- [p.452] ment had been occupied, a number who came here to look for homes settled at Shippensville, east of Emlenton, where a new colony was starting.

The low ground of this township was generally covered with a heavy growth of timber. On the hills, forest fires raged nearly every year, destroying the trees. In after years, these hills became covered with a thick growth of saplings, and these, along with the fallen timber upon the ground, rendered such spots almost impenetrable.

Chimneys were constructed of sticks and mud. Floors were made of split timber. Chairs and tables were of the simplest pattern, rude and inconvenient. Troughs were made for holding soap, meat, etc., as well as for baby-cradles.

All garments worn by the early settlers were of home manufacture. Nearly every farmer raised flax, which was converted into cloth for summer wear, or, united with wool, was made into winter garments. At the "frolics" for flax-breaking and "scutching" (i.e., dressing the flax to prepare it for spinning), the young people from far and near often gathered and passed the time in pleasantry and hard work. Frolics were also made for raisings, for clearing, cutting and hauling logs, and in fact for almost every species of work. A man who needed his neighbors' help upon any job was never refused aid.

Thomas STALKER, a native of Chester County, settled in Venango County in 1810. He came over the mountains with a cart and two horses. In 1812, he moved to the farm in this county on which his son James now lives. At that date the farms in this township were few and the improvements small. Mr. STALKER was the first blacksmith in this township, and worked at his trade until about 1824. His son Samuel, who is now among the oldest residents, was three years of age when he came to this county. Thomas and Rachel (PATTEN) STALKER had a family of eleven children, ten of whom reached years of maturity. Their names were as follows: Mary, John, Samuel (living), Rebecca (EAKIN), Rachel (MCALLISTER, living), James (living), William, Sarah, Margaret (RAY, living),[sic] Thomas and Cyrus.

The Indians and squaws of old Cornplanters settlements often visited the pioneers, carrying trinkets, baskets, etc., to sell. They could speak little English, but their behavior was civil.

Samuel THOMPSON lived a year on the farm now owned by Joseph SLOAN. He then induced John SULINGER to occupy it and keep possession. Robert WILSON settled upon this farm. John JAMISON was brought up in his family from boyhood. A man named COURTNEY located on the farm now belonging to William CAMPBELL. John JOLLY first made a shanty there, then the settlers wished him to oust Courtney, but he did not interfere. John WILLIAMS, who sold to CAMPBELL, was the next occupant of the farm.

Robert LEASON, from Westmoreland County, was an early settler in the northeastern part of the township. Some of his children still reside here. His son Samuel (deceased) was a former County Commissioner.

In 1812, Levi WILLIAMS, from Northumberland County, moved to the adjacent neighborhood in Venango County. He was an 1812 soldier. He died in 1868. His children, John, Tamar (SCOTT), David, Rev. Samuel WILLIAMS (of Muddy Creek Church), Simeon, Eli and Mary A. (JACK), are living; Benjamin, Levi and Catherine (CHRISTY), deceased. John WILLIAMS resides in this township, within two miles of his birthplace. He settled here in 1844, and began in the woods in a log cabin.

John JAMISON was a soldier of 1812. He came from Huntingdon County, and in 1818 settled on the farm now occupied by his son William. He brought out his goods with a four-horse wagon. Mr. JAMISON died in 1869, aged eighty-three. John and Mary JAMISON had nine children, who reached mature years, viz.: John, Susannah (MILFORD), Henry, George, Robert, Elizabeth (HILLIARD), Franklin, William and Alexander. John died in the late war. The others are all living but Alexander. The Jamison farm was first settled by William PARKER, and afterward occupied by Samuel and William STEWART, from whom Mr. JAMISON purchased it.

Robert BLAIR settled in 1823. His brother James came a little later. W. N. STALKER, son of Samuel, settled on the James BLAIR farm in 1868. He carries on farming and blacksmithing.

Robert MARTIN emigrated from Ireland, and settled in this township in 1844. He died in 1874. Of his family, only William and Christopher are living. The family consisted of six sons and one daughter. James, Robert, Elizabeth, Hugh and John are all buried in the United Presbyterian Cemetery. William, John and Robert were in the army. Robert's death resulted from disease contracted in the service.

Joseph EAKIN, born and reared in the adjoining township, in Venango County, settled on his present farm in 1857. Thomas A. EAKIN, from Venango County, settled on the farm he now occupies. This farm was settled by Guy HILLIARD, who planted an orchard and made some improvements at an early day. Mr. EAKIN came from Ireland, in 1837, with his father and his family. Joseph KERR came from Eastern Pennsylvania, about 1800, and resided in this county until his death in 1843. The whole family were Presbyterians. His son, Thomas B., born in Allegheny Township in 1804, [p.453] settled near Farmington in 1830. He married Tamar Williams, a daughter of Levi and Mary WILLIAMS, and a sister of Rev. Samuel WILLIAMS, of Brady Township. T. B. KERR bought fifty acres of land at $3 per acre. After his death, it came into the possession of his only child, Levi T. KERR, its present owner. Levi has added fifty acres to the farm, paying for his purchase about $24 per acre. The whole farm is now worth at least $50 per acre. The wife of L. T. KERR is the daughter of Thomas and Mary WILLIAMS. Her father settled in this county in 1827. Her mother was born here. Mr. KERR has been proprietor of the Kerr House, Farmington, since 1878.

J. W. JOHNSTON settled on his present farm in 1866. He is a son of John JOHNSTON, who was an early settler near Harrisville.

The farmers of this township are generally men of thrift and industry. Buildings, farms and orchards everywhere bear evidence that agriculture is a good business here, managed by men who understand it thoroughly.


1840, John ALLEN; 1840, John D. CUNNINGHAM; 1845, John ALLEN; 1850, John CUNNINGHAM; 1850, John ALLEN; 1854, John MURRIN; 1855, Robert BOVARD; 1859, John MURRIN; 1860, Robert BOVARD; 1864, John MURRIN; 1865, Robert BOVARD; 1866, James STALKER; 1870, Robert BOVARD; 1871, James STALKER; 1875, Robert BOVARD; 1876, James STALKER; 1880, A. C. WILSON; 1881, W. H. H. CAMPBELL. Justices prior to 1840 are given in the general history.


The first schoolhouse remembered by old residents of this township, stood near the spot where the Seceder and U. P. Churches now are. The first teacher in that house was Robert CUNNINGHAM, who taught about 1802. He was an Irishman, as were the early teachers generally, a fine scholar, and very strict in discipline. When "barred out" in accordance with the usual practice on the morning after Christmas, he would fortify himself with whiskey, go to the schoolhouse and climb upon the roof, then threaten to come down the chimney. The boys generally built a great fire, and so prevented entrance by this means. Cunningham taught several terms. The next teacher was Robert DONALDSON--generally called "Erie Bob DONALDSON"--who put on a great many airs, and was consequently unpopular. He was very strict, and feruled his pupils, whether their age was ten or twenty-one, if the made blots in their copy books. The old schoolhouse was for some years the only one in the neighborhood, and parents procured their children's board near by, when their homes were too far away, that they might receive the benefit of the school. The house was a small building, and had a puncheon floor, and greased paper for windows. It was generally crowded with pupils. About 1810, school was taught in a small log building which stood on the TANNEHILL farm. Mr. Joseph SLOAN attended that school, with a leaf containing the alphabet pasted on a shingle for his book. John COCHRAN was the teacher. Master STEWART and an Irishman named WELSH, who talked with so much brogue that he could scarcely be understood, were also among the early teachers.

The pioneer schoolhouses are a thing of the past, and nobody regrets the fact, however pleasant may appear the reminiscence of them. Venango Township now contains seven good brick schoolhouses, and generally has profitable schools. A seventh district, at Farmington, has recently been formed.


This village was laid out on the farm of John ROSENBERRY, in the fall of 1848, by John BLACK, surveyor. The same fall, there was a sale of lots, at which thirteen were disposed of. In the summer of 1849, Thomas Chambers built the first house, William H. TEBAY being the carpenter. In 1850, Mr. TEBAY erected a house for himself, and the following year the Methodist Church was built. These were the first buildings in the place.

William H. TEBAY was the first resident of the town. He moved into the house built for CHAMBERS, in November, 1849. In 1851, James MILLER and Thomas COCHRAN opened a small store. The mercantile changes have been numerous. HAMILTON & MCCONNELL, A. Q. REYNOLDS, R. WILSON, and BOVARD & SLOAN have carried on the mercantile business previous to this time. The present merchants are KERR & COCHRAN and D. J. SLOAN.

The post office was first established at Bovard's Corners, a mile west of Farmington, in 1845. Robert BOVARD was postmaster and kept store. On petition of the citizens, the office was afterward moved to the village and its name changed to Eau Claire.

Samuel MEALS was the first blacksmith, and Dr. RHODES, the first physician. The first hotel was kept by Nelson MCALLISTER. It is now the Kerr House and Mr. L. T. KERR has been landlord since 1878.

The various industries of Farmington are as follows: One hotel, two stores, one blacksmith shop, one wagon shop, one harness shop, one buggy maker, one milliner, one shoe-maker, two physicians and one stock dealer.


There had been an organization of Methodists in this neighborhood some years prior to building a church. The class was formed by Rev. COXSWAIN, and [p.454] met at the Blair Schoolhouse. Lewis CHAMBERS was the first class leader, and he was largely instrumental in getting a church built. The first house of worship was erected in 1851, during the pastorate of Rev. Edwin HULL. It was of poor material, and in 1872 it was taken down and the present building erected. The church is 35x50 feet, with a good basement. Its cost is estimated at $4,000. Rev. James GROVES was pastor at the time it was built. The society is small but earnest, numbering some thirty members.


The United Presbyterian Congregation of East Unity was organized in 1880, with James POLLOCK and Reuben IRWIN as Ruling Elders. Among the first members were Robert LEASON, Samuel SLOAN, James SCOTT, Robert CRAWFORD, Mathew RIDDLE and others, whose descendants still live in the neighborhood.

The first house of worship was erected in 1800. It was of unhewn logs, without floor, with logs for seats, and without fire-place. Some of the good people in those primitive days thought it would be wrong to have fire in the church. A second building, also of logs, but somewhat more pretentious, was erected in 1820. During many years, both before and after this time, the congregation worshipped under a large tent in fair weather, using the building only when the weather was cold and stormy. About the year 1837, a substantial brick house was erected, which again in 1868, was superseded by another of the same material, but larger and more commodious. This building was destroyed by fire in May, 1875, and during the same summer, replaced by the present structure, also of brick.

The first pastor of the congregation was the Rev. Thomas MCCLINTOCK, who was installed May 8, A. D. 1803, and remained in charge until the time of his death, March 10, 1832. After him Rev. William C. POLLOCK took charge of the congregation, May, 1835, and was released May, 1852. Rev. W. A. BLACK was pastor from August, 1854, until May 1858. Rev. David FORSYTHE was ordained and installed November, 1860, and released in October 1867. Rev J. C. MCELREE was ordained and placed in charge of the congregation May 5, 1869, and has been pastor up to the present time. The present pastor is a grandson of Rev. MCCLINTOCK, the first pastor of the congregation.

In 1853, a United Presbyterian congregation was organized at Clintonville, Venango County, composed largely of members from this congregation. Although the congregation has seen troublous times, yet for years past, it has enjoyed peace and prosperity. It has a present membership of 150 and a Sabbath school enrollment of about 200 scholars.*
*Contributed by Lev. J. C. MCELREE


The Scrub Grass Church, now the East Unity Union Presbyterian Church, was at first united with the Harmony Church near Harrisville, under one pastor. Rev. Thomas MCCLINTOCK, the first pastor, was an Associate Presbyterian.

When the union of the Associate and the Associate Reformed Churches took place in 1858, a portioin of the East Unity congregation refused to enter the new organization, and since that time has been a district body. They now number about seventy-five, and occupy a new church building. Their pastors have been Revs. BLACK, SNODGRASS, RAMSEY and MCNEAL, the present pastor.

[End of Chapter 51--Venango Township: History of Butler County, Pennsylvania. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Waterman, Watkins, & Co., Chicago, 1883.]

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Edited 09 Nov 1999, 11:37