BLACK BOYS—-MASON AND
Reasons for organizing the Pennsylvania Regulators, termed "Black Boys"—-James Smith, their Chief Leader—-His Experience as an Indian Captive—-A large Pack- Horse Train Destroyed near Sideling Hill—-Smith’s Version of the Affair—-Official Side of the Story, Including Letters from Gen. Gage, Gov. John Penn, Col. Reid, and Curious Literary Productions of the Black Boys—-Smith Tells how he Captured Fort Bedford—-His Subsequent Arrest and Acquittal—-His Career Subsequently—-Mason and Dixon’s Line—-Conflicting Land Grants—-Their Boundaries—-An Early Geographer—-Long Continued Disputes—-Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon finally Establish the Line between Pennsylvania and Maryland.
THE BLACK BOYS.
After a period of
more than ten years of relentless savage warfare, the conclusion of peace, in
1765, with the various tribes of the Northwest, found many of the inhabitants
occupying the border settlements of
leader of the "Black Boys" was James Smith. It appears that in May,
1755, while engaged with others in opening a road from
Early in March,
1765, a trader named Wharton, of
Shortly after this (1764) the Indians stole horses and killed some people on the frontiers. The king’s proclamation was then circulating, and set up in various public places, prohibiting any person from trading with the Indians until further orders.
this, about March 1, 1765, a number of wagons loaded with Indian goods and warlike
stores were sent from
had scarcely any ammunition, and were almost naked, to supply them now would be a kind of murder, and would be illegally trading at the expense of the blood and treasure of the frontiers. Notwithstanding his powerful reasoning, these traders made game of what he said, and would only answer him by ludicrous burlesque.
When I beheld this, and found that Mr. Duffield could not compel them to store up their goods, I collected ten of my old warriors that I had formerly disciplined in the Indian way, went off privately after night, and encamped in the woods. The next day, as usual, we blacked and painted, and waylaid them near Sideling Hill.* I scattered my men about forty rods along the side of the road, and ordered every two to take a tree, and about eight or ten rods between each couple, with orders to keep a reserved fire—- one not to fire until his comrade had loaded his gun. By this means we kept a constant slow fire upon them, from front to rear. We then heard nothing of these traders’ merriment or burlesque. When they saw their packhorses falling close by them, they called out, "Pray, gentlemen, what would you have us to do?" The reply was, "Collect all your loads to the front and unload them in one place; take your private property and immediately retire." When they were gone we burnt what they left, which consisted of blankets, shirts, vermilion, lead, beads, wampum, tomahawks, scalping--knives, etc.
The traders went
back to Fort Loudon, and applied to the commanding officer there, and got a
party of Highland soldiers, and went with them in quest of the robbers, as they
called us; and, without applying to a magistrate or obtaining any civil
authority, but purely upon suspicion, they took a number of creditable persons
(who were chiefly not anyway concerned in this action) and confined them in the
guard-house in Fort Loudon. I then raised three hundred riflemen, marched to
This act of the
"Black Boys" created a profound sensation throughout the provinces of
*Local writers have erroneously stated that this affair occurred at Bloody Run, now Everett.
*Smith makes a
mistake here when he says that Captain Grant was the commander of
At a Council held at
Present: The Honourable JOHN PENN, Esquire, Lieuten‘t. Governor, &ca., Benjamin Chew, Richard Penn, Lynford Lardner, Esq’rs.
The Governor laid before the Board a Letter he received from his Excellency Major General Gage, dated the 16, June, 1765, inclosing extracts of 2 Letters, and a Copy of an Advertisement he had received from Lieutenant Colonel Reid complaining of the riotous Conduct of the Inhabitants of Cumberland, their Insults & Abuses to his Majesty’s Troops, &ca, which were severally read, & are as follows, viz.:
A LETTER FROM GENERAL GAGE TO THE GOVERNOR.
Sir: I have the honor to transmit to you some Extracts of Letters which I have received concerning the Proceedings of the inhabitants of Cumberland County, who appear daily in Arms and seem to be in actual State of Rebellion. It appears, likewise, that the Rebels are supported by some of the Magistrates, particularly one Smith, a Justice of the Peace, and headed by his Son. Unless these Insurrections are immediately quelled, and the Authors and Abettors of them brought to punishment, it is impossible to say where they will end. If the King’s Troops are fired upon, and his Forts threatened with Assaults by Men in Arms, headed by Magistrates, who refuse the ordinary Course of justice demanded of them by the Officers, I can’t pretend to answer for the Consequences. It belongs to you to point out the Measures proper to be taken in such Circumstances, but it is my duty to represent these matters to you, and to offer you every assistance in my power for the support of Government, and to enforce an Obedience to the Laws, both which seem in danger of entire Subversion.
It is proper to
acquaint you that a very large Convoy of Goods went from
I am, with great regard, Sir
Your most Obed’ humble Servt.,
EXTRACT FROM A LETTER FROM COL. REID TO GEN. GAGE.
I received Letters
from Lieut. Grant, Commanding at
EXTRACT FROM A LETTER FROM LIEUT-COL. REID, COMMANDING HIS MAJESTY’S FORCES IN THE DISTRICT OF FORT PITT, TO HIS EXCELLENCY GEN. GAGE, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, &C., &C., &C.
The first rendezvous of the Rioters was at Justice Smith’s, about 5 Miles from Fort Loudon, the 6 day of March last; From thence they followed the first Convoy of Goods, consisting of eighty-one horse loads, twelve miles further, and burnt and pillaged Sixty-three loads. Capt. Callender applied to Lieut. Grant for a Sergeant and 12 Men, which he agreed to, who saved the remaining loads, chiefly consisting of Liquor, and made some of the rioters prisoners, who were afterwards released upon Bail, and took eight rifles, in all which Lieut. Grant is justified by Brigr. Boquet; in his Letter of the 14th of March, who desires him to keep the rifles in his possession till the Owners’ names shall be found out, which he has accordingly done. Lieut. Grant in his Letter to Brigadier Boquet, of the 9th of March, informs him that he was threaten’d if he did not deliver up his prisoners, that, 200 Men in Arms would come and burn the Fort and rescue them by Force, which obliged Lieut’t. Grant to keep his Garrison under Arms a whole night, being in expectation of an Assault, and upon their being admitted to Bail, Smith, the ringleader of the Rioters, had the Assurance to come into the Fort, and told Lieutenant Grant that they were determined to fire upon the Troops, in case they attempted to carry these Men Prisoners to Carlisle.
Several Horses loaded with Liquors, and Necessaries for the Troops on the Communication, belonging to Joseph Spears, arrived at Fort Loudon, where the Goods were deposited, and the Drivers carried their Horses as usual into the Woods to Feed, where they were attacked by about thirty of the Rioters in disguise, with their faces blacked, who tied them up and flogged them severely, killed five of their horses, wounded two more; and burnt all their Saddles. One of the drivers who made his Escape, returned to the Fort and implored the Protection and assistance of the Commanding Officer, in rescuing his Companions and preventing the Horses from being killed. Lieut’t. Grant thought it his duty to send a Sergeant & 12 men for that purpose; the Rioters finding themselves pursued, fired upon the Party, who returned the Fire, & Slightly wounded one of them in the Thigh.
10th of May. About 150 of the Rioters in Arms, Commanded, as I am informed, by James Smith, and attended by three Justices of the Peace, appeared before the Fort & demanded to Search the Goods, with an intention, it is believed to plunder and destroy them as they had done before. Lieutenant Grant, suspecting their design, told the Justices that the Goods were under his protection by order of time Commander-in-Chief, who had been pleas’d to send him Instructions to have an inventory of the Goods taken by a Justice of the Peace, and that he intended to apply to one of their number to have it done, but did not think it safe at that time in presence of such a Mob, whom he had reason to suspect; to which the Justices made answer that they wou’d not come again, and impertinently said that they were not under the General’s Orders, but that it is their Governor’s Orders they are to obey. The Justices further told Lieutenant Grant that they would pay no regard to any Military Officer’s pass of whatever rank he might be, and that no Goods whatever could be safe in going along the Communication without a pass* from a Justice of the Peace. After this declaration it cannot be doubted that some of these Justices have encouraged the rioters, & even protect them in
*The passes issued by Justice William Smith, and his son, James Smith, the leader of the "Black Boys," were usually written as follows:
"CUMBERLAND Co. ss:
"By William Smith, Esq., one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, of said County.
"Permit the Bearer, Thos. McCammis, to pass to Fort Bedford, with nine Kegs of Rum, Eight Kegs of Wine, One Keg of Spirits, One Keg of Molasses, Three Kegs of brown Sugar, Four Kegs packed with Loaf Sugar and Coffee and Chocolate, in all Twenty-six Kegs, and One bag of Shoes, provided always, that this Permit shall not Extend to Carry any Warlike Stores, or any Article not herein mentioned.
"Given under my Hand & Seal, 15th May, 1765.
"(Signed) WM. SMITH.
"As the Sidling Hill Volunteers have already Inspected these goods, and as they are all private property, it is Expected that none of these brave fellows will molest them upon the Road, as there is no Indian Supplies amongst them. Given under my Hand, May 15th, l765.
their lawless measures; none of the Justices have taken any notice of the outrage and violence committed on Lieut. Grant and the two Sergeants I made mention of in my last; on the contrary, Smith, who heads these villains, together with the rest of the party who committed these Violences, have appeared ever since openly at Justice Smith’s house and were seen there by Lieut. Grant himself, who complained of them to the said Justices, but could obtain no redress. Mr. Maxwell, a Justice of the Peace, who has always disapproved of the measures of the rioters, has had his life threatened by them. He tells me that one of the Rioters had the assurance to confess to him the day before they appeared in arms before the Fort, that they were determined by Force to seize upon the Goods, and plunder them, which he says the Rioters made no secret of. Mr. Maxwell also says that the common place of Rendezvous for them is at Justice Smith’s, who, he believes, encourages them. I have seen some passes signed by Justice Smith and his Brother-in-law, not only for traders, but even for Soldiers of the Garrison, who are not safe to go any, where about their lawful affairs by a pass from their own Officers. They use the Troops upon every occasion with such indignity & abuse that Flesh and Blood cannot bear it. A party of them had the impudence again to intercept the Express I mentioned in my last, in his return from Carlisle to this place, used him cruelly and detained him all day yesterday; one Wilson, who seemed to head the party, told the Express that they were determined to stop the Cloathing of the Regiment on its way from Carlisle.
These are to give notice to all our Loyal Volunteers, to those that has not yet enlisted, you are to come to our Town and come to our Tavern and fill your Belly’s with Liquor and your Mouth with swearing, and you will have your pass, but if not, your Back must be whipt & your mouth be gagged; You need not be discouraged at our last disappointment, for our Justice did not get the Goods in their hands as they expected, or we should all have a large Bounty. But our Justice has wrote to the Governor, and everything clear on our side, and we will have Grant, the Officer of Loudon, Whip’d or Hang’d, and then we will have Orders for the Goods, so we need not Stop; what we have or mind and will do for the Governor will pardon our Crimes, and the Clergy will give us absolution, and the Country will stand by us; so we may do what we please, for we have Law and Government in our hands, & we have a large sum of money raised for our support, but we must take care that it will be spent in our Town, for our Justice gives us, and those that have a mind to join us, free toleration for drinking, swearing, Sabbath-breaking, and any outrage what we have a mind to do, to let those Strangers know their place. It was first Possess (Black’s Town), and we move it to Squire Smith’s Town, and now I think I have a right to call it, and will still remain till our pleasure, and we call it Hell’s town, in Cumberland County, the 25th May, 1765.
Your Scripture says that "the Devil is the Father of Lies," but I assure you this is the plain truth what I say.
God Bless our brave, loyal Volunteers, and success to our Hellstown.
The foregoing letters, etc., having been duly considered, the council advised the governor to write to the justices of the peace of Cumberland, fully acquainting them with the complaints made by Col. Reid against the people of that county, and requiring them to obtain a full account of their behavior, the names of the persons concerned in any riots, supported by affidavits, and particularly as to making Lieut. Grant a prisoner, and to transmit the same to the governor; and also commanding them to use their utmost endeavors to suppress all riots, to preserve the public peace, and bring the offenders to justice. The members of the Board were likewise of the opinion that a letter should be sent to Justice Smith requiring him to visit Philadelphia to answer the new charges against him; another to Justice Maxwell requiring him to appear at the same time, with witnesses to support his testimony; another to Lieut. Grant, desiring him to send depositions relating to his being made a prisoner, and the abuses and insults he had received, and lastly that the governor reply to Gen. Gage’s letter, giving him a detailed statement of his own conduct on receiving intelligence of the destruction of the goods at Sideling Hill. The following is an extract from Gov. Penn’s letter to Gen. Gage:
SIR: Last Week I was
honoured with your Excellency’s Letter of the 16
inst.; inclosing extracts of two Letters from Lieut.-Col. Reid, concerning the
Riotous Conduct of some of the Inhabitants of Cumberland County. In the detail
the Col. has given you, he begins the affair of the Destruction of the Goods at
Sideling Hill, in March last, about which I wrote you at the time, and
mentioned my intention of going to Carlisle, in order to get more certain
Intelligence about that matter, & to take the proper Steps to bring the
Offenders to Justice. This affair was an object of much concern to me, and I
was extremely anxious to make a discovery of the Offenders, that an effectual
stop might be put to any practices of the like sort for the future. I
accordingly made a Journey to
me with all the names of ye Witnesses who could be supposed to know anything of the matter; altho’ I could not gain certain proofs of the persons who committed the Fact, I caused Warrants to be instantly issued for such as were suspected, and the Sheriff was dispatched to execute them, being authorized to collect the power of the County to his aid, and instructed to desire the assistance of the King’s troops at Fort Loudon, if he should find it necessary. This Step, however, proved ineffectual; the suspected persons had all absconded before he arrived in the part of the County where they lived, so that no one was apprehended. In the meantime the Witnesses were sent for & examined on Oath, and I here with send you Copies of several of the Depositions by which you will perceive what part Justice Smith, who is charged to have encouraged the Rioters, appears to have acted upon that occasion. All the Witnesses who were examined, as well as a number of others who were then absent, were, by my orders, bound over to give Evidence at the next Court, and Bills of Indictment were accordingly presented to the Grand Jury, but tho’ all the Witnesses appeared and were examined by the Jury, it seems, they were of Opinion that there was not sufficient Testimony to convict a single Person charged, and the Bills were returned ignoramus.
Thus I have the Satisfaction to acquaint you, that in a regular Course of Justice, I have done everything on this occasion that could be done consistent web Law. Indeed, if the Assembly had paid any regard to my recommendation some time ago, and framed a proper Militia Law, all the late Mischief and disturbance might have been prevented, such a Law being absolutely necessary to aid the civil powers, and indeed the only natural defence and support of Government.
With regard to the late disturbances mentioned by Col. Reid, and which you have recommended to my Notice, I shall take all possible means to come at the truth of them in a legal and regular way, most of them having been communicated to me as bare reports, I did, however, in consequence thereof, in my late Proclamation, repeat my injunctions and strict Commands to the Magistrates, Sheriffs, and other Officers to use their utmost endeavors to suppress all Riots and disorderly proceedings among the people, and I am in hopes, now, that the Indian Trade is everywhere opened, and all persons in this Province who carry up Goods for that purpose, will have Licenses from me, & all these disturbances will be at an end.
The Advertisement you did me the honour to inclose me is a very extraordinary one. The insinuations in it, that the Conduct of those lawless people is countenanced & abetted by me, are Villainously false & scandalous, and most injurious to my Reputation. I shall spare no pains in detecting the Authors of it, but I cannot help suspecting that it takes its rise from a party in this province, who have been indefatigable in. their endeavors to malign and traduce me on all occasions.
I am much obliged to you for your offers of assistance to me in the support of Government to & enforce an obedience to the Laws. You may well be assured that if I gain information & proof of the persons who have been concerned in these Outrages, particularly the insults offered to the King’s Forts & the abuse of the Officers & Soldiers, I shall immediately order them to be apprehended & made Examples of, & if, in the Execution of this Business, the assistance of the regular Troops shall be found necessary, I shall take the liberty of applying to you to furnish me with a Detachment on the occasion.
I am with great regard,
Sir, your most Obedt. h’ble servant,
To His Excellency TheHon’ble Thomas Gage.
all the efforts made to apprehend, convict and punish Capt. Smith and his
daring band of regulators, it seems they were futile, for, in the vicinity of
Forts Loudon and Bedford, they continued to make life burdensome, as regarded
British soldiers and unscrupulous Indian traders; for several years thereafter.
In 1769 Smith performed one of the most lawless and fearless achievements of
his life—-the capture of
In the year 1769,
the Indians again made incursions on the frontiers; yet the traders continued
carrying goods and warlike stores to them. The frontiers took time alarm, and a
number of persons collected, destroyed, and plundered a quantity of their
powder, lead, &c., in
Though I did not
altogether approve of the conduct of this new club of Black Boys, yet I
concluded that they should not lie in irons in the guard-house or remain in
confinement by arbitrary or military power. I resolved, therefore, if possible,
to release them, if they even should be tried by the civil law afterward. I
collected eighteen of my old Black Boys that I had seen tried in the Indian
war, &c. I did nut desire a large party, lest they should be too much alarmed
and erected tents, as though we
intended staying all night; and not a man in my company knew to the contrary
save myself. Knowing that they would hear this in
As the moon rose
about 11 o’clock, I ordered my boys to march, and we went on, at the rate of
five miles an hour, until we met Thompson at the place appointed. He told us
that the commanding officer had frequently heard of us by travelers, and had
ordered thirty men upon guard. He said they knew our number, and only made game
of the notion of eighteen men coming to rescue the prisoners; but they did not
expect us until toward the middle of the day. I asked him if the gate was open.
He said it was then shut, but he expected they would open it, as usual, at
daylight, as they apprehended no danger. I then moved my men privately up under
the banks of the
Some time after
this, Smith, his younger brother and brother-in-law, set out on horseback from
their homes for the purpose of visiting and surveying lands owned by Smith in
the Youghiogheny valley. When within about nine miles of
*It is claimed that
the flag which floated over this fort on the morning of its capture by Smith is
now in the possession of parties residing in the vicinity of
whilst the other part, namely, James Smith, Johnson and Moorhead, taking along
the other road, were met by John Holmes, Esq. (see history of Bedford Borough,
where, in 1761, John Holmes is mentioned as owning land just northwest of
"Bedford manor," and on the right bank of the Raystown
branch), to whom James Smith spoke in a friendly manner, but received no
answer. Mr. Holmes hastened and gave an alarm in Bedford, from whence a party
of men were sent in pursuit of them; but Smith and his companions, not having
the least thought of any such measures being taken (why should they?), traveled
slowly on. After they had gained the place where the roads joined, they delayed
until the other part of their company should come up. At this time a number of
men came riding, like men traveling; they asked Smith his name, which he told them,
on which they immediately assaulted him as highwaymen and with presented
pistols commanded him to surrender or he was a dead man; upon which Smith
stepped back, asked them if they were highwaymen, charging them at the same
time to stand off, when immediately Robert George (one of the assailants)
snapped a pistol at Smith’s head, and that before Smith offered to shoot (which
said George himself acknowledged upon oath), whereupon Smith presented his gun
at another of the assailants, who was preparing to shoot him with his pistol,
the said assailant having a hold of Johnson by the arm; two shots were fired,
one from Smith’s gun, the other from a pistol, so quick as just to be
distinguishable, and Johnson fell. After which Smith was taken and carried into
*From a statement prepared by William Smith, of Conococheague, October 16, 1769.
In 1772, he was elected
one of the county assessors of
We now come to the
consideration of the second topic indicated by the heading of this chapter-—Mason
The knowledge of
American geography two hundred and fifty years ago was very imperfect. It
embraced little beyond the great headlands, bays and rivers, and their true
positions were not reliably known. But the monarchs of Europe, who cared little
about their undeveloped possessions in America, and who executed conveyances
which covered the larger parts of a continent, assumed that they knew all about
the location of capes, bays, islands and rivers, and that the distances they
placed them apart were reliable. They were less precise in the location of
points and in the use of terms which were to define the boundaries of future
states than people of today would be in describing a town lot. The consequences
were, that conflicting grants were made, leading to long and angry disputes,
such as that which grew out of the opposing claims regarding the boundary line
between the provinces of
It appears that in
the early part of the seventeenth century a bold navigator, named Capt. John
Smith, had been employed by the companies to whom King James I of England had
granted the greater part, of his New World possessions, to explore the American
coast and make a map of the true location of its most prominent natural
features. Having finished surveys, he returned to
Eighteen years later, or in June, 1632, Charles I granted to Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baron of Baltimore, all the land from thirty-eight degrees of north latitude "unto that part of Delaware Bay which lieth under the fortieth degree of north latitude where New England terminates; an\d all that tract of land, from the aforesaid bay of Delaware, in a right line, by the degree aforesaid, to the true meridian of the first fountain of the river Potomack."
In 1664, Charles II
In 1681 William Penn obtained his grant from Charles II. The territory embraced in it
was described as "all that tract or part of land in America, with all the islands therein contained, as the same is bounded on the east by Delaware river, from twelve miles northward of New Castletown unto the three and fortieth degree of northern latitude, if the said river doth extend so far northwards; but if the said river doth not extend so far, northwards, then by the said river so far as it does extend; and from the head of said river the eastern bounds aide to be determined by a meridian line to be drawn from the head of said river unto the said three and fortieth degree; the said lands to extend westward five degrees in longitude, to be computed from the said eastern bounds; and the said lands to be bounded north by the beginning of the three and fortieth degree of northern latitude, and then by a straight line westward to the limits of longitude above mentioned." On the south the boundary was to be by the circular line, from the river, twelve miles distant from New Castle, "unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of north latitude," and thence by a due west line to the extent of five degrees of longitude from the river Delaware.
History informs us
that in making those grants Smith’s map of 1614 was used. By that map the
fortieth degree is laid down as crossing the Delaware a little below where New
Castle stands, whilst its true location is known to be a little over nineteen
miles north of that point, and above the city of Philadelphia. This error was
not discovered until 1682, during which year also William Penn purchased the
Duke of York’s claim on the western shore and bay of Delaware; the former
having early perceived the importance of owning that side of the river all the
way from his Province to the ocean. Hence the annexation of the "three Lower
It was now found to
be a very difficult task to establish the southern line of Penn’s grant against
After that no
progress was made until June, 1767, when the surveying party again took up the
work, being then escorted by a party of warriors of the Six Nations to hold the
*The point of
Messrs. Mason and
We add, in this
connection, that much difficulty was likewise experienced by the Penns in establishing a boundary line between their
(Source: The History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania, Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1884, pp. 49-57.)
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