Bell Anthology - Washington Co. History

The Raymond M. Bell Anthology

Washington County, Pennsylvania Before 1800
      (This account deals only with present Washington County, and 
      does not include Greene County or southern Allegheny County, 
      which were a part of the original Washington County, formed 
      in 1781.) 
           The land office at Philadelphia opened April 3-1769 and 
      began taking applications for land in southwestern Pennsylvania. 
      So began the movement of settlers to this region, coming from 
      Maryland, Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania. The first settlements 
      were made on bottom land or along streams. Orders of survey were 
      issued. These had to be followed up by a warrant-to-accept and a 
      patent. Many persons simply settled and applied later. 
           Not until the formation of Bedford County in 1771 was there 
      legal jurisdiction. Two years later Westmoreland County was formed. 
      Washington County was a part of Pitt Township. In 1776 Virginia, 
      claiming jurisdiction, formed Monongalia, Ohio and Yohogania 
      Counties. See map. The formation of Washington County in 1781 
      ended the dispute with Virginia. Monongalia County and Ohio 
      County continue to this day as West Virginia counties. Yohogania 
      County has disappeared, although its court records have been 
      published and the estate and deed records are in Washington 
      County deed books B, C, E. 
           There is a 1778 tax list for Ohio County, which included the
      western part of present Washington County. Listed are 352 Taxables. 
      Yohogania had 910, but the names are not given. Monongalia records 
      before 1796 were lost in a fire. The yearly tax lists for Washington 
      County begin in 1782. These are valuable sources for genealogists. 
      Because of Indian attacks, state taxes for some townships were 
      exonerated in 1782, 1783, 1789. 
           There is an excellent summary for Washington County in 1783:
      taxables 2408, houses 1670, whites 11800, blacks 300 (about half 
      were slaves), horses 4250, cows 4900, sheep 6800, gristmills 25, 
      sawmills 10, stills 60, tanyards 5. By 1790 there were 3100 taxables 
      and 18343 inhabitants, in 1800 4970 and 28298. 
           In the formation of Washington County in 1781 there were 14 
      townships (3 went to Greene County in 1796). The eleven were Amwell, 
      Bethlehem, Cecil, Donegal, Fallowfield, Hopewell, Nottingham, Peters 
      (part to Allegheny County 1788), Robinson (also part to Allegheny in 
      1788), Smith, Strabane. Formed before 1800 were these additional 
      townships: 1782 Somerset; 1786 Hanover; 1788 Finley, Morris, East 
      Bethlehem, West Bethlehem; 1789 Cross Creek; 1790 Chartiers; 1791 
      Canton; 1792 Pike Run; 1799 Buffalo. 
           Land grants were made 1769-1775. From December 2-1776 to July 
      1-1784 there were none. From July 1-1784 to December 31-1786 there 
      were many surveys on land often settled much earlier. When the 
      Virginia-Pennsylvania boundary dispute was settled, it was agreed 
      that persons who thought they were in Virginia could apply for a 
      Virginia certificate, which would be honored by Pennsylvania. They 
      had to have put in a corn crop or have lived a year on the land. 
      The dates given for southwestern Pennsylvania tell when the settlers 
      came. There were many other settlers who did not get certificates. 
      The settlement dates given in the certificates are: 1769 32, 1770 
      64, 1771 14, 1772 141, 1773 148, 1774 306, 1775 167, 1776 65, 1777 
      20, 1778 2, 1779 3, 1780 2. Certificates were issued between October 
      30-1779 and June 26-1780 for these tracts in southwestern Pennsylvania:
      Yohogania 285, Ohio 165, Monongalia 30. 
           The surveys made by Virginia, 20 on Pigeon Creek and 23 on Buffalo 
      Creek, were honored by Pennsylvania. 
           Slaves were brought into present Washington County mainly from 
      Maryland and Virginia. All slaves had to be registered by December 
      31-1782. There were about 350 in present Washington County, 109 of 
      them in Fallowfield Township. Those born after 1782 had to be 
      registered. The last one was on June 4-1825. There were about 200. 
      See Crumrine, History of Washington County, page 258. At age 28 all 
      slaves born after 1782 were to be free. In the 1814 county census 
      there were 32 slaves, ages 9 to 75. 
           In 1775 Lexington and Concord seemed far away. But then threats 
      of Indian attacks, backed by the British, began to alarm the settlers. 
      A council of war was held at Catfish (now Washington) January 28-29, 
      1777. Ohio County appointed captains. Six were from present Washington 
      County: James Buchanan, David English, Jacob Leffler, Samuel Teter, 
      Reason Virgin, David Williamson. A complete list of the men in each 
      company, as listed in the Draper Manuscripts, has been published in 
      the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Quarterly 12:3:13. 
      Records for Yohogania and Monongalia Counties have not been found. 
           After the formation of Washington County the militia was organized 
      in the spring of 1782. Colonels from present Washington County were: 
      Thomas Crooke, John Marshal, David Williamson. Each battalion had 8  
      captains, each captain about 50 men. They are listed in Pennsylvania 
      Archives VI 2. Most of the service was scouting and spying. There was 
      very little "fighting." 
           War neared southwestern Pennsylvania on September 1-1777 when 
      Indians attacked Fort Henry (Wheeling, West Virginia). From this 
      time on Indians made sporadic attacks on settler cabins. The only 
      "battle" was at Rice's Fort in Donegal Township in 1782. See below. 
      The Miller fort was attacked in March 1782. 
           Records of attacks (killings and captures) begin in the summer 
      of 1779. In the spring of 1780 45 persons were killed in the three 
      Virginia counties. In August 1781 William Hawkins and others were 
      killed. February 1782 brought attacks on the Carpenter and Wallace 
      families. Miller's Fort was attacked March 31-1782, Rice's on 
      September 14. The Indians were ordered by the British to cease 
      attacks. But attacks continued in the spring of 1783, May 1784, 
      June 1785, November 1787, March 1789. The last attack was in August 
      1789 when the father and mother and six children were killed. 
      Rice's Fort 
           This fort in Donegal Township had 3 connected blockhouses. 
      Families in the neighborhood sought refuge there when danger was 
      near. On September 11-1782 Indians attacked Fort Henry. But they 
      were repulsed. So a band of 60 headed east and about 11 am on 
      September 14 attack Rice's Fort. After intense fighting they gave 
      up about 4 am Sunday morning and retreated to Ohio. Captain Jacob 
      Leffler had gone to Wheeling to help defend Fort Henry. Other men 
      had gone to Hagerstown, Maryland for supplies such as iron and salt. 
      Abraham Rice had gone to a neighbor to get news. 
           This left six men to defend the fort. The north blockhouse 
      was manned by Peter Fullenwider 22 and Daniel Rice 18, the central 
      one by Jacob Miller Jr 20 and George Philabaum 27, the south by 
      George Leffler 31 and Jacob Leffler Jr 17. George Philabaum was 
      killed by a shot through a porthole. Killed outside were a Fullenwider 
      child and Conrad Philabaum, father of George. (In September 1982 the
      bicentennial was observed with a special program in the nearby Dutch 
      Fork Christian Church.) 
      Later Years 
           The winter of 1779-80 was very severe, the coldest in a century.
      Inflation hit the settlers, prices were 140 times higher. But peace 
      was welcome. The year 1794 brought the Whiskey Insurrection. The 
      federal direct (window) tax lists the houses in Washington County. 
      There were 2549 under $100. 696 $100 to $1000, 13 over $1000. One of 
      the 13 was in Canonsburg ($1400); the others were in Washington. The 
      top three were: Valentine Tavern (wood) $1600, Bradford House (stone) 
      $1400, lawyer Keppele's house (brick) $1250. All the other houses 
      (about 100) were of wood except the stone Huston Tavern ($450). 
           The 1800 county census shows 4970 men over 21. Their occupations 
      are given. The farmers were 77%, weavers 2.5%, blacksmiths 2.0%. The 
      list is interesting. How different from one made in 1993. 
           boat builder 
           book seller 
           button maker 
           cabinet maker 
           chair maker 
           clock maker 
           hackle maker 
           singing maste 
           skin drier 
           stone mason 
           store keeper 
           wagon maker 
      The dictionary is needed to determine what some of these 
      occupations were. 
           These men were about the best known in this period: 
           John Canon founder d 1798 from Chester Co 
           Thaddeus Dodd minister b 1740 d 1793 New Jersey 
           John Hoge founder b 1760 d 1824 Cumberland Co 
           John McMillan minister b 1752 d 1833 Chester Co 
           Dorsey Pentecost judge d 1793 KY Virginia 
           Van Swearingen sheriff b 1743 d 1793 WV West Va 
           Henry Taylor judge b 1738 d 1801 Maryland 
           David Williamson colonel b 1752 d 1809 Cumberland Co 
      Two academies were founded: Washington 1787, Canonsburg 1794. 
           The majority of the settlers in present Washington County were 
      Ulster-Scot - Presbyterian. In 1790 there were 11 Presbyterian, 
      4 Baptist, 2 Methodist congregations, plus Ten-Mile Church of the 
      Brethren, Bethlehem (now Lutheran), St Thomas Episcopal, Westland 
      Quaker Meeting. 
           The Presbyterians established a society large enough to build 
      a church and call a minister. He was likely to serve for a number of 
      years. The Presbyterian churches were: 
           1778 Chartiers (N Strabane) - Pigeon Creek (Somerset) 
           1779 Upper Ten-Mile (Morris) - Lower Ten-Mile (Amwell) 
                Upper Buffalo (Hopewell) - Cross Creek (Cross Creek) 
           1789 Raccoon (Robinson) - Three Ridges (West Alexander) 
                (Donegal) - Lower Buffalo (Independence) 
      There were two Associate (United) Presbyterian churches: 
      1782 Chartiers (Chartiers) - North Buffalo (Buffalo) 
           Two other Buffalo churches came later: 1802 East Buffalo 
      (originally German) (Buffalo) - 1811 South Buffalo (Associate) (Buffalo). 
           The Methodists had circuit riders beginning in 1784. These men 
      preached daily, generally in cabins. The circuits were flexible and 
      well-organized under Bishop Francis Asbury. The first two buildings 
      were erected in 1786: Doddridge Chapel (Independence), Hawkins Chapel 
      (now Taylor Church) (West Pike Run). 
           The Baptists were the first to establish congregations. These 
      were somewhat independent: 1773 Ten-Mile (Amwell), 1773 Peters Creek 
      (Union), 1775 Pigeon Creek (Somerset), about 1775 Pike Run (Fallowfield). 
      Other groups with founding dates are 1785 Westland Quaker Meeting 
      (East Bethlehem), 1788 Bethlehem (now Lutheran) (German origin) 
      (West Bethlehem), 1789 St Thomas Episcopal (West Pike Run). The 
      Ten-Mile Church of the Brethren (also German origin) may have started 
      about 1776 with preaching in the cabin of Martin Spohn by Daniel 
           In 1782 a petition for a new state was circulated in southwestern
       Pennsylvania. There were about 2000 signatures on the petition 
      submitted to the Continental Congress January 27-1783. The first 
      court for Washington County was held September 17-1782. The town 
      plan of Washington (town) was made October 13-1782. In this write-
      up census, church, court, land and tax records have been consulted. 
      The Draper Manuscripts at Madison, Wisconsin are valuable, also 
      the books by Boyd Crumrine on Virginia Courts and the History of 
      Washington County. 
      How They Lived 
           The problems of every-day life in what had recently been a 
      wilderness were food, clothing and shelter. The cabin was often 
      built before the family came. Trees had to be cut down to make a 
      clearing and a crude log cabin constructed of round logs, the 
      cracks between daubed with clay. The roof was clapboard, the 
      chimney at one end was stone, the floor was puncheon. As for 
      furnishings, slab benches, three-legged stools and a round table 
      were soon made. The family slept on bedsteads of cord and straw, 
      with coverings of blankets, or sometimes fur. There was a cupboard 
      of clapboard; clothing was usually hung on pegs on the walls. The 
      door was made in two sections, the upper half being left open in 
      fair weather, while the lower half protected the family from unwanted
           A gun was always kept by the door. The children slept in a 
      loft at the end of the cabin opposite the fireplace. Until an 
      outside oven was built, the big fireplace was used for cooking. The 
      women were kept busy preparing meals, baking, washing, scouring, 
      mending, sewing and spinning. Even milking the cow was left to the 
      women. Every one was busy from dawn to dusk. 
           To make the wilderness land into a productive farm, trees and 
      underbrush had to be cleared, the earth plowed and sowed with wheat, 
      rye, corn and flax. Implements needed were plow, sickle, hoe, spade, 
      ax, maul, wedge, hatchet. The land was fertile. Soon they had wheat 
      to grind in the handmill. Game was plentiful: buffalo, elk, bear, 
      squirrels, wild turkeys. But there were panthers, wolves, buzzards, 
      eagles, ravens. Snakes were ever present, and gnats and other insects 
      abounded in warm weather. 
           There was fruit, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, 
      gooseberries, cherries, crab apples, grapes, pawpaws, plums. The 
      family was well fed, with hog and hominy, johnny cake and cornpone, 
      sausage, mush and milk. The German settlers added sauerkraut, ponhaus 
      and smearcase to the menu. 
           Nearly everything needed could be grown or made at home. Trips to 
      the east were needed for salt and iron. The men wore a hunting shirt, 
      breeches, leggings, jacket and cap, and usually moccasins. The women 
      wore a plain gown and a handkerchief for head covering. The children 
      went barefoot, except in cold weather. 
           Neighbors shared with one another, perhaps carpenter or shoemaker 
      tools, a grindstone or loom. House raisings and weddings were important
       events. In addition to horses and cows there were sheep, geese, hogs 
      and even beehives. When guests came pewter dishes were brought out to 
      replace the every-day wooden bowls, trenchers and noggins. Each cabin 
      had a spinning wheel, but clocks were scarce. A family Bible was used 
      to keep records. 
           This was life in the late 1700s. It was a rough life and even a 
      hard one, but with fair weather, good crops and friendly neighbors 
      not an unhappy one. 
           About 1780 there were three unusual problems - very severe winter
      weather, the coldest in 100 years - inflation 140 to 1 -and of course, 
      Indians. But the population increased and improvements were made - life 
      was better. 
                                                  Raymond Martin Bell 

This article was transcribed by Cecily Sprouse of Davis, CA in February 1998.

Raymond M. Bell Anthology     Genealogy in Washington Co., PA

Published with permission of Raymond M. Bell.