Contrasts in the character of the early settlers and that of the population of the present day is one of striking difference. The advantages of the former were exceedingly limited in all the relations of life. Possessing none of the comforts and conveniences which are so abundantly multiplied to the people of to-day, they were compelled by force of circumstances to be satisfied with the rudest implements of husbandry, a circumscribed fare, and roughly constructed furniture, such as native ingenuity suggested and was able to fashion.
The revolution had withdrawn the labor of the country from agriculture and manufactures. The trying scenes and the dangerous perils through which the country had passed during the continuance had paralyzed commerce and trade, of which, at the close of the revolution there was none. Of money, there was none of any consequence. The continental money was worthless. The country at large could not even furnish necessary clothing. The dream of the fighting, starving and freezing soldier led him to look forward to the future for compensation and comfort; and in the midst of his many trials and hardships he never for a moment doubted he [would] be remembered with gratitude and thankfulness by his torn and bleeding country.
But when discharged from the service he was paid off in worthless continental scrip, hundreds of dollars of which would scarcely suffice to secure for him a respectable meal. Thus he was compelled to return to his poverty-stricken family, without the means to provide for their comfort, himself often but a mere wreck of what he was, frequently broken down with sickness or carrying within his system the germs of disease implanted there by want, exposure and fatigue consequent upon his arduous and heavy duties as a soldier and patriot. Under the excitement of war with its pomp and parade he had been sustained, but these were now at an end. Is it any wonder that these brave men who had been ready and foremost in the hour of conflict and who held not their lives dear in the cause of humanity and their country under these circumstances should become depressed and discouraged and lack the courage to face the stern poverty with which they had to contend. Hence many were prompted to look in the unsettled and western portions of our country where land was cheap, and nature was as yet unsubdued. Their journey to this El Dorado of their hopes and desires was one which was full of perils, dangers and hardships, yet with resigned purpose they gathered together their household goods and with their families set out for the then far away and unknown country consuming weeks in what now can be accomplished in a few hours comparatively speaking.
At this time the mode of communication was either by means of a long and tedious journey on foot, or by pack horses which afforded the necessary transportation of the period. One horse would be devoted to carrying the mother of the family, who often traveled with an infant in her arms, here animal being encumbered with the cooking utensils of the family and such table furniture as was necessary for the use of the members. Another horse would pack the family provisions and the various implements of husbandry which it was necessary should be brought with them as none such could be obtained in the new country. Again, where there were young children of too tender an age to walk and undergo the fatigue incident to physical effort, two large creels made of hickory withes would be thrown across the back of the horse, resembling in size and shape our cratesone on each side of the horse, in which was packed the beds and necessary bed clothes for the same, together with the apparel for the family. In the center of these creels the young children would occupy a space in a depression of the bedding which was secured by lacing in such a manner as to hold and keep them in their positions, and as the animal moved along, their heads only, which were above, were to be seen bobbing up and down with every motion of the beast as it walked along with measured pace. As the early settlers greatly depended on milk, one or more cows invariably brought up the rear of this unique cavalcade. The children depended on the lacteal fluid they furnished for their morning and evening meal, and the surplus, if any, was used by the older persons during the day with which to refresh themselves.
At night, if fortunate enough to come across a deserted cabin, they would take possession of it for the time being and thus secure shelter. But it was seldom that they enjoyed such a comfort and protection. Hence they were mostly compelled to make their camp upon the bare ground beneath the green arches of the forest trees and in the vicinity of some spring or stream of running water. Here, after the fatigues of the day spent on horseback carrying her helpless babe through its wearisome hors, the jaded mother would seek a broken rest, broken by reason of excessive fatigue or a sick and petulant infant, until the morning light admonished them to commence anew unrefreshed with sleep and watching. The indebtedness of succeeding generations to these pioneer mother has never been appreciated as it should have been. Their sacrifices and labors in laying the foundations of this western empire and in building up and improving its waste places with thriving towns, cities and villagesin cheering and encouraging their husbands and sons under the most unpropitious and at times the most discouraging surroundings, and in counsel and advice as to plans and their fulfilment [sic], is a part, and will continue to be, of that unwritten history which is always the most interesting and instructive.
Though by force of circumstances their lives were inconspicuous in most instances as compared with those of the male portion, yet their influence in shaping and controlling the destiny of this western country, was not less than the more active and prominent efforts of the latter. And indeed, in times of emergency when the incursion of the savage startled them from their peaceful quiet or the prowling wolf and bear invaded their domain, she showed the pluck and nerve of a true heroine in defense of her home and loved ones. Pages might be written of heroism, and self-abnegation, did timeand space permit, but we forbear.
It must be borne in mind that a journey to the west in those days was not over beaten roads and well defined avenues of travel, of which at that period there were none. Hence travel was neither easy nor comfortable. Their way was usually along a trail, a bridle path, or marked by notched trees to indicate their course. These led through wild, primeval forests, where the precipice, the ravine, and the stream presented natural obstructions to their progress. To pass along and through these it required at all times that the greatest caution should be exercised. The stumbling of a horse on the brink of a precipice might precipitate it and its burden to the depths far below. No bridges spanned the streams, and they were therefore compelled with anxious care to ford them, or when swollen by the rains, they were compelled to patiently wait upon their banks for the subsidence of their waters. Under these circumstances the members of the family would frequently become separated from one another and much time would be lost in gathering them together. Sometimes an unlucky horse would lose his footing and the swift current would bear him away or damage his burden, or place the lives of the young children in imminent danger, if not speedily rescued.
After reaching their destination and marking a location, the first thing they undertook was the erection of a cabin for the shelter and protection of the family. For this purpose timber was procured by cutting down and felling the trees suitable for the building, which were chopped into logs of the desired length, and those were then rolled to the spot selected for its site, where strong arms placed them in position, and covered them with a roof of clapboards. Afterward they were furnished with a puncheon floor, the interstices between the logs were filled with chink and mortar to make it storm proof, and a chimney was added on the outside built of sticks and mud. The next thing in order was the girdling of the trees and the felling of those in the immediate vicinity of the newly erected cabin to obtain a clearing, which at the proper time was made ready for the reception of corn and potatoes. As our pioneer ancestry did not depend on "store clothes" for their outfit, each pioneer had a patch of flax, which the busy housewife spun in her leisure moments, and worked into yards of homespun fabric, out of which she made the unpretending garments for family use and wear.
Let it be remembered, too, that in the midst of numerous trials and hardships incident to their lives and locations, and to which they were unceasingly subjected, they were also exposed to the appearance of the marauding savage, who was bent on plunder and murder at the most unexpected and unlooked for seasons. Murders on the part of the Indians were frequent, and numbers of settlers, their wives and children, were from time to time taken prisoners and carried away by their captors to spend hopeless years under savage surveillance, if by a kind providence they were suffered to escape the tortures of the stake or a lingering death in some other form. To meet these sudden inroads of the Indians, frequent calls were made upon the settlers to do militia service at the most unpropitious seasons, often when their crops demanded their undivided care and attention. It was a very usual thing for one man to be engaged in the field at his labors, while one or two others would stand guard with their rifles in hand to protect him if necessary from sudden surprise by the prowling red man. The general government would not come to their relief and the state of Virginia had expended all her resources in carrying on the revolution, and hence in a great measure they were left to their own resources for protection and defense as best they might or could. In the several sieges sustained by Fort Henry it was the settlers who defended that so successfully as it was those who also defended the smaller forts and block houses which suffered from similar attacks from the common enemy. And yet these people, deprived as they were in their new homes of so many of the advantages of a more civilized life, were in the main a moral and intelligent class of people. As such they respected the claims of religion and enjoyed its ordinances, frequently traveling ten, fifteen and twenty miles to enjoy its privileges and participate in its services.
A pulpit made of logs was erected under the boughs of some lofty forest tree, while in front of it logs were placed for seats, where the gathered audience sat and listened to the exposition of the Word, while vigilant sentinels kept measured tread upon the outside of the assembled congregation at a respectable distance, while those in attendance had stacked their arms beneath some friendly tree where they could be promptly secured for use in case their wily foe should have the tenacity to disturb their devotions. Here in the cold and piercing wind, and often exposed to the falling rain, the earnest worshippers would remain for hours, with the exception of a brief intermission for their meals, and often scantily clad, with a blanket or coverlet, or oftener a deerskin thrown around their bodies to protect them from the roughness of the elements. These meetings were sometimes protracted for days.
The education of the children usually, and indeed in almost every instance, devolved upon the mother, and instruction of them was not neglected by her, as she generally realized the responsibilities devolving upon her, in at lest giving them some general idea of its importance and value. And this effort upon her part was truly a labor of love full of difficulties. The boys accustomed to active and stirring scenes, living in the midst of exciting influences, and familiarized as they were with scenes of trial and hardships, and almost daily listening to recitals of Indian massacres and depredations, and to the daring and deeds of some well-known pioneer, and ignorant of the sports engaged in by her children in more settled portion of the country, it is no wonder that they grew up with the spirit of adventure full developed within them, and with the idea that a soldier's life was the ideal object to be obtained, or a hunter's the one to be adopted and followed. Yet the labor of the faithful mothers built up characters in many cases imbued with the transforming power of Christianity, and many of them became the humble and sincere followers of the Master.
The early settlers of the Pan-handle, notwithstanding the many privations and hardships they were called upon to endure found leisure to engage in recreation and to enjoy sports and pleasures which in these latter days have entirely passed away and been forgotten to a very great extent. Doddridge, in speaking of the games and diversions engaged in says: "One important pastime of our boys was that of imitating the noise of every bird and beast in the woods. This faculty was not merely a pastime, but a very necessary part of education, on account of its utility in certain circumstances. The imitations of the gobbling, and other sounds of wild turkeys, often brought those keen-eyed and ever watchful tenants of the forest, within the reach of the rifle. The bleating of the fawn brought the dam to her death in the sam way. The hunter often collected a company of mopish owls to the trees about his camp, and amused himself with their horse screaming; his howl would raise and obtain responses from a pack of wolves, so as to inform of their neighborhood, as well as guard him against their depradations. This imitative faculty was sometimes requisite as a measure of precaution in war. The Indians, when scattered about in a neighborhood, often collected together, by imitating turkeys by day and wolves or owls by night. In similar situations our people did the same. I have often witnessed the consternation of a whole neighborhood, in consequence of a few screeches of owls. An early and correct use of this imitative faculty was considered as an indication that its possessor would become in due time a good hunter and a valiant warrior."
Throwing the tomahawk was another boyish sport, in which many acquired considerable skill. The tomahawk with its handle of a certain length, will make a given number of turns in a given distance, say in five steps it will strike with the edge, the handle downwards; at the distance of seven and a half it will strike with the edge, the handle upwards, and so on. A little experience enabled the boy to measure the distance with his eye, when walking through the woods, and strike a tree with his tomahawk in any way he chose.
The athletic sports of running, jumping and wrestling, were the pastimes of boys in common with the men. A well-grown boy at the age of twelve or thirteen years was furnished with a small rifle and shot pouch. He then became a fort soldier, and had his port-hole assigned him. Hunting squirrels, turkeys and raccoons soon made him expert in the use of his gun. Dancing was the principal amusement of our young people of both sexes. Their dances to be sure were of the simplest forms. Three and four-handed reels and jigs. Contra dances, cotillions, and minuets were unknown. Shooting at marks was a common diversion among the men, when their stock of ammunition would allow it; this, however, was far from being always the case. The present mode of shooting off-hand was not then in practice. This mode was not considered as any trial of the value of the gun; nor indeed as much of a trial of the skill of a marksman. Their shooting was from a rest and at as great a distance as the length and weight of he barrel of the gun would throw a ball on a horizontal level. Such was their regard to accuracy, in those sportive trials of their rifles and of their own skill in the use of them, that they often put moss or some other soft substance, on the log or stump from which they shot, for fear of having the bullet thrown from the mark by the spring of the barrel. When the rifle was held to the side of a tree for a rest, it was pressed against it as lightly as possible for the same reason. Rifles of former times were different from those of modern date; few of them carried more than forty-five bullets to the pound. Bullets of a less size were not thought sufficiently heavy for hunting or war.
Dramatic narrations concerning Jack and the giant furnished our young people with another source of amusement during their leisure hours. Many of these tales were lengthy, and embraced a considerable range of incident, Jack, always the hero of the story, after encountering many difficulties, and performing many great achievements, came off conquerer of the giant. Many of these stories were tales of knight errantry, in which some captive virgin was released from captivity and restored to her lover. These dramatic narrations concerning Jack and the giant, bore a strong resemblance to the poems of Ossian, the story of the Cyclops and Ulysses in the Odyssey of Homer, and the tale of the giant and Great Heart, in the Pilgrim's Progress. They were so arranged as to the different incidents of the narration, that they were easily committed to memory. They certainly have been handed down from generation to generation, from time immemorial. Civilization, has, indeed, banished the use of those ancient tales of romantic heroism, but what then? It has substituted in their place the novel and romance.
Singing was another, but not very common, amusement among our first settlers. Their tunes were rude enough to be sure Robin Hood furnished a number of our songs, the balance were mostly tragical. These last were denominated "love songs about murder." As to cards, dice, back-gammon and other games of chance, we knew nothing of then. These are amongst the blessed gifts of civilization.
The buildings, as we have already indicated, were of the rudest kind. After selecting a spot on which to erect a house, on an appointed day, a company of choppers met, felled the necessary trees, cut them off to proper length, when a team hauled them to the place. In the meantime a carpenter would be engaged in searching for a proper tree out of which to make clapboards for the roof. The boards were split, about four feet in length and as wide as the timber would allow. They were used without shaving. Some would be employed in getting puncheons for the floor of the cabin. This was done by splitting trees about eighteen inches in diameter, and hewing the faces of them without a broadaxe. They were half the length of the floor they were intended to make. These were the usual preparations for the first day. The second day the neighbors collected around and finished the house. The third day's work generally consisted in what was called "furnituring" the house, supplying it with a clapboard table, made of a split slab and supported by four round legs, set in auger holes. Some three-legged stools were made in the same manner. Some pins stuck in the logs at the back of the house, supported some clapboards which served as shelves for the table furniture, consisting of a few pewter dishes, plates and spoons, but mostly of wooden bowls, trenches, and noggins. If these last were scarce, gourds and hard-shelled squashes made up the deficiency. The iron pots, knives and forks, were brought from the side of the mountains, along with iron and salt on pack horses.
Early log house still standing in 1950, c. 1910.
A single fork placed with its lower end in a hole in the floor and the upper end fastened to the joist served for a bedstead, by placing a pole in the fork, with one end through a crack between the logs in the wall. This fron pole was crossed by a shorter one within the fork, with its outer end through another crack. From the first pole through a crack between the logs of the end of the house, the boards were put on, which formed the bottom of the bed. Sometimes other poles were pinned to the fork, a little distance above these for the purpose of supporting the front and foot of the bed, while the walls were the support of its back and its head. A few pegs around the walls for a display of the coats of the women and hunting shirts of the men; and two small forks or buck's horns to a joist for the rifle and shot pouch, completed the carpenter's work. The cabin being finished the next ceremony was the 'house warming'."
The dress of the first settlers partook of the character of the Indian, and the move civilized costume, the hunting shirt, was worn by everyone, it being something like a loose blouse, reaching below the waist, with large open sleeves, and made so wide as to lap over the bust when belted, for a foot or more. To this was attached a capacious cape which was sometimes adorned with a fringe made of a ravelled piece of cloth, of different color than that of the shirt. Both of these were usually made of fabric known as "linsey woolsey." "The bosom of this dress served as a receptacle to hold a chunk of bread, cake, jerk, tow for wiping the barrel of the rifle, or anything necessary for the hunter or warrior. The belt which was tied behind answered several purposes besides that of holding the dress together. In cold weather, the mittens, and sometimes the bullet bag occupied the front of it. To the right side was suspended the tomahawk, and on the left the scalping knife in its leather sheath." A pair of drawers or breeches and leggins were the dress of the thighs and legs. Buckskin breeches were regarded as superior in style and show in those days. A pair of moccasins answered for the feet much better than shoes and were made of dressed deer skins. They were generally made of a single piece with gathered seams along the top of the foot, and another from the bottom of the heel, without gaiters, as high as the ankle joint, or a little higher. Flaps were left on each side to reach to some distance up the legs. These were nicely adapted to the ankles and lower part of the leg, by thongs of deerskin, so that no dust, gravel or snow could get within the moccasin. The moccasins in ordinary use cost but a few hours of labor to make them. In cold weather they were stuffed with deer's hair or dry leaves, so as to keep the feet comfortably warm.
In latter years of the Indian war, the young man became more enamored with the Indian dress throughout, with the exception of the watch coat. The drawers were laid aside, and the leggins made longer, so as to reach the upper part of the thigh. The Indian style of toilet was adapted. This was piece of linen or cloth nearly a yard long and eight or ten inches broad. This passed under the belt before and behing [sic], leaving the ends of the flaps hanging before and behing [sic] over the belt. These flaps were sometimes ornamented with some coarse kinds of embroidering work. To the same belt which secured the cloth strings, which supported the long leggins, were attached. When this belt, as was often the case, passed over the hunting shirt, the upper part of the thighs, and part of the hips were naked. The young warrior instead of being abashed by his nudity, was proud of his Indian-like dress.
The linsey woolsey petticoat and bed-gown, which were the universal dress of our women in early times, would make a very singular figure in our day. A small home-made handkerchief, in point of elegance, would ill-supply the profusion of ruffles and laces with which the necks of our ladies are now ornamented. They were accustomed to go barefoot in warm weather, and in cold their feet were covered with moccasins, overshoes or shoepacks, which often would make but a very sorry figure beside the elegant morocco slippers or calf-skin shoes which at present ornament the feet of their daughters and grand-daughters. The coats and bed-gowns of the women, as well as the hunting shirts of the men, were hung in full display on wooden pegs, around the walls of the cabin; so that while they answered, in some degree, the place of paper hangings or tapestry, they announced to the stranger, as well as neighbor, the wealth or poverty of the family in articles of clothing. This practice prevailed for a long time. The ladies handled the spinning-wheel, shuttle, sickle, weeding hoe, scutching knife, hackle, and were contented if they could obtain their linsey woolen clothing, and cover their heads with sun bonnets made of coarse linen.
Debts which so agitate a settled community and which make such a disturbance in the laws and usages of trade among the commercial classes, where [sic] unknown comparatively speaking, among our early ancestors in this country. As before stated, they had no money but the worthless continental paper, and hence when purchases were made, the prices were paid in produce or labor. The price for a bushel of alum salt was a cow and calf. A failure to perform a contract brought disgrace and discredit upon the head of the delinquent. A thief was looked upon with supreme contempt and punished with the most extreme infamy. When a thief was detected in the settlement, the summary infliction of strips was visited upon the offender. If the theft was of something of some value, an irregular jury of the neighborhood where the crime occurred, would be called together, for the purpose of hearing the testimony, and if found guilty, the culprit would be condemned ito receive forty lashes, save one, well laid on by some stalwart individual selected to discharge that duty. Another mode of punishment adopted in the case of petty offenders was to compel the offender to carry on his back the flag of the United States, which at that time was composed of thirteen stripes. These stripes were well laid on, on the bare back by an able hand. The punishment was then followed by a sentence of exile. He was sent out as an outcast, being informed that he must decamp in a certain number of days, with orders never to return there again on penalty of having the number of his stripes doubled. For many years after the law was put in operation in the Pan-handle of virginia, the justices were in the habit of exercising their discretion in cases of small thefts giving those who were brought before them the option of a choice in going to jail or taking a whipping. The latter was usually chosen, and was at once inflicted; after which the thief was ostracised and ordered never to return.
The hospitality of the people was proverbial; no one ever appealed in vain for helpor food in their emergency, whether it was a neighbor or a stranger, and nothing would give greater offense than an offer to pay for the same. Their latch string always hung on the outside, and the stranger and the wayfarer alike always received a generous and hearty welcome. In their friendship they were firm, constant and true. Opposed to this commendable trait of character, was another which it was unsafe to arouse; we mean their revengeful animosity which was frequently carried to extremes, and which sometimes led to personal combats and dangerous encounters. They were exceedingly sensitive as to a point of honor. If one called another a liar he was considered as having given a challenge which the person receiving it must accept or be looked upon as a coward; and hence the insult was generally promptly met with a blow. But if on account of existing disability of any kind on te part of the injured, he was permitted to go to a friend to accept the challenge for him. The same took place when a party was charged with cowardice or a dishonorable action of any kind. A conflict must ensue and the person making the charge or giving the insult had to fight the person injured or any champion, no matter who, who might be willing to espouse his cause and take up the cudgel in his behalf. The prevalence of this disposition led the people of this early day to be cautious in speaking of their neighbors to their discredit, and also encouraged a chivalrous feeling of self-respect, as well as consideration for the feelings of others.
It was not unusual for pitched battles to occur, when preparation would be made beforehand by the appointment of the time, place and seconds. The mode of single combats in those days was extremely dangerous and often disastrous. In the fierce contact fist, feet and teeth were all employed. A practice much in vogue in the encounters was that of gouging, by which it was no uncommon thing to have an eye wrenched from its socket.
Among other trials and privations to which the early settlers were subjected was the failure of crops, and hence the scarcity of wholesome food. In the year 1790, famine stared them in the face. An early frost in the preceding fall had cut down the corn before it was fairly dried and ready for gathering. A great deal of it, however was gathered and put away, notwithstanding, and in this state it was used by many for making bread, which, when eaten, invariably reacted upon the stomach, producing intense sickness and vomiting. Even the domestic animals were seriously affected from eating it. Consequently wholesome corn at once went up in price to $1.50 and $2.00 per bushel, and even at this price it was difficult to obtain. The scarcity was pronounced and generally felt by the following June. There were but few milch cows in the settlements, and no oxen, cattle or hogs which could be spared for meat.
The woods to a great extent had been depleted of game by the Indians who had slaughtered or driven away the larger portion of it within any reasonable distance of the settlements. But in the midst of the great scarcity prevailing shone, out that conspicuous trait of character attaching to the people who readily shared what they had with those who were the less fortunate. Such of them as were the fortunate possessors of a cow, shared the milk with their neighbors, notably in such cases where they had young children. There was also a scarcity of sugar and molasses, not because there was not an abundance of the maple trees around them, but simply because they were deficient in not having vessels appropriate in which to boil the sap. If it had not been that the rivers and creeks afforded a reasonable supply of fish very poor families must suffered from starvation. The green tops of the nettles and the tender blades of herbs as soon as they appeared were gathered, of which they made a palatable dish of soup which many persons indulged in to satisfy the cravings of their appetites. Potato tops were also utilized in the same way. A great scarcity of salt likewise prevailed, and sold in small quantities at 50 cents a quart. By one means and another they struggled through this dire period until early vegetables began to appear, and finally the ripened corn mixed with a small quantity of wheat furnished them with luxury of bread. The crop of the year was excellent and banished all fears of want of food. This year marked an episode in the lives of the settlers, and was known long afterward, and always referred to as the "starvation years."
From History of the Upper Ohio Valley, Vol. I, Madison, Wis. Brant and Fuller, 1891. Chapter VIII, pages 155-162.
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