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General William McAlevy

 

Contributed by Velma Harrison

 


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Velma Elizabeth (Reed) Harrison, daughter of William Walter Reed and Agnes McDonnell, is the great-great-great-granddaughter of William McAlevy.  Pictured is the McAlevy's Fort Hill Cemetery, the final resting place of General McAlevy.

 

 

William McAlevey immigrated from Ireland about 1746. He was a Pennsylvania Pioneer, served in the Revolutionary War, and was very active in politics. The following is a copy (of another copy) of a Tyrone, Pennsylvania newspaper article:

 

History of General William McAlevy

 

The most prominent, unique and interesting character of the Juniata Valley frontier from 1768 until 1822 was General William McAlevy. He was a Scotch- Irish Presbyterian, of large robust physique, and with all the energy, enterprise and other sturdy qualities of his race; a pioneer on the outpost of civilization when there was no defense but that which his own strong arm provided an officer in the continental army whose field of duty was against Indians and Tories' an enemy of the constitution of the United States who forcibly attempted to prevent it from going into operation, and of commanding influence in politics and in the affairs of the province and of the state of Pennsylvania. He was of imposing and impressive presence, inspiring respect and, from his followers, obedience, and was of a most hospitable nature, his door being always open to those who needed or wished to enter. The fort built by him at the headwaters of a tributary of the Juniata, the site of which bears his name, was for the protection of all other pioneers and their families, as well as himself and his own.

 

General McAlevy was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1728, and came to this country while quite a young man, prior, it is believed, to the middle of that century. He found his way into the Cumberland Valley, which had become the home of so many of his faith and nativity and settled among them, between Carlisle and Harrisburg. While there he married and had a family, his wife being Margaret Harris, daughter of Robert and Mary Ann Harris, immigrants from County Donegal, Ireland. For some reason he did not make that his permanent location, but went to find a new home in the Indian country among the mountains, then an almost uninhabited country, except by the red men. When he concluded to face the privations and dangers of the northern part of what is now Huntingdon county he did not take his family with him but leaving them behind him, went to explore the country, examine it's advantages, and select a place for him and them to live, if the savages permitted. The only route of travel at that time from the Susquehanna to the destination he had selected was the old "Indian warpath", by way of Sherman valley, the Tuscarora mountain and valley, "the Shades of Death", now Shade Gap, the Aughwick and the Standing Stone, now Huntingdon. From thence his way up Standing Stone Creek through an almost trackless forest.

 

The "warpath" had been worn by the feet of the red warriors as they journeyed to and fro in pursuit of an enemy, or between their towns in the east and those on the Ohio River. It was a "hard road to travel", as is shown by the Rev. Philip Fithian, who in 1775, ten years after McAlevy traveled it, visited the scattered Presbyterian churches in central Pennsylvania, and on August 22 of that year wrote in his diary:

 

"Having adjusted matters I left town (Huntingdon) in company with Mr. Cluggage and rode down the river, a stony path through Jack's Narrows, where the high mountains on each side of the water came down it it's very banks, so that in places we were forced to go down to the water's edge. We crossed over the water. 'This is one end of Hell Valley' said Mr. Cluggage to me as we were jogging along in silence. 'About ten miles onward is a gap between the hills which is called the Shades of Death.' What! Are the shadows of death and hell here? Death and Hell so easily passed through! Vain man, how daring to make these tremendous subjects so common."

 

McAlevy passed through "death and hell" several times. On his first trip he must have had experiences like those of the Rev. Fithian. He traveled over the same ground, at least, and went on northward from Huntingdon, through Stone Creek Valley, the name being now abbreviated from Standing Stone. He found it to be a fertile, inviting, goodly country, promising abundant returns to the hand of cultivation and to develop into a thriving community. He decided to make his home there, and selected and secured his land. It was seventeen miles from Huntingdon by the present public highway.

 

The next thing was to bring his family and household. A wagon could not travel over the "stony path" through Jack's Narrows, nor over any other part of the "warpath". What kind of a conveyance was possible? McAlevy solved the problem easily. He cut down one of the immense pine trees that grew there, hollowed it out into a canoe and navigated it down Stone Creek, the Juniata River and the Susquehanna to Harrisburg. Like Alfarata's lover "Swiftly glides his light canoe down the rapid river"; but instead of "arrows quick and true in his painted quiver," he had his trusty rifle and a supply of powder and lead. He put into his frail craft his wife, children and other indispensables and navigated the same streams, in the opposite direction, to the wilderness infested by savages, where the rest of their lives was to be spent. It does not seem that in the Susquehanna and Juniata he had any other power than his own muscle to propel the canoe, but in Stone Creek he had a horse to pull it loose when it lodged on ledges and sandbars.

 

The first necessity that faced them on completing their journey was protection from neighbors who antedated them as residents--very unneighborly neighbors, the Indians--and this necessity was met by building a fort. It was placed on a little elevation a few hundred feet east of the creek. The present village of McAlevy's Fort stands between it's site and the stream. It was made of logs and was secure against any ordinary attack by the savages, and often saved the lives of those who had ventured into that exposed region.

 

In the midst of the dangers surrounding, McAlevy went to work to convert the wilderness into a fit place of habitation. For a few years there was nothing but Indian incursions to divert his attention from this, and it was not long until he had cleared a considerable part of his land of it's timber and was producing from it more than enough for the support of himself and his family. He was usually able to drive the Indians away or to kill or wound them without being injured himself, but once, catching him and a companion some distance from the fort, they shot him in the leg, but, being still able to run, he escaped without further injury. The other man was captured, killed and scalped.

 

The wife, who had left the comparative civilization of the Cumberland Valley, braved the perils of rivers and red men and had gone with him to the frontier wilds, did not survive to partake in his more active and noted career during and after the Revolutionary War. She died before the beginning of that struggle. McAlevy married again, his second wife being Mary Hays, who lived but a year afterward. During this time there was an alarm of an Indian attach which, it was feared, the fort could not resist and the settlers fled, the McAlevys with them, she (Mary) being taken across Stone Mountain, to the eastward on a "slidecar", a conveyance made of planks or logs, which was dragged over the ground and through the woods, roads on which wheeled vehicles could be used being still lacking. After her death McAlevy married a third wife, a widow, Margaret Allen.

 

Part Two

 

The daring frontiersman, as the dangers increased, became the commander of one of the companies of militia organized for defense and composed of men like himself, whose safety depended upon their vigilance, courage and fighting qualities. His company was stationed on the northern edge of the Juniata Valley, where he lived, and was of great service in preventing and repelling attacks.

 

It became especially useful and necessary, following the outbreak of war between the colonies and Great Britain. Before it was known by McAlevy and his men that independence had been declared they resolved that all allegiance to King George should be dissolved and that they were ready to risk their lives and fortunes in the cause.

The fact that action of this kind was taken by the company came to light on the 13th of July, 1876, a hundred years after the beginning of the revolution, when a letter was found in which it was stated by McAlevy himself. An old house at Second and Penn Streets, Huntingdon, was torn down in that year, and under a window sill, where probably it had reposed during the century, was the letter, which is as follows:

 

Barre Township, July 9, 1776

"Colonel Piper, Sir: I have the pleasure to acquaint you that on the eight of this instant at full meeting of my company that I made the resolve of the Congress of the fifteenth of May fully know to them--and they unanimously gave me their opinion that all power and authority derived from the Crown of Great Britian should be totally dissolved, and are fully resolved to risk all that is dear and valuable. I am, Sir, your Most Humble Servant."

William McAlevy

"Sir I would be glad to know how soon you could send Drum and Cullers."

 

(Editor's note: Col. Piper, mentioned in the above letter, was a great grandfather of Dr. R.L. Piper of Tyrone, PA.)

How the letter got there is unknown and is beyond conjecture. That we have it today is doubtless due to the fact that it rested securely in this hiding place. Had it not been thus concealed, it is not likely that it would have been preserved.

This letter shows that the spirit of liberty was abroad in the backwoods of Pennsylvania and that McAlevy gave his most ardent loyalty and support to the proposed separation from the mother country. It may be very positively supposed that, while the men of the company favored independence, it was through the influence of their captain that they put that sentiment into form. He had such control over them as to secure the action they took. He was brave, resolute and patriotic, just the kind of man who would turn his command from the defense of British authority to the overthrow of that authority when it became oppressive.

 

At the time the letter was written the present county of Huntingdon was part of Bedford county, and Colonel John Piper, to whom it was addressed, was commander of the militia of the county, and resided near Hopewell, at the mouth of Piper's Run. It states that the resolution of Congress, May 15th, was read to the company of the 8th of July, 1776, the day preceding the date of the letter. This resolution, after a preamble reciting some of the grievances of which the colonists complained, recommended their assemblies and conventions "to adopt such government as shall in the opinion of the representatives of the people best conduce to the safety and happiness of their constituents in particular and America in general." About the time that McAlevy was reading this resolution of his company the declaration of independence was being for the first time publicly read in Philadelphia, but the news of that event did not ascend the waters of the Standing Stone Creek until some days, or, perhaps, some weeks, afterward.

 

The war for independence brought new enemies to be contended with, in addition to the Indians. These were the Tories, or Royalists, in the Stone Creek Valley and in the adjoining valley of Shaner's Creek and in Canoe, Woodcock, Hare's and Aughwick Valleys, on the south side of the Juniata River. They joined with the Indians, directed their movements and carried on the intercourse between them and the British army. The Indians became still bolder and more dangerous with these allies to aid and encourage them.

 

In the spring of 1778, about 320 Tories, led by John Weston, who afterwards met a tragic death, collected at Huntingdon and drove a number of people from the town. They were too strong for McAlevy's forces to attack, although he had been made a colonel and given a larger command. He called for reinforcements and Colonels Buchanan's and Brown's battalions were ordered to the place, but before they reached it the Tories had dispersed and fled. McAlevy continued to oppose the Indians and Tories and to suppress their activities until the alliance was broken, following the death of Weston.

 

He was the leader of his political party in the county, the members of which placed implicit confidence in his judgment and counsel, most of them following him with great subserviency. After the war and after he had been made brigadier general, some of them, when asked how they were going to vote at an election, would say, "I don't know; I haven't seen the general yet."

 

He was a follower of Jefferson and became allied with the party that opposed the adoption of the constitution of the United States and called itself "Democratic". He used all his influence and made every effort to elect men to the state convention to which the constitution was to be submitted who would vote against it's ratification and did everything in his power at every stage of the contest to defeat it. Failing in this he was not willing to submit but set up a revolt against it and attempted, by every form of opposition, and by violence to prevent it from going into operation. He made war in Huntingdon county for a year or two.

 

The constitution was strenuously and vigorously opposed by many people in the county and McAlevy's influence and exertions increased and organized that opposition. His party followers were willing to go to any lengths in support of his views and to execute his plans of carrying them into effect. They knew what they were to do after they had seen the general.

 

Another event occurred which entered into the controversy, adding fuel to the flames and increasing McAlevy's dissatisfaction and discontent. The county of Huntingdon was established by act of assembly of September 20, 1787. The constitution of the United States had been completed and signed in the convention at Philadelphia 3 days before, September 17. These two events became associated and involved in the trouble which McAlevy instigated.

 

It was not so much the establishing of the county that excited his ire as the politics of the men who were appointed to the offices, all of whom were Federalists and supporters of the constitution. Robert Galbraith, who was appointed president of the courts; Benjamin Elliot, appointed sheriff; Andrew Henderson, registrar and recorder; David McMurtrie, treasurer; Thomas Duncan Smith, justice of the peace; and Colonel John Cannon, member of the supreme executive council for the county, were especially obnoxious, and it was against them that he principally directed his ill will and enmity. These men were the most prominent in the county, filling important public positions throughout nearly their whole lives. Elliot was elected delegate to the state convention which was to act on the constitution, much to the disappointment and chagrin of McAlevy, whose candidate was defeated. The county offices were soon opened for business by the appointees, and their arch-enemy prepared for business on his part.

 

His first opportunity came when the county court met, in March 1788, six months after the county was formed, when he sought to stop the county machinery by dispersing the court. On the first day of it's sessions he marched into Huntingdon, the county seat, at the head of the Democratic forces, which were armed with clubs, and carrying an effigy of Colonel Cannon. The news of their coming had preceded them, and Justices Philips and Henderson - the courts being then composed of the justices of the peace of the county - left the bench and went to the upper end of town to intercept and dissuade them from disturbing the court and the public peace. The intercession of the justices had no effect and the Democratic arm marched down the street, the entire length of the town, to Sell's Tavern, which was used as a courthouse, no building for the purpose having been erected by the county.

 

A part of the force entered the house, where liquors, as well as justice, were dispensed and, inside and outside, they made such a noise and confusion that nothing could be heard in the court. It was impossible to proceed and business had to be suspended. The constitution wreckers were repeatedly warned by the justices and other officers to desist, but this was of no avail. Finally, Sheriff Elliot was directed by the court to take McAlevy into custody. If there was anything that could increase the rebellious spirit it was to have their leader arrested and especially by the hated Elliot. The sheriff made an effort to obey the order, and suceeded in getting his hands on McAlevy, but he was assaulted and an effort made to rescue the prisoner. Elliot called for help, but the response was inefficient and McAlevy was borne away in triumph. There was no more work by the court that day. It was put out of business temporarily, at least.

An indictment was drawn against McAlevy and other principal participants in the affair, and the next morning it was laid before the grand jury, found a true bill and entered on the quarter session docket. It could not then be tried, the prosecution not being ready and the atmosphere surrounding the court at that time not being congenial to a deliberate impartial hearing, and it was, therefore, postponed until the next court.

 

Two months later, in May, the annual militia muster was held in Hartslog valley, five miles from Huntingdon, at which Elliot, who was lieutenant of the county, as well as sheriff, was present. The anti-constitutionalists were there, with other citizens, as required by law, but they were there to prevent the muster rather than participate in it. After falling into the line as if to take part in the maneuvers, they objected to being under the command of Colonel Cannon and Major Spencer, officers of the battalion, who, they alleged, had not been fairly elected to their positions. A fierce controversy ensued which more nearly resulted in war than was usually expected at a muster. Elliot and one of the other officers were assaulted and, in a fight which ensued, they were severely beaten and injured. In an account of the battle, Elliot wrote that "they met, some for the purpose of making a riot, which they effected about the federal government, in which riot I was ill-used by a senseless banditti, who were influenced by a false publication privately circulated by people who were enemies of the federal government.

 

Part Three

 

In order to have muster go on, it was agreed by the belligerents that another commander for the battalion should be temporarily selected and that he should order all who were unwilling to muster under Cannon and Spencer to step to the front. This was done, and more than a third of those in line walked out. The revolution was too formidable to be overcome or ignored, and Elliot and the other officers, without having been able to call the roll, left the field, with the part of the battalion that had been there to do it's duty.

 

More prosecutions were now necessary. Informations were made before Justice Thomas Duncan Smith, another of the hated officials, against McAlevy and two other offenders, for their conduct at the muster and warrants were issued for their arrest. They were taken before another justice, Thomas McClure, who required them to appear in five days before Justice Smith. When the day came, not only the three who had been arrested, but a crowd, who were as guilty as the prisoners, filled the justice's offices. After such hearing as was possible under the circumstances, Smith decided that they must give bail for their appearance at the next court for trial. This they refused to do, and demanded that they be committed to prison. The justice reminded them that that could not be done, as no jail had yet been built, and there was no prison but an old blockhouse, which was unsafe. But they still refused to give bail and the justice had no alternative but to let them go without bail.

 

McAlevy and his men withdrew from the office and from the town and went to their meeting place to consult and to obtain reinforcements. In a few hours they returned with a force of almost a hundred, armed with guns, clubs, tomahawks and scalping knives. They again marched down the principal street, to the public square, known as the diamond, where they brandished their weapons, danced and uttered some savage war hoops. The people, and especially the officers, against whom so much feeling had been shown, were terrorized and in fear of their lives. They were in more danger than the constitution. The enemies of that supreme law of the land had the town at their mercy and could make such demands as they pleased.

 

They had resolved at the meeting to wipe out all trace of the prosecution against McAlevy and the others, and for this purpose sent for Justice Smith, who did not dare to disregard their summons. They placed him in the center of the circle and commanded him to destroy the warrants he had issued in connections with the troubles at the muster. He produced them from his packet, and, refusing to destroy them, handed them to one of the men in the ring surrounding him. They were given to another in the circle, and who had three times previously presented a rifle at Justice Smith's breast, and was prevented by others from killing him, and who tore up the warrants and threw the pieces at him, saying, "see what it is to be a justice." That prosecution was thus kept from reaching the court.

 

Lazarus B. McLain, clerk of the court of quarter sessions, was sent for, and was required to produce the indictment that had been found at the March session. Without protest, intimidated and overawed by the threatening attitude of those who made the demand, he obtained the document from his office and delivered it to them. It was torn up as the warrants had been, and no effort was ever made to restore it or to revive the cases.

 

Not satisfied with putting the warrants and indictments out of the way, detachment went to the tavern courthouse, having followed Smith and Henderson to that temple of justice, and, through the persuasive argument of rifle and tomahawk, procured from them the docket containing the record of the grand jury finding, which they completely erased and obliterated, thus wiping out, the last vestige of the proceedings, in so far as the court records were concerned.

 

Unverified accounts of these matters say that the docket was burned, but the only known facts that could be taken as evidence of this is that the docket for 1787 and part of 1788 is missing and has been ever since those years. A copy of the constitution of the United States was consigned to the flames as proof of the contempt in which it was held by it's enemies, and the docket, too, may have gone up in smoke.

 

Warnings came to the persecuted county officials that their lives were in danger, and they sought safety in concealment or flight. Justice Smith secreted himself in the house of a friend, and Justice Henderson fled from town. The houses of both of these were searched during their absence by persons who meant to do them injury. Sheriff Elliot, David McMurtrie and two constables left for other parts. The sheriff could not safely go to any part of the county to serve writs or perform any other duty, and the business of the court was almost at a standstill.

 

There was every reason to believe that there would be more incursions of the kind that had taken place, and on the 5th of June, 1788, complaint was made to the supreme executive council and an application for help. The council considered the matter, and on the 25th of that month resolved "that the most proper and effectual measures be immediately taken to quell the disturbances in Huntingdon county and to restore order and good government, and that the honorable judges of the supreme court be informed that the supreme executive will give them aid and assistance which the laws of the state will warrant and shall be found necessary to accomplish this end." Nothing was done by the council but to resolve. No action followed by it or the judges of the supreme court.

 

The disturbances continued, however. Raids were made into the town, citizens assaulted and beaten, and the houses of the county officials attacked at night, with stones and other missiles, windows broken and other damage done. About the middle of August of the same year 160 men from all parts of the county, led by McAlevy, with Abraham Smith, John Smith and John Little as lieutenants, paraded the streets of Huntingdon, not openly armed as before, but with arms supplied by those who were fearful of an attack. The county officials and others who supported the government and the constitution barricaded themselves in Sheriff Elliot's house, fully armed and prepared to repel force with force. But no attack was made. The McAlevy forces kept up their demonstrations on the streets, marching under the stars and stripes, for which they professed to have respect, if they had none for the constitution. They met later in the day at the house of William Kerr to elect delegates to a convention to be held at Lewisburg, and then left the town under flying colors.

 

The constitution and county were now approaching the first anniversary of their existence and both were doing remarkable well, notwithstanding McAlevy's determination that they should do otherwise. The government had gone into operation under the constitution without any violent opposition but that of McAlevy and his Huntingdon county following, and the officials and courts of the county were performing their functions of trying and punishing criminals without warrants, indictments and dockets being torn up and destroyed. McAlevy's rebellion had interrupted the progress of government and law, but had not stopped it.

 

There could be but little encouragement in the situation for continuance of the resistance and yet there was reluctance to discontinue it. The spirit of violence abated, however, and grew less until the contest became a political battle, to be fought ultimately at the polls. The supreme executive council had the matter before it again, in August, 1789 nearly two years after the trouble began, when it resolved "that the consideration of the report of the committee to which was referred the representatives from the justices and others of Huntingdon county relative to some late disturbances in that county be postponed." This report, could it be found, might throw additional light on these transactions, but it does not seem to be in existence. The troubles were practically over at the time the council postponed the consideration of the report, and that was doubtless it's reason for doing so.

 

McAlevy, for years afterward, maintained his ascendency over his party. Long after the year 1800 he was still it's leader. He did not lose his political hold, nor, indeed, the respect and good will of the public. He continued to be active in military affairs, and on the 8th of May, 1800, was commissioned by Governor McKean as brigadier general of the Second brigade, composed of the counties of Huntingdon and Mifflin, then including Centre. He was always so, until his last day, a staunch Presbyterian, and joined in dispensing the communion in the log church at Manor Hill a few miles from the place where had been the fort which bore his name.

 

General McAlevy died at the home of his daughter, the widow of James Reed, near Petersburg, Huntingdon county, Pennsylvania, August 21, 1822, at the age of 94 years, and is buried in the graveyard on the hill, near his fort. He has many descendents in the valley in which he lived, in other parts of Pennsylvania and in nearly every state between it and the Pacific Ocean.

 


 

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