Historical Sketch of the Fisher Families

By One Of Them

The name FISHER, indicates German origin, and it is highly probable that the remote ancestors of the family came over to England in the Saxon conquest of that country, and subsequently emigrated to Ireland, perhaps in CORNWELL's colonization scheme. Family tradition said they came from England. Abel FISHER was born in Mt. Mellick, Ireland, about 1730. (His father's name was Abel.) He served some time in the British army as a dragoon; after his discharge, he married Rachel WHOOWEE, a Quakeress, who was born in Eddenderry. They immediately sailed for America. The voyage lasting three months. Now they make the passage in a week. They landed in Philadelphia. Mr. FISHER left one brother, Henry, and one half sister, Nancy LAKE. Mrs. FISHER's two brothers, William and Matthias, and three sisters, Mollie, Nancy, and Hanna. Of these relatives, none was ever known to come to America, except Henry FISHER. The family kept track of him for some time, but for many years every trace of him and his family has been lost. Of all those who remained in Ireland, nothing is known. Perhaps their descendants became Fenians, land leaguers or home rulers, or they may have emigrated to India or Austria, or even to America; all this belongs to the unknown. Mr. FISHER settled at Cape May, New Jersey, where the family resided for about twenty years, and where their children were born. Mr. FISHER, while there, owned a small boat in which he carried oysters to Philadelphia and brought back domestic goods which he exchanged for oysters. Philadelphia was then a small town. 

In 1773, he concluded to emigrate to the then west. Procuring a wagon and a team of miserable old horses, he started for the redstone country, near the line between Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Pa. After a terrible journey over bad roads and mountains, late in the fall they reached a point one mile west of Fort Ligonier, now Ligonier Borough; here their team gave out and refused to go any further. Here they remained through the winter and finally concluded to make the neighborhood their permanent home. Subsequently Mr. FISHER purchased a tract of land containing 300 acres, two miles west of Ligonier, on the Two Mile Run. This land remained in the possession of the family for more than one hundred years. 

Just as they commenced to make an improvement on their land, the Revolutionary War came on, and as they were on the Frontier, and exposed to Indian raids, the family removed to York, Pa., where the women remained until the close of the war. Mr. FISHER and the two oldest boys returned to Ligonier, and lived amidst constant alarms and dangers, the Indians killing some of the settlers every year. Sometime during the war, Mr. FISHER died in the fort, it was said of pleurisy. As was common with the early settlers, he requested to be buried on his own farm. A squad of soldiers accompanied the funeral procession, and while they committed dust to dust, armed men stood round in the bushes to guard against surprise by Indians. He was an industrious and thrifty man, and under more favorable conditions would have succeeded well. 
After the close of the war, the family, consisting of the widow and seven children, returned to the farm and commenced in earnest to make a home. Abel, the oldest son, never married, but continued to live on the old farm with his mother and sisters until he died of old age, past his four score years. His education was very limited, but he could read and did, until he became the best historian in that part of the country. He acquired the habit of fast reading, (or glancing) as he termed it, thus getting the marrow out of a book, without reading one-fourth of it. His thirst for knowledge continued to the last. When on his death bed, he requested daily to have the papers read to him. He was one of the most religious men the writer ever knew; his life went out calm as a summer evening. 

Mathias, the second son, I will refer to again. 

Thomas, the third son, married Prudence SHAW, and in 1802 came to Mercer county, (now Lawrence) and settled on the Shenango, about four miles north of New Castle, where he spent his life. He stated to the writer that he was present at the first court ever held in Mercer county, the court house being a saw mill. Many of the older people of the county still remember him as a kind and pleasant gentleman; he died suddenly in bed. John, the youngest son, was bitten by a rattle snake, and died in a few hours. He was buried beside his father on the old farm, and here the two graves remain alone to this day. Elizabeth never married. Rachel married Jacob STEWART, but left no children. Hannah, the youngest daughter, married Samuel MCDOWELL. They settled near Ligonier and raised a large family, most of whom removed to Mercer (now Lawrence) county, where some of their descendants still reside, represented by King MCDOWELL, Mrs. Sarah BANKS, Mrs. Hannah BANKS, and Mrs. Samuel MCCREARY, of Neshannock Falls; Mrs. Baxter WILSON and Mrs. Major GORDON of New Castle, and others. 

But to return to Mathias. In 1780, he volunteered to go with Gen. CLARK on an expedition against the Indians in Illinois. The place of rendezvous was Wheeling, West Virginia. When his regiment arrived there, they learned that Gen. CLARK had gone down the Ohio, having left orders for them to follow, which they proceeded to do in flat boats. The season had now advanced to July. The river as usual, in mid summer, was falling rapidly. Co. LAUGHERY, who commanded the regiment, thought it proper to send a dispatch to CLARK, informing him that he was coming. Mr. FISHER, with four others, was selected to proceed with the dispatch in a canoe. The writer has heard him tell how abundant game was along the banks of the Ohio, buffalo, deer, bear, etc., enough to supply an army. After proceeding some distance, they landed, and three of them proceeded to hunt, the other two remaining with the canoe. The Indians discovered these and fired on them, they pushed out into the river, and left those on the shore behind, who, of course, ran in the opposite direction. In the excitement, the large knife one of them carried, fell to the ground, point upward, he set his foot upon it. It came up through his foot, wounding him so that it was impossible for him to travel. His companions carried him to a stream of water and bound up the wound as well as they could. He then told them to leave him and save themselves. He was never heard of afterwards. The other two concealed themselves until the main body came down, who were very cautious about landing for them, lest they might be a decoy. 

The expedition proceeded to a point a short distance below Cincinnati, in the north-east corner of the State of Indiana, where the current carried their boats near the shore. Here they were ambushed by a large body of Indians. Owing to the unwieldy character of their boats, and the low stage of water, they could neither land nor escape. Out of the one hundred men, forty were killed in a few minutes, and the rest taken prisoner-not a man escaped. The Colonel was not even wounded, but as an officer, he was taken to one side and tomahawked. A small river in that part of the state of Indiana, still bears his name, LAUGHERY. All the prisoners who were too severely wounded to travel, were dispatched with the tomahawk. After the spoils were secured, the march began for the Shawnee towns, in central Ohio, where they were initiated into Indian life by running the gauntlet and being adopted into Indian families. At that time, there was not a white man in what is now the state of Ohio, except prisoners. I now will describe what running the gauntlet means: 

When the Indians return from a war expedition on approaching a town, they sent up a far reaching war whoop, which informed their friends at home that they were coming, and that they had prisoners. The town at once prepared for their reception. The squaws and boys formed two lines facing each other, the prisoner's business being to run between these lines and the squaws and boys' business was to beat them with sticks and stones, and if possible to throw them down. Dexterous, swift footed prisoners generally escaped with slight damage, many, however, receiving great bodily harm. This was repeated at each town they passed and was grand sport for the Indians. Captive life dragged heavily. Food was sometimes scarce, and always prepared in the most filthy manner. Occasionally the Indians got on a spree, which lasted till the whiskey gave out. On these occasions the squaws hid the prisoners, guns, and knives. If they had had a constant supply of whiskey no prisoner could have lived amongst them. After a captivity of three months, Mr. FISHER accompanied the family that had adopted him to Detroit on a trading expedition. That place was held by the British. While there he persuaded them to buy him from the Indians, which they did, paying for him a blanket a few trinkets. As it would have been madness to attempt to escape to the settlements in Virginia and Pennsylvania in the winter, (the English proposed to give him his freedom on condition that he furnish security for his appearance in the spring), he succeeded in finding a Frenchman who went on his bond, and who sent him up to a farm he had on the border of Lake St. Clair, where he spent the winter threshing wheat. 

In the spring the English gathered up their prisoners and proceeded to take them down over the lakes to a prison island they had in the St. Lawrence river. They passed near enough to Niagara to hear its roar, but the guard refused to let them see it. Arriving at their destination they found it to be a small island in the middle of a deep and rapid river. There were hundreds of prisoners here closely guarded. No boat was allowed on the island, and as usual, the prisoners were constantly laying plans to escape, which generally proved abortive. At length a company of twelve devised a plan which was partly successful. The quarters of the prisoners were enclosed with pickets. Inside those were the cabins for the men. Between the pickets and the cabins was a space several feet wide. Lights were kept up all night. A sentry walked two sides of the square all night. Thus he could see all sides of the square alternately. During the day the prisoners had the liberty of the island. Gathering together on the outside of the fort, under the pretense of playing cards, they succeeded in cutting a picket at the ground so that it could be removed sufficiently for --- to pass out. At nine o'clock the prisoners --- to be in their cabins and answer to roll call. On the appointed night, after the roll call had been called, those who intended to escape had to come out of their huts, cross the walk, and slip out through the pickets, running the chance, of course, of being seen by the sentry. Five of them succeeded in reaching the outside, but the sixth one was discovered. A bayonet charge sent him back into his cabin. An alarm was sounded, the garrison was called to arms. They could not tell how many or whether any had escaped till the next roll call. Those who had succeeded in getting out proceeded to the upper end of the island, where they had noticed some driftwood. Of this they made a rude raft. The one that could not swim they placed on top of it, the rest lay in the water, held to the raft and shoved off. The current carried them to the Canada side, where they landed about five miles below. It was now morning so they concealed themselves in the woods. Owing to the swift current of the river it was impossible for them to cross at that point to the American side. The next night they proceeded up the river past the fort to a point five miles above where the river was comparatively calm. Here they hid themselves the second day. As it was necessary to procure some provisions, before entering the wilderness, the next night they found a calf in a farm yard, but it did not propose to be killed without being heard. When the owner came out, of course they fled. After all became quiet again they returned and found a bullock tied head and feet. They dispatched it at once. They took off the rounds and shoulder blades without skinning, took the farmer's boat and crossed to the American side. They then started through what is now the State of Vermont, then a dense wilderness, and on through the State of New York, till they reached the headquarters of General WASHINGTON on the Hudson. On this journey they suffered terribly from hunger. Game and fish were abundant but they had no way of taking them. If they had not been expert woodsmen, they would certainly have perished in the wilderness. 

When Mr. FISHER arrived at his home in York, Pa., after an absence of 13 months, he was so changed by the hardships he had gone through that his mother and sisters failed to recognize him. They had never heard a word from him while he was gone. They had given him up for dead. After the war was over, he returned with the family to the old farm near Ligonier, as before stated.

He paid his addresses to Miss Martha THOMPSON, but her father being a staunch Presbyterian, objected to the match because Mr. FISHER had never been baptized. Miss THOMPSON, however, had no such scruples of conscience, but ran away, as they called it then; she left her father's house and never entered it again. He soon afterwards removed to Kentucky. Mr. FISHER settled on a part of the old farm. They had a family of six children, two of their sons, John and Thomas, settled at an early day at East Brook, this county, where they were prominent citizens for many years. Some of their descendants still remain in the county. Mr. FISHER, like his brother Thomas died suddenly in 1834, aged 76 years. They both retired at night in their usual health and were found dead in the morning, apparently without having moved a muscle, having passed away in profound sleep.

And now my story draws to a close. All the children of the first pair that came from Ireland are dead; all their children are gone; many of their grandchildren have passed away. Those remaining are well advanced in life. The fourth and fifth generations are now in active life, and are citizens of at least ten states and territories, and many of them have lost all knowledge of their family relationship. The first generation endured the dangers, hardships-aye, and the pleasures too, of pioneer life. Their descendants now enjoy the benefits of their labors and sacrifices. In politics, the family supported JEFFERSON and JACKSON, and some of them remain Democrats to this day, but a majority are now either Republicans or Prohibitionists.

In religion, the first generation was brought up according to Quaker principles, and as that people were a hundred years in advance of all others on the great moral questions that effect society, such as temperance, slavery and war, it was a great advantage to them. They were total abstainers a century ago, and although not entirely exempt, yet it would be hard to find a family that has suffered less from the curse of strong drink. After settling in Ligonier, they were so completely isolated from their Quaker friends, that upon the first appearance of the Methodists west of the Allegheny mountains, most of them united with the, and since then, nearly all who have made any profession of religion, have been Methodists.

Special thanks to Donna Mohney for providing this.

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