History of Bedford and Somerset Counties - Volume II, Chapter II
THE MISSION OF REV. JOHN STEELE TO THE REGION WEST OF THE ALLEGHENY
The territory west of the Allegheny mountain was not open for settlement until after the Indian title has been extinguished, and this did not take place until the treaty of Fort Stanwix, which was made November 5, 1768. Up to that time there could no legal settlement be made on any lands in this part of Pennsylvania. After the French had been expelled from the country, something in the way of an agreement appears to have been made with the Indians, who were disposed to be peaceable that their hunting grounds should not be encroached on by settlers, some exceptions being in favor of a few persons along the military roads or about the several posts along these roads and whose locating there had been authorized.
But the fame of the fertile region around and about the Turkeyfoot and still
further west had been spread east of the mountains, and a number of settlers
came in and took up claims, although they must have known that they could only
be trespassers and that they could obtain no legal title to their lands. Beyond
the Laurel Hill, in what is now Fayette county, there was a large number of
these settlers. These were chiefly located about Redstone (Brownsville) and
in the neighborhood of Gist's plantation, now known as Mt.
As early as 1763 a royal proclamation had been issued, forbidding the granting of any warrants for surveys or patents for lands for settlement westward of the headwaters of the streams flowing into the Atlantic ocean. This certainly was an interdict of all settlement west of the Allegheny mountain. To this the governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia (the matter of jurisdiction being still unsettled) added their proclamations, but they were unheeded, probably were looked on as being merely perfunctory.
In the summer of 1766 a detachment of regulars was sent to Redstone under command of Captain Alexander Mackey. But his notice to the trespassers to leave the country had little or no effect. Even with a show of military force but few of the settlers removed, the greater number remaining. In the summer of 1767 soldiers were again sent out to expel these settlers, and quite a number of them were actually driven out. But as soon as the soldiers returned to Fort Pitt they would seem to have made haste to return, bringing with them at the same time others from the eastern settlements.
In 1767 there has been an extension of Mason and Dixon's line, which showed
that most of these settlers were within the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania. Therefore,
in January, 1768, John Penn, lieutenant-governor of the province, called the
attention of the assembly to the continual encroachments of the settlers within
the forbidden territory, which, if persisted in, might being on a bloody war,
and at the same time advising the passing of a law stringent enough to bring
about the desired result. As what is now Somerset
Whereas, Many disorderly people in violation of His Majestie's proclamation have presumed to settled upon lands not yet purchased from the Indians to their damage and dissatisfaction, which may be attended with dangerous and fatal consequences to the peace and Safety of the Province.
Be it therefore enacted by the Honorable John Penn Esquire Lieutenant Governor under the Honourable Thomas and Richard Penn, true and absolute Proprietaries of the Province of Pennsylvania and counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex upon the Delaware by and with the advice and consent of the representatives of the Freeman of the Said Province in General Assembly met, and by the authority of the same.
That if any person or persons settled upon any lands within the boundaries
of this Province not purchased of the Indians by the Proprietaries thereof shall
neglect or refuse to remove themselves and Families off and from the same lands
within the space of Thirty days after he or they shall be requested so to do,
either by such persons as the Governor of this province shall appoint for that
purpose, or by his proclamations to be set up in the most public places or the
Settlements on such unpurchased lands or if any
Provided always nevertheless, that nothing herein contained, shall be deemed
or construed to extend to any person or persons who now are or hereafter may
be settled on the Main Roads or communications leading through this Province
to Fort Pitt under the approbation and permission of the Commander in Chief
o His Majestie's forces in North America or the Chief Officer commanding in
This law was passed on February 3, 1768. It was certainly drastic enough, but,
as with many other laws since passed, it was easier to pass than to enforce.
That part of Somerset county west of the Allegheny mountain was affected by
it, but the townships east og the mountain (which are Allegheny, Northampton,
Southampton, Fair Hope, Larimer and Greenville) did not fall
The law having thus been passed, Governor Penn appointed Revs. John Steele, of the Presbyterian church at Carlisle, John Allison, Christopher Lemes and James Potter as a commission to go into the country west of the Allegheny mountain, make known and explain the law, and endeavor to prevail on the settlers to comply with it. Rev. John Steele, who headed this commission, apparently was equally at home whether the weapons to be used were spiritual or carnal. He bore a captain's commission in the French and Indian wars, and again in the Revolutionary was, gaining distinction in every field of duty.
The commission started on its errand March 2, 1768, proceeding to Fort Cumberland, in Maryland, and from thence traveled by the Braddock road. At Redstone (Brownsville), as well as at several other points, they met most of the settlers. With these the labored and endeavored to persuade them to comply with the law. It soon developed that at least a part of the Indians were not all averse to the settlers remaining, and had given them some encouragement to do so.
Reaching Fort Cumberland on their homeward journey on the 2nd of April, the commissioners prepared their report to Governor Penn. From its concluding part we quote:
On the thirty first of March we came to the Great Crossing of the Yougheogheny and being informed by one Speer that eight or ten families lived in a place called Turkeyfoot. We sent some proclamations thither by said Speer as we did (also) to a hew Families nigh the crossings of the Little Yough. Judging it unnecessary to go amongst them. It is our Opinion that some will move off in Obedience to the Law, that the greatest part will wait the Treaty and if they find that the Indians are indeed dissatisfied We think the whole erring their Speech greatly obstructed our design.
As to Speer himself, he also must have been a settler, and will again be referred to.
The commissioners estimated that there were in all about one hundred and fifty families of these trespassing settlers, this including all in the Cheat river settlement and those in what is now Fayette county, as well as eight or nine families they name as being in the Turkeyfoot region.
The mission of Rev. Mr. Steele and his associates proved a failure. Such of the settlers as had promised to withdraw did not keep their promises. They knew that a great council with the Indians had been appointed to be held at Fort Pitt later on. All of them had strong faith that in some way or other the final outcome of this council would be that they would be permitted to remain. They also charged that if any real dissatisfaction existed among the Indians it had largely been fomented by eastern land speculators, who wished to have these settlers out of the way in order that they might them more readily secure possession of the choicest lands when this region really did become open to settlement. It was also alleged that a Mr. Harris and a Mr. Wallace had spent a considerable time in the preceding year in viewing the country and examining its lands and streams. In this they would seem to have had as a guide one John Friggs, who, if not at that time himself one of these trespassing settlers, did become a settler in Somerset county later on, for we find his name on the first assessment for Brothers Valley township after the organization of Bedford county.
The great council with the Indians came off at the appointed time. It is said
that there were nearly two thousand Indians who were recognized owners, the
Delawares, Shawnees, Munseys and others were also represented. On the part of
the white men, among those present were George Croghan, deputy agent for the
Indians; John Allen and Joesph Shippen, Jr., as commissioners for
The council was opened in the manner usual for such occasions, not omitting
a very liberal distribution of presents, the art of lubrication the wheels seemingly
being as well understood in those days as in our own time. It soon became apparent
that there was but little feeling among the Indians over the encroachments of
the settlers, and that more indignation was expressed by the men acting for
the authorities of the province, and that these seemed angry at the Indians
for having in some instances themselves sold small tracts of land to the settlers,
and were now disinclined to insist on their removal. There was not a little
speech making over this
While the allegations of the settlers, that the objections to their being on
these lands had been largely stirred up by interested parties, may have had
some foundation on which to rest. It is also quite probable that the commissioners
who represented the provincial authorities may have felt that they must in every
way show their willingness to remove all intruders. They explained the difficulties
that had been placed in the way of a peaceable removal of the settlers by at
least a part of the Indians themselves. They even urged that the Indians send
some of their principal men among the settlers, to deny that those who had advised
them to remain had any
But at the appointed hour the Indians failed to appear. Being repeatedly sent
for, they finally came and said that after due consideration of the proposed
business they had decided that they could not undertake it, and upon being questioned
as to their reasons for not performing that which they had promised to do, they
made answer that three of their number had been
Upon this refusal, the commissioners made a further vain effort to persuade
others to undertake the business, but finding it useless, and not deeming it
prudent to press further on the Indians a matter which they pretty generally
appeared averse to doing, they decided to return to Philadelphia at once. But,
before they set out on their homeward journey, the famous chief, Guyasutha,
along with one of the principal warriors of the Six Nations, came into the presence
of the commissioners. In terms, Guyasutha spoke as
Brethren, I am very sorry that you have been disappointed in your expectations
of the Indian Messengers going to Redstone according to your desire and agreement,
and I am much afraid that you are now going away from us with a discontented
mind on this account. Believe me, my brethren, this thought fills my heart with
the deepest grief, and I could not suffer you to leave us without speaking to
you on the subject and endeavoring to make your minds easy. We were all of us
much disposed to comply with your request,
In reply the commissioners told him that they approved the conduct of the Indians during the treaty, and would return home satisfied; and they assured him that all that had been done on their part arose from a desire to see that justice would be done to them and to redress all injuries that might have been done to them. But, as it appeared to be disagreeable to them (the Indians), they would not press any further what to them appeared a very necessary step. So, taking leave of the Indians, they proceeded on their return journey to Philadelphia.
With the termination of this council at Fort Pitt, no further effort was made to bring about the removal of these settlers who had ventured across the mountains into this, for the time being, forbidden region. They remained in possession of their homes. The Indian title was soon after purchased, and then, they being willing to pay for their lands, there could be no reason for driving them off.
By the treaty of Fort Stanwix, conluded on November 5, 1768, the Indians' title
was made over to the Penns for all of their lands in what are now the counties
of Westmoreland, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Washington, Montour, Sullivan, Wyoming,
Wayne and Susquehanna, and also a large part of thepresent counties of Allegheny,
Beaver, Armstrong, Indiana, Clearfield,
As to what is now Somerset county, al that part of it that lies west of the summit of the Allegheny mountain is of this purchase, which in official papers is usually spoken of as the purchase of 1768. The six townships of the county east of the mountain were a part of the purchase of 1754.
The Indians are said to have received the sum of ten thousand pounds for their
claims. The titles of all lands in Pennsylvania rest on the charter granted
to William Penn by the King of England in 1681. The extinction of the Indian
title would seem to have been a voluntary act on the part of William Penn and
his successors, it being considered on their part that the Indians were the
natural owners of the land, and that it would only be just that they should
receive something in the way of payment for the surrender
After acquiring the Indian title, the Penns lost but little time in opening
the way for a legal settlement and sale of their lands. On February 23, 1769,
notice was given by public advertisement for the information of the public,
that their land office in the City of Philadelphia would be open on April 3rd,
1769, at 10 o'clock A. M., to receive application from all persons inclined
to take up lands in the new purchase, upon the terms of five pounds sterling
per hundred acres, and one penny per acre per annum for quit rent. As it was
anticipated that many persons would attend on the day of opening for the purpose
of presenting their applications, each eager
We do not know who, in what is now Somerset county, received the first warrant for a survey, but do know of one in Elk Lick Township that bears the date of April 12, 1769, or nine days after the opening of the land office. We also know of one in Addison Township bearing the date April 19th of the same year.
(The History of Bedford and Somerset Counties by Blackburn and Welfley is being scanned and placed online by Batha Karr for use on this website).
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Last Revised: March 18, 2008