Erie County (PA) Genealogy
Early Cemetery History
Contributed by Richard Tefft
The Earliest Burials in Erie County
The first settler to be buried in Erie County was a man named Rutledge, who was supposedly the last white man killed by natives in the county. It seems that a man with such a distinction would have had his first name remembered, but it does not appear to be so.
He was killed and his son found scalped and shot, but still alive, in June of 1795. His son did not survive long and apparently was not able to tell who his assailant was. There were rumors that white men had actually done the deed because of the provisions of the settlement act of 1792.
That act gave land warrants to settlers with the proviso that they actually improve the tract and build houses and settle there within five years. However, the law stipulated that if the area was unfit for settling because of problems with enemies of the government or Indians, the settlers would fulfill their obligations without actually settling there. So it was felt that there was strong incentive to make it appear that Indians were making it unsafe to settle in Erie County.
Mr. Rutledge was buried where his body was found, which was in the vicinity of some rising grounds opposite the junction of State and Turnpike Streets. For many years afterwards the spot of this grave was known and people were superstitious of being nearby, but its exact location was forgotten long ago. His son was taken to Fort LeBoeuf where he died, and he was buried just outside the fort.
The next burial was that of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne on which was known back then as Garrison Hill. Wayne was traveling back from the Indian wars in the west via Lake Erie, when his gout flared up in December 1796. They stopped at Erie for treatment, but there was no doctor to be had. They sent to Pittsburgh for a doctor, but by the time he arrived, the General was dead. He died on December 15, 1796 and had requested he be buried at the foot of the flagstaff at the army garrison. A single stone with the initials "A.W." with a railing around it marked the spot.
In 1809, Waynes son, Isaac, came to Erie and removed his fathers remains for burial at Radnor Churchyard in Chester County, some 14 miles west of Philadelphia.
The next burial was that of Col. Seth Reed who died Mach 19, 1797. Reed was the head of the first white family to settle in the county which was in 1795. He was buried on his farm near Walnut Creek.
In those early days of Erie County, burials were usually at the homestead and were not marked with engraved stones as there were no stone cutters in the area. Many of the older cemeteries have plain stones marking graves, and exact dates can not be determined.
The oldest marked grave in Erie County appears to be that of John Wilson in Union Township. John came to the area in 1798 with his son Hugh. There is a stone that reads "John Wilson Died 7 day June 1799" and a newer memorial which is bolted to it that reads "John Wilson Born in Ireland came to America 1798 died June 7, 1799".
The second oldest marked grave in the county appears to be in Shadduck Burial Ground in Greenfield Township. There was found a stone for Phebe Davison Scott, wife of William Scott, who died August 1800 at the age of 30. William appears to be the first death in Venango Township where he died in 1806 from an accident while raising the barn of Thomas Davidson.
In 1801, the Presbyterians in Greenfield got together and cleared a piece of land, erected a log cabin and started the first church in Erie County. This was called the Middlebrook Church. Behind the church they started a burial ground which has been recognized as the first organized cemetery in the county. The actual location of the cemetery is in Venango Township. The church and graveyard were not in use more than fifty years and have long been abandoned. Today we know of approximately twenty five burials there.
The leaders of that church started a church in North East also in 1801. At that time North East was known as Lower Greenfield. They cleared land and built a church in 1802 and started a burial ground there that is today known as the North East Cemetery.
The site Erie first adopted for its first burial site was (where the first French soldiers had burials) on a bank overlooking the lake at the foot of Parade Street. It was used until 1805, when Erie set aside three lots at the southeast corner of French & 8th Streets for burials. This cemetery was turned over to the United Presbyterian Church in 1827 and was used by them until about 1851. Burials at both of these sites were long ago moved to Erie Cemetery.
[Ed. Note: See also Barb Seyler's cemetery history extract More Early Cemetery History, and other cemetery history as contained in the various chapters of the Bates on-line History of Erie County elsewhere on this web site. Please direct any comments on this article to Dick Tefft.]
[Note also: This article was rewritted in October 2001 with update posted in Feb 2002. Page was previously updated in August 2001.]
This page was last updated on Thursday, February 28, 2002 .
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