History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 03

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





The first settlement in Lycoming County was made about the year 1760 on what was known as the Muncy Manor. Several claims were made to this land by different individuals but as the claims had been taken up before the opening of the land office, none of them was recognized by the Penns. Among these claimants was Samuel Wallis, who afterwards became the largest landowner in the county. Wallis brought suit for the lands, but it was decided against him and the title confirmed in Samuel Harris, son of John Harris, after whom the city of Harrisburg was named. A house was built on this land and this was undoubtedly the first dwelling erected in the West Branch Valley west of the Muncy Hills.

Samuel Wallis, who laid claim to the property, was a prominent man in his day and afterwards purchased a tract of land lying a short distance above the hamlet of Halls where he built a pretentious mansion in 1769 which is still standing and is the oldest house in Lycoming County. Subsequently Wallis became possessed of large tracts of land extending along the river bottom from Muncy to Jersey Shore.

Wallis was a slaveholder, as were many of the wealthier men of that day, and also had in his employ a number of redemptioners. These were immigrants who, being unable to pay their way from the old to the new world, sold themselves for a term of years in consideration of the payment of their passage money. They were slaves to all intents and purposes but as the expiration of their indenture generally included a proviso that at the end of their term they should be given a certain sum of money and enough farm animals to enable them to start for themselves, many of them became prosperous and excellent citizens. Some of the leading citizens of the state are descendants of these redemptioners.

Beginning with the year 1760 settlers began to pour into the valley from many different sections, some with valid claims and some with no claims at all. Squatters were numerous and some of them settled on the best lands and were prepared to hold possession of them by force of arms.

Among those making claims to the whole valley were a number of people from Connecticut who claimed that their grant extended to the Wyoming Valley and beyond and a large body in command of Zebulon Butler poured into the territory. Their invasion was vigorously resented by the Penns and they soon took measures looking to their expulsion. Settlements had been made by the invaders on the North Branch and the names of Charleston and Judea given to the towns. Orders were issued for them to leave. These were disregarded and then an expedition commanded by Colonel William Plunkett was dispatched to the scene and after a short engagement the Connecticut invaders were driven out and their settlements burned.

Settlements were now being made so fast in the lower section of the Susquehanna Valley that the necessity for a new county became urgent. The territory was then embraced within the limits of Berks and Cumberland counties and their seats were too far away. Residents on the east side of the river above Lancaster belonged to Berks and those on the west side to Cumberland. Northumberland County was therefore erected on March 9, 1772, with the county seat at Fort Augusta, afterwards Sunbury. It was divided into seven townships, one of which was named Muncy and included practically all of that portion of the territory now embraced within the limits of Lycoming County.

About the first business that came before the courts of the new counties was the consideration of petitions for highways, of which the whole county was in great need. The construction of a road up the river was ordered at October term, 1772, but it was some years later before it was actually completed from Sunbury to the limits of the Indian purchase of Fort Stanwix. It is the same road which is now covered by the famous Susquehanna Trail.

During the year 1772 the valley of the West Branch was traversed by a band of Moravians who were traveling from Wyalusing to Ohio to make a new home for themselves. There were a large number in their party headed by Bishop John Ettwein. They crossed through swamps and thick undergrowth in what is now Sullivan County and from there to the Muncy Valley. They then proceeded up the river, passing the Indian villages of Otstuagy, at the mouth of Loyalsock Creek, French Margaret's Town at the mouth of Lycoming Creek and Queneshougheny at Linden. From here they proceeded on up the river to Great Island, opposite Lock Haven, from whence they passed over the mountain and on to Ohio.

With the breaking out of the Revolutionary war great excitement prevailed throughout this section of the province but it did not halt the tide of immigration. The fame of the "New Purchase" of 1768 had gone far afield and settlers continued to come in from everywhere. With the beginning of the Revolution the provinces ceased to exist and the state government took its place. The people of what is now Lycoming County were intensely patriotic and were ready to tender their services in whatever capacity they were desired.

Committees of safety were organized in all sections and meetings held at which the usurpations of Great Britain were denounced and the colonies urged to fight for independence. The inhabitants of this section were, for the most part, expert riflemen and many of them afterwards joined the famous Morgan Corps.

One of the first companies of the Continental line was raised in Northumberland County. It was commanded by Captain John Lowden and contained fourteen members from what is now Lycoming County. They left Sunbury in the latter part of July and reached Cambridge, Mass., on the eighth day of August, where they were attached to Colonel William Thompson's battalion and subsequently became a part of the First Regiment of the Continental line. 1,76 e

The western limit of the Purchase of 1768 was designated as Tiadaghton Creek. But where was Tiadaghton Creek? The Indians claimed it was the present Lycoming Creek but the proprietaries always insisted that the present Pine Creek, located fourteen miles farther west, was the true Tiadaghton. Between these two streams lay some of the most fertile lands in the valley. During the progress of the dispute, from the year 1773 to May 1, 1785, when the state land office was opened for applications under the purchase of October 23, 1784, these lands which consisted principally of the rich bottom lying along the river, were settled by large numbers of "squatters," who knew that they were Indian lands and not within the control of the proprietary government. They therefore established a government of their own which was one of the simplest known in history, but, according to all accounts, was one of the most effective and is a striking example of the efficacy of government by commission.

In March of each year three commissioners were chosen by the ballots of the settlers to serve for one year and these commissioners were known as "fairplay men." It was their duty to see that each member of the community had "fair play." They settled all disputes that arose between individuals, tried and punished all who violated local law, made rules and regulations for the government of the community and, in short, exercised at the same time, executive, legislative and judicial functions.

They made the laws, they saw that they were enforced and they punished those who violated them. If anyone questioned one of their decisions he was put into a canoe, without paddle, towed to the middle of the river and set adrift.

"The fair play men" had no regular time or place of meeting, but assembled whenever the exigencies of a particular case required their action, Their laws were very few, very simple and founded, as all laws should be, but many are not, on common sense and common honesty.

"The fair play men" also levied whatever taxes were necessary for the common benefit, but as the community had not gone crazy over public improvements, the advancement of civilization and the development of its mighty resources they were kept at a minimum.

The people lived cleanly, they had few wants and these were easily supplied. Each did his share of the work and they were better ruled and governed than many a larger community of the present day with all the improved governmental machinery which a more advanced and enlightened civilization is supposed to supply. It is not known whether the "fairplay" men kept any records, but if so, they have, unfortunately, been lost, which is greatly to be regretted as they would have been of great interest to all lovers of good government.

From the character of those who are known to have served as "fairplay men" it is certain that the very best men in the community were chosen for the office and it is recorded that their decisions were rarely questioned. They were governed by the purest motives, served without pay and ruled with fairness and justice to all. Their decision in all matters which came before them was final, there being absolutely no appeal to a higher court or other tribunal.

The following persons are known to have been members of the "Fair Play" organization: Joseph McMahon, John Fleming, James Curry, William Dougherty, Thomas Forster, John Baker, William Maginley, Peter Maginley, William Dunn, John Chatham, James Erwin, John Dougherty, John McKinney, William McMeans, Thomas Nichols, William Jackson, F. Hiler, J. Woodsides, Benjamin Warner, Samuel Fields, Fred Bodine, John Price, Edmund Huff, Bratton Caldwell, A. Ketelinger, Richard Manning, James Forster, John Hamilton, William Luckey, John Holmes, John McElwain, James Alexander, Adam King, Robert Holmes, Richard Suthern, James Stewart, Joseph Mahaffey, William Dougherty, John Jackson, David Hammond, William Walker, Edward Masters, John Akiridge, Robert Brayley, Thomas Ferguson, Samuel Camel, James Jackson and Robert Reynolds.

Such a tribunal as that known as the Fair Play System has no counterpart in the history of the world and in order to understand its methods more fully the following deposition of William King in the case of Huff versus Latcha made March 15, 1801, the only contemporary document extant recounting the procedure of the Fair Play men, is given in full.

"Edmund Huffs

"Jacob Larcha

"In the Circuit Court, Lycoming County,

"Before me the subscriber, one of the justices of the peace in and for Lycoming County personally came William King, who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists deposeth and saith in 1775 this deponent came on the land in question and was informed that Joseph Haines claimed the land. I asked Haines to sell the land. He agreed and asked 30 pounds. I would not give it. He told me he was going to Jersey and intended, to leave the plantation in the care of Isaiah Sutton, who then lived on it, and if he did not return Sutton might do what he pleased with it. Sutton was his nephew. Sometime after I heard Sutton was offering it for sale. I had heard much disputing about the Indian Land and thought 1 would go to Sutton's neighbors and inquire if he had any right. I first went to Edmund Huff, then to Thomas Kemplin, Samuel Dougherty, William McMeans and Thomas Ferguson and asked if they would accept me as a neighbor and inquired whether Isaiah Sutton had any right to the land in question. They told me Joseph Haines had once a right to it but had forfeited his right by the fair play Jaw, and advised to purchase. I am sure Edmund Huff told me this. Huff showed me the consentable line betwixt Haines and him. Huff's land lay above Haines on the river. I purchased of Sutton, was to give him nine pounds for the land. I did not come to live on the land for some weeks. One night at a Husking of Corn, one Thomas Bond told me I was a fine fellow to be at a Husking, while a man was taking possession of my plantation. I asked who it was. He said he did not know but believed he was a Scotchman. I quit husking and Bond and I came over to the place and went into a cave the only Tenement then on the land except where Sutton lived and found some trifling articles in the cave which we threw out. I went to the men who had advised me to go on the land all except Huff and Kemplin, they advised me to go on turn him off and beat him if I was able. Next morning I got some of my friends and raised a cabin of some logs which I understood Flames had hauled. When we got it to the square we heard a noise of people coming. The first person I saw was Edmund Huff foremost with a kegg of whiskey-William and Paul was next with an axe and many more. They got on the cabin, raised the Indian yell, dispossessed me and put William Paul in possession. I and my party went off. Samuel Dougherty followed me and told me to come back and come on terms with Paul who had money and would not take it from me for nothing. 1 would not go back but stopped till Daugherty went for Paul. The whole party came and brought the kegg along. After some conversation William Paul agreed to give me 13 pounds for my right. He pulled out the money and gave it to Huff to keep till J would assign over my right of it. I afterwards signed the conveyance and got my money. William Paul went on the land and finished his cabin. Soon after a party brought Robert Arthur and built a cabin near Paul's in which Arthur lived. William Paul applied to the fair play men who decided in favor of Paul. Arthur however still lived on the land and would not go off. William Paul made a complaint to the Company at a Muster at Quinashahague that Arthur still lived on the land and would not go off, although the fair play men had decided against him. I was one of the officers at that time and we agreed to come and turn Arthur off. The most of the Company came down as far as Edmund Huff's who kept stills. We got a kegg of whiskey and proceeded to Arthur's cabin. He was at home with his rifle in his hand and his wife had a bayonet on a stick and they threatened death to the first person who would enter the House. The Door was shut. Thomas Kemplin our Captain made a run at the Door and burst it open and instantly seized Arthur by the neck. We pulled down the cabin and threw it into the river lashed two canoes together and put Arthur and his family into them and sent them down the river. William Paul then lived undisturbed on the land till the Indians drove us all off. William Paul did duty on the militia, and was out on a tour at the time of the runaway. During the pending of the former Trial of this cause Edmund Huff asked me if I knew what a certain William Wiley was summoned to prove. I replied I believe it was to prove that William Paul gave him Edmund Wolf thirty guineas to turn me this deponent off the land. Huff replied that if he will swear very false for all that be gave me was one guinea. William Paul never returned to the land after the war. His eldest son was back. Edmund Huff was the person who lived on the land in question after the war. Joseph Haines never returned to the land in question; as this deponent knows or heard from his going away in the fall of 1775. Joseph Raines did not himself live on the land after this deponent came to the country, he had a small improvement of about three-quarters of an acre but no grain growing on it at that time-believes he boarded at Aniariah Sutton's-and further this deponent knoweth not.


"Sworn to and submitted this 16th of March in the presence of C. Huston and John W. Hunter-before one Wm. Greene."

The settlers on the disputed territory were intensely patriotic and being outside the jurisdiction of all law, except that of their own making, they felt freer to act than those who were under the protection of the provincial government. Accordingly they met on July 4, 1776, under the spreading branches of an enormous elm tree on the west bank of Pine Creek in what is now Clinton County, and solemnly declared themselves free and independent and forever absolved from all allegiance to the British crown. This famous elm tree is still standing and ciety. it is known as the "Independence Elm."

Whether this declaration was ever reduced to writing is unknown but the probabilities are that it was. If so, the original copy has been lost, probably at the time of the Big Run-away, three years later. At all events the incident has been handed down with such minute circumstantiality by word of mouth from father to son as to leave no doubt as to its authenticity.

It is a remarkable coincidence that this declaration should have been adopted on the very day that the other immortal instrument was signed at Philadelphia, two hundred miles away.

It was during this summer that Rev. Philip Vicar Fithian, a Presbyterian minister, made a journey through the West Branch Valley as far as Lycoming Creek and in his journal records many interesting facts, among them being his surprise at finding the existence of "barrens" or wastes along some of the creeks. These "barrens" were places along the stream where timber would not grow and they were thought by many settlers to be barren land which would yield nothing, while as a matter of fact, some of them contained the most fertile land to be found in the entire section of the country.

Fithian was received everywhere with the utmost cordiality and gives evidence in the account of his journey of the high character of the inhabitants.

That portion of the land below Lycoming Creek was be-ginning to fill up rapidly, but that between Lycoming Creek and Pine Creek was not settled very fast until after the year 1784, when a new treaty was negotiated with the Indians in which they finally admitted that Pine Creek was the real Tiadaghton mentioned in the treaty of 1768. The treaty of 1784 included all the lands in the state over which the Indians claimed jurisdiction,

SOURCE:  Page(s) 79-89, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka-Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929