Chapter 2 - History of Huntingdon County

Created: Monday, 21 March 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email





Conrad Weiser, the first white visitor to the soil of Huntingdon county from whom any account has come down to us, was, during the last thirty years of his life, associated with many of the leading events in the history of the province. He was born in Germany in 1696, and came to America in 1710. At the age of fourteen he went among the Mohawk Indians, one of the Six Nations, for the purpose of learning their language, and was afterwards engaged as an interpreter between the Germans and Indians in the neighborhood of his home in New York. In 1729 he came to Pennsylvania. His profound knowledge of the Indian character and intimate acquaintance with their language secured for him the appointment of Indian interpreter, in which capacity he entered the service of the government, making his residence at Heidelberg, in Lancaster, now Berks, county. He seems to have spent but little of his time at home, his public duties requiring him almost constantly elsewhere. They called him frequently to the most distant parts of the province and sometimes out ot it, to the frontiers on the Susquehanna and Juniata, to conferences with the Six Nations at Onondaga, in New York, and wherever business was to be transacted between the provincial authorities and the natives. "He was highly esteemed by both English and Indians as a person of integrity, skill and ability in divers important trusts which had been committed to him by both parties for a long series of years."

Weiser's journey to the Ohio was projected in March, 1748. The instructions by which he was to be governed in the mission upon which he was sent, were drawn up in that month, but when on the point of departure he was summoned before the Provincial Council at Philadelphia on business connected with Indian affairs, and the delivery of his instructions was delayed until the following July. George Croghan had been in readiness in the former month to accompany him with about twenty horses, and carry goods to the Indians. On learning of Weiser's detention, he set out himself, made the trip, and returned in time to join the latter and his party in their journey later in the summer.

After various other delays, occurring from March until July, Weiser started from Heidelberg on the 11th of August, 17-18. He regarded the expedition as perilous, and undertook it with reluctance; and had not the business with which he was entrusted been highly important, he would have declined going. His fears were expressed in a letter to Richard Peters, dated at " Tuscarora Path, August 15th, 1748," in which he says, "I may be obliged to pay the debt of human nature before I get home." But he escaped the dangers of the wilderness and the savage, both in going and returning, and lived afterwards, in honor and usefulness, until 1760.

In 1758, the rivalry which for years had existed between the English and the French to secure the friendship and alliance of the Indians was becoming more intense. It continued to increase until its ultimate and inevitable result was reached — a war, in which a conspicuous part was played in Huntingdon county. Weiser was directed to proceed to the Ohio for the purpose of distributing valuable presents to the Indians, and to remind them of the liberality of the government in providing for their necessities on many former occasions. He was to ascertain their number, situation, disposition, strength and influence, and to obtain from them intelligence as to the designs and operations of the French. The English were in constant dread of incurring the enmity of the Indians, and yet it could be avoided only by frequent and expensive presents, amounting to little less than purchases of their friendship. They accepted bribes without any hesitancy, being proud to receive them and regarding them as concessions to their own importance.

As to the number and names of the persons who were with him, he gives us no information, excepting that contained in his letter to Secretary Peters, to which there was a postscript, saying that ''Mr. Franklin's son is very well, as is all the rest of my companions." This was Benjamin Franklin's son William. He had delivered to Weiser his instructions from the government and also a proclamation, the nature of which will soon be explained. At a subsequent period he made himself useful in assisting to obtain transportation for Braddock's army. Had he possessed the qualities which rendered his father so distinguished, he would have left a full account of his trip through the wilds of Pennsylvania, more in detail than Weiser's, and would thus have perpetuated his name among the people of Huntingdon county, at least.

But we are not without the means of ascertaining some of the other persons composing the party. George Croghan, a man of somewhat erratic temperament and varied fortunes, of whom we have already heard, was one of them. As his life and character will occupy a considerable part of succeeding chapters, I desire now to more fully introduce him to the reader. He was an Irishman by birth, and came to Pennsylvania about the year 1742. Assuming the occupation of a trader and learning the language of the Shawnees and Delawares, if not of other Indian nations, he manifested a willingness, in addition to his business pursuits, to perform services for and to make himself useful to the government. In 1749 he was licensed as an Indian trader, but he had probably been previously engaged in that vocation without a license, or under a former one.

Another of the party was Andrew Montour, an interpreter, who had resided " between the branches of the Ohio and Lake Erie." He was recommended to the Council by Weiser as " faithful, knowing and prudent," and was financially rewarded for bringing information concerning the Indians in the Northwest.

There were also white men in charge of the train of pack horses, but of them we hear only incidentally. That there were Indians along is highly probable. The journey was not new to them. They had a well worn path over which the dusky warriors, for centuries, perhaps, had traveled to and fro, before civilization began its encroachments. And a few days before Weiser started, there were Indians from the Ohio, at Lancaster, who, we have reason to believe, returned with him.

From Weiser's journal, in which he noted briefly the places between which they traveled each day, and the distances, we find that on the 15th and 16th they remained at Tuscarora Path, on "account of the men coming back sick and some other affairs hindering" them. There seems to be a contradiction in the statements of his letter and journal in regard to the health of those who were with him, but this is easily explained by the fact that the entry in the latter was not made until the 16th, and the former was written on the 15th, before the men came back.

After leaving Tuscarora Path, we are entirely dependent upon Weiser's journal for their movements. On the 17th they "crossed the Tuscarora Hill and came to the sleeping place called Black Log, twenty miles." This was their entrance into Huntingdon county. But white men had been here before. That inference is irresistible. They were not traveling through an entirely unknown country. The places where they stopped at night had names, and names, too, that had been given them by the Anglo-Saxon race. No one will ever tell how long Black Log had been a "sleeping place."

On the 18th they deviated from the Indian war-path and "came within two miles of the Standing Stone, twenty-four miles." Whether they came to it the next day does not appear, but there is published in the Pennsylvania Archives an extract from Weiser's journal, in which the distance from Black Log to Standing Stone is stated to be twenty-six miles, and from this entry we may conclude that they traveled between the two places.

The distance traveled on the 19th was twelve miles. They were obliged to dry their clothing that afternoon on account of a great rain the previous day. We cannot tell where this occurred, but it was in the direction of Frankstown, where they arrived on the 20th. As they were then beyond the present limits of the county, I will pursue them no further.

Evidently Conrad Weiser did not write for posterity. He had no anticipation that his records would outlive the temporary purpose for which he made them, nor did he foresee that they would be of any interest to others than himself and those to whom it was his duty, on his return, to render a report of the manner in which he had obeyed their commands. His life was spent among savages, among men whose knowledge of the past was entirely traditionary, who looked forward to no condition for their descendants different from their own, and who, when they passed from earth, left scarcely a trace of their existence. He did not realize that as a race they were rapidly approaching dissolution, that they were to disappear before intelligence and civilization, that their forests were to be felled, their hunting grounds turned into smiling pastures and fields of waving grain, and that populous towns were to occupy the sites of their villages of wigwams. On that summer day in 1748, as he stood at the confluence of Standing Stone creek and the Juniata river, could he have scanned with the eye of prophecy the one hundred and twenty-eight years that have since elapsed, he would have attached more importance to things as they were then, not because they were worth preserving, or because that which was to take their place was not superior, but for the reason that even he, we may believe, would not have been willing that the affairs of tribes and nations should perish from the earth.

He did not tell us who were the inhabitants of Standing Stone, nor, indeed, whether there were any inhabitants here at all. He gave no explanation of the name or description of the stone. That was reserved for subsequent visitors, but none of them have done so as fully as we could desire. We find a statement of the dimensions of the stone in an "account of the road to Log's Town, on the Allegheny river, taken by John Harris in 1754.'' As he mentions other places in the county, lying principally along the old Indian path, I will extract a portion of his account, beginning at " Tuscaroraw."

" To the Cove Spring," 10 miles.

" To the Shadow of Death," 8 miles.

" To the Black Log," 3 miles.

At the last named place the road forked towards Raystown and Frankstown, and continuing on the road to the former, he gives first the distances to "Allegheny" and Logstown by that route.

"Now beginning at the Black Log, Franks Town Road, to Aughwhick, 6 miles.

" To Jack Armstrong's Narrows, so called from his being there murdered, 8 miles,

" To the Standing Stone (about 14 ft. high 6 inches square,) 10 miles.

" At each of these places we cross the Juniata.

" To the next and last crossing of the Juniata, 8 miles.

" To Water Street (branch of Juniata,) 10 miles.

"To the Big Lick, 10 miles.

" To Frank's (Stephen's) Town, 5 miles."

John Harris barely saved the existence of the stone from being doubted; but that it stood here, fourteen feet in height and six inches square being established, we may accept the statements of others as to its exact location. There is a difference in these statements, however, some placing it on the right bank of Stone Creek, near its mouth, and others further west, on the banks of the Juniata, near the foot of Second street in the borough of Huntingdon. The most reliable information now available, in regard to its position, was obtained by J. Simpson Africa, esq., from some of the earliest residents of the place, who have since passed away. Jacob Miller, who came here in 1791, James Simpson, who had a personal knowledge of nearly all of the old citizens of the county, and who came in 1793, and Daniel Africa, who was born here in 1794, all located it west of Second street, near the river. Since it stood there the surroundings have been completely changed, buildings having been erected, and a macadamized road, a canal, and a railroad, made upon the ground, or in its immediate vicinity, giving it entirely new features.

The Indians had engraved on this stone, in hieroglyphics, some records or ideas they desired to preserve. We do not know the shapes of these characters, whether they were figures of men, of animals, or of inanimate things, and perhaps their meaning was never known to the whites. There is no foundation for the belief that they were cabalistic, as they were no doubt well understood by the Indians themselves. They may have been the chronicles of the tribe, "of its mighty deeds, its prowess in battle, and its skill in the chase;" or a code of laws, of morals, or of religion ; or representations of natural phenomena, of the movements of the sun, moon and stars ; or the creations of their superstitions and fears. The Indians fancied the stone to possess great virtues, that if taken away from them they would be dispersed, and that while it remained among them their prosperity was secure. When they fled before the aggressive white man in 1754 or '55, it was destroyed or taken away with them. The dwellings of the intruders were erected near the deserted Indian village, a fort was built, and the settlement took the name of Standing Stone.

The whites, after the departure of the Indians, placed another stone on the site of the old one. This was done, we would suppose, more through a spirit of imitation than for any useful purpose. How nearly the second stone, at the time of its erection, was similar to the original, cannot now be ascertained. In 1776 it was about eight feet high, and had upon it the names of Surveyor General John Lukens, with the date of 1768, of Charles Lukens, assistant to the surveyor general, and of Thomas Smith, brother of the founder of the town of Huntingdon, and afterwards deputy surveyor general and supreme judge. It was removed from its former position and placed in front of the old court house, in the centre of Third street, at the South line of Penn. After standing there many years it was wantonly destroyed, but several pieces of it have been preserved, one of them having been built into the foundation of the dwelling house at the northeast corner of Third and Penn streets, and another being in the possession of one of the citizens of the town.


SOURCE: History of Huntingdon County, in the state of Pennsylvania: from the earliest times to the centennial anniversary of American independence, July 4, 1876 (1876); by Milton Scott Lytle