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Pioneer Cemeteries

Milestones Vol 26. No. 2

Beaver County was settled very largely by peoples of Scotch and Scotch-Irish descent, and it is in the yards of their Presbyterian and Associate Presbyterian churches that we find our earliest cemeteries, more especially those on the "South Side" of the county. The first of these was the Old Mill Creek Cemetery, located about a mile and a half south of Hookstown. This cemetery has more Revolutionary veterans buried beneath its sod than any other in Beaver County. The Mill Creek Presbyterian Church, with which the cemetery was connected, was the first Presbyterian church to be established in Beaver County. It dates its origin from the year 1784.

The first written record is that of one of its early members, Joseph McCready, ancestor of the Hice and Moody families of Beaver, riding through the wilderness to the "Lower Meeting House in the Forks" in Fayette County, and on April 20, 1785 petitioning Redstone Presbytery to send ministerial supplies to his church. At that same meeting of Presbytery the Pitt Township church also petitioned for supplies. This Pitt Township church is now known as Beulah Church, Churchhill, Pittsburgh. In that day Mill Creek was quite as strong as its more noted contemporary. The original building at Mill Creek stood within the confines of the old cemetery, about two-thirds of the way down the right or east side. It was constructed of logs, about 18 x 20 feet in dimension, and to preclude entrance by marauding Indians was built without doors or windows. A small, square hole in the roof admitted air and light. Entrance was gained through an underground passage that came up through a trapdoor in the floor. A platform or tower on the roof served as a lookout for an armed rifleman who stood guard throughout every service.

No regular pastor was installed at Mill Creek until the summer of 1799 when the Rev. George M. Scott of New Brunswick, New Jersey accepted the charge. Rev. George M. Scott was the father of ProfessorJohn W. Scott, noted as an educator at Miami University and Oxford Seminary, in Ohio. This ProfessorJohn W. Scott was the father of Caroline Lavinia Scott, born at Oxford, Ohio in 1832; became the first wife of president Benjamin Harrison in 1853; and died at the White House in 1892. She was the first PresidentGeneral of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

It is not known when burials first began at Mill Creek, as many of the pioneer graves were either not marked, or the stones have since disintegrated. Probably the most interesting grave of them all is that of Andrew Poe, famous old Indian fighter and Revolutionary veteran, who with his brother, Adam, are two of Beaver County's most noted bordermen. The Poe brothers came to western Pennsylvania from Maryland, and after a short stay at Pittsburgh, purchased a farm in Smith Township, Washington County, a few miles west of Burgettstown. In the fall of 1781, while still residing in Washington County, the Poe brothers had their famous fight with the Wyandott Indian Chief Big Foot and his band at the mouth of Tomlenson's Run in West Virginia, the story of which has become one of the classics of frontier lore. Sometime during the years 17841786 the two Poes moved to Beaver County, and obtained grants of land in the vicinity of Hookstown. Andrew Poe was a Lieutenant of Yohogania County Militia during the Revolution, while Adam was an Indian scout, his patrol extending along the ridge from Georgetown to Frankfort Springs. This patrol was of supreme responsibility, as Indian attacks almost invariably came from that direction. After some forty-five years residence in Beaver County, Andrew Poe died in 1830, and is buried near the lower side of Old Mill Creek Cemetery, in a grave clearly marked by a monument erected by his granddaughter. Adam Poe moved to near Massilon, Ohio about 1820, and died there in 1840.

Another noted grave is that of Thomas Moore, first settler in Hanover Township, and also a Revolutionary veteran. He was born on a farm near Leesburg, Virginia in 1750. At twentyfour years of age he was married to Rachel Phillis, and some two years later, in 1776, settled on a tract of 500 acres lying along the present Lincoln Highway, three miles southeast of Hookstown, a portion of this land now known as the "Morton Ramsey place." In the year 1777 he was called out to help defend Fort Pitt, and served a three month tour of duty. Fort Pitt was then under command of Brig.Gen. Edward Hand, and was menaced by over two hundred and eighty Indians sent out by the British forces at Detroit. Meanwhile Moore's family took refuge in a blockhouse, probably Dillow's Fort. Thomas and Rachel Moore were the parents of five sons and three daughters, and in order to secure proper schooling for their children engaged a pioneer schoolmaster, one William Glendy, and gave him fifty acres of land as a recompense for his services. Thomas Moore died on June 2, 1821, at the age of seventy. He was buried at Mill Creek, by the side of his father-in-law,J oseph Phillis. This Joseph Phillis had the unique distinction of having lived in three different centuries. He was born in England in the year 1694, and as a young man served in the British Navy on board a man-of-war. Sometime after leaving the English service he came to America, and settled near Leesburg, Virginia. He remained there until 1774 when he came to western Pennsylvania and located on land near Burgettstown. After the death of his wife in 1790 he came and made his home with his son-in-law. Even when well over one hundred years of age he retained his vigor of body and mind to a remarkable degree. Only after a severe illness did senility set in, and failing eyesight caused him to imagine trees in the distance to be houses, and bushes men. He died in November, 1801, at the unusual age of 107, one of the oldest persons ever to live in Beaver County.

Second only to the Poe brothers in fame as Beaver County bordermen were William Langfitt and James Whitehill, both buried at Mill Creek. Of these, William Langfitt was born on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1737, came west as a youth, and is declared to have tomahawked the road from Washington to Georgetown. He settled in Hanover Township, Beaver County, sometime before 1779, his lands lying a few miles south of Mill Creek Church. He married Margaret Campbell, daughter of James Campbell, who lived on land purchased in 1773 and which later became the site of Holiday's Cove, WV. When the last Indian murder in Beaver County occurred on May 10, 1791, an account of which will be given later, both William Langfitt and James Whitehill helped trail the Indians to the mouth of King's Creek, and then returned and assisted in burial of the victim. On another occasion William Langfitt and Isaac Wiseman had gone on horseback to Standish Mill to have some corn ground. While homeward bound the two were attacked by Indians; Wiseman was instantly killed and Langlltt shot several times through the body. He managed to retain his seat, and his horse carried him back over the trail to Levi Dungan's at Frankfort Springs, the first permanent white settler in Beaver County, who came in 1772. Applying her medical skill Mrs. Dungan quickly packed Langfitt's wounds with strips torn from a silk handkerchief, and with compress and bandage staunched the flow of blood. William Langfitt lived to be ninetyfour years old, dying June 26, 1831. One of his descendants today is George Langfltt, an Attorney of Allegheny County. James Whitehill, the other borderman mentioned, came into this area at an early day, and cleared a farm a few miles west of Kendall. He has a number of descendants in Beaver County, among others, Dr. J. L. Whitehill, a Rochester surgeon.

Next in point of interest among pioneer "South Side" cemeteries is that connected with Service United Presbyterian Church, or as it was known in early days the Service Associate Presbyterian or "Seceder" Church. This church dates its organization in June, 1789, although religious services were held some ten years previously. The records of the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania show that at its meeting heid June 10, 1779 at Pequea, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania the Rev. James Proudfoot was appointed to preach at Service on the 1st Sabbath in October and again on the 1st Sabbath in November of that year. Formal organizational ceremonies were held in June, 1789 in the cabin home of William Neilson, one of its pioneer members. The name Neilson is now known as Nelson, and the family has many representatives in Beaver County today, among others Claude Nelson of Beaver.

The first church building was erected in 1790 of log sapling construction on the John B. Campbell farm, on the southeast ridge overlooking the intersection of Route 18 and the road leading into Service Chapel. This building was in use until 1793 when a new log structure was erected farther down the ridge on the Wash Shillito farm. In 1800 a new site was selected across and down Service Creek where the present chapel now stands.

Service Cemetery was established in 1803 on land surrounding the church building that had been obtained from the Muhlenberg heirs of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In 1902 Service Cemetery was named the "John Anderson Cemetery," as a memorial to the first "Seceder" pastor called to that area.

Dr.John Anderson, the first pastor, came to his Service charge in the autumn of 1792.

Burials began at Service in 1803, and it is of particular interest to the writer that among the very first interments was that of his Great-Great-Grandmother Agnes Vance Campbell, whose death and burial occurred the same year the cemetery was established.

Just to the right of Service Chapel is a large, flat native stone marking the grave of a Revolutionary veteran, William Littell. The story of his life reads like the tale of Enoch Arden. He was born in the British Isles, and as a young man emigrated to New York City to seek his fortune. He left behind him a young lady who had agreed to join him in the new world and became his wife just as soon as he had acquired a competence, and could pay her passage over. Not long after his arrival the Revolutionary War broke out and he promptly enlisted in the Continental Army. When the British captured New York City in August, 1776 he was taken prisoner, and incarcerated for a very long period in the infamous Sugar House on Liberty Street. Following his release at the close of hostilities he determined to surprise his intended by returning to the home land without advance notice. Before presenting himself at her home, however, he made some discreet inquiries, and was amazed to learn that not having heard from him for so long she had assumed him killed in battle, and had meanwhile taken unto herself a husband. Without revealing his presence William immediately returned to America. Years later, when he was a man in his forties and still unmarried, he had occasion to pass a clearing in the wilderness, and stopped to talk to a man chopping wood. Upon comparing notes William discovered that this was the man who had married his former sweetheart, and that she herself was in their cabin home only a short distance away. The man invited William to come to his home and meet his wife. Furthermore he told William that he had a very eligible daughter, then in her teens, and as William had never married, he might find her one who would make him a suitable wife. By the irony of fate William did marry the daughter and became the ancestor of the Littell family in Beaver County today, some of whom still occupy the old homestead on Route 18 near Mechanicsburg.

Another Revolutionary veteran lies buried at Service whose life story is almost as unique as the one just given. This was Timothy Shane, born in Ireland, where the family name was Sheehan. He was being educated for the priesthood, but having no interest in that calling, ran away from school, and stowed on board a sailing vessel bound for Baltimore. His presence being discovered the Captain took him into custody, refused to permit him to go ashore at Baltimore, and prepared to return him to his native land. A Baltimore merchant hearing of his plight agreed to reimburse the Captain for his passage money provided Timothy would work in his store until the money had been repaid. This kindly offer was readily accepted. Timothy had scarcely paid off his debt when the Revolutionary War broke out, and he enlisted in the American Army. At the close of that struggle he took advantage of the government's offer of Donation Lands to obtain a grant in western Pennsylvania. Previous to entering the wilderness, however, he had become engaged to a Baltimore girl who had agreed to remain at her home until he could provide suitable living quarters for her, then she was to join him and become his wife. But the comforts of Baltimore proved more alluring than the romantic hardships of the backwoods, and she declined to fulfill her part of the bargain. Sometime thereafter Timothy attended a dance at the site of what is now McKeesport. During a lull in the gaiety Timothy jumped upon an upended barrel that was being used as a fiddler's platform, and asked for attention. He told the crowd of his girl's perfidy, gave a description of his newly acquired land and cabin home, and proclaimed himself as an eligible young man who would make some young lady a desirable husband. He declared: "If there is any young lady in this audience who is willing to marry me let her step forth." Without any hesitation a young lady named Hannah Blount stepped to the front and calmly proclaimed: "I'll marry you." History has recorded that these two unconventional young people were married, and became the progenitors of the Shanes living in Beaver, Rochester, Beaver Falls and elsewhere today.

A third Revolutionary veteran, George Shillito, sleeps his last long sleep at Service. George Shillito was born in Ireland in 1762, and accompanied his parents to America in 1773, settling with them near Germantown, PA. At the age of sixteen, in 1778, he enlisted for service in the Revolutionary Army. He served as a private to the close of the war in the Cumberland County Militia, First Battalion, commanded by Col.James Johnson. Sometime after the termination of hostilities George Shillito was married to Agne Miller of Washington County. The young couple located first in Allegheny County, but in 1812 came to Beaver County and purchased a 420 acre tract of land on Service Creek, a half mile up the creek from Service Church; erected a grist mill thereon that was known for years as "Shillito's Mill," but more familiarly today as "Cotter's Mill." Here they were near neighbors and very close friends of Dr. John Anderson, the Service Church pastor.

Some of Dr. Anderson's Seminary' students always roomed and boarded at the Shillito home. One day a student came home very hurt and angry at a sharp rebuke administered to him by Dr. Anderson, and vowed that he would never go back to the Seminary again. "Never mind," George Shillito told him, "if Dr. Anderson spoke harshly to you today he will be here directly to ask your forgiveness, for he believes in the scriptural injunction 'let not the sun go down upon your wrath'." As the family were eating their evening meal they saw Dr. Anderson making his way across the meadow. He came to Service Creek, and as there was no foot-log available, sat down on its bank, removed his shoes and socks, waded the creek, replaced his apparel again, and came up to where they were eating. He spoke kindly to the student:

"Young man, I spoke unjustly to you this afternoon. I am very sorry. I came here to acknowledge my wrong and to apologize to you. Will you please forgive me?" Tradition tells us that the student went back to the Seminary. George Shillito died at the old homestead in 1846, at the age of eighty-four.

There are three private graveyards on the "South Side" that are of more than passing interest. These are the Baker, the Bryan and the Swearingen.

The Baker graveyard is on a high knob a few miles back of Monaca overlooking the Raccoon Creek valley. Just at the foot or east of this knob, in a broad, grassy meadow, is the site of the cabin of George Baker, second settler in Beaver County. He came about 1773, the year following Levi Dungan. George Baker was born in Germany, and came to America in 1750, where a few months later he married an English girl. The couple took up residence on the South Branch of the Potomac River, but about 1773 made a settlement back of Monaca. About the year 1777 George Baker, his wife and five children were taken captive by the Indians, and carried prisoners to Detroit, where they were surrendered to the British authorities. For some four or five years the family were held captive, a part of the time in Canada. After their release they returned to their old home on the South Branch of the Potomac, but some years later concluded to again occupy their land in Beaver County. Here they found their cabin burned and their clearing a scene of desolation. George Baker died in 1802 and was buried on the knob overlooking his cabin home.

Farther up Raccoon Creek, near where Service Creek joins it, it the Bryan graveyard. Here lies buried Henry Bryan and some of his descendants, who came to this region from their home on the Brandywine in eastern Pennsylvania, either in the fall of 1777 or spring of 1778. On the night before the Battle of Brandywine two of the Bryan girls had gone to visit a girl friend. As they were returning home they were taken into custody by a British patrol and brought before the British commanding officer. Two very frightened girls presented themselves before this officer, but he, after some questioning, assured himself of their innocence and ordered an army escort to conduct them to their home. Sometime after the Battle an American soldier in attempting to elude capture by a British patrol, came to the Bryan home and asked to be concealed. A large apple barrel was brought out and he was told to conceal himself within. After he had crouched down in the cramped quarters, a false top was inserted in the barrel some few inches below the upper rim and this top mounded over with apples, thus effectually hiding it from view. Despite the fact that the British soldiers thoroughly searched the house and actually stood around the barrel munching apples, they failed to discover their intended captive. As the British army overran southeastern Pennsylvania following the Battle of Brandywine, the Bryan family decided to remove from the neighborhood and seek a new home in western Pennsylvania where they would be free from British domination.

Not far from Kendall is the Swearingen burial ground, in which the victim of the last Indian murder in Beaver County lies buried. The Swearingens came originally from Maryland, tarried for a time on their way westward in the Upper Shenandoah Valley at Shepherdstown and then settled in western Pennsylvania. Samuel Swearingen came to Beaver County about 1779. In 1784 he purchased a tract of land from Isaac Wiseman, situated on the north fork of King's Creek. About the year 1789 his daughter Mary Swearingen was married tojacob Colvin and the young couple took up residence with the bride's father until they could clear the land and erect a cabin on a tract they had purchased about a mile or so distant. This tract was just outside the present crossroads of Poe. On the morning of May 10, 1791 the couple had gone to their clearing to plant corn. After working in the field all morning they were returning home by horseback, Mary riding behind her husband. As they approached the Isaac Wiseman clearing two shots rang out. One ball penetrated the arm and side of the husband, and the other passed through the body of his wife, killing her instantly. Both fell from the horse simultaneously. Jacob Colvin got to his feet and went to his wife's side, but seeing that she was already dead and the Indians were approaching, managed to remount his horse and escape to the Swearingen cabin. A few hours later a pursuit party was formed, containing William Langfitt, James Whitehill, Andrew and Adam Poe and Capt. David Patton, an officer in the Washington County Militia during the Revolution. The party proceeded to the scene of the tragedy where they found the body of Mary Colvin, her scalp torn from her head, then took the trail of the savages and followed it to the mouth of King's Creek on the Ohio River. They did not dare continue pursuit on the opposite shore, so returned to the Swearingen home and assisted in the burial of the victim. She was buried on her father's farm, in a plot later used as the family burial ground. The location of her grave is well known and can be seen today.

A short distance from the Swearingen burial ground and situated on a high hill on the Pennsylvania-West Virginia line, is probably the most unique grave in all Beaver County. It is that of Judge John H. Reddick, who served for some twenty-six years as an Associate judge of Beaver County. He was noted for his eccentricity and his rather liberal views on religion. Judge Reddick was in Beaver County as early as November, 1783 and in the fall of 1816 purchased a small farm on the West Virginia line, now known as the "Deemer place," where he spent the remainder of his life. His last request was that he be buried precisely on the (West) Virginia line, his head in (West) Virginia, his feet in Pennsylvania, and his face towards the rising sun. His reason for this unusual request was that if the devil came in from Pennsylvania to claim him as his own he would give him the dodge, jump over into (West) Virginia, and invite him to follow. Or if the devil should come in from (West) Virginia, he would cross over into Pennsylvania, and from that place of safety he would laugh his satanical majesty to scorn and defy him to follow. At his death in 1830 his relatives acceded to his strange notions and buried the old Judge exactly as he had ordered. The grave was surrounded by a low wall of cut stone, only slightly larger in dimension that the grave itself. Unfortunately for Reddick's well laid plans, however, a resurvey of the West Virginia line was made in 1880 and it was found to be some ten feet too far to the east, so now Judge Reddick's body lies altogether in Pennsylvania.

The oldest cemetery north of the Ohio River is the Old Beaver Cemetery. This was noted in pioneer days as the burial place of three young deserters from Fort McIntosh, named John C. Dittman, Joel Guthrie and Alexander Patterson. On January 25, 1786 a Corporal Davis and the three privates mentioned were granted a pass to cross the Ohio River. When the Corporal returned he reported that the three privates had refused to accompany him back. Major Wyllis, commandant at the Fort, immediately ordered out a Sergeant Fitch and guard to intercept the fugitives. They captured the fleeing soldiers near the mouth of the Little Beaver River and brought them as prisoners to the Fort. The Sergeant's orders had been to shoot the men on sight, but being of a humane disposition disobeyed orders, for which he was reduced in grade. Major Wyllis, as soon as the party had returned and without summoning a court-martial to try the three men, as military law required, ordered out a file of soldiers and had the deserters shot within an hour. Their bodies were buried in the square now known as the Old Beaver Cemetery. When Beaver was surveyed in November, 1792 by Daniel Leet the square in which these three bodies rested was set aside as one of Beaver's four boundary parks; by an Act of the Legislature dated March 14, 1814 this part was appropriated as a burial ground, the townsmen no doubt being influenced by the presence of the three bodies to have that plot of ground set aside for interment purposes. The first burial thereafter was in April, 1814, when the Rev. Ezekial Glasgow, first pastor of the Beaver Presbyterian Church was laid to rest. Rev. Glasgow died on April 23, 1814, only eight months after he had assumed the pastorate of the church.

Finally, we give but a passing glance to probably the most touching and sentimental grave in the entire county, that of James Nicholson, a wealthy land owner of New Galilee who lies buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery near Darlington. By his will he directed that his three colored slaves, Pompey and Tamar Frazier and Betsey Matthews, be buried side by side with him and that on his tombstone be inscribed these words:

"Pray let our bones together lie,
Until the glad resurrection day."