History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 02

Created: Wednesday, 24 March 2010 Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2017 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email




Both the British and French were quick to recognize the strategic importance of the West Branch Valley and made desperate efforts to secure a dominant foothold therein. If their intrigues with the Iroquois should result in an offensive alliance with either, an attack could be made on the valley by merely having the Indians and troops float down one or more of the various tributaries of the river in canoes and drive the native Indians and whites out of the valley. These tributaries headed in the very territory controlled and inhabited by the Iroquois and thus it was an easy matter to use them as the highways for rapid transportation and concentration.

Fort Augusta, at what is now Sunbury, at the confluence of the North and West branches of the Susquehanna, was built in the fall of 1756 by the British and was a most important defensive work as it dominated both the great valleys of the Susquehanna River and was subsequently the point of refuge for many of the early settlers who fled there when threatened by the tomahawk or scalping knife.

During the war with the British the French cast longing eyes upon this stronghold and made plans for its capture. Even before it was finished, an expedition was organized composed of French troops and their Indian allies, with the idea of descending the river and capturing the fort. This force was in command of M. de St. Ours and he is said to have had with him four brass cannon.

They descended the river to the mouth of Loyalsock Creek where they went into camp until further reconnaissances could be made as to the strength of the enemy and the possibility of capturing the fort. St. Ours and a small body of men then proceeded by the crest of the Bald Eagle Mountain and that opposite Sunbury to a point from which they could look down upon Fort Augusta. They found that it was so well manned that it would be impossible for them to capture it and they returned to their camp on the Loyalsock. They then started on their return to Canada.

It had been an easy matter for them to float their brass cannon clown the stream on flat boats or rafts, but it was a physical impossibility to float them back again. The only way they could have succeeded in getting them up stream again would have been to pole them up, a long and laborious task. Tradition has it, therefore, that they sunk the cannon in the river near the mouth of Loyalsock Creek at a place which has since become famous fishing ground and has always been known as the "Cannon Hole." Frequent attempts have been made to raise these cannon to the surface at this place, but if it is true that they were actually sunk there, the chances are that they have become so deeply buried in the mud at the bottom that they will never be resurrected. No other plausible origin of the name, "Cannon Hole," has ever been found.

The war between the British and French continued, with varying fortunes, and the few settlers in the West Branch Valley suffered from the indignities imposed upon them by both sides and especially by their Indian allies.

In 1768 the Indians, who had adhered to the French, were defeated by General Bouquet at Bushy Run in the western part of the state and the occupation of Fort Duquesne followed. This was the beginning of the end of French domination in Pennsylvania. Upon their return from this expedition many of the English officers and men petitioned the Penns for grants of land in payment for their services. Their petitions were recognized as just. The Penns decided to grant the request provided more land could be obtained from the Indians. In an effort to accomplish this object, a meeting was held at Fort Stanwix, near where the city of Rome in New York state now stands, at which time the Indians entered into a treaty to convey a large body of lands on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to the Penns for the consideration of $10,000. This treaty was signed on the fifth day of November, 1768. The western boundary of the grant was designated as the Tiadaghton Creek and this subsequently led to a good deal of misunderstanding and even bloodshed.

The Indian by this time had learned many things from the white man and, as is generally the case, he learned to be acquisitive and finding the lands which he possessed were sought by the white man, he began to sell right and left to anyone who wished to buy without regard to the fact that he may have sold the same land before to someone else. There were often as high as three claimants for the same grant of land. This, naturally, gave rise to endless trouble and bad feeling.

Between the time of the treaty of Fort Stanwix and the opening of the land office in 1769, it became the practice of the Penns to grant tracts of lands to special individuals in return for services rendered. One of these special grants was a tract of 800 acres to Andrew Montour, son of the famous Madame Montour, and it covered all the territory on which the village of Montoursville is now located. It was known as Montour's reserve.

It was also the custom of the Penns to reserve certain tracts, known as manors, which were afterwards awarded to individuals as rewards. One of these was Muncy Manor, which was reserved December 25, 1768, on the recommendation of Job Chilloway, a friendly Indian. It was known as "Job's discovery" and is so designated on the original draft. Job Chilloway was a Delaware Indian, born in New Jersey early in 1737 and on reaching manhood he came to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River where he became a firm friend of the white man and rendered very distinguished service. He died in Ohio on September 22, 1792.

Another manor was surveyed on the east side of Lycoming Creek on land on which a part of the city of Williamsport now stands, and a patent was issued for it to Rev. Richard Peters August 11, 1770. It contains 579 acres and was known as "Orme's Kirk." It played an important part in the subsequent history and development of the city of Williamsport.

At one time this tract was in the possession of Captain Hawkins Boone, brother of the celebrated Daniel Boone of Kentucky. Hawkins Boone fell at the battle of Fort Freeland in Northumberland County, July 29, 1779.

Prior to the opening of the land office on April 3, 1769, William Penn and his brothers sold the lands they had acquired to any individuals making application therefore, the purchase price varying according to the character of the lands desired, they retaining one-tenth of all the territory embraced within the limits of the province. These were the manors which were reserved for special purposes. In addition to the purchase price, the Penns required the payment of an annual quit rent of one penny, or about two cents of our money, per acre. It is thus readily seen that, had the purchase money been paid down and the quit rents promptly and regularly rendered, the proprietor's revenues would have been enormous. But there was very little ready cash in those days and few of the quit rents were ever paid. People were compelled to secure the necessaries of life by the medium of barter and exchange.

It was soon found that in this method of disposing of the vast territory within the bounds of the province, too much favoritism was shown and too much had feeling was engendered. A new plan was, therefore, devised in order to give an opportunity to all to secure lands upon an equal footing,

Under the old system certain individuals whose opportunities enabled them to obtain better information than others, took advantage of their position to acquire lands for speculative purposes, which was in violation of the expressed policy of the proprietaries. The seat of the provincial government was the headquarters of this class and the history of land speculation does not record a more grasping, grafting, and dishonest set of men than those that existed during the decade between 1760 and 1770, and nowhere were their operations conducted with more vigor or with such a disregard for common honesty than in the Susquehanna Valley and the entire northwestern section of Pennsylvania. Under the new plan which went into effect on April 3, 1769, any person who desired to do so, might make application for any land owned by the proprietaries not otherwise appropriated or assigned, upon payment of five pounds sterling, or about $25 per one hundred acres, and one penny per annum per acre quit rent. This was at the rate of about twenty-five cents per acre. The number of acres for which one person might apply was limited to three hundred, in order to prevent large accumulations in the hands of a single individual for speculative purposes.

Upon receipt of the application, which described the land desired in a general way, a warrant was issued to a deputy surveyor directing him to make a survey of it and return the result to the land office, whereupon a patent was issued for the tract.

It can readily be understood that this plan, too, although admirable in theory, failed to work out satisfactorily in practice. Sometimes there were as many as a half dozen applicants for the same tract and it then became necessary to settle the title to it by drawing lots. In fact, for several years, the land office maintained a regular lottery for this purpose.

This method of acquiring lands having proved to be unsatisfactory, like the first, it was then decided to allot the lands to the person whose application bore the earliest date. There was, however, no way of preventing a subsequent applicant, perhaps years afterwards, applying for a tract already allotted and, as it was manifestly a herculean task for the land office to pass upon the priority of all conflicting claims, it finally became the custom to sell all lands to whoever might apply for them without regard to the date of the application and let the courts settle the question as to which of the two or more applicants was entitled to priority. And this custom was continued after the commonwealth was established and has obtained down to the present day. Through its operation the state of Pennsylvania has actually been paid for its lands two or three times over, as practically all valuable tracts were applied for by more than one person. This last method of disposing of the lands within the state gave rise to the most unique and complicated system of land laws ever known in this or any other country.

Moreover, the requirement was that only three hundred acres would be allotted to one person was easily evaded. Individuals, when making application in their own name, would at the same time file applications in the names of members of their families, their friends, their sisters, their cousins and their aunts. After the patents were issued to this horde of relatives it was a simple matter to have the lands deeded by them to the instigator at a nominal sum. The very purpose of the restriction was thus easily defeated by a subterfuge and large bodies of lands, running into thousands of acres, became vested in a single individual or partnership.

Then began a wild orgy of speculation. Fired by the ex-ample of such men as Robert Morris, Phillips and Graham, Gorham and Phelps and many others who had acquired vast tracts in southern New York state and northern Pennsylvania, and who sought to colonize them with emigrants from the lower counties of the state, from England and other countries, colonization schemes became a craze which ramified and permeated through all classes of society. It infected lawyers, bankers, farmers, physicians and even ministers of the gospel.

The fever had broken out even a year before the opening of the land office. Scores of adventurers had flocked up the Valley of the Susquehanna River as far as Bald Eagle Creek and many of them had marked trees or driven stakes to indicate where they proposed to take up land. The report had gone abroad through the lower part of the province and New Jersey that the new purchase, as the treaty of Fort Stanwix was called, and that portion of the Susquehanna Valley above Lycoming Creek in what is now Lycoming County was known, was unsurpassed in beauty and fertility of soil by that to be found anywhere and many yearned to occupy it. It was said to be a veritable paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey and the country rapidly filled up with a sturdy set of pioneers who were destined to leave their impress on the history of the state in more ways than one.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 72-78, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka-Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929