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Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Lyman Robinson Letter to PA Historical Society circa 1845

Contributed by Susan Smith

Frequent contributor Susan Smith has sent the following:

The letter is included below. Any comments or questions concerning this information should be sent directly to Susan Smith.

Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Published 1850 M'Carty and Davis, Pennsylvania
Original from the University of Virginia Digitized Aug 23, 2007



 GENTLEMEN,—Your circular reached me about ten days ago, and I have improved all the spare time I had since then to obtain the information you desire. Having lived forty-three years in this county, and kept a public house the last twenty-two years in this place, which enables me to be tolerably well acquainted with the inhabitants of the county in its early settlement, as well as at the present time, I will endeavour to answer a part of your inquiries, in as condensed a manner as possible.


 This place is situated at what has been commonly called the Forks of French Creek, a place where the east and west branch of French Creek unite, two and a half miles west of the southwest corner of the state of New York, and on the north side of the triangle line. The union of these two streams forms a flat, which contains about two thousand acres of fine alluvial land. That part occupied by this village lies between the forks of these two streams, and was settled by the French and Indians, as early as 1750, and was surveyed in the tenth donation district, by David Watts, in 1785. David Watts and William Miles afterwards settled this tract under the Act of Assembly of 1792, and in 1822 William Miles laid a village on this spot, and named it Wattsburg, in honour of David Watts, who was his brother-in-law. In 1833 it was incorporated, for the convenience of the inhabitants, on account of the location's being at the south margin of Venango Township. The name of this stream was originally called by the Indians Venango, which in their language means, "crooked." This is a matter of tradition, as handed down by some of the few Indians living here when the white settlement commenced, and this accounts for the name of Venango's so often being used in this part of Pennsylvania, as Venango Township, in this county, Venango in Crawford County, and Venango County, at the mouth of this stream. This county was settled first by two classes of people. One class came on with Judah Colt, the agent of the Pennsylvania Population Land Company in the year 1797, and were mostly from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. The inducement offered to these settlers by the Company were one hundred acres of land for $100, and one hundred more for settling the same. The other class were from the eastern part of Pennsylvania, and mostly of Irish descent. This latter class were induced to come on and settle under the act of 1792, through the influence of certain individuals, • who told them that the Company had forfeited all right to these lands, and they were now subject to settlement under the act above recited. This caused a great difference of feeling and opinion between the settlers under the Company and those who settled under the act of 1792, and caused what has commonly been called the Actual Settlement War. This difficulty was in a few years settled by a decision of the Supreme Court in favour of the Company's title. The actual settlers then settled with the Company, and bought their lands, or left the country. Among the first settlers of this county, were William Miles, Hon. John Vincent, Rufus S. Reed, Judah Colt, Elisha Marvin, Henry Loomis, Zalmon Tray [Tracy], John Carson, James Donaldson, Cyrus Robinson (father of the writer of this), Gen. John Phillips, Timothy Tuttle, Joseph Shattuck, and a family of Lowrys.


 I have collected all I could on this subject.

 A. There was erected on this site, in the year 1797, by William Miles, a large blockhouse, made of hewed pine logs, for the purpose of a storehouse to store provisions in that were boated up this stream from Pittsburg, for the use of the early settlers of this country, and was commonly called the Middle Storehouse. This building was used but a few years for that purpose, but was suffered to stand until the village began to settle. In 1826, Mr. Richard Seares, built a saw-mill near where this building stood, and in 1828, took it down and sawed the logs up for pine boards and posts, &c., some of which are still in existence.

 B. Not by any better authority than the United States Census.

 C, D. The character of this country, in 1797, was one entire wilderness. It is now about one half or more improved, and some parts of it is in a high state of cultivation.

 E. In the first settlement of this country some elk were to be found, they, however, soon disappeared. Deer, bears, wolves, wild turkeys, were very plenty; the bear and wolf, were very troublesome; at present but few of any of these animals are to be found, and none inhabit this region.

 F. Often, as per this letter. Not that I know of.


 G. There were a great quantity of Indian arrows found in ploughing this improvement, and stone axes, but from carelessness have not been preserved.

 H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, IV, V, VI. This information you will likely receive from Erie, the county seat of this county.


 There was a meeting-house built in this Venango Township, in 1802, by a few Presbyterians, of round logs, and in 1806 was rebuilt with hewed pine logs, and is now in good repair: this is called the Middlebrook Church, and some of the oldest settlers have very strong partialities in favour of this building, as their ancient place of worship. And so strong are their attachments to this place of worship, that they still keep up separate congregation, and have occasional preaching at this house, although almost all of them are much better accommodated at the Presbyterian house in this place. I called upon the clergyman of this place, Rev. L. Stright, who furnished me with the records of the church, from which I have made a condensed extract, from the commencement up to the present time. Although I condensed the latter part, the first part of the records from 1802, or rather the report of the committee, is adopted in full up to 1818; from that to the present time, I abridged the records, but they contain all that is of moment or interest to this Society.

Report of a Committee of the Session of Middlebrook Congregation, appointed by a resolution of that body passed on the 17th of January, 1833, to collect all the information which can be found either from documents or oral testimony, so as to give a concise history of the church of said congregation, from its foundation, together with all elections of elders, reception of members, dismissals, deaths, &c., and whatever else is proper to place on the sessional records; up to July, 1826.


 In the year 1798, settlements were made in this region. Many of the first settlers migrated from the eastern settlements of Pennsylvania, where they had enjoyed the light of the Gospel, and some were professors of religion of the Presbyterian order. The loss of Gospel ordinances, and sanctuary privileges, was felt as a great want, and inclined the people, at an early day, to associate for the purpose of obtaining preaching of Presbyterian ministers. Some subscriptions had been raised, and some preaching obtained from the Rev. Messrs. Satterfield, Keneday, Robert Patterson, McMillan, Woods, Wiley, Lee, Dodd, Wright, and others, when, in 1802*, the members were regularly formed into a church by the Rev. Elisha McCurdy, and organized by the election and ordination of James Hunter, John Phillips, and John Wilson, Ruling Elders. (The two latter were not then church members.) The church then consisted of the following members received by letter:— Adam Reed and Martha Reed wife, Nathaniel Wilson, Thomas Smith and Sarah Smith wife, James Hunter and Elizabeth Hunter wife, John B. Jones, old Mrs. Jones, Margaret Phillips, Nancy Allison, Thomas Miles, Joseph Berry, Abram Norcross, Daniel Wilson, William Allison, Jane Miles, Elizabeth Johnson.

 From the organization in 1802 to 1812, no stated preaching was enjoyed by the congregation. Their dependence for the word of life was on supplies. During this period Rev. Messrs. Woods, Redick, Eaton, Tait, Boyds, Wright, McDonald, and others, occasionally supplied the congregation. It was -a rule during this time, and indeed, until a settled ministry changed the mode of payment, to pay a minister four dollars for a Sabbath-day's preaching, and two dollars for a week-day's; which was punctually and promptly paid. The following members were received into the church from the year 1802 to 1812:—Eliza Reed, John Wilson, Joseph Megahan, Thomas Printis, Betsy Dickson, Hannah Wilson, John Carson and Rachel Carson wife (since dismissed by letter); Jane Megahan, William Dickson, John Phillips, Betsy Wilson.

 In the spring of 1812, the Rev. John McPhirren received a call for one third of his labours, preached about six months and withdrew. The following members were received from 1812 to 1818:—James Donaldson and Polly Donaldson wife, Thomas E. Reed and Lydia Reed wife, Mary Yost, Nancy McNair, Elizabeth Jones, Samuel Smith, Sarah Smith, John Smith, Eliza Smith, Jane Davidson.

 Up to September, 1823, fifteen members were added. In September, 1823, Rev. John Barrett came and continued to labour in the congregation for about fifteen months, and then left. In February, 1826, Rev. Absalom M'Cready, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Erie, came to Wattsburg, and in September, 1826, settled in this place as the pastor of the Middlebrook congregation. The church then consisted of forty members. June 16th, 1827, thirty members were admitted. In 1828, ten members were admitted. June 26th, 1831, to the end of the year, seventy-seven members were admitted. In 1832, twelve members were admitted. In 1833, eight members were admitted.

 1833. This year the congregation was divided, one congregation, called the Middlebrook Congregation, the other the Wattsburg Congregation, and Rev. Absalom M'Cready closed his labours, and accepted a call to Warren, Pennsylvania.

 In November, 1833, Alexander McCandless, a licentiate of the Washington Presbytery, commenced preaching at Wattsburg and Middlebrook. The Presbytery of Erie, in session at Northeast, 13th of November, 1833, recognised Wattsburg as a separate congregation, by a resolution of that body.

 April 1st, 1834, Rev. Alexander McCandless left. In 1835, twenty-four members were admitted. April lst 1836, Rev. J. B. Wilson commenced labours for one year; left, May 1st, 1837. In 1838, there were thirteen members admitted into the church. In 1839, eleven members were admitted. In September, 1838, Rev. Lawrence Stright commenced his labours in this church, and continues up to this time. The two churches have been much blessed by his labours from time to time, and large accessions have been made to the church under his labours; but owing to the fluctuating population of this country, I do not think that the church contains as many members at this time as at some former periods.

 The Methodist Episcopal Church have also a meetinghouse in this place, and quite a respectable Congregation supplied by itinerant preachers according to their church discipline, and in general are supplied with men of good talent, and zealous in the cause of religion.


 Gentlemen,—In answering this letter, I have been compelled to do it in rather too much haste for want of time to devote to the subject, and I have not answered all of the questions that I might have done, because, I supposed in all probability, some one at Erie would answer the other questions, as they had means of answering more correctly than I could without going there; but such facts as I have been able to collect, I have fully transmitted.

 Your obedient servant,


This is my note – Susan Smith

* This information was collected in 1833. All other accounts, including the records in the Presbyterian Historical Society, indicate that this was in the year 1801.

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