Erie County (PA) Genealogy

A Window Opens to Erie's Past

"Judah Colt Daybook, Greenfield, 1798-1799"

Contributed by Beth Simmons by way of Larry Sugden


In April 2001, a page was posted to the Census section of the Erie County (PA) Genealogy web site titled Names in the Judah Colt Daybook. This list was extracted from an article, "A Window Opens to Erie’s Past" by Beth Simmons. The actual article is now being posted.

Copyright - Beth Simmons 1994  (Reprinted here by permission of the author)

Published in the Journal of Erie Studies, Spring 1997, Vol. 26, #1, p. 5-23

     What was life like in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1799, just five years after the state legislature edicted that the city of Erie should exist? Who was here? How did they live? What was their quality of life? Where were the avenues of commerce? Who were the businessmen? What was the cost of living?

     All of the answers to these and many more questions can be found first hand by examining the "Judah Colt Daybook:1798-1799" which recently surfaced after nearly 200 years. In excellent condition, this leather bound handwritten ledger is the original and only daily log book of the Pennsylvania Population Company's store in Erie and Greenfield from the year December 1798 to December 31, 1799.

     Sometime during the 1800’s, the daybook found its way from Colt's Station to the North East Township offices where it had been stored with the original township tax and road books. During remodeling of the township offices in the 1930's, township engineer James Hill took the books home for safekeeping. In the 1980's after Mr. Hill's death, the books were given to Perry Bennett, one of Mr. Hill's former employees. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett re-"Presented the books to the Borough and People of North East, Pa" on April 1, 1986. Since that time, the daybook has been stored in the McCord Memorial Library in North East, under the guise of now retired librarian Ruthanna Walters who brought the book to this author's attention, just in time for the Bicentennial of Greenfield Township.

      In this preliminary report of the "Judah Colt Daybook" page numbers after a fact or quote refer to the page in the book where the entry occurs. Names in single quotation marks (`') signify the spelling used in the daybook. Reference numbers after sentences correspond to citations listed at the end of this article.

      Bearing the neat handwriting of Enoch (`Eno') Marvin, Colt's main bookkeeper (p. 209), and the chicken scratchings of Judah Colt himself (See Fig. 1), the daybook illustrates that Marvin maintained the store in Erie from December 1798 until June 1799 when Colt arrived on June 20. At that time the merchandise mart was moved to its summer quarters in `Greenfield' (p. 70), Colt's Pennsylvania Population Company community development in the wilderness of eastern Erie County centered on the ghostly intersection now known as Colt's Station.  The "Judah Colt Daybook:1798-1799" retains its original label from "Valentine Nutter, Bookseller and Stationer, who "binds and sells all kinds of Merchants' account books; and setts of books for Merchants, agreeable to their own plan, at the shortest notice, and on the most reasonable terms, at No. 114, Water-street, near the Old Coffee-House, where may be had a great variety of school books, divinity, history, physic, law, novels, etc., etc."

      Judah Colt purchased his first piece of Erie property in 1795 from Thomas Rees. In 1796, Colt was named Rees' replacement as Erie Triangle land agent for the Pennsylvania Population Company and with the help of his two brothers-in-law, Enoch and Elisha Marvin (p.84), began peddling Erie County real estate to adventurous families from the east. By that time, Thomas Rees, surveying crews, and the soldiers from the garrison in Erie had located, surveyed, named, and mapped important sites in the `Triangle' (See Map of Eastern Erie County-1799).

     Erie's dock on the lake, often called `Presq Isle' by Colt and Marvin, was within the Bay of Presque Isle. The Pennsylvania Population Company's main dock was located at the mouth of Four-Mile Creek, called `the lake' in the daybook. At this ample harbor (in what was correctly called `Harbor Creek' by the state map maker in 1803) Pennsylvania Population Company employees Eliphalet Beebe and Thomas Rees supervised the building and management of the Sloop Washington, the company's 35-ton merchant vessel. During 1799, the Sloop sailed the eastern end of Lake Erie moving merchandise and settlers between New York State and Canada and Erie County, Pennsylvania. The other dock maintained by the company was at the mouth of Sixteen-Mile Creek, now called Freeport. During 1799, `the Lower Station'(p. 167) bustled with teamsters and their oxen laden with barrels and boxes of cargo for the `hawl' up over the glacial moraines and escarpment to the clearing at picturesque `Greenfield' (also called `the Station')

      Greenfield was the most northern port on the Allegheny River/French Creek water route from `Pittsbg' (p. 79) to `Conewango' (p. 13)(now called Franklin), `Cussewago' or `Meadville', and `LeBouef' or `King's' (p. 107)(now Waterford). In Crawford County `Shenango' and `Coniate' (p. 209) had been connected to the waterway by roads which had been cut in 1799 (p. 216). Other distant locales mentioned in the daybook include `Cataraugus' (now Buffalo, New York)(p. 85), `Fort Erie' (p. 71) and `Queenston' (p. 64)(both in Ontario), `Philada (p, 84)(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and `Geneva' and `Canadaigua', New York, Colt's home territory.

      The "Judah Colt Daybook 1798-1799" records the financial transactions of the Pennsylvania Population Company's store and the land business between December 1, 1798 and December 31, 1799. Entries include assigned account numbers, names of the account bearers, and all money, goods, or cash that changed hands. A lengthy list of accounts forwarded precedes the daily records listing all persons who owed the company money or who carried personal loans from Colt before December 1798.

      Every detail of bookkeeping was tended to by Enoch Marvin or Judah Colt including changing pounds sterling into dollars and cents (p. 78). On June 20, 1799, Colt used the conversion rate of $2.77 making the American dollar worth about 36 English pence (p. 76). Conversion was necessary on luxuries imported from the Orient like rice, Hyson and Bohea tea, and coffee.

      Reading like a "Who's who in the Erie Triangle -1799" the book contains almost 250 names (See List of Judah Colt Daybook:1798-1799 names). In addition to the company men, local settlers, nearby businessmen, settlers in Meadville, and Colt's associates in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York, Fort Erie, Queenston, and western New York are listed.

      Of the names, all but three are male. The cobbler made shoes for a Betsey Sloane (p. 171). The name Cellip Wilson appears on page 188. Was Cellip the matriarch of the Wilson family who gave their name to the present Wilson's Mill Road, the main road through the modern village of Little Hope? M. Lowry, the mother of the infamous Lowry clan which gave the Pennsylvania Population Company great headaches during the land wars, appears on page 179. Other women were present in the community; cash was paid to John Price's wife on March 14, 1799 (p. 35) and `Mrs. Marvin' used 4 pounds of bacon and 2 pounds of dried beef on June 6th, 1799 (p. 66). An entry on page 80 in which Colt reimbursed Eliphalet Beebe for expenses incurred indicates that a slave had changed hands for the amount of 8 pounds Sterling on the 7th of November in 1798, the day Judah and his wife left via horseback for Pittsburgh.

      The "Judah Colt Daybook- 1798-1799" tells who was doing what on any given day during that year in Greenfield, Pennsylvania. Youthful Daniel Dobbins piloted flat boats back and forth to `Pittsburgh' (p. 83), on one shipment delivering the glass for the windows of the buildings of Colt's Station with no apparent breakage! (p. 77). In October Seth Reed bought a barrel of pork (223 lbs at 15 cents per pound) as did Capt. William Lee (p. 187). The Reeds of Erie (p. 167), James Talmage (p. 102), Capt. Cornelius Lyman (p. 142) and Col. James O'Hara (p. 73) all conducted business with the store. Thomas Rees' assistant surveyor of 1799, Ennion Williams, worked for the Pennsylvania Population Company late in the year (p. 169) and promptly spent his earnings in the housewares department at the store (p. 182).

      The list of settlers proves in many cases that the men had come to Erie County before the dates that had been reported in their biographies (e.g. Tristram Brown and John Muirhead, probably an early spelling for John Moorhead). Others like Daniel Dobbins, Timothy Tuttle, and Eliphalet Beebe went on to be vital characters in the scenario of Perry's shipbuilding and the development of the city of Erie. The majority of the men listed in the book settled securely around Colt's Station, in what was called Greenfield township - now North East, Greenfield, Venango, Harbor Creek, and Greene townships. They raised their families and developed the communities that exist today in eastern Erie County.

      The daybook shows that confusion existed even amongst the small group living in Greenfield and Erie. There were two men named Thomas Rees, the older (`Thomas Rees, Esq') being the famous surveyor, Justice of the Peace, and founder of Harbor Creek township. The younger Thomas Rees was the husband of Mary (Polly) Reed, daughter of Col. Seth Reed, apparently no relation to Thomas Rees, Esq. As was the custom of the day the younger of the two was given the suffix, `Jr.'. Apparently during the year, Thomas Rees, Jr. was erroneously charged the price of a bushel of oats. On December 13, 1799, Judah Colt corrected that error and charged the dollar debt to Thomas Rees, Esq. (p.188).

      The sequence of Colt's settlement in Greenfield Township began in 1797 when the portage from Sixteen-Mile Creek south to the proposed development at Greenfield was opened. Other roads cut during the summer of 1799 from Colt's Station went to `the mill' (p. 94), to `LeBeouf' over a causeway across French Creek built by Samuel Barker (p. 106), and to `Lucius Kibbee's' (p. 190)(Map). The construction of the road to `LeBeouf' had been dated as 1804-1806; the Daybook indicates otherwise (p. 106).

      The second stage of settlement was setting up a sawmill. In 1798 Pennsylvania Population Company's millwrights Henry Wyles and Leverett Bissell chose to use the water power of the wide West Branch of French Creek at `Greenfield' (now called Little Hope), just one mile south of the `Station'. Bissell had settled on 400 acres of property given to him by the government for time served in the Revolutionary War.

      By the end of 1799 he and Wyles had cut the timber and lumber for at least three large barns, a school house (p. 190), a kitchen (p. 86), and Colt's large clapboard house (p. 194), plus the materials for two other mills. One of the barns built for Lucius Kibbee was almost square (40 X 50') (p. 195); one had 1/2" and 2" planks for floors (p. 194). Sixteen thousand shingles and seven thousand pine shingles, rolled roofing, window glass, and kegs of ten-penny nails were all brought north from Pittsburgh by Daniel Dobbins (p. 114) in a `hawlage' that makes modern trucking firms look like mere beginners.

      The school house was mentioned in an entry for building expenses of 2 pounds of 10-penny nails and a quart of whiskey being sent "to the school house". (p. 190) Miller states that "in the year 1798 the first building used exclusively for school purposes, built in Erie county...was erected on the main or Buffalo road about two miles west of the present borough" of North East. A school site appears on the Atlas of Erie in 1865 just north of Colt's Station, between Widow Lewis's (Colt's old house) and Lewis' and William E. Marvin's houses to the north. Whether Colt's carpenter was working on the school building near North East or the one just up the road from the `Station', we'll probably never know. We do know that he needed a warm winter nip!

     Colt's house, a colonial five bay two story center-fired clapboard stood on the northwest corner of the present intersection of Pennsylvania State Routes 430 (Station Road) and 89 (also called Station Road). It was built by master carpenters Joshua and Sampson Hamilton (p. 156), aided by James Henton, the main handyman of the settlement. Henton spent ten days laying the solid cherry floor in the house (p. 190/194). He also laid a floor in the `office', made a dining table for the kitchen, built a wheel barrow and an axle tree for a cart, spent seven days building two cart bodies and 2 1/2 days rimming the wheels for the carts and getting the timber for six pair of cart wheels (p. 190). Another handyman, Joel Andrews, made `20 lights of sash' for the kitchen in June (p. 87) and in October was paid for making another 72 window lights and setting the glass in the sashes for the house (p. 149). The building still stood into the twentieth century; a picture of the house was published in an newspaper article about ghosts and haunted houses in the 1930's.

      No community exists without crop production. Less than two years after the road to `Greenfield' was opened and settlers harvested wheat, oats, corn, buckwheat, and hay from company fields. Some wheat was reaped on August 5th (p. 112); Colt later sold 9 acres of standing wheat for $100 (p. 197). Hay had been `mowed' with grass scythes (p. 205) and `put in' by the 26th of July (p. 107). On July 20th, Aaron Eastman hoed the corn (p. 103) then on September 28th Azariah Wright and Sebra Daggett were paid for `cutting and setting up corn' (p. 144)

      Grain grown by the farmers or the garrison in Erie was sold by the bushel to the store (p. 141) then sent to the local grist mills for grinding. Early in 1799 Lucius Kibbee's mill was in operation; on December 2, 1799 he replaced the `gudgeon' on his mill wheel (p. 176). There must have been a grist mill near the garrison, plus Timothy Tuttle `and his men' built a saw and grist mill for Stetson Benson for the contracted sum of $750 and 6 gallons of whiskey (p. 179). Locally milled flour sold for 8 cents per pound (p. 171). Barrels of flour of a better grade were also imported from Canada and sold for 12 cents per pound (p.99).

      Apparently, Erie County residents have always been meat and potato eaters. The mainstays of the meat portion of the settlers' diet were salted beef and pork packed after the butchering of hogs and pigs raised in split-railed corrals (p. 140/92/203) or of cattle driven north from `Pittsburgh'. On one cattle drive eight critters went astray (p. 15) and Timothy Tuttle, Daniel Dobbins, and James Henton were sent to fetch the dogies home from `Conewango' about 50 miles to the south. The men must have anticipated getting as lost as the cattle because a 50 cent compass was entered as part of the expenses of the trip (p. 15).

     The Loomis boys (Loomis Street in North East) and Nathaniel Hopkins did all of the butchering (p. 14). Packed salted beef brought 9 cents per pound (p. 104); dried beef was priced at 18 cents per pound (p. 105). Fresh beef sold for 7 cents per pound; corned beef sold for 9 cents per pound (p. 128). After a slaughter, the tallow was barreled and sold by the pound for soap and candle making (p. 183). Village currier, Nathan Platt, tanned the `hydes' and sold them back to the company store for 4 cents per pound (p. 174). Then the cobbler, Joshua Hall, made the leather into shoes (p. 109), bridles, harnesses, and straps for pack saddles (p. 178). Salted pork and beef were imported from Fort Erie (p. 102) along with `gammon' and bacon (p. 96).

      Potatoes and peas were the main vegetables grown in the community. Silas Smith hoed the potatoes on October 26 (p. 161) with potato hooks fashioned by the village smithy (p. 27). Today, major potato growers who are descendants of Russell Page (List)(of Page Road) live near Colt's Station but in North East township and probably farm the same fields that Silas hoed in 1799! Dried peas sold for 3 1/2 cents per pound. The garrison must have had a bumper crop of turnips in 1798; in May of '99 Timothy Tuttle was credited with pulling 330 bushels of turnips `last fall'(p. 184).

      The other major harvest, maple sugar sap, remains important in Venango and Greenfield townships two hundred years later. On February 26, 1799, in preparation for the running of the sap, James Henton used Lucius Kibbee's team of oxen to `hawl' the sap trough (p. 32). In December of 1799 Colt imported 3 sugar kettles from `Pittsburgh' and paid William Hanna (of Hanna Hill Road in Venango township) the freight charges (p. 177). Maple sugar made from the sap sold for 25 cents per pound (p. 140).

      The dairy and creamery industries in Venango and Greenfield townships had their beginnings in `Greenfield' where someone was churning butter in 1799 and selling it for 25 cents per pound (p. 165). Bread made in the kitchen was sent out with pork to the workers on the road sites for lunch (p. 101); loaves sold for 8 cents per pound (p. 108).

      The `Station' was not heavily armed against wildlife or Indian intruders. Only one `rifle gun' was listed in the company inventory (p. 5); there was no mention of ammunition or lead shot for the gun in the book nor was the gun sold during 1799.  There is no mention of native furs and hides being traded except for the purchase of a bearskin for $1 to `wrap the damaged tea' (p. 117) Apparently a boatman had dumped his load in the turbulent French Creek (p. 118). Could this bearskin have been the `hyde' of the `Bruin' that Joseph Shadduck, Senior, supposedly shot when he found it eating his dinner? Did Joseph Shattuck use the company gun?

      Judah Colt did import one item which now grow wild on the northeast corner at Colt's Station. Today's Greenfield township residents take apples for granted! According to the freight bill, two barrels of apples and `cyder' were imported to the `Station' from Pittsburgh along with the sugar kettles (p. 177). One can only imagine that the `cyder' was quite hard by the time it arrived. Interestingly, Colt only sold one quart of the treasured liqueur (p. 174). Apparently Johnny `Appleseed' Cushman had only come as far north as Franklin. Erie's fruit industry had its start when the Ebersoles and Leets (who settled in North East township) brought pear and other grafted fruit trees with them early in the 1800's.

      The one import necessary for existence was salt. Salt sold for $10 per barrel, $4 per bushel, $1 per peck, 12 1/2 cents per quart or 6 cents per pint (p. 96). It was imported from Fort Erie and Queenston (p. 164) out of New York State. Only a few entries (p. 185/189) indicate that any quantity was moved through Erie (or the `Station') to points south. Whatever was shipped was carried by the Sloop Washington.

      Livestock was taxable inventory; in addition to the beef cattle, other livestock was counted in the company inventory. The oxen were the real workers of the settlement, `hawling' timber, lumber (p. 20), and logs, pulling `waggons' (p. 129) and ploughs in the summer and sleighs in the winter. The Pennsylvania Population Company was the first U-Haul in America, renting out their teams and drivers to move the settlers to their new property for $2.50 per day (p. 10). The heavy oxen work often broke the chains and `dogs' on the harness; they were mended with regularity at the smithy shop for 20 cents per crack (p. 21). If provisions were short or the oxen `fat' and lazy, they were butchered (p. 176). One ox drowned in French Creek, a treacherous stream with deep rip current holes, and was noted as a $50 loss (p. 19).

      The teamsters worked hard for their daily bread, literally (p. 50). The men and their oxen moved supplies everywhere- from the Sixteen-Mile Creek `Lower Station'  (p. 167) up over the hill to the `Upper Station', from the `Station' to `LeBouef' (p. 128) and for short `hawls' between the mill and the barns and the  `Station'.

      Only three horses were inventoried at the beginning of December 1798. One of them was `with the Indians at Cataraugus' (p. 6); Colt was paid $80 for it by Israel Chapin (p. 85), the U.S. Superintendent of Six-Nation Indian Affairs at Buffalo. The most valuable of the three horses ($120) died `in the woods' on October 1st; Colt noted `suppose by the flies' (p. 147) when searching his soul looking for the cause of death.

      On September 26, 1799, Judah Colt bought some pigeons (p. 141) and later some other fowl (p. 167). The record doesn't distinguish whether these birds were used for food, feathers for Colt's bed, eggs, or for flying shopping lists to the garrison in Erie or to Jabez, Colt's brother working to establish Meadville.

      The blacksmith shop manned by Cyrus Robinson (Robinson Street in North East) and Russell Page (Page Road, Wattsburg) (p. 192) was a busy place in the settlement, fixing everything from the bail of Tristram Brown's cook kettle and his andirons (p. 28) to melting scrap iron to repair the rudder on the Sloop (p. 24). Horses were shod for $1 per horse (p. 33) compared to $40 or more in 1997. `Plough shares' (p. 139) were `moulded' in the shop for the `ploughs' pulled by the oxen. Recycling was required; old ax halves (p. 173) and even old nails (p. 171) were saved and reforged into new iron hinges or wheel rims. New `barr iron' was purchased from Denny and Bulen, the distributors in Pittsburgh (p. 83), and brought up the river route to Erie or Greenfield by Daniel Dobbins (p. 83).

      The going wage for any labor was $1 per day. Judah (the scrooge of Colt's Station) watched every halfpence carefully, complete with watch to keep time (p. 162). Colt jotted in the book when an employee had not worked as hard as he expected. For example, Asa Hemingway `took a day to find himself' while helping with the chimney in October; his lack of labor was so noted and he was docked half a day's wages (p. 160).

      The hardest worker of the community had to be Timothy Newton, the mason. With his helpers, he laid up the chimneys for the kitchen (p. 86) and the house (p. 164), three barn foundations. He dug and laid up two wells (p. 111), one 9 1/2 feet deep (p. 175), plus set the foundations for the rest of the houses and mills.

      `Boatmen' worked the flat boats on French Creek or served time aboard the company ship. The Sloop made regular trips to Fort Erie from `the Lake' (p. 105); while in dock, the men cleared quite a bit of land at `the lake farm' around the `harbor' (p. 65) in Harbor Creek where the Lawrence Park Golf Course is today. A sawmill had been established there which served the ship and local building projects, such as Thomas Rees' house on the present Hannon Road in Harbor Creek township.

      Life in Greenfield was not all work and drudgery. Judah, Jabez, their men, and their ladies were provided with spirits, chocolate, and fine mustard (p. 76). Barrels of Port Wine, whiskey, Madiera wine, sherry, and brandy (p. 78) most amazingly made it to the `Station' where jobs were sometimes rated by the quart rather than the dollar.

      Laura Sanford reported that "The first Celebration of our National Independence [in Erie County] was held "near Colt's Station" in 1797. She quoted Judah Colt's diary: "Tuesday being the twenty-second anniversary of the Independence of America, at the expense of the Pennsylvania Population Company, we gave an entertainment to about seventy-five people, settles of the said company. A bower was erected under two large maple trees, and when the hearts of the people were cheered with good fare, sundry toasts were drunk suitable to the occasion".

      There is no mention made of holidays in the 1798-1799 daybook. Business was as usual on July 4, 1799 and on both of the Christmas Days recorded in the daybook. One man did buy a handkerchief on December 18 (p. 191); could it have been a gift for his beloved?

      Milady's kitchen was fully equipped with the newest in `Queenware' brand tinware and cast iron cook kettles and dutch ovens (pp. 141/146). The store sold a number of plates, cups, candle molds, and potty pans during the weeks preceding the Christmas of 1799 (p. 187), perhaps as utilitarian gifts for the pioneer ladies.

      Stationery supplies necessary to run the business were imported from Philadelphia. Most of the writing of the time was done by quill and ink, but Judah Colt did purchase `2 best pencils' for 25 cents each and an `elastic gum' for 50 cents with each shipment (p. 119). Stamps sold for 10 cents each (p. 119); the courier was paid a dollar to carry a letter to Erie or LeBouef.

      No community life is complete without taxes, legal hassles or death. The Pennsylvania Population Company paid over $1296 in taxes to the Commissioners of Allegheny County on the 27th of December, 1799 (p. 198). The Triangle was the northern most part of Allegheny County at that time and all legal matters were handled in `Pittsburgh'. Judah recorded every halfpence spent in the law suit against the Lowry's and other `advance settlers', including the boarding of the company man's horse (p. 140/179). The Pennsylvania Population Company did have to settle on the estate of a John Davis, who appears to have been a settler or landowner in the Meadville area (p. 216/211).

      The "Judah Colt Daybook - 1798-1799", a treasure to the historians of Erie County, exposes a high-tech society at Colt's Station in 1799, not the primitive log cabin wilderness society pictured for so many years in the Erie County history books. The men of the Pennsylvania Population Company were developers, not pioneer settlers. They used the finest equipment they could import, hired very talented hard workers, and quickly created an up-to-date environment in which to raise families.

      Because of the importance of this book to researchers who study the Pennsylvania Population Company, Judah Colt's life, and historians throughout Erie and Crawford Counties, it seemed paramount to open this window to the history of early Erie County, just in time for the Bicentennial of Greenfield in 1997.

     Further detailed research into the book will be forthcoming, including an audit and study of Colt's accounting methods, biographies of the men listed in the book, and a marketing study of the store, including its inventory and hottest sellers.

      Copies of the book are available at the Erie County Historical Society, the Wattsburg Historical Society, the Hornby School Museum, and the Harbor Creek Historical Society. The original book and now a Xeroxed copy belongs to the McCord Memorial Library in North East.

[The LIST follows at this point - the list may be viewed in the article Names in the Judah Colt Daybook.]

 REFERENCES CITED

Published in the Journal of Erie Studies, Spring 1997, Vol. 26, #1, p. 5-23

Copyright - Beth Simmons 1994  (Reprinted here by permission of the author)


This page was last updated on  Monday, January 14, 2002 .

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