Selection of a County Seat - Old Hannastown - Erection of a Jail - Sentences of the Court - Slavery
The Act of Assembly creating the county, as we have said, provided for the appointment of trustees to locate and erect public buildings. These trustees were appointed by the Supreme Executive Council, the legislative body of the state, and were Robert Hanna, Joseph Erwin, John Cavett, George Wilson and Samuel Sloan. Hanna must have been a leader of men, for in this case, as in may others, he managed to have matters go his way. He was an Irishman, and had settled on the Forbes road, about midway between Ligonier and Fort Pitt. There was considerable demand for a stopping place, and he converted his house into a tavern. As early as 1770 he had several other Irish settlers near him, and in 1773 the Hanna settlement had grown to a small town, and was the only one on that section of the Forbes road. He rented his house finally to Joseph Erwin, to keep the tavern, and in some way these two induced Sloan, who was a neighboring settler, to vote with them on the question of location. Thus there were three out of five trustees who voted for Hannastown as a county seat. It was not without great opposition that this selection was made. Aeneas McKay, a very bright and prominent citizen of Pittsburg, on March 3, 1773, wrote a letter to Arthur St. Clair in which he greatly deprecated the selection of Hannastown. After expressing surprise that the new county should thus be crippled in its infancy, he says:
"Where is the convenience for transacting business there, since there are neither houses, tables nor chairs. The people must sit at the roots of trees and on stumps, and in case of rain the lawyers� books and papers must be exposed to the weather. Nothing can be done properly except receiving fees, and everybody attending court, except the lawyers, must be sufferers.
"The whole inhabitance of Pittsburg exclaimed against this partiality. If I had as much influence among the great as you (St. Clair), I would try to have trustees selected from Philadelphia, by which means Pittsburg could not fail to be selected. But if they are selected from hereabouts, ten to one Joe Erwin, the tavern keeper, will prevail."
We must also read St. Clair�s letter to Joseph Shippen, president of the Supreme Executive Council. It is dated at Ligonier, January 15, 1774, (See Pa. Arch. Vol. 4, page 471).
"Sir: This letter will be delivered to you by Mr. Hanna, one of the trustees of Westmoreland county. To some manovers of his I believe the opposition to fixing the County Town at Pittsburg is chiefly owing, as it is to his interest that it should continue where the law has fixed the courts pro tempore; he lives there, used to keep a public house there and has now on that expectation, rented his house at an extravagant price. Erwin another trustee adjoins, and is also a public-house keeper. A third trustee, Sloan, lives in the neighborhood which always makes a majority for continuing the courts at the present place. A passage in the law for erecting a county is that the courts shall be held at Hanna�s house till a court house and jail are built. This puts it in their power to continue them as long as they please for a little management might prevent a court house from being built these twenty years. That you will excuse inacuracies as I write in greatest hurry, Mr. Hanna holding the horse while I write. I will see you early in the spring."
On October 3, 1774, the trustees made the following report.:
"We being appointed trustees for the county of Westmoreland to make a report for a
proper place, having accurately examined and considered the same, do report that �tis our opinion that Hannas Town seems to be the most centrical and fit to answer the purpose intended. We are further of the opinion that should your Honor and the Honorable Council think the Brush Creek Manor a more proper place, it cannot be of much disadvantage to the county. We pray your Honor sentiments on this head which will be most fully acknowledged by us. (Signed). Robert Hanna, Joseph Erwin, Samuel Sloan, John Cavett.
John Cavett signed the report, but George Wilson did not. Both he and Cavett were opposed to its location at Hannastown. They had at first voted in favor of Pittsburg, and St. Clair spoke for the minority, and even then foretold something of the great future that place had in store. He also favored Pittsburg, because, while it was really our territory, Virginia was claiming it, and he wanted to take possession and boldly assert the rights of the Province by founding a county town there. St. Clair also stated in a letter to Gov. Richard Penn that Hanna and Erwin had voted for Hannastown through selfish motives. But how public-spirited St. Clair was can only be seen when we remember that he had then thousands of acres of land east of Hannastown, and very little around Pittsburg. In this, as in all other public matters, he easily forgot his own interests when they were in conflict with the general good.
Hannastown was really not a bad selection as viewed now, where new counties were formed all around. It was centrally located, and, except in futuro, Pittsburg had very little advantage over Hannastown, for in 1775 Pittsburg had only twenty-five or thirty log houses, and the fort, while Hannastown had at all events, nearly that many.
The report and action of the trustees was never endorsed entirely by the Proprietary government, and it is doubtful if Hannastown would have become the permanent county seat, even though it had not met with disaster. The trustees adopted the plan feared by St. Clair in his letter above quoted. They never built a court house, but court was held in Hanna�s house which, of course, was also his dwelling house.
Hannastown was a collection of from fifteen to twenty houses built of hewed logs, and roofed with split shingles, or clapboards. Most of these houses had but one story and a loft, the latter often accessible only by a ladder. The well-to-do people (for wealth has only a relative value) had two-story houses with two rooms and a large fireplace below. There was a stockade erected there in 1774 under the direction and by the advice of St. Clair. This undoubtedly helped the town and settlement a great deal, for the early pioneers felt more secure if located near a fort or stockade, and the stockade was therefore a great inducement to settlers. The town increased to from twenty-five to thirty log houses, a jail and stockade, when the Revolution came in 1775 and 1776, and it never grew any more, because during the war many of its citizens were bearing arms in defense of the colonies, and home improvements were sadly neglected. The best days of Hannastown were from 1773 to 1776. Moving westward from the old counties was then at its height, and this was the popular and only highway through Pennsylvania. Then when the war clouds began to gather the militia musters came into vogue, and for Westmoreland county were held at Hannastown. This was a great event. Militia parade day, among our forefathers and for more than fifty years, remained without a rival as a means of assembling the honest yeomanry of our western section. Nearly all of our population then was in the country; there were few towns, and but small need for them. The people raised all they ate, and with spinning wheels and looms manufactured nearly every thing they wore from wool and flax, both home products. There were no stores, in a modern sense, at Hannastown. There was scarcely any thing to buy and almost no money to buy it with, hence the absence of stores. Whisky, rum, etc., were sold under license, and there was also a sale for flints, powder, lead, and a few other articles, but there was no occasion for anything like our country stores are now.
Shortly after the courts were opened and the public officers sworn in, the commissioners began the erection of a jail. It was made of round logs, using only the largest trees. It was a square building, of one story and one room. It was strong enough to hold the average prisoner, and those who were considered dangerous or likely to break jail, were chained to the logs. In comparison to the number incarcerated, jail breaking was not so common then as now. Nearby the jail were the whipping post and pillory, for it must be remembered that our laws then required these instruments of punishment, and they were used, too, in Hannastown, as will be seen further on. The whipping post was a section of a small tree, about one foot in diameter, hewn flat on one side and firmly implanted in the ground. Five feet from the ground was a cross piece about six feet long, thoroughly fastened to it. The whippings were always public performances. When the wrong-doer was about to be whipped, his arms were stretched out and his hands or wrists were tied firmly to the ends of the crosspiece. The culprit was then ready to expiate his crimes and afford a public illustration of the vaunted majesty of the English law, "the accumulated wisdom of ages." The sheriff or his deputy did the whipping. Our court records show that his method of punishment was not by any means uncommon in Hannastown. The first man to be whipped was James Brigland, who in October, 1773, plead guilty to a felony and was sentenced by Judge William Crawford to receive ten lashes on his bare back, well laid on, the next morning. Luke Picket was found guilty of stealing, and was sentenced to receive twenty-one lashes on his bare back, well laid on, the next morning, between the hours of eight and ten o�clock. So with Huens West, who was convicted of the same offense. His sentence called for but fifteen lashes.
The pillory was made like large folding doors, and fastened between two upright posts. In this door were three holes, and through these holes the head and arms of the prisoner were passed and his arms tied. In this position he was forced to stand for such a period as his sentence directed. By the English law, which was then in force in Hannastown, any person passing a prisoner in the pillory had a right to throw one stone at him. The pillory was erected out in the open, where the passer-by could exercise his time-honored common law right of stone casting.
John Smith was charged with stealing, and pleaded guilty. His sentence reflects but little honor on our early courts. He was to receive thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, well laid on, and his ears were then to be cut off and nailed to the pillory; and he was to stand one hour in the pillory. Fortunately our early court history is not often disgraced with sentences so inhuman as this. William Howard suffered one hour in the pillory in 1774, after having received thirty lashes on the bare back, well laid on. This was, moreover, in the month of January, when the temperature is not supposed to have been very mild.
In October, 1775, Elizabeth Smith was ordered to receive fifteen lashes on the bare
back, well laid on. She was furthermore an indentured servant of James Kinkaid, who had therefore at that time a right to her uninterrupted services. Four days after she was whipped, James Kinkaid presented a petition to our courts setting forth that he had been unjustly deprived of her services while she was in prison, and while she was recovering from the effects of the sentence. He therefore asked a redress for this loss. Judges Hanna, Lochry, Sloan and Cavett were on the bench and they deliberately considered his request and decreed that she should serve Kinkaid for a period of two years after the expiration of her indenture.
James McGill was found guilty of a felony in 1782, and was sentenced to a public whipping, then to the pillory, after which his right ear was to be cut off, and he was to be branded in the forehead with a hot iron.
All of our court business of this character was conducted in the name of the King of England, George the Third. Instead of being headed "Commonwealth vs. John Smith," as is the custom now, the caption was "The King vs. John Smith," etc. But immediately after July 4, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, "the King" was dropped from the record, and "Republica" or "Respublica" were substituted, and later the change was made to the caption now used.
It is not pleasant to contemplate these atrocious sentences, but they are matters of our court history, and are introduced here more to show the reader how our courts have advanced in their administration of justice in the past century, than for any other reason.
Perhaps the servitude of Elizabeth Smith as refered to above needs some explanation. We had at this time three species of servitude, or slavery, in Pennsylvania, and consequently in Westmoreland county. First, there were indentured servants, who were bound either for life, or for a term of years, generally the latter. It may have been a very harmless indenture, and was of very common occurrence. A minor could thus be indentured by his parents, or when twenty-one years old could indenture himself. Sometimes it was very simple, that is, when a father indentured his son to pay him a debt, of perhaps for the conveyance of a piece of land. It was, in any case, recognized by the law. The second class were foreigners who were very poor in Europe, and by indenture for a term of years secured some one to pay their passage money to America. These indentures were largely in the hands of speculators. The person giving the indenture was called a "Redemptioner," and the indenture was transferable, so that a speculator could gather up any number of people in foreign lands, indenture them for his own service, bring them to America, and, when here, sell their services to the highest bidder or at private sale. Thus the speculator could realize a large profit on the amount invested for passage money. This species of service is illustrated in the novels, "To Have and to Hold," and "The Redemptioner," by Miss Mary Johnston.
Our forefathers sanctioned all this by their laws, court decisions and actions. It brought many inferior people to America, and perhaps some good blood, too. Redemptioners were very common in Westmoreland. Many of our farmers and well-to-do people purchased their services. Sometimes the position of a Redemptioner was better than that of the negro slave in the South, but it is a deplorable fact that the more we look into the matter, the less do we venerate our pioneer ancestors, of high pretentions and integrity. Before judging them too harshly, and before giving illustrations from our court records of the hardships of this system of servitude, it may be well to look into the condition of the country, its laws, and the age in general in which they lived, all of which should in some degree mitigate the severity of our opinion. For instance, a man in that day was allowed to beat his wife, if the stick he used was not thicker than the judges thumb. A people are not generally better than their laws. Many who came from England and Ireland and settled in Western Pennsylvania purchased large tracts of land, and at once regarded themselves as nabobs, owners of large landed estates, like the nobles of England. They tried to emulate and imitate the weaker rather than the stronger characteristics of the landed gentry of Great Britain. Hugh Henry Brackenridge, afterwards justice of the supreme court, and one of the brightest men of his day, in a chapter entitled "Modern Chivalry," says that we had men in Westmoreland county, who held and abused slaves and Redemptioners, who would not for a "fine cow have shaved their beards on Sunday."
Our courts frequently in other cases than Kinkaid vs. Smith, as noticed above, were called on and did extend the time of servitude of Redemptioners because of loss of time and various reasons mentioned in the petitions of the masters. This can be seen in the case of George Paul vs. Margaret Butler, July sessions, 1773, and Semple vs. Jane Adams, July sessions, 1788, and in many other intervening cases. In July sessions, 1773, John Campbell stated by petition that his servant, Michael Henry, had been sent to jail, and that the petitioner had therefore sustained a loss of 2 lbs and 17 shillings, together with much time and annoyance. He therefore asked such redress as the court saw fit to grant him. The court decreed that Michael Henry should serve him four and one half months after the expiration of his indenture.
So in the case of Gutchell vs. Quilkin, at July sessions of 1773, wherein Andrew Gutchell sets forth that his servant, Joseph Quilkin, will not do his duty, but on the contrary is negligent and idle, and prays for relief against those from whom he purchased Quilkin. The court took Quilkin into its custody and issued a summons against Robert Meek, Alexander Bowling and William Bashers, to appear at the next session of the court and give sufficient reasons for selling Quilkin as a servant.
In April sessions of 1779, George Godfrey sets forth by petition that he had been bought as a servant by Edward Lindsey, and by Lindsey sold to Edmund Price, and by Price sold to William Newell, and that the term of his servitude had expired, etc. The court heard the testimony, and whereas William Newell, the last purchaser, was not in court to defend his claim to a longer service, they discharged Godfrey from further services.
After the destruction of Hannastown there were two men tried, convicted and hanged there. The one was an Indian named Mamachtaga, who was defended by Hugh Henry Brackenridge, then a young lawyer. Brackenridge has left a complete account of the trial. The Indian was a Delaware, and, though his tribe had generally been friends to the white settlers, he was always hostile. There was a camp of Delawares on Kilbuck Island, near Pittsburgh. Mamachtaga was among them, and badly intoxicated. A man named John Smith visited the tribe, whereupon the drunken Indian fell on him with a knife and killed him. Another man named Evans was also killed before the infuriated Mamachtaga could be overpowered. The Indian was confined in the guard house, the lock-up of Pittsburg being insecure, and it was considered unsafe to transport him to Hannastown. Our ordinary judges, competent to try other cases, had no jurisdiction in capital cases, and there was considerable delay in sending a supreme court judge here. There were several attempts in the meantime on the part of the citizens to secure the Indian and shoot him. Our people scarcely thought that an Indian had any rights before the law. Failing in this, they tried to force Brackenridge to take an oath not to defend him. They were also afraid that his tribe would release him by force, or that he would break jail. So Robert Galbraith wrote to President Dickinson, urging him to send the properly qualified judges at once that the Indian might have a speedy trial. He also asked that the president send the death warrant along with them, to save time as he said, for there was no doubt about his conviction. The Indian gave his attorney an order on another Indian for a beaver skin as a fee and signed the order by his mark, which was the shape of a turkey-foot. His attorney exchanged the beaver skin for a blanket and some food, which he gave to the client, for his confinement was very uncomfortable. But the Indian now thought that his beaver skin satisfied the law for his crime; a good beaver skin, he reasoned, was a high price to pay for killing a white man. Judge McKean came to Hannastown to try him and they had great difficulty to get him to plead "not guilty"; to deny the killing was foreign to his ideas of the dignity of an Indian warrior, and moreover he had paid for the dead man with a beaver skin and how could he deny the killing? According to his belief, the killing of a white man was a badge of honor, that a warrior should boast of rather than deny. The court, however, entered his plea of "not guilty," and the case went on. The Indian challenged jurors, rejecting the cross, sour-looking ones, and accepting the cheerful pleasant faced men to try his case. Brackenridge defended him on the plea of drunkenness, and that he did not know what he was doing when he committed the act. This was overruled by the court, but when the savage was told through his interpreter that the judge would not excuse him on that account, he said he hoped the Great Spirit above would do so. The jury convicted him at once, as was predicted by Galbraith. When the interpreter told him he must die, he asked that sheriff Orr should shoot him instead of tomahawking him, as he expected. When about to be sentenced, he asked that the court would allow him to hunt and trap and said he would give the proceeds of his work to the family of the man he killed. At the same time a man named Brady was sentenced to be branded on the hand with a red hot iron. To do this it was necessary to tie the hand and arm with a rope, so that a good letter could be made. The sheriff accordingly went out and brought in the rope, branding tools, etc. The Indian, not having this part interpreted, thought that he was to suffer immediately and made a great ado about it. But when he saw Brady being tied and branded he calmed down and rather enjoyed it. The judges, as was the custom then in capital cases, wore scarlet robes, and the Indian said he thought they were in some way closely connected with the Great Spirit. When in jail awaiting his sentence, the jailor�s child was taken sick. The Indian said he could dig roots in the woods to cure it. So, on promising not to try to escape, he was taken to the woods where he procured the necessary herbs from which a medicine was brewed and given to the child, which recovered. The Indian did not try to escape. When the day of the execution arrived, the Indian wanted to die like a warrior. So he was again taken to the woods, when he procured herbs and with the juice painted his face red. A simple minded white man was to be hanged on the same day, though not for murder. The gallows was erected on the hill west of Hannastown, known to this day as Gallows Hill. It was made of two logs planted in the ground and a third log for a cross piece. A rope hung from the center of the cross-piece, and a ladder leaned against it. The prisoner to be hanged was taken up the ladder, the rope adjusted and then the ladder removed. The hands of the prisoner were tied so he could not grasp the ladder. The white man was hanged first, and the execution passed off all right. But the Indian, being a large heavy man, broke the rope and fell to the ground. As soon as he recovered he rose to his feet with a smile on his face. Another rope was procured and both ropes were used. So he was strangled to death. With his last words he asked that his tribe should not go to war to avenge his death. The white man should have been sent to an insane asylum, but there were none such to send him to.
So long as St. Clair remained prothonotary, with James Brison as office deputy, the records are well kept. Had they continued it would have been well for the early history of the county. But St. Clair resigned and entered the Revolution in 1775, and after him came Michael Huffnagle. During his incumbency the records are very poorly kept, and many of them are lost. This may have, in part, resulted from the exigencies of the times, for they were often secreted from the marauding Indians. St. Clair took them to Ligonier for safe keeping at his home several times. During the Revolutionary period the records are the most meager. There is nothing to show, for instance, that Hannastown, the county seat, was destroyed, nor that the county seat was removed to Greensburg. After some two year of service Huffnagle went to war as captain of the Eighth Battalion, and took the records with him, regarding them as private property. It is probable that he based this claim on the theory that with his own and not the public money, he had purchased the journals, dockets, etc. Many demands were made of him for them, but he refused to deliver them up. Finally the matter was carried to Thomas Wharton, president of the Supreme Executive Council, for the urgent needs of the Westmoreland people demanded their immediate restitution. President Wharton laid the matter before Gen. Washington in a letter urging its necessity, and asking that Washington order Huffnagle to appear before the council to give the reason for their detention. (See Pa. Archives). Huffnagle then, to save his good name with Gen. Washington, delivered them up. The idea of an officer of the county retaining his records was not entirely uncommon. The abuse grew until 1804, when a law was passed making it obligatory, under a heavy penalty for disobedience, for the outgoing officer to deliver all records to his successor.
By the Act of March 1st, 1780, African slavery, the third species of servitude to which we referred, was to be abolished gradually in Pennsylvania. Those who care to read the text of this act will find much to admire in it, for it is indeed a model in its expression of humane principles, and in its diction it is surpassed by nothing in our legislative enactments. It provided, among other things, that any one who held negroes or mulattoes as slaves, should file in the office of the clerk of the quarter sessions court his own name, residence, etc., and a list of the names of all his slaves, and give the age and sex of each slave. The clerk entered these lists on the journal, and they are therefore well preserved. There were two hundred three slave holders who filed lists, but some of them owned only one slave. The entire number of slaves then reported was six hundred ninety-five of whom three hundred forty-two were male negroes, three hundred forty-nine were females, and four whose sex is not given. Eleven were listed as mulattos. The names of the slave-owners comprise our wealthiest and best people, and among others, are two clergymen. They lived mostly in the southern part of the country. When the law was passed many of the slaveholders who owned larger numbers moved to Maryland, or Virginia, and took their slaves with them, for this they had a right to do.
At this time George Washington owned land in the county near Jacob�s creek, and his agent, Valentine Crawford, worked it, in part at least, with slaves or redemptioners owned by Washington. In a letter to Washington dated at Jacob�s creek, July 27, 1774, he says:
"Dear Colonel: On Sunday evening or Monday morning, one of the most orderly men I thought I had ran away and has taken a horse and other things. I have sent you an advertisement of him. * * * I have sold all the men but two and I believe I should have sold them but the man who is run away had a very sore foot, which was cut with an axe and John Smith was not well of the old disorder he had when he left your house. I sold Peter Miller and John Wood to Mr. Edward Cook for 45 pounds, the money to be applied to building your mill. I sold Thomas McPherson and his wife and James Howe to Major John McCulloch and Jones Ennis for 65 pounds, payable in six months from date. To my brother I sold William Luke, Thomas White and the boy John Knight. He is to pay you for them or if you open up your plantation down the Ohio, below Wheeling, he is to return them to you. * * * I should have sold all of the servants agreeable to your letter if I could have got cash or good pay for them, but the confusion of the times put it out of my power. I went down to Fort Pitt a day or two and two of my own servants ran away. I followed them and caught them at Bedford and brought them back. While I was gone two of your servants stole a quantity of bacon and so I sold them at once."
The following is a copy of the advertisement referred to in the above letter from Crawford to Washington:
FIVE POUNDS REWARD
Run away from the subscriber, living on Jacob�s creek near Stewart�s Crossing, in Westmoreland County, Pa., on Sunday night the 24th instant, a convict servant man named William Orr, the property of Col. George Washington. He is a well made man, about five feet ten inches high, and about twenty-four years of age. He was born in Scotland and speaks that dialect pretty much. He is of a red complexion and very full-faced with short sandy colored hair, and very remarkable thumbs, they both being crooked. He had on and took with him, an old felt hat bound with black binding, one white cotton coat and jacket with black horn buttons, one old brown jacket, one pair of snuff colored breeches, one pair of trousers made in sailor fashion and they are made of sail duck, and have not been washed, a pair of red leggins, and shoes tied with strings, two Osnabary shirts and one Holland shirt marked V. C. which he stole, and a blanket.
He stole likewise black horse about fourteen hands high, branded on the near shoulder and buttock R. W. and shod before. He had neither bridle nor saddle that we know of. I expect he will make to some sea-port town as he has been much used to the seas. Whoever takes up said servant and secures him so that he and the horse may be had again, shall receive the above reward, or three pounds for the man alone and reasonable charges if brought home paid by me.
All masters of vessels are forbid taking him out of the country on their peril.
July 25, 1774. Val. Crawford.
For Col. George Washington
By the Act of March 1, 1780, and its supplements, children born to slaves owned in Pennsylvania were to be free when they arrived at the age of twenty-eight years. Likewise, slaves brought into Pennsylvania from other states under covenant could not be held after they reached the age of twenty-eight. It provided also that if the master refused or neglected to register his slaves, the slaves should go free. In 1798 there were twelve slaves in Hempfield township, which then embraced Greensburg. In 1801 the number of slaves in the county was one hundred thirty six, but part of this reduction was due to the fact that Allegheny and Fayette counties had been carved out of our former territory, but were with us when the registration was made. In 1810 there were twenty-one slaves, and in 1820 only seven. One slave, a female, was reported in 1840, she being the last in the county.
Slaves were often sold at public outcry in the streets of Greensburg. There was a regular auction block on the court house square, and from it the negroes were "knocked down" to the highest bidder. Sheriff Perry sold a number of slaves which had been seized for debt, selling them from this auction block. As late as 1817 George Armstrong, Greensburg�s first chief burgess, auctioned off a negro girl who belonged to a client of his.
White men and women known as Redemptioners were also sold from the auction block in Greensburg. The last sale of this kind of which we have any record occurred March 5, 1819.
Source: Page(s) 49 - 59, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed March 1999 by Sherril Dysart for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Sherril Dysart for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
Westmoreland County Genealogy Project Notice:
These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format, for any presentation, without prior written permission.
Return to Westmoreland County History Project
Return to Westmoreland County Home Page
(c) Westmoreland County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project