CONRAD WEISER ~ THE SCOTCH-IRISH ~ THE GERMANS ~ ESTABLISHING HOMES ~ DIFFERENT CUSTOMS ~ BUILDING OPERATIONS ~ COSTUMES ~ SPORTS AND GAMES ~ NEIGHBORLINESS ~ A STRANGE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
Weary, travel-worn and haggard, a little party of whites and Indians emerged from the deep forests of old Westmoreland county upon the banks of the sparkling Allegheny river and at once proceeded to make camp. Not a sound broke the silence of the wilderness, save the songs of the birds and the sighing of the wind, accompanied in an undertone by the rippling of the clear waters in the shallows of the stream. No factories obscured the clear sky, the whistle of the locomotive was not heard and the scene was truly primitive and peaceful. From the then undefiled waters they soon drew a bounteous supply of fish, fires were lit, and a feast prepared and as night fell the little band sank into repose, refreshed and prepared for the taking up of the trail on the morrow.
This party was led by an Evangelical Lutheran missionary, Conrad Weiser, whose mission to the Indian tribes has been written of in many volumes of early history. He was the advance guard of the flood of settlers who soon thereafter invaded the county now included in the bounds of Armstrong county. The writings of Weiser had great effect in inducing other Germans to enter the country, and settlers of that nationality have always been in the majority in this section of the State. They have left such an impress upon the population that this county is considered the center of the "Dutch" portion of Pennsylvania.
However, although a German was the first to view the land, the Scotch-Irish were the first of the real settlers, the Germans following closely upon them. Previous to 1796 the Indian wars, the danger from savage raids, the uncertainty of land titles, and the frequent and costly litigation growing out of unwise land laws, retarded the settlement of the county and caused many to pass on to Ohio and other territory west of there, where chances were more evenly divided. Many who settled here were later compelled to abandon their homes owing to the harassment of other claimants to the lands. Of the different kinds of land grants in this county details will be found at the end of this chapter. There were the "Holland" lands, the "Depreciation" lands, and the "Donation" lands, all with their many complex and baffling rules of entry or sale.
The Scotch-Irish settlers came mostly from Westmoreland county, while the Germans were from Lehigh and Northampton counties. There was a great difference between the customs of the two classes of pioneers and their methods of taming the wilderness were somewhat different. The Scotch- Irish were great hunters and trappers, delighting in the chase and conforming greatly to the methods of the Indians. Upon them devolved most of the wars of defense and reprisal, although when aroused in defense of their homes, the Germans were tireless and courageous adversaries. Among those who served in the various expeditions against the savages the German names were as frequently found as those of other nationalities. Each of the two branches of the white race were fitted to fulfil their destinies in conquering the wilderness and building the foundations of the present glorious heritage left by them to their descendants.
When these settlers reached their destination they at once erected temporary "shacks" to shield their loved ones until the more permanent log homes were built. When it is remembered that the woodsman's axe was the only tool at first used the crudeness of these habitations will be more fully appreciated and their constructors given credit due them for the arduous toil necessary in their construction.
The habitations of the settlers were all similar in design, but the Germans usually added more comforts to the interior. Most of them had brought their featherbeds with them over the mountains, and they soon adapted the custom s of the Fatherland to their primitive surroundings. As soon as the family of the "Dutchman" was properly housed he made provision for his stock. One writer says that the "Dutchman's barn was generally the best building on his farm." For many years he would endure all the discomforts of a small log house and build a spacious barn for the stock. He always kept this barn filled with hay, and all the domestic animals, even the swine were housed for the winter.
All the settlers were hard workers, but the Germans particularly so. The Scotch-Irish simply deadened the trees and allowed them to rot away, but the Germans cut them down, utilized every part and finally grubbed out the stumps before planting a crop. Thus they saved their plow points. The women all worked at their household tasks, but the German "hausfrau" generally assisted in more laborious work of the farm as well. They were possessed of wonderful capacity for labor and were truly helpmates to their husbands.
The cultivated portion of the farm of the Germans was not as large as that of their Irish neighbors, but it was more intensively cultivated. As a result their descendants are the most prosperous of the inhabitants of this portion of the State. Theodore Roosevelt, in his "Winning of the West" says that of the twelve families of each nationality, nine Germans, seven Scotch and four Irish prospered, while the others failed. Their frugality was another source of wealth. They never wasted anything. While the Irish lived on "hog and hominy" the Germans had sauerkraut und speck, schnitz und knopf, grumbire supp und nudels, roggenbrod und schmierkaese, and none of them ever thought of starving.
As a general rule the two nationalities remained separate in customs and living, but in a few instances there were intermarriages between them, some of our most noted citizens of later days being descendants of such unions of the Irish and Germans.
In early times neighbors were scarce and far apart and mutual cooperation was a necessity. The interchange of the heavier labors was frequent. When a log cabin was to be raised the inhabitants for several miles would assemble at the proposed site, with their teams, axes, and other necessary implements. Such a cabin was generally one and half stories high, roofed with clapboards weighted down with poles, with openings cut in the sides and ends for doors and windows. The logs were round, the loft covered with puncheons, and the chimney of stones and sticks daubed with mud. Greased paper was used in place of glass for the windows. The only tools to be had were the ax, the heavy saw, the drawing knife, adze, broadaxe, and the now obsolete centerbit, which was often made at some rude forge by the carpenter himself.
A suitable spot was selected on which to erect the house and on the appointed day a company of choppers felled the trees, cut them to proper lengths, and hauled them to the chosen spot. Meanwhile the carpenter had selected a straight-grained tree and was splitting out the clapboards. These were split with a large " froe" and were four feet long by the greatest width the tree would allow. Next puncheons for the floor were made of trees eighteen inches wide, halved and faced with a broadaxe. All being ready, on the second day neighbors gathered and assisted in the " house raising." On the third day the house was furnished . A table was made of a slab, supplied with sapling legs driven into auger holes. Several three-legged stools were made in the same manner. Pins stuck into the logs served to support the clapboard shelves for the kitchen and were receptacles for the few pewter dishes, plates and spoons; but often the tableware consisted of wooden bowls, " trenchers" and " noggins." When even these were scarce, gourds and hard-shelled squashes made up the deficiency. A few iron pots, knives and forks had been brought from east of the mountains, together with salt and the bedding, by means of packhorses.
A pole with a fork near the lower end was driven into an auger hole in the floor and the upper end fastened to a roof joist. Poles were laid across the fork to the walls and supported through the cracks between the logs, forming the frame of the bed. Across these were laid other poles to bear the grass mattress, which was later filled with corn shucks after the crop was gathered. A few pegs around the single room, to suspend the few dresses of the women and the coats of the men, completed the "furniture."
Then came the " house-warming," and a real one it was, lasting for days, or as long as the limited supply of " corn-juice" held out. The nights were occupied with dancing until almost dawn.
It required two days to notify the men then living within a circuit of thirty miles of such a raising. Until as late as 1834 trees suitable for building logs on this and adjoining tracts were considered common property. If any one saw a tree which would answer his purpose , either on the tract on which he had settled or on any other, he appropriated it to his own use, without leave from any one.
The universal costume was a composite of civilized and Indian dress. The hunting shirt was universally worn. It was a loose frock, reaching half way down the thighs, with large sleeves, and so wide as to lap over in front a foot or more when belted at the waist. It often had a cape collor, handsomely fringed with some bright colored cloth. The expansive bosom of the shirt served as a pocket to hold a chunk of bread, gun wadding or other necessities of the hunt. The heavy buckskin belt had manifold uses. Mittens and a bullet bag were stuck in front, the tomahawk on one side and the hunting knife on the other, there being a space for smaller articles between. The shirt was generally made of linsey, sometimes of coarse linen, and a few of dressed deerskins. These last were very cold and uncomfortable in wet weather. A pair of breeches, or drawers and leggins were the covering of the legs. Moccasins answered much better than shoes for the feet. They were different from the modern design of moccasin, being made of dressed deerskin in a single piece, with a gathered seam in front and at the heel, as high as the ankle joint. Flaps were left at each side, reaching some distance up the legs, laced with deerskin so as to exclude the snow and dust. The ordinary moccasin cost but a few hours to make, while shoes were expensive and hard to procure. In cold weather the moccasins were stuffed with deer hair or dried leaves for warmth. The linsey petticoat and gown were the universal dress of the women of pioneer days. A small home-made handkerchief was the only ornament at the neck. In summer they went barefoot, and in cold weather wore moccasins and hand-made " shoepacks." Stockings were a luxury. When any head covering was worn, it was the universal sunbonnet.
Most of the clothing of the pioneers was hung on the pegs around the cabin walls, and visitors could readily estimate the wealth of the occupants by the visible display of wearing apparel.
In early days every cabin was a factory where clothing was manufactured. Busy hands kept the spinning-wheel and loom buzzing and slamming early and late. In almost every household there were a large number of mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. Shoes were used sparingly by the lucky few who possessed them, for leather was high and money scarce. Often girls and women would walk to church barefoot, carrying shoes and stockings, which they put on when near the house of worship. Tow and linen, buckskin and similar home-made goods formed the clothing worn by males of all ages. The girls' best dresses were frequently spun, woven, dyed, cut and made by the wearers. An old resident remarks: "The girls were just as pretty in those days as they are now, and were probably satisfied with their costumes, but could one of our present fashionably-dressed belles have stepped among them, they might have gone wild with envy and excitement."
TRAVELING IN PIONEER TIMES
All of the travel of the settlers was performed on foot or horseback. Wagons were almost unknown within the memory of men now living, while carriages are a comparatively modern innovation. As in most new settlements, the first lines of travel were paths marked by a blazed trees. Afterward trees and underbrush were cut away, and some of the principal routes were converted into highways. There is, however, scarcely a road in the county that follows its course as originally traced. Thoroughfares were built at the cost of great expenditure of time and labor.
Skill in hunting was the chief accomplishment of the men and boys, and from childhood they were trained in the use of weapons. The boys emulated the Indians in the use of the bow and arrow and became almost as expert as their red rivals. Throwing the tomahawk and knife, running, jumping and wrestling were also frequently indulged in by all. In addition, most of the males could imitate the cries of the wild fowl and beasts of the forest, and thus bring them within shooting distance.
Honesty was held in great esteem in those days, and a thief not only received what justice the few laws imposed, but was often ostracized by his neighbors as well. Lying was not a common practice, and offenders of that kind were soon labeled by their companions. Female virtue was respected and as a general rule the morals of the early days might well be set up as a criterion for those of the present times. One curious custom was for an aggrieved party to challenge the aggressor to a "fisticuffs" match, and if one or the other thought he was physically overmatched he could obtain a substitute.
"Hog and hominy" constituted the principal diet of the first settlers. Johnnycake or pone were the breads for breakfast and dinner; mush and milk a standard dish for supper. Milk was often scarce and a substantial dish of hominy took its place. Mush was frequently eaten with sweetened water, molasses, bear's oil or fried meat gravy.
The early settlers found game abundant, and very little hunting enabled them to keep a constant supply of fresh meat on hand. Grain food was not so easily procured. The farmer's supply of wheat and flour was often exhausted before harvest time; and in such cases wheat was cut while in the milk, and boiled, making a very palatable and wholesome food. Salt was a valuable commodity and very scarce. The settlers were obliged to go to the eastern counties to obtain it. When a man made a trip "east of the mountains" or to Pittsburgh or Westmoreland county, he went literally loaded with errands, generally taking several pack-horses along to bring back supplies.
The amusements in rural districts in early times consisted chiefly of frolics, or "bees," grubbings, railmaulings, corn-huskings, quiltings, singing-schools at private houses, and occasional dances at frolics. In 1828 there was a prevalent mania for circular fox and wolf hunts. The areas of the several circles covered nearly the entire territory of the county. Several columns in the papers were filled with notices of the routes, times, and arrangements. Those hunts temporarily excited a deep and general interest in the aged, middle-aged, and the young. They were designed not only for amusement, but for the beneficial purpose of exterminating these pestiferous and destructive animals.
One of the settlers of Sugar Creek township was David Rumbaugh, who was an original genius in his way and a great practical joker. He had the likeness of a clock painted on the gable end of his house next to the public road, being what is now the Kittanning and Brady's Bend one, The hands representing the time to be 11:45 o'clock, and he was occasionally amused by travelers comparing the time indicated by watches with and setting them by it.
Such was the class of pioneers who formed the population of this of this county in early times. They were rough but honest, poor but enterprising, limited in education but religious, and had as a fine a standard of life as we hold at the present day. To show that the feeling of neighborliness has not been destroyed by modern civilization, we will relate a little incident that occurred in December, 1912. Mr. and Mrs. Levi J. Cook of Bethel township, celebrated their golden wedding Christmas Day. They were both born on the same day and also married on their birthday. In issuing the invitations they were anxious that none should be omitted, so instead of writing the messages they had the school teachers announce the affair in the schools, with a promise of welcome to all who would come. In the language of modern slang, "Can you beat it."
A STRANGE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
Among the early settlers in the southern part of the county, in the section afterward allotted to Burrell township, was George Shoemaker, a very successful farmer. At his death he left all his property to his wife Margaret without reserve. In due time after his death the widow married the second time a man named Barnard Davers. Before the wedding she insisted on his signing an agreement that she was still to hold possession of the property left by her former husband, to dispose of as she wished, and that at her death it should go unreservedly to her children by the first husband. In the event of his death she was to be free of his debts and the property was to remain in her possession. She also agreed that she would never lay claim to any of his individual property either before or after his death. The marriage occurred early in 1825, and they used, managed, and occupied their separate estates distinctly and independently of each other, pleasantly and harmoniously, until Davers' death in December, 1829.
Again in proper season another suitor sought her hand---George A. King, a substantial farmer. Her children had then grown up, some of them were married, and with her cultivating and managing the fertile acres of "Monmouth," which their father had devised to her. In that emergency-- as related by the then editor of the Pittsburgh American, and whose statement is reproduced in Sherman Day's "Historical Collections of Pennsylvania" --she consulted the late Samuel Houston, of Kittanning, her factor and confidential merchant. When she had stated to him her intention to marry again, he is reported to have said, "I should suppose that one so happily situated as you are, with everything rich and comfortable about you, and your sons and daughters grown up, would not think of such a think at your time of life. I would advise you by no means to entangle yourself again in any marriage alliance." "You tink not, Mr. Houston?" "Why, it is very sincerely the advise I would give you, if that is what you want." "Well, dat may be all very well and very goot; but, see here, a man I vant, and a man I vill have!" " O, that is a very different thing altogether, and in that case, I would advise you by all means to marry."
She, however, would not accept her new suitor's proposal, unless he too, would enter into an ante-nuptial agreement, like that with Barnard Davers, which he did. The date of this second agreement is March 8, 1832. They were subsequently married, and managed their respective estates as she and Davers had done. In both instances husband and wife were separate, on their farms, from Monday morning until Saturday night each week; their accounts were kept separately; they knew hardly any more about each other's business affairs than if they were single. There were no clashing interests, no coveting of each other's possessions, to cause trouble and discord. At the death of her third, in the spring of 1843, as at that of her second one, the Shoemaker estate was left intact. She never claimed dower in either Davers' or King's estate. From loyalty to her first husband's estate, not from stinginess, did she, by ante-nuptial stipulations, require each of her last two husbands to pay, as they cheerfully and regularly did, an annual stipend in flour for his boarding and horsekeeping from Saturday night until Monday morning of each week of their singular, and, in this county unprecedented, conjugal lives. She is said to have been well educated in German. She survived her last husband several years, having enjoyed the affection of her kindred, and the esteem of friends and acquaintances, to which the good qualities of her heart and mind justly entitled her.
Source: Pages 10 - 18, Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J. H. Beers & Co., 19114
Transcribed September 1998 by Rodney G Rosborough for the Armstrong County Beers Project
Published 1998 by the Armstrong County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project