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Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Family Histories

Thomas and Sarah Smith Family - Venango Twp.

Contributed by Susan Smith

The information below was written and submitted by Susan Smith. It is based on 20 plus years of research on the Thomas Smith family who settled in Venango Township in 1802. Thomas and his wife, Sarah, had 12 children with 9 of them remaining in the Erie area. Susan has related that she has come across at least 6 large SMITH families that were early settlers of Erie County. Since SMITH is not an easy name to search, Susan hopes that her contribution of detailed information about one of those families will help other SMITH researchers. This is the first part of what is expected to be a series of articles. Any comments or questions about the article or this family should be sent directly to Susan.


Family tradition says that Thomas Smith was born in Northern Ireland in 1754, of Scottish descent. Sarah Harvey was born about 1755. Thomas and his wife Sarah Harvey came to America on a sailing packet about 1782/83. They landed at the port of New York and made their way to Philadelphia. From there they traveled to Westmoreland County, in western Pennsylvania, just east of Pittsburgh. When they arrived in this country at the end of the Revolutionary War, Westmoreland Co. was still a frontier. This was the "over the mountain" area of Pennsylvania. The people there were harassed by Indians for another ten years. We can only imagine what it was like for them to travel there, establish a home and provide for a family.

Thomas is on the 1783 Westmoreland Co. Mount Pleasant township tax list having 3 sheep, 2 cattle, 2 horses and no land. In 1786 Thomas was listed again with only a tax amount given. Mount Pleasant was split in 1789 to form Unity township where Thomas and Sarah are listed on the first census of the United States in 1790 with three children, Samuel, John and Nancy. In the 1800 United States census Thomas and Sarah are listed again in Westmoreland Co. PA. They have 3 sons under 10 years, James 8, David 4 and Thomas about 2; 2 sons 10 to 16 years, Samuel 16 and John 14; 2 daughters under 10, Sarah 9 and Hannah 5; and 1 daughter 10 to 16 years, Nancy 12. They stayed in Westmoreland Co. until about 1802 when they moved to Erie Co., Pennsylvania.

The 1884 History of Erie County mentions Thomas Smith arriving in Erie Co. about 1796/97 and Thomas and his sons Samuel and John are listed on the 1800 tax list in Venango township. On the United States Census of 1800 Thomas Smith is listed in Westmoreland Co., Pa. The 1876 Historical Atlas of Erie County PA says Thomas and sons came in 1801-02 to Venango township in Erie Co. He and his sons probably went to Erie Co. before 1800, bought or claimed land, built a cabin and maybe even put in some crops, then returned to Westmoreland Co. for the rest of the family to make the trip north to a new home.

In Erie county, they settled in the eastern part of Venango township near the village of Lowville. They were about 13 miles from the town of Erie. In the 1909 History of Erie County, grandson Matthew Henry Smith's biography states, "Thomas Smith came to Lowville, in Venango township, Erie county, where he took up four hundred acres of the virgin forest land, and from out of this primeval wilderness in time evolved a beautiful and well-cultivated farm." The courthouse in Erie County burned in 1823, so obtaining copies of land records from the county's inception until then is impossible. After the fire, when land was sold the deed gave a recitation of the chain of ownership from the county's beginning up to the sale. In this way, early land purchases can be traced. In Lot 96 Thomas owned 200 acres purchased May 2, 1808. He sold the south 100 acres in this parcel to John in 1810. The north 100 acres, which was the homestead farm, went to Harvey and Mary after his death, according to his will dated October 16, 1808. From his portion, Harvey deeded 20 acres to his mother in exchange for the life estate stipulated in his father’s will. In 1826 Thomas purchased 100 acres of Lot 97 for $12.67 at a county tax auction. He sold this parcel to Robert in 1828. Samuel purchased 100 acres in Lot 60 of Venango township, Erie Co., for $100 in November 1808 from the Pennsylvania Population Company. The 400 acres Matthew Henry speaks of, is likely the 300 acres purchased by Thomas plus the 100 acres purchase by Samuel.

Erie Co. was first opened for settlement in 1794, but there were few people until after the War of 1812. By 1820, Venango township had a population of 420 people. Erie county was a dense forest at this time and the roads were only tracks through the woods. It is said "probably the Smith family have cleared more land than any other one family" in Venango township.

During the War of 1812, Oliver Perry of the US Navy built five ships on the lake shore at Erie to fight his famous Battle of Lake Erie. Every man and boy in the vicinity helped to build and guard the ships in the 70 days it took to construct them. These men were also in the local militia, called out for duty at various times during the war. One group spent the winter of 1812-13 at Sandusky, Ohio under Gen. Wm Harrison. Another time, there was a false report of the British coming to destroy the fleet being built. On December 30th 1813 word reached Erie that an army of British and Indians had landed at Black Rock, forced the army to retreat, burned the villages of Black Rock and Buffalo, captured and destroyed the government vessels and were on their way to Erie. A defensive force of 4,000 State militia was collected. Though the rumor proved false, a considerable body of troops was kept at Erie during that winter. The necessity of this call was much discussed at the time. Rufus Reed, of Erie, had a large quantity of flour on hand which he could not sell. It was generally believed that he represented their danger to Brigadier-General Mead, of Meadville, and that he called out the militia to eat up Reed's flour. Samuel, John, James and David were in the militia and likely participated in some of these events and Nancy's husband David McNair was with Gen. Harrison at Sandusky.

Between 1808 and 1812 the four oldest children were married and started families. Samuel had a farm about a mile to the south of the homestead farm. John was on a farm adjoining his parents. Nancy and her husband David McNair lived nearby, as did Sarah and her husband until about 1820 when they moved to Mill Creek township just outside of the village of Erie. In later years the area around Thomas' farm was known as the Smith neighborhood for the many family members living there.

After the War of 1812, the next sons and daughters married and left home. James, married in 1817, and David, married about 1820, had farms nearby. In 1825 James and David bought land in Mill Creek township and started a sawmill. They sold their farms in Venango, and moved their families to the property in Mill Creek Township. Hannah and her husband John Wilson lived in Greenfield township, just north of Venango township. Jane and her husband Mason Shepard, who were married in 1824, lived in Amity township south of Venango township. Son Thomas we do not know much about. He was listed on tax assessment rolls as a single man and laborer in Venango township in 1823-24 and in Mill Creek township in 1830-31. Sarah mentions him in her will dated September 22, 1836. After that nothing is known of him. Perhaps he went west as many other family members did. Robert married in 1831 and farmed about 200 acres in Venango township. He later lived in Mill Creek. Harvey married in 1833 and settled in Venango township. In 1837, Mary married Thomas Robison. They lived on the family homestead with Mary’s mother Sarah. After Sarah’s death in 1842 they continued living at the homestead farm.

In 1824, Gen. Lafayette of Revolutionary fame was making a tour of the United States and made a stop in Erie. David Smith was a member of a militia regiment from Erie that met his party five miles out and escorted them into town for a celebration and dinner. On a bridge over a ravine on main street, a table 170 feet long was set up, covered with an awning made from sails off the British ships captured by Perry. It was the grandest affair Erie had known up to that time.

Early on, the residents of the area had established the Middlebrook Presbyterian Church. By 1827 the county had grown sufficiently to support the services of a minister full time. The townships of Venango, Union and Waterford formed congregations and shared one minister. His support was paid mostly in barter rather than cash which was scarce. According to the church records, in 1828 Thomas Smith paid $5.00 for support of the minister. He received credit of $1.00 for 4 bushels of oats, $1.00 for 13 tubs of tallow, and $0.80 for 10 tubs of cheese. Samuel also paid $5.00 support, part in cash and part in days work drawing wood, one day equal to $1.50 and $1.75. John also paid part in cash and was credited $1.25 for a bushel of salt, $1.00 for 4 bushels of oats, and $1.50 for sugar. All of these were products of their farms.

When Thomas died in 1836, all of the children were living in Erie county, but this would soon change. The western parts of the country were opening up and many families would start moving westward. In the first half of 1836 the financial climate was very positive and there was a lot of speculation in land, canals and railroads. But after June 11th when the United States Bank failed, prices declined and a depression of many years followed. That August, James, with his family, and Nancy McNair Platt and her husband Samuel Platt left for Kane Co. Illinois. Sally McNair Rogers and her husband also left that year for Racine Wisconsin. In 1837 Thomas McNair and a "cousin," probably William Wilson, went to Kane Co. Illinois by land with wagons and teams. His brother Robert also went that year by the first boat to sail from Buffalo to Chicago. David and his family left in April of 1840 probably accompanied by Samuel's son John C Smith and his wife. This exodus of family would continue through the 1840's. Eight of the twelve McNair children went to Kane Co. IL. One, the Rogers family, went to Wisconsin. Samuel's sons John C and Thomas went Kane Co. and perhaps the other three sons also. Thomas moved to Nemaha Co. Kansas in 1857. Daughter Jane was in Kansas City, Missouri in Oct. 1858 and planned to go on to Kansas the following spring. Two of Hannah's sons went to Illinois. Three of Jane's children went to Iowa. After this second and third generation exodus, the next generations spread across the United States as the country expanded.

According to his will dated 1808, Thomas left half the farm to the youngest daughter Mary and half to the youngest son Harvey, provided he take care of his mother. If he did not, that half went to his mother until her death and she could dispose of it as she wanted. Sarah was named executrix in the will but declined in favor of Samuel. In the fall following Thomas' death there were several land transactions carrying out the provisions of the will. Harvey and Mary divided the farm, with Mary receiving the west 55 acres and Harvey the east 45 acres. Sarah released her life estate to Harvey - his obligation to care for her - in exchange for $1.00 and 20 acres of his share of the farm, with the family homestead on it. At the same time Robert, who had bought his brother James' property in Mill Creek when he left Erie, sold Harvey 100 acres of his land in Venango township. Sarah continued to live at the homestead with daughter Mary and her family until she died in 1842. She left a will dated September 22, 1836. Each of her children received a bible "the Scot's Family Bible, six volumes each." She gave the proceeds of a court judgment against a neighbor, James Phillips, half to Samuel and half to Jane. Nancy received her bed, bedding and chest, Sarah a cow, Mary a filly and Robert for his "care, obedience, fidelity and friendship, and service for many years" all the remainder of her personal estate.

Thomas died 14 Jan 1836 and Sarah died 27 Jan 1842. They are buried in Lowville Cemetery, Erie Co. PA,

Children of Thomas SMITH and Sarah HARVEY were:

+2 i. Samuel SMITH 1783-1858

+3 ii. John SMITH 1786-1877

+4 iii. Nancy SMITH 1788-1858

+5 iv. Sarah SMITH 1791-1842

+6 v. James SMITH 1792-1878

+7 vi. Hannah SMITH 1795-1869

+8 vii. David SMITH 1796-1884

9 viii. Thomas SMITH was born between 1797 and 1800 in Westmoreland Co., PA. He is listed on the tax rolls in Venango township. in 1823-25 as Thomas Jr. a single man and in Mill Creek township in 1830 and 1831. Sarah mentioned him in her will of 1838. He died prior to 1884.

+10 ix. Jane SMITH 1801-1886

+11 x. Mary SMITH 1806-1865

+12 xi. Robert SMITH abt. 1807-1875

+13 xii. Harvey SMITH 1808-1879


This page originally posted in April 2001 and updated 11/3/2001.

Last updated on  Tuesday, February 15, 2016 .

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