Ayr Township - its organization - original bounds, and progressive curtailment.


To write the complete early history of Ayr township and the earlier settlement of the territory comprised within its original bounds would be to write the history of that part of Fulton county lying east of the summit of Sideling hill, and north of the Maryland line, as well as that part of Huntingdon county now embraced in Dublin, Shirley, Tell, Cromwell, Springfield, Clay, and part of Cass, and probably part of Union townships of that county; as,  also, that part of Franklin county now embraced in Warren township (Little Cove), parts of Peters and Metal, and possibly part of Fannet townships, covering, at the time of the organization of Ayr, an area almost equal to the State of Rhode Island, and fully double the present area of Fulton county.  To do this would exceed the limits prescribed for this sketch and must therefore limit the history of Old Ayr—the Mother of Townships.


The name of the township has been variously written at different stages of its existence.  The first record of it is Aire.  Since then it has passed through various styles of orthography, as Ear, Eyre, Eyer, Ayre, Are, Air, and finally has settled down, nearly universally, to the more correct and classical Ayr; although there are still some who adhere to the last preceding orthograph—Air.


The territory, as above described, had its first municipal life in Cumberland county, as Airetownship.  The exact date of its organization is not known.  At the time (1750) of the organization of Cumberlandcounty, this territory was yet the unpurchased domain of the Indian, but on the 6th of July, 1754, the Penns, by their agents, purchased it from the chiefs of the Six Nations and it at once became a part of Cumberland county.  The Great Cove and contiguous parts were then, and had been for a long time, settled by a considerable number of adventurous pioneers, and it is reasonable to assume that a soon after ‘Purchase of 1754’ as the case could be reached by court proceedings, the township was organized.  The Sessions Docket of the Cumberland  county court, on the 21st of July, 1761, by the list of constables, shows that there were fifteen townships in all, the vast territory covered by that county, extending from the South mountain to the Alleghenies and from the Maryland line to the Susquehanna, and that Aire, Fannet, Lack, Tyrone, and perhaps one or two others, were the organized townships in the then recently purchased territory west of the Kittatinny mountain, showing that Ayr had at that date a complete municipal organization and was among the first, if not the very first, township created in the ‘Purchase of 1754.’


At October sessions, 1767, of the Cumberland county court, Ayr was divided and Dublintownship erected out of the northern end, Ayr being thus shorn of nearly half her territory.  Bethel township, January 12, 1773, shortly after Bedfordcounty was organized.  Belfast township came next; the exact date not ascertained, but it was erected prior to 1795, and not earlier than 1790.  March 29, 1798, the Little Cove, then in Ayrtownship, was detached and annexed to Franklin county.  Licking Creek township followed, September 21, 1837.


Ayr township was now confined, in the main, to the Great Cove, having the length of from eighteen to twenty miles and an average breadth of about four miles, and thus remained until March 20, 1849, when Tod township, the last, but not the least fair, of Old Mother Ayr’s family, was born.  This reduced the township, that originally covered an area of from eight hundred to nine hundred square miles, to about forty-six; and she is yet the fairest of the family.




Much of the early history of Ayrtownship is necessarily embodied in the general history of Fulton county, to which the reader is referred.  This sketch will now be confined to the township as it is at this writing, as nearly as may be; but as the Great Cove was  a conspicuous factor in the history of the state a century and a half ago, and as Ayr township embraced the entire valley until Tod township was erected, only some thirty odd years since, in speaking of the Great Cove both Ayr and Tod townships must be included.


In later years the qualifying adjective ‘Great’ was dropped, and this valley was known for years as McConnell’s Cove, by reason of the prominence of the McConnell families, who were of the earliest settlers.  More recently, however, and at the present time, the name universally employed is Big Cove.


The precise date of the first settlement of the Great Cove is not known, but it dates back certainly twenty years beyond the purchase of 1754, and, possibly, to 1730.  Benjamin Chambers’ settlement on the Conococheague, where Chambersburg now is, was begun in that year (1730).  But farther westward, under the very shadow of the Kittatinny, at or in the immediate vicinity of the place where Mercersburg now is, and near the gateway through the Kittatinny mountain, early known as Larraby’s Gap, but now as Cove Gap, was a settlement so far antedating Co. Chambers’ settlement that the requirements of the settlers justified the building of a mill in 1729, by James Black.  From this settlement, which, in that early day, was probably the farthest west in the Cumberland valley, and nearest the border that separated the white settlers from the Indian domain, no doubt radiated the early pioneers to the Great Cove through Larraby’s Gap.  The stream of water flowing through that gap, now known as Buck run, is noted in the early surveys as Larraby’s run.


That this theory of the first settlers in the Great Cove is correct, is manifest from the similarity of names.  Allison, Armstrong, Alexander, McConnell, Patterson, Reynolds, Stevens, Scott, Smith and others are names which appear prominently in the earliest settlements, alike on the western border of the Cumberland valley and in the Great Cove, and that both settlements were nearly cotemporaneous is hardly controvertible.  It went for naught with these intrepid Scotch-Irish spirits that the territory they were invading was yet the unsold domain of the Indian.  The love of adventure and the desire to possess the rich lands of this beautiful valley overcame all other considerations.  The friendly relations at that time existing between the whites and the Indians for a time gave the pioneers immunity against molestation of any serious character from the red man.


But in due time he began to regard this intrusion with suspicion and jealousy, and trouble came.  Savage though he was, he yet desired to hold sacred his treaty obligations with his pale-faced brothers, and so, after years of submission to the intrusion, he appealed to the proprietary government for the sanctity of the treaty by the expulsion of the intruders, which was done in 1750, a full account of which is given in the general history, to which the reader is directed.  But these rugged frontiersmen again returned, preferring to confront danger from the savage foe rather than remain within the pale of protection from the provincial government, although much of the finest land in the Cumberland valley was yet unappropriated by settlers.  A reasonable theory for this is, that in that locality warrants must be obtained and the land paid for as a condition precedent to appropriating it; while in the Great Cove it could be had without these preliminaries, and held, perhaps for years, before the Indian title would be extinguished and such a demand be made on them. For awhile these things worked out their expectations with reasonable smoothness.  As before state, these land were purchased from the Indians in 1754, and Ayr township was created soon thereafter.  By this treaty and purchase the Indians claimed they were defrauded.  They became discontented and lost faith in the honor of the white man, whom they had previously trusted.  The French and the English were then at war, and the French speedily availed themselves of the situation and arrayed the Indians against the English, and after the defeat of Braddock, July 8, 1755, turned their savage allies loose upon the frontiers, by which the Great Cove was devastated in the latter part of October in that year.  For detailed account of this and what transpired in the Cove during the following decade, the reader is again referred to the general history.

Ayr and Tod Townships—Early Settlers.


Among the early settlers in this valley, now Ayr and Tod townships, were, besides those before named as corresponding to like names in the frontier settlements in the Cumberland valley, the McConnells—Adam, Robert, William and Daniel.  The McConnells were prominent in, and among the earliest settlers of, the Great Cove, abut all trace of them has disappeared from the valley and the township.  In 1761 William was one of the supervisors of Ayrtownship (Reis Shelby being the other).  In that year the Cumberland county court, on the favorable report of the viewers, of whom Francis Patterson and James Smith of Ear township were part, granted a ‘bridle road’ from Carlisle, by way of Larraby’s (now Cove) Gap, to the foot of Sideling Hill, to intersect the Provincial road, and ordered the said supervisors of Ear township to open the same from Larraby’s Gap to said Provincial road, and that they ‘do have the said road completed with all convenient speed.’  This, so far as the records show, was the first public road opened by order of court through Ayrtownship, which, at that time, was yet unshorn of any part of its original area.  This road, too, passed through Stony Batter, then in Eartownship, and since become famous as the birthplace of James Buchanan, fifteenth president of the United States.


Adam McConnell, the father, settled on the land now owned by William Warthin; Robert settled on the farm now owned by William M. Patterson, and William and Daniel settled on the tract where now stands McConnellsburg.


The restless spirit of adventure induced William to sell out to Daniel, at an early day, and ‘go west.’ Daniel became the founder of the town, died there and was buried in the old burial-ground on the farm of Jacob Hykes.  The writer of this sketch had some interesting correspondence in 1876 with Adam McConnell, a grandson of the founder of McConnellsburg, and then residing in Armstrong county, Pennsylvania.  These letters were handed to the general historian and their substance embodied in the chapter devoted to McConnellsburg.


It is pertinent here to say, parenthetically, that the proprietary government did not issue any warrants or other rights for land west of the Kittatinny (now known as North) mountain prior to 1754, as the Indian title to these lands was not extinguished until July 6 of that year, but that much of the land in the Great Cove was occupied and held on claims long before that date has already been shown and is evidenced by the fact that in 1750 the settlers on these Indian lands had become so numerous as to excite the jealousy of the Indians, upon whose complaint the proprietary authorities drove these intruders out, or so many of them as could be found.  But most of them speedily returned and other pioneers rapidly followed.  Among actual settlers, claims staked out were religiously respected, and on these claims most of the settlers held their lands for years, even after the land was opened to entry.  From the first to the present time, with the exception of a brief interval from 1761 to 1769, the system of obtaining title to land in this state was by warrant.  Under this system the land applied for must be paid in advance, which, even at the low price of land, many were not able to do.  To meet this difficulty and to encourage rapid settlement and improvement, the proprietaries, in 1761, established a system of taking land on ‘application,’ by which land was sold on indefinite credit, the purchase money running at a low rate of interest, and to be a lien on the land.  This system remained in vogue until 1769, and under it much of the land in Ayr township, as also in other localities, was appropriated, and, with few exceptions, these are the earliest and oldest land titles in this valley; but these same lands in most, if not all, cases had been held for from ten to thirty years on ‘improvement claims.’  This explains the apparent discrepancy between the date of early land titles and the earlier settling the Great Cove.  Where persons were able to pay they preferred taking land on warrant, and there are some of these titles that date back farther than the application titles; notably that of David Scott, warranted in 1749, surveyed 1760, lying south of McConnellsburg and ‘calls’ to adjoin William and Daniel McConnell’s land, which was warranted and surveyed only in 1762, showing that the McConnells were in possession of and used that tract of land long before they obtained title from the proprietaries.  The evidence of this is that the McConnells were among the settlers expelled from the Great Cove in 1750.

David Scott’s is the oldest warrant in Ayrtownship, so far as investigation has revealed.  But David Scott’s right to the land was disputed by Samuel Burge’s warrant, dated February 3, 1755.  Scott settled this difficulty by purchasing Burge’s claim. (Footnote: In votes of Assembly V. 297, it is recorded that “in 1763 David Scott gave his bond to pay and maintain twenty-seven men of a scouting party for three months, during which time they repulsed the Indians who made attempts on the Great Cove, and the inhabitants got their crops reaped.”) Adjoining David Scott’s land on the west is a tract warranted to James Galbraith, February 20, 1755, now owned in parts by John B. Hoke, G. N. Hoke and others.  Five miles south of this is a tract granted by proprietary warrant to William Sloan and Alexander Nisbet, June 11, 1767, which is still in possession of the descendants of the warrantees.  Four miles farther down the valley, where formerly were the Hanover Ironworks, now Elysian Mills, John Rannells, Esq., located a warrant dated June 9, 1763.  About three years ago (abt. 1881) a storm blew down an ancient apple-tree on this property.  The tree was slightly decayed at the heart, but so far as could be determined the growths of the wood counted one hundred and twenty-three years, making no estimate of the decayed part, showing that the land was occupied, improved , and fruit-trees planted some years before a warrant was obtained.  The present stone mansion on this property was built in 1808.  The original improvements have all been obliterated.  The warrants above recited are known as proprietary.


Distributed pretty thickly throughout the Cove and within the present limits of Ayr township are lands granted from 1766 to 1769, both inclusive, on application, with present owners’ names, whre definitely known, given in brackets in the following resume, running from McConnellsburg southward: Daniel McConnell—partly in Tod—{D. T. Fields, et al.}, James Liddle; James Cunningham (two tracts) {Christian Martin, Jacob Hykes, et al.}, David Scott (two tracts besides the one on earlier warrant), Robert Hammel, Martha Hunter, “alias Swan, alias Scott,” James Poak, James Galloway {William Nesbit, J. G. Tritle, et al.}, Adam McConnell {William Warthin}, John Kerr {Rev. F. W. McNaughton, J. Finlay Johnston}, Robert McConnell {William M. Patterson and Rev. F. W. McNaughton, at Webster Mills}, Bryan and John Coyle {John F. Kendall}, Owen Owen {the old Taggart place}, James and John McKinley {late Col. James H. Johnston, John Sowers}, James Wilson {Joseph B. Mellott}, Mary Brackenridge {John Hege}, William Beatty {Widow Hendershot}.  Returning to Webster Mills, thence down the Cove creek, noted in the early surveys as East Branch of Licking creek, we have, first under this system of granting rights, the tract granted to William Smith, Samuel Findley and William Marshall {patented to Daniel Royer, and now owned by Rev. L. Chambers, Benjamin Fisher, George Mellott, Dr. P. McCauley Cook, et al.}, Jeremiah Stilwell {Mrs. Magdalena Pott’s heirs}, Samuel Gib {Jonathan Hess, et al.}, James Mitchell {Thomas Humbert}.


Nest to the few proprietary warrants previously noted, these application rights are the oldest within the present bounds of Ayrtownship.  This system of granting lands on indefinite credit was abandoned some time during 1769, and thenceforth land was sold only on warrants and for cash, and the titles to all lands in this township, as elsewhere, granted after 1769 rest on warrants.


In that part of the Great Cove north of the turnpike and now embraced in Tod township, the settling was cotemporaneous with that part south of the turnpike, and the lands there were settled and held in like manner before the extinguishment of the Indian title, and subject to the same interruptions by both the civil authorities and the Indians.

Among the oldest, if not the very oldest, land-office right within Tod township is the farm of the late Dr. Jacob S. Trout, deceased, which was granted to John Queery by proprietary warrant, dated September 8, 1755.  Adjoining this is the farm of George C. Scott, originally granted to Alexander Queery on application, dated May 8, 1767; and the farm of John M. Sloan, originally grated to James Rhea on application dated April 2, 1767.


In the northerly end of the Great Cove, in Tod township, the early settlements were contemporaneous with those in and about McConnellsburg, warrants for land on Licking Creek Flats having been issued as early as 1762-3 to Patrick Maxwell, James Maxwell, David McCrory, Edward Head, Bigger Head, Edward Lingenhead, et al.  Much of these lands now belong to the descendants of the late David Fore, deceased, of late advent into the Great Cove from Maryland, and who, in 1828, was one of the representatives in the legislature of Pennsylvania from Bedfordcounty.  About a decade later, his brother, H. H. Fore, was also elected to the legislature.


In the northerly end of the Great Cove (Tod township), on land now owned by A. J. Fore and formerly known as the Comerer farm, there was, in the time of the above-named early pioneers, erected a private stockade fort, as a refuge for the frontier settlers during Indian disturbances.  A similar fort also existed on the farm of the late James Kendall, two miles south of McConnellsburg.


This territory, until recently in Ayr, but now included within the bounds of Tod township, can justly be proud of two of its sons, who have won distinction and honor in science and statecraft.


Prof. John H. Tice, of St. Louis, Missouri, recently deceased, grew to manhood here and went hence to wider fields to seek fame and fortune, and was successful in both.  He was in every sense a self-made man, and became prominent as an electrician, meteorologist, astronomer and mathematician.  Interesting incidents of his boyhood could be related if space permitted.  Among his school companions and neighbors he was accounted lazy.  They did not know the active brain of the boy, but have since learned to know him as a man of superior talents and of indefatigable industry and energy.


(Source: The History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania, Waterman, Watkins and Co., 1884, pp. 634-6.)

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