History of Warren County, Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

FROM THE ORGANIZATION OF THE COUNTY UNTIL 1830

 

Onerous Duties Imposed Upon Early Inhabitants - Passage of the Act of organization - Its Provisions - Initial Proceedings of County Commissioners - The First Term of Court - Its Officers - Jurors - Attorneys - Early Inn-keepers - Reminiscences Concerning the First Term of Court - Population of the County in 1820 - New Townships formed in 1821 - The Attempts to Collect Taxes from Cornplanter - The Old Chief Victorious - The Hook Murder Trial - Incidents Connected Therewith - Results - Other Early Events.

FOR five years the inhabitants of Warren county had plodded their weary way from their log cabins in the wilderness, over the hills to Meadville, when it was necessary to transact public or legal business, and for fourteen years more had they, made toilsome journeys to Franklin, a distance of sixty-five miles from the then hamlet of Warren, when business of the same nature imposed its duties upon them. This condition of affairs at last became too onerous and irksome to be longer borne without an effort being made to effect a change. Hence in the winter of 1818 - 19 Colonel Joseph Hackney, of the town of Warren, then representing Venango county in the State Legislature, introduced a bill providing for the separate and independent organization of the county of Warren. His efforts were crowned with almost immediate success, and on the 16th day of March, 1819, an act containing the legislation desired was passed.

This act provided that Warren should be organized as a separate county from and after October 1, 1819, and be attached to the Sixth judicial district, Also, that the legal electors should choose county officers at an election to be held on the second Tuesday of October of that year, whose duties were to be considered as commenced from the first day of October, 1819. We have no evidence, however, that such an election was held, and from the fact that Lansing Wetmore’s commissions as prothonotary, clerk of courts, register and recorder, etc., were signed by the governor, September 25, 1819, it is believed that all the chief officers of the county at the beginning were appointed by the same authority.

The county commissioners, viz., James Benson, Asa Winter, and Henry Kinnear, appear to have been the first officials of the county to make use of the power and priviliges vested in them. Their first meeting was held October i6, 1819, at the house of Ebenezer Jackson, which stood on the west, or rather northwest, corner of Water and Hickory streets. Messrs. Benson and Winter only were present at this meeting. They appointed John Andrews as their clerk. They also hired a room from Jackson at a rental of two dollars per month, to be used and known as the county commissioners’ office. The next meeting was held on the 28th day of the same month, all of the members being present, when Henry Dunn, of Conewango, and Isaac Connelly, of Brokenstraw, were appointed township assessors for the ensuing year.

On the 8th day of November Charles O’Bail, a son of Cornplanter, presented a claim for bounty on two full-grown wolf scalps. A room in which to hold the first term of court was rented from Ebenezer Jackson .at a rental of $15 for the term, on the 10th of the same month, and five days later, or November 15, 1819, Archibald Tanner was appointed county treasurer for the term of one year.

Preparations having been completed for the proper observance of such a grand event, the first Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace and Common Pleas, to convene in the newly-organized county of Warren, began its sessions on Monday, November 29, 1819, in an unfinished room of a house then being built by Ebenezer Jackson. This house of Jackson’s, as before described, stood on the corner now occupied by the Carver House. There were present as officials Hon. Jesse Moore, president judge; Joseph Hackney and Isaac Connelly, associate judges; Andrew Bowman, sheriff of Venango county, acting, and Lansing Wetmore, prothonotary, clerk of courts, etc.

The grand jurors summoned to attend at this term, all of whom answered to their names with the exception of Emanuel Crull, were Richard B. Miller, foreman, Alexander Watt, James Sturdevant, Henry Catlin, John Long, Joseph Gray, David Sturdevant, Philip Mead, William Bingham, John Portman, Samuel Trask, David Miles, Orange Owen, Jesse Tarbox, Samuel Gilson, John Dixon, Levi Doane, Squire Phillips, Thomas McGuire, Zachariah Eddy, John Tuttle, Emanuel Crull, Arthur Andrews, and Peleg Cranston. While of the traverse jurors summoned there were present ‘John Geer, William Siggins, Abraham Strickland, James Wilson, John Gilson, Henry Myers, John Rogers, Cookson Long, Levi Morrison, Ebenezer Jackson, Enoch Gillam, Eli Granger, Samuel Gregg, James Follett, John Sample, Ethan Owen, Cephas Holbert, Walter Seaman, John McKinney, and Philip Huffman.

These jurymen had been summoned by Andrew Bowman, sheriff of Venango county, to whom had been directed the precept. He also cited the grand and traverse jurors who assembled at March term in 1820, by reason of the fact that Mark C. Dalrymple, the first sheriff of Warren county, was not commissioned until about the time of holding the second term of court above mentioned.

During the first day of the first term Ralph Marlin, of Meadville, Thomas H. Sill, of Erie, John Galbraith, of Franklin, and Patrick Farrelly, of Meadville, were admitted to practice as attorneys at law in the various courts of the county. During the same day, also, David Stillson and George Stoolfire were granted license* to sell liquors and keep houses for public entertainment. For other interesting details relating to this first term of court held in Warren county, our readers are referred to the following accounts, written for publication years ago by two of Warren’s early citizens - Hon. Lansing Wetmore and Hon. Abner Hazeltine. True, these statements are somewhat contradictory, especially in describing the fight between the lawyer and the grand juror; but both are very readable, and only prove, for the millionth time or more, how easy it is for two men, in speaking of one and the same incident, to tell two entirely different stories.

"This first term of court," says Judge Wetmore, "went off rather as a jubilee and jollification than the sober business of administering justice to parties, and trial of cases. Every body drank liquor then and almost every body got drunk, or, as Mr. Parmlee used to have it ‘Gentlemanly gay.’ Temperance Societies were unknown then. There were but two cases tried, and they were in the sessions. They originated in a fight on Monday evening of court week, between one of the grand jurors and an attorney at the bar from Meadville. The attorney had been a Colonel of the Militia in the War of 1812, and the juryman a soldier. He, the colonel, was telling in rather a boasting way of his exploits while on the frontier. The juryman listened to him for some time, when he asked him if he was the officer who dodged behind a tree when there was an alarm of an attack by the British. The gallant colonel replied by a blow on the head of the grand juryman. It was promptly returned, when a general melee ensued. It resulted in some bloody noses and black eyes, but no serious injuries; all being a little more than ‘gentlemanly gay.’ The colonel was indicted and convicted of an assault and battery; a motion was made in arrest of judgment, which still remains unargued and undisposed of; the colonel has long since gone to his final account. The grand juryman was also indicted and tried, but was acquitted on the plea of se defendendo."

Judge Hazeltine, in his graphic description of the opening of the first term of court, and subsequent proceedings, says: "As all our county officers were wholly without experience, the prothonotary and sheriff of Venango county came up with Judge Moore, the president, and brought the Venango court crier, a Mr. Morrison, a dapper little man of wonderful volubility of speech, and certainly a great curiosity. There was no show of carriages in the streets. The attendants upon the court came either on horseback or on foot. I recollect that Richard B. Miller, the foreman of the grand jury, and Guy C. Irvine, who then lived on the Little Brokenstraw, came on foot by the way of Chandler’s Valley, over the hills then a wilderness, with knapsacks on their backs. A rude bench for the judges, with seats for the other members of the court, were hastily improvised in the spacious and rather open court room.

"On the arrival of the hour Crier Morrison blew his horn, bells being then unknown, and the court assembled, Sheriff Bowman, of Venango, accompanied by Sheriff Dalrymple,** of Warren, leading the way. Judge Moore, a large, venerable-looking man, took his seat on the bench, wearing as large a beaver as ever graced the head of William Penn. The associate judges, Hackney and Connelly, then took their seats, one on the right and the other on the left of the president, they also wearing their hats. Crier Morrison, in a very audible manner, then made proclamation that the court was opened, and that all persons having any business with the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Court of Quarter Sessions, Common Pleas, and Orphan’s Court, might draw near, give their attention, and they should be heard; ending with what Daniel McQuay, a witty Irishman, used to call a bit of a prayer, viz.: ‘God save the Commonwealth and this Honorable Court.’

"The next business in order was administering the oath of office to such members of the bar as were present from other counties in the district. There was no attorney living in the county but myself, and I was then a foreigner. There were present Messrs. Marlin, Farrelly, Sill, and Galbraith, and they were severally admitted to the Warren Bar, and sworn according to seniority. The first sworn was Colonel Marlin. The oath was administered by Judge Moore to each one separately; and in doing it he rose from his seat, laid aside his hat, and repeated the words of the oath in a very solemn and impressive manner. The grand jurors were then called and sworn, the oaths being administered by the Hon. Alexander McCalmont, prothonotary of Venango county, who assisted Judge Wetmore, then the prothonotary of Warren; Morrison, the crier, ejaculating sworn at the conclusion of each oath very emphatically. Judge Moore, then in a sitting posture, but with his hat removed, charged the grand jury from a large roll of manuscript showing considerable age.

"This was a novelty to me, as I had always seen that duty performed without the aid of manuscript, the judge and the jurors all standing. To those who were acquainted with Judge Moore and the courts in Western Pennsylvania, it of course appeared all natural and in order. The traverse jurors were then sworn. After calling over the docket, which then consisted of only a few suits that had been transferred from Venango county under the act organizing Warren county for judicial purposes, and the transaction of some routine business, the court adjourned to the next day to await the action of the grand jury.

"During the evening of the first day Counselor Marlin, who was not a total abstinence man, was approached rather incautiously, as he thought, by one of the grand jurors named Dickson, who, like the colonel, had imbibed pretty freely. Colonel Marlin had been some years previous to that time engaged in lumbering on the Conewango and the Allegheny, and Dickson, who claimed to have been employed in some capacity about that business, was disposed to be more familiar with the colonel than was agreeable to him, and he put himself upon his dignity, which greatly irritated Dickson, who being a grand juror supposed himself the peer of any one. The result was a free fight ensued, in which the colonel was rather roughly handled. As several of the grand jurors were witnesses of the affray, they thought it their duty to indict them both. My recollection is, that Mr. Sill, of Erie, officiated as prosecuting attorney and drew the bill. The next day the bills were presented in court and the defendants arrested. That day, or the next, Dickson was put upon his trial. That, I suppose, was the first trial before a jury ever had in this county. That circumstance and the character of the parties concerned, interested the public and caused a large attendance. The evidence in the case was brief; only two or three persons who saw the affray were sworn. One, I think, was Mr. Miller, the foreman of the grand jury. Mr. Sill appeared for the Commonwealth, and as was his wont, made a very eloquent speech, speaking in high terms of Colonel Marlin and alluding to his services in the then recent war with Great Britain, in which the colonel had served with distinction. Dickson was defended by Mr. afterwards Judge Galbraith, then a very young man. The jury, after receiving a very brief charge from the court, consisting mainly of a definition of the crime of assault and battery, retired to a room provided for them by the sheriff in another building. They soon returned and rendered a verdict of guilty against the prisoner. A motion was then made to postpone the trial of Colonel Marlin to the next term, which was granted. The sentence of Dickson was also postponed. According to my recollection neither case was ever moved again, but what the records show in the matter I am unable to say."

Since both gentlemen - Messrs. Wetmore and Hazeltine - depended upon their memory alone in reciting events connected with this term of court, they have quite naturally failed to state things just as they were, particularly in relation to the trial of Marlin and Dixon for assault and battery, the results, etc. Therefore we furnish the reader the following information derived from the docket:

In the case of the "Commonwealth vs. R. Marlin, Esq.," which was first called, the witnesses for the Commonwealth were John Dixon, Samuel Gilson, Henry Dunn, Alfred Ayers, and Jonathan Andrews; the witnesses for the defendant being Richard B. Miller, James Wilson, William Siggins, Alfred Vanornam, Charles O’Bryan, and Barnabas McKinney. The trial came off November 30, 1819, the second day of the term, before the following jurors: Cookson Long, Enoch Gillam, Cephas Hulbert, Samuel Gregg, Eli Granger, Levi Morrison, Ethan Owen, James Follett, Walter Seaman, John Sample, John Gilson, and Henry Myers. Defendant was found not guilty, but ordered to pay the costs of prosecution. On December I, 1819, motion for a new trial was granted.

"Commonwealth vs. John Dixon." In this case the witnesses for the Commonwealth were Alfred Vanornam and William Siggins; for the defendant, Alfred Ayers and Jacob C. Boardman. The trial came off the same day as that of Marlin’s, before a jury composed of the following members: Barnabas Owen, Eben Owen, Philip Huffman, Abraham Strickland, James Willson, John Rogers, Eben Jackson, George Morrison, Michael McKinney, Johnson Wilson, Barnabas McKinney, and Robert Miles. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of $6 and all the costs of prosecution.

In 1820 the two townships of the county - Brokenstraw and Conewango - contained, according to the United States census, one thousand nine hundred and seventy-six inhabitants, three of whom were deaf and dumb. The following year five hundred and twenty-four taxables were reported to the State authorities.

In March, 1821, the two old townships were divided and reduced to but a fraction of their former great extent. Ten others were erected, making twelve in all, as follows: Brokenstraw, Conewango, Spring Creek, Sugar Grove, Pine Grove, Kinzua, Deerfield, North West (now Columbus), Limestone, Tionesta (now obsolete), Elk, and South West. Of these seven only, viz., Brokenstraw, Conewango, Spring Creek, Sugar Grove, Pine Grove, Kinzua, and Deerfield, were organized, the remainder being attached to the organized townships for a number of years. Full particulars, however, relating to these and all other townships in the county will be found in a subsequent chapter of this work, devoted exclusively to the topic.

On the 2d of April, 1822, an act was passed by the State Legislature which declared that the lands held by Cornplanter and his tribe should be exempt from taxation so long as he or they "hold and occupy them in their own right." The same act further provided that all notes, moneys, etc., given by Cornplanter for taxes should be returned to him.

It seems that a year or two prior to the passage of the above-mentioned act, the county authorities imposed a tax upon Cornplanter’s lands which he refused to pay, declaring that it was levied without authority. A deputation was dispatched to inform him that the collection would be made forcibly if he persisted in his refusal. Cornplanter, who was then surrounded by several of his warriors, invited the deputation of whites into the council-house, and, pointing to a large collection of guns which were standing in one corner of the room, told them that the cause of the Indians was just, and there was their defense.

An armed force, headed by the sheriff, was already assembled in Warren to put their threats in execution, but after some consultation the movement was considered premature and injudicious, and was abandoned. The matter was then submitted to the Legislature and decided in favor of the Indians, by the enactment above referred to.

On the 6th of July, 1822, Cornplanter visited Warren by appointment, to confer with the county commissioners. He was firm and dignified in his bearing. His conduct had been justified by the State; hence the commissioners could not do otherwise than to adjust all differences, and restore to him the moneys, notes, etc., which had been unlawfully obtained.

During the year 1824 occurred the celebrated Hook murder trial. In relating the incidents connected with this case Judge Lansing Wetmore, in his "Reminiscences" of Olden times, published in a newspaper in 1853, said: "There has been but one trial for a capital offense since the organization of the county. That was the Commonwealth vs. Jacob Hook, for the murder of Caleb Wallace in 1824. Mr. Hook came to this county in 1812, and entered extensively into the lumbering business; built the mills which his brother Orin now occupies on the Allegheny, five miles above Warren. He was a man of strong mind, great energy of character, inflexible in his pursuits, unyielding in his opinions and purposes, but, withal, uncultivated. He had rapidly accumulated a large property for those times, and was using it to accumulate a still larger. He got into a quarrel with one of his hired men on account of a small balance of wages, claimed as due from Hook. Both were unyielding. The man applied to an attorney for redress, who, also being on bad terms with Hook, espoused the quarrel and brought a suit against Hook. Several other suits for trivial matters were brought against him the same week.

"Having exhausted everything on the civil list, on searching the records of court an affidavit was found made, by Hook, to ground a motion on to set aside an award of arbitration, something was discovered on which to found the charge of perjury. The oath was made to that effect by Perry Sherman, and a warrant issued. This was on Saturday. Hook had been to Warren every day that week to answer to some legal process. Sheriff Littlefield being sick, Asa Scott, his deputy, went to serve the writ. He went up in the morning and made known his business. Hook told him he had been to Warren often enough on trivial, trumped-up matters, and should not go down that day; that he should be down the next week, and would answer to the charge. Scott returned and reported progress to complainant and his attorney, who directed him to return with a posse and bring Hook down. Scott, accordingly, called to his assistance the complainant, Caleb Wallace, James Arthur, and perhaps one or two more. They arrived at Hook’s about dark, went into a house some ten or twelve rods from Hook’s, and waited till some time after dark. Mr. Arthur, being on friendly terms with Hook, went to his bedroom window and attempted to persuade him to go with them peaceably; but he was inflexible, and told him he should not go to Warren that night a live man, and warned him if they entered his house it was at the peril of their lives.

"Finding importunities fruitless, Scott, with Wallace and Sherman, went into the stoop at the front door; finding it fastened, Scott stepped back a few paces, and rushed against the door with his shoulder; it flew open suddenly, and he fell sprawling his length on the floor. At that moment a gun was discharged from within. Wallace being immediately in Scott’s rear received the charge of slug shot in the breast, and fell dead. Sherman being at his side received four of the slugs in his left arm, above and near the elbow. The posse withdrew. Hook came down on Monday morning following, surrendered himself and was committed to prison. He was taken before Judge Moore, at Meadville, on a habeas corpus, and admitted to bail in $3,000.*** Henry Baldwin, with Pat. Farrelly, Sill, and Hazeltine, defended him on the trial. He was acquitted, mainly on the ground that the deputation to Scott was not under seal and void, placing the posse in the same situation as trespassers breaking into a house without any authority. Hook died at Pittsburgh a year or two subsequent to his trial, from the effects of a swelling on his neck, at the age of about forty years."

Hook shot Wallace with a musket, March 25, 1824. He was acquitted June 2, 1824, by a jury, selected from a panel of fifty-six men, composed as follows: Daniel Chapin, Horace Watkins, Thomas Gilson, Alexander Stewart, Stephen Williams, Joseph H. Marsh, Jeremiah Dunn, Robert Donaldson, Martin Reese, Jr., Jesse Tarbox, Asa Winter, and Walter Seaman.

The acquittal of Hook was severely criticized by the faction led by Josiah Hall, the lawyer who was so active in the prosecution of the defendant both before and after the death of Wallace. These criticisms so preyed upon the nerves of Jeremiah Dunn, one of the jurymen, as to produce temporary insanity, and the next day he hung himself. For several years this trial and its results was the great event of the county.

In 1824, also, Warren’s first newspaper, the Conewango Emigrant, was established. The first court-house was commenced in 1825.(4*) During the same year North West township was organized as Columbus. The courthouse was completed in 1827. Limestone was organized in 1829, taking in the territory to that time known as Tionesta, when the latter term, as the name of a township, disappeared from view.

 

 

 

* Others to whom licenses were granted for the same purpose during the next four years were John Thompson, place not stated; Robert Miles, Thomas Slone, and Marshall Jones, of Pine Grove; Ebenezer Jackson, David Jackson, Henry Dunn, Rufus Olney, and King & Jackson, of the town of Warren; Ambrose L. Pratt, John Langley, Oldham & Gilman, John Reese, Jacob Wells, Mark C. Dalrymple, and Philo Brown, places not stated; John I. Willson, Samuel Hall, James Seaman, and Artemus Buel, of Sugar Grove; Alfred Vanornam and William Siggins, of Broken straw; Samuel Magee, of Deerfield, and Isaac Williams, of Kinzua.

** This is an error. There was no Sheriff Dalrymple at that time. See "Commission Books," in register and recorder’s office.

*** The records state that Hook was held in $6,000 bail, and his sureties, James Morrison and Hugh Marsh, jointly in $2,000.

(4*) In 1825 an Indian named "Blue Throat" died on the Allegheny River Reservation, who it was claimed had attained the age of one hundred and sixty years.

SOURCE: Page(s) 141-149, History of Warren County, J.S. Schenck & W.S. Rann, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason, 1887