Franklin Ellis.

History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men online

. (page 133 of 193)
Online LibraryFranklin EllisHistory of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men → online text (page 133 of 193)
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prising and successful merchants of Smithfield for a ^
numljor of years. I

Rev. Joseph Leatherman came to Georges township
in 1799. He was a Dunkard or German Baptist
preacher, and wa.s for a number of years pastor of
the Grove German Baptist Church in this township.

Rev. Isaac Wynn, a Baptist minister, l)as always
been a resident of this township, and preaches very
acceptably to the people through this and adjoining
townships, usually holding his meetings in the school-
houses. He resides near Oliphant.

Rev. Andrew J. Osborn, a Cumberland Presbyte-
rian minister, was raised near Fairchance. During
the war of the Reljcllion he acted as chaplain of the
Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. He had six sons
in the service. Four of his sons belonged to the
same company he enlisted in, viz.. Company E.
He preached for the Cumberland Church at Fair-
chance for a number of years.

Dr. Frederick Patton, son of Alexander Patton, read
medicine under Dr. H. B. Mathiot, and after attend-
ing the lectures at Jefferson Aledical College, Phila-
delphia, he practiced for a while as partner of Dr.
Mathiot, About ten years ago he went to West New-
ton, Pa., and located there, wIn-re he still remains.

It has been per-i-teiitly claimed and believed by
many that ( ieii, ■'^.un ll.u-toi, I'r^'sident ofthe re-
pulilic ot'Te-'vis, and atterwarils G ivernor and United
States senator from that State, was a native of the
township of Georges, born at Woodbridgetown, where
Ids father, Paul Houston, was a tavern-keeper about
the year l>-iM\ and that the young Houston wa.s in his
youth a selioo'.niate of Basil Brownfield, in Georges.
It is no doubt correct that there was a Samuel Hous-
ton of which all this was true, but that it was not
Gen. Houston, of Texas, is rendered more than prob-
able from the testimony of one who unquestionably
knew whereof he spoke. That one was no less a per-
sonage than the Hon. Thomas H. Benton, United
States senator from Missouri, who, in his "Thirty
Years in the United States Senate" (vol. i. p. 676),
sa.vs, " Gen. Sam Houston was born in the State of
Virginia, county of Rockbridge; he was appointed
an ensign in the army of the United States during
the late war with Great Britain, and served in the
Creek campaign under tlie banners of Jackson. I
was the lieutenant-colonel of the regiment to which
he belonged, and the first field-officer to whom he re-



men .ts in soils, where souietiii

goKl wliich the owner knows not of."— De.4.\- Swift.

Fideleo Hughes Oliphant was the third son and
fourth in theorder of birth of a family of ten children

Iplate engraving accompanying tliis sketch is from ad
taken wlion he was between fort.v-fiveand fifty years of ag
xdlent likeness of tlie original at that peiiod of hi= life.





— four sons and six daughters — of John and Sarah
Oliphaiit. Hughes, the subject of this sketch, was
born on the 4th of January, 1800, at Old Fairfield
Furnace, on Georges Creek, in Georges township, Fay-
ette Co., Pa. Of this old furnace, the rival of another
on Jacob's Creek, Westmoreland County, Pa., for the
distinction of being the first at which pig iron was
made west of the Allegheny Mountains, in which both
localities have zealous advocates, nothing but the
cinder pile and some of the larger stones of the stack
remain to mark the spot where its proprietors,
])iotieers in what has grown to be the great industry
of Western Pennsylvania, saw and heard their first
bantling heave and sigh.

His father, Col. John Olipliant, was born in Chester
County, Pa., and his mother, Sarah McGinnes, born
in Philadelphia, Pa., was the only child of a sea-cap-
tain, who was lost in shipwreck. Lsft an orphan at
an early age, she was adopted by her uncle, the Rev.
Samuel Woodbridge, of the Seventh-Day Baptist
persuasion, with whom she crossed the mountains on
horseback in 1778. or 1779, mounted on bales of goods
strapped upon a pack-saddle.

Her uncle Woodbridge settled in Springhill town-
ship, founded the village which Iiears his n;inic, built
a church in which he preached every seventh day,
and erected a dwelling-house, which in its day and
locality was considered stylish ami ediunidilinus. He
preached without money and witlmut |iiire there until
his lips were sealed in death. His remain^ re^t in the
old graveyard adjoining the church, and Ijv his last will
and testament he left some of these viUuj^e lots for the
perpetual maintenance of the church and graveyard
in good order, which benevolent intention has been
sadly neglected. Squatters and trespa.ssers profane
the sacred soil with which pious faith meant to cherish
and protect "God's half-acre." Church and church-
yard both feel the cold hand of time heavy upon
them, and the colder charity of neglect chills every
pilgrim to this sacred shrine.

Tradition says that Col. Oliphant and Sarah Wood-
bridge (she took her uncle's name) " made a remark-
ably fine couple" when they stood up before the
venerable uncle of the bride to be united in marriage,
some time in the year 1790. Their remains rest in
the old churchyard at Woodbridgetown.

Andrew, the grandfather of Hughes Oliphant, had
his home in Chester County, Pa., previously to the
war of the Revolution. He was a trader, and trans-
ported goods over the mountains on pack-horses, ex-
changing them with the Indians and settlers for furs
and land, for there was no money there at that time.
Gen. Braddock, in his campaign against Fort Du
Quesne in 1755, pressed him and his pack-horses
into his service. When Braddock fell, mortally
wounded, at the battle of the Monongahela, on July
9, 1755, he was carried on a litter swung between two
of these horses, under the direction of Andrew Oli-
phant, in the retreat to Dunbar's camp, the rear-

guard of the army, where he died on the fourth day
after the battle, and was buried in the road, near the
site of Fort Necessity, where Washington fought his
first battle, on the 3d of July, 1754. Tradition says
Andrew Oliphant assisted in the construction and
defense of Fort Necessity.

After the war he moved out to Fayette County,
and settled on land near to Merrittstown. His re-
mains rest in the graveyard of the Dunlap's Creek
Presbyterian congregation.

John Oliphant and Andrew, his younger brother,
commenced the iron business at Old Fairfield Fur-
nace, and soon added Fairchance, on the same
stream, to it. Subsequently to this they built "Syl-
van Forges," on the lower waters of Georges Creek,
near the village of New Geneva. They made pigs at
Fairchance, and converted them into bar iron at
Sylvan Forges; built boats, launched them on the
Monongahela at Geneva, and floated their iron down
the river to Pittsburgh and points below on the Ohio
to market.

They continued as partners in business until
1816, when they dissolved and divided the property.
Fairchance and Sylvan Forges being considered
about equal in value, John gave his younger brother,
Andrew, the first choice. He took Sylvan Forges,
and the property was partitioned on that basis, with-
out invoking the aid of the courts.

F. H. Oliphant's first schooling was in a log house,
still standing in the back-yard at "Liberty Hall,"
where his father then lived, two miles from Fairfield
and half a mile from Fairchance. The teacher was
Thomas, father of Gen. A. G. Porter, lately elected
Governor of Indiana.

His next experience was with Alexander Clear at
Morris X-Roads school-house, where Col. Samuel
Evans, the Morris, Hardin. Tobin, Gans, and Griffin
boys and others were among his schoolmates. Here
he learned to "read, write, and cipher as far as the
single rule of three," and acquired some knowledge
of English grammar, geography, history, and book-

After leaving Mr. Clear's school he went to Browns-
ville, in the same county, to attend a school of Rev.
James Johnson, and while there, in consideration of
boarding and lodging, assisted Mr. James Brading in
his store mornings and evenings. He then secured
the life-long friendship -and confidence of Mr. Brad-
ing, and by his industry and attention to the duty
before him attracted the notice of George Hogg, Ja-
cob Bowman, and Joseph Thornton, leading men of
that part of the county, and made them his friends
for life.

This, with one session of five months at Jefferson
College, where his older brothers, Woodbridge and
Orlando, and subsequently his younger brother, Ethel-
bert, graduated, finished the course of his e<Uicatiou
before he was seventeen years old.

About this period of his life, financial trouble, the



result of too much lending of his name, falling upon
liis father, with the accumulation of years, he entered ,
his office at Fairchance, and at eighteen years of age I
the entire business devolved upon him. Repaid just
debts and resisted the payment of unjust claims until
all were settled and the property relieved.

(!)n the .^th day of November, 1S21, he married Jane
C'reiiili, the oldest diuisliter of Samuel Duncan, Esq.,
of the Fayette County bar, from which came a family
of eleven children, — John, Duncan, Orlando, Henry,
James and Ethelbert, Elizabeth, Mary Louise, Jane, |
Sallie Ann, and Ellen. On the 8th of November,
1871, they celelirateil their golden weddin"- at the
residence of the .d.lest dau-bter, .Airs. R. P. Nevin,
Sewickley, Pa., at which all the children living and
many grandchildren were present. June 5, 1870,
his wife Jane died, and he afterwards married her
younger sister, Mary E. Duncan, who survives him.

^^1^20 or l>;2riiepurcba<ed iManklin Forge, at
the Little Falls of the YoughioglR.ny River, hauled
pigs from Faire-hance, hammered them into bar iron,
and with the fall and spring freshets floated the iron
down the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers to
Pittsburgh, and sometimes down the Ohio to Cincin-
nati, selling what he could for cash, and trading the
balance for store goods and provisions for the furnace
and forge.

In 182.'-'>-21, in connection with two other gentlemen
of Pittsburgh, he built the Pennsylvania (now the
AVayne) RoUing-Mill, and not agreeing cordially with
his partners, he sold his interest to Messrs. Milten-
burger & Brown, returned with his family to Franklin
Forge, and conducted the business there in connection
with Fairchance for a number of years without a
dtdlar of money. It was all barter and trade. Frank-
lin Forge was a centre of business. His iron was the
currency of the country. Farmers brought in their
produce to the mills, traded it for iron, taking what
they wanted for present use, and a certificate of de-
posit for the balance. His office and iron-house be-
came a bank of deposit. There was no money in the
country, and so this system of trade went on for years,
the iron not leaving the warehouse only at the semi-
annual freshets, when all on hand went down the
river, and a new stock would accumulate at the ware-
house. The wagons that brought pigs from Fair-
chance returned loaded with flour and other supplies
accumulated in the mill at the forge. He has oftSn
declared that this was the most satisfactory period of
hi- busine-s lite, P.iit lu- !onk,.,l bcvond the beautiful
hills aiul wild, romantic >,,,,o, Hidings of the " Little
Falls'' for wilier ficld-i and deeper mines. He saw
the day of the forge-fire and the tilt-hammer passing
away, and in 1832 sold Franklin Forge to Messrs.
Jliltenburger & Brown, of Pittsburgh.

Leaving his family in Uniontown he started for
Tennessee, with a view of entering into the iron busi-
ness there with Messrs. Yateman, but not being
pleased with the situation, he returned to Cincinnati,

purchased a steam-engine and the option of a lot of -
land in Covington, rented a house in Cincinnati, and
made other arrangements for building a rolling-mill.
Coming home, he yielded to the eloquent pleadings
of the gray hairs of his father and mother and the
tears of his sisters, abandoned the Cincinnati scheme,
brought the engine to Fairchance, and in the fall of
1832 commenced building a rolling-mill, nail-factory,
etc., alongside the furnace, which in the spring and
summer of 1833 were in full operation.

He made a superior article of iron and nails. They
became popular as soon and as fiir as they were known,
and these iron-works went on through good times and
liai'd without a strike or stop, except for necessary re-
pairs, until after the property was sold to a New York
company in 1870-71.

In hard times dicker and trade was resorted to
again, as in previous years at " Little Falls." Wagons
I were loaded at the works, started on the old National
road, selling in the towns through wdiich they passed,
and the balance converted into store goods and gro-
ceries in Baltimore. These in turn were loaded into
the wagons to " plod their weary way" back to the
I works.

He had coal and iron ore and limestone in the
ground, and timber for charcoal in the mountains.
He had only labor to pay for. The raw material
went into the furnace, and came out bar iron and
nails at the other end of the same building, almost
without getting cold in the process. When times
were hard and iron was dull, selling for cost, or less
than cost, the store made a little profit, or made up
the loss.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad having made its
way out to Cumberland, these tactics had to be and
i were changed to another direction. The surplus of
^ iron accumulated at the works was shipped on steam-
boats at Brownsville, and bartered and traded down
the river for anything that would be useful at the
works, or for wdiich there was a market in New Or-
leans. There the balance of the iron and such other
freights as had been collected by the way were con-
I verted into sugar, coffee, tobacco, etc., one part being
' shipped up the river by steamboats for the works,
another shipped by sea to Baltimore and sold or ex-
changed for dry-goods, which in turn found their way
to Fairchance.

In 1848 he purchased " Springhill Furnace," and

I in 1870 sold two-thirds of both these properties to a

New York company, and subsequently sold the other

third to the same parties. He seemed then to be

' entirely out of active business, but in the mean time

he had purchased the " Sunnie Brae" property, on the

Southwest Branch, Pennsylvania Railroad, from the

heirs of Moses W. Nixon, and the site being eligible,

and the building of the railroad secured, visions of

another furnace soon began to float through his brain.

In the summer of 1875 he commenced jireparations,

and in the fall and winter of 1875-70 built " Oliphant



Furnace," on the Sunnie Brae property, getting into
operation early in tlie summer of 1876, but tliis ven-
ture did not prove a success. The times were too
hard to make money on pig iron, and to add to other
drawbacks, in the night of the 7th of November,
1878, tlie furnace buildings took fire and burned
down, and on the 11th of the same mouth he sold the
Sunnie Brae and Oliphant Furnace property to his
son Duncan, who at once rebuilt the furnace, put it
in operation again in the early spring, added numerous
improvements in the way of dwelling-houses for
hands, new hot-blast, etc. Under this management
it was continued in blast until November, 1880, when
it was again sold to the Fayette Coke and Coal Com-
pany, j

While operating ''Franklin Forge" Mr. Oliphant
introduced a new process in making iron between the
pig and the forge fire or puddling oven, which he :
called refining, blowing the iron in an open coke fire.
It was a very simple atid inexpensive addition, was an
economy in the end, and improved the quality of
the iron.

While in Tennessee he was the first to think of and
suggest placing the engine boilers at the top of the
furnace stack, instead of consuming and wasting large
quantities of wood or other fuel under them on the
ground below. Among other improvements he adopted :
this plan when he came into possession of " Springhill
Furnace," where the stone coal was not of a very i
good quality or very plenty. ,

In 1836-37 he successfully experimented, and, as is
claimed, was the first iron man in the United States
who had a real and substantial success in making ,
iron in any considerable quantity with coke. He was
not well prepared for this experiment; the furnace
stack was old, built for cold blast and charcoal, and
but little alteration was made in the blast. The fur-
nace ran a blast of about five months on coke, mak-
ing a fair quality of iron, good enough for nails, but,
although he rolled and piled the iron and then rolled
it again, it was not •' Oliphant's iron." Timber was
still plenty for charcoal, and he went back to his first |

In the spring of 1837 he deposited in " Franklin
Institute" of Philadelphia specimens of the ore, coal, '
and limestone, and iron and nails made from these
raw materials, where they still remained at last ac-
counts, and although the managers conceded that he
had substantially earned the medal offered in 183.5 it j
was not awarded, on the technicality that the iron
had not been made within the time limited in the

The superior quality of Mr. Oliphant's iron was
indisputable. L. W. Stockton, president of the " Na- ■
tional Road Stage Company," u.sed large quantities
of it at their "stage-yard" in Uniontown, and al-
though they were not on friendly terms, he often
declared emphatically that " Oliphant made the best
iron that ever went into a stage-coach." Through

Mr. Stockton it was introduced to the notice of the
War and Navy Departments, where it more than
stood every test to which it was subjected, and he
sold hundreds of tons to the government for gun-
barrels and chain-cables.

In this connection his iron came under the obser-
vation of Asbury Kimble, a very ingenious and in-
telligent man, who believed from its quality that it
would make good steel. He visited the works, and
the result was the building of a steel furnace at Fair-
chance in the fall of 1837, in which a good quality of
steel was made from this iron. But consumers would
not believe it to be as good as the imported ; there
was little or no sale for it. The enterprise was aban-
doned, leaving Mr. Oliphant with a stock of steel on
hand of his own make large enough to last him for
the rest of his business life at Fairchance. He used
none other, — the best proof of its good quality.

"F. H. Oliphant inherited all the nobler traits of
character which distinguished his father. He was
particularly noted for kindness to those in his employ.
In their temporal welfare he manifested a deep per-
sonal interest. He built comfortable homes for them,
planted fruit-trees in their yards, and in every way
sought to assist them in lightening the burdens of a
toilsome life. He has made tens of thousands for
others where he has made hundreds for himself." '

" The subject of this notice was no ordinary man ;
he was a remarkable man, and his entire business
career, throughout a long life of untiring energy and
unselfish and unflinching integrity of purpose, has
shown it. In addition to his regular business at times
he took hold of others, such as plying steamboats
between Pittsburgh and Western and Southern ports.
Before the railroads pierced the Allegheny Mountains
he owned and ran a fast wagon line between Cumber-
land and Wheeling. This line carried only fast
freight, and soldiers during the Mexican war. His
wagons were lighter than the ordinary regulars, and
were drawn by mule teams, which were changed at
fixed points along the road.'

" Perhaps there was no wider known, or more gen-
erally respected gentleman in all his time in this
county. Of active habits, he did much to develop
the mineral wealth of this section of the State, and
its people are largely indebted to him for the prom-
inent part he has all the time taken in building up
its interests and promoting its welfare."'

On the 16th of April, 1870, "about one hundred
of his employes, men, women, and children, and a
sprinkling of neighbors and friends, assembled in the
rolling-mill, and sent for Mr. Oliphant. When he
walked into the mill he was naturally veiy much
surprised, and inquired what it all meant. This in-
quiry was hastily answered by the Rev. Peter T.
Lashley, who mounted a store box, and after making
a neat and appropriate address, presented him, for the

1 .lmcrii<iii SUindird uf Fi;l>. 24, 1870, nlij Jlarcli 13, ISTO.



people assembled, with a valuable gold-headed cane.
When the. speaker handed the old captain the cane
in token of the donors' respect, the venerable gentle-
man of iron constitution, as well as manufacturer,
read the inscription carefully, and while tears trickled
down his cheeks he said, in words ever to be remem-
bered, 'My friends, I have not words to express my
sincere and heartfelt thanks and gratitudt- for tliis
valuable expression of your regard.' Tlie b(jys threw
up their eaps and cheered, while the old men and
wcimeu went forward and grasped his honest hand
with the expression, ' God bless you!' trembling on
every tungiie. After a few side remarks, they passed
out, with tears of sorrow and affection flowing pro-
fusely down their cheeks. There were but few dry
eyes in the crowd." '

In his private life and in his family he was kind
and affectionate, consulting more the convenience and
comfort of others than his own. Wiih strangers and
those who did not understand him he was supposed
to be harsh and severe in his nature ; but he was a
man of deep and strong feelings, and in a way was
very sensitive, though a proud reserve kept the secret
of this quality so close that few suspected it was
there. He was of strong physique, and of extraor-
dinary powers of endurance, often surpassing those
of young and vigorous men, working his bi'ain ami
his body as unsparingly as if they had been maeliin. -
made of his own iron, insensible to the plea.^iires ur

' From the outbreak to the close of the war of the
Rebellion he was intensely loyal to the Union, and
nearly depleted his iron-works of hands to put men
in the field; nor did he spare his own family. When
taking leave of his son Duncan, starting with his
company into service, he said, "Go, my son, and do
your duty ; I would rather see you in an honored
grave than hear that you had faltered." There was
no tear in his eye, only the faintest tremor on his
lij) ; then added, " I once heard your grandfather say
! ' No one of the name ever turned his back on a friend
or an enemy;' you will not be the first to break the
chain. Farewell."

One of the instances in which he was known to
I have been unmanned was wheu the cane was pre-
I sented to him on retiring from business. He was
quite unnerved with emotion : sweet and sad mem-
ories seemed to crowd up<iii him, and the strong man,
like Jacob of old, "lifted up his voice and wept"
tears of joy and grief And again when the death of
[ his youngest son, " Bertie," at Yorktown, was an-
I nounced to him, his head sauk upon his wife's


together .

It was

(famous (

les bi


necessity of rest. His manner was
and more decided than the oeea-i'>n seemed lo require.
His words were outspoken franlaiess when he had
anything to say, and sometimes gave offense when
none was intended. Always ready to forgive an in-
jury, he was a firm and constant friend, and, like his
father before him, seriously damaged his fortune "by
the too much lending of his name." Of great moral
and physical strength and courage, he "dared do all
that might become a man," feeling, with the great
])oet of nature, that "he who dared do more was
none." Strong in his convictions, he was hard to
move iVoni them. Impressed by the precepts and
the examples of his father and uncle, he naturally
iell into iiolitical ranks adverse to the Democratic
party, but not to Democratic ideas, and remained so
through life. Of iron nerve, he seldom gave outward
signs of emotion, and those who knew him best can
recall but oue or two instances in which he was known
to have been unmanned. In his younger days he was
iond of military parades and displays, loved poetry,
and could to the last recite long passages from Scott
and Burns. Especially fond of the old Scotch songs,
when he was well stricken in years and had an even-
ing at home his daughters charmed the hours away
with the music and words of the same airs and lines

Online LibraryFranklin EllisHistory of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men → online text (page 133 of 193)