Porter Township (Chap. 65)


edited by A. J. Davis, 1887



By C. F. McNutt

transcribed by
Sue Llewellyn

PORTER township was so named in honor of David R. Porter, governor of Pennsylvania in 1839-42, at the time it was struck off Redbank township. It is bounded on the north by Monroe and Limestone, on the east by Redbank, on the south by New Bethlehem and Redbank Creek, and on the west by Madison, Toby, and the southern corner of Piney. It contains, according to the assessor's account, 25,875 acres, nearly all of which is tillable land. It probably contains more than that.  Shortly after it became a township it was laid off in school districts, each about two miles square. There are rich veins of coal, iron ore, limestone and fire-clay lying within its limits.

Land Grants. -At the close of the Revolutionary War a debt sprung upon the new government which was to be paid by the several States according to the population of each. Pennsylvania paid most of its share by the sale of public land belonging to the State. A company in Holland purchased land in Pennsylvania, some of which lies in the western part of what is now Porter township. It was bought for twelve and one-half cents an acre. David Lawson, father of James Lawson, well known to our citizens, was one of their agents. There was one thousand and two acres in the northwestern part of the township granted to George Latimer, of Philadelphia, being No. 3 of lot 162, granted to Timothy Pickering and others, May 17, 1785. In the Bittenbender settlement a five hundred acre tract, called Rural Felicity, was granted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Frederick Watts, and afterwards deeded to Bittenbenders and others. A large tract of land was granted to Johnathan Mifflin, of Philadelphia. Part of it was afterwards deeded to Charles M. Stokes, and was known in an early day in this locality as the "Stokes land." Farms in the Wiant and Mohney settlement were of the Stokes land. Weister land in the vicinity of Jacob Kratzer's, and west of that, was originally a part of the Mifflin tract. William Clark obtained a patent in 1823, and deeded it to James Henry (hatter), May 11, 1843. Part of this land is now owned by John D. Henry, his son. A tract of land containing one thousand acres was granted to Joseph Thomas, esq., March 28, 1794, and deeded to Daniel Brodhead, March 20, 1795. Farms belonging to Ross Corbett, James Gourley, James G. Wilson, McClures and others, were of the Brodhead tract. It joined land of Timothy Pickering. Archey Dickey owned considerable land in Porter township, some of which he bought as unseated land, sold for taxes. His claims included some of the farms claimed by early settlers. About 1832 he commenced a series of law suits, by which he gained farms claimed by Adam Brinker, Slagle, Washie, Wilkins and others. This made a panic among the land owners, and many of them obtained patents about 1838 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to secure their land titles. Some of them had owned their farms for years. General Craig, a surveyor by profession, and living in Westmoreland county, learned where the vacant land lay while running off other tracts, in what is now Porter township. He took an active part in having this vacant land settled, holding for his trouble a share of the territory secured by the settlers. John Henry, David Shields, William Guthrie and others obtained their farms from him. Daniel Brodhead owned several one thousand acre tracts in the township.

Early Settlers. -- It is somewhat difficult to find out just who was the first settler in the township, and also to get at what the first settlers did more than their mere occupations. Much of their modes of life, manners, and customs are common to all the townships in the county, and hence appears in the general history. The settlement of the locality now included within the limits of Porter township, properly begins with the year 1800. So far as can now be ascertained, no permanent settlements were made here before that. The whole tract was woods. John Henry came from Westmoreland county, and remained part of the summer of 1799, near where George T. Henry, one of his grandsons, now lives, but returned to his former home during the winter. The next summer he came back again, bringing his family including his sons Robert, William and Charles. James was born here in 1805. They settled on what was known as General Craig's land. Henry Sayers came to Leasure's Run in 1799. From his boys, Charles, Aljo, and John, several families have descended, most of whom are identified with the history of other townships. Leasure's Run was named in memory of Mr. Leasure, who was drowned in the run, and buried near its waters. David Shields settled on land of General Craig, where Samuel Williamson now lives, near Smithland, in 1801. He was a coppersmith by trade, and made bells, pewter spoons, etc., also was engaged in clearing the farm. One of his little boys following the girls when hunting the cows, was captured by the Indians. A search was made, but the boy was not found. Several years afterwards, a company of Indians on a hunting expedition encamped near Troy, Jefferson county. Mr. Shields hearing that a white man was with the crew, and that it was probably his son, took with him John Lawson and others, and started in search of the long lost child. Much to their satisfaction he was found, and identified by a scar on his leg left from a burn. The boy was persuaded to visit his former home. While there he told of playing with a string of bells and other toys well remembered by his parents. After staying two or three months he became tired of civilized life, and said he wanted to return to his squaw whom he had married. He soon left and never returned. A few of the oldest citizens living in the township remember of seeing him after his father brought him home. Michael McComb, sometimes called Malcom McComb, settled where William Sherridan lives in 1802. He had but one child. None of his descendants have lived in the township for several years. In 1804 Moses Kirkpatrick settled on farms now owned by Texter and D. W. Goheen. His sons, William and Alexander, lived on the old place. None of the descendants bearing the name are now living in the township. William Guthrie came from Westmoreland county and settled near Smithland, on what is now the McDonald farm -- then land of General Craig -- in 1806. He brought with him his family, including William, jr., James, and Joseph. They were farmers. Mr. Guthrie was killed by falling off a bridge on his way home from Kittanning, where he had gone for a load of store goods.

A short time prior to the settling of this township, the Indians burned Hannastown, a village in Westmoreland county, and took some prisoners. On the same day a wedding party near by was routed, and some of the participants captured by another crew of Indians. Among others taken were Captain Brown Lee and his wife. After wandering around for a few days, the two crews with their prisoners met. An old lady with the Hannastown crew, on meeting, exclaimed, "Why, Captain Brown Lee! Have they got you, too?" Captain Lee was a terror to the Indians, fighting and killing them whenever he could. On learning his name, he was instantly killed and scalped. A child he was carrying on his back, was also killed and scalped. They then killed the old lady, supposing her to be connected with him. His wife was present and saved her own life by concealing her name, and feelings that she would naturally have under such circumstances. They compelled the other prisoners, including Mrs. Lee, to tramp over the dead bodies and walk in the blood, expecting in this way to discover which one was his wife. Mrs. Captain Brown Lee remained a prisoner for two years and afterward married William Guthrie, and became one of the first settlers in the township, living to tell her painful story to her neighbors, her children, and her grandchildren, thus left a widow twice.

Collin McNutt, a weaver by trade, moved his family, consisting of William, Robert, Margaret, Collin, jr., Katie and Charlotte from Westmoreland county to land of General Craig, in this township, in 1806. His sons bought farms, improved them, raised large families and died in the township. William was also a carpenter, and made sleds, plows, cutting-boxes and other farming utensils. Of his sons, Collin and James became carpenters. Many of the buildings yet standing show the skill of their work. Several families of the descendants of Collin McNutt are living in the township at present.

Among other of the earlier settlers were Daniel Boyles, a farmer living in Rockville; Peter Fiddler, a farmer, afterwards a lumberman, living in locality of Robert Stewart's; John Nulph, some of whose descendants are still living in the township; John Washie, a farmer living on land at present owned by J. Y. McNutt and Joseph Craig; John Wilkins, generally called John Wilkie; Ezekiel Mathews, a farmer, living on what was afterwards the Buzzard farm, now belongs to Phillips; Richard James, a farmer, living on the Longwell farm; Henry James, a stone mason, living near Brinkerton; McCans, on part of the old Kirkpatrick farm, and Mr. Shaw, living near Leatherwood post-office.

These were the men and their wives were the women that endured the hardships and labored under the disadvantages incident to early pioneer life. Most of them came here poor in this world's goods, on foot, carrying their provisions, their household furniture and all they had on pack saddles, and settled in the wilderness mid wild beasts and savages. Their houses were cabins built after they came here. Their ceremonies were few and simple. Their prayers were short. Their courtesies were genuine. The places where they located are barely remembered by our oldest inhabitants at present. Here and there an old stone chimney marking the spot, is all that remains -- relics of their early improvements. If they could talk, what tales they could tell -- struggling, sorrow, joy, mirth, cooking, and sleeping all in one small room! While the memory of their faces and most of their history have faded in oblivion; yet our community owes them the remembrance of their names.

Later Settlements. -- William Latimer came with his family, including James, Dinan, Jane, Mary, and George to Leatherwood, in 1812. The latter three have lived on the same property, near Brinkerton, ever since. Mr. Latimer came from Northampton county to Licking, this county, in 1807. They were farmers. John Ardrey, a tanner, came to Leatherwood, near the eastern part of the township, in 1814. James, Betsy, Robert, Nancy, Susanna, John, William, and Mary were his children, some of whom are still living. Peter Wiant, with his sons, Abraham and Conrad, came to Porter township in 1817, settling on part of the Stokes land, formerly a part of the Mifflin tract. Both sons were farmers, and Abraham is living yet in the township. Jacob Jack came to Leatherwood in 1818, settling near where his son Michael now lives. He came from Centre county. George and John Burns came to the eastern part of the township, and settled on land still known as the Burns property, in 1818. Philip Bittenbender came from Luzerne county and settled near Curllsville, this township, in 1822. His sons, Jacob and Philip, still living on the old property, have taken some interest in the raising of fine stock, also have been active in conducting township affairs. Alexander Blair came to the western part of the township and settled on Holland land in 1824. His children, William, Alexander, Samuel, Betsey, and John R., all settled in the same locality. They and their descendants form a thrifty settlement of farmers. Michael Buzzard came from Northampton county and settled on part of the Brodhead tract, now owned by H. S. Phillips, in 1818. He was a blacksmith, and the first one in the township. His wife had some knowledge of medicine, and often performed the duties of a family physician; thus both were useful citizens in the community. Mrs. Jacob Phillips, sr., one of their children, is now ninety years of age, and is the oldest person living in the township at present. James Goheen, along with his children, Davis and James, jr., first settled where James G. Wilson now lives, in 1827. After living there about two years, they moved to the Goheen farms, where they spent most of their lives. They were prosperous farmers, liberal, industrious, and energetic, and took an active interest in importing and raising fine stock. James Reed, a blacksmith, came to the farm now owned by his son Samuel, in 1830, after living two years on one of the Goheen farms. His sons, John, a carpenter, and Samuel, a farmer, are still living on the same property. Samuel Lowry came to Leasure's Run in 1824, and settled on the farm at present owned by Samuel Bowersox. Of his children, Robert, John, Nancy, Samuel, and Susanna, only Samuel and Nancy (McNutt) are living. Samuel was a farmer and lived near the old place until two years ago, at which time he moved to New Bethlehem. William Divins came to the farm near Brinkerton where his son James now lives, in 1831. He was elected a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1861, and re-elected in 1862, He was also county commissioner, county auditor, and for several years justice of the peace. Some of his children are living in Porter township at present. Christian Hamm came from Licking to Brinkerton in 1832, settling on the farm now owned by Jacob Hamm. He sold his farm to his brother John in 1837. Solomon H. Hamm, son of Christian, commenced his store at Brinkerton in 1847. The post-office there was established in 1855, taking its name from the place named in honor of Brinkers, early settlers in that locality. S. H. Hamm was elected a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1880, also was first postmaster at Brinkerton, and justice of the peace one term in Porter township.

Nicholas Shanafelt, a gunsmith, moved his family from Huntington county to Leatherwood, near Brinkerton, in 1835. Some of his sons became prominent Baptist ministers. His son William, living at present near where they first settled, cleared the place, improved the land, and has taken a live interest in importing and raising short-horned cattle. Some of them are bred directly from cattle brought from England. His herd at present is one of the finest in the county. He has also been an active worker in the Leatherwood Baptist Church ever since it was organized.

The Pences came to the township and settled near Smithland in 1834. They were farmers. Some of the boys became carpenters, and have done some excellent work in Porter and other townships. George Polliard came to the Mays farm, near Rockville, in 1835. He was a farmer. Most of his children are connected with the later history of the township. Philip Seifrit came to the Wiant settlement in 1836, and died in 1886, at the age of ninety-five years. Smithland took its name from Jacob Smith, who settled there in 1838. George McWilliams moved his family to Smithland in 1842. He kept a hotel there for several years. Several of his descendants are scattered over the county.

Thomas Armagost came to Squirrel Hill in 1840.  He has lived there and worked at the blacksmith trade ever since. There have been but few working days during that time that the sound of his hammer was not heard, and but few Sundays that he was not seen at church. Mohneys and Kratzers came to Porter in 1855. They were farmers. James Mohney was afflicted with rheumatism, and was confined to his bed for nearly a quarter of a century. He was relieved from his sufferings by death in 1882. During his early life he taught school. Among others of this period of settlers that should be mentioned are Abraham Slatterback, living on Leasure's Run, Samuel Bowersox, George Fox, and Thomas Elder in the Blair settlement, William Milligan, Patterson Johnston, David Wilson, John Brinker, Browns, Whites, Toshes, and many others that have been good citizens.

Christian Brinker is at present living on the farm formerly owned by his father. He has been treasurer of Clarion county, associate judge, and in 1886 was elected a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature. His liberality and good humor have made him popular.

George T. Henry has served as county commissioner, and has been justice of the peace for several years, an office he filled with credit. He has also been a useful man in the settling of estates.  He is of decisive manner and bases his decisions on equity and justice rather than on legal technicalities.

Aaron Kline was elected county commissioner in 1881, and has filled for several years various township offices.

Rockville, named from its exceedingly rocky surface, lies near the center of the township. Ross M. Corbett came here April 22, 1334, and built a sawmill that summer. The next summer he built a grist-mill, commencing, to grind October 3, 1835. Farmers came a great distance to the mill. It was considered first-class, and was run day and night. It has been repaired and kept in running order ever since, and is at present a useful improvement in the community. John Klingensmith, afterwards sheriff of Clarion county, was the first miller. Samuel Fagley is the present miller, having served for twenty years. Mr. Corbett built another saw-mill in 1866. Both are torn away now. He has been fortunate in raising a family potent for good --  Hunter, a missionary in China for twenty-five years, Scott, a wholesale merchant in Wichita, Kan., Lawson, a merchant in Dubois, and Samuel, a farmer, on Squirrel Hill, this township. All have been quite successful. Dr. H. M. Wick came to Rockville in 1845. He remained here about twenty years, after which he moved to New Bethelehem. His excellent judgment, kind and courteous disposition, sympathy for the afflicted, along with his liberality and dignity, won for him a fond affection in the hearts of his neighbors.

There have been stores kept in Rockville at different times. Archie Dickey had the first one, then Ross Corbett, and afterwards George T. Henry and S. P. McNutt, S. P. McNutt and T. J. Henry, and T. J. Henry alone. Mr. Henry also had a tannery there.

Laughlin's Mill and Store. -- The first mill in this locality was a rude log building, erected by John Shaw at quite an early date in the history of the township. John Guyer afterwards became owner of the property, and built a woolen-mill. He obtained a patent for the land, including sixty acres, from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1838, and sold it to Samuel, John, and Stewart Wilson, April 6, 1839. John and Stewart built the mill now owned by W. A. & S. S. Laughlin, the following summer. About the same time they, in company with James Laughlin, who had come there in 1837, started a store.

Leatherwood post-office, taking its name from the stream, on the banks of which a kind of shrub called leatherwood grew, was established in 1840, in their store, and James Laughlin was appointed postmaster, which position he held until his death, in March, 1870. The office was granted a tri-weekly mail in July, 1884, and daily, in 1886. Peter Rickard and S. P. McNutt each served as postmaster for five years, afterwards W. A. Laughlin, the present incumbent, was appointed. James Laughlin bought the farm and their share of the mill from Wilsons February 9, 1855, having bought their share in the store in 1846. He built the blacksmith shop in 1856. William P. Miller worked in the shop the first two years, and immediately following Peter Rickard had charge of it for seventeen years.

Manasseh Arnold came into the store as clerk, July 10, 1846, and became a partner in 1850. At the death of Laughlin in 1870, he became sole owner. The store was subsequently owned by S. P. McNutt and W. A. Laughlin, and at present by W. A. & S. S. Laughlin. Mr. Arnold was elected justice of the peace in 1858, and held the office until 1873. He was also township treasurer for several years, and in 1875 was elected prothonotary of Clarion county. The mill, store, blacksmith shop, post office, etc., made this a sort of a business center in the township. Credit is especially due James Laughlin for his industry and energy. He was liberal, strictly honest, courteous, and trusted by all who knew him.

Furnace. -- Samuel and John Wilson purchased land and built St. Charles furnace in 1844-5. They sold it to Patrick Kerr in 1846. Here the process of making metal by using raw coal instead of coke or charcoal was introduced and successfully used. A store was also kept at the furnace. This industry opened out the coal and ore veins in that locality, furnished employment for men depending on their daily earnings for their support, and for the spare moments of farmers, and others, made a demand for produce, and brought wealth and prosperity into the community.    It continued to be a useful improvement under the management of Kerr until 1865, when it was abandoned. The land is now owned by Reed, Howley & Co.

Schools. -- The first schools organized within the township are mentioned in the general history of the county. Before the common school system was established there was an academy near the Leatherwood Presbyterian Church. Among its earnest supporters were William Kirkpatrick, Daniel Beck, and others. The first public school-house was built by subscription in 1834-5. It was located on the Olean road, near John Slagle's, and was called the Union school; built of logs, poorly seated, but well ventilated. In addition to school purposes it was used for singing schools, public worship, debating clubs, etc. The act of Assembly of 1834, establishing the free school system in Pennsylvania, was popular from the first in Porter township. The provisions of the act were accepted, and schools were established as rapidly as possible. Most of the present sites were located after the township was struck off Redbank. Smithland school was established in 1842. Nearly all the rest were established about that time, or before it. The Oak Hall independent district became such in 1858. It was taken from part of Monroe township and part of Porter, and is under the care of three directors, elected by the citizens of the district. At present there are fourteen schools in the township, excluding the independent, six of which have lately been seated with patent furniture. None of the grounds are enclosed. Election is held in the Rockville House.

Churches. -- For a long time Churchville, commonly known as Licking, was the nearest church. The road was a path through the woods. The members paid their preacher in grain, delivered at the mill. Rev. John Core was the minister. At one time he was elected commissioner to the General Assembly which met in the city of Philadelphia, and made the trip on horseback, taking several days.

The Leatherwood Presbyterian Church was organized the first Tuesday of April 1842. Rev. Elisha Barrett was the first preacher. He held the position for six years, after which John Core preached six years. Rev Joseph Mateer was ordained in this church, and also preached his last sermon here, serving faithfully as pastor for twenty-nine years, until his death in 1883. He was especially noted for his punctuality, studious habits, and for his natural and easy gift of ready speech. Rev. L. W. Barr was his successor. Collin McNutt, sr., was the first person buried in this grave-yard.

The Leatherwood Baptist Church, belonging to the Clarion Baptist Association, was organized January 8, 1846, by Rev. Rockafellow and Rev. Thomas E. Thomas, with ten members; whole number of members since organization, 155; present number, fifty-three. The house of worship was dedicated August 8, 1854, by Rev. B. H. Thomas, D. D., who was for many years its faithful pastor. Father Thomas was much loved by his people, and all who knew him. The whole number of pastors in order from the first are Thomas Wilson, John Hunt, Runyon, Fish, Dean, and B. H. Thomas.

The Squirrel Hill Lutheran Church was organized in 1846. Henry Foringer was one of the first leaders. Both the Methodist and Reformed congregations assisted in erecting the building.

The Squirrel Hill Reformed Church, belonging to Clarion Classis, Pittsburgh Synod, was organized in 1848. Services were held in the Lutheran building until 1870, when a new house was erected by the Reformed congregation. Rev. L. D. Leberman was their first pastor. He served three years. The others in order were George Wolf, four years; Smith, three months; Gilds, eighteen months; J. G. Shoemaker, eighteen years; John Dotter, three years; J. M. Evans, five years, and D. B. Lady, the present pastor, having served two years.

The Squirrel Hill M. E. Church was organized in 1849. They held worship in the Lutheran Church until 1873, when the new M. E. church was built.

The Associated Presbyterian Church, located near Smithland, was organized in 1854. Rev. Robert Bruce is the present minister.

The Oak Grove Presbyterian Church, belonging to the Presbytery of Clarion, was organized January 11, 1860, by Rev. William P. Moor, Rev. Joseph Mateer and Elder Ross M. Corbett. The pastors in order from the first are John Sarrard, J. A. E. Simpson, and the present minister, J. M. McCurdy, as a supply.

Grange. -- The Leatherwood Grange was organized at Brinkerton, in William Shanafelt's old house, November 26, 1875. Among the leaders active in its establishment were William Shanafelt, William Sherridan, J. Y. McNutt, William A. Henry, John D. Henry, and others. William Shanafelt was the first master, after which John D. Henry was master for three years. Captain Z. Brown was master also. The Pleasant Grove Grange united with Leatherwood Grange in 1879. A hall known as Leatherwood P. of H. for the grange thus consolidated, was built near the residence of George T. Henry, now W. P. Henry, in 1879. A store is now kept in the hall by the "Leatherwood Co-operative Association," organized in the grange March 6, 1880. Piolet post-office, named in honor of Victor E. Piolet, chairman of executive committee, Pennsylvania State Grange P. of H., was established in the hall in 1886. It has now a daily mail. John D. Henry is postmaster.

Ross M. Corbett, James Lawson, Matthew McNutt, D. W. Goheen, William Shanafelt, and others assisted courteously in obtaining facts relating to the history of Porter township.

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