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…bringing our past into the future

Somerset — 150 Years a County – part 1


Sep 14, 2015

Somerset — 150 Years a County
[written by Paul D. Trimpey]

Had you been living in the village of Brunerstown (later named Somerset)
on the twelfth of September, 1795, you would have seen and felt a contagious excitement among the townspeople. History was being made that day, and the people knew it.

Five important guests, sent by Governor Thomas MIFFLIN of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, were being entertained by the leaders of the community. Prob-
ably clad in homespun, and possibly wearing cocked hats or other articles of ornate colonial dress, the guests and their hosts made a tour of the village.

Then, after the tour, which could not have taken very long, they sat down
together to a delicious repast. An old tradition says the repast was really
delicious, the town fathers had good reasons for making it so.

The five gentlemen were seeking a suitable site for the county seat of
Somerset County, which had been carved from Bedford County the previous May. As the settlers had become more numerous in western Bedford County, they complained of the hardship of traveling all the way to Bedford, the county seat, and finally petitioned for a new county. When the commission of five arrived
in Brunerstown, the new county had been without its own seat of justice about four months.

There were two main possibilities for a site. Brunerstown was one, and Berlin, which was older and more populous, was the other. The people of Berlin fully expected their town to be chosen. Surrounded by the rich farm lands of the “Brueders\’ Thal”, settled with thrifty Germans, it was already a thriving village with established churches and schools. With the thought in mind that it would be the county seat, it was laid out with two public squares, one for
usual purposes, and another which should someday front a beautiful temple of justice and other county buildings.

One may imagine the rejoicing of the Brunerstown people, and the chagrin
of the Berlinites, when the commission made its report:

“We, the undersigned commissioners … have viewed the county of Summerset and taking the centre and other important circumstances under view do unanimously fix on the town of Summerset (formerly Brunerstown) as a proper seat of justice for said county. We are, sir, Yours truly, etc., William FINDLEY, John BADOLET, James CHAMBERS, Thomas CAMPBELL, A.J. DALLAS, secretary”.

Without questioning the wisdom of this commission, which took into consideration “the centre and other important circumstances”, one can understand that the people of Berlin were greatly disappointed, and that there was rivalry between the two towns for some years.

The people of Brunerstown, it was charged by some Berlinites, had wined and dined the commissioners until they lost their better judgment. But others among them refused to admit Brunerstown had the better entertainment. “Berlin had the better taverns and whiskey, but there was not enough water for the horses which would have to be stabled in the county”, they said.

The same day it was chosen, the new county seat was named “Somerset” after the county, which had been named for Somerset shire, England. Little time was lost in organizing and putting into operation the county government, for, by December, there was a full set of county officers, and the early settlers were ready to begin their first session of the court.

This first session of court was held December 21, 1795, with Judge Alex-
ander ADDISON presiding. As no courthouse was built until 1801, the court sessions were held in a building rented from Jacob SCHNEIDER.
Located on the present site of SIFFORD\’s store, it was rented for 30 dollars a year.

The first grand jury evidently believed that justice, like charity, “begins at home”, judging by its first indictment. It seems that during its deliberations, one of the jurors was discovered sitting behind the stove “in a grossly intoxicated condition and oblivious to what was going on around him … ” His
peers immediately used their newly-received powers to return their first indictment against him. And, although he pleaded “not guilty”, he was found guilty and fined five dollars.

Ten other indictments were found by this first grand jury, of which six
were against persons charged with keeping “tippling houses”. This court appointed two wood rangers and recommended 12 persons to be licensed as tavern keepers.

When one reads the annals of the new county that fall, containing the familiar names of BRUNER, SCHNEIDER, ANKENY and others, it is with a pang that one misses the name of Somerset County\’s most distinguished settler, Harmon
HUSBAND. The “Old Quaker”, first permanent settler at the site of Somerset, had become a casualty of the “Whiskey Rebellion”. The year before, he and General Robert PHILSON of Berlin had been charged with treason and thrown into jail in Philadelphia, where HUSBAND died a martyr\’s death.

Office holders the first fall were: James WELLS of Quemahoning Township, Abraham CABLE of Brothers Valley Township, and Ebenezer GRIFFITH of Elk Lick Township, associate judges. Thomas KENNEDY was the first sheriff, and David KING, the first coroner. The first county commissioners were John FLETCHER, Berlin, John REED, Quemahoning, and John LEECH, Milford.

Some changes were necessary to equip the town as a county seat. So the two owners of the town, Adam SCHNEIDER, who owned the land north of Main Street, and Peter ANKENY, who owned the land to the south, had a new survey made. SCHNEIDER donated “court square”, a plot of lots on which the present courthouse stands, for use of the county. He also donated land for a Lutheran Church and for the Lutheran Cemetery, now known as the Union Cemetery. ANKENY donated “Gaol Square”, fronting on West Patriot Street, and land for a Reformed Church and burying ground. The little historic cemetery on West Patriot Street is now known as “ANKENY Square”, but “Gaol Square” is no longer in possession of the county. The first jail was on the present site of the Dr Theodore STRAUB

Somerset County people have been nick-named “Frosty Sons of Thunder”, which name seems to suggest courage and love of liberty. If they merit this name, they are true descendents of the county seat\’s first settler, Harmon HUSBAND, who fled from North Carolina to escape death at the hands of British rulers whose tyranny he dared oppose.

His being a Quaker and disbeliever in violence did not prevent him from becoming an outstanding champion of freedom and democracy among the colonists. In fact, his convictions and trust in the “inner light” gave him just the proper attitude of intolerance toward intrenched [sic] injustice and tyranny.

Born in Cecil County on the Maryland Eastern Shore, HUSBAND experienced
his first religious awakenings under the preaching of the early Methodist evangelist, George WHITEFIELD. A deeply religious youth, he later embraced the Quaker faith through study and his own independent thinking. In early manhood he moved to Orange County, North Carolina, where he owned and farmed a plantation of several thousand acres.

It was just after the colonists forced repeal of the hated Stamp Act, that
Harmon HUSBAND and his neighbors began to protest acts of oppression in Orange County. Tax funds were being appropriated by the officials for themselves until only about one-third reached the public treasury. A clique of office holders backed by the crown were growing fat on exorbitant and illegal fees charged for simple legal services. The tax payers\’ pleas for reform were ignored.

So HUSBAND and his neighbors called a meeting of the county\’s leading citizens “to determine whether the free men of the county labored under abuses of power”. Notices on the meetings were sent to officials at court. HUSBAND, with
his Quaker principles always opposed violent measures, and hoped to gain his ends by the peaceful means of winning the better of the government officials.

But other patriotic citizens, banded together as the “Regulators”, were not so pacifistic. When the officials failed to cooperate, they resorted to violence in resisting a sheriff collecting what they considered unjust taxes. Although HUSBAND had no part in the incident, he was arrested without a warrant and imprisoned by a militia officer who had no legal power to make arrests.
After midnight, he was taken from jail and threatened with immediate execution. Meanwhile, hundreds of “Regulators” had gathered ready to storm the town, so, after he made certain concessions, he was released on bail. Tried later, he was acquitted.

HUSBAND was elected to the legislature, but it was not long until another incident precipitated the wrath of the government against him. This time the “Regulators”, who had grown impatient with the corrupt court at Hillsborough, took possession of the town and rioted three days. Although HUSBAND believed in working for reform through legal means only, a fact that the British never seemed to appreciate, he was charged with rioting and thrown into prison again.

The “Regulators\'” cause had become so popular that the governor\’s militia
was sympathetic to them. So Governor TRYON conceived the idea that if he could convict HUSBAND, it would stiffen the attitude of the militia against the insurgents. Therefore, he had an “ex post facto” law passed providing the death
penalty for all who had participated in the Hillsborough riots.

HUSBAND was brought to trial, but the governor made the mistake of trusting to an impartial grand jury. To the governor\’s surprise the jury not only acquitted HUSBAND, but instructed the court on the injustice of the “ex post facto” law. HUSBAND returned home, and as he did so large forces of insurgents who had mobilized for a possible rescue also disbanded and returned home.

Not to be defeated, the governor then carefully picked a jury that would do his will and tried HUSBAND again for the same alleged offense. This time the court functioned as he wished, and HUSBAND was found guilty. The governor finally decided to send his militia into the territory of the militant “Regulators”. The “Regulators” had ample warning and probably could have defeated the troops had they been prepared. But HUSBAND believed all arguments should be settled on their own merits without use of force. And lacking other capable leaders, the “Regulators” were found woefully disorganized and defeated decisively in the battle of Alamance. Their leaders were executed. HUSBAND, hearing a special posse was being sent for him, fled just before the battle.

HUSBAND\’s flight from Alamance to Somerset County reads like an adventure story. With the governor\’s posse at his heels, he stopped at a farm house where he traded his splendid horse for an old nag and himself donned a farmer\’s rustic clothes.

Soon he was overtaken by the soldiers, who asked him where he was going.

“I am about my Father\’s business”, HUSBAND sanctimoniously replied.

He\’s a crazy old preacher, the soldiers thought, and after a joke or two, they requested him to carry a note to the justice of a neighboring town.

The note contained a message that one Harmon HUSBAND had just escaped troops sent by the governor to capture him, and the justice was instructed to stop the fugitive if he came that way. The resourceful HUSBAND saw in the note a means of escape.

When he came to a ferry he found the ferryman had been instructed to carry no strangers. But upon being shown the note, the ferryman immediately ferried HUSBAND across. Then, arriving at the town, HUSBAND delivered the note to the
justice of the peace, who, unsuspectingly, gave him a pass providing safe conduct out of the province.

HUSBAND made his way back to his old Maryland home, but found that Governor TRYON had warned Maryland and Virginia against harboring him and other fugitives from Alamance, and offered rewards for their capture. He then decided
to seek his old neighbor of Maryland and North Carolina, Isaac COX, who had a hunter\’s cabin in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.

Thus, in the summer of 1771, HUSBAND could have been seen riding “Old Tom”, the horse on which he had escaped from North Carolina, down the western slope of the Allegheny Mountain, through Brothers Valley, headed for Isaac COX\’s cabin.

SOMERSET\’S FIRST PERMANENT SETTLER. A solitary Quaker-garbed horseman might have been seen riding down the western slopes of the Allegheny Mountain, past where the FRANTZ distillery now stands into Brothers Valley in the summer of

Seeing a spiral of blue smoke, curling upward from behind a hill, the traveler made his way toward it and found himself at the cabin of Philip WAGERLEIN, located on ground now owned and farmed by Dr H.K. STONER and son, John, near the outskirts of Berlin.

WAGERLEIN, who had been plowing with a yoke of oxen, hastened to greet the stranger. First, he spoke in German, then changed to broken English:

“Welcome, Broder, where you come”?

After being informed his guest had come from Hagerstown, Maryland, he said.

“And where will you go in the bush? … Come along, you be hungry, you
be tired”.

The visitor, Harmon HUSBAND, who assumed the name of “Tuscape Death” after his narrow escape in North Carolina, spent the night in WAGERLEIN\’s cabin. The next morning after a breakfast of venison, boiled rye and boiled potatoes, he
continued on his way to Isaac COX\’s cabin, which stood northwest of present-day Somerset.

Dr STONER shows to visitors a large oak tree, estimated to be 400 years
Old, under which he says the WAGERLEIN cabin stood. The house which WAGERLEIN built has been remodeled and is now part of the present farmhouse, Dr STONER
states. WAGERLEIN is the first settler in Brothers Valley of which there is
any written record. He told HUSBAND his nearest neighbor was six miles away.

Pressing onward through a roadless country, HUSBAND searched for COX\’s cabin until he was overtaken by darkness and a summer thunder storm. He then found shelter in an unoccupied hunter\’s cabin, where he spent the night, and next morning became acquainted with the returning owner, William SPARKS. SPARKS directed him to COX, who was greatly surprised to see him and asked him if he had at last forsaken his principles of non-violence to become a hunter. But it soon became evident that HUSBAND still refused to carry a gun, which frontiersmen considered standard equipment in facing the wilderness. A number of
times later the serious-minded Quaker was to be disturbed by the good-natured “ribbing” of his two friends on the subject.

HUSBAND told them the story of Alamance, after which they agreed that his real name should remain secret, but instead of the queer-sounding name of “Tuscape Death”, he should be known as “Old Quaker”.

While a guest of the hunters that summer, he explored the country and formed a love for it that remained for the rest of his days. Even after he heard that the trouble in North Carolina was over, and he was at liberty to return, he never desired to leave Somerset. That fall he acquired land from SPARKS and began to build a homestead on a location now known as the MILLER farm, northwest of Somerset. The hunters, according to their custom, returned to their homes in the fall, leaving him alone, the first permanent settler.

COX later sold HUSBAND his holdings, now known as the BARRON farm, east of Somerset, and moved west, leaving as the only memento of himself the creek which bears his name. HUSBAND eventually acquired several thousand of acres, including most of the site of Somerset.

HUSBAND\’s wife, Emy, was the first woman to settle in the Somerset district, coming in 1772. She was followed several weeks later by SPARKS\’ wife, whom SPARKS married that year and brought home on HUSBAND\’s horse, “Old Tom”.

When the Pennsylvania legislature was organized, following the Declaration of Independence, Harmon HUSBAND was elected one of two assemblymen from Bedford County. Records show that he was an active member.

About 1776 he surveyed land he had sold to Ulrich BRUNER, and plotted most of the town of Somerset. The rest of Somerset (then called Brunerstown), lying south of Main Street, was plotted on land belonging to Peter ANKENY.

In 1790 he presented a petition to the legislature requesting that western Bedford County be organized into a separate county. When the petition was granted five years later, he was near death following unjust imprisonment in Philadelphia. A few months before “his town” Somerset was chosen county seat he died, a victim of his minunderstanding [sic] fellow countrymen, whom he tried
to serve according to his God and the “Inner Light”.

If Harmon HUSBAND has a large place in this account, it is so Somerset people may know their heritage of, not only a great pioneer, but one of the nation\’s founders of freedom.

His principles of non-violence may be a bit embarrassing to present-day
patriots of the sabre-rattling variety. These may find some comfort in a fly-leaf inserted in a splendid biography of HUSBAND, by Mary Elinor LAZENBY, in the Mary S BIESECKER Public Library. It is a news release from Old Neighborhood Press, Washington, D.C., dated 1 Jan 1941, and reads as follows:

“Those who have read a recent life of Harmon HUSBAND and felt that his
pacifistic principles in waging civic warfare leave something to be desired will be interested to know that the defect, if such it was, is being cured in a lineal descendent, Admiral Husband Edward KIMMEL, who has just been made
commander-in-chief of the fleet, with rank of full admiral. The KIMMELs, of
Henderson, Kentucky, of which Admiral KIMMEL is a native, are descended from two of Harmon HUSBAND\’s children, John and Phebe, their parents being second

“Phebe HUSBAND married Dr Peter KIMMEL, of Berlin, Pennsylvania, and died in 1797, leaving an infant son, Singleton HUSBAND KIMMEL, who when he grew to manhood, went west and became a prominent businessman of Cape Girardeau,
Missouri. His son, Marius MANNING KIMMEL, came to Henderson, Kentucky, to a visit to his HUSBAND relations, most of whom moved to Kentucky after the death of Harmon HUSBAND in 1795. There young Manning KIMMEL fell in love with Sibila LAMBERT, a grand-daughter of John and Sibila FRUIT HUSBAND, and married her. They were the parents of Admiral KIMMEL.”

“Few men in our naval history have held the rank of full admiral. FARRAGUT, PORTER, and DEWEY are the outstanding ones.”

But one should not jump to the conclusion that this distinguished descendent, Admiral KIMMEL, is other than proud of the old liberty-loving spiritual warrior who was his ancestor. And one might venture a guess that the admiral, in defending America\’s famous Four Freedoms, may cherish America\’s heritage
of religious freedom, even including Harmon HUSBAND and his non-violent convictions, as not the least of them.

INDIAN LIFE AND THE COMING OF THE WHITE MAN. All but the eastern fringe of Somerset County was property of the lndlans until November 5, 1768, when it was purchased with other territory at the treaty of Fort Stanwix.

The Iroquois or Confederacy of the Six Nations were considered rightful
owners of the land, and with them treaties were made for its purchase. In addition to the Iroquois, also called “Mingoes”, there were found Delawares, a friendly tribe coming from the district of the Delaware River. There were also a few wandering Shawnees, who came from the south and were said to be of a cruel and treacherous nature.

Somerset County was never extensively settled by Indians, but was used mostly as a hunting ground by tribes living beyond the mountains in their towns by the great river systems. However, Indian burying grounds have been found and the remains of permanent settlements. Indian relics, such as arrow heads, flint hatchets, and implements have been found in many places.

Early traders report a permanent Indian settlement called “Kickenapaulin\’s old town”, located in Jenner Township on ground now covered by waters of the Quemahoning Dam. Fort Hill in Addison Township, because of its commanding position, was useful for observation and protection and had a permanent settlement. Recent investigations have revealed a large number of graves, and the layout of the village has been traced through charred spots from wigwam camp-
fires. Skeletons found were of gigantic size, supposed to have been from some ancient tribe.

Other Indian settlements were in the Turkeyfoot region at Confluence, the
William TROUTMAN farm in Southampton Township, the “Long Field” on the south side of Salisbury. Burial grounds were found in Elk Lick Township a half mile below the Cross Road School at Koontztown in Shade Township and at two points southeast of Hooversville in Shade Township.

The Indians, same as the rest of mankind, were naturally religious, and believed themselves to be created by a wise and benevolent spirit, to whom they looked for guidance and protection. They also believed in many lesser spirits thought to inhabit animals and inanimate objects.

The good things of earth, such as animals of the forest and the fruit of
the earth, were bestowed by the Great Spirit, they believed, and were free to whoever chose to take them. It is not surprising that the red man failed to appreciate the religious conceptions of palefaces who fenced in the earth and fought one another to posses land enjoyed by red men for ages under the wise providence of the Great Spirit.

The French laid claim to the land now included in Somerset County when they claimed the entire Mississippi Valley by right of exploration by LA SALLE who followed the Mississippi to its mouth. The English claimed the whole of North America because of John CABOT\’s discovery of the continent in 1497. The Iroquois chief, Tanacharison or “Half King”, hearing of these overlapping claims at a treaty meeting, asked Christopher GIST just where the Indians\’ land lay. GIST found the question hard to answer.

The first white man authoritatively known to set foot in the county was
Christopher GIST, an agent for the Ohio Company, a trading company engaged in business with the Indians. He crossed the county in 1749, traveling by Nemacolin\’s Trail, an old Indian trail from Cumberland to the forks of the Ohio, now followed roughly by the National Highway.

One of the first white travelers was none other than Colonel George WASHINGTON, who crossed by Nemacolin\’s Trail in 1753, and at least three times later, including once with the ill-fated BRADDOCK expedition. Casper PHILLIPPI and Casper HARBAUGH, two soldiers with the BRADDOCK expedition, later returned and settled in the county.

Despite a royal proclamation in 1763 forbidding settlement on Indian lands, colonists heard of the rich lands around Turkeyfoot (Confluence) and farther west, and moved into the territory in large numbers. They took up lands at various points including Turkeyfoot, Redstone (Brownsville), and GIST\’s Plantation (Mt Braddock).

After Virginia\’s claim to the land west of the Allegheny Mountain was proved erroneous by the MASON and DIXON survey, Lieutenant Governor John PENN of Pennsylvania had passed a law providing “death without benefit of clergy” to
those who illegally settled on Indian lands. But despite a commission sent to warn them, the hardy prisoners stayed on, and later obtained legal title when the land was purchased under the treaty of Fort Stanwix. The Indians, evidently feeling “the cards were stacked against them” did not very vigorously protest these first settlers. They did not want to offend their future neighbors, they said.

However, during the Revolution, the Indians were incited and paid by the
British, and went on the warpath, terrorizing and massacring settlers along the entire frontier. And every year excepting one, the year of the deep snow (1780), they made raids deep into Bedford County, and many settlers were killed and scalped. Westmoreland County, unprotected from the west, probably suffered even more. (continued)

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