Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister

The Pioneers

The first known American citizens who located permanently within the bounds of Erie County were Thomas Rees and John Grubb, who reached Erie in the spring of 1795, the one as Deputy Surveyor for the State, and the other as a Captain of militia, and remained until their deaths. In June of the same year, William Miles and William Cook, with their wives, made a settlement in Concord Township, near the Crawford County line, where they were the sole residents for some years. A month or so later, Col. Seth Reed, accompanied by his wife and sons, Manning and Charles John, came to Erie in a sail boat from Buffalo, which was piloted by James Talmadge, who took up lands during the season in McKean Township. These three ladies were the first white persons of their sex who were known to have resided in the county. The other settlers during 1795 were Rufus S. and George W. Reed, James Baird and children, Mrs. Thomas Rees, and Mrs. J. Fairbanks, at Erie; Amos Judson, James Naylor, Lieut. Martin, and Martin Strong, at Waterford; John W. Russell, George Moore and David McNair, in Mill Creek; Capt. Robert King and family, William and Thomas Black, and Thomas Ford and wife, in Le Boeuf; Jonathan Spaulding in Conneaut; Michael Hare and two men named Ridue and Call, in Wayne; James and Bailey Donaldson in North East, and James Blair in Girard. So far as the records show, these were the only white people living in the county that year, though a good many persons were temporarily here during the season, prospecting for lands. Among the settlers during the interval between 1795 and 1800 were the following:

1796 -- Washington Township, Alexander Hamilton and William Culbertson; Erie, Capt. Daniel Dobbins; Mill Creek, Benjamin Russell, Thomas P. Miller, David Dewey, Anthony Saltsman and John McFarland; Greenfield, Judah Colt, Elisha and Enoch Marvin, Cyrus Robinson, Charles Allen, Joseph Berry, John Wilson, James Moore, Joseph Webster, Philo Barker, Timothy Tuttle, Silas and William Smith, Joseph Shattuck, John Daggett, John Andrews and Leverett Bissell; McKean, Thomas and Oliver Dunn; Fairview, Francis Scott, Summit, George W. Reed; North East, William Wilson, George and Henry Hurst, and Henry and Dyer Loomis; Springfield, Samuel Holliday, John Devore, John Mershom, William McIntyre and Patrick Ager; Venango, Adam and James Reed, Burrill and Zalmon Tracy; Waterford, John Lytle, Robert Brotherton, John Lennox and Thomas Skinner.

1797 -- Waterford, John Vincent and Wilson Smith; Wayne, Joseph Hall and ____ Prosser; Union, Hugh Wilson, Andrew Thompson, Matthew Gray, Francis B. and Robert Smith; Elk Creek, Eli Colton; Venango, Thomas, John and David Phillips; Springfield, Oliver Cross; Fairview, Thomas Forster, Jacob Weiss, George Nicholson, John Kelso, Richard Swan, Patrick Vance, Patrick and John McKee, Jeremiah and William Sturgeon and William Haggerty; Le Boeuf, Francis Isherwood, James, Robert and Adam Pollock; Conneaut, Col. Dunning McNair; Mill Creek, John Nicholson, the McKees and Boe Bladen; Washington, Job Reeder, Samuel Galloway, Simeon Dunn, John and James Campbell, Matthias Sipps, Phineas McLenethan, Matthew Hamilton, John McWilliams, James, John, Andrew and Samuel Culbertson, and Mrs. Jane Campbell (widow); North East, Thomas Robinson, Joseph McCord, James McMahon, Margaret Lowry (widow), James Duncan, Francis Brawley and Abram and Arnold Custard; Harbor Creek, William Saltsman, Amasa Prindle and Andrew Elliott.

1798 -- Erie, William Wallace; Wayne, William Smith and David Findley; Union, Jacob Shephard, John Welsh, John Fagan and John Wilson; Elk Creek, George Hayberger and John Dietz; Venango, William Allison and wife; Springfield, Nicholas LeBarger; Fairview, John Dempsey; Conneaut, Abiathar and Elihu Crane; Washington, Peter Kline; Girard, Abraham and William Silverthorn; North East, Thomas Crawford, Lemuel Brown, Henry and Matthew Taylor, William Allison, Henry Burget, John, James and Matthew Greer; Waterford, Aaron Himrod.

1799 -- Waterford, John, James and David Boyd, Capt. John Tracy, M. Himebaugh, John Clemens, the Simpsons, and Lattimores; Erie, John Teel; McKean, Lemuel and Russell Stancliff; Summit, Eliakim Cook.

It is not claimed that the above is a complete list of the settlers up to 1800, but it is as nearly full as can now be obtained. Emigration was slow the first five years in consequence of the land troubles. After 1800, the county commenced to fill up more rapidly, and to attempt to give a roll of the settlers would exceed the limits of a work like this.

Where the People Came From

The early settlers were mainly New Englanders and New Yorkers, interspersed with some Irish from the southern counties of Pennsylvania, and a few persons of Pennsylvania Dutch descent. The New Yorkers were in general from the interior of the State, and the Pennsylvanians from Dauphin, Cumberland, Lancaster and Northumberland Counties. The Irish emigration fell off almost entirely in a few years, and the Pennsylvania Dutch took its place. The Riblets, Ebersoles, Loops, Zucks, Browns, Stoughs, Zimmermans, Kreiders, and other of that class, came in at a period ranging from 1801 to 1805. From that time, the people who settled in the county were almost universally of New England and New York origin until about 1825, when another emigration of Pennsylvania Dutch set in, which continued until 1835 or thereabouts. Among those who located in the county during this period were the Weigels, Warfels, Mohrs, Metzlers, Bergers, Brennemans, Charleses and others whose names are familiar. The later foreign element began to come in at a comparatively recent date -- the Irish about 1825, and the Germans about ten years after.

The first settlers were a hardy, adventurous race of men, and their wives were brave, loving and dutiful women. It was to their superior intelligence and determined energy that we owe the fact that the county is now far ahead of many others in the State in schools, churches and all that goes to make up the comforts and afford the consolations of life.

Marriages, Births and Deaths

The earliest marriage was that of Charles J. Reed, of Walnut Creek (Kearsarge), to Miss Rachel Miller, which occurred on December 27, 1797. The second was that of William Smith to Miss Elizabeth Wilson, In Union Township, in 1799; the third, that of Job Reeder to Miss Nancy Campbell, in Washington Township, in 1800; and the fourth, that of Thomas King to Sarah Wilson, in Union, the same year.

The earliest recorded births were as follows:

John R., son of William Black, in Fort Le Boeuf, August 29, 1795.

Mr. Boardman, of Washington Township (recently deceased), claimed to have been born in the Conneauttee Valley the same year.

Jane, daughter of William Culbertson, Edinboro, fall of 1797.

David M. Dewey, Walnut Creek, December 15, 1797.

Matilda Reed, Walnut Creek, 1798.

Elizabeth Holliday, Springfield, May 14, 1798.

Hannah Talmadge, McKean, 1798.

William Dunn, Summit, March 14, 1798.

Henry Wood, Conneaut, 1798.

Elizabeth and Ruth, daughters of the brothers Abiathar and Elihu Crane, Conneaut (both in the same house and on the same day), April 20, 1799.

William E. McNair, Mill Creek, 1799.

Robert, son of William Allison, Venango 1799.

William Bladen, Mill Creek, 1800.

Edwin J. Kelso, Mill Creek, 1800.

Sarah, daughter of Amasa Prindle, Harbor Creek, 1799.

Katharine, daughter of Aaron Himrod, Waterford, 1799.

Joseph Brindle, Springfield, March 1, 1800.

Mrs. George A. Elliot, Girard, 1800.

William Nicholson, Fairview, 1800.

Martha, daughter of Hugh Wilson, Union, August 18, 1800.

John W., son of William Smith, Wayne, 1800.

John A. Culbertson, Washington, 1800.

The earliest known deaths occurred in the years below:

Ralph Rutledge, killed by the Indians at Erie, May 29, 1795. His son was fatally shot at the same time, and died shortly after, in the fort at Le Boeuf.

Gen. Anthony Wayne, in the block house at Erie, December 15, 1796.

Col. Seth Reed, Walnut Creek, March 19, 1797.

John Wilson, Union, June, 1799.

Mrs. Thomas Alexander, Conneaut, 1801.

Mrs. William Culbertson, Washington, 1804.

Adam Reed, Venango, 1805.

John Gordon, Fairview, 1806.

Condition of the People, Etc.

Most of the people were in moderate circumstances, and were content to live in a very cheap way. A majority had to depend mainly on the produce of their little clearings, which consisted to a large extent of potatoes and corn. Mush, corn bread and potatoes were the principal food. There was not meat except game, and often this had to be eaten without salt. Pork, flour, sugar and other groceries sold at high prices, and were looked upon as luxuries. In 1798-99, wheat brought $2.50 per bushel; flour, $18 a barrel; corn, $2 per bushel; oats, $1.50; and potatoes, $1.50. Prices were still higher in 1813-14, corn being $4 per bushel and oats, $3. The mills were far apart, the roads scarcely more than pathways through the woods, and the grists had to be carried in small quantities on the backs of men or horses. Few families had stoves, and the cooking was done almost entirely over open fires. The beds were without springs and were made up in general by laying coarse blankets upon boxes or rude frames. All clothing was home made. Every house had a spinning wheel, and many were provided with looms. Liquor was in common use, and there was seldom a family without its bottle for the comfort of the husband and the entertainment of his guests.

The first buildings were low cabins constructed of unhewn logs laid one upon another with the crevices filled up with mud. These gave way, as the condition of the people improved, to more artistic structures of hewn timber in which mortar was substituted for mud. Hardly any were plastered. Many were without window glass, and wall paper was unknown. As saw mills increased, frame buildings of a better character were substituted for the log cabins, and occasionally a brick or stone structure was erected, which was talked about in all the country round as a marvel of architecture. The people were separated by long distances; for years there were few clearings that joined. In every house there was an immense fire-place, in which tremendous amounts of wood were consumed. When a new residence or barn was to be erected, the neighbors were invariably invited to the raising. On such occasions, liquor or cider was expected to be freely dispensed, and it was rarely the case that the invitations were declined. These raisings were the merry-making events of the day, and generally brought together twenty-five to fifty of the settlers, who worked hard, drank freely, and flattered themselves when they were through that they had experienced a jolly good time. A writer on one of the local papers says:

"Eighty years ago not a pound of coal or a cubic foot of illuminating gas had been burned in the country. All the cooking and warming in town as well as in the country were done by the aid of a fire kindled on the brick hearth or in the brick ovens. Pine knows or tallow candles furnished the light for the long winter nights, and sanded floors supplied the place of rugs and carpets. The water used for household purposes was drawn from deep wells by the creaking sweep. No form of pump was used in this country, so far as we can learn, until after the commencement of the present century. There were no friction matches in those early days, by the aid of which a fire could be easily kindled, and if the fire went out upon the hearth over night, and the tinder was damp, so that the spark would not catch, the alternative remained of wading through the snow a mile or so to borrow a brand from a neighbor. Only one room in any house was warm, unless some member of the family was ill; in all the rest the temperature was at zero during many nights in winter. The men and women undressed and went to their beds in a temperature colder than our barns and woodsheds, and they never complained."

Churches and schoolhouses wee sparsely located, and of the most primitive character. One pastor served a number of congregations; and salaries were so low that the preachers had to take part in working their farms to procure support for their families. The people went to religious service on foot or horseback, and the children often walked two or three miles through the woods to school. There were no fires in the churches for a number of years. When they were finally introduced they were at first built in holes out in the floors, and the smoke found its way out through openings in the roofs. The seats were of unsmoothed slabs, the ends and centers of which were laid upon blocks, and the pulpits were little better. Worship was held once or twice a month, consisting usually of two services, one in the forenoon and one immediately after noon, the people remaining during the interval and spending the time in social intercourse. It is much to be feared that if religious worship were attended with the same discomforts now as it was eighty to ninety years ago, the excuses for keeping away from the house of God would be many times multiplied.

Game, Etc.

When the county was opened to settlement, it was covered with a dense forest, which abounded with deer, bears, wolves, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, squirrel, opossums, minks and martens. This was a fortunate circumstance for the people, as the flesh of the wild beasts afforded them the only fresh meat many could obtain. Every man kept a gun and went into the woods in pursuit of game whenever the supply of food in his household ran short. Deer were abundant for years. There were numerous deer-licks, where the animals resorted to find salt water, at which the hunters lay in wait and shot them down without mercy. Bears were quite numerous, and did serious mischief to the corn fields. Wolves wee also plenty, and committed much havoc. Packs of these animals often surrounded the cabins and kept their inmates awake with their howling. A bounty was long paid for their scalps, varying in amount from $10 to $12 per head. Accounts are given of sheep being killed by wolves as late as 1813. Occasionally a panther or wild cat terrified whole neighborhoods by its screaming. The last panther was shot at Lake Pleasant by Abram Knapp in 1857. A French memoir, written in 1714, says: "Buffalo are found on the south shore of Lake Erie, but not on the north shore."

Besides the animals, the country was full of pigeons, ducks, geese, partridges and turkeys, in their season, all of which were more tame than now, and fell easy victims to the guns or traps of the pioneers. The lake, of course, contained plenty of fish, and most of the small streams abounded in trout. The rivulets emptying into French Creek were particularly famous for this favorite fish, and the stories told of their size and readiness to leap into the sportsman's hands are enough to drive an angler wild with enthusiasm. It does not appear that the county was ever much troubled with poisonous snakes. There were some massassaugies and copperheads on the peninsula, but the interior seems to have been remarkably free from dangerous reptiles.

Taken altogether, while they had to endure many privations and hardships, it is doubtful whether the pioneers of any part of America were more fortunate in their selection than those of Erie County. Every one of the settlers agrees in saying that they had no trouble in accommodating themselves to the situation, and were, as a rule, both men and women, healthy, contented and happy.

Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884),  Chapter XII, The Pioneers. pp. 229-233.


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