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A Centenarian Remembers

Milestones Vol 25. No. 2

She Never Spoke to Washington-G. W. Made His Men Pray Every Day - A Church with two Cornerstones - Old-lime Religious Amenities - Luck in Lotteries - The "Little War" of 1812.

Mrs. Margaret Black, aged about 110 years, probably the oldest person in the State, if not in the United States, died in the old mansion of Capt. William Vicary, deceased, near Freedom, on Friday morning, March 4. Rev. Mr. Shafer, of Beaver, conducted the funeral services on Saturday, at 2 o'clock P.M., and the remains were laid in Oak Grove Cemetery. At the time of her death, the deceased lived with her daughter, Mrs.Joseph Kelly, who herself is 73 years of age. In April, 1876, "Cousinjed", the Leader correspondent had an interview with the old lady, which we reprint below:

Freedom, PA., April 10, 1876 - About half a mile from Freedom, in New Sewickley Townships along the public road, live Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kelly, and with them Mrs. Kelly's mother, who, according to all calculations based upon what she remembers, must be at least 102 years old.

Yesterday, through the kindness of Mrs. Kelly, we were favored with an interview, and found the old lady seated upon a cushioned chair, beside the fire, smoking a pipe in a very contented manner. She is in possession of all her faculties, her mind being very clear and her health good, and if it were not for rheumatism in her back, she thinks she could work as well as "Polly", her daughter, yet. Her hearing is not very good, but still she is by no means deaf. She has no record of dates - not the slightest memory of them - but she can remember names and occurrences far back into childhood. She states that she was born in Philadelphia, before the men came home from the wars, that her father was a soldier and lost all his Continental money, and ruined his health while in the wars, by reason of the great privations endured, having had nothing to eat for days but bread and water. Her maiden name was Margaret Keller, and when she was four years old her father rented a farm in York County, PA, afterward a farm was purchased on time, and before the payments were made her father died, leaving her mother, herself and a brother, who worked day and night, to pay off the debt. The town of Columbia, PA, then contained a few scattered houses and Lancaster and York were not very big. She never saw General Washington, but remembers of him passing through Columbia (after he was President) one fourth of July, when they were making a fuss, and he asked them what was the matter, although of course he knew. They told him, but he wouldn't stop, and that offended the quality.

Her father said Washington was a true man to his soldiers; as true a man, she added, as a preacher is to his church now. According to her father they all had to pray every day for God's help to gain the battles for liberty. Lafayette was a true man too, and her father and all the old "revolutioners" loved him.

We asked the question, "Were not all the people glad when General Washington became Persident?"

She answered: "No. Some were for him and some were against him. They thought he was such a great warrior that he would keep the men all the time."

"How old were you when Washington was first President?"

She could not remember, but said, "I could do almost anything; chop wood, and work like a man."

Taking this as a basis, and assuming her to be fifteen years of age at that time, 1789, she would now be one hundred and two years old.

In answer to what kind of work she could do when Washington was President the second time, she replied: "I tell you if you had made as many rails after night as I did then you wouldn't be here to tell the story."

We haven't the least doubt of it. As near as we can ascertain she was married at the age of thirty to Thomas Strawbridge at a tavern in Little York, by a Lutheran minister named Geistweit. She says:

"They had a brick church built, with a gallery in it, and the 'Lutherans' and Presbyterians built it in partnership, and the preachers got their heads together to do it; we had two cornerstones, one for the Lutherans and one for the Presbyterians. Some heard an organ and wanted one in our church, but the Presbyterians thought themselves too big for us Lutherans and wouldn't have it because it would be an ornament, and they used to fight going to church so that they could not take sacrament. Us young folks that didn't care got the organ after all and put it in, and then you had to go to church before daylight if you wanted a seat, the Presbyterians all crowded to hear it so and we never bothered them when they had church, so when the Presbyterian girls would come we would push, and push them out of their seats; we were full of mischief, but not bad; we had manners, too, more than children have now, and were as good to neighbors as to our own fathers and mothers. The Presbyterians got to like the organ too, and the preachers never cared, but let the people fight it out, and, when everything was paid for, each congregation had $150 left; but we all worked, and the preachers published about it in the papers in Philadelphia, and got some money.

"I always had luck in lotteries. The first ticket I bought I got a hat; the second, two scarfs; the third I asked my man to join in- the ticket was two dollars - but he said he never had any luck, so I got someone else, and we drew a team of horses. I got a nice horse, but if I had not been in partners I would have had them both; the next time I drew a lot."

She speaks about the War of 1812 thus:

"When the little war of 1812 was going on we lived in Millerstown, and a man wanted my husband to go to fight in his place, and I said my father had fought for liberty, and I was treading on liberty ground, and if I had ten men they shouldn't fight in no second revolution on free liberty ground. The man went off and told a storekeeper in the town what I said, and the next time I went there he pitched into me and called me a tory (here the old lady laughed heartily), but I explained to him, and he said I did right. We used to lay in the fields and watch hundreds of Indians coming from Philadelphia after a victory, with soldiers' clothes on them, and big brass plates and cocked hats. We went to the ferry one evening to see the sea robbers that were captured; they were all blacks, with long, black hair, and were to be put away in prison at Harrisburg."

Her first husband had seven children, being a widower, and by him she had ten children, five of whom were dead and five living when she came west of the mountains. She does not know where any of her children reside, or whether any of them are living, excepting her daughter, Mrs. Kelly. She was married twice after her first husband's death - to Jacob Stout and Francis Black. She says they were both backwoodsmen, and her first husband was not, and regrets that she never paid any attention to dates, stating that while living in a little town called Washington, on the Susquehanna River, the house in which she lived was burned, and all papers and books which could throw any light upon the matter of day and date were destroyed. Her daughter, Mrs. Mary Kelly, will be 68 years old in july next, and in june next will be 50 years married. There is every reason to believe that her mother will live to help celebrate the golden wedding. Mrs. Kelly is her third child.

A lady living near Freedom makes the old lady's age about 110, from the fact that she says she was acquainted with her grandmother when first married, and remembers all the circumstances very clearly. According to this we are certainly within bounds in putting her age at 102.

We asked her whether she would like to go to the Centennial. Of course, and she remarked with a laugh, "If they could only have some cannon balls fall among them they'd know what it was for," and then added, "I would like to see all my old friends, they are all out there but perhaps all dead."

Her eyesight is pretty good, especially looking afar off. She can plainly distinguish cows upon a hillside a quarter of a mile distant from her window. She is the sprightliest old lady we have ever met, her intellect being clear as a bell, and her memory remarkable. Before we left she said, "Well, you're going to put me in the papers, and you may tell them to send me a hundred or two dollars; they're giving pensions to the last soldiers, and my father never got anything; and as for these last fellows, I wouldn't walk from here to the coal house to see a lot of them - they couldn't fight." When we promised to write to the Leader about her, she seemed much pleased, and with a hearty shake of the hand we departed.

Cousin Jed, Argus and Radical March 16, 1881