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History of York County Pennsylvania From the Earliest Time to the Present online

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pursuit. Man, soon after his creation,
learned to till the soil and raise crops. The
art of agriculture and ci<vilization have come
down to us through the ages hand in hand,
and their combined influences have helped
to bless mankind. Even though agriculture

is yet conservative, it is the most productive
of all industries and the most healthful of
all pursuits. It will survive all social or
political revolutions, and nothing but the ex-
tinction of the human race would, discon-
tinue it. The methods of agriculture fre-
quently have told the social and political
history of nations in ancient and mediaeval
times, but their growth, progress and develop-
ment have not been parallel with that of civ-
ilization. In the infancy of civilization it
was the most advanced of the industrial arts,
but it did not grow as most other arts did.
The human race has advanced enormously
during the past 4,0U0 years in general
culture, and some of the arts have, from
rude beginnings, passed to the highest de-
gi-ee of development. Yet agriculture as a
whole has not made the same commensurate
progress. In foreign countries the system of
land tenures, lack of political li))erty, and the
social condition of those who tilled the soil,
have been the main causes. The enlightened
condition of Egypt at an early day gave
direction and tone to the agriculture of the
Mediterranean region, and hence that coun-
try was the cradle of civilization. As an
abstract principle, in early times, labor was
glorified. Religious rites were performed by
the Greeks and Romans in the special honor
of agriculture, but the laborer himself was
socially despised. The feudal subjects of
the British Isles and central Europe; the
unlettered peasantry of France, and the ten-
ure-bound serf of Russia, all tillers of the
soil, were an inferior people, kept in a de-
spised subjection. For centuries the agricul-
ture of the world was so conducted that
social and political repression seriously
alfected the vocation. The Elizabethian age
of English history and the discovery and set-
tlement of America gave a new era to it, and
it then began to develop. But invention and
improvements necessary were not yet fos-
tered. Even the present great staples, In-
dian corn and potatoes, native plants in
America, were slowly and caiitiously intro-
puced into Europe. It is wonderful to re-
late, that not until the early part of the pres-
ent century did they gain sufficient foot-hold
in Europe to be considered much of a pro-
duet of cultivation, with the exception of
maize in Portugal and potatoes in Ireland.
Indian corn spread in cultivation more rap-
idly at first, among the savages of Africa, and
the half-barbarous peoples of Asia, than
among the enlightened -countries of Europe.
The peasantry of America to-day, as a class,
are the most honorable of all her people; but
it was not so across the Atlantic during the



centuries of the past. As late as 1824, an
eminent writer of England, showed by statis-
tics, that the number of paupers and the
amount of vice and crime were greater in
that country among the farm laboring popu-
lation than among the manufacturing popu
lation. A "villain" in the middle ages, was
merely a feudal tenant, and Blackstone de
scribes in detail two kinds of them. A
"heathen" was a peasant who lived on the
heaths. The word "peasant" now has an
enlightened signification, but originally of
low social value. A "boor" was a plowman,
and a "churl" a tenant-at-will. "Incivility"
meant the awkward movements of the unpol-
ished countryman. It was because the politi-
cal and social conditions were the same down
through the centuries, that the art of agri-
culture did not progress, and it was partly
the intention of this article, therefore, to
show briefly that it was America that taught
the world the art and science of agriculture;
and in no way more successfully, than by giv-
ing to the agricultural classes the political and
social standing which they so richly deserve.
From that .source indeed have come nearly all
the great men ot our country. By that
means, we have taught our mother country
and all Europe a lesson which they cannot fail
to recognize. From the farms of the United
States have come fifteen of our presidents;
from the farms of Pennsylvania, three-fourths
of her governors have grown to manhood; and
from the farms of York County have come
most of the men who have been prominent in
managing her material and political interests.


The progress of agriculture in York County
is similar to that of the state and country in
general, and, like the divisions of our coun-
try's history, may be separated into epochs or

The first period was during our colonial
times, and may appropriately be termed the
era of experiment.

The second period begins with the Declara-
tion of Independence, and extends over a pe-
riod of aboat fifty years, to the time when the
cast-iron plow came into regular use. It was
the time of great awakening.

The third period, of about thirty years,
began about 1825 with the complete intro-
duction of the east-iron plow, and extended to
the time when the reaper came into common
use, about 1855. During this period, thrash-
ing machines, which had already been in-
vented long before, became almost universally
used. Railroads were built, commercial
fertilizers came into use, and there was

general advancement in agricultural interests.
The fourth period began when the reaper
became common to the present time — in^
eludes the steam thrasher, improved harvesters
and reapers, etc.


In York County, agriculture began with
the Indians — with the squaw who tilled the
soil in a primitive manuer. The Indians
cleared patches of land along the streams and
flats by girdling and burning down the
trees, scratched the ground with sticks, and
used sharp stones to hoe the corn and beans
which they planted, and in the fall, the corn-
stalks were burned with the weeds. Long,
hard stones, used as pestles, and concave
ones used as mortars, have been found along
the Susquehanna and on the islands in it.
These were used in grinding the corn into a
coarse meal, from which the "Johnny cake"
was made. The corn patches were thus kept
clear of obstruction by burning, except in
some places the scrub oak, which the ordinary
tire would not kill. These, the white set-
tlers grubbed out when they commenced to
till the soil.


Among the Germans, these places obtained
the name of the "Grubenland" from the word
"grub," which signifies in German "a small
tree." Tradition points out one of these
Indian fields in Fairview Township, near the
Yellow Breeches, where the Indians of the
Shawanese tribes for a long time had an
encampment. The Red Land Valley had one.
There may have been numbers of them in the
central part of the county. Well authenti-
cated tradition locates them in the lower end
in the Chancefords, Hopewell, the Windsors,
Peach Bottom and Fawn. On these Indian
fields, in the north and central portions of the
county, thickets grew so dense that cattle and
horses of the first white settlers, straying into
them, were difficult to find; hence bells were
put on both classes of these animals, that
they might easily be found. This was before
the era of fences. Some of the streams
broadened and produced marshes. A large
portion of Paradise and Jackson Townbhips
were composed of swamps, in which grew tall
hickory trees. The early German settlers
called these tracts "Holzsohwamm", meaning
a woody swamp. The region they covered is
now fertile and productive. Smaller swamps
of a similar character existed around the pres-
ent town of Hanover, also in West Manches-
ter, Hellam, Heidelberg and Spring Garden,
and other townships. There were natural


tall grasses matted them-
selves into a thick, compact sod. These were
the deer pastures which the Indians loved to


In the limestone region, heavy timbers
covered most of the land, with occasional
meadows and swamps. Lighter wood cov-
ered the southern belt of the county aud the
sandstone regions in the north. There were,
however, many places in all sections of the
county, where the native ash tree, elm, shell -
bark and black walnut contended with the
sturdy oak and the sjireading chestnut for
size and pre-eminence. The progress of the
mechanical arts soon demanded the trunks of
these monarchs of the forests, until now they
are rarely seen, and but few are growing to
take their places.


Mostof the emigrants to America belonged
to the middle class. They were artisans,
traders, farmers, mechanics. Those who
came to York County were mostly farmers of
three different nationalities, — English, Ger-
man and Scotch-Irish, each of which, com-
ing from a different country, had their own
peculiar modes of tilling the soil. Some of
these people had located for a time in Ches-
ter and Lancaster counties; especially was
this the case with the English Friends and
the Scotch. Many Germans and Swiss came
direct from their native lands to this county.
Religious persecution, in most cases, was the
cause of their emigration. Hence they came
to America,' with noble aims and, generally,
were of high moral character. There may
have been notable exceptions, but the imme-
diate prosperity that attended them faith-
fully illustrates that they were thrifty and
industrious. Great wealth in European
countries, then, was rare, except among the
nobility. The gentry and the warrior, did
not emigrate, but the working and business
classes did. Some of them were not farmers
to begin with, but the necessity of the case
made them farmers. They were a class of
men who were to work out a great problem
in the new world. Neither feudal system
nor nobility interfered; every man was lord
of his own domain in Pennsylvania, and this
is what gave character to the agricultural
classes so early in our history.

There were a few emigrants from the
Palatinate, who belonged to the lower order
of peasantry. They came here as redemp-
tioners, that is, they bought their own pas-
sage to America by selling themselves into

temporary servitude. Many a one of them
served out the appointed time on the newly
formed farms of York County. Their de-
scendants may now own the same farms and
be prosperous citizens.


The Germans who came direct from the
Palatinate country were inclined to come in
colonies of ten or more families direct from
their native country. After visiting some
friends in Lancaster County, possibly, they
made a bee-line for the place of destination,
first subscribing to the proper oath of allegi-
ance, as it must be remembered, the Friends
were in their own bailwick, but the Germans
were foreigners, invited here, however, by
none less than the great founder of the
colony, himself, who paid his addresses to
them, in person, while in their native land,
and offered them inducements to emigrate to
his province, — a land of pure and undefiled
religious liberty. The Germans brought
with them large "iron-botind chests;" each
family, if they could be afforded, had one of
them. They can be seen yet in this county
among their descendants. These were filled
with homespuns and some of the most im-
portant household utensils. One, two or
more covered wagons, sometimes belonging
to the emigrants, frequently the property of
settlers in eastern counties of a kindred na-
tionality, who hauled their fellow-country-
men to their place of destination. In these
wagons, including household articles, were
stored some of the most essential imple-
ments of agriculture, such as the wooden
plow, the scythe, the hoe and the sickle.
The settlement of a few German colonies
can still be located in York County. The
Scotch-Irish brought the ox-team, the horse
and the most essential implements. Many of
the first Quakers rode from Chester County
and Delaware on pack horses; the grown and
half-grown went on foot. Some of the most
active went ahead, when passing into an en-
tirely new section, with axes to clear away
obstructions. There were in places fallen
trees and hanging vines, streams to cross and
deep morasses and savannas to wade which
now may be embraced in the most fertile


Where, to whom, or to what people among
the white settlers belongs the honor of break-
ing the ground for the iu'st farms in York
County, the truthful historian cannot now
chronicle. Emigrants located nearly at the



same time in all sections of the county, and
took possession of chosen tracts of land so
rapidly from the jDeriod between 1730 and
1736, that hundreds of farms were laid off
between those dates. The Scotch-Irish se-
lected their homes in the lower end of the
county, and in the Marsh Creek country (now
around Gettysbui-g) on land with similar
characteristics to that of the places of their

The Friends and the Germans, upon emi-
grating, fi-equently sent their representatives
ahead to locate land. The Germans natural-
ly selected such land as was similar to that
from which the more prominent of them
came, and hence they fell heir to most of the
limestone region, although, as the land war-
rants show, there were many English who
took up land in the Hallam and York val-
leys. They did not long remain in posses-
sion of them. Much of the land was taken
up by English speculators, who, soon after
the first settlements were made, disposed of
their rights at a profit to the German emi-
grants, who came flocking with great rapidity
again into this county from 1740 to 1752.
There were as many as 2,000 Friends located
in the upper end of the county, in Fairview,
NewbeiTy, Warrington and adjoining town-
ships, before 1700; they were all farmers,
largely from Chester County and Newcastle
County, Delaware.

Most emigrants had some money, with
which, after getting the proper warrants,
they located lands of their own selection, or
purchased them of surveyors, at a very small
cost per acre. Much land of the lower town-
ships was taken up in 400-acre tracts. Some
of the settlers of the limestone regions took
up large tracts, but. as a general rule, nearly
all land purchased by settlers was taken up
in 100, 200 and sometimes 300- acre tracts.
The tradition that the ancestors of people
now living, took up 1,000 or more acres, is
nearly always at fault, and cannot be verified
by the records in the land ofiice. The early
surveyors and speculators owned many tracts
in York County. Among them were Thomas
Cookson, smweyor, of Lancaster, Edward
Slippen, of Philadelphia, and .Toseph Pidg-
eon, a surveyor of Philadelphia County, after
whom the ''Pigeon Hills" were doubtless
named. George Stevenson, the intelligent
Englishman who for sixteen years was clerk
of the courts, prothonotary, register and
recorder, all in one ofiice, owned at one
time as much as 10,000 acres in York Coun-
ty, much of which he fell heir to when he
married the widow of Thomas Cookson, of
Lancaster. But the Fates were not propi-

tious with him, as he lost it all by some mis-
haps, and died poor, in Carlisle, just after
the Revolution. Michael Tanner, an intelli-
gent German Baptist, one of the commis-
sioners who laid off York County and after-
ward located at Hanover as the first justice
of the peace, was a very large landholder.

The land in the lower end, then contained
many spots of scrub oak which were left un-
burned by the Indians, who annually set fire
to patches, on some of which they had culti-
vated corn and beans; and some possibly used
as hunting grounds were burned, j'et this
tradition is of doubtful authenticity. It is
far more natural that the Indians burned
patches of the land off for farming pur-
poses, and such is the opinion of the earliest
•\vi-iters of intelligence. The "York Barrens,"
which covered a large extent of territory, be-
came noted in the annals of York County
long after the period of experimental farm-
ing. Much land in the Chancefords, Hope-
well, Fawn, Peach Bottom, and parts of Codo-
rus and Manheim was cleared of wood, and
for two or three years produced fair crops of
wheat, barley, spelt or corn. It then became
poor and would no longer grow these valua-
ble cereals. Rye could be oultivated longer;
finally it ceased to yield profitably, and then
nothing but buckwheat could be made to
grow with satisfaction. It was long known
as a great buckwheat country.

When certain cultivated tracts became
totally sterile, they were deserted, and new
tracts cleared and cultivated. This is what
gave rise largely to the name "barrens." In
the southwestern township, the Germans
learned to call them "barns."


The first settlers always located near some
spring or gentle, running stream of crystal
water. Springs were plenty, and Nature's
drink was pure and wholesome. For a few
days the covered wagon served as a home,
oftentimes for more than one family, especi-
ally for the children and females. The
spreading branches of a large tree sometimes
afforded shelter, until the log-cabin — occa-
sionally a stone house — could be built. A
few red men visited them, and the squaws to
gather willow twigs for baskets, and gazed
upon the newcomers with wondering admira-
tion. But until 1756, during the French and
Indian war, their ravages were never feared,
and the few that remained, were on friendly
terms with the whites. After that event the
sight of a wild Indian was terror, even in this
county. But within the present limits of it


there were only a few incidents "of depreda-
tions being committed.

Hard and patiently did the settlers go to
work, with coats off, arms bare, and sweated
brows, to fell the trees from which to hew
the logs to erect the future homes. Logs
were split, notched and appropriately ar-
ranged, and then each settler assisted his
neighbor to do the heaviest work. The
who endured this new life were not
idle. In homespun clothing and plain white
caps, with the open air for a kitchen, and a
few collected stones for a hearth, after the
custom of the Gypsy of the present day, they
swung, with chains and hooks, the pots and
kettles brought from their native land, and
prepared the coveted and heartily relished
food. This food was either brought with
them, or furnished by some kindly-disposed
neighbor who had located earlier. A large
log, a huge rock, or the " end gate" to the
emigrant wagon, served as a table. Some-
times a huge white oak or chestnut was cut
at a proper height, around the stump of which
these humble sons of toil, gathered to par-
take of their frugal meals, until better ac-
commodations were afforded. The men ate
first; the women and children came last.
Thanks were silently offered and there was
but little profanity. The little children
wandered into the near woods to observe the
new attractions, but not too far from the
cabin, lest the voracious wolf, or some un-
friendly Indian might cause alarm. The
timid deer and the sportive squirrel were fre-
quently added to the newly-formed larder,
and delicious fish which the aborigines so
much loved to catch, were still left in abun-
dance in the Susquehanna, the Codorus, the
Conewago, and in all the streams. The table
of the early settler was frequently supplied
with them, as they wei-e easily caught. The
iron fish-hook was a necessary article for the
emigrant, as was his flint-lock gun. The
spade and the hoe, a necessary accompani-
ment of the settler, were first brought into
requisition, and soon a small patch was
cleared and dug and planted witli seeds and
bulbs, which were ofttimes brought from
across the ocean.

In some places the abundance of wood
necessitated the destruction of some of it by
burning or girdling the trees. Much timber
was split into rails for " worm fence " to en-
close the newly cleared tracts. The under-
wood was " grubbed," dragged on heaps and
burned, and a large flame from them was a
common sight. There were no matches to
light them as now. " Punk " and the flint-
stone were commonly used to ignite wood, or

else live coals were brought from the open
fires within the cabin. The age of stoves
had not arrived in York County. The era of
forges aod furnaces came later. Then, as the
season progressed, the old-fashioned wooden
plow, drawn by tie heavy draught horse or a
pair of oxen, slowly turned up the soil, most
of which, for ages iinknown, had been undis-
turbed. It is strange to think that the world
existed so many thousands of years without
her inhabitants even knowing of the richness
of her treasures in the Western hemisphere.
Stiff brushes tied together first served as har-
rows to level and pulverize the soil. For a
few years one plow was used by two or more
farmers. The crops were planted or sown by
the hand, and covered with a hoe or brush-
wood. The soil being naturally fertile, crops
grew abundantly without fertilizers, and to
the " backwoodsman " the first harvest was a
great delight.


Many of the Quakers came to York County .
on pack horses, and there is a well authenticat-
ed tradition that some of the first wagons they
used were made here entirely of wood. The
wheels were sawed from the thick trunks of
the "gum tree" or the tough "buttonwood."
As has been mentioned, some of these set-
tlers brought their wagons with them. Spelt-
wheat, barley and rye were first cultivated.
They were cut with a sickle, thrashed with
the flail, and among the very first settlers the
chaff" was separated from the grain by both
being placed on a linen sheet, which two
persons took hold of, and tossing the con-
tents up in a current of air, a gentle breeze
would blow the chaff away and leave the
precious grain. Corn was shelled with the
hand or by flail. Wheat or corn was gi-ound
the first year or two in a "pioneer mill," — a
mortar hollowed in the end of a log, or a
stump in which it was ground, Indian fash-
sion, with a pestle. Soon after the small grist-
mill, run by water power, was constructed.
During the first season the log-house, was com-
pleted about fifteen feet long, ten feet wide
and seven feet to the roof, at first covered with
heavy bark, and, after the first year's crop,
was carefully thatched [with straw. There
was no cellar to it. On the garret or "loft,"
as it was termed, was stored the grain of the
first year's crop. The next winter was spent
by the husband in clearing more land, and
taking care of his horse, cow, pigs, and
sheep, which were expected to huddle to-
gether, and live harmoniously in one com-
mon stable. The wife would "ply her even-
ing care" in front of the blazing hearth, on


whieh the glowing "back logs" furnished
both heat and light.

Before their first settlement in this coun-
ty, agriculture had a fair foothold in this
province. The domestic animals had been put
into use, and all the cultivated plants grown
in the mother countries, had been tried on
American soil.

The plants peculiar to their native country
were at first planted here. The intelligent
reader will observe that the countries from
which our ancestors came greatly differed
then in modes of agriculture. Many of those
differences were illustrated in this county,
and hence were experimental, owing to the dif-
ferences between the climate and meteorolog-
ical conditions of our country with the places
of their nativity. Corn, to them, was a new
plant, native to America, and cultivated in a
small way by the aborigines. Hemp, cotton,
rice, spelts, oats, millet, lucerne, sainfoin,
flax, mellon, rape, rye. oats, barley and buck-
wheat were all experimented witii in our own
province, and most of them in our own
county. Few of them remained in profita-
ble cultivation. Hemp struggled a long
time, and the old-fashioned "hemp-mill" is
still remembered. It was cultivated in
abundance in York County as late as 1812.
Flax and its valuable product were known
much later. It is still cultivated on a small
scale. The " linsey-woolsey" made from it
was used by our ancestors as an article of
clothing. i

This experimental farming of oui- ances-
tors was so successfully tried before the Revo-
lutionary period, that, since then, the intro-
duction of few plants, except sorghum during

Online LibraryJohn GibsonHistory of York County Pennsylvania From the Earliest Time to the Present → online text (page 72 of 218)