"Remarks and General Observations on Mercer
County, Pennsylvania" by B. Stokely, reportedly "the first actual
resident settler in the county," and communicated by James Mease,
M.D. This work first appeared in the Memoirs of the Historical Society of
Pennsylvania, Vol. IV, Pt. II, 1850 (Philadelphia: McCarty and
Davis). Transcribed by Thomas Felt.
The original page numbers are noted in <green>
and the names of people are highlighted.
MERCER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA.
BY B. STOKELY,
THE FIRST ACTUAL RESIDENT
SETTLER IN THE COUNTY.
COMMUNICATED BY JAMES MEASE, M.D.
The revolution of 1775, and the subsequent difficulties occasioned by a
patriotic republican community, struggling for liberty, and to free themselves
from the tyrannical oppression of British bondage, without the means of
supporting an army, led to considerations, which eventually resulted in a
resolution to give to the soldier a permanent reward for his toil and pain, in
defending the country. The rapid depreciation of continental money, and
the consequent rise in articles of necessity, from January, 1777, until
February, 1781, rendered it essential that some additional provision should be
made, not so much as a bonus or premium to induce men into public service; but
as an act of justice towards those who bore the heat and burden of the day;
those who had, from zealous patriotism, left their families, connexions, and
homes, to save a beloved country from ruin and disgrace.
Impressed with a deep sense of indispensable duty on
this occasion, the legislature, as early as the 7th of March, 1780, passed a law
declaratory of their design that the officers and soldiers of this state in the
service of the United States, who should serve during the war or die in the
service, should have lands granted to them at the end of the war, as a donation
or gift, to remunerate them in some degree for services rendered, for the
payment of which the continental wages were so inadequate.
By an act of the 12th March, 1783, the metes and bounds
of the space in which these donation lands were to be located, were particularly
described, viz., from the mouth of Mohulbuckitum
on the Allegheny River, up that river to the mouth of Conewango, thence
north to the south boundary of the state of New York; thence west, along that
line to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania; thence south, along the west
boundary of the state last mentioned, to a point due west of the mouth of Mohulbuckitum
aforesaid; and thence due east, along the north boundary of the Depreciation
lands, to the place of beginning.
By an act of March 24th, 1785, deputy surveyors were to
be appointed, of the districts comprised within these limits, from District No.
1, to that of No. 10; each deputy was enjoined by law and directed by the
Surveyor-General to complete the work committed to his care, on, or before the
first day of February, 1786.
By this act a Major-General is to have 2000 acres;
Brigadier 1500; Colonel 1000; Lieutenant-Colonel 750; Surgeon, Chaplain, Major,
600 each; Captain, 500; Lieutenant, 400; Ensign and Surgeon's mate, 300 each;
Sergeant, Sergeant.Major, Quartermaster Sergeant, each 250; and <pg. 67>
each Drummer, Fifer, Corporal, and private soldier, 200 acres, and allowance.
Twenty-seven miles of the west ends of Districts No. 5
and 4, and about nineteen miles of the western parts of Districts No. 3 and 2,
lie in Mercer County.
In September, 1785, the undersigned was called on by G.
Evans, Esq., of the city of Philadelphia, who had been appointed by John Lukens,
the then Surveyor-General, to be deputy surveyor of the 2d and 3d Districts.
On the first day of October, 1785, I left Washington,
Pa., in company with Robert Smith, Samuel Craig, Francis Beadle and others, to assist Mr. Evans
in making surveys. We arrived at Pittsburg (called Fort Pitt) on the
second day of the same month, and on the eighth, we arrived in the 3d district,
and commenced our business.
Beginning on the east, we worked westward with two
compasses, and carried ten ranges with us, keeping the tents and the provisions
in the centre; in this way, we progressed until the 26th of October, when we
closed our fall's work, at a place near where Joseph Shannon now lives, three miles southwest of the
borough of Mercer.
That day at about 12 o'clock, we set out for Fort Pitt,
our horses loaded with skins killed by our Indian hunter, who supplied us the
whole time with venison, fat and more than we could use; we had no bread for
twelve days, but experienced no inconvenience from this deficiency. Bears,
wolves, deer, and Indians, in every direction, in plenty; peaceable and useful.
On the day we set out for the white settlement, we saw
three bears on and near one tree; we hastened to the tree, but before we arrived
at the spot, one ran off, one came <pg. 68>
down, and the other fell about forty feet, and all took to the swamps, every
one its own course. There were ten of us including the Indian; we pursued
the bears about fifteen minutes, but gave up the chase, and gathered together
and pursued our course, which went about south, 25 degrees east.
At about three miles distance from the bear tree, we
discovered a man was missing; we discharged our guns, and hallooed, but all to
no purpose; we saw him no more.
On the 29th we arrived at Fort Pitt, and separated each
to his own home, never to meet again.
On the sixteenth day of April, 1792, I received a
commission to be deputy surveyor of the 4th and 5th Districts, then under a new
arrangement called the 3d. General
Brodhead was Surveyor-General. This commission was given under the
Act of 3d April, 1792, for the sale of vacant lands north and west of the Ohio
and Allegheny Rivers, and Conewango Creek. Although this district extended
eastward to the Allegheny River, including the town of Franklin, then called
Venango, consisting of the garrison and a few cabins, yet the western and better
part of it, was included in Mercer County as now laid out; the residue of this
county is comprised within the 4th and 6th Districts, new arrangement: the
deputy surveyors of which were Thomas Stokely and John Moore. Although the former of these gentlemen
understood neither theory nor practice, yet he received the appointment for his
activity and bravery in the massacre of Paoli, in the Revolution. Thus
went the offices and rewards in those days, and thus go pensions and places in
these days, without very much respect to necessity or fitness, in many cases.
From the 3d of April, 1792, until October, 1794, no
attempt was made to settle Mercer County; this inaction of the public, when a
fine country was opened by law for their reception, for nearly three years, was
occasioned by the danger of the savages in that region.
In June, 1794, John Powers was killed and scalped, eighteen miles from
Fort Franklin, towards Pittsburg. The bones of this man were left exposed
on the surface of the ground, until May, 1796, when his head, which bore the
plain mark of the incision of the scalping knife, and a hole in the skull two
inches square, was found by a surveyor and his party and taken to Washington,
In October, 1794, and February, 1795, 453 land warrants
were entered in my office in Pittsburg for land, chiefly in Mercer County.
In the spring of 1795, I made arrangements to execute the surveys on those
entered the preceding February. Those entered in October, one hundred in
all, were laid on Chenango a year after they were entered, by a deputy. On
the first day of May, 1795, after having collected hands and provisions, tents
and the necessary apparatus for the woods, our party set out for the Indian
country, and on the fourth, crossed the Ohio at Christlo's Ferry, and arrived at
Mackintosh (now Beaver town). Whence we proceeded up Beaver, to the old
Moravian and Cuscusca towns; and on the tenth unloaded our horses at Beech
Swamp, four miles southwest of the spot where Mercer now stands. John
Paxton and Dorsey Blackman
our pack-horsemen, returned home with the horses a different route from that
which we pursued in going out; this was through fear of meeting the Indians, or
that the Indians would waylay them on the trail as they <pg.
70> returned home; these fears were excited from seeing
Indians, as we traveled out.
On the thirteenth day of May 1795, I made the first
survey in my district. We continued our business until the 7th of June,
without any visible risk or danger; but on that day, when my men and myself were
sitting in the tent late in the evening, I discovered something white waving in
the air, about forty yards from the camp. I immediately went to the place;
there was an Indian behind a large oak, who had a letter from the officer
commanding at Fort Franklin; he had split a small stick, and having put the
letter in the split, was waving it about until I discovered it.
I took the letter and read as follows:–
"Having received information of two men's being
killed by Indians, last Wednesday evening, near the mouth of Little Coneaught,
in passing it on the borders of the district where I've heard you are at work, I
send the bearer hereof, a friendly Indian, to find you if possible and give you
this notice, that you may be on your guard, in case of the approach of any other
"I am, sir, your humble servant,
(Signed,) "JH. Heth.
"Captain 3d S. Legion,
"Commanding Fort Franklin."
"June 6th, 1795."
"Findley and McCormick
were the unfortunate men.
"Mr. Benjamin Stokely, by a friendly
Having taken the Indian into the camp–given him
something to eat, and invited him to stay with us till morning, I wrote to Captain Heth, by the Indian, whose name was "Scandashawa,"
"To Captain Heth, Franklin:–
"Sir,–This evening I received your kind letter
by the Indian, for which you will please to accept my unfeigned thanks. It
is, sir, with much satisfaction that I find a friend so near, and in possession
of the means of securing our safety, should it be found necessary to claim your
"The times look dark and dangerous, and we have no
doubt of the facts stated, but being engaged in the business of surveying land,
on a large and extensive scale, it would be extremely inconvenient at present to
lose much time in watching the motion of the enemy. I have therefore
consulted my brave companions in this critical conjuncture, and we have
concluded to proceed on with our work at all hazards; but on any unfavourable
change in the aspect of the perils which seem to surround us now, we intend to
avail ourselves of that protection which we are well assured it will be no less
your duty than your inclination to render.
(Signed,) "BEN. STOKELY,
"In the woods.
"June 7th, 1795."
The next day, June the 8th, I received a letter from General
Taylor, then at Franklin; an associate Judge of Washington County, an
elderly gentleman, and an old and <pg.
72> particular friend. As the General was a man,
honest, friendly, and sincere, his letter had some weight with my men, and on a
whether we should relinquish our business at present, or proceed, it was
determined six for going home, and six for going on with the surveys: The
question being put, shall we proceed with the surveys. Yeas, W. Ewing, Adam
Deim, Samuel Craig, N. Lewis, Robert
Linton, and B. Stokely. Nays, David Norris, Jos. Swearingen, Wm. Connell, George
Hackney, Levi Jacobs,
Thus divided, and three surveyors being in the
affirmative, our company was so broken that we concluded to return home, and
therefore set out June the 9th, for Pittsburg.–Judge Taylor's letter, the efficient cause of this
decision among us, read as follows, to wit–
"Fort Franklin, 8th June, 1795.
"DEAR SIR,–I wish to inform you that I
conceive you and your partiee
in dangar. There is a partiee of Indians out who seem to entend hostil meshures
with the surveyors; how fare the may go it is doubtfull, but I
would recommend your coming in heare as soon as posable; perhaps
in a few day it may be better known how fare or how many the partiee
is. There is a number of people going off; I would be glad to see you
before I go off. I shall remain at this place a few days untill it
may be better known the disposition of the Indians,–if it appears favourable
will go to Cusawago. I would be glad to know your opinion, with respect,
in what way you will make your return of the surveys made on improvements
rights, as I am about <pg. 73>
purchising som; and a number is waiting for you approving of these
surveys that the have already made.
"It will not be necessary to tell you the damage
done, as Mr.
Swearingen has heard all the news of this place; but the number now
known to be killed is five.
"I am truly your sincear
"Friend and humble servant,
B. Stokely, D. S. Y.
There are three objects in view in giving the copy
of this letter,–the first is to show the danger and peril of the times in
which the preparatory measures were taken to settle Mercer County; the second,
to show the singular friendship from the General towards me, notwithstanding a
very disagreeable misunderstanding between him and my brother, Col. Thomas Stokely, on a point of military discipline;
and the third object is to manifest to the public that a man may be good and
great without much knowledge of literature.–In October, 1795, I returned to
the woods with a full set of hands only for one compass. The provisions we
left in June preceding could not be depended on, and therefore we brought fresh
flour with us and depended in some degree on wild meat for our support; but such
was our bad luck in procuring venison or bear, that our hunter, Jno. Moore, killed but one deer the whole time from
Oct.19 to Nov.30, 1795. Under pressing necessity, were we obliged to
search for Beech Swamp, where we had left our meat in kegs, in May of that
year. This bacon, when found, was blue with putrefaction, and stunk so as
to be distinctly noticed near twenty yards; of this, such <pg. 74>
was our hunger, did we eat, nay more, we feasted for some days; at length,
closing our range, five miles north of Mercer, we set out for Mackintosh, on the
28th of November, 1795, and, after sinking our raft in crossing Chenango,
wetting many things, and losing some, we arrived at that place the second day of
December, hungry and tired, but, on getting refreshment at a public house, the
only one then in the place, kept by Samuel Johnston, we were very soon as well as ever.
Our party this tour was composed of seven, viz., W. Ewing, Joseph Davidson, Noah Lewis, Jos.
Brooks, John Moore, Jabez Coulson, and myself. On the 9th of May, 1796,
we returned to the woods, a third tour. The ratification of Wayne's
Treaty, on the 22d of December, 1795, having, as we supposed, secured our
safety, we surveyed and improved the county, without fear or trembling.
Returned to the white settlements the 13th of June, 1796, and on the 14th of
October following, I sat down as an actual settler, with my family, a wife and
three children, on the very spot where I now reside, at Coolspring, three miles
northeast of the borough of Mercer.
My wife was the first white woman that settled in
Mercer County; she saw no white female but one, as prisoner among the Indians,
until April, 1797. During the winter of 1796-7, Indians were very
numerous, troublesome sometimes, and useful sometimes; we purchased two thousand
eight hundred and forty-six pounds of venison of them, fifty skins, some fur,
and a few bear-skins.
I had two oxen and two cows; on the 7th of December,
1796, they left me, in a course towards Pittsburg. I pursued one day and gave up
the chase; on the 17th they returned. The snow fell 22d of November, went
off 13th <pg. 75>
of February; fell the 19th, went off in March. It was an early spring ;
good grass and plenty the 10th of April. On the 9th of March, one cow
died, for the want of food on1y. Having an opportunity, I sent a letter to
the white settlement, offering twenty dollars for six bushels of Indian meal,
but failed to get any. The 28th, the other was near dying; to save her
life, I ripped open a pack-saddle pad, took out a part of the straw stuffing,
cut it short, put on warm water and a pint of flour, reserving the residue of
the padding for a future day; she recovered,–sharp times! In the spring
of 1797, as early as the middle of February, the county began to settle, so that
in a few months the neighbourhood began to assume the appearance of
civilization. To me, who had been so long alone, and none but Indians to
commune with, and particularly to my wife, the change was exceedingly
acceptable. It might be conceived, but cannot be easily expressed, when
one day she saw two white women, the Misses Rice,
coming to see her on a visit, the pleasure and satisfaction she felt at this
circumstance. The settlement at Coolspring being among the very earliest
in the county, it may be considered as begun in the spring of 1797, though many
had made small beginnings in 1796, but returned to the old settlements in the
fall of that year, and returned again when I had resolved the great problem,
that the Indians were no longer dangerous neighbours. In the summer of
1797, I sent my plough irons forty-two miles to be sharpened, and paid upwards
of two dollars for it. The first mill was built in 1798, by Peter Wilson,
an old and respectable settler, who settled in this county early in April,
1797. On the 23d and 24th of August, in the year last mentioned, took
76> the memorable compromise between the agent of the
N. A. Land Company and the settlers who had been placed on the land by certain
individuals, in opposition to the Company's title. The leaders of the
opposing party were Messrs. M'Williams, Dunning,
Morrow, and Tannehill, of Pittsburg. In this general
settlement, however, of conflicting claims, peace was restored, and the settlers
were made sure of their lands without any further contention. Although the
Act of 1792 never could be so construed as to sustain any but two kinds of
title, viz.,–one under the eighth section, beginning with an actual bona fide
resident settlement, and ending with money to be paid to the state within ten
years from the passage of the act, free of interest ;–and the other under the
ninth section, commencing with money, and ending with labour and residence; yet
did the leading influential men, from a spirit of mere speculation, endeavour to
monopolize large bounds of this and the adjoining counties, obtained settlers,
made agreements, established settlements on surveys made without authority,
promised a title, and in a word went on to complete the claim for their
settlers, as if they had been supported by law until, as I have before observed,
the compromise of August, 1797, put to rest all disputes, with the exception of
a few individuals, who chose to try title at law, but failed.
In 1798, the Rev. Jacob Garwell, member of the Methodist Episcopal
Church, preached at Peter Wilson's, in the woods, and shortly afterwards in
my barn. This year seed potatoes sold for $1 33 a bushel; wheat was first
reaped in this county this year, the seed of which had in 1797 cost $2 25 per
bushel; corn had no price; wild meat was yet easily obtained. In the year of
1798, the smallpox <pg.
77> broke out and spread among the Indians, who had it
in many cases extremely severe.
In 1797, on the 19th day of September, was born the
first white child in Mercer County,–Ariadne, my
fourth child,–not a woman but the mother present. This was a severe
trial to me. In 1799, the first missionaries were sent to preach to the
settlers; these were the Rev. J.
Stockton, E. Macurdy,
J. M'Lene, Wm. Wick. But the labours of the reverend gentlemen
were not greatly blessed, or, in other words, no visible change was seen among
the people until the next year, 1800, nor indeed until 1801, to any extent; but
in that year and the next, 1802, under the preaching of the Rev. Samuel Pait,
many of the most wicked, loose, and irregular, were brought to see the
wickedness of their former life, and the necessity of fleeing from the wrath to
come. The first storekeeper was E.
Magoffin,–the first lawyer that settled in Mercer was E. S. Sample.
The first Board of Commissioners was composed of Robert Bole, for three years, Andrew Denniston, two years, and Thos. Robb, for one year. The first D. Surveyor, John Findley.
The first President Judge, Jesse
Moore; Associates, A. Wright,
A. Brown, and W. Amberson. It may be necessary here to remark,
Amberson, not residing in the bounds of Mercer County at the time it was
struck off Crawford, nor within the latter county one year previous to that
event, the tenure of his commission was not quite consistent with the
It does not appear from any discovery made in the first
settlement of this county, that it ever was a place where many elk and buffalo
haunted; one buffalo horn and a few elk horns were found in 1795 and 1797; and a
few <pg. 78>
elk have been seen, and one killed, near the western boundary of the county,
since the settlement commenced. The animals which are now seen and
sometimes taken, are foxes, red and gray, raccoons, opossums, wild-cats, deer, a
very few white hares, and an animal called a wolvereen, of the feline or vulpine
species, supposed to be engendered between a wolf and a fox, or a fox and a
wild-cat. It is one of the swiftest animals in the woods, a common cur-dog
is left with ease, and being sensible of its own superiority in running, it will
play around, as if it were mere amusement. It is bold and cunning, and has
never been taken by any white man since the county was first settled; and only
by Indians before.
The climate of this county may be considered, in its
general character as cold and wet. Winter usually sets in about the latter
end of November, and corn is seldom planted much before the latter end of May,
which makes nearly six months of cool, cold, and wet weather. Snow is
seldom more than eighteen inches deep; but on the 3d of February, 1800, and the
3d of February, 1818, it was about three feet. Frost is seen, some years,
in every month.
This county has always been subject to annual
tornadoes, which seldom happen before the middle of May, nor after the summer
solstice. In 1785 a tremendous one took place: the course was from
northwest to southeast, commencing in Lackawanack township, thence through
Springfield and the east end of Slippery Rock into Butler County, tearing ani
prostrating everything that stood in its way; but as there were no buildings nor
any improvements, the damage was not felt; but on the night of the 4th of June,
1801, a severe snow-storm began in Pymatuning township, and <pg. 79>
passing from northwest to southeast through Delaware, Coolspring, Springfield,
and Wolf Creek, laid the limber level with the surface of the earth, in almost
every place. It was about forty perches wide, and in the centre, about two
rods wide it was unusually severe. My own loss was in part as follows:–The
destruction of timber, about forty perches in width and upwards of two miles in
length, two hundred pannel of fence laid flat and scattered near fifty yards;
rails were forced into the hard ground eighteen inches–every house, barn, or
stable, stripped of its covering in less than the space of one minute–clapboards
blown above a mile,–bars torn down, and one heavy black oak bar found seven
years afterwards, in a swamp about two hundred perches from the place from which
it was blown. In one place about two hundred rails had been blown in a
pile, and a large cow lay on the top of all; she had been blown across ploughed
ground near forty yards. A dead log twenty-two feet long, and twenty one
inches in diameter, being a large limb of a very big oak which had fallen, and
by the weight had been forced into the ground, and had lain so for some years;
this fork, as I have described it, was blown endwise four feet and turned over–and
such was the fury of the elements, that the rough bark was blown from the white
oaks, that stood the blast until they were quite smooth in many places.
This excessive force was principally confined to a space in the centre
of the gale, about forty feet wide. Among other valuable timber, I lost
about four hundred fine sugar trees. One man lost a mare, and had his place
completely ruined; and many others were greatly injured. The noise of the
wind and rain and thunder was such that no distinction could be <pg.
80> noticed; it was one universal roar, impossible to
Thus pent and sequestrated from all aid in this awful
crisis, with a wife and five small children, drenched with rain, our fire nearly
out, the night dark, except when the vivid flash gave us a glimpse of the havoc
all around,–I cannot describe my feelings on that dreadful visitation.
From the least estimate I can make of the time this ruin was effected on my
premises, I think it did not exceed two minutes. Such a change in so short
a time appeared to me different from anything I had ever before or since
experienced. There are some places where the wind had fallen from above,
and crushed everything before it, and having spent its force on the ground left
no farther signs of destruction, but just in these spots, some not more than two
perches square. Such is the nature of the timber prostrated in a hurricane
which happened in 1785, now near forty-eight years ago, and yet very visible in
its effects, it is quite sound in hundreds of places, but chiefly in these cases
it is chestnut.
The county is generally healthy, and nothing of an
endemical character can be distinctly known to exist in this county; coal-pits
are few and near the surface, and in quality partakes of the bituminous
kind. The bridges in this county are numerous, and some good, but they are
so frequently destroyed, repaired, and new ones building, that on this head
little need be said, as the present situation will not remain the same six
months. One small beaver-dam may be seen in ruins on Otter Creek, two and
a half miles from Mercer. Some attempts have been made to procure salt
water, but to no purpose.
The Courts of Justice are now held at Mercer, the
fourth Mondays of March, June, September, and December; President-Judge, John Bredin; Associates, A. Brown, W.
Amberson; Pro., W. S. Rankin; Reg. and Rec., S. Holstein.
Physicians not residing in the borough are Dr. Axtell, Dr. H. Cossitt, Dr. Wiley, Dr.
Mitcheltree, Dr. Hull,
Dr. J. Cossitt. Those who reside in the
borough are Dr.
Magoffin, Jr., and Dr.
Magoffin, Dr. Gleazon,
Dr. Coffey, and Dr. Johnston.
Ministers of the Gospel not residing in the county, but
who have congregations or hearers in the county, and occasionally preach within
the county, are Mr. Glenn, Presbyterian; Mr. M'Lene,
Seceder; Mr. Black, Covenanter;–and a number of
itinerant Methodist preachers, whose labours are divided throughout the county
to the best advantage.
With respect to the variation of the needle, I would
just remark, that in 1785 we found the variation to be 2½°
east; in 1795 we found it 3°; but knowing
that a difference existed among corn passes, in some 30' and in others 1°,
we were not able to determine what the precise difference was. We have
since pursued the oldest lines with the same degrees we run in 1795, and find no
In Mercer County no measures of defence or security
were taken against the Indians, except in one place, where a Mr.
Mackmillon erected a block-house in Coolspring township; but they never
had the honour of an attack.
The Indian mode of killing bear is to have twelve or
twenty dogs, a bow, and sheaf of arrows; thus equipped, <pg. 82>
accompanied by a squaw, the man enters the swamp, preceded by all his dogs, and
on starting Bruin, the dogs immediately seize him by the hind parts; the bear
turns to relieve himself from the disagreeable incumbrance, which detains him
some time, while the hunter comes up and discharges an arrow into his body–the
arrow having a dart on the point with barbs on the edge. The animal is
then under the painful necessity of stopping to pull it out; at this time the
dogs seize him again, and the hunter gives him another shot; the squaw, to her
business, gathers up the arrows and hands them to her husband,–and thus they
proceed until the poor animal, lacerated and torn by the arrows and the dogs,
yields up his breath, and the contest is over.
There are some large piles of stones, called Indian
graves, where the ground has been totally cleared of stones for several acres to
make the pile.
The amount of taxes laid on seated, unseated, and
personal property for 1832, is $17,926 66, composed of the following items, and
applicable to the following purposes, viz.,