The Fair Play Settlers of the West Branch Valley, 1769-1784 - A Study of Frontier Ethnography
by George D. Wolf
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A diligent search of some sixty cases in the Court of Common Pleas in both Northumberland and Lycoming counties yielded some documentary evidence regarding the procedures of the Fair Play tribunal.[22] Three cases in Lycoming County and one from Northumberland County contain depositions which describe the activities of the Fair Play men in some detail. One case, Hughes vs. Dougherty, was appealed to the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth. All of the cases deal with the question of title to lands in the Fair Play territory following the purchase of these lands at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. The depositions taken in conjunction with these cases indicate the processes of settlement and ejectment, in addition to the policies regarding land tenure. The fairness of the Fair Play decisions is noted by the fact that the regular courts concurred with the earlier judgments of the tribunal.[23]

An anecdote involving one of the Fair Play men, Peter Rodey, illustrates the nature of this frontier justice. According to legend, Chief Justice McKean of the State Supreme Court was holding court in this district, and, curious about the principles or code of the Fair Play men, he inquired about them of Peter Rodey, a former member of the tribunal. Rodey, unable to recall the details of the code, simply replied: "All I can say is, that since your Honor's coorts have come among us, fair play has entirely ceased, and law has taken its place."[24]

The justice of "fair play" and the nature of the system can be seen from an analysis of the cases reviewed subsequently in the established courts. As mentioned previously, these cases describe the procedures regarding settlement, land tenure, and ejectment. Although no recorded code of laws has been located, references to "resolutions of the Fair Play men" regularly appear in the depositions and summaries of these cases.[25] According to Leyburn, a customary "law" concerning settlement rights operated on the frontier, particularly among the Scotch-Irish.[26] This "law" recognized three settlement rights: "corn right," which established claims to 100 acres for each acre of grain planted; "tomahawk right," which marked off the area claimed by deadening trees at the boundaries of the claim; and, "cabin right," which confirmed the claim by the construction of a cabin upon the premises. If the decisions of the regular courts are at all indicative, Fair Play settlement was generally based upon "cabin right." However, the frequent allusion to "improvements" implies some secondary consideration to what Leyburn has defined as "corn right."

In the case of Hughes vs. Dougherty, the significance of "improvements," or "corn rights," vis-a-vis "cabin rights" is particularly noted.[27] The following summary of that case, found in Pennsylvania Reports, emphasizes that significance, in addition to defining a Fair Play "code" pertaining to land tenure:

THIS was an ejectment for 324 acres of land, part of the Indian lands in Northumberland county.

The plaintiff claimed under a warrant issued on the 2d May 1785, for the premises, and a survey made thereon upon the 10th January 1786. The defendant, on the 20th June 1785, entered a caveat against the claims of the plaintiff, and on the 5th October following, took out a warrant for the land in dispute, on which he was then settled. Both claimed the pre-emption under the act of 21st December 1784,[28] and on the evidence given the facts appeared to be:

That in 1773, one James Hughes, a brother of the plaintiff, settled on the lands in question and made some small improvements. In the next year he enlarged his improvement, and cut logs to build an house. In the winter following he went to his father's in Donegal in Lancaster county, and died there. His elder brother Thomas was at that time settled on the Indian land, and one of the "Fair Play Men," who had assembled together and made a resolution, (which they agreed to enforce as the law of the place,) that "if any person was absent from his "settlement for six weeks he should forfeit his right." [Quotation marks as published.]

In the spring of 1775 the defendant came to the settlement, and was advised by the Fair Play Men to settle on the premises which Hughes had left; this he did, and built a cabin. The plaintiff soon after came, claiming it in right of his brother, and aided by Thomas Hughes, took possession of the cabin; but the defendant collecting his friends, an affray ensued, in which Hughes was beaten off and the defendant left in possession. He continued to improve, built an house and stable, and cleared about ten acres. In 1778 he was driven off by the enemy and entered into the army. At the close of the war, both plaintiff and defendant returned to the settlement, each claiming the land in dispute.

The warrant was taken out in the name of James Hughes, (the father of the plaintiff who is since dead,) for the benefit of his children.

After argument by Mr. Charles Smith and Mr. Duncan for the plaintiff, and Mr. Daniel Smith and Mr. Read for the defendant, Justice Shippen in the charge of the court to the jury, said—

The dispute here, is between a first improvement, and a subsequent but much more valuable improvement. But neither of the parties has any legal or equitable right, but under the act of the 21st December 1784. The settlement on this land was against law. It was an offence that tended to involve this country in blood. But the merit and sufferings of the actual settlers cancelled the offence, and the legislature, mindful of their situation, provided this special act for their relief. The preamble recites their "resolute stand and sufferings," as deserving a right of pre-emption. The legislature had no eye to any person who was not one of the occupiers after the commencement of the war, and a transient settler removed, (no matter how,) is not an object of the law. This is our construction of the act. James Hughes under whom the plaintiff claims, died before the war, the other occupied the premises after, and in the language of the act, "stood and suffered." If this construction be right, the cause is at an end.

Besides, the plaintiff claims as the heir of Thomas, who was the heir of James, the first settler. I will not say that the fair play men could make a law to bind the settlers; but they might by agreement bind themselves. Now Thomas was one of these, and was bound by his conduct, from disputing the right of the defendant.

This warrant it seems, is taken out in the name of the father, and it is said, as a trustee for his children. It is sometimes done for the benefit of all concerned. If this be the case, it may be well enough; but still it is not so regular, as it might have been[.] With these observations, we submit it to you.

Verdict for the defendant.[29]

This case, although originated in the Northumberland County Court in 1786, was appealed to the State Supreme Court, where the lower court decision was affirmed in 1791. The summary runs the gamut of Fair Play procedures from settlement, through questions of tenure, to ejectment. Its completeness indicates its usefulness. Partial and occasional depositions in the other cases cited help to round out the picture of the Fair Play "code."

For example, the right of settlement included not only the approval of the Fair Play men, but also the acceptance of the prospective landholder by his neighbors. Allusions to this effect are made in the Coldren deposition as well as in the Huff-Latcha case. Eleanor Coldren's deposition, made at Sunbury, June 7, 1797, concerns the disputed title to certain lands of her deceased husband, Abraham Dewitt, opposite the Great Island. Her comments about neighbor approval demonstrate the point. She says, for instance, that

... in the Spring of 1775, Henry Antes and Cookson Long, two of the Fair-Play Men, with others, were at the deponent's house, next below Barnabas Bonner's Improvement, where Deponent's Husband kept a Tavern, and heard Antes and Long say that they (meaning the Fair-Play Men) and the Neighbors of the Settlement had unanimously agreed that James Irvin, James Parr, Abraham Dewitt and Barnabas Bonner should ... have their Improvement Rights fitted....

She speaks of the resolution of the claims problem "as being the unanimous agreement of the Neighbors and Fair-Play Men...."[30]

William King, who temporarily claimed part of the land involved in the dispute between Edmund Huff and Jacob Latcha, also refers to neighbor approval in his deposition taken in that case. He said, "I first went to Edmund Huff, then to Thomas Kemplen, Samuel Dougherty, William McMeans, and Thomas Ferguson, and asked if they would accept me as a neighbor...."[31]

Land tenure policy is noted by this same William King in the case of James Grier vs. William Tharpe. Repeating what we have already pointed out in the case of Hughes vs. Dougherty, King testified that "there was a law among the Fair-play men by which any man, who absented himself for the space of six weeks, lost his right to his improvement."[32] In the Huff-Latcha case, King recounts the case of one Joseph Haines who "had once a right ... but had forfeited his right by the Fair-play law...."[33]

The forfeiture rule was tempered, however, in cases involving military service. Bratton Caldwell's deposition in Grier vs. Tharpe is a case in point. Caldwell, one of the Fair Play men in 1776, declared that "Greer went into the army in 1776 and was a wagon-master till the fall of 1778.... In July, 1778, the Runaway, John Martin, had come on the land in his absence. The Fair-play men put Greer in possession. If a man went into the army, the Fair-play men protected his property."[34] Meginness mentions a similar decision in the case of John Toner and Morgan Sweeney.[35] Sweeney had attempted to turn a lease for improvements in Toner's behalf to possession for himself, but the Northumberland County Court honored the Fair Play rule concerning military service and decided in favor of Toner.

The summary process of ejectment utilized by the Fair Play men, occasionally with militia support, is evident from William King's deposition in the Huff-Latcha case. King, having sold his right to one William Paul, recounts the method as follows:

William Paul went on the land and finished his cabin. Soon after a party b[r]ought Robert Arthur and built a cabin near Paul's in which Arthur lived. Paul applied to the Fair-play men who decided in favor of Paul. Arthur would not go off. Paul made a complaint to the company at a muster at Quinashahague[36] 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 run him off. The most of the company came down as far as Edmund Huff's who kept Stills. We got a keg of whisk[e]y 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 and Thomas Kemplen, our captain, made a run at the door, burst it open and instantly seized Arthur by the neck. We pulled down the cabin, threw it into the river, lashed two canoes together and put Arthur and his family and his goods into them and sent them down the river. William Paul then lived undisturbed upon the land until the Indians drove us all away.[37] William Paul was then (1778) from home on a militia tour.[38]

Although land disputes offer documentary evidence of the Fair Play system, it seems quite likely that the tribunal's jurisdiction extended to other matters. A few anecdotes, obviously based quite tenuously upon hearsay, will suffice to illustrate. Joseph Antes, son of Colonel Henry Antes, used to tell this story: It seems that one Francis Clark, who lived just west of Jersey Shore in the Fair Play territory, gained possession of a dog which belonged to an Indian. Upon learning of this, the Indian appealed to the Fair Play men, who ordered Clark's arrest and trial for the alleged theft. Clark was convicted and sentenced to be lashed. The punishment was to be inflicted by a person decided by lot, the responsibility falling upon the man drawing the red grain of corn from a bag containing grains of corn for each man present. Philip Antes was the reluctant "winner." The Indian, seeing that the decision of the "court" was to be carried out immediately, magnanimously suggested that banishment would serve better than flogging. Clark agreed and left for the Nippenose Valley, where his settlement is a matter of record.[39]

Another anecdote, if true, gives further testimony to the justice of Fair Play. In this instance, a minister and school teacher named Kincaid faced the Fair Play tribunal on the charge of abusing his family. Tried and convicted, he was sentenced to be ridden on a rail for his offense.[40] Here again, the tale, though legendary, is made plausible by the established fact of Kincaid's residence in the area.[41]

Doubtless the most notable political action of the Fair Play settlers is their declaration of independence, which Meginness calls "a remarkable coincidence" because "it took place about the same time that the Declaration was signed in Philadelphia!"[42] Aware, as were many of the American colonists in the spring and summer of 1776, that independence was being debated in Philadelphia, these West Branch pioneers decided to absolve themselves from all allegiance to the Crown and declare their own independence. Meeting under a large elm on the west bank of Pine Creek, mistakenly known as the "Tiadaghton Elm," the Fair Play men and settlers simply resolved their own right of self-determination, a principle upon which they had been acting for some time. Unfortunately, no record of the resolution has been preserved—if it was actually written. However, the names of the supposed signers, all bona fide Fair Play settlers, have been passed down to the present.[43]

As every careful historian knows, no declaration was signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, except by the clerk and presiding officer of the Continental Congress. Consequently, the Pine Creek story arouses justifiable skepticism. However, there does seem to be some evidence to substantiate this famous act.

First of all, Fithian's Journal gives insight into the possible motivation for such independent action. In an entry for Thursday, July 27, 1775, he writes of reviewing "the 'Squires Library," noting that "After some Perusal I fix'd in the Farmer's memorable Letters."[44] Fithian was reading John Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, which he had come across in the library of John Fleming, his host for a week in the West Branch Valley. Dickinson's dozen uncompromising epistles in opposition to the Grenville and Townshend programs both inspired and incited liberty-lovers. Furthermore, Fleming himself was a leader among the Fair Play settlers, and may have been aroused to action by the eloquence of Dickinson's expression. Every idea is an incitement to action and the ideas of Letters from a Farmer, which made Dickinson the chief American propagandist prior to Thomas Paine, reached into the frontier of the West Branch Valley.

The best contemporary evidence in support of the Pine Creek declaration is found in the widow's pension application of Anna Jackson Hamilton, daughter-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the early settlers and a prominent leader along the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Mrs. Hamilton, whose pension application and accompanying statement were made in 1858, lived within one mile of the reputedly historic elm. In her sworn statement she says, "I remember well the day independence was declared on the plains of Pine Creek, seeing such numbers flocking there, and Independence being all the talk, I had a knolege of what was doing."[45] Her son John corroborates this in his statement that "She and an old colored woman are the only persons now living in the country who remembers the meeting of the 4th of July, 1776, at Pine Creek. She remembers it well."[46] Mrs. Hamilton was ninety years old at the time of her declaration, which was made some eighty-two years after the celebrated event.[47]

Following the outbreak of the Revolution and the meeting of the Second Continental Congress, the Fair Play system of the West Branch Valley was soon augmented by another extra-legal organization, the Committee of Safety. Ostensibly created for the purpose of raising and equipping a "suitable force to form Pennsylvania's quota of the Continental Army," it soon exercised executive authority dually with the assembly.[48] The Council of Safety was instituted as the successor to the Committee of Safety by a resolution of the Provincial Convention of 1776, then meeting in Philadelphia to draw up a new constitution for Pennsylvania. It was continued by an act of the assembly that same year. It functioned from July 24, 1776, until it was dissolved on December 6, 1777, by a proclamation of the Supreme Executive Council.[49] Locally, however, the township branches continued to function and were still referred to as "committees."

It appears from the resolutions and actions of the local committee that the Fair Play men maintained jurisdiction in land questions, but that all other cases were within the range of the committee's authority. In fact, a resolution dated February 27, 1776, asserted that "the committee of Bald Eagle is the most competent judges of the circumstances of the people of that township."[50] This resolution was made in conjunction with an order from the county committee to prevent the loss of rye and other grains which were being "carried out of the township for stilling."[51] Although cautioned against "using too much rigor in their measures," the committee was advised to find "a medium between seizing of property and supplying the wants of the poor."[52] The county committee even went so far as to recommend the suppression of such practices as "profaning the Sabbath in an unchristian and scandalous manner."[53] In April of 1777, the county committee required an oath of allegiance from one William Reed, who had refused military service for reasons of conscience.[54]

Although Bald Eagle Township did not, at this time, extend into Fair Play territory,[55] it is interesting to note that the local committee, whose three members frequently changed, often included settlers from that territory or those who were in close association with the Fair Play men.[56] The Revolution apparently gave a certain quasi-legality to the claims of the "outlaws" of the West Branch Valley.

One further political note is worthy of mention. After Lexington and Concord and the formation of the various committees of safety, the civil officers of Bald Eagle Township, that is to say the constable, supervisor, and overseers, were often chosen from among settlers on the borders of, or actually in, Fair Play territory.[57]

The politics of fair play then was nothing more than that—fair play. It was a pragmatic system which the necessities of the frontier experience, more than national or ethnic origin, had developed. The "codes" of operation represented a consensus, equally, freely, and fairly arrived at—a common "law" based upon general agreement and practical acceptance. There were subsequent appeals to regular courts of law, but, surprisingly enough, in every instance the fairness of the judgments was sustained. No Fair Play decision was reversed. Furthermore, the frequency of elections and the use of the principle of rotation in office were additional assurances against the usurpation of power by any small clique or ruling class. Popular sovereignty, political equality, and popular consultation—these were the basic elements of fair play.


[1] Colonial Records, X, 95. The Fair Play settlers were outlawed by a proclamation of the Council signed by Governor John Penn on Sept. 20, 1773. The proclamation was issued "strictly enjoyning and requiring all and every Person and Persons, already settled or Residing on any Lands beyond the Boundary Line of the Last Indian Purchase, immediately to evacuate their illegal Settlements, and to depart and remove themselves from the said Lands without Delay, on pain of being prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the Law." The "Last Indian Purchase" referred to here is, of course, the Stanwix Treaty of 1768.

[2] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[3] Richard W. Leopold and Arthur S. Link (eds.), Problems in American History (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1957), p. 22. The entire first problem in this excellent text deals with the question of authority in American government.

[4] This Fair Play system was certainly not unique, for other frontier societies employed the same technique, even down to the ruling tribunal of three members. See Solon and Elizabeth Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, 1939), pp. 431, 451. However, it must be pointed out that the Bucks' "Fair Play" reference is based on Smith, Laws, II, 195, which Samuel P. Bates used in "a general application of the practice to W. Pa. areas after 1768," in his History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (Chicago, 1888). This was the interpretation given in a letter from Dr. Alfred P. James to the author, July 17, 1963. Dr. James also says that "It is possible that there are evidences of Fair Play Men titles in the court records of Washington and Greene Counties."

[5] This designation was often employed to classify those settlers who took up lands beyond the limits of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, that is to say, west of Lycoming Creek on the north side of the West Branch of the Susquehanna.

[6] Russell, "Signers of the Pine Creek Declaration of Independence," p. 5. Mrs. Russell, whose historical accuracy can be verified through her indicated sources, refers to old borough minutes of Jersey Shore as her source for the names of the tribunal of 1776, namely, Bartram Caldwell, John Walker, and James Brandon. Upon discussing the matter with her, I learned that a clipping from an old Jersey Shore paper, now lost, which described the minutes, was her actual source. However, adequate documentation and meticulous research characterize her work. Furthermore, Bratton Caldwell (he signed his name Bartram) is also labeled a Fair Play official by Linn, "Indian Land and Its Fair Play Settlers, 1773-1785," p. 422. Linn's identification comes in the case of Greer vs. Tharpe, Greer's case being a pre-emption claim on the basis of military service.

[7] "Eleanor Coldren's Deposition," Now and Then, XII (1959), 220-222. The deposition reads "That in the Spring of 1775, Henry Antes and Cookson Long, two of the Fair-Play Men, with others, were at the deponent's house...."

[8] Oscar T. Barck, Jr. and Hugh T. Lefler, Colonial America (New York, 1958), pp. 258-260. Although Barck and Lefler indicate in this section on "The Colonial Franchise" that universal suffrage did not prevail in the colonies, they do note the significance of "free land," of which Fair Play territory was an excellent example.

[9] Ibid, p. 260.

[10] William Cooke to James Tilghman, Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, XII, 286-287.

[11] Pennsylvania Archives, Fourth Series, III, 545-546.

[12] Report of the Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, 1896), I, 390, 392, 394-418.

[13] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[14] Linn, "Indian Land and Its Fair-Play Settlers," p. 424. This six weeks provision is noted in the deposition of John Sutton in the case of William Greer vs. William Tharpe, dated March 13, 1797.

[15] Ibid., 422. Bratton Caldwell, one of the Fair Play men, indicates this practice in his deposition in the Greer vs. Tharpe case.

[16] "Eleanor Coldren's Deposition," pp. 220-222.

[17] Linn, "Indian Land and Its Fair-Play Settlers," pp. 422-424. William King, in his deposition taken March 15, 1801, in Huff vs. Satcha [sic], in the Circuit Court of Lycoming County, notes the use of a company of militia, of which he was an officer, to eject a settler. Linn errs in his reference to the defendant as "Satcha." The man's name was Latcha, according to the Appearance Docket Commencing 1797, No. 2, Lycoming County.

[18] See nn. 6 and 7, p. 33.

[19] Smith, Laws, II, 195. See also, pp. 31 and 32, this chapter, in which the excerpt from this source is quoted verbatim.

[20] Supra, p. 33.

[21] Infra, Chapter Six. The question of leadership in conjunction with the problems of this frontier is discussed in Chapter Six.

[22] The Appearance Dockets and Files were checked for Northumberland County from 1784 to 1795 and for Lycoming County from 1795 to 1801. These records, obtained in the offices of the respective prothonotaries, produced thirty-seven cases in Northumberland and twenty-two in Lycoming County dealing with former Fair Play settlers. Unfortunately, only four were reviews of actual Fair Play decisions.

[23] Northumberland County originated in 1772 and Lycoming County in 1795. Clinton County was not created until 1839.

[24] Meginness, Otzinachson (Philadelphia, 1857), p. 172.

[25] The cases referred to here are: Hughes vs. Dougherty, Huff vs. Satcha, and Grier vs. Tharpe. They were located in the Appearance Dockets of Lycoming and Northumberland counties in the respective prothonotaries' offices. Hughes vs. Dougherty appears in the Northumberland County Docket for November, 1783, to August, 1786, in the February term of the Court of Common Pleas, file 42. Both the Huff and Grier cases were found in the Lycoming County Docket No. 2, commencing 1797, court terms and file numbers indicated as follows: Huff vs. Satcha, February, 1799, #2, and Grier vs. Tharpe, May, 1800, #41. A partial deposition by Eleanor Coldren, Now and Then, XII (1959), 220-222, was also employed. Although the case appears to be Dewitt vs. Dunn, I could not locate it in the Appearance Dockets. Depositions taken in the Huff and Grier cases were published in Linn, "Indian Land and Its Fair-Play Settlers," pp. 422-424.

[26] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 205.

[27] Jasper Yeates, Pennsylvania Reports, I (Philadelphia, 1817), 497-498.

[28] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[29] Yeates, Pennsylvania Reports, I, 497-498.

[30] "Eleanor Coldren's Deposition," pp. 220-222.

[31] Linn, "Indian Land and Its Fair-Play Settlers," p. 422.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Meginness, Otzinachson (1889), p. 469.

[36] Now Linden, in Woodward Township, a few miles west of Williamsport.

[37] King refers here to the Great Runaway of 1778.

[38] Linn, "Indian Land and Its Fair-Play Settlers," p. 423-424.

[39] Meginness, Otzinachson (1889), p. 470.

[40] Ibid., p. 471.

[41] D. S. Maynard, Historical View of Clinton County (Lock Haven, 1875), pp. 207-208. Maynard has reprinted here some excerpts from John Hamilton's "Early Times on the West Branch," which was published in the Lock Haven Republican in 1875. Unfortunately, recurrent floods destroyed most of the newspaper files, and copies of this series are not now available. John Hamilton was a third-generation descendant of Alexander Hamilton, one of the original Fair Play settlers.

[42] Meginness, Otzinachson (1857), p. 193.

[43] Ibid. An alleged copy of the declaration published in A Picture of Clinton County (Lock Haven, 1942), p. 38, is clearly spurious. The language of this Pennsylvania Writers' project of the W.P.A. is obviously twentieth-century, and it contains references to events which had not yet occurred.

[44] Fithian: Journal, p. 72.

[45] Muncy Historical Society, Muncy, Pa., Wagner Collection, Anna Jackson Hamilton to Hon. George C. Whiting, Commissioner of Pensions, Dec. 16, 1858.

[46] Ibid., John Hamilton to Hon. George C. Whiting, Commissioner of Pensions, May 27, 1859.

[47] The veracity of the witness is an important question here. Meginness, in his 1857 edition, devotes a footnote, p. 168, to this remarkable woman who was in full possession of her faculties at the time. The Rev. John Grier, son-in-law of Mrs. Hamilton and brother of Supreme Court Justice Robert C. Grier, wrote to President Buchanan on Nov. 12, 1858, (Wagner Collection), stating that "Mrs. Hamilton is one of the most intelligent in our community." Buchanan then wrote an affidavit in support of Grier's statements to the Commissioner of Pensions, Nov. 27, 1858, (Wagner Collection). Aside from the declarations of Mrs. Hamilton and her son, the only other support, and this is hearsay, is found in the account of an alleged conversation between W. H. Sanderson and Robert Couvenhoven, the famed scout. W. H. Sanderson, Historical Reminiscences, ed. Henry W. Shoemaker (Altoona, 1920), pp. 6-8. Here again, the fact that the reminiscences were not recorded until some seventy years after the "chats" raises serious doubts.

[48] Pennsylvania Archives, Fourth Series, III, 545.

[49] Ibid., p. 546.

[50] Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, p. 473.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid. See also John H. Carter, "The Committee of Safety of Northumberland County," The Northumberland County Historical Society Proceedings and Addresses, XVIII (1950), 44-45.

[55] See map of the Fair Play territory in Chapter One.

[56] Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, p. 469. See also, Carter, "The Committee of Safety," pp. 33-45, for a full account of the activities of the Committee. Carter notes that the county committee consisted of thirty-three members, three from each of the eleven townships chosen for a period of six months.

[57] Ibid., pp. 472-474.


The Farmers' Frontier

The economy of the West Branch Valley was basically agrarian—a farmers' frontier. The "new order of Americanism"[1] which arose on this frontier was in part due to the cultural background of its inhabitants, the knowledge and traditional values which they had brought with them. It was further influenced by the frontier status of the region itself—an area of virgin land in the earliest stages of development. And finally, it was affected by the physical characteristics of the territory, particularly the mountains which separated these settlers from the more established settlements. It has been said that "many of the enduring characteristics of the American creed and the American national character originated in the way of life of the colonial farmer."[2] The Fair Play territory was typical of this development.

The early pioneer, particularly if he was Scotch-Irish, generally came into the area from the Cumberland Valley, the "seed-plot and nursery" of the Scotch-Irish in America, the "original reservoir" of this leading frontier stock, via the Great Shamokin Path.[3] Since there were no roads, only Indian trails, the frontier traveler customarily followed the Indian paths which had been cleared along the rivers and streams. The Great Shamokin Path followed the Susquehanna from Shamokin (now Sunbury) to the West Branch, then out along the West Branch to the Allegheny Mountains.[4] Loading his wife and smaller children on a pack horse, his scanty possessions on another horse, the prospective settler drove a cow or two into the wild frontier at the rate of about twenty miles a day.[5] This meant that a trip of approximately two days brought him from Fort Augusta to the Fair Play country.

Indian paths were the primary means of ingress and egress, although supplemented by the waterways which they paralleled. In addition to the Great Shamokin Path, there were paths up Lycoming Creek (the Sheshequin Path), and up Pine Creek, besides the path which followed Bald Eagle Creek down into the Juniata Valley. These trails and adjoining water routes were usually traveled on horseback or in canoes, depending upon the route to be followed. However, the rivers and streams were more often passages of departure than courses of entry.

Established roads, that is authorized public constructions, were not to reach the West Branch region until 1775, although the Northumberland County Court ordered such construction and reported on it at the October term in 1772.[6] Appointments were made at the August session of 1775 "to view, and if they saw cause, to lay out a bridle road from the mouth of Bald Eagle Creek to the town of Sunbury."[7] It was not until ten years later that extensions of this road were authorized, carrying it into the Nittany Valley and to Bald Eagle's Nest (near Milesburg, on the Indian path from the Great Island to Ohio).[8]

Travel was usually on horseback or on foot. Canoes and flatboats, or simply rafts, were used on the rivers and creeks where available. Wagons, however, appeared after the construction of public roads and were seen in the Great Runaway of 1778.[9]

The problem of communication between the frontier and the settled areas was a difficult one compounded by the natural geographic barriers and the fact that post and coach roads did not extend into this central Pennsylvania region. As a result the inhabitants had to depend upon occasional travelers, circuit riders, surveyors, and other Provincial authorities who visited them infrequently. Otherwise, the meetings of the Fair Play tribunal, irregular as they were, and the communications from the county Committee of Safety were about the only sources of information available. Of course, cabin-building, cornhusking, and quilting parties provided ample opportunities for the dissemination of strictly "local" news.

Newspapers were not introduced into the upper Susquehanna Valley until around the turn of the century. The Northumberland Gazette was published in Sunbury in 1797 or 1798.[10] The first truly West Branch paper was not circulated until 1802, when the Lycoming Gazette was first published in Williamsport.[11] On the eve of the Revolution there were only seven newspapers available in the entire Province, none of which circulated as far north as the Fair Play territory.[12] As a matter of fact, there were only thirty-seven papers printed in all thirteen colonies at the beginning of the Revolution.[13]

The Fair Play settler was an "outlaw," a squatter who came into this central Pennsylvania wilderness with his family and without the benefit of a land grant, and who literally hacked and carved out a living. The natural elements, the savage natives, and the wild life all resisted him; but he conquered them all, and the conquest gave him a feeling of accomplishment which enhanced his independent spirit.

If the story of the Great Plains frontier can be told in terms of railroads, barbed-wire fences, windmills, and six-shooters,[14] then the cruder tale of the West Branch frontier can be told in terms of the rifle, the axe, and the plow. The rifle, first and foremost as the weapon of security, was the basic means of self-preservation in a wild land where survival was a constant question.[15] The axe, which Theodore Roosevelt later described as "a servant hardly standing second even to the rifle,"[16] was the main implement of destruction and construction. It was used for clearing the forest of the many trees which encroached upon the acreage which the settler had staked out for himself, and for cutting the logs which would provide the rude, one-room shelter the pioneer constructed for himself and his family. The crude wooden plow was the implement which made this frontiersman a farmer, although its effectiveness was extremely limited. However, the soil was so fertile, and the weeds so sparse, that scratching the earth and scattering seeds produced a crop.[17]

A contemporary description of squatter settlements in Muncy Hills, some twenty-odd miles east of the Fair Play territory, but in the West Branch Valley, gives a vivid picture of the nature of these early establishments:

They came from no Body enquires where, or how, but generally with Families, fix on any Spot in the Wood that pleases them. Cut down some trees & make up a Log Hut in a Day, clear away the underweed & girdle.... The Trees they have no use for if cut down after their Hut is made. They dig up & harrow the Ground, plant Potatoes, a Crop which they get out in three Months, sow Corn, etc., (& having sown in peace by the Law of the Land they are secured in reaping in peace) & continue at Work without ever enquiring whose the Land is, until the Proprietor himself disturbs & drives them off with Difficulty.[18]

This experience was duplicated in the Fair Play territory where there were no immediate neighbors whose permission was necessary for settlement, or until a dispute was carried to the tribunal for adjudication. This procedure was detailed in the last chapter.

Having selected a site, preferably on or near a stream, and obtained approval from the Fair Play men and his neighbors, the prospective settler was faced with the long and tedious work of clearing the land for his home and farm. This was an extended effort for he could clear only a few acres a year. In the meantime, his survival depended upon the few provisions he brought with him—some grain for meal, a little flour, and perhaps some salt pork and smoked meat. These supplies, combined with the wild game and fish which abounded in the area, served until such a time as crops could be produced. It was a rigorous life complicated by the fact that the meager supplies often ran out before the first crop was brought in. The first month's meals were too often variations on the limited fare of water porridge and hulled corn, as described by a later pioneer.[19]

Homes in the Fair Play territory were built "to live in, and not for show...."[20] The following description, by the grandson of one of the original settlers, illustrates the cooperative nature of the enterprise, in addition to giving a clear picture of the type of construction which replaced the early lean-to shelter with which the frontiersman was first acquainted:

Our buildings are made of hewn logs, on an average 24 feet long by 20 wide, sometimes a wall of stone, a foot or more above the level of the earth, raised as a foundation; but in general, four large stones are laid at the corners, and the building raised on them. The house is covered sometimes with shingles, sometimes with clapboards. [The latter required no laths, rafters, or nails, and was put on in less time.] ... The ground logs being laid saddle-shaped, on the upper edge, is cut in with an axe, at the ends, as long as the logs are thick, then the end logs are raised and a "notch" cut to fit the saddle. This is the only kind of tie or binder they have; and when the building is raised as many rounds as it is intended, the ribs are raised, on which a course of clapboards is laid, butts resting on a "butting pole." A press pole is laid on the clapboards immediately over the ribs to keep them from shifting by the wind, and the pole is kept to its berth by stay blocks, resting in the first course against the butting-pole. The logs are run upon the building on skids by the help of wooden forks. The most experienced "axe-man" are placed on the buildings as "cornermen;" the rest of the company are on the ground to carry the logs and run them up.[21]

In this fashion, the frontier cabin was raised and covered in a single day, without a mason, without a pound of iron, and with nothing but dirt for flooring. The doors and windows were subsequently cut out of the structure to suit the tastes of its occupants.

In this one-room cabin lived the frontier settler and his family, who might be joined by guests. Small wonder, then, that additions to this construction took on such significance that they were items of mention in later wills.[22]

Once having cleared a reasonable portion of his property, raised his cabin, and scratched out an existence for his first few months of occupation, the pioneer was now ready to get down to the business of farming. Working around the stumps which cluttered his improvement, the frontier farmer planted his main crops, which were, of course, the food grains—wheat, rye, with oats, barley, and corn, and buckwheat and corn for the livestock. Some indication of the planting and harvesting seasons can be seen from this account:

I find Wheat is sown here in the Fall (beging. of Septr.) Clover & timothy Grass is generally sown with it. The Wheat is cut in June or beginning of July after which the Grass grows very rapidly & always affords two Crops. Where Grass has not been sown they harrow the Ground well where the Wheat is taken off & sow Buck Wheat which ripens by the beginning & through September is excellent food for Poultry & Cattle & makes good Cakes.[23]

The amazing fertility of the soil, as noted by more than one journalist, eased the difficulties of the crude wooden implements which were the farmer's tools. Reference is made to "one [who] plowed the same spot ... for eight years ... [taking] double Crops without giving it an Ounce of Manure."[24] Scientific farming had not yet come to the West Branch Valley, although the Philadelphia area had been awakened to its possibilities through the publications of Franklin's American Philosophical Society.

Fertile soil was practically essential when one considers the crude implements with which the frontier farmer carried on his hazardous vocation. In addition to the crude wooden plow, which we have already mentioned, the agrarian pioneer of the West Branch possessed a long-bladed sickle, a homemade rake, a homemade hay fork, and a grain shovel.[25] All of these items were made of wood and were of the crudest sort.[26] As time went on, he added a few tools of his own invention, but these, and his sturdy curved-handled axe, constituted the essential instruments of the farmer's craft.

July was the month of harvest for the mainly "subsistence" farmers scattered along the West Branch. The uncertainties of the weather and the number of acres planted had some influence upon the harvesting, so that it was not unusual to see the wheat still swaying in the warm summer breezes in the last week of July. However, if possible, the grain was generally cut the first part of the month in order that buckwheat, or other fodder, might be sown and harvested in the fall.

Harvesttime was a cooperative enterprise and whole families joined in "bringing in the sheaves." The grain had to be cut and raked into piles, and the piles bundled into shocks tied together with stalks of the grain itself. This took "hands" and the frontier family was generally the only labor force available. In time, however, field work was confined to the men of the family among the Scotch-Irish, who attached social significance to the type of work done by their women.

Fithian's Journal reveals, however, that class-consciousness was not yet apparent in the division of labor on this frontier. On two occasions he describes daughters of leading families engaged in other than household tasks. Arriving at the home of Squire Fleming, with whom he was to stay for a week, Fithian notes on July 25, 1775, that Betsey Fleming, his host's daughter, "was milking."[27] The very next day, upon visiting the Squire's brother, who had "two fine Daughter's," this Presbyterian journalist found "One of them reaping."[28] If Leyburn's comment that social status among the Scotch-Irish depended in part upon the work done by the women of the family, then these examples attest to the fact that "status" was a luxury which the Fair Play settlers could not yet afford.[29]

Threshing was either done by hand with flails, or, if the family had a cow or two (and the tax lists indicate that they did), the grain was separated by driving the livestock around and around over the unbundled straw. Finally, the chaff was removed by throwing the grain into the air while the breeze was flowing. The grain was then collected and readied for milling.

Gristmills were available in the West Branch Valley almost from the outset of settlement due to the many fine streams which flowed through the territory. As a result, few farmers had to travel more than five miles, generally on horseback, to carry their bags of grain to the mill. If the farmer had no horse, he had to carry his sack of grain on his shoulder. If the settler lived on or near a stream, he put his sacks of grain in a canoe and paddled downstream to the nearest mill. In the early days before the mills, the grain was pounded into meal by using a heavy pestle and a hollowed-out stump, a crude mortar which served the purpose.

In time, the gristmill owners also operated distilleries, converting the pioneer's wheat, rye, and barley into spirited beverages which were freely imbibed along this and other frontiers. By the time of the Revolution, distilling was so common as to cause the Committee of Safety to take action to conserve the grain.[30] "Home brew," however, was quite the custom, and it was not long before most farmers operated their own stills.

Self-sufficiency was both a characteristic and a necessity among these Scotch-Irish, English, and German settlers of central Pennsylvania. Bringing their agrarian traditions with them from the "old country," where they had operated small farms, they were bound to a "subsistence farming" existence by the inaccessibility of markets to the frontier. One diarist found this conducive to a "perfect Independence" which made a "Market to them, almost unnecessary."[31] This economic independence carried over into frontier manufacturing, if it can be called that, because the industry, except for the gristmills and their distilleries, was strictly domestic.

It has often been said that the frontier farmer was a "jack-of-all trades," and the West Branch settler of the Fair Play territory was a typical example. With no market of skilled labor, or any other market for that matter,[32] he was his own carpenter, cooper, shoe-maker, tailor, and blacksmith. Whatever he wanted or needed had to be made in his own home. Thus, frontier industry was of the handicraft or domestic type, with tasks apportioned among the various members of the family in accordance with their sex and talent. It was truly a "complete little world" in which the pioneer family supplied its every demand by its own efforts.[33]

Although the role of the women was to take on status significance as the frontier areas became more stable, in the earlier years of settlement their tasks were extensive and varied. Though they were busy with household duties such as churning butter, making soap, pouring candles, quilting, and weaving cloth for the family's clothing, it was not uncommon for the women to join the men in the field at harvesttime. The domesticity of the American housewife may be one impact on American life made by the Germans.[34]

The children, too, were important persons in the economic life of the frontier family. Their labors lightened the load for both father and mother. With no available labor market from which to draw farm hands and household help, it was both necessary and useful to give the boys and girls a vocational apprenticeship in farming or homemaking. The girls' responsibilities were usually, although not exclusively, related to the hearth; the efforts of the boys were generally confined to the field and the implements employed there, although they did service too as household handymen, hauling wood, making fires, and the like.[35]

In addition to their farming and domestic industry, the other economic activities of these agrarian pioneers included the care of their livestock and the exploitation of the available natural resources in their subsistence pattern of living. The tax lists for Northumberland County indicate the possession of two or three horses and a like number of cows for each head of a household.[36] There were also "various Breeds of Hogs" although they were not listed by the tax assessor.[37] Mr. Davy's comment that "Sheep are not well understood ... often destroyed by the Wolves ... few ... except [those] of good Capital keep them" may explain their absence from these same assessments.[38]

Maple syrup provided the sugar supply, a fact noted by land speculators who touted this "Country Abounding in the Sugar Tree."[39] Anti-slave interests later thought that maple sugar would replace the slave-produced cane sugar.[40] Mr. Davy described the process as he observed it at Muncy:

The Maple Trees yield about 5 w of Sugar each on an average annually, some give as much as 15 ws but these are rare. It is drawn off in April & May by boring holes in the Tree into which Quills & Canes are introduced to convey the Juice to a Trough placed round the bottom of it. This juice is boiled down to Sugar & clarified with very little trouble & is very good.[41]

Honey also existed in great quantities in the area and was used extensively. Apparently the "sweet tooth" of the West Branch settlers was well satisfied by the ample resources for saccharine products.

The trade and commerce of the West Branch Valley were strictly confined to its own locale. Mountain barriers, limited transportation facilities, and insufficient contact with the settled areas of the Province only served to heighten the essential self-sufficiency of the Fair Play settlers. The result was an economic independence which doubtless had its political manifestations.[42]

Economic conditions have their political implications, but it was the total impact of the frontier and not simply the commercial restrictions of some outside authority which made the Fair Play settlers self-reliant and independent "subsistence" farmers. The farmers' frontier did not result from the impact of any particular national stock groups, for Scotch-Irish, English, and German settlers reacted similarly. As the most recent historian of the Scotch-Irish, the most numerical national stock on this frontier, suggests, "authentically democratic principles, when the Scotch-Irish exhibited them in America, were rather the result of their experiences on colonial frontiers than the product of the Scottish and Ulster heritage."[43] The farmers' frontier with its characteristics of individualistic self-reliance was a product of the frontier itself.


[1] Turner, The Frontier in American History, p. 18.

[2] Henry Bamford Parkes, The American Experience (New York, 1959), p. 44.

[3] Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, p. 59.

[4] Paul A. W. Wallace, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, 1965), pp. 66-72, includes two maps.

[5] Chester D. Clark, "Pioneer Life in the New Purchase," The Northumberland County Historical Society Proceedings and Addresses, VII (1935), 18.

[6] Meginness, Otzinachson (1889), p. 400.

[7] Ibid., p. 401.

[8] Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, p. 472.

[9] Meginness, Otzinachson (1889), p. 401.

[10] Meginness, Otzinachson (1857), p. 454.

[11] Ibid., p. 458

[12] Carl and Jessica Bridenbaugh, Rebels and Gentlemen: Philadelphia in the Age of Franklin (New York, 1962), p. 76.

[13] Barck and Lefler, Colonial America, p. 409.

[14] Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains (New York, 1931), pp. 238-244.

[15] Herbert H. Beck, "Martin Meylin, A Progenitor of the Pennsylvania Rifle," Papers Read Before The Lancaster County Historical Society, LIII (1949), 33-61.

[16] Clark, "Pioneer Life in the New Purchase," p. 19.

[17] Lewis E. Theiss, "Early Agriculture," Susquehanna Tales (Sunbury, 1955), p. 89.

[18] Norman B. Wilkinson (ed.), "Mr. Davy's Diary," Pennsylvania History, XX (1953), 261.

[19] James W. Silver (ed.), "Chauncey Brockway, an Autobiographical Sketch," Pennsylvania History, XXV (1958), 143.

[20] Maynard, Historical View of Clinton County, p. 11.

[21] Ibid.

[22] The probate records of Northumberland and Lycoming counties, found in the respective offices of the Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds, contain entries leaving to the widow the "best room in the house," or, "her choice of rooms." No doubt, the simplicity of the earlier home accentuated the value of the additions.

[23] "Mr. Davy's Diary," p. 259.

[24] Ibid., p. 341. The Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian notes the richness of the land in the journal of his one-week visit to the area in the summer of 1775. He was also surprised to find that "many have their Grain yet in the Field," a notation for the 26th of July. Fithian: Journal, p. 71.

[25] Theiss, Susquehanna Tales, p. 88.

[26] The Museum of the Muncy Historical Society contains examples of these early farm implements and offers vivid evidence of their crudeness.

[27] Fithian: Journal, p. 71.

[28] Ibid., p. 72.

[29] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 262.

[30] Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, p. 469.

[31] "Mr. Davy's Diary," p. 258.

[32] Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, p. 171. Even in the more settled areas of the Susquehanna Valley markets were slow to develop as this note from "Mr. Davy's Diary," p. 338, reported on Oct. 3, 1794: "At present there is no Market here but if many English Families settle this will soon follow as there is an excellent supply of every necessary & even Luxury in the Neighbourhood."

[33] J. E. Wright and Doris S. Corbett, Pioneer Life in Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, 1940), p. 74.

[34] Arthur W. Calhoun, A Social History of the American Family (New York, 1960), I, 202.

[35] Wright and Corbett, Pioneer Life in Western Pennsylvania, pp. 86-92.

[36] Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, XIX, 405-805.

[37] "Mr. Davy's Diary," p. 265.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., pp. 263-264.

[40] Ibid., p. 264.

[41] Ibid., p. 263.

[42] One student of the commerce of the Susquehanna Valley made sweeping generalizations about its significance which can hardly be substantiated. See Morris K. Turner, The Commercial Relations of the Susquehanna Valley During the Colonial Period (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1916). This dissertation, although claiming to deal with the Susquehanna Valley, never gets much beyond Harrisburg and seldom reaches as far north as Fort Augusta. Its accounts of roads, navigation improvements, and trade fail to reach the Fair Play settlers. This lends further support to their independent and self-sufficient existence. Turner's concluding paragraph is, however, a gem of economic determinism and bears repeating in full. Found on page 100, it reads as follows:

"If then, the commercial relations of the Susquehanna Valley were so far reaching affecting as they did in the pre-Revolutionary period the attitude of the people on all the questions, practically, of the day it is only fair to say that it was these relations which promoted the Revolution in the Province and drove the old government out of existence. The political issues were aided and abetted, yes, were created, were born from the womb of the neglected commercial relations of the Province and no other section at the time had such extensive relations as the Susquehanna Valley. No other conclusion can be reached after a serious study of the history of the period."

[43] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 150.


Fair Play Society

The society of the Fair Play territory, between the year 1769 and 1784, was indeed simple. There were no towns or population clusters, either in the territory or within a range of some thirty-five or forty miles. Furthermore, as we have already noted, transportation and communication facilities were so limited as to make contact with the "outside world" an exception rather than the rule. As we have also seen, economic functions on this farmers' frontier were not highly specialized. Even the political system, with its tribunal of Fair Play men, operated without the benefit of any formal code.

But it would be easy, from these indications, to magnify the simplicity of the social structure and of social relationships in the West Branch Valley. If we are to consider the development of democracy on this frontier, we must take into account the various national stock groups who settled this area and, in so doing, weigh their relative economic and social status, the amount of intermarriage between them, and the ease and frequency with which they visited each other. These and other social relationships, such as their joint participation in voluntary associations, their prejudices and conflicts, and the assimilation of alien groups, must all be evaluated. The leadership, the existence of social classes, and the family patterns must, of necessity, be a part of our inquiry. And finally, the religious institutions, the educational and cultural opportunities, and the system of values have to be considered in arriving at a judgment regarding the democratic nature of Fair Play society.

Fair Play society was composed of Scotch-Irish (48.75 per cent), English (20 per cent), German (15 per cent), Scots (6.25 per cent), Irish (5 per cent), Welsh (2.5 per cent) and French (2.5 per cent) settlers.[1] Due to the pioneering conditions under which all of these national stock groups developed their "improvements," economic privilege was rather difficult to attain. Furthermore, even after the legislature granted pre-emption in the act of December, 1784, the grants were limited to 300 acres.[2] In consequence of this, massive holdings were impossible to maintain legally, as the customary holdings of two to three hundred acres indicate in the tax lists for the years after 1784.[3] In fact, the tax lists suggest that absentee-owners or persons outside the actual geographic limits of the Fair Play territory who participated with the Fair Play settlers were the only ones to possess 700 to 1,000 acres or more.[4] This fact, combined with the "subsistence farming" which all of the area settlers pursued, suggests a relatively comparable economic status for the members of the Fair Play society. Consequently, social status was not necessarily dependent upon economic status.

Social status on this frontier depended more upon achieved status than ascribed status. This may have been an influence of the Scotch-Irish, who judged, and thus classified, a neighbor by the size and condition of his dwelling, the care of his farm, the work done by the women in the family, his personal characteristics and morality, and his diversions.[5] Journalists, pension claimants, and the operative, although unwritten, code of the Fair Play men all give corroborative evidence in this regard.[6] Of all these criteria, personal character and morality seemed to have been most important. The Scotch-Irish, who, like the people of other national stocks, accepted social classes as the right ordering of society, shifted their emphasis, as a result of the frontier experience, from family heritage to individual achievement.[7]

Intermarriages provide a further key to the social relationships of the Fair Play settlers. If a small sample is any indication, the cases of intermarriages among the various national stock groups were relatively high, with better than one-third of the marriages sampled falling within this classification.[8] The fact that the Scotch-Irish frequently married within their own group was probably due to their being more "available" in terms of numbers. Industry and good character were the prime criteria for selecting a frontier mate, as Dunaway points out.[9]

The ease and frequency of neighborly visits is vividly demonstrated in the characteristically cooperative cabin-raisings, barn-raisings, cornhuskings and similar activities in which joint effort was usual. The women, too, exchanged visits and, on occasion, gathered at one place for quilting or other mutually shared activities.[10] Furthermore, the frontier journalists often noted the fine hospitality and congeniality of their backwoods hosts.[11]

Further evidence of the egalitarian influence of this frontier is found in the joint participation of Fair Play settlers in voluntary associations.[12] This is particularly noticeable in their attendance at outdoor sermons and involvement in the various political activities. At a time when fewer than 100 families lived in the territory, Fithian observed that "There were present about an Hundred & forty" people for a sermon which he gave on the banks of the Susquehanna, opposite the present city of Lock Haven, on Sunday, July 30, 1775.[13] Although William Colbert, a Methodist, later "preached to a large congregation of willing hearers" within the territory, he did not think that it was "worth the preachers while to stop here."[14] This may have been due to the fact that they were mainly Presbyterians. Colbert's reception was apparently fair for he makes a point of saying, "I know not that there is a prejudiced person among them."[15] No regular church was established in this region until 1792, so it appears that the settlers generally participated in group religious activities regardless of the denominational affiliation of the preacher conducting the services. However, as we will point out later, this is not to suggest that there was no friction between denominations.

The political activities of the Fair Play settlers demonstrate the mass participation, at least of the adult males, in this type of voluntary association. The annual elections of the Fair Play men were conducted without discrimination against any of the settlers by reason of religion, national origin, or property. In addition, the decisions of the tribunal were carried out, as Smith reports, "by the whole body, who started up in mass, at the mandate of the court."[16] Special occasions, such as the Pine Creek Declaration of Independence, were also marked by the participation en masse of these West Branch pioneers. Mrs. Hamilton, in her widow's pension application, speaks of "seeing such numbers flocking there" (along the banks of Pine Creek in July of 1776).[17] Apparently, as Mrs. Hamilton says, most of the settlers "had a knolege of what was doing," particularly with regard to political affairs.[18]

These evidences of group participation in religious and political activities should not mislead one into thinking that conflict, legal or otherwise, was alien to the West Branch frontiersmen. The cases brought before the Fair Play "court" and the friction between Methodists and Presbyterians affirm this strife. The first settler in the territory, Cleary Campbell, was an almost constant litigant, both as plaintiff and defendant, in the Northumberland County Court from the time of his arrival in 1769.[19] His name, along with the names of other Fair Play settlers, appeared regularly on the Appearance Dockets of the Northumberland and Lycoming County courts. The cases usually involved land titles and personal obligations or debts.

The religious conflict is clearly seen in the journal of the Reverend William Colbert. An incident which occurred about twenty miles south of the West Branch illustrates this friction:

This is a town [present-day Milton] with three stores, three taverns, two ball allies. Agreeable to its size it appears to be one of the most dissipated places I ever saw. I could not tell how to pass them—I inquired at one of the ball allies if preaching was expected—A religious old Presbyterian standing by where they were playing answered that he did not know. I then asked them that were playing ball, they answered no. I farther asked them if they did not think they would be better employed hearing preaching than playing ball. Their answer was a laugh, that there was time for all things and that they went to preachings on Sundays. I told them they would not be willing to go to judgment from that exercise—they said they ventured that. So after a little conversation with the old man I left them ripening for destruction....[20]

Colbert's journal is filled with snide remarks and caustic comments about Presbyterians in general and Calvinist doctrines in particular.[21] He was especially concerned for the "lost souls" of the Presbyterians of the West Branch Valley. A twentieth-century theologian suggests that Presbyterian dogmatism had driven the Scotch-Irish to the frontier; this same problem complicated their social relationships in the backwoods country.[22]

The process of acculturation of the frontier was marked by the impact of the aborigines upon the new white settlers in terms of the developing style of life in the West Branch Valley. In fact, the culture of the Indian may have affected the white settlers more than theirs affected that of the Indian. For instance, Mr. Davy says that "the Dress & manners of the People more nearly assimilate to those of the Indians than lower down, but the purest English Language is universally spoken."[23]

The West Branch Valley was a new world whose experiences made new men, rather than a transplanted old world with its emphasis on heritage and tradition.[24] However, the English language and Scots Presbyterianism were basic ingredients in the melting pot of this and other frontiers where the American character emerged.

The social class structure of Fair Play society is rather difficult to assess. Extensive land holdings and material possessions were not characteristic of these "squatter" settlements. Consequently, property was not the distinguishing factor in stratifying the social levels of the Fair Play community. Furthermore, there was no slave population or indentured servant class to be confined to the lowest rung of the social ladder. Here, each man either owned his "improvement" or operated under some condition of tenancy. However, both indentured servitude and Negro slavery existed in the "New Purchase" of 1768 in nearby Muncy.[25] Thus, it was a two-class pattern, in the main, which constituted the Fair Play society—landholders and tenants. In addition, though, there was a further delineation within the landholding class on the basis of character and morality. This characteristically Scotch-Irish differentiation may have been due to the predominance of the Ulsterites in the West Branch population.[26] In consideration of this fact, a three-class structure, consisting of an elite, other landholders, and tenants, would best describe the social class system of the Fair Play territory.

The elite of the Fair Play society were generally the political and economic leaders as well. They owned the "forts," operated the gristmills, and held the prominent political positions in the vicinity. Surprisingly enough, though, they frequently resided on the fringe areas of the territory and were thus able to acquire more land.[27] A fuller description of this elite and its leadership is given in the next chapter.

The frontier family was undoubtedly the key social institution in transmitting this new "American" culture to subsequent generations. Regardless of national origin, the families were closely-knit, well-disciplined units, whose members formed rather complete social and economic entities. As we have already noted, the agrarian family had its own division of labor, with each member carrying out his assigned tasks and, at the same time, learning the practices and procedures of the farmers' frontier. It was also the cultural and educational core, in which its members learned their faith, received their education, and acquired the values which would serve them throughout their lives. Family loyalty was a marked characteristic on the frontier and, incidentally, among the Scotch-Irish. The woman's lot was severe but she accepted it with a submissiveness which can still be seen in some backcountry areas of Pennsylvania today.[28] Clannish and dependent upon each other, the frontier family had no use for divorce, which was practically unknown.[29] If the patterns and values of these frontier families tended to approximate those of the Scotch-Irish in particular, and they did, it was because the Scotch-Irish were representative rather than unique.[30]

The church was probably the second most important social institution in developing a system of values and a "style of life" in the Fair Play territory. Here again, the Scotch-Irish with their Presbyterianism provided the most significant influence, and ultimately the first regular church—although Methodists, such as Colbert, found little to favor in Calvinism. Almost without exception, the wills probated in the courts of Northumberland and Lycoming counties between 1772 and 1830 asked for burial "in a decent and Christian like manner," and committed the departed soul to "the Creator." A Christian life and a Christian burial were valued in this frontier society.

Due to the absence of regular churches, religious instruction was primarily carried on by mothers "abel to instruct," as Mrs. Hamilton put it.[31] Prayer, the reading of the Bible, and a rudimentary catechism were all a part of this home worship, conducted by one or both parents. Baptism and other sacraments of the church were provided by itinerant pastors who made their "rounds" through the valley. Presbyterians and, later, Methodists developed the practice of gathering together in their cabins in "praying societies."[32] Originally consisting of neighbor groups, these societies, in time, took in areas consisting of several miles.[33]

Itinerant pastors began to include the Fair Play territory in their travels in the decade of the 1770's. Philip Vickers Fithian learned from his host, Squire Fleming, that he was the first "orderly" preacher in the area.[34] Fithian's visit came about after he obtained an honorable dismissal from the first Philadelphia Presbytery—as no vacancies existed—in order to preach outside its bounds.[35] Although in the territory for only one week in the summer of 1775, Fithian's account of his Sunday sermon on the banks of the Susquehanna clearly describes the nature of wilderness preaching:

At eleven I began Service. We crossed over to the Indian Land, & held Worship on the Bank of the River, opposite to the Great Island, about a Mile & a half below 'Squire Fleming's. There were present about an Hundred & forty; I stood at the Root of a great Tree, & the People sitting in the Bushes, & green Grass round me.

They gave great Attention. I had the Eyes of all upon me. I spoke with some Force, & pretty loud. I recommended to them earnestly the religious Observation of God's Sabbaths, in this remote Place, where they seldom have the Gospel preached—that they should attend with Carefulness & Reverence upon it when it is among them—And that they ought to strive to have it established here.[36]

Fithian's recommendation was not carried out until 1792, when the Pine Creek Church was organized under the historic "independence" elm with Robert Love and a Mr. Culbertson as the first elders.[37] This church, along with the Lycoming Church, which was formed in the eastern part of the former Fair Play territory in October of that same year, was served by the Reverend Isaac Grier, who was called to serve Lycoming Creek, Pine Creek, and the Great Island, and ordained and installed by the Carlisle Presbytery, April 9, 1794.[38] He thus became the first regularly installed pastor in what had been the Fair Play territory.

It was not until 1811 that the Presbyterian General Assembly organized the Northumberland Presbytery, which serves West Branch Valley Presbyterians to this day. In the days of the Fair Play system the area was assigned to Donegal Presbytery, although in 1786 the Carlisle Presbytery was formed out of the western part of Donegal.[39]

Missionary efforts of Presbyterians in the Fair Play territory go all the way back to September of 1746, when the Reverend David Brainerd preached to the Indians of the Great Island.[40] But from that time until the opening of the West Branch Valley to settlement, following the first treaty at Fort Stanwix, nothing concerning the area appears on presbytery records. However, after the treaty one Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Francis Alison, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia and vice-provost of the College of Philadelphia, applied for land above the mouth of Bald Eagle Creek and was granted some 1,500 acres.[41] Alison never came into the region and, in fact, sold his entire purchase to John Fleming in 1773.[42]

Although Fithian was the first "orderly" preacher assigned to the West Branch, the Donegal Presbytery had received an application from "setlers upon the W. Branch of Susquehannah" for ministerial supplies (pastors) in the middle of April, 1772.[43] Apparently these supplies never reached north of present-day Lewisburg.

Presbyterianism, then, was the most significant religious influence in the Fair Play territory. Methodists and Baptists penetrated the region after the Revolution, but that penetration, although marked by some conflict, was not vital to the development of a system of values on this frontier during the period under study.[44] Furthermore, it was not until well into the nineteenth century that other Protestant sects established churches in the West Branch Valley.

The extent of that influence and the nature of this frontier faith were central to the development of Fair Play society. Since there were no organized churches in the area, the family was the key agency of religious instruction and service. This fact, combined with the impact of the Great Awakening, led to the freeing of the individual from the communal covenant, resulting in a secularization of religion which culminated in a kind of "predestined freedom."[45] Consequently, the political implications of American Presbyterianism, which had the largest church membership in colonial Pennsylvania and the strongest affiliation on this frontier, were demonstrated in the democratic radicalism which the frontier spawned. Political maturity, that is to say, independence, was a logical evolution from religious emancipation.[46]

In addition to the political implications of Presbyterianism, respect for education was a significant factor in the value structure of this frontier. The probate records of this period are filled with examples of the great desire to see the "children schooled," and specific educational instructions were often included in the wills.[47] The Presbyterian emphasis upon an educated ministry suggests that this reverence for education may also have been an education for reverence. Morality, education, and political equality and freedom—these were the basic tenets of this frontier faith.

Despite the high value placed upon education, the educational and cultural opportunities on this frontier, as on others, were extremely limited. Aside from home instruction and the occasional visit of an itinerant pastor, formal education was a luxury which these pioneers could not yet afford. However, earlier historians of the West Branch refer to the existence of a "log school" at "Sour's ferry" in 1774.[48] Instruction in the "three R's," enforced with strict discipline, was given here a few months out of the year. A Presbyterian preacher who came into the region and stayed was the first teacher. Educational opportunity was extremely limited but education was highly respected.

Books, too, were a luxury in the West Branch Valley. Although some of the wills of Fair Play settlers indicate the importance of books by mentioning them specifically, there was no common library from which the settlers could draw. However, Fithian's Journal contains a note that he "reviewed the 'Squires Library"; so we do know of at least one library in the territory. Its accessibility for most of these pioneers is, of course, another question.

Frontier art was mainly functional. Its objects were generally the furniture, the tools and weapons, and the implements of the household. Individual expressions of creative talent, these items, whether they were designs on the rifle stock or styles of tableware, were outlets of artistic demonstration. Probably the most prized and picturesque of the frontier folk arts was the making of patchwork quilts.[49] Although we have found no "Fair Play" pattern, we do know that the women of every frontier household sewed, and, because of the demand for bed quilts, every scrap was saved for the quilt-making. Colbert's Journal tells of his dining at one Richard Manning's "with a number of women who were quilting."[50] Quilting parties were social events in the lives of these frontier women, and their objets d'art were fully discussed from patterns and designs down to the intricate techniques of needlecraft. Perhaps the patchwork quilt is the enduring legacy of frontier folk art.

The music of the frontier was primarily vocal—the singing of hymns and, possibly, folk songs. Instrumental music was confined to the fiddle, which one Fair Play settler felt valuable enough to mention in his will.[51] The fiddle also provided the musical background for the rollicking reels and jigs which the Scotch-Irish enjoyed so much.[52] That it was a hard life is certainly true, but it had its happy moments and music was the source of much of that happiness.

Medical practices throughout the frontier were primitive, to say the least, and the West Branch Valley was no exception. A diary of a minister in the Susquehanna Valley around Lancaster provides specific examples of the purges, blood-letting, and herb concoctions which the frontier settler endured in order to survive.[53] In spite of the liberal use of spirited stimulants, ailing frontiersmen often suffered violent reactions both from their illnesses and their cures.

Although the Fair Play settlers of the West Branch Valley doubtless had their own mythology and folklore, most of it was passed on by word of mouth; as a result, little of record remains. The Revolutionary pension claims are filled with tales of the courage and patriotism of the stouthearted men and women of this frontier. A frequent claim is that the measures taken to defend Fort Augusta, after the Great Runaway, urged by Fair Play settlers who had fled to that point, saved the frontier and made independence a reality.

Perhaps the best-known story is that of the "independence elm" on Pine Creek. However, as a recent writer suggests, the story of the "Pine Creek Declaration" may refer merely to the reading of a copy of the national declaration rather than to a separate document drawn up by the inhabitants of this frontier.[54] Mrs. Hamilton's testimony to the event notwithstanding, no copy of the declaration has ever been found.

Another tale concerns the frequent reference to the upper Pine Creek area as "Beulah Land."[55] It seems that a circuit rider singing hymns approached a camp up Pine Creek in the Black Forest. Later, asked to sing, he offered the familiar "Beulah Land." Still later, he met with an accident between Blackwell and Cammal resulting in his death. The entertained were his mourners. Subsequently, they kept his name alive by singing the old hymn to such an extent that the name "Beulah Land" became attached to this region on Pine Creek.

Frontier life afforded little leisure time so that recreation was generally economically oriented or related to some household task. In addition, wrestling, foot-racing, jumping, throwing the tomahawk, and shooting at marks were popular sports.[56] But drinking was probably the most common frontier recreation. It has been said that the Scotch-Irish made more whiskey and drank more of it than any other group.[57] Everyone drank it, even the ministers. In fact, the tavern preceded the church as a social center in the West Branch Valley.[58] Moderation, however, was the rule; excessive drinking was frowned upon.[59]

The value system of Fair Play society can be analyzed in terms of the expressed ideals and beliefs, the conduct, and the material possessions of the pioneers who settled along the West Branch during this period. Journalists, diarists, and pension claimants offer recorded evidence of the ideals and beliefs of these settlers. Their actual behavior gives us some understanding of conduct as value. And finally, the probate records of the Northumberland and Lycoming County courts contribute some documentation concerning the material values of these frontier inhabitants. The result was a society dedicated to the idea of progress and oriented to a future of political and social equality and economic opportunity.

A firm conviction concerning the right of property, that is, the right of individual private ownership, was developed early in the American experience in Virginia and Massachusetts and was reinforced by the experience of successive frontiers, of which the Fair Play territory was one. This is noted particularly in the pride in individual "improvements" and the vigorous assertion of property rights before the Fair Play tribunal and, later, in the regular courts. The large Scotch-Irish population on this and other frontiers characteristically asserted this view. Motivated by a spirit of individualism and the desire for a better way of life, the Fair Play settlers found land ownership basic to the accomplishment of their desired ends.[60]

In conjunction with the policy of private land ownership, the support of squatters' rights tended to emphasize the equality of achievement rather than that of ascription. No man's position was ascribed in the Fair Play territory—he had to earn it. However, as we noted earlier, the pioneer farmer had to obtain the approval of his neighbors in order to settle in the area; but no evidence exists to show that this approval was in any way dependent upon social class or national origin. Furthermore, the annual election of the Fair Play men by the settlers, along with their rotation in office, gave a fair measure of political equality, which was reflected in the decisions of the tribunal affecting land claims.

The hospitality of the Fair Play settlers is particularly stressed by the journalists who traveled in the West Branch Valley.[61] Despite the limitations of rooms and furnishings, the frontier cabin was ever open to the weary traveler, and spirited conversation and beverages were always available to revive him. Good food and fine friends could be found on the frontier. The frontiersman took great pride in his hospitality. Dependent upon outside travelers for news, the latest remedies for ailments, and mail, the inhabitants of the frontier opened the doors of their cabins and their hearts to visitors. Taken into a home, the weary traveler often found himself treated to the best in food and comfort which the limitations of the frontier permitted. Generally sharing the one-room cabin, like any member of the family, he soon learned that he was a welcome guest rather than a stranger in their midst. The loneliness of the frontier stimulated the hospitality of the frontiersman.

Although no "frontier philosophy," as such, existed, the conduct of its inhabitants demonstrated their faith, their patriotism, their spirit of mutual helpfulness, and their temperance. The pioneer was not a philosopher or a thinker, because the rigorous struggle for survival, which was his, did not permit the leisure to develop these traits. He was a doer whose values and beliefs were reflected in his behavior.

The favorable, but not always eager, reception of itinerant pastors, the religious instruction which took place in the home, and the frequent references to "the Creator" in the wills testify to the relevance of faith in influencing the character and behavior of these early Americans. Faith was not only relevant but also a matter of choice, and freedom of worship was practiced on this frontier. Here again, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian influence may have been significant.[62]

Patriotism, with few exceptions, was characteristic of the frontier. But loyalty to what? On this frontier it seems to have meant devotion to an America which developed through New World experience. Like Topsy, "it jus' growed," and no frontiersman wanted it taken away. The enthusiastic reception of the Declaration of Independence by the Fair Play settlers combined with the legend of their own resolutions on the question indicate this patriotic feeling. Despite their political differences with the settled areas, the West Branch pioneers were overwhelmingly loyal to the patriot cause in the American Revolution.[63] Their loyalty, however, was more to the ideal of freedom, or "liberty" as they termed it, than to any organization or state. They believed in and supported the liberty which their own hard work and the circumstances of the frontier had made possible.

Mutual helpfulness was essential to survival in the wilderness and valued among its pioneers. Cabin-raisings, cornhuskings, harvesttime, and quilting parties are just a few examples of this spirit in action. Individualistic in his approach, the frontier farmer realized the need for neighborly support and appreciated its offer.

In spite of the availability of a more-than-adequate supply of spirited liquid refreshment, temperance was both commended and respected on this Pennsylvania frontier. One historian points out that there was probably less drunkenness on the frontier than there was in eastern Pennsylvania, where it was not unusual for young men to get drunk at the taverns or to drink themselves under the table at weddings or at other social functions.[64] Drunkards were few and generally despised on the frontier.[65]

Material values, in a society where possessions, beyond the land itself and the rude cabin built upon it, are limited, are best gleaned from the probate records, which listed the prized possessions of this frontier community. Beds and bedsteads are the items which appear most frequently in the wills of the Fair Play settlers. Occasionally, the ultimate in frontier affluence is reached in the form of a "feather Bed."[66] Beds, or feather beds, and bedsteads were so highly valued as pieces of furniture that they were often passed on to the daughters, serving as a substantial part of their dowries.[67] Surprisingly enough, the widow often received "the room she now sleeps in" or, "her choise of any one room in the house." This is not so amazing, however, when one realizes that additional rooms beyond the original one-room cabin quite logically became highly valued. Pewterware was the silver of the frontier, and, if the probate records are any indication, there was little of it and no silver. Aside from references to furniture such as spinning wheels, bureaus, tables, and chairs, and these not too regularly, it is quite evident that material possessions were few.

What then was the nature of Fair Play society? The frontier, by its very nature, had an egalitarian influence which is readily apparent from this analysis of the "style of life" along the West Branch. A relative political and social equality existed in this land of economic opportunity where faith, patriotism, helpfulness, and self-determination were the outstanding traits. The frontier brought the democratizing role of achievement to the fore in American life, and the Fair Play settlers were an excellent example.


[1] See Chart 1 in Chapter Two.

[2] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[3] Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, XIX, 557-805.

[4] For example, in the County Assessments for 1781, Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, XIX, 468, 484, the individual holdings of resident property owners range from 50 to 1,500 acres, whereas non-residents' range from 200 to 13,000. Only six of thirty residents showed property in excess of 325 acres and four of these had 550 acres or less. The two large landowners were peripheral Fair Play residents. Subsequent tax lists indicate that non-residents eventually sold their property in sections.

[5] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 262.

[6] Fithian: Journal (1775) and Journal of William Colbert (1792-1794). These journals of the first regularly assigned itinerant pastors, Presbyterian and Methodist, to the West Branch Valley, contain numerous references concerning the personal character and morality of the settlers. In the Hamilton Papers of the Wagner Collection of Revolutionary War pension claimants, p. 11, Mrs. Hamilton writes to the Honorable George C. Whiting, Commissioner of Pensions, on Dec. 16, 1858: "I believe they were people of clear sound mind, just, upright, morrall, religious, and friendly to all. I should say they came nearest to keeping the commandment, love your nabour as yourself, then any people I ever lived among."

[7] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 269.

[8] Helen Herritt Russell, "The Documented Story of the Fair Play Men and Their Government," The Northumberland County Historical Society Proceedings and Addresses, XXII (1958), 16-43. Mrs. Russell, whose genealogical studies were the basis of Chart 1 in Chapter Two, notes 24 marriages among the 80 names, 9 of which were intermarriages of different national stocks. Of the 24 marriages, 9 were between Scotch-Irish couples. Intermarriages produced 5 English-Scotch-Irish couples, 2 German-Scotch-Irish, 1 Welsh-Scotch-Irish, and 1 German-English. The intermarriages appear to follow the national stock percentages in the population. This would suggest that the intermarriages were a matter of choice rather than of necessity.

[9] Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, p. 198.

[10] Journal of William Colbert (1792-1794). This entry for Thursday, Sept. 5, 1793, is from a typescript belonging to Dr. Charles F. Berkheimer, of Williamsport. The original is in Chicago at the Garrett Biblical Seminary.

[11] Here again, Fithian, Colbert, and Mr. Davy all mention the friendly reception which was theirs on this frontier. Davy, in an entry for Oct. 10, 1794, p. 265, says, "In the Winter Sleighs are in general use on the Rivers & on Land & it is time of Visiting & Jollity throughout the Country."

[12] Journal of William Colbert, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 1792. Here the Reverend Colbert refers to the existence of a class in religion among the group of Presbyterians, although the prospects appear none too favorable. In fact, he says, "I had no desire to meet the class, so disordered are they, therefore omitted it." Quarterly meetings of Methodists were also held in the West Branch Valley, as Colbert notes in his journal for Saturday, Sept. 15, 1792, and Saturday, Sept. 7, 1793. In 1792, Colbert remarks that "Our Quarterly Meeting began at Joshua White's today." The following year he wrote that "brother Paynter and I have to hold a Quarterly meeting at Ammariah Sutton's at Lycommon." Each of these instances indicates the presence of some sort of voluntary religious association. However, it must be recalled that Fithian mentioned no such classes or meetings extant during his visit in July of 1775.

[13] Fithian: Journal, pp. 80-81.

[14] Journal of William Colbert, Thursday, Oct. 17, 1793, and Saturday, Aug. 18, 1792.

[15] Ibid., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 1793.

[16] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[17] Muncy Historical Society, Wagner Collection, Hamilton Papers, p. 10.

[18] Ibid.

[19] See the Appearance Dockets Commencing in 1772 for Northumberland County and 1795 for Lycoming County.

[20] Journal of William Colbert, Monday, June 18, 1792.

[21] Ibid., Saturday, Aug. 4, 1792: "Calvinist must certainly be the most damnable doctrine upon the face of the globe." Sunday, July 29, 1792: "Here for telling the people they must live without sin, I so offended a Presbyterian, that he got up, called his wife and away he went." Sunday July 22, 1792: "... in the afternoon for the first time heard a Presbyterian at Pine Creek.... He is an able speaker but could not, but, Calvinistic like speak against sinless perfection." Monday, Aug. 20, 1792: "... rode to John Hamilton's in the afternoon. Here the unhappy souls [Presbyterian Fair Play settlers] that were joined together in society, I fear are going to ruin." Thursday, Oct. 17, 1793: "I went to John Hamilton's on the Bald Eagle Creek spoke a few words to a few people: I do not think that is worth the preachers while to stop here."

[22] F. B. Everett, "Early Presbyterianism along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River," Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, XII (1927), 481. According to the Reverend Mr. Everett, whose article also appeared in the Montgomery Mirror for Oct. 27, 1926, the Scotch-Irish, with the Anglicans, were the dogmatists of Pennsylvania. The Quakers and Pietistic German sects were anti-dogmatic. Dogmatically adhering to his catechisms, the Scotch-Irishman "resented the aspersions cast upon dogma and creed." The frontier gave him freedom from the Quakers who still considered Presbyterians as those "who had burnt a Quaker in New England from the cart's tail, and had murdered other Quakers."

[23] "Mr. Davy's Diary," p. 259.

[24] Thomas J. Wertenbaker, The First Americans, 1607-1690 (New York, 1927). Wertenbaker's first chapter, "A New World Makes New Men," develops this thesis generally for the American colonial experience, and, as Turner said, those first colonies were the first frontier.

[25] Clark, "Pioneer Life in the New Purchase," pp. 28, 63. Clark notes that indentured servitude appeared in Muncy, where Samuel Wallis' great holdings made such service feasible. He also mentions Wallis' ownership of slaves, verified by the Quarter Session Docket of 1778. Wallis freed two Negro slaves, Zell and Chloe, posting a L30 bond that they would not become a charge on the township.

[26] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 262. See also Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, pp. 180-200.

[27] These "fringe area" participants in Fair Play society actually resided, for the most part, in Provincial territory and hence enjoyed greater stability and more land.

[28] Calhoun, A Social History of the American Family, I, 207.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 271. Leyburn points out that since the Scotch-Irish were never a "minority," in the sense that their values differed radically from the norms of their areas of settlement, they never suffered the normlessness which Durkheim calls anomie—the absence of clear standards to follow. As Leyburn states it,

Anomie was an experience unknown to the Scotch-Irishman, for he moved immediately upon arrival to a region where there was neither a settlement nor an established culture. He held land, knew independence, had manifold responsibilities from the very outset. He spoke the language of his neighbors to the East through whose communities he had passed on his way to the frontier. Their institutions and standards differed at only minor points from his own. The Scotch-Irish were not, in short, a "minority group" and needed no Immigrant Aid society to tide them over a period of maladjustment so that they might become assimilated in the American melting pot.

This, however, is not to suggest that minorities are necessarily anomic. The Jews, for example, were always a cultural minority in Europe, yet they adhered intensely to their own cultural norms.

[31] Muncy Historical Society, Wagner Collection, Hamilton Papers, p. 10.

[32] J. E. Wright and Doris S. Corbett, Pioneer Life in Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, 1940), p. 142.

[33] Ibid. The existence of these "praying societies" is further substantiated in Colbert's Journal. During these services, lay persons gave exhortations or assisted Colbert in some fashion.

[34] Fithian: Journal, p. 76.

[35] Robert S. Cocks, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Evangelism, The History of Northumberland Presbytery 1811-1961 (n. p., 1961), p. 2.

[36] Fithian: Journal, pp. 80-81.

[37] Joseph Stevens, History of the Presbytery of Northumberland, from Its Organization, in 1811, to May 1888 (Williamsport, 1888), p. 38.

[38] Ibid., p. 18.

[39] Cocks, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Evangelism, p. 2.

[40] Guy S. Klett, "Scotch-Irish Presbyterian Pioneering Along the Susquehanna River," Pennsylvania History, XX (1953), p. 173.

[41] Ibid., p. 174.

[42] Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, p. 520.

[43] Klett, "Scotch-Irish Presbyterian Pioneering," p. 175.

[44] Journal of William Colbert, Monday, June 18, 1792; and Robert Berger, "The Story of Baptist Beginnings in Lycoming County," Now and Then, XII (1960), 274-280. According to the Reverend Robert Berger, of Hughesville, a few Baptist settlers came into Lycoming County from New Jersey, but were soon driven out by the Indians. Apparently, the Philadelphia Baptist Association sent missionaries to the area in 1775 and 1778. However, not until the association commissioned Elders Patton, Clingan, and Vaughn in 1792 did any extensive Baptist preaching take place in this region. They were sent out for three months on the Juniata and the West Branch. The Loyalsock Baptist Church, established in 1822, is the first church.

[45] Dietmar Rothermund, The Layman's Progress: Religious and Political Experience in Colonial Pennsylvania 1740-1770 (Philadelphia, 1961), p. 142. As Rothermund describes it, "The Pilgrim's progress had turned into the layman's emancipation, and finally into the citizen's revolution" (p. 137). He calls "the political maturity which followed the era of religious emancipation ... America's real revolutionary heritage" (p. 138).

[46] Ibid., p. 137. It must first be recognized that American Presbyterianism differed from that of Scotland particularly with regard to local autonomy. The Presbyterian Church, like the United States under the Constitution of 1787, was federal in its governmental structure, and the autonomy of the local religious institutions was later carried into politics. Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 313, emphasizes the fact that the Scotch-Irishman's church had accustomed him to belief in government by the consent of the governed, in representative and republican institutions. The relationship between the church covenant and the social compact is quite direct. If men can bind themselves together to form a church, then it seems quite logical that they can bind themselves together to form a government. Fair Play democracy was simply political Presbyterianism. Its impact has been noted by a number of historians. Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, p. 135, claims that "The actual means by which Pennsylvania was transformed from a proprietary province into an American commonwealth was the new political organization developed by the Scotch-Irish in alliance with the eastern radical leaders of the continental Revolutionary movement. This extra-legal organization, consisting of the committee of safety, the provincial and county committees of correspondence, and the provincial conventions, supplanted the regular provincial government by absorbing its functions." Becker, Beginning of the American People, p. 180, calls the Scotch-Irish a people "whose religion confirmed them in a democratic habit of mind."

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