The Shirer Family History

Shirers of Elk Lick Twp., Somerset Co., PA
The Shirer Family History

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an Essay by Lois June Powell Orton


Lois June Powell Orton

"People will not look forward to posterity
who never look backward to their ancestors."
--Edmund Burke

I've read somewhere that everyone should write down his or her family memories in case someone, sometime, is interested in reading about the "olden days".

The Shirers were Pennsylvania Dutch (or Deutsch, meaning German). The name in German was spelled Scheurer originally. It means "one who had charge of the barn or granary.

John Shirer was born in 1735 and died 7 March 1817. His wife Elizabetha, born in December 1741, died on 26 February 1829. Both are buried in the old cemetery at Salisbury, Pennsylvania. (There is also a new cemetery.) Salisbury is in Somerset County, Elk Lick Township, and was formerly called Shirerstown.

Close to Salisbury is Mt. Davis, highest spot in Pennsylvania. Of the eighteen points in Pennsylvania having elevations of 3,000 feet or more, Elk Lick Township has eight of these points.

Peter Shirer, Sr., son of John and Elizabetha Shirer, arrived in Salisbury sometime between 1790 and 1798. It is said that he came up Route 40 with a peddler's pack on his back.

Peter Shirer, Sr. was born in December, 1769, in Maryland, possibly near Frederick. His wife, Gertraut was also born in Maryland on 12 February 1772. Sometime between 1800 and 1810 Peter's parents, John and Elizabetha, came to Salisbury to live. By this time Peter and Gertraut had at least four children. Peter bought land in 1798 and built a general store and tavern on the corner which is now the site of the Thomas Funeral Home.

In 1800 there were only seven families living in Salisbury. In 1815 Peter helped lay off the first addition to the town. He was appointed the third Postmaster of Salisbury on 5 January 1825. In the Salisbury Centennial Book, printed in 1962, is a picture of the document naming Peter Shirer, Esq. as the Postmaster.

During his lifetime, Peter, Sr. was a successful merchant and owned considerable properties. By the tone of his ledger, he seemingly filled the role of local financier as he loaned considerable sums of money with interest. At his death in 1846, his total worth was roughly $20,000.

Gertraut died 11 November 1843 and Peter, Sr., died 10 March 1846, with both being buried in the old Salisbury Cemetery. Buried between Gertraut & Elizabetha Shirer is Catherina Derr (1749-21 July 1822), possibly Gertraut's mother.

The family spoke German and Peter's son John gave German lessons. They were either German Lutheran or German Reformed. The two groups shared one church building. Among the items sold when Peter, Sr. died, was a German prayer book.

Peter and Gertraut were parents of five daughters and two sons, John and Peter, Jr. They were:

MargarethaMay 1794Adam Shultz
Salome6 March 1796Peter Haldeman
John5 March 1798Salome Wagner
Anna Maria "Polly"30 Jan 1800William Pence
Peter, Jr.24 Oct 1803Charlotte Newman
Lydia19 March 1809Michael Kimmel
Elizabeth18 Feb 1813Samuel Engle

Margaretha Shirer, oldest child of Peter Sr., died at age 24, leaving four children. Her husband Adam Shultz remarried Nancy _____ and settled in the Cumberland, Maryland area. He had nine more children. Margaretha's daughter Lydia, married Charles Wagner. She also died quite young, leaving four children who were placed under the guardianship of Elijah Wagner. Elijah was not the grandfather of these children, as a tombstone in the Salisbury Cemetery states that the child (a girl) was the only child of Elijah and Eve Wagner. It is presumed that this was an uncle or great-uncle of theirs.

Peter and Gertraut's second child, Salome Shirer, married Peter Haldeman, son of Jacob Haldeman, on 24 Jan 1813. The Haldeman family is believed to be from Yverdun, Switzerland. Salome and her husband were parents of six sons and five daughters. Both are buried at Old Tent Cemetery, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Salome lived to be 69 and Peter Haldeman 78 years of age.

A Somerset County History Book tells this story. The store and tavern of Peter Shirer, Sr. was broken into by way of the window one night, and a sum of money was stolen. When the theft was detected, Peter, Sr. called the local authority. It was discovered that the thief was his son-in-law Peter Haldeman. The case was dropped as it then became a "family affair".

Their third child, John Shirer, was born 5 March 1798 in Salisbury and married Salome Wagner previous to 1820. They had at least nine children. John was always referred to as John Shirer, Esquire, in the tax assessments of Somerset County. John was a Justice of the Peace in 1829. He served as one of the first school teachers of the Salisbury area, teaching at one time in a farm house. At that time there was no public school system and anyone wishing to educate a child bargained with the school master to teach the child for a certain sum. Most families saw fit to educate only the sons. This was seemingly true of Peter, Sr., as all the daughters signed necessary documents with an X, whereas John and Peter, Jr. were accomplished penmen.

After his father's death in 1846, John moved to Jockey Valley, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, purchasing 360 acres of land which was then known as Wolf Hill. It is presumed that he and Salome died and are buried there, but their graves have not been located. A portion of their land was probably flooded when the Yough Dam was formed and the graves could have been there. A descendant recalls that there were some tombstones on the farm which is now owned by Fred Myers, but they were "plowed over long ago". Fred Myers recalls that there were some unmarked stones there.

A small portion of the 360 acres purchased by John Shirer in Jockey Hollow remains with his descendants. Mrs. Carl Shirer, widow of John's great-great-grandson maintains a farm there. John Shirer died 1 Jan 1862.

Cathren Ann Shirer1821Daniel Glotfelty
Barney Shirer1824(D 1825)
Francis Peter Shirer9 July 1826Harriet Thomas
Charles Shirer19 Sept 1829Susan Thomas
Susanna Barnes
Clarasey Shirer30 Sept 1830John K. Tishue
Sarah Ann Shirer1832
Polly Margaret Shirer1834
Christian B. Shirer1836Martha Ann Conway
Lyda Shirer1838Andrew J. ?
Elizabeth Shirer1840

"Polly" or Anna Maria, fourth child of Peter and Gertraut, married William Pence. She died at the age of 31 leaving five children. Polly and Margaretha are buried close to their parents in the old Salisbury Cemetery. Next to Polly's grave is a child's grave marked "Daly Pens" (Pence), no doubt a child of Polly's who died.

Peter Shirer, Jr. was born 24 Oct 1803, in Salisbury, Pennsylvania. He was the fifth child of Peter Sr. and Gertraut Shirer. He married Charlotte Newman on 27 April 1828 and they had six daughters and five sons. He was a small man, always dressed to the hilt with a stovepipe hat. He worked with his father in the mercantile business and in 1832 bought the business (not the property) from his father and paid for it in $150 installments. In 1838 he went to Evansville, Preston County, Virginia (now West Virginia), 15 miles east of Grafton on Route 50 and opened a store. He thought Route 50 would be the main highway west, but after 1-1/2 years, he moved back to Red House, Maryland, establishing a store there on Route 50.

A voucher found among the intestate records of Peter Shirer, Sr. states that John was paid for washing, sewing, etc., for Peter, Sr. for the year preceding his death. From the Salisbury store ledger, we know that Peter, Jr. paid rent to his father for all the years preceding his move to Evansville. Therefore it is obvious that John saw to the care of his father after his mother died in 1843 and after Peter, Jr. moved away.

Lydia, sixth child of Peter Sr., married Michael Kimmel and settled at Evansville, Virginia (now West Virginia). They had nine children and lived long lives. Lydia was 76 and Michael 93 when they died. They are buried in the Methodist Church Cemetery at Evansville, lust east of Grafton.

Elizabeth, the seventh and last child of Peter Shirer, Sr., married Samuel Engle and settled a large area of land in northern Allegany (now Garrett) County, Maryland. By the time of her death at age 35, Elizabeth had borne Samuel six children. Samuel married twice after Elizabeth's death and had three or four more children. Samuel owned a large area of sugar maples and engaged in the manufacture of maple sugar. Late in life, he fell with one arm into the boiling syrup and he never completely recovered from his burns. Elizabeth and Samuel are both buried in the Engle Cemetery on Hare-hollow Road near Jennings, Maryland.


Charlotte Newman or Mrs. Peter Shirer, Jr. was born 29 March 1807 in Maryland. Her father, George A. Newman, was a 1st Lieut. in the War of 1812, serving in Blairs Co. during the defense of Baltimore in October of 1814. George was born about 1770 and married in 1800. He and his wife Margaret had seven daughters and three sons. He first owned a tannery in Pennsylvania, but moved his family to Maryland in 1812.

Peter, Jr. and Charlotte Shirer had eleven children;

Mariah Louisa Shirer17 Jan 1829Charles W. Bolden
Araxa Fernando Shirer10 May 1830Agnes Rachel Bradshaw
Almira Shirer5 Nov 1831John Koontz
Simon Bolivar Shirer7 Feb 1834Rachel A. Bardwell
Charlotte Shirer5 May 1836
Elizabeth Shirer10 Apr 1838
Susanna Shirer24 Nov 1839James W. Ward
Zilphy Shirer24 Mar 1842William R. Jarboe
Unnamed Son14 Feb 1845(D: 3 Mar 1845)
Gustavus Adolphus Shirer5 June 1847
Silas Edward Shirer3 Aug 1850Mahala Spedden

The first six children were born in Salisbury, Penn. and Susanna was born in Evansville, Va. Silas Edward was born in Red House, Md. Zilphy and Gus were born in Maryland, probably at Red House.

Peter, Jr. had a fettish for naming his sons after people in the news. Simon Bolivar was a South American liberator. Gustavus Adolphus was a king of Sweden who defeated the Russians around 1620. If you were to look at the Allegany (now Garrett) County census of 1850, you would find a 3-week-old baby named Winfield Scott Shirer. Win-field Scott was an American soldier of Indian and Mexican War fame --"Old Fuss and Feathers". Apparently they hadn't settled on a name yet when the census was taken, because that baby became Silas Edward Shirer. If we knew where to look in the history books, probably Araxa Fernando was a patriot in a South American or Mexican conflict.

Sometime between 1850 and 1860 Peter Jr. and Charlotte took the family west, heading for California. Araxa did not go with them, as he was running a store in Fetterman, W.Va. The story goes that they got as far as Adair County, Missouri, when they got "wintered in". Charlotte didn't like the looks of the "west", so in the spring they went back to Maryland.

In the 1860 census, Peter and Charlotte Shirer lived in Columbus, Adams County, Illinois, with Peter listed as a farmer. Elizabeth met and married a young cowboy in Adams County, but the groom left, never to return. Hiram Shumaker, age 23, laborer, born Ohio, was listed in the 1860 census in Lewis County, Missouri--just across the river from Adams County. He was listed with 74 other men in a camp, probably ready to go on a cattle drive. Not wishing to leave their newly wed daughter in Missouri, they left a message telling him they were going back to Maryland. She never married again and was known as Miss Elizabeth Shirer all her life.

When the family moved back to Maryland, they lived in a house painted red, south of Oakland, and kept a drover's pasture. This was a pasture fenced to hold livestock, which was moved in large herds on foot over U.S. 50.. the Northwestern Turnpike. The area is now named Red House, Md. In 1866 Peter and his sons, Gus and Silas Edward, started the Shirer Bros. Tin Shop in Oakland. They made buckets, stewpans, coffee boilers, wash boilers, kettles, cups, slop jars, match safes, candle holders, etc. besides putting tin roofs on buildings.

Mariah Louisa "Lizzie" (Shirer) and Charles Bolden had twelve children and their descendants are numerous. One son, Gus Bolden, was the first cousin and best friend of Sidney Shirer. Gus was a newspaper editor, first in Grafton, W.Va. and later in Charleston.

John and Almira (Shirer) Koontz moved to Kappa, Woodford County, Illinois (near El Paso), where John worked for the railroad. She died three weeks after the last baby was born. The child, Ralph Belmont Koontz, died at age one. Their children were: Ida, bn 1856, Mary, bn 1859, Estella, bn 1860, and Blanche Koontz, bn El Paso, Ill. in 1861. Blanche married Charles F. Hummell of Lincoln, Ill. 21 Nov 1885. John later remarried to Virginia Painter and had another son, William Wesley Koontz. Perhaps there were other children also.

Their second son Simon Bolivar stayed in Missouri and drove stagecoach from Missouri to Kansas. He married Rachel Ardelia Bardwell and had four children--Almira "Allie", bn 1864, Nina Blanche, bn 1866, Keith Edward bn 1869, and Ida Elnena, bn 1871. Allie married three times--(1) Dorsey H. Mathias, (2) Joseph Hugh Redmon and (3) W.C. Bogner. She had three children--Dorsey H. Mathias Jr., Agile Hugh Redmon, and Hilma Redmon. She died 13 June 1946 in a Fort Worth, Texas nursing home.

Keith Edward Shirer worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and moved to Cleburne, Texas. He married (1) Katy ___ and had a son, Orlie Edward Shirer, who was killed at St. Etienne, France, in WWI on 8 Oct 1918 (shortly before the war ended). Keith married (2) Cora Scott of Rothville, Mo. and had two daughters. Dorothy Dell Shirer, bn 18 Dec. 1903, married Ralph Reeves, a chiropractor in Cleburne, TX; they adopted one son Thomas Ray Reeves. The other daughter, Nellie Happel Shirer, bn 29 Sept 1912, married Boyd C. "Bill" Carithers 9 Dec 1933. They ran a restaurant in Ft. Worth and later Bill was a food broker in Oklahoma City. Their only son, Gail Edward Carithers, bn 2 Aug 1935, was a pilot in the Air Force. He died 4 July 1959 in a Strategic Air Command plane which crashed off the Azores Islands. Keith Shirer died 30 May 1946 in Cleburne, Texas. Of the other children of Simon Bolivar Shirer, Ida Shirer married Tom R. Bumpus and moved to Colorado. They had at least three children--Hazel, Frank and another son. Nina Blanche Shirer married Marcellus Herndon and remained in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.

Susanna (Shirer) married a widower named Ward. She did not have any children, but raised his children from a previous marriage.

Zilphy (Shirer) married William Jarboe. They were also childless. Zilphy had a musical photo album, full of pictures of the Shirer family. It is now in the possession of Mrs. Beth (Shirer) Friend of Oakland, Md. In their later years, Susanna and Zilphy were widowed. Their sisters Charlotte and Elizabeth remained unmarried, as did their brother Gus. These five lived together in the residence next to the Shirer Tin Shop in Oakland. Gus was a very successful business man, and Charlotte and Elizabeth were accomplished seamstresses, so they got along quite well. All four women died within a short period of time.

When a fire broke out in the stable behind the house in 1909, Gus' hands were badly burned in an effort to save the horses. He was never able to work again. Gus was a fine figure of a man and was much sought after by the ladies; however, he never married. Incidentally, the horses died in the fire, and wagons and equipment were also lost.

Silas Edward Shirer was in the tinsmith trade along with Gus at the Shirer Tin Shop in Oakland, Md. Gus retired in 1914 and William Ernest, son of Silas, became the owner. Branch shops were maintained in Terra Alta, W.Va. and Mt. Lake Park, Md. Silas did not retire until 1932. At that time, William Ernest's son, Scott W. Shirer, became a partner in the firm. One day a visitor came into the shop and said he wanted for a long time to meet the people who ran it. He was looking at maps in an archive division in London, England, and saw in the lid of the tin map case a label that said "Made in Shirer Tin Shop, Oakland, Md. USA." The Shirer Tin Shop is still in business after converting to a plumbing, furnace and air conditioning shop. A centennial paper in 1966 featured pictures of Peter's home and the Shirer Tin Shop.

Silas Edward Shirer married Mahala Spedden in 1876. They had five children, William Ernest, bn 13 Apr 1880, at Philippi W.Va; Kate E., bn 31 July 1881, also at Philippi; Robert Lee, bn 22 Sept 1882 in Terra Alta, W.Va.; Gertrude, bn 1883; and Susan, bn 22 Nov 1890. Silas died in 1934 at Oakland, Md.

Peter Shirer, Jr. died 10 Dec 1885, and Charlotte died 10 Apr 1890, both being buried in the Oakland Cemetery. Scott Shirer had the family bible of Peter Jr. and Charlotte (Newman) Shirer. At his death, his daughter, Mrs. Beth (Shirer) Friend, received the bible.


Araxa Fernando Shirer, eldest son of Peter, Jr. and Charlotte Shirer, settled in Fetterman, W.Va. about 1850, where he lived until his death 17 May 1893. Araxa was a tailor during the Civil War, and his wife, Agnes Rachel Bradshaw, was a tailor also. They made Union Army uniforms during the war. After the Civil War, they ran a general store in the same block as their home. A highway or "pike" ran in front of the store and about a block to the west stood a covered toll bridge, built in 1835, one of three covered bridges in Taylor County. The bridge was swept away in the great flood of 1888, but one of the piers that upheld the bridge is still visible, according to Muriel Auvil, who has written a book about West Virginia's covered bridges.

Fetterman had its own post office and depot at one time, but later became a part of Grafton, W.Va. Grafton is a unique little town in Taylor County, being built in a circle around some mountains. On top of one mountain is Bluemont Cemetery, which commands a beautiful view of the Tygarts Valley River. People used to have quite a time driving their horses and buggies up the steep, winding road in the rain and the snow for funerals. Four family members are buried there--Araxa Fernando Shirer, Agnes Bradshaw Shirer, Rebecca Dunlap Reed and William Paul Shirer.

When the Irish construction crews on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad pitched their tents in 1852, the entire countryside was a tangle of grapevines and wild berry briars. With the completion of the railroad, a village sprang up in 1856. It was named after John Grafton, a civil engineer.

Because of its railroad facilities, Grafton had strategic importance during the War Between the States, being occupied at various times by Union and Confederate troops. In June, 1861, Gen. Thomas A. Morris camped here with 4,000 Federal troops before marching south to the Battle of Philippi. Later Gen. McClellan established headquarters in Grafton, but no fighting occurred. In 1872 Grafton aspired to be the State Capital. Although it failed, it succeeded in becoming county seat in 1878.

The first Union soldier killed in the entire Civil War was shot in Fetterman at the railroad crossing near the Shirer home. His name was T. Bailey Brown. On the night of 22 May 1861, he and a companion were challenged by a Confederate sentry. They refused to halt, shots were exchanged, and Brown was killed. A monument was erected at the place where he was killed, across the street from the Shirer home, but later the stone was moved to a place on the highway west of Grafton West Virginia was part of the state of Virginia until the Civil War, and became a Union state in 1863, after Virginia seceded from the Union.

Araxa Fernando Shirer and Agnes Rachel Bradshaw were married on 23 March 1858 by Reuben Lewis. He was 28 and she was about 24 years of age. He was known as "Raxsy" to his family, but Agnes always called him "Sykesy".

A. F. Shirer bought his father-in-law's home at 1122 Pike Street, in 1865. Araxa and Agnes adopted a daughter Alma Payne who was born in June, 1858. She married Henry Colrider. He ran a shoe store in Grafton. They had four children: Marion, Samuel, Gertrude and Pearl. Marion was accidentally shot at the shoe store by a friend playing with a gun kept at the store for protection. Alma's family moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, about 1905.

A. F. and Agnes Shirer's son Sidney Campbell Shirer was born in their home on 20 Nov. 1870, and the house is still standing. It was built prior to 1865. The store has been torn down. The Shirer home is now owned by the widow of Worley Powell.

Sidney Shirer, the only child of Araxa and Agnes Shirer, received his middle name Campbell from a Mrs. Campbell who was midwife at his birth. Agnes was about 42 years old when Sidney was born. He attended the Grafton schools and also Fairmont Normal School.

Araxa was Worshipful Master of the Grafton Masonic Lodge in 1865, 1866 and 1867. His portrait is still hanging on the wall of the lodge in Grafton, along with others who have been masters of the lodge. The lodge separated in 1865 into two lodges, one supporting the Union and the other supporting the Confederacy.

In the census of 1870, Agnes' mother Sarah was living with A. F. and Agnes Shirer and Sarah listed real estate she owned valued at $1,000. She may have been there awaiting the birth of Sidney, as she was not listed in the household in 1880. Also living with them was Jennie Nuzum, 18 years old, a domestic servant. In 1860, Rebecca Frise, 15 years old, was listed as a "domestic" and in 1880, Mary Davis, 16 years old, was listed as a servant.

Also in the census of July, 1870, A.F. Shirer listed his occupation as retail merchant with real estate valued at $4,000, and personal estate valued at $800.

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Compiled by: Denny Shirer, Canton, Ohio

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