The Fair Play Settlers of the West Branch Valley, 1769-1784 - A Study of Frontier Ethnography
by George D. Wolf
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[47] Lycoming County Courthouse, Will Book #1, George Quigley's Will, p. 69.

[48] Maynard, Historical View of Clinton County, p. 208.

[49] Carrie A. Hall and Rose G. Kretsinger, The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America (New York, 1935), p. 27.

[50] Journal of William Colbert, Thursday, Sept. 5, 1793.

[51] Lycoming County Courthouse, Will Book #1, William Chatham's Will, p. 177. Chatham's bequest is "To Robert Devling My Fidel."

[52] Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, p. 196.

[53] Rev. John Cuthbertson's Diary (1716-1791), microfilm transcript, 2 rolls, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg. An example, found on p. 252, is this "famous American Receipt for the Rheumatism. Take of garlic two cloves, of gum ammoniac, one drachm; blend them by bruising together. Make them into two or three bolus's with fair water and swallow one at night and the other in the morning. Drink strong sassafras tea while using these. It banishes also contractions of the joints. 100 pounds been given for this."

[54] Rebecca F. Gross, "Postscript to the Week," Lock Haven Express, Aug. 3, 1963, p. 4.

[55] Eugene P. Bertin, "Primary Streams of Lycoming County," Now and Then, VIII (1947), 257-258.

[56] Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, p. 193.

[57] Ibid., p. 197.

[58] "Eleanor Coldren's Deposition," pp. 220-222. Mrs. Coldren refers to a tavern, just west of Chatham's Run, in the spring of 1775. The first church appeared in 1792.

[59] "Diary of the Unknown Traveler," Now and Then, X (1954), 307. The diarist tells of a tavernkeeper who refused a man a pint of wine because "he had had enough" (Thursday, July 24, 1794).

[60] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, pp. 148-150. Leyburn suggests, and the Fair Play settlers demonstrate, that Ulster and America were similar experiences. He says (p. 148) that the Scotch-Irish "lived on land in both regions often forcibly taken from the natives. The confiscation itself was declared legal by the authorities, and the actual settlement was made in the conviction that the land was now rightfully theirs. Might makes right—at least in the matter of life and land ownership."

[61] Fithian: Journal, the Journal of William Colbert, and "Mr. Davy's Diary" all refer to the hospitality of the people of this frontier. For example, Fithian speaks of his hosts as "sociable, kind"; while Colbert constantly mentions the "liberty" which he enjoyed in the various homes which he visited.

[62] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, pp. 146-147. Leyburn suggests that belief in the superiority of the Presbyterian church to any king justifies revolt; if one may, others may, leading to anarchy. Thus freedom of worship for a minority allied itself in America with liberty of worship for all. The right of revolution, as it was acted upon in America, was also implied.

[63] Loyalists in the West Branch Valley suffered the usual privations as this excerpt from the "Diary of the Unknown Traveler," p. 310, indicates: "Thursday, July 24, 1794.... Mr. Witteker and his family are of the people called Quakers but was turned out of the society during the time of war for paing the money called substitute [relief from the draft]* money to the Congress agents. M[r]. W's case is really hard. He suffered as above by his friends for aiding Congress and his estate was conviscated [sic] by the state for being a loyalist." [*Phrase bracketed in quotation.]

[64] Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, pp. 197-198.

[65] Ibid., p. 198. An example of this attitude is found in this entry in the "Diary of the Unknown Traveler," p. 310: "This afternoon 24 July [1794] a person with two horses, one he rode, the other lead, called at Wittekers for a pint of wine, but on account of him being intoxicated before Mr. W. told him he had had enough & would not let him have any. Where could we find so disinterested a tavernkeeper in England? In England they never refuse as long as they pay, but here the man had the money ready if they would let him have the wine."

[66] This conclusion was reached after the reading of some three hundred wills in the probate records of Northumberland and Lycoming counties. This particular reference is from James Caldwell's will, Nov. 20, 1815, located in Will Book #1, p. 108, Lycoming County Courthouse.

[67] Clark, "Pioneer Life in the New Purchase," p. 22. Beds and feather beds seem to have been status symbols of a sort often willed to the wife or included as a dowry.


Leadership and the Problems of the Frontier

Any analysis of democracy in the Fair Play territory must consider the question of leadership and the particular problems of that frontier. The number of leaders and their roles, the marks of leadership, and the circumstances which brought certain men to the fore must all be considered. Was there some correlation between property-holdings, or national origin, and leadership? Were there certain offices conducive to the exercise of leadership? The subject of leadership entails inquiry into each of these areas.

Unfortunately, only one biographical study of any Fair Play leader has ever been attempted, that of Henry Antes.[1] As a result, the patterns of leadership must be gleaned from court records, tax lists, lists of public officials, and petitions from the settlers of this frontier. Consequently, what follows gives us some general understanding of the nature of leadership but offers little in the way of insight into the personalities of the leaders.

Using the Curti study as an example, certain objective criteria have been set up in analyzing leadership in the West Branch Valley.[2] Obviously, some leaders were more important than others. Their influence extended beyond the limits of the Fair Play territory. These leaders, provided that they stood out in respect to at least three of the four criteria established, have been categorized as regional leaders. These four criteria have been used in this study to determine regional leadership: (1) the holding of political office, (2) the ownership of better-than-average property holdings, (3) the operation of frontier forts, and (4) the holding of military rank of some significance.[3]

Of these criteria, office holding appears to be the most important. Thus, regional leaders were generally re-elected to public office, or held more than one such office. Furthermore, it will be noted that these offices tended to be with the established governments of the State and county. Since some leaders never held any political office, another classification seemed necessary. Consequently, the role of local leadership was also classified.

The influence of some men seems to have been strictly confined to the Fair Play territory, either by virtue of their election to some local office or by their prominence in some other phase of community life. As a result, local leaders have been considered as (1) those who held at least two local offices, or (2) those who exercised identifiable community leadership in a non-political context.

After an extensive examination of the lists of public officials for Northumberland County, the tax lists for the same period, the records of the Fair Play men and the Committee of Safety, the accounts of the frontier forts in the region, and the military records of these settlers, it becomes evident that only three men can be considered as regional leaders and not more than seven or eight as local leaders.[4] Henry Antes, Robert Fleming, and Frederick Antes are the regional leaders; and Alexander Hamilton, John Fleming, James Crawford, John Walker, Thomas Hughes, Cookson Long, William Reed, and Samuel Horn are the local leaders. Obviously, the listings are too limited to offer any valid quantitative analysis.

Henry Antes is undoubtedly the single most outstanding leader in the entire Fair Play country. Judge of the Court of Quarter Sessions, sheriff, justice of the peace, Fair Play spokesman, captain (later colonel) of Associators and commander of Fort Antes, miller and property owner, personal friend of John Dickinson and other Provincial leaders, Henry Antes was the top figure in civic, economic, military, and social affairs along the West Branch. Influential within and without the Fair Play territory, Henry Antes was truly the major leader in the valley.

The Antes family had long played a significant role in the history of the Province of Pennsylvania. As MacMinn relates, Henry's father, Henry, Sr., had been "associated with the most prominent men of his time in movements for the public good."[5] A Moravian, the elder Antes had assisted Count Zinzendorf in his missionary efforts, aided Whitefield in his philanthropic endeavors, worked with Henry Muhlenberg in educating the German town community, and served with a marked impartiality as a justice of the peace.[6] From such stock came the necessary leadership for the Fair Play settlers of the West Branch frontier.

Born near Pottstown in Montgomery County in 1736, young Henry may have learned of frontier opportunity from visitors to his father's inn, such as Zinzendorf and Spangenburg, who had traveled along the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Consequently, joined by his brother William, he signed an article of agreement on September 29, 1773, for the purchase of land in the West Branch Valley.[7] When another brother, Frederick, obtained property in the area later in that same decade, the Antes brothers, particularly Henry and Frederick, became the dominant political, economic, and social influence in the territory. Frederick, however, was more of an absentee leader since he never actually resided in the Fair Play territory.

Although the combined holdings of the Antes brothers constituted only a little less than 700 acres, their gristmill, the first in the region, became the meeting place for the area settlers, providing a forum for the usual discussions of politics and prices.[8] From Lycoming Creek on the east to Pine Creek and the Great Island on the west, the frontier farmers brought their grain to the Antes mill, on the south side of the Susquehanna River opposite present Jersey Shore. While the milling went on, the men analyzed their common problems and debated the future of this pioneer land. If there was a center for the dissemination of news in the West Branch Valley, it was the Antes mill and fort, which was soon constructed on the property. Located in almost the center of the Fair Play territory (although actually across the river from it), where men met of necessity, and having had a father who had exerted influence and exercised leadership in Philadelphia County, the Antes brothers were well prepared to lead the West Branch pioneers.

With their gristmill giving Henry and Frederick a decided economic edge, they soon became involved in the politics of the Fair Play territory, Northumberland County, and the Province of Pennsylvania. Henry became primarily a local and county leader, while his brother concentrated on county and Provincial and, later, State affairs. Both served as county judges—Henry, appointed in 1775, and Frederick, elected in 1784—which suggests judicial responsibility as the key to assuming major leadership, since Robert Fleming took Frederick's judicial post when he resigned to take a seat in the General Assembly.[9]

By the summer of 1775, when Philip Vickers Fithian first included the West Branch in his itinerary—the valley by then supported some 100 families—Henry Antes had already distinguished himself as a public servant. He, along with five others, had been commissioned by the county court to lay out a road from Fort Augusta to the mouth of Bald Eagle Creek;[10] he had served as a spokesman for the Fair Play men in a land title dispute;[11] he had been made a justice of the peace;[12] and he had been appointed as a judge of the Court of Quarter Sessions.[13] This was to be only the beginning, for in 1775, when the Associators were organized, Henry Antes was made captain of company eight, embodying the Nippenose and Pine Creek settlers.[14] But even this is not the complete picture, for when the settlers returned to the region in the eighties, following the Great Runaway of 1778, Antes became sheriff, the chief law enforcement officer of Northumberland County.[15] The popular miller had become the popular leader, a popularity enhanced by his interpretation of the sheriff's role, an interpretation which occasionally brought him into conflict with the State's leaders.[16]

The leadership of the Antes brothers is further accentuated by the activities of Frederick Antes. Between 1776 and 1784 he was a delegate to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, justice of the peace, president judge of the county courts, county treasurer, commissioner of purchase for Northumberland County, a representative in the General Assembly, and a colonel of militia.[17] With Henry on the West Branch and Frederick frequently in Philadelphia, the Antes family had a constant finger on the pulse of Pennsylvania politics. Official duties, plus the strategic location of the Antes fort and mill, made Frederick and Henry Antes the most influential persons in the West Branch Valley during the operation of the Fair Play system. Eminently qualified by numerous public responsibilities, the Antes brothers were major leaders of the Fair Play settlers.

Robert Fleming, the third regional leader in the territory, also served as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the county, although that service began in March, 1785, after the Fair Play territory was acquired by the State of Pennsylvania in the second Stanwix Treaty of 1784.[18] He became a justice of the peace at the same time.[19] Prior to his judicial obligations, Fleming had been a member of the county Committee of Safety, a township overseer, a representative in the General Assembly, a second lieutenant of Associators, and possibly a Fair Play man.[20] During the Revolution, he was primarily concerned with the area around the Great Island, serving at Reed's Fort (present Lock Haven) and on the Fleming estate, which some referred to as Fort Fleming. Robert had a brother, John, with whom Fithian stayed during his brief sojourn in the territory. Their combined holdings, the largest in the vicinity, ran to almost 3,000 acres, of which 1,250 acres were Robert's.[21]

Certain conclusions can be drawn from these data regarding the regional leaders of the Fair Play territory. Better than average property holdings, extensive in the case of Robert Fleming; judicial responsibility, which was true of all three men; primary authority in frontier forts (the Antes brothers owned and commanded Antes Fort, and the Flemings operated their own stockade and commanded Fort Reed); and military rank ranging from lieutenant of Associators to colonel of militia: these characteristics signified major leadership in the West Branch Valley among the Fair Play settlers. Coincidentally, it can be noted that two of the three regional leaders, having served in the State legislature, had influence which reached to the State House in Philadelphia. Obviously, these men were known outside of the limited environs of the Fair Play territory. In fact, both Henry and Frederick Antes enjoyed a more than passing acquaintance with Benjamin Franklin and John Dickinson, two of the giants of this period of Pennsylvania's history.[22]

A further observation which can be made concerning leadership relates to the question of national origin. Although the Fair Play territory has often been referred to as "Scotch-Irish country," the German Antes brothers performed the outstanding leadership roles on this frontier. Also, the specific geographic location of our regional leaders provides a final note of interest. All three of them, Henry and Frederick Antes, and Robert Fleming, actually resided outside the limits of the Fair Play territory. They were on the geographic fringe but at the leadership core. Their close proximity to the Fair Play territory, separated from it only by the Susquehanna River, in addition to their contacts with and positions in established government, gave these men an obvious political eminence. The forts located in both places and the Anteses' gristmill gave both the Flemings and the Anteses opportunity for leadership.

Local leaders generally lived within the Fair Play territory, had average property holdings, and served on either the Fair Play tribunal or the township Committee of Safety. There are, of course, exceptions to each of these generalizations. The fort operators, Samuel Horn, William Reed, and John Fleming, resided on the Provincial or State side of the Susquehanna River. Furthermore, John Fleming was the largest property owner in the area with some 1,640 acres.[23] And one man, James Crawford, held the highly respected county office of sheriff.[24]

Three of the local leaders, John Fleming, Alexander Hamilton, and James Crawford, stand out from the rest, although for different reasons. John Fleming undoubtedly would have become a major leader had he lived longer—he died in 1777. His extensive property made his home the usual stop for itinerant pastors and other travelers in the valley, as Fithian's Journal attests.[25] It also made him a figure of central significance in economic affairs. Alexander Hamilton was probably "the" local leader. A member of the Committee of Safety and presumably a Fair Play man, he was also the captain of Horn's Fort.[26] He is also the reputed author of the Pine Creek declaration. James Crawford was more noted for military exploits than for civic duties. Prior to his military service, Crawford had represented Northumberland County in the Constitutional Convention of 1776, which framed the State constitution and, later, commissioned him as a major in the Twelfth Pennsylvania Regiment.[27] Deprived of his commission after the Germantown campaign, Major Crawford returned home and was elected county sheriff, an office which he held until succeeded by Henry Antes.[28]

Of the other local leaders, Horn and Reed held only lesser township offices, overseer and supervisor, respectively, in addition to operating frontier forts.[29] Cookson Long, mentioned as a Fair Play man in 1775 in Eleanor Coldren's deposition, later commanded Fort Reed, for a time, as a captain of Associators.[30] The final two local leaders, John Walker and Thomas Hughes, both took turns as Fair Play men and as members of the local Committee of Safety.[31]

In analyzing the local leadership roles which these various settlers filled, additional and pertinent conclusions become apparent. In the first place, the Fair Play men were obviously not the top leaders of the community. Henry Antes may have served as their spokesman in 1775, and it is quite possible that Robert Fleming was a member of the tribunal, but both were more important as county leaders. Secondly, Fair Play men were members of the Committee of Safety, a fact which suggests that their efforts may have been coordinated. Finally, returning to the question of national origin, six of these eight local leaders were either Scots, Scotch-Irish, or Irish. The other two were Germans. No Englishman was a leader, either regional or local, in the Fair Play territory between 1769 and 1784. Perhaps, as Carl Becker suggests, this was due to the fact that neither the German nor the Scotch-Irish immigrant held in his breast any sentiment of loyalty to King George, or much sympathy with the traditions or the leaders of English society.[32]

What were the particular problems of this frontier and how effective were these leaders in meeting them? The question of defense, including the daily task of survival in the wilderness, the right of pre-emption, and the efforts to obtain frontier representation in the assembly: these were the main problems in this pioneer land along the West Branch of the Susquehanna. All were not solved during the period under analysis, but the attempts to solve these and other problems afford us the opportunity to evaluate the leadership in the Fair Play territory.

Doubtless, the most pressing public need on this frontier was protection from the marauding Indians who plagued these pioneers throughout the fifteen years encompassed by this study. Aroused by the British during the Revolution, the Indians of the Six Nations descended from New York into the West Branch Valley to harass and, finally, to drive the Fair Play settlers from their homes. Driven from their homes, the frontiersmen of the West Branch first gathered in the hastily-constructed and poorly-manned forts conveniently scattered along the Susquehanna from Jersey Shore to Lock Haven, but, ultimately, these too had to be evacuated in the Great Runaway in 1778.

The severity of these attacks is evident from this petition from the settlers gathered at Fort Horn, above present McElhattan, pleading for military support in their perilous position:

To the Honourable the Supreame Executive Councill of the Commonwealth of Pennsyllvania, in Lancaster;

Wee, your humble petitioners, the Inhabitance of Bald Eagle Township, on the West Branch of Susquehannah, Northumberland County, &c., &c., humbly Sheweth: that, Wherease, wee are Driven By the Indians from our habitations and obblidged to assemble ourselves together for our Common Defence, have thought mete to acquaint you with our Deplorable situation. Wee have for a month by past, endeavoured to maintain our ground, with the loss of nearly fifty murdered and made Captives, still Expecting relief from Coll. Hunter; but wee are pursuaded that the Gentleman has done for us as mutch as has layd in his power; we are at len[g]th surrounded with great numbers on every side, and unless Our Honourable Councill Does grant us some Assistance wee will Be obblidged to evaquete [sic] this frontier; which will be great encouragement to the enemy, and Bee very injurious to our Common Cause. We, therefore, humbly request that you would grant us as many men as you may Judge suficient to Defend four small Garrisons, and some amunition, and as we are wery ill prowided with arms, we Beg that you would afford us some of them; for particulars we refer to the Bearer, Robert Fleming, Esq'r, and Begs leave to Conclude. Your humble petitioners, as in Duty Bound, shall ever pray.

Sined by us:[33]

This petition was signed by some forty-seven settlers, including John and Robert Fleming, Alexander Hamilton, and Samuel Horn. Unfortunately, the much-needed assistance was not forthcoming, and Colonel Hunter soon sent instructions from Fort Augusta for the evacuation of the valley. This evacuation is, of course, the Great Runaway.[34] It is interesting to note, however, that the bearer of this petition was Robert Fleming, one of the regional leaders of the territory.

Although forced to leave the West Branch Valley, the Fair Play settlers responded to Colonel Hunter's fervent plea to stay at Fort Augusta to help in the defense of this last frontier. Their gallant stand on the West Branch and their earnestly successful support of Fort Augusta, the last frontier outpost in central Pennsylvania, protected the interior, enabled the Continental Congress "to function in safety at a period when its collapse would have meant total disaster to the American cause," and provided a vivid demonstration of what a later president of the United States would call "that last full measure of devotion."[35]

In the fall of 1778, following the earlier alliance with France, the tide of the Revolution began to flow in favor of independence, notwithstanding the fact that the Fair Play territory was now deserted. But for two years previous, when the issue of independence had been in grave doubt, the courageous pioneers of the West Branch stood their ground in tiny garrisons at Fort Antes, Fort Horn, and Fort Reed, resisting the attacking Indians at the insistence of their leaders, that freedom might be preserved. Perhaps it is a little-known story, but the fate of independence was in good hands with the Fair Play settlers of the West Branch Valley, who fought to preserve it.

Towards the end of the Revolution the Fair Play settlers returned to the territory, and a new problem arose, that of title claims or, more particularly, the right of pre-emption. Still outside the bounds of the Commonwealth and organized government, these frontier squatters petitioned the Supreme Council for validation of their land claims.[36] Two petitions, one in August, 1781, and the other in March, 1784, were sent. Their claims were recognized by an act of the General Assembly passed in May, 1785.[37] By this time, the land in question had been opened for settlement by virtue of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. Needless to say, their petitions had been prompted in part by fear of land speculators who were attempting to buy up their lands through the Land Office in Philadelphia. The prominence of local leaders, such as Alexander Hamilton and John Walker, is once again noted in these petitions. These petitions achieved notable results in that the right of pre-emption for the West Branch squatters was recognized by the Commonwealth long before the national government endorsed the principle. Furthermore, the validation of these claims beyond the purchase line of the Stanwix Treaty of 1768 provided the first legal recognition of pre-emption in the State of Pennsylvania.

Unsuccessful in maintaining their homes against the incursive Indians, but successful in regaining them by right of pre-emption, the Fair Play settlers were also vitally concerned with representative democracy. Locally, on the county level, and in the Province and State, these frontiersmen sought to make their wishes known, both to and through their political leaders. How well they achieved these goals was influenced by the number of persons whom they elected to both legal and extra-legal offices at the various political levels.

The Fair Play settlers managed to send two of their associates to the General Assembly in the decade after Lexington and Concord.[38] These two, Robert Fleming and Frederick Antes, constituted a disproportionate representation, when one considers the limited population of the Fair Play community and the general under-representation of the frontier counties at this period. In fact, a few hundred families in and around the West Branch were surprisingly fortunate to have one of their number, Robert Fleming, in the General Assembly when, following a petition from the frontier counties in 1776, a new apportionment created an assembly in which fifty-eight legislators represented Pennsylvania's 300,000 people.[39] However, the elections of both Fleming and Antes came after the new constitution of 1776, in which each county was given six representatives.[40] It can hardly be said that the West Branch Valley lacked adequate representation in the councils of the State.

Furthermore, Frederick Antes was a delegate to that State Constitutional Convention. This not only emphasizes the leadership role of Antes, but also points up the good fortune of the Fair Play settlers in having one of their community participate in the framing of the new State government. Although the Fair Play settlers lived beyond the legal limits of settlement, they were very much involved in its political affairs.

Aside from the General Assembly and the Constitutional Convention, these pioneers of the Northumberland County frontier placed three men on the county bench, one of whom was presiding judge.[41] Fair Play men became justices of fair play in the county courts.

Concerning other county offices, the key position of sheriff was held continuously from 1779 to 1785 by members of the Fair Play community.[42] Here again, it appears that the proper administration of justice could be expected from Fair Play men.

Locally, the rotational system of the Fair Play tribunal and the frequent changes in the composition of the Committee of Safety give rise to the conclusion that political democracy, in the sense of active participation in public office, was truly a characteristic of the Fair Play territory. Nine different men served on the three-man Committee of Safety from February of 1776 to February of 1777, three new members being elected semi-annually. Except for the two or three years following the Great Runaway, the three members of the Fair Play tribunal were elected annually.

In conclusion, then, what can be said regarding the leadership of the Fair Play settlers? Except for the dangers from Indian hostility, which were compounded by the settlers' limited manpower, the leadership was more than adequate, one might say eminently successful, in meeting the needs of the frontier. It enacted law, interpreted it, and saw to it that the law was carried out on every political level with which the West Branch pioneers had contact. In short, it gave them a government of, by, and for themselves. This was real representation by spokesmen of a small community, very different from virtual representation in a distant Parliament, from which their independence had now been declared.


[1] Edwin MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes (Camden, N. J., 1900). This book is a mosaic of primary and secondary sources dealing with the entire area, rather than a standard biographical treatment of its particular subject.

[2] Merle Curti, The Making of an American Community: A Case Study of Democracy in a Frontier County (Stanford, 1959), pp. 417-441. This entire fifteenth chapter is devoted to both a quantitative and qualitative analysis of "leadership."

[3] Wealth, i.e., liquid assets, was not necessarily a criterion on this agrarian frontier, where a man's assets were not easily convertible into cash. Hence, property was the main economic source of value.

[4] The records of the first State and county officers are found in the Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 768-772, and John Blair Linn, Annals of Buffalo Valley (Harrisburg, 1877), pp. 558-563. Some data are also available in Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties.

The tax listings were located in the Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, XIX, 437, 468, 557, and 618-622. Mrs. Russell also collected a listing for the years 1774 to 1800 for Northumberland County. Court records, pension claims, Meginness' Otzinachson (1889) and Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania provided the remaining data.

[5] MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes, p. 19.

[6] Ibid., pp. 20-21. MacMinn also calls the senior Antes the father of the Unity Conferences of Christian Endeavor and presents a copy of a letter written on Dec. 17, 1741, calling for a New Year's Day meeting of Christians in Germantown in 1742 in support of this statement. Of his minor judicial role, MacMinn offers this account published in Christopher Saur's Pensylvanische Berichte for May 16, 1756: "Were such magistrates more numerous, the poor would not have cause to complain and to weep over gross injustices which they have to suffer because persons are respected."

[7] Ibid., p. 248.

[8] Meginness, Otzinachson (1889), p. 484. See also, MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes, p. 324.

[9] MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes, pp. 316, 413; and Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, p. 769.

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

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

[12] Linn, Annals of the Buffalo Valley, p. 95; and Meginness, Otzinachson (1889), p. 473.

[13] MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes, p. 316.

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

[15] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 770.

[16] MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes, pp. 416-420. See also Alex. Patterson to John Dickinson (October 28, 1783) in the Zebulon Butler Papers, Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Patterson, speaking of Antes' failure to arrest Zebulon Butler, said of Antes: "The Sheriff has not done his duty nor do I believe he intends it being. A party man among which I am sorry to see so little principels of humanity or honnor, Men who wish for popularity at the Expense of the Propperty and perhaps blood of their fellow Citizens...."

[17] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 768-772, and MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes, pp. 330, 395, and 413.

[18] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 769.

[19] Ibid., p. 771.

[20] Ibid., pp. 769, 771; Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, pp. 473-474; and Colonial Records, XI, 367.

[21] Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, XIX, 618.

[22] MacMinn, On the Frontier with Colonel Antes, pp. 12 and 420.

[23] Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, XIX, 437.

[24] Colonial Records, XII. 137.

[25] Fithian: Journal, p. 81.

[26] Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, p. 473. The full account of Hamilton's military service is given in the Hamilton Pension Papers in the Wagner Collection, Muncy Historical Society. Hamilton had also been a member of the group commissioned to lay out a road from Bald Eagle Creek to Fort Augusta. Linn, History, p. 472.

[27] Ibid., p. 474, and Meginness, Otzinachson (1889), p. 474.

[28] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 770.

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

[30] Ibid., p. 473.

[31] Ibid.; Yeates, Pennsylvania Reports, I, 498; and Russell, "Signers of the Pine Creek Declaration of Independence," p. 4.

[32] Becker, Beginnings of the American People, p. 180.

[33] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, pp. 217-218. The petition was dated June 21, 1778. The situation had been further complicated by the enlistment the previous summer of many of the able-bodied men to aid Washington in Cambridge, Massachusetts. These men, "early in the service of their Country from the unpurchased land on the West Branch of the River Susquehanna," deprived the valley of its available manpower.

[34] See Chapter Two for a fuller description of the Great Runaway.

[35] Helen Herritt Russell, "The Great Runaway of 1778," The Journal of the Lycoming Historical Society, II, No. 4 (1961), 3-10. This article contains a few additions to an article by the same name by Mrs. Russell published in The Northumberland County Historical Society Proceedings and Addresses, XXIII (1960), 1-16.

[36] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 518-522.

[37] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[38] Robert Fleming and Frederick Antes, as previously noted, had been elected in 1777 and 1784, respectively.

[39] Dunaway, History of Pennsylvania, pp. 176, 196. Of these fifty-eight, twenty-eight came from the frontier counties of York, Berks, Bedford, Cumberland, and Northumberland.

[40] Wallace, Pennsylvania: Seed of a Nation, pp. 105-106.

[41] As previously noted, Henry Antes had been appointed judge of the Court of Quarter Sessions in 1775, and Frederick Antes and Fleming had been elected in 1780 and 1785, respectively. Frederick Antes was president judge.

[42] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 770.


Democracy on the Pennsylvania Frontier

One of the most often used and least understood words in the American lexicon is the term "democracy." In the colonial period, it was seldom used, except in denunciation. However, properly defined, it can help us to evaluate the Fair Play settlers in some understandable context. Etymologically stemming from two Greek words, demos, meaning "the people," and kratos, meaning "authority," democracy means "authority in the people" or, we can say, "self-determination." By self-determination is meant the right of the people to decide their own political, economic, and social institutions.

Self-determination in its basic, or political, context can best be explained through James Bryce's definition of a democracy. Lord Bryce said:

The word Democracy has been used ever since the time of Herodotus to denote that form of government in which the ruling power of a State is legally vested, not in any particular class or classes, but in the members of the community as a whole.[1]

Analyzing the key phrases in Bryce's statement, we can best clarify the meaning of political self-determination.

(1) "The ruling power of a State." Self-determination, as it is employed here, concerns the right of the people of Fair Play society to determine their own political institutions. Fair Play society did not constitute a state, but it was a political community, and in that sense Bryce's definition applies. Living outside the legal limit of settlement of Province and Commonwealth, these people could not obtain legal authority for their own rule, so, following the prevalent theory of the social compact, they formed their own government. The result was the annual election, by the people, of the Fair Play tribunal, the source of final authority in the Fair Play territory.

(2) "Is legally vested." Fair Play society was actually illegal; that is to say, the settlements were made in violation of the laws of the Province. However, the extra-legal government which was formed was created by, and responsive to, the popular will. Since the actual authority for rule was vested in the people, it can be considered as legal for the Fair Play community.

(3) "In the members of the community." The members of the Fair Play community, as previously noted, were not strictly resident within the geographic confines of the Fair Play territory. Communities, it has been said, are total ways of life, complexes Of behavior composed of all the institutions necessary to carry on a complete life, formed into a working whole.[2] Self-determination, as it is used here, suggests that the community as a whole participates in the decision-making process.

(4) "Not in any particular class or classes, but in the members of the community as a whole." Bryce's definition here extends the interpretation of "the members of the community." Obviously, if any particular class or classes were vested with the final political authority, then the people as a whole, that is, the Fair Play community, would not exercise self-determination.

The concept of self-determination, carried to an economic context, suggests that the people of the Fair Play community had the right to determine their own economic institutions. This means that they had the right to choose their own portion of land, subject, of course, to the will of the existing community, and to utilize it according to their own needs and interests. This meant that no undemocratic and feudalistic practices, such as primogeniture and entail, could exist. Granted that this is self-determination rather broadly interpreted in an economic context, the question is whether or not these people had the right to choose their own plot of ground and work it as they saw fit, unhampered by any preordained system of discrimination or restriction.

Socially, the idea of self-determination is applied to evaluate the religious institutions, the class structure, and the value system. The application concerns, once again, the authority of the people to determine their own social patterns. It questions whether or not any Fair Play settler could worship according to the dictates of his own conscience. It evaluates the class structure to ascertain whether or not a superimposed caste system ordered the class structure of Fair Play society, rather than a community-determined system in which choice and opportunity provided flexibility and mobility. And finally, it considers whether or not the values of the Fair Play settlers were inculcated by some internal clique or external force, rather than being developed by the members of the community themselves.

Did democracy exist on this Pennsylvania frontier? Was the Fair Play system marked by real representation and popular control? These questions must be answered before any judgment can be made concerning political democracy in the West Branch Valley.

Was there equality of economic opportunity on this farmers' frontier? Was land available to all who sought it, and on equal terms? These problems need to be considered before we can attach the label "democratic" on the economic life of the Fair Play settlers.

If democracy prizes diversity, as some claim, were the diverse elements of Fair Play society equally recognized?[3] Was the class structure open or closed, mobile or fixed? Did the mixed national stocks enjoy religious freedom? One needs to inquire into each of these areas prior to a final evaluation of Fair Play society.

A useful tool for evaluating political democracy can be found in Ranney and Kendall's Democracy and the American Party System.[4] It suggests the use of popular sovereignty, political equality, popular consultation, and majority rule as criteria for democracy. Accepting these criteria as basic principles of democracy, we can begin to analyze the democratic character of the Fair Play system.

A political system based upon popular sovereignty is one in which the final authority to rule is vested in the people. The question of who the people are is still before us today. In the fullest sense, popular sovereignty means rule by all the people, but in colonial America the "people" was a much more qualified term. It generally signified white, Protestant, adult males who were property owners. In the Fair Play territory, the ruling "people" were "the whole body" of adult male settlers who annually elected their governing tribunal and participated in the decisions of its "court."[5] Lacking an established church, or any church for that matter, and possessing property lying beyond legal limits of settlement, the Fair Play settlers could not have enforced religious or property qualifications for voting, even if they had so desired, and there is no evidence to indicate that they did. Furthermore, the frequency of elections, which were held annually, and the principle of rotating the offices among the settlers tended to emphasize the sovereignty of the people in this part of the West Branch Valley. The right of suffrage, it is true, had not been extended to women, but this was the rule throughout colonial America. Popular sovereignty, in its qualified eighteenth-century sense, was a basic characteristic of the political democracy which existed on this frontier.

Political equality, that is "one man, one vote," was practiced by the pioneers of the West Branch. There was no additional vote given to the large property owners; in fact, as the tax lists indicate, there were no large property owners within the geographic limits of the Fair Play territory. Thus, each man, rather than a small ruling oligarchy, had the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process of the Fair Play community.

In a democratic society, the people must be consulted by the policy makers prior to their exercise of the power of decision. Among the Fair Play settlers this basically democratic principle was vividly demonstrated in the case of disputed land titles, the primary concern of the Fair Play men. In both Eleanor Coldren's deposition in behalf of her deceased husband and in the Huff-Latcha case, it was established that the unanimous consent of the prospective neighbors had to be obtained before a favorable decision was rendered in behalf of the land claimants.[6] The frequency of elections, combined with the ease and regularity of assembly, provided the settlers with the opportunity to become acquainted with the circumstances of their problems. Here again, the paucity of specific data prompts us to some speculation regarding the nature and location of these meetings. However, it must be added, the Hamilton pension papers and the petitions to the Supreme Council in Philadelphia refer specifically to meetings at Fort Horn and Fort Antes.[7] Direct representation based upon popular consultation was a distinct trait of the political democracy in the Fair Play territory.

The fourth principle of political democracy, majority rule, is probably the most controversial and confusing element of the combination. Absolute majority rule, its critics tell us, means majority "tyranny" and minority acquiescence, despite the fact that this fear is not empirically demonstrable.[8] The majority ruled absolutely in the Fair Play territory just as it did in the New England town meeting, and with similar results. However, it never restricted suffrage or public office to particular religious or nationality groups. Scotch-Irish, English, and German settlers participated equally in the political process. However, as we pointed out in the last chapter, the English did not enjoy leadership roles in the community.[9] Whether this was by accident or by design is difficult to ascertain. Perhaps it was just a further demonstration of the absolute rule of the majority with the Scotch-Irish and the Germans combining to form that majority.

The nature of community implies shared interests and the prevailing interest in this frontier community was survival. Necessity undoubtedly caused the English minority to accept the Scotch-Irish and German leadership, because forbearance meant survival. Conversely, the Scotch-Irish and Germans could, and did, support the English in positions of responsibility on the basis of their mutual needs and their desire to maintain the community.[10] Not only physical survival but also economic survival were mutually desirable to Fair Play community members, and the decisions of the court were rendered on the basis of equal justice.[11]

As long as minority feelings are given free expression in an atmosphere of mutual concern, there is little danger of misinterpretation by the majority. Such a climate prevailed in the meetings of the Fair Play settlers and the sessions of the Fair Play men; at least, there is no available evidence to the contrary.

The nature and role of consensus in the Fair Play territory hinged upon what was best for the community. Fundamental agreement was reached, based upon mutual need apparent from open discussion. In the event of conflict, forbearance, which was in the best interest of the community, could be expected.[12] An examination of the appearance dockets of the county courts for Northumberland and Lycoming counties suggests, however, that this consensus did not extend to questions of land titles. Nevertheless, the all-inclusiveness of signatures on petitions to the Supreme Executive Council for protection from the Indians and for the recognition of the right of pre-emption, and the general response of the Fair Play settlers to calls for troops for the Continental Army indicate to some degree the nature and extent of that consensus.[13]

Democracy, that is self-determination, did exist among the Fair Play settlers of this Pennsylvania frontier. There was no outside authority which legislated the affairs of the pioneers of the West Branch. They selected their own representatives, the Fair Play men, and maintained their control over them, a control which was assured both by annual elections and the full participation of the settlers in the decision-making process. The will of the majority prevailed, and that will was expressed through a community consensus reached by the full participation of political equals. It was neither radical nor revolutionary, but it was typical of the American colonial experience. The Fair Play settlers had not "jumped the gun" on independence, although they participated in the movement. They did not rebel against a ruling aristocracy. They simply governed themselves.

Self-determination, as we have already stated, includes the right of the people to decide upon their own economic institutions. This right was asserted on the farmers' frontier of the West Branch. With free land available to those who worked it, provided the neighbors and the Fair Play men approved, economic opportunity was shared by the Scotch-Irish, English, German, Scots, Irish, Welsh, and French settlers.[14] This sharing, in itself, was a demonstration of economic democracy.

The labor system, too, was an affirmation of the democratic ideal. Because free land was available in the Fair Play territory, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude existed in this region, although it was found in immediately adjacent areas.[15] Free labor, family labor to be more exact, was the system employed in this portion of the West Branch Valley. Noticeable, too, was the spirit of cooperation in such enterprises as cabin-raisings, barn-raisings, harvesting, cornhuskings and the like. This mutual helpfulness was characteristic of the frontier and obviated the necessity of any enforced labor system.

Tenancy was occasionally practiced in the Fair Play territory, although it appears that the tenant farmer suffered no feelings of inferiority, if the following case is any example:

... Peter Dewitt ... leased the land in question to William McIlhatton as a Cropper, who took possession of it after Huggins left it: That the Terms of the Lease were that McIlhatton should possess the Land about two or three Years, rendering hold of the Crops to be raised unto Peter Dewitt, who was to find him a Team and farming Utensils: That the Lease was in Writing and Lodged with a certain Daniel Cruger who lived in the Neighborhood at that Time.[16]

Sometime later, McElhattan obtained the lease from Cruger and sold "his right" to William Dunn, claiming that Dewitt had failed to fill his end of the bargain, despite the fact that Eleanor Coldren gave evidence to the contrary. When challenged for selling Dewitt's land, McElhattan responded in a fashion which demonstrates the independent spirit of this lessee. He said "that he only sold his Right to Dunn and if Dunn would be such a fool as to give him forty or fifty pounds for Nothing He McIlhatton would be a greater fool for not taking it—for that Dunn knew what Right he (McIlhatton) had."[17] Obviously, if this case is indicative, and there were others, share-cropping did not induce attitudes of subservience.

Religious freedom, in which Pennsylvania ranked second only to Rhode Island in colonial America, was enjoyed by the frontiersmen of the West Branch. It might, however, be better described as a freedom from religion rather than a freedom of religion. With no system of local taxation and no regular church, there was no establishment of religion. Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that religious qualifications were not applied to prospective landowners, potential voters, or members of the Fair Play community. Religious liberty had been guaranteed to Pennsylvanians in the Charter of Privileges of 1701, and no religious test was required for suffrage in the new State constitution in 1776. Belief in one God and in the inspiration of the Scriptures was required for members of the assembly, but bona fide Fair Play settlers were disqualified on geographic grounds anyhow.[18]

There is no record of religious discrimination among the Fair Play settlers. In addition to the absence of a regular church, this was probably due, in part, to the religious composition of the population. The pioneers of the West Branch were Protestant Christians, and if denominational in their approach, either Presbyterian or Methodist. The friction between Methodists and Presbyterians appears to have been doctrinal rather than political or social.[19]

The comparative economic equality in an area of free land had a democratizing influence on the social class structure. This three-class stratification, composed of property owners distinguished by their morality, other property owners, and tenants, was an open-class system marked by a noticeable degree of mobility. Fair Play settlers who began as tenants could, and did, become property owners.

Since no one in the Fair Play territory could claim more than 300 acres under the Pre-Emption Act of 1785, there was little chance for the development of an aristocratic class.[20] It was a society of achievement in which the race was open to anyone who could acquire land, with the approval of his neighbors and the Fair Play men, and "improve" it. There is no evidence to indicate that the availability of land was restricted because of national origin, religious affiliation, or a previous condition of servitude. This is not to say that the judgments of neighbors may not have been based upon these criteria, but, at least, there is no record of such discrimination. The Fair Play settlers were eighteenth-century souls and romantic egalitarianism was not a characteristic of such persons. The frontier, however, broke "the cake of custom" and the necessities of that experience contributed to the development of democracy as we have defined it.

A recent writer, analyzing the "democracy" of the Scotch-Irish, made his evaluation on the basis of the contemporary French definition of liberty, equality, and fraternity.[21] On this basis, the Scotch-Irish fail; but if we equate democracy with self-determination, the Scotch-Irish and the Fair Play settlers of the West Branch Valley can be seen as thoroughgoing democrats.

The value system of the pioneers on the West Branch of the Susquehanna reflected, at least in part, the democracy of the frontier. The spirit of cooperation and mutual helpfulness was a prime characteristic of this frontier, as it was of others. Cabin-raisings, barn-raisings, and the cooperative enterprises at harvesttime enhanced the spirit of community and brought the settlers together in common efforts, which demonstrated their equality. Individualism could be harnessed for the common good, and such was the case among the Fair Play settlers in the struggle for economic survival.

Faith, patriotism, and temperance were not necessarily democratic, but they also were part of the value system of the Fair Play settlers. In matters of faith, there was a certain "live and let live" philosophy, which had democratic implications. Despite the conflict between Methodists and Presbyterians, the members of the Presbyterian majority made their homes available to Methodist preachers.[22] This demonstrated a willingness at least to hear "the other side." Such an atmosphere is conducive to democracy, if not to conversion. There is little doubt, however, that this receptivity was due in part to the absence of any "regular" church or preacher. Here again, the necessities of the frontier made "democrats" of its occupants.

The most intense patriots are often ethnocentric and chauvinistic. The Fair Play settlers were such patriots, according to one journalist.[23] However, the patriotism of the eighteenth century had not reached the level of concern for all mankind which finds expression today. The pioneers of the West Branch were democrats in an age not yet conditioned to democracy.

Temperance, particularly with regard to the use of spirited beverages, usually implies abstinence, which is certainly not democratic if it is applied in a formally imposed prohibition without any local option. Abstinence by choice, however, is purely a matter of self-determination. But in an area where drinking was a commonly accepted practice, such as the frontier, the term signifies moderation. In the Fair Play territory drinking, but not drunkenness, was condoned. The spirit of the frontier, or the use of it, was not incompatible with democracy.

Frontier values, for the most part then, were democratic in tendency. Noteworthy for their attitude of community cooperation and mutual helpfulness, supported by a faith which could not afford to be exclusive, temperate in their personal habits, particularly in the use of alcohol, the patriots of the Fair Play territory looked to a future filled with promise and opportunity for all the diverse elements of their society. This is the democracy which the frontier nurtured. It flourished in the West Branch Valley.

In summary then, was self-determination the central theme in the Fair Play territory? Did the Fair Play settlers truly determine their own political, economic, and social institutions? The available data suggest that they did.

The democracy of the Fair Play settlers encompassed popular sovereignty, political equality, popular consultation, majority rule, religious freedom, an open class structure, free land, free labor, and a value system whose dominating feature was mutual helpfulness. The democracy of Fair Play was basically the fair play of democracy.

Observable in this atmosphere were the traits of a developing American character, traits which the frontier historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, defined as democratic.[24] These included the composite nationality of a population of mixed national origins; the self-reliance which the new experience of the frontier developed; the independence, both of action and in spirit, which the relative isolation of the environment promoted; a rationalistic, or pragmatic, approach to problems necessitated by circumstances lacking in precedents for solution; and perhaps a growing nationalism, marked by an identification with something larger than the mere Provincial assembly, something existing, but not yet realized, the American nation.

These traits, in conjunction with Turner's thesis, are a major concern of the final chapter. That chapter will provide an evaluation of frontier ethnography as a technique for testing the validity of this interpretation of Turner's thesis on the Fair Play frontier of the West Branch Valley.


[1] Quoted in Austin Ranney and Willmoore Kendall, Democracy and the American Party System (New York, 1956), pp. 23-24.

[2] Don Martindale, American Society (New York, 1960), p. 105.

[3] National Education Association, Educational Policies Commission, The Education of Free Men in American Democracy (Washington, 1941), pp. 25-26.

[4] Pp. 18-39.

[5] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[6] "Eleanor Coldren's Deposition," pp. 220-222; Lycoming County Docket No. 2, Commencing 1797, No. 32; see also, Chapter Two, passim.

[7] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 217; and the Muncy Historical Society, Wagner Collection, Hamilton Papers.

[8] Ranney and Kendall, Democracy and the American Party System, p. 47. The authors argue here that the history of town meetings in America and the Parliamentary system in Great Britain shows hundreds of years without majority tyranny or civil war.

[9] Chapter Six, pp. 78, 84.

[10] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 770. For example, John Chatham, an English miller, was elected coroner in 1782, a minor role to be sure, but he was supported.

[11] Smith, Laws, II, 196-197. In Sweeney vs. Toner, an Englishman, Toner's property right was upheld because his absence was for military service, despite the fact that Sweeney, a Scotch-Irishman, was a majority representative.

[12] Linn, "Indian Land and Its Fair Play Settlers," p. 424. The case cited here, Huff vs. Satcha, saw the use of militia to drive off a landholder whose title had been denied by the Fair Play men.

[13] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 217-218, 417-418, and 518-522. On page 417, fifty-three officers and soldiers are described as "early in the service from the unpurchased land." Thirty-nine petitioners (p. 520) sought pre-emption, a claim repeated over two years later by some fifty-three settlers. The petition to the Supreme Council (p. 217) for protection from the Indians in 1778 prior to the Great Runaway bore forty-seven names.

[14] See Chapter Two for a demographic analysis of the Fair Play settlers.

[15] Clark, "Pioneer Life in the New Purchase," p. 28.

[16] "Eleanor Coldren's Deposition," p. 222.

[17] Ibid.

[18] See Chapter One for the geographic bounds of the Fair Play territory. The Fair Play territory did not come under State jurisdiction until the second Stanwix Treaty in 1784. Regardless, it must be remembered that settlers on the south bank of the Susquehanna actually participated in the political, economic, and social life of the community. The fact that these participants were often community leaders was pointed out in Chapter Six.

[19] See the footnotes in Chapter Five referring to The Journal of William Colbert.

[20] Smith, Laws, II, 195.

[21] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, pp. 311-314.

[22] The Journal of William Colbert. Colbert had been received at Annanias McFaddon's (Aug. 20, 1792, Sept. 4, 1793) and John Hamilton's (July 23, 1792, Aug. 20, 1793), where he both preached and lodged. Both were Presbyterians, and, as noted earlier, Colbert expressed grave doubts concerning his efforts there.

[23] "Diary of the Unknown Traveler," p. 307.

[24] Turner, Frontier and Section, p. 5.


Frontier Ethnography and the Turner Thesis

In the first chapter of his recent study, The Making of an American Community, Merle Curti suggests that "less is to be gained by further analysis of Turner's brilliant and far-ranging but often ambiguous presentations than by patient and careful study of particular frontier areas in the light of the investigator's interpretation of Turner's theory."[1] This study was undertaken with just such a purpose in mind. In addition, it is hoped that this investigation will give some insight into the value of ethnography and its usefulness as an analytic technique in studying the frontier.

By definition, ethnography is "the scientific description of nations or races of men, their customs, habits, and differences."[2] Frontier ethnography is the scientific description of the full institutional pattern of a particular group of people, located specifically on a certain frontier, within a certain period of time. That institutional pattern is described from the analysis of data concerning the political and economic systems, and the social structure, including religion, the family, the value system, social classes, art, music, recreation, mythology, and folklore. Also, as noted in the first two chapters of this study, geographic and demographic data have been analyzed in an attempt to picture the area under observation and the people who inhabited that region. It is believed that these various data present a fuller view of the "way of life" of these people than the earlier politico-military accounts of nineteenth-century historians.

Of course, there are certain limitations in this particular analysis. This study is not meant to be typical of the frontier experience or necessarily representative of frontier communities. However, it would have broader implications if a similar study were made for Greene County in western Pennsylvania, where a group composed mainly of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians also set up a "Fair Play system."[3] Furthermore, it is my interpretation of Turner's thesis which is being tested, not the validity of the thesis.

Despite the fact that the Fair Play settlers and their "system" have been referred to by both Pennsylvania and frontier historians in the twentieth century, neither the settlers nor their system has been studied in depth.[4] Meginness and Linn, the foremost historians of the West Branch, were both nineteenth-century writers, and, unfortunately, twentieth-century scholars have not considered the Fair Play settlers worthy of their study. Biographical studies are limited to the work of Edwin MacMinn on Colonel Antes, completed in 1900. As a result, there has been a definite need for an investigation collating the researches of these earlier historians and based upon the available primary data. This study is an attempt to fill the void.

The seeming paucity of primary source materials is a further complication to the student of Fair Play history. However, letters, journals, diaries, probate records, tax lists, pension claims, and court records offer adequate data to the inquiring historian, although the extra-legal character of the settlement seriously reduced the public record. Nevertheless, the broad scope of ethnography provides the kind of study for which the data supply a rather full picture of life on this frontier. Political, economic, and social patterns are discernible, although no day-by-day account for any extended period has been uncovered.

This ethnographic analysis demonstrates the merits of the "civilization approach" to history. Examining every aspect of a society, it provides more than a mere "battles and leaders" account. The result gives insight into a "style of life" rather than a chronology of highlights. This study has investigated the full institutional structure of the Fair Play frontier, evaluating that structure in terms of a developing democracy, or, at least, of democratic tendencies.

American civilization was a frontier civilization from the outset, and that frontier experience was significant in the development of American democracy. Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, which has probably inspired more historical scholarship than any other American thesis, stated that "the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development."[5] That development took place on successive frontiers stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast over a period of almost three centuries. Turner's second frontier, the Allegheny Mountains, marked the farmers' frontier of the Fair Play settlers of the West Branch Valley.

It was on the frontier, according to Turner, that the "true" traits of American character emerged; its composite nationality, its self-reliant spirit, its independence of thought and action, its nationalism, and its rationalistic approach to the problems of a pioneer existence. The Fair Play settlers, American frontiersmen, suggested some of these traits in their character. Recognizing the data limitations of this study, the evidence indicates some validation of this test of Turner's model. However, it would be presumptuous indeed to conclude that this analysis offers a complete demonstration of the impact of the frontier in the development of traits of character which Turner classified as American.

The composite nationality of the Fair Play settlers is particularly evident from the demographic analysis offered at the beginning of this study.[6] Seven different national stock groups appeared on this frontier: Scotch-Irish, English, German, Scots, Irish, Welsh, and French. Here, indeed, was "the crucible of the frontier," in which settlers were "Americanized, liberated, and fused into a mixed race."[7]

The legendary self-reliance of the frontiersman is not without some basis in fact. The nature of the frontier experience itself was conducive to its development. Its appearance among the Fair Play settlers is implied in various contexts. Politically, it is suggested in the creation of the Fair Play men, the annual governing tribunal, an extra-legal political agency in this extra-Provincial territory. Economically, it is intimated in the image of the frontier farmer tackling the wilderness with rifle and plow and the unbounded determination to make a better life for himself and his family. Socially, the self-reliance of these doughty pioneers is indicated in the continuation of their religious practices and worship, despite the absence of any organized church. Their self reliance is indicated, as well, in the flexibility of a social structure whose main criterion was achievement, a society in which "what" you were was more important than "who" you were. These examples are, of course, only brief glimpses of the elusive trait of self-reliance which Turner considered typical of the frontier.

Independence, or the ability to act independently, was a characteristic frontier trait, according to Turner. The Fair Play settlers presented some contradictions. It is true that they organized their own system of government and the code under which it operated. However, their key leaders lived on the periphery; and the settlers petitioned the Commonwealth government for assistance in the vital questions of defense and pre-emption rights.[8] The Fair Play settlers were generally independent, a condition promoted by the necessities of frontier life; but, obviously, they were not isolated.

It is difficult to assess the nationalizing influence of this particular frontier. In the first place, aside from the Second Continental Congress, there was no national government during most of the Fair Play period. The Articles of Confederation were not ratified until 1781, and Fair Play territory was opened to settlement after the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. Furthermore, the patriotism of the Fair Play settlers seems to reflect an ethnocentric pride in their own territory and an exaggerated interpretation of its significance to the developing nation.[9] Their patriotism was apparently for an ideal, liberty, to which they were devoted, having already enjoyed it in a nation only recently declared, but yet to be recognized. And, for its support, there had been a rush to the colors by these settlers "beyond the purchase line."[10] The "real American Revolution," as John Adams described it, was "in the minds and hearts of the people," and it was "effected before the war Commenced."[11] That revolution had already occurred in the Fair Play territory prior to the firing of "the shot heard round the world" on Lexington green.

The frontier experience had a profound influence on the development of the American philosophy of pragmatism. Turner claimed that it was "to the frontier" that "the American intellect owe[d] its striking characteristics."[12] And the Fair Play settlers showed that

... coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom....[13]

The frontiersman of the West Branch was a free spirit in a free land, a doer rather than a thinker, more concerned with the "hows" than the "whys" of survival. This practical approach to problems can be seen in the homes he built, the tools he made, the clothes he wore, the political and social systems under which he operated, and the set of values by which he was motivated. The development of these characteristic American traits owed much to the frontier and the new experiences which it offered.

This ethnographic analysis of the Fair Play settlers of the West Branch Valley has attempted to present a clearer picture of the "style of life" on this particular frontier and, in so doing, to suggest a further technique for the frontier historian. There are, no doubt, certain defects in this specific study, but the fault lies with the limitations of the data rather than the technique. The scope of this investigation has carried into questions of geography, demography, politics, economics, social systems, and leadership. Unfortunately, the frontier had not yet provided the leisure essential to artistic and aesthetic pursuits. Consequently, these areas were given a limited treatment. Furthermore, the mythology and folklore of this valley offered little of record. However, the breadth of this analysis has furnished evidence of the existence of democracy on this frontier and, thus, support for Turner's thesis, or at least for this interpretation of it.

The geographic analysis has clarified the question of the Tiadaghton, demonstrating that Lycoming Creek, rather than Pine Creek, was the true eastern boundary of the Fair Play territory. The substantial destruction of an erroneous legend has been the main contribution of the geographic part of this study.[14] It is now clear that the Fair Play territory extended from Lycoming Creek, on the north side of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, to the Great Island, just east of Lock Haven. This frontier region was beyond the legal limit of settlement of the Province and the Commonwealth from 1769 to 1784. Hence, within its limits was formed the extra-legal political system known as Fair Play.

The demographic portion of this study has added to the undermining of the frontier myth of the Scotch-Irish. The evidence presented here indicates that it was the frontier, rather than national origin, which affected the behavior of the pioneers of the West Branch Valley. The Fair Play settlers, a mixed population of seven national stock groups, reacted similarly to the common problems of the frontier experience. In one important exception, the Fair Play system itself, there is, however, an apparent contradiction. Since no account of any "fair play system" has turned up in the annals of the Cumberland Valley, the American reservoir of the Scotch-Irish, it seems quite probable that the "system" originated in either Northern Ireland or Scotland, or else on the frontier itself. This probability offers good ground for further study, particularly when the existence of a similar "system" in Greene County, which was found in conjunction with this investigation, is considered.[15] If the Fair Play system originated on the frontier, why did not it also appear on the Virginia and Carolina frontiers where the Scotch-Irish predominated? Regardless, the lack of data corroborating the American origin of the Fair Play system leads to the conclusion that the germ of this political organization was brought to this country by the Scotch-Irish from their cultural heritage, and that those elements were found usable under the frontier conditions of both central and southwestern Pennsylvania. If so, the politics of "fair play" will add to, rather than detract from, the myth of the Scotch-Irish.

This study has also brought forward the first complete account of court records validating the activities of the Fair Play men. Mainly concerned with the adjudication of land questions, this frontier tribunal developed an unwritten code which encompassed the problems of settlement, tenure, and ejectment. Subsequently reviewed in the regular courts of the counties of which the Fair Play territory became a part, these cases provide substantial evidence of the existence of a "system" as well as insight into the manner of its operation. The fairness of the Fair Play system is marked by the fact that none of the decisions of its tribunal was later reversed in the established county courts. Supplemented by the Committee of Safety for Northumberland County and augmented by peripheral leaders, who gave them a voice in the higher councils of the State, the Fair Play men and their government proved adequate to the needs of the settlers, until all were driven off in the Great Runaway of 1778.

Some corroboration for the legendary tale of a "Fair Play Declaration of Independence" was found in the course of this study. Although consisting, in the main, of accounts culled from the records of Revolutionary War pension claimants made some eighty years after the event, the evidence is that of a contemporary.[16] However, the most common objection to this conclusion, that the Fair Play declaration was merely the reading of a copy of Jefferson's Declaration, is unsubstantiated by the archival descriptions.[17] Perhaps the Fair Play declaration is apocryphal, but, lacking valid disclaimers, the Hamilton data offer some basis for a judgment. It is the tentative conclusion of this writer that there was such a declaration on the banks of Pine Creek in July of 1776.

The Fair Play territory was truly "an area of free land" in which a "new order of Americanism" emerged.[18] Individualistic and self-reliant of necessity, the pioneers of this farmers' frontier rationally developed their solution to the problem of survival in the wilderness, a democratic squatter sovereignty. With land readily available and a free labor system to work it, provided that the family was large enough to assure sufficient "hands," these agrarian frontiersmen not only cultivated the soil but also a free society. And their cooperative spirit, despite their mixed national origins, was markedly noticeable at harvesttime. From such spirit are communities formed, and from such communities a democratic society emerges.

This analysis has not only described the geography and demography, the politics and economics of the Fair Play settlers; it has also examined the basis and structure of this society, including the value system which undergirded it. The results have pictured the religious liberty extant in a frontier society isolated from any regular or established church, a liberty of conscience which left each man free to worship according to the dictates of his own faith. This freedom, this right to choose for himself, made the Fair Play settler surprisingly receptive to other groups and their practices, practices which he was free to reject, and often did.[19] This analysis has also pointed up the class structure and its significance in promoting order in a frontier community. And finally, an examination of the value system of these Pennsylvania pioneers has provided an understanding of why they behaved as they did.

The last major aspect of this investigation concerned the nature of leadership. Determined by the people, and thus essentially democratic, it had certain peculiar characteristics. In the first place, the top leaders tended to come from the Fair Play community in its broadest social sense, but not from the Fair Play territory in its narrow geographic sense.[20] Secondly, the political participation of the Fair Play settlers, if office-holding is any criterion, emphasizes the high degree of involvement in terms of the total population.[21] And last, this leadership appeared to be overextended when faced with the problem of defending its own frontier and the new nation which was striving so desperately for independence. Consequently, it was forced to turn to established government for support. This may have been the embryonic beginning of the nationalism which the frontier fostered in later generations.

What then, is the meaning of this particular study, an ethnographic interpretation of Turner's thesis? Turner himself, gave the best argument for ethnography. He said that

... the economist, the political scientist, the psychologist, the sociologist, the geographer, the student of literature, of art, of religion—all the allied laborers in the study of society—have contributions to make to the equipment of the historian. These contributions are partly of material, partly of tools, partly of new points of view, new hypotheses, new suggestions of relations, causes, and emphasis. Each of these special students is in some danger of bias by his particular point of view, by his exposure to see simply the thing in which he is primarily interested, and also by his effort to deduce the universal laws of his separate science. The historian, on the other hand, is exposed to the danger of dealing with the complex and interacting social forces of a period or of a country from some single point of view to which his special training or interest inclines him. If the truth is to be made known, the historian must so far familiarize himself with the work, and equip himself with the training of his sister-subjects that he can at least avail himself of their results and in some reasonable degree master the essential tools of their trade.[22]

Frontier ethnography is just such an effort.

The frontier ethnographer then, because of his interdisciplinary approach, can capture the spirit of pioneer life. And if, as Turner suggested, the frontier explains American development, then frontier ethnography presents an understanding of the American ethos with its ideals of discovery, democracy, and individualism.[23] These ideals characterize "the American spirit and the meaning of America in world history."[24]

The ideal of discovery, "the courageous determination to break new paths," as Turner called it, was abundantly evident in the Fair Play territory of the West Branch Valley.[25] This innovating spirit can be seen in the piercing of the Provincial boundary, despite the restrictive legislation to the contrary, and the establishment of homes in Indian territory.[26] It was also demonstrated in a marvelous adaptability in solving the new problems of the frontier, problems for which the old dogmas were no longer applicable. The new world of the Susquehanna frontier made new men, Americans.

Self-determination, the ideal of democracy as we have defined it, was the cornerstone of Fair Play society. Its particular contribution was the Fair Play "system" with its popularly elected tribunal of Fair Play men. Perhaps this was the proper antecedent of the commission form of local government which came into vogue on the progressive wave of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Regardless, the geographic limitations of the Fair Play territory, the frequency of elections, and the open conduct of meetings tend to substantiate the democratic evaluation which has been made of the politics of this frontier community. Furthermore, as was pointed out in the last chapter, this self-determination was the key characteristic of the economic and social life of these people.[27]

The pioneer ideal of creative and competitive individualism, which Turner considered America's best contribution to history and to progress, was an essential of the frontier experience which became an integral part of the American mythology.[28] The "myth of the happy yeoman," as one historian called it, is still revered in American folklore and respected in American politics, whether it is outmoded or not.[29] The primitive nature of frontier life developed this characteristically American trait and the family, the basic organization of social control, promoted it. It was this promotion, with its antipathy to any outside control, which stimulated the Revolution, creating an American nation from an already existing American character.

The individualism of the West Branch frontier is also apparent in the administration of justice. The Fair Play system emphasized the personality of law, by its very title, rather than the organized machinery of justice.[30] Frontier law was personal and direct, resulting in the unchecked development of the individual, a circumstance which Turner considered the significant product of this frontier democracy.[31] Being personal, though, it had meaning for those affected by it, as an anecdote noted earlier indicated.[32]

Individualism has become somewhat of an anachronism in a mass society, but its obsolescence today is part of the current American tragedy. The buoyant self-confidence which it inspired has made much of the American dream a reality. Legislation, it is true, has taken the place of free lands as the means of preserving democracy, but it will be a hollow triumph if that legislation suppresses this essential trait of the American character, its individualism. No intelligent person today would recommend a return to the laissez-faire individualism of the Social Darwinists of the late nineteenth century, but it must be admitted that a society emphasizing the worth of the individual and dedicated to principles of justice and fair play, the banner under which the frontiersmen of the West Branch operated, has genuine merit.

Whether the historian is analyzing old frontiers or charting new ones, the timeless question remains: does man have the intelligence adequate to secure his own survival? The old frontiers, such as the Fair Play territory of the West Branch of the Susquehanna, were free lands of opportunity for a better life, and the history of the westward movement of the American people gives ample proof of their conquest. But the new frontiers are not so clearly marked or so easily conquered. Perhaps a re-examination of the history of the old frontiers can give increased meaning to the problems of the new. This investigation was attempted, in part, to serve such a purpose.

The intelligent solution to the problem of survival for the pioneers of the West Branch Valley was fair play. The ethnography of the Fair Play settlers is the record of the democratic development of an American community under the impact of the new experience of the frontier.


[1] P. 2.

[2] The Oxford Universal Dictionary (Oxford, 1955), p. 637.

[3] Solon and Elizabeth Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, 1939), pp. 431 and 451.

[4] See, for example, Dunaway, A History of Pennsylvania, p. 146, and The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, pp. 159-160; also, Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, p. 306.

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

[6] See Chapter Two.

[7] Quoted by Ray Allen Billington in his introduction to Turner, Frontier and Section, p. 5.

[8] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 217-218, 518-522.

[9] This pride was notably demonstrated in the insistence of the Fair Play settlers that a stand be made at Fort Augusta following the Great Runaway. Previous to this, they had pleaded for support for "our Common Cause" in the defense of this frontier. Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, III, 217.

[10] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, X, 27-31, 417, and Fifth Series, II, 29-35.

[11] Quoted in Clinton Rossiter, The First American Revolution (New York, 1956), pp. 4-5.

[12] Turner, The Frontier in American History, p. 37.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See also, George D. Wolf, "The Tiadaghton Question," The Lock Haven Review, Series I, No. 5 (1963), 61-71.

[15] Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania, pp. 431, 451.

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

[17] Colonial Records, X, 634-635. The following resolution of Congress was entered in the minutes of the Council of Safety on July 5, 1776:

Resolved, That Copies of the Declaration be sent to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Councils of Safety, and to the several Commanding Officers of the Continental Troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the Head of the Army.

By order of Congress. sign'd, JOHN HANCOCK, Presid't.

Provision was also made for the reading in Philadelphia at 12 noon on July 8, and letters were sent to Bucks, Chester, Northampton, Lancaster, and Berks counties with copies of the Declaration to be posted on Monday the 8th where elections for delegates were to be held. For some reason, the frontier counties of Bedford, Cumberland, Westmoreland, York, and Northumberland, contiguous to the Fair Play territory, were omitted from these instructions.

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

[19] The Journal of William Colbert gives frequent testimony to this statement, as indicated in Chapter Five.

[20] See the map in Chapter One for the geographic boundaries of the Fair Play territory. Note the location of the top leaders, Henry and Frederick Antes and Robert Fleming, in Chapter Six.

[21] The number of different office-holders runs to better than ten per cent of the population.

[22] Turner, The Frontier in American History, pp. 333-334.

[23] Ibid., pp. 306-307.

[24] Ibid., p. 306.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Meginness, Otzinachson (1857), pp. 163-164.

[27] See Chapter Seven for an evaluation of "Democracy on the Pennsylvania Frontier."

[28] Turner, The Frontier in American History, p. 307.

[29] Richard Hofstadter, "The Myth of the Happy Yeoman," American Heritage, VII, No. 3 (April, 1956), 43-53.

[30] The term "the personality of the law" is Turner's and emphasizes the men who carried out the law, rather than its structure. The fact that the ruling tribunal of the West Branch Valley was referred to as the "Fair Play men" rather than the "tribunal" illustrates this contention.

[31] Turner, The Frontier in American History, pp. 253-254.

[32] See Chapter Three, n. 24.



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