Chapter XXXIV
History of Perry Township 

Perry was the second township organized in Jefferson county, being taken from Pine Creek in 1818. It embraced the whole of the county south of Little Sandy, and the dividing line was for a long time called the "Mason and Dixon line of Jefferson county." It was organized soon after the brilliant, victory gained on Lake Erie, by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, and was named for him. Perry township, until 1826, was bounded, on the north by Pine Creek township, on the east by Clearfield, west by Armstrong, and south by Indiana county.

The township now contains about twenty-eight square miles, or 18,000 acres, principally good farming land. Its shape is nearly square, with boundary lines running due east and west, and north and south.

The surface is mostly elevated. With the exception of Mahoning Creek the streams are small and flow through narrow ravines. The Mahoning Creek flows in a tortuous course through a deep, wide valley extending along the southern border of the township. A narrow divide, trending east and west, crosses the northern portion of the township and separates the waters of the Mahoning from those of the Little Sandy. Frostburg is at the summit of this elevated plateau.

The first settler in what is now Perry township, was John Bell, who was born in Virginia on the 28th of January, 1770, and when but an infant was taken by his family to Cumberland county, and subsequently to the Sewickly settlement, then in Westmoreland county, where he resided until 18oo, when he moved to the vicinity of what is now the town of Indiana, where he was, in 1805, on the formation of Indiana county, elected the first constable in that county. In 1809 he decided to penetrate still further into the wilderness, and settled upon the farm about one mile north of the Big Mahoning Creek, and made the first improvement in that part of Jefferson county. Until the year 1812 his nearest neighbors were nine miles distant, in Indiana county, and the nearest, in what is now Jefferson county, were those living in the Barnett Settlement, over twenty miles north of him.

For a long time after Mr. Bell took up his abode in this wilderness his rifle, in the use of which he was an adept, was the only source of subsistence for himself and family; and in hunting and clearing off his heavily timbered land the first years of his residence in this wilderness were passed. As a proof of his skill as a hunter it is stated, on creditable authority, that during his residence in Jefferson county John Bell killed two panthers, ninety-three wolves, three hundred and six bears and over six hundred deer, to say nothing of wild turkeys, which were then very numerous, and other small game. The red men, too, yet lurked in the forests, and though we have heretofore had nothing but their friendly actions towards the early settlers to chronicle, it is stated that on one occasion Mr. Bell, who had been to Port Barnett on business, and was obliged to camp out for the night on his way home, saw an Indian taking aim at him from behind a tree. In relating this incident he remarked, "that Indian was never seen afterwards;" from which it was easily inferred that the savage fell before his unerring rifle.

In 1818 Governor Findley appointed him justice of the peace, an office which he held for twenty-five years, and in which his jurisdiction was honest and creditable. He was known all his life afterwards, all over this region of country as "Squire Bell." One of Mr. Bell’s strongest characteristics was his love of truth and his sterling honesty. He would call no man friend whom he could not respect, and he disdained to conceal his opinions or dislikes. For those whom he professed friendship he would make any sacrifice of personal convenience. He was a true type of the early American pioneer.

But while he was famous as a hunter and woodsman, he did not neglect his farm, upon which he worked so zealously that he soon had it under a good state of culture, and long before he was obliged to relinquish the oversight of it he had made it productive, erected comfortable buildings and planted one of the finest orchards in the county; and when the evening of his days came he was able to "sit under his own vine and fig tree;" to look out over the fertile fields which he had reclaimed from the dense wilderness, and enjoy the fruit from the trees of his own planting. This farm, still one of the best in Jefferson county, is now the property of Robert Hamilton.

Mr. Bell was married twice. His first wife died, leaving him with three children, John, Hugh and Mary; (the latter married David Postlethwait), and he then married Jane Potter, a daughter of the first settler of Reynoldsville, who survived him for a number of years. The only child of the second marriage is Mrs. Rachel Weaver, of Perry township. He died on the 19th of May, 1855, in the eighty-sixth year of his age; having resided in Jefferson county for forty-six years.

He was one of the most widely known citizens of the county, and his home was for many years the resting place of the wayfarer, no one ever being turned away from his hospitable door. For over twenty-five years the members of the Indiana county bar made his home their stopping place on their way to and from their attendance at the courts held at Brookville, and among his warmest friends were Judge Thomas White, and Messrs. Banks, Stannard, Carpenter, Coffey, and others who visited him on those occasions.

The next settler who came into what is now Perry township was Archibald Hadden, who located about a mile southeast from John Bell in 1810. Mr. Hadden also came from Westmoreland county. He built the first grist-mill in Perry township, near the present town of Perrysville. Mr. Hadden died a number of years ago. His son, William Hadden, is now the oldest resident of Oliver township.

Then came Hugh McKee, a soldier of the War of 1812, from Westmoreland county, who settled on a farm about half a mile from where Perrysville now is. Mr. McKee was a prominent citizen of this portion of the county during the few years that he resided there, and held the office of auditor and supervisor. He was killed in 1822 by falling from the roof of a log barn he was building, and was the first adult buried in the grave-yard at Punxsutawney (then in Perry township). A daughter of Hugh McKee, Mrs. Susannah Hall, died in Brookville, May 4, 1887, aged eighty-one years. She came with her parents to Jefferson county when a little child, and lived within its limits for over seventy years. The only remaining member of the family, William McKee (son of Hugh), resides in Oliver township.

John Postlethwait came from Westmoreland county in 1818, and settled a mile and a half northwest of Perrysville. Near the same time the family of John Young settled two miles west of the present town of Perrysville.

Another of the pioneer settlers of Perry township was Reuben Hickox, who came in 1822. He was a great hunter, and in less than three days caught six bears, and in about three months had killed over fifty of these animals. He trapped and hunted principally for bears and wolves, as the skin of the wild cat and other animals were of little or no value. Deer, wild turkey and wild ducks supplied his family with food. Mr. Hickox was born in New Haven, Conn., his father being a soldier in General Washington’s own command, for several years during the Revolutionary War. He was married in 1818 to Catharine Williams. Mr. Hickox died about 1884, aged over ninety years. His son, Charles Hickox, and others of his descendants, still live in Perry.

William Johnson came to Perry township in March, 1830, from Mahoning township, Indiana. county. He put up a little shanty to live in while he hewed logs to build a house, and one day when he came to the shanty he found the tracks made in the ashes by a large bear which had visited it in his absence. When his house was ready to raise, James McCombs, John Henderson, William Neal, James McHenry and James Chambers came from Indiana county to help at the "raising." They came to give this assistance in compensation for similar services rendered them by Mr. Johnston prior to that time. He occupied this house for seven years, and then built a large frame house, in which he yet resides. He had, in the meantime, built a large frame barn, which is yet standing. Thomas Hopkins, late of Shamoka, did all the carpenter work of these buildings.

When Mr. Johnston was engaged in grubbing his second field, he saw a large bear coming towards him. He ran to the house for his gun and shot it. The animal showed fight, but soon became exhausted from loss of blood, and crept into some bushes near by and died. While he was following the bear into the thicket, a young fawn sprang up in front of him, and, frightened at the unwonted visitor, sped swiftly away into the recesses of the forest.

When Mr. Johnston was thirteen years of age he worked for a while for "Squire" John Bell. One day Bell’s horses ran away, and after a long time spent in hunting for them he met Andrew Barnett, who was on his way to Indiana, who informed him that he had heard the bell, which the horses wore, when he was going through the woods through the Gomper’s improvement, which consisted of a patch of buckwheat sown in the woods, on land now owned by William J. Smith. Mr. Johnston took a small sack of salt and a bridle and started after the runaways, and after traveling through a wilderness infested with wild beasts, and where danger lurked in every thicket, he found them where the farm of George Ickes now is, in Oliver township, and five miles from home. The boy took the horses safely home, and to use his own words, thought he had "won as great a victory as Columbus did when he discovered America."

It was while making this trip that Mr. Johnson’s attention was called to the piece of land which pleased him so much, and which he afterwards bought, in 1829, from Charles C. Gaskill, agent of the Holland Land Company, paying him one hundred and forty dollars and twenty-five cents for two hundred and ten acres. This tract was surveyed by John J.Y. Thompson, of Brookville, and on which Mr. Johnston made the first improvement between John Bell’s and Port Barnett.

This property which Mr. Johnston selected when a boy, is still his home, and is one of the finest farms in Jefferson county. He done all the work of clearing and farming his land until the spring of 1873. While repairing his barn he had his left foot bruised very severely, which caused him months of the most intense suffering, and terminated at last in his having his foot amputated and then the limb three different times. Since that time he has been unable to help himself, but has spent his time in a wheel chair. He is now in the eighty-third year of his age, and is respected and esteemed by all who know him for the good he has done.

Mr. Johnston’s wife, who was Miss Mary Postlethwait, daughter of David Postlethwait, has been dead for a number of years, and as they had no children, a nephew, Mr. Levi Postlethwait, resides with him.

In 1822 David Postlethwait purchased land in the Round Bottom from Benjamin McBride and William Stewart, who had settled there a year before, and cleared a few acres. Samuel Newcom, James Wachob, Isaac Wachob, Stephen and Isaac Lewis, Joseph Croasman, James Stewart, Nathaniel Foster, Isaac London, John Van Horn, Thomas Gourley, William Marshall, George Blose, David and James Hamilton were among those who first settled in Perry township, and their descendants are still among the foremost and best-citizens.

Thomas S. Mitchell was for many years a prominent citizen of Perry township, and kept a general store at Perrysville. In 1854 he was elected sheriff. He has been dead for a number of years, but several of his family still reside in the township.

James McCracken, another prominent citizen of the county, was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1816. His parents came to Philadelphia in 1823, and from there removed to Schuylkill county. Mr. McCracken came to Jefferson county in 1839, and in 1848 was elected sheriff of the county. Since his term of office expired he has resided on his farm in Perry township. He has engaged in lumbering and farming. In 1839 he was married to Martha Lyon, of Port Carbon, also a native of Ireland. Of their ten children three daughters and One son are dead. Hugh, the eldest son, resides in West Virginia, James resides on the homestead in Perry township, and William L. is practicing law in Brookville. The three surviving daughters are all married to citizens of the county.

Charles R.B. Morris was three years old when his father, Obed Morris, removed to Jefferson county. In his youth he taught in the common schools of the county in winter, and worked on the farm or lumbered in the summer. He was twice elected county commissioner. In 1863 he removed to a farm in Perry township, where for a number of years he was engaged in merchandising at Frostburg, a little village located on his farm, The Means, Depps, Jordans, Ruths, Baths, Travis, Weavers, Dilts, Palmers, Hopkins, Niselys, Groves, Mosiers, Smiths, Kellys, Crissmans, Reddings, Galls, Kinsells, Whitesells, Neels, Swabs, Shillings, are also among the old and prominent families in the township.

Perrysville is the principal village, and is located at the extreme southern end of the township. Its population in 1880, according to the census, was one hundred and seventeen. It is situated on the banks of the Mahoning, and contains two stores, owned and operated by Mitchell & Neel, and A.L. Gibson, and two hotels, the proprietors of which are Sharp Neel and George Jordon. The post-office at Perrysville was called Hamilton, for Robert Hamilton, the first postmaster, and bore that name for thirty-four years, when it was changed to Hay, being so called for the late Malcolm Hay, who was appointed first assistant postmaster-general by President Cleveland.

There are four post-offices in Perry township, -  Hay, Frostburg, Valier and Grange.

Frostburg, the next village, in Perry township, is located on the farm of C.R.B. Morris and contains a post-office and the store of Swisher & Gahagan. The pottery of the Messrs. Swisher was for a long time located at this place.

Valier post-office is located in Whitesville, a little village in the Round Bottom settlement, which is in the midst of a good farming country.

Grange, the "other post-office in the township, is located near Daniel Sprankle’s. The store of L.F. Sutter is located there.

The first church in the township was built at Perry in 1835, and the first school-house, as has already been stated, was the one built in 1820, of logs, near the present site of Perrysville.

The first saw-mill was built by Elijah Heath on the Mahoning, above the Round Bottom. The first hotel was kept in Perrysville by Irwin Robinson, and the first store was started near that place by Alva Pain.

The first grave-yard was located where Perry church was afterwards built, and Robert Stunkard was the first buried there, about 1830. There many of the first settlers of the south side and their children and children’s children have been laid in later years.

There are now seven churches and nine school-houses in the township with cemeteries attached to each church. There is only one grist-mill in the township, that of William White, on Big Mahoning Creek. There are five blacksmith shops, three furniture manufactories, two tan yards and one harness shop.

Perry township is one of the very best farming districts in the county, containing many large and well-improved farms, among the best of which are those of J.H. Lewis, S. Neel, C.R.B. Morris, J.M. Jordon, L. Gourley and D. Hamilton.

But little attention has been paid to raising thoroughbred stock. The township is admirably adapted to fruit culture, and the best varieties of apples, peaches, plums, quinces, pears, cherries, grapes and strawberries are raised.

In 1823, according to the "Collector’s Duplicate for the Township," Charles C. Gaskill, being collector, there were the following taxables in Perry township: Jesse Armstrong, John Bell, James Bell, S.M.*, Rev. Charles Barclay, Joseph Bell, S.M., John Bell, jr., George Baker, Philip Bowers, John Bowers, Joseph Crossman, Daniel Cauffman, Benijah Corey, Isaac Condon, Isaac Carmalt, Elizabeth Clawson, Mathias Clawson, Benjamin Dike, Peter Dorman, S.M., Charles C. Gaskill, Samuel Genoa, Daniel Graffius, Adam Gearhart, David Hamilton, James Hamilton, S.M., Archibald Hadden, Jacob Hoover, John Hoover, Elijah Heath, Stophel Hetrick, Peter Henry, William Hemingway, James Irvine, Dr. John W. Jenks, Thomas Jackson, John Kuhn, S.M., Stephen Lewis, Isaac Lewis, Michael Lantz, Adam Long (cooper), Adam Long, Francis Leech, John Leas, Isaac McHendry, Elizabeth McHendry, James McClelland, James McBride, John McDonald, Isaac McElvaine, William McElvaine, David McDonald, Thomas McKee, S.M., James McKee, S.M., John Miller, David Milliron, Thompson McKee, Henry Milliron, John Newcom, Samuel Newcom, Lawrence Nolf, Conrad Nolf, John Postlethwait, sr., David Postlethwait, John Postlethwait, S.M., Thomas Payne, Peter Reed, Samuel States, William Smith, James Stewart, John Stewart, Nathaniel Tindel, John Vanhorn, James Wachob, Isaac Wachob, Carpenter Windslow, jr., Abraham Weaver, Carpenter Windslow, sr., James Windslow, Reuben Windslow, Joseph Whitman, Pearlin White, Richard Wainwright, Samuel Wainwright, John Young, James Young, S.M., Jacob Young, S.M."

Statistics of Population, Assessments, and Schools. -  The number of taxables in Perry township was in 1820, 205; in 1828, 88; in 1829, 86, with three deaf and dumb, and votes cast at the spring election, were 22, and at the general election, 36. In 1829 the number of taxables was 86, and according to Gordon’s Gazetteer, the length of the township in 1831 was 11 miles; breadth, 9 miles; area in acres, 49,280. In 1835, there were 209 taxables; in 1849, 325; in 1856, 206; in 1863, 238; in 1870, 288; in 1880, 343; in 1886, 383.

In 1820 the population of Perry was included in Pine Creek. For the year 1830 the census returns did not give the population of the townships separately. In 1840 the census gives Perry’s population as 1,076; in 1850, 1,738; 1860, 1,073; 1870, 1,222; 1880, 1,293. The taxables in 1828, were 88; 1829, 86; 1835, 209; 1842, 251; 1849, 325; 1856, 206; 1863, 238; 1870, 288; 1880, 1,293.

The triennial assessment for the year 1886 gives the number of acres seated as 15,625, and the valuation $74,609; average per acre, $4.77; number of houses and lots, 84; valuation, $6,259; unseated lands, 40 acres; valuation, $40; number of horses, 275; valuation, $12,349; average valuation, $45; number of cows, 351; valuation, $4,071; average valuation, $11,31. Occupations, 99; valuation, $2,583; average, $25.08. Total valuation subject to county tax, $100,191. Money at interest $44,411. The basis of taxation in Perry township is one-fifth of the real valuation, which would make the value of real estate in the township $500,955.

The school statistics of Perry township as given in the report of the State superintendent of public schools, for the year ending June 30, 1886, is as follows: Whole number of schools, eight; average number of months taught, 5; male teachers, 7; female teachers, 1; average salary of teachers, $31.85; number of male scholars, 200; females, 162; average number attending school, 338; average per cent. of attendance, 95; cost per month, 70 cents; number of mills levied on for school purposes, 12. Total amount of tax levied for school purposes, $1,373.39. Total expenditures for schools, buildings, etc., $1,477.73.

Elections. -  "Perry township. At an election held at the house of John Bell, in said township, on Friday, the 20th day of March, 1818, the following persons were duly elected: Constable, David Hamilton had 5 votes, Jacob Hoover, 3; supervisors, John Bell 5 votes, Hugh McKee, 5; auditors, Archibald Hadden 5 votes, Jess Armstrong 5, James McClennen 5, Michael Lance 5; fence appraisers, Jos. Grossman 5 votes, Adam Long 5; overseers, Henry Lott 5 votes, Liga Dycus 5. (Signed) Archibald Hadden, Hugh McKee, Judges."

At the next election the voters had increased to eight, and at the last election, before Young township was formed, the number of voters appears to have been seventy-seven. At this election in 1825, "schoolmen" were voted for, John W. Jenks, Charles C. Gaskill and John Bell being elected. This is the only record of any such office in the election returns of the county from 1807 to 1830. These elections were all held at the house of John Bell, and in the first ten years he was eight times elected to office, being supervisor, auditor, overseer of the poor and schoolman.

The following persons were elected at the election held February 15, 1887: Constable, William I. Lamison; supervisors, R.S. Blose, William Doverspike; school directors, Joseph Means, jr., William Smith; overseers of the poor, David Neel, Sharp Hamilton; assessor, A.G. Gourley; auditor, Henry Neel; judge of election, Craig Dilts; inspectors, T.D. Brewer, J.C. Crissman; collector, George Gourley.

The justices of the peace in Perry are C.R.B. Morris, and Daniel Brewer. The school directors elected previous to February 15, 1887, are, Aaron Depp, P. Postlethwait, William H. Diltz, A.H. Neel.

* S.M., means single man.

Source:  Page(s) 497-504, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

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