PEACE having been restored, there was a rush of immigrants to occupy the fertile lands of the West Branch, and it was not long till the population was almost greater than in any other part of the county of Northumberland. And as many of the settlers had to travel forty and fifty miles, besides crossing the river and numerous large streams, to reach the county seat, the journey, in winter time especially, was not only tedious, but attended with great danger. No bridges spanned the river or any of its tributaries at that time. Courts had to be attended, and there was much other business at the county seat which demanded attention; deeds had to be filed for record and the settlement of estates looked after. All these things tended to increase the feeling among the people for greater convenience in the transaction of business, and gradually culminated in a movement for the erection of a new county.
Residents in and around Sunbury looked upon a movement of this kind with alarm, for they realized that if it proved successful the county of Northumberland, however vast her territory, would be shorn of her most populous townships, and they would suffer in a pecuniary degree. The great bulk of population was in the -valley of the West Branch, extending as far west as the present site of Lock Haven and Bald Eagle valley. It was indeed an attractive region, and it did not require much foresight to show that it was destined to Still become more rich and populous.
What could be done to stay this growing sentiment in favor of dismemberment? Muncy, Lycoming, Pine, Bald Eagle, and Washington were the only townships on the upper waters of the West Branch at this time. Still the work of reduction in the size of townships was demanded by the increase of population. At February sessions, 1786, Loyalsock township was formed from that portion of Muncy township lying between Loyalsock and Lycoming creeks. This was the beginning of the work of disintegration of the great and original township of Muncy, and it was continued at intervals down till within recent years. Loyalsock, though not so large as many others, finally contributed the ground on which the city of Williamsport was founded.
With the erection of the foregoing township it might be supposed that the work would be suspended for a time. But not so. A. feeling of unrest pervaded the settlements, and a carving up of more territory was demanded for the better accommodation of the people in the administration of local laws. Accordingly at May sessions, 1786, three more townships were formed on the south side of the river and named, respectively, Nippenose, Bald Eagle, and Upper Bald Eagle. These townships, like the fathers erected about the same time, have all been subjected to a great curtailment of their territory, and one of the Bald Eagles has been absorbed or wiped out.
A NEW COUNTY PROPOSED.
Still the feeling of uneasiness was not allayed. A movement for the erection of a new county, to embrace that portion of Northumberland county lying west of Muncy Hills, was commenced in 1786, and pushed with great vigor for fully nine years before success crowned the efforts of the projectors. It met with violent opposition from the beginning, because the people of Sunbury, Northumberland, and that portion of the territory now embraced by Union county feared that the loss of such a valuable section would be a serious detriment to them. An examination of the proceedings of the Assembly from 1786 to 1795 gives a clear insight of the fierce struggle that was waged during the nine years that elapsed. Owing to the meagerness of the reports, however, much that would be exceedingly interesting now was not preserved.
The first record we have of the beginning of the fight is an entry in the journal under date of September 25, 1786, which reads as follows: "An act for erecting the northern part of the county of Northumberland into a separate county was engrossed and brought in for the Speaker to sign." A careful examination of the minutes preceding this entry failed to disclose when and by whom the bill was introduced, and whether its consideration had elicited any discussion before its passage, for it must have passed, else it could not have been "engrossed and brought in for the Speaker to sign." But that such a bill had been under consideration is shown by a brief entry in the Journal September 12, 1786, that a "petition from a number of inhabitants praying against a division of Northumberland county was received and filed."
The next entry relating to the bill was made under date of November 16, 1786, and reads:
A motion made by Mr. Dale, seconded by Mr. Antes, and adopted, in the following words:
WHEREAS, By an act passed the 25th of September last, entitled, - An act for erecting the northern part of the county of Northumberland into a separate county," it appears by the second section of said act, that the line to be run from the mouth of Nescopeck to the line which divides the waters of the East Branch of the Susquehanna from those of the West Branch, is to be run to a point due west, which said line is an error in the engrossed act, and totally inadmissible, therefore
Resolved, That Mr. Antes, Mr. Dale, and Mr. Brackenridge be a committee to bring in a bill to remedy the defect in the aforesaid act.
The advocates of a new county, it seems, were determined and active, and if they failed in securing the first object of their wishes, they had another proposition to submit, as the following entry in the journal on the 22d of December, 1786, will show:
A petition from a number of inhabitants of the county of Northumberland was read, stating the many grievances they labor under, by reason of the courts of justice in and for said county being held at Sunbury, and praying the petitions presented to the former House of Representatives for a removal of the seat of justice from the said town may be taken into consideration by this House. Ordered to lie on the table.
The proposition by the inhabitants of the upper part of the valley, which now embraces Lycoming and Clinton counties, to remove the seat of justice from Sunbury, in the event of a new county being refused, is what stirred up and intensified the opposition. The House, however, appears to have regarded the prayer of the petitioners with favor, for an entry in the Journal on the same day informs us that "the bill or supplement to the first act was read three time by paragraphs, and debated, and ordered to be engrossed." And on the 27th, we learn from the same authority, the supplemental act erecting a now county "was brought in and the Speaker directed to sign it."
As to its final disposition the records are silent, although we would infer from the language used, that the question was. settled and the bill was about to become a law. That it failed at the last moment there is no doubt, but through what influences we are left in ignorance. Evidently the Speaker, although " directed," did not "sign it;" or if he did, the President of the Supreme Executive Council, who was virtually the Governor, and exercised dictatorial powers greater than those exercised by a Governor under the present Constitution, throttled it. Most likely the latter, as sufficiently powerful influences, through a combination of interests, landed or otherwise, were brought to bear from Sunbury to override this act of the Assembly. Those were the days when more corruption existed than at the present time, though we are in the habit these modern days of proudly pointing to the fathers of the State and the Republic as shining exemplars of purity in politics and legislation.
Although defeated at the moment when victory seemed sure, the friends of the movement for a new county or a new county seat were not dismayed, and did not give up the fight, for we learn by an entry in the Journal of February 27, 1787, that a "petition of 385 inhabitants of Northumberland county was filed, praying that the seat of justice may be removed from Sunbury to Northumberland."
THE BEGINNING OF BITTERNESS.
This was a bitter pill for the Sunburyites, for they entertained an intense hatred of their rival across the river, and even at this day the mellowing influences of more than a century have failed to eradicate all feeling of antagonism. On the 1st of March following, the same authority informs us, " the petition was referred to Mr. Heister, Mr. Antes, and Mr. Dale to report." Samuel Dale and Frederick Antes were the Representatives of Northumberland county.
On the 9th of March, 1787, a petition signed by 576 "inhabitants of Northumberland county, praying for the seat of justice to be removed from Sunbury," was received and filed. The subsequent day a report on the petition signed by 385 persons was read and laid on the table, but the minutes do not state its purport. On the 17th of March the report was called for, and the committee instructed to " bring in a bill removing the seat of justice from Sunbury." There is nothing in the minutes to show what action the committee took, but it is obvious that nothing was done in answer to the prayer of the 385. It was, very likely, quietly allowed to slumber in a pigeon hole till adjournment. We hear nothing more of the movement until November 16, 1787, when the minutes inform us that 61 petitions were filed for dividing Northumberland county." The number of signers is not given, probably because the "prayer" had become on old one.
The fight was renewed at the next session, for under date of March 6, 1788, there is an entry of a petition having been received, praying for a division of the county. And, as if to vary the monotony, six days later a petition " against a division" was received, but its strength is not mentioned.
On the subsequent day, the 13th, a petition containing the names of 682 persons residing west of Muncy Hills," was presented. The petitioners prayed for the erection of a new county, " and that Loyalsock be the division line on the north side of the West Branch, and the White Deer mountains on the south side of said river." The petition was referred to the "committee appointed March 3d," which had the prayer of the 385 under consideration.
A STRONG APPEAL DENIED.
Nothing more is heard of the matter till the 20th of November, 1789, more than a year and a half, when the inhabitants, evidently tired of waiting, appealed to the Assembly in force, for the minutes tell us that on that day a "petition from 996 inhabitants of Northumberland county, residing on the west side of the Susquehanna, was read, praying for a division of said county," and laid on the table. This ponderous array of names for that time must have embraced every Settler west of Muncy Hills to Bald Eagle valley, and it would be interesting to have a copy of the document
at this day, to see the names of the signers. But as a century has passed it has very likely long since perished. The journal shows that it was not ignored, for it was soon read the second time and referred to a committee to report. We are not informed who composed the committee, but they evidently felt that a petition containing the names of nearly 1,000 citizens could not be lightly treated, and on the 20th of December, 1789, they submitted the following elaborate report:
That to your committee it appears the legislature should rather decide upon fixed and determinate principles, than upon a bare expression of the wishes of even many citizens ; for although, in matters of local concern, those immediately interested can best feel, and, feeling, can point out the particular inconveniences of their own situation, yet they may not always impartially consider or be deeply affected with the increased disadvantages to others resulting from their gratification. With the legislature it then rests to determine how far the particular cases may accord with the general interests and harmony of the whole.
To your committee it appears that, in determining questions of this nature, regard should be had to the number and ability of the inhabitants, as well as to the extent of country and the particular situation with respect to rivers, chains of mountains, and other natural circumstances; that attention should also be paid to future probable divisions.
In applying these principles to the present instance, your committee are of opinion that the population of Northumberland will not justify a division of that county, or enable the inhabitants to support double county charges; nor can its extent form a reasonable ground for division, when in connection with sufficiently numerous settlements.
The situation of the country requested to be, erected into a separate county is more convenient to the present seat of justice than many parts of other large counties, and the river Susquehanna forms the single obstruction in the way.
If regard is had to the counties which may in future be erected, or to the inconveniences which would immediately attend the remaining part of Northumberland, this division will prove itself the more inexpedient, since the remaining part will constitute the most irregular figure, encompassing the new county on three of its sides, whilst the officers of justice must as a consequence be compelled in some instances to take circuits round it to avoid the release of their prisoners by carrying them through this county in a direct course.
From the best information your committee can obtain, when the population of Northumberland shall authorize a division, it must be widely different from the one now desired.
The committee will farther hazard an opinion, that many divisions and attentions of the lines of counties will be necessary, when, from a map of the State accurately defining the waters, ridges of' hills and mountains, and the present lines of counties, the members of the legislature can, from due information, decide on their propriety; until then, divisions must often be made injudiciously, and until then (unless pressing reasons operate to the contrary) the erecting of new counties should be deferred.
Influenced by these general and special reasons, the committee submit the following
Resolved, That the prayer of the petition from Northumberland county for a division of the same can not be complied with.
Ordered to lie on the table.
This strong report against the appeal of the inhabitants of this portion of the valley for separation from the mother county had a depressing effect at the time; and to strengthen the opposition, the report was supplemented, August 24, 1789, by a " petition from divers owners of land in the county of Luzerne [erected September 25, 1786] remonstrating against an act for erecting the northern part of the county of Northumberland into a separate county."
Why the owners of land in Luzerne should object to the division of an adjoining county does not appear, but it was doubtless a part of the scheme of certain individuals to bring all the opposition they could bear against the movement.
The same day this petition was presented to the Assembly, one "from John Van Campen, agent for the citizens of this State residing in the county of Northampton, owners of land in the county of Luzerne, was read remonstrating against the act to set apart the northern part of Northumberland county into a separate county."
From the tenor of this "remonstrance," it can easily be inferred that a combination of land interests was at the bottom of the opposition to the movement, but for what reasons we have no means of determining at this day. It is well known, however, that land speculation was rife at that time, and Quaker residents of Philadelphia and along the Delaware controlled large bodies of land on the upper waters of the Susquehanna and in Luzerne county. Prominent among them was Robert Morris, "the financier of the Revolution," and others of high standing. Morris was the owner of thousands of acres in what is now Lycoming county, although they soon passed into other hands. It is possible that these great land speculators had personal or financial reasons for opposing the further dismemberment of Northumberland county, and through their great influence were able to control the committee and the Assembly.
The set back the petitioners received by this report of the committee had a dampening effect on them, and they saw very clearly that such powerful influences were arrayed against them that it would be useless to renew the fight immediately. The matter therefore was allowed to rest for a few years, but the spirit of the inhabitants was not broken. They were determined to await a more favorable opportunity, when the fight for division would be renewed and prosecuted with greater vigor.
THE GENESEE SPECULATIONS.
About this time attention was drawn to the great laud operations in the vicinity of Painted Post and the Genesee country. The richness of these lands, which belonged to the Seneca Indians, had been noted by close observers during the Sullivan invasion, and since by commissioners to attend Indian treaties. A few residents in the West Branch valley, impelled by a spirit of adventure, made their way through the wilderness and settled in the vicinity of Painted Post about 1788-89. Among them was Samuel Harris who was an early settler at the mouth of Loyalsock.
In November, 1788, the State of Massachusetts, in consideration of £300,000, conveyed to Oliver Phelps and Nathanial Gorham all its right and title to the Genesee lands. The purchasers immediately caused them to be surveyed and placed on the market. John L. Sexton, the historian of Tioga county, states that that portion of the Phelps and Gorham purchase was surveyed by Frederick Sexton, Augustus Porter, Thomas Davis, and Robert James, in the year 1789. While they were engaged in the survey they made their headquarters at the house or cabin of Samuel Harris. There were only two or three white settlers there at the time, Harris and his son William being of the number. The survey was completed, November 18, 1790, when by deed Phelps and Gorham conveyed 1,250,000 acres to Robert Morris, of Philadelphia, and on the 11th of April, 1792, he (Morris) conveyed to Charles Williamson about 1,200,000 acres of this land, which has since been known as the Pultney estate. It was about the time these immense land negotiations were pending that the movement to erect a new county out of the northern part of Northumberland was defeated. The territory of the latter county at that time extended to the line of the State of New York and bounded the great Morris estate. Whether these immense land speculations had anything to do with defeating the new county is unknown, but in view of what followed, the reader can draw his own conclusions.
THE WILLIAMSON ROAD.
In the meantime Williamson had taken up his residence at Northumberland. He was really the secret agent of Sir William Pultney, of Bath, England, and had determined to occupy the land. A company of about 500 emigrants had been formed in England to settle on the land as colonists. On being advised of their coming Williamson set about devising a plan to open a road through the wilderness over which to take the colonists. He applied to the legislature for assistance and a bill was passed appropriating £100. It was a small sum and grudgingly given. His road commenced at Loyalsock, ran through where Williamsport was afterwards, built, up Lycoming crook to Trout run, thence over Laurel Hill to the Block House, and on to the point of destination. The draft is now preserved in the Land Office at Harrisburg.
His plans being perfected, Williamson secured the services of two brothers, Robert and Benjamin Patterson, as scouts. They had done distinguished service as soldiers in the Revolutionary army, and especially in repulsing the invading Indians on the West Branch, and within the present limits of what are now Lycoming, Clinton, and Tioga counties. The Patterson brothers then resided at Northumberland. Their father, William Patterson, had distinguished himself in the French and Indian wars, and commanded the whites in the battle of Muncy Hills. At this time (1792) their father was dead, and their mother had married Marcus Hulings, who subsequently died and was buried at Painted Post. Mrs. Hulings was a Boone, a near relative of Daniel Boone, the celebrated frontiersman.
Operations were commenced on the road in May or June, 1792. The colonists accompanied Williamson and assisted in the work. The journey and work were arduous. It was the custom of Williamson to establish depots for supplies on the route, by erecting log houses to protect the women and children, and to advance the road makers, axemen, etc., to prepare the way. He accordingly established one of his commissary stations at Williamsport, one at Trout Run, and one at Liberty, now known as the Block House, and others on the way as they progressed. The road was not fully completed until the summer of 1796.
Williamson founded the city of Bath and became a prominent man. He was a Scotchman by birth and an officer in the British army. He took the oath of allegiance in 1792. After transferring the vast estate to the Pultneys he set sail for the West Indies and was lost at sea.
Robert and Benjamin Patterson located near Painted Post in 1797, and both died in that township. The road they assisted in building became a great thoroughfare. The Block House was built of round logs, and was about 20x40 feet in size. In front of it was erected a huge bake oven, where bread was baked for the colonists and road builders.
Samuel Harris, on account of his prominence among the early settlers near the mouth of Loyalsock, deserves more than a passing notice. He was a son of the first John Harris, born May 4, 1733, at Harris's Ferry. Shortly before the beginning of the Revolution he settled at Loyalsock and took an active part in the affairs of the new county of Northumberland. When he emigrated to Painted Post is not positively known, but it must have been about 1788 - possibly later as the surveyors when engaged in surveying the Phelps and Gorham tract in 1789 made their headquarters at his house. He afterwards removed to Cayuga Lake, where he died. In the cemetery at Seneca Falls, oil the shore of the lake, is a monument erected to his memory.
A NEW COUNTY AT LAST.
The movement for the erection of the new county, was resumed in 1794, for we find this entry in the Journal of the House of Representatives under date of February 15th of that year: "Petition from a number of inhabitants of the county of Northumberland was read, praying that in case a new county should be erected out of the same, the seat of justice within the same may be fixed on the west side of Lycoming creek, at the mouth thereof. Ordered to lie on the table."
From the tenor of the petition it would seem that the question of a new county had already been under consideration. before it was presented, but a diligent search of the meager records failed to show that it had. Probably reference was had to the old question of division, which the petitioners understood was to be revived.
We hear nothing more of the matter until February 26, 1795, a few days over one year, when the following appears on the Senate Journal:
Mr. Hare, from the committee appointed to consider and report on the petitions praying for a division of Northumberland county, made report, and the same was read, as follows:
The committee appointed to consider the petitions praying for a division of Northumberland county, report: That as, from the great extent of Northumberland county, much inconvenience is suffered by many of the inhabitants of that county from their great distance from the present seat of justice, the committee are of opinion that the prayer of the petitions ought to be granted, and they therefore recommend the adoption of the following resolution:
Resolved, That a committee be appointed to bring in a bill for dividing Northumberland ,county in a manner that may appear most convenient to the inhabitants thereof.
The committee consisted of the following Senators: William Hepburn, Northumberland, chairman; Robert Brown, Northampton; John Kean, Berks; Robert Hare, Philadelphia, and Zebulon Potts, Montgomery. Much of the credit for securing the favorable report and final passage of the bill belongs to Senator Hepburn. He was elected as a State Senator from Northumberland at a special election bold January 8, 1794, by sixty-four majority over Rosewell Wells, to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator William Montgomery. Hepburn held the office till April 20, 1795, when he resigned and was succeeded by Samuel Dale. The members of the House this year (1795) were Flavel Roan, Hugh White, and Robert Martin. John Brady, son of Capt. John Brady, killed near Muncy 1pril 11, 1779, was sheriff, and the last officer of Northumberland who exercised authority over what is now the territory of Lycoming county. Senator Hepburn resided on a farm now embraced within the corporate limits of the city of Williamsport, and he naturally took a deep interest in the organization of the now county, the reasons for which will subsequently appear.
HISTORY OF LYCOMING COUNTY.
The committee having the matter in charge was not tardy. On the 7th of March, 1795, according to the following record, the bill was reported, as appears from the following entry: "Mr. Kean, from the committee appointed for that purpose, reported a bill entitled 'An act for erecting part of the county of Northumberland into a separate county,' and the same was read the first time."
On the 12th of March, only five days later, the bill was read the second time and considered by paragraphs, and on motion of Mr. Brown, seconded by Mr. Hepburn, it was agreed that the new county should be named Jefferson. On the 14th of March the consideration of the bill was resumed, and the question of choosing commissioners to select a site for the public buildings coming up, the following gentlemen were proposed: John Andre Hanna, Cadwallader Evans, Robert Brown, Samuel Postlewaite, and William Elliott, or a majority of them. Later it was decided to leave the selection of commissioners to the Governor.
CHOOSING A NAME.
The question of selecting a name for the now county coming up again, a motion was made to strike out "Jefferson" and insert "Lycoming," but it was lost. Mr. Kean then moved that "Susquehanna" be adopted, but that was lost also. Mr. Postlewaite then named "Muncy," but his motion was lost. After further debate a reconsideration of the motion to call the county "Lycoming," after the great stream which bad for so many years formed the boundary line between Northumberland and the disputed Indian lands, was proposed and carried. The title of the bill was then agreed to and it was ordered to be transcribed for third reading.
March 19th it was taken upon third reading, when, on motion of Mr. Canan, seconded by Mr. Whelen, Sec. 2 was amended by inserting next after the word "Commonwealth," the words "provided nevertheless, that the said county shall not be entitled to a separate representation until it shall be certified by the commissioners of the said county to the sheriff thereof, that 1,150 taxable inhabitants at least reside within the bounds of the said county."
Further consideration of the bill was then postponed to Wednesday, March 25th, when on motion of Mr. Hepburn, it was taken up, passed, and referred to the House.
It did not come up for consideration in the House till the 7th of April, when it was referred back to the Senate with several amendments, and the addition of a section requiring the commissioners of the new county to " take a faithful and accurate account of all the taxable inhabitants and make return of the same under their hands and seals on or before February 1, 1796."
A committee of the Senate was appointed to confer with a committee of the House regarding the final disposition of the bill. The conference was held and it was agreed to that the new county should be attached to the IIId congressional district, which was composed of Northumberland and Dauphin counties; the senatorial district composed of Mifflin, Northumberland, and Luzerne counties, and have one member of the House and Northumberland two. All the points in dispute having been settled the conference committees reported that they had agreed, whereupon it was signed by the Speakers of the respective houses, and on the 13th of April, 1795, they presented the bill to Gov. Thomas Mifflin, who immediately signed it.
Thus ended the great fight for the organization of Lycoming county, which commenced in 1786. It was long and bitter and feuds grew out of it which lasted for many years.
BOUNDARIES, JUDICIARY, AND SEAT OF JUSTICE.
The boundary line of the new county was thus described in the act:
That all that part of Northumberland county lying northwestward of a line drawn from the Mifflin county line on the summit of Nittany Mountain; thence running along the top or highest ridge of said mountain, to where White Deer Bole creek run, through the same; and from thence by a direct line crossing the West Branch of Susquehanna, at the mouth of Black Hole creek to the end of Muncy Hills; thence along the top of Muncy Hills and the Bald Mountain. to the Luzerne county line, shall be, and the same is hereby erected into a separate county, to be henceforth called and known by the name of Lycoming county.
Concerning the judiciary the act said:
That the judges of the Supreme court and the president of the Third district, of which district the said county of Lycoming is hereby declared to be part, as well as the associate judges which shall be commissioned in and for the county of Lycoming shall have the powers, jurisdictions, and authorities within the same as are warranted to and exercised by the said judges in other counties of this Commonwealth.
Concerning the selection of a site for the public buildings in the new county, this clause was inserted in the act:
The Governor is authorized and he is hereby required to appoint five commissioners, which commissioners, or a majority of them, shall meet at the town of Northumberland on the first Monday in September next, and proceed to view and determine upon the most eligible and proper situation for erecting the public buildings for the said county, and make their report into the office of the secretary of this Commonwealth on or before the first day of October next, which report so made shall be final, and shall fix and determine the spot for the seat of justice in and for the said county; for which service each of the said commissioners shall have and receive $3 per diem for every day they shall be employed in the said services, to be paid by warrants drawn by the county commissioners on the treasurer of Northumberland county.
ORIGINAL EXTENT OF THE COUNTY.
Lycoming county, as originally constituted, covered a vast territory. The line commenced on the summit of Nittany mountain and followed the top thereof to the point where White Deer Hole creek breaks through the same; then bore off in a northeastward direction to the mouth of Black Hole creek, south of the borough of Montgomery, where it crossed the river and passed over the Muncy Hills to the Luzerne county line, which it followed for some distance and then bore in a northwesterly direction to the State line, leaving the territory claimed by Connecticut to the northeast, much of which now belongs to Bradford county. Returning to the place of beginning, it bore westward, crossing the head waters of the West Branch at Canoe Place (Cherry Tree) in what is now Indiana county; thence to the Allegheny river near the mouth of Red Bank creek, in Armstrong county; thence up the Allegheny to the mouth of Conewango creek, at Warren; thence up that stream to the State line, which it followed to the point of intersection with the line from the line from the east.
From this magnificent domain the following counties have, in whole or in part, been formed: Armstrong, Bradford, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Indiana, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango, and Warren and since then several sub-divisions have been made, such as Forest, Elk, and Cameron. To give the reader a better idea of the extent of the original territory, its area may be roughly estimated at about 12,000 square miles. And as Lycoming now only contains 1,213 square miles, it is clearly seen of what vast possessions she has been shorn in fifty-two years, a portion of Sullivan being the last slice taken from her in 1847. Still she retains the proud position of being the second county in point of size in the State, Centre being the first, with 2,227 Square miles. But Lycoming gave liberally of her territory to help create her.
FIRST OFFICERS AND FIRST COURT.
The county was now erected, but there were no officers to organize a local government and administer the laws. The Governor, therefore, on the 14th of April, 1795, the day after he had approved the bill, invested Samuel Wallis and John Kidd with authority to administer oath to any person or persons appointed or elected to office within the limits of the new county. The same day John Kidd was commissioned recorder of deeds, prothonotary, clerk of over and terminer, clerk of orphans' court, clerk of quarter sessions, and register of wills. Mr. Kidd, who came from Sunbury, suddenly became a man of great importance in the new county. He was a Scotchman by birth, a gentleman of education, and wrote a beautiful round hand, which is still admired for its clearness and ease to read, in the original books of record. The following day, April 15, 1795, Governor Mifflin commissioned Samuel Wallis, William Hepburn, John Adlum, and Dr. James Davidson, first, second, third, and fourth associate judges - respectively, to organize the judicial machinery for the county. All were sworn into office by John Kidd except John Adlurn. There is no record of his qualification, but he evidently did qualify, for we find him acting with the court December 1, 1795. He soon afterwards removed to Havre de Grace, Maryland, and as Mr. Wallis died October 14, 1798, but two remained to administer the judicial business of the county for some time.
They first met at the village of Jaysburg, west of the mouth of Lycoming, and organized by electing William Hepburn as president. He therefore became the first president judge of the county, but there is no record in existence to show the day this official transaction took place. But it is probable that the organization was effected between the 15th and 20th of April.
The machinery of the county was now fairly started, but, owing to the meagerness of the records and the disappearance of others, we got but a faint trace of what was done. The first official entry by John Kidd in the book of deeds, etc., was the act of Assembly creating the county. What business the court did, if any, at the first meeting is unknown, but it probably was the entering of a decree to hold an election for county officers. As yet there were no county funds or treasurer, and until these were secured nothing could be done.
It is uncertain where the judges first met to organize, probably at the house of Thomas Caldwell or Jacob Latcha. Neither is it known who owned the building used as a "temporary jail." That a building of hewed logs, 24x16 feet, was afterwards constructed, strongly lined with plank, and having barred windows, seems certain. It is said to have had two rooms, and very likely the prothonotary
opened his office in one of them. Who built and owned it is not known, though it is not improbable that Latcha was the man. But that Samuel Jordan was the jailer, there is abundant and positive evidence.
SELECTION OF THE COUNTY SEAT.
After the appointment of the officers to organize the county, the Governor turned his attention to See. 7 of the act, authorizing him to appoint five commissioners to select a site for the county seat. The Governor evidently was apprised that there would be a sharp contest between three points for the honor of having the public buildings, and he looked around carefully to secure good men to perform that duty. On the 21st of April, 1795, eight days after the approval of the act, the executive minutes show that he made the following appointments: John Hall, Philadelphia; Francis Nichols, Montgomery; Alexander Scott, Lancaster; John Edic, York, and William Elliott, Franklin. The act, it will be remembered, distinctly states that they "shall meet at Northumberland on the first Monday in September next and proceed to select the most eligible" site for the public buildings. This duty was required to be performed "on or before the 1st day of October." They were then required to report the result of their work to the secretary of the Commonwealth, and the report was to be "final." For this duty they were to be paid $3 per them for every day so employed, by warrants drawn by the commissioners of Northumberland county on the treasurer thereof.
That four of the five commissioners appointed met and performed the duty required of them by the act, there is evidence on record to show, but the most diligent inquiry failed to develop the "report" they submitted to the secretary of the Commonwealth. That they had a difficult duty to perform there is no doubt, according to the traditions handed down. Dunnsburg, named after William Dunn, on the mainland above the Great Island, (now in Clinton county,) was an applicant for the county seat, and made a vigorous fight for it. The owner of the land in the embryo village went so far as to set aside a lot for the court house, which he proposed to donate for that purpose, and it is known to this day as the "court house lot." The claim was made that as the location was further westward froln the eastern boundary, and the location an excellent one, it would be better for the inhabitants, in as much as the county extended so far westward. The idea did not seem to enter the heads of the Pine creek settlers at that time that the immense territory might soon be divided up into more counties. Their argument, therefore, was a strong one, and the proposed donation of a lot made it still stronger.
In the meantime Jaysburg aspired to become the capital of the now county. It had been regularly laid out at that time and was the only place making any pretensions to a village west of Muncy. Temporary quarters had already been secured for the county officers; Prothonotary and Register and Recorder Kidd had opened his office, administered oaths, and commenced the work of recording official records; the associate judges had met, organized, and taken the preliminary steps towards effecting a county organization; a few lawyers had opened offices; a jail had been improvised, a jailer appointed, and a prisoner or two incarcerated. With all this already in their grasp, the Jaysburgers felt quite secure, and congratulated themselves that possession was equivalent to nine points of the law. For a time it looked as if the name of the distinguished jurist and diplomat would be perpetuated in the county seat of Lycoming. But alas! the aspirations and hopes of men are often dissipated at the moment they regard success as certain. It was so in this case. The prestige of the illustrious name of Jay availed nothing. The town lost the prize it considered safe within its grasp, rapidly went into decline, passed out of existence, and there are few of the present generation who can tell where Jaysburg stood and flourished ninety-six years ago.
Ex-Senator Hepburn was deeply interested in having the county seat located on the east side of Lycoming creek. He was the owner of a fine tract of land called "Deer Park," lying on what would be the western border of the proposed county seat. Like many others of the time, he was infected with the spirit of land speculation. He had resigned the office of State Senator on the 20th of April, 1795, to formally accept the president judgeship, which had been conferred on him five days before. In the meantime Michael Ross appeared in the contest as an important and powerful factor. He was the owner of 285 acres of land lying in what is now the central part of Williamsport, and contemplated founding a town. And as it had already been laid out and a few buildings erected, he readily saw that a great impetus would be given it if it was made the county seat. Judge Hepburn shared his views and also realized that his estate would be greatly benefited by the selection.
In the meantime the Jaysburgers were not idle. They claimed that their town was the most eligibly located - that it was on higher and dryer ground, and was, in every respect, better fitted for the county seat. The fight between the two factions grew more fierce and acrimonious from day to day. The Jaysburg faction asserted that much of the land embraced in the proposed now town was swampy and subject to inundation. They went so far as to dispatch a messenger to Northumberland to obtain an affidavit from a man who it was reported had at one time brought a barrel of whiskey to Williamsport in a canoe, and "tied up" at a point on what is now East Third and State streets, or the old Eberman corner. At that time an arm or "gut" of the river extended through there. The affidavit was obtained, and when the messenger returned he stopped at the "Russell Inn," which stood on the northeast corner of East Third and Mulberry streets. The report that he had returned with the proof to the Commissioners on site, that floods extended as far up Market square, struck terror into the Hepburn-Ross party, and they immediately set about devising some plan to circumvent the evidence. They realized that if such proof was laid before the commissioners it would probably result in the triumph of their bated rival, Jaysburg. Accordingly, the Hepburn-Ross party that night visited the messenger, got him intoxicated, stole the saddle bags in which he carried the damaging affidavit, cut them open, and destroyed or concealed the paper. At least that is the supposition, for it is alleged that the saddle bags, cut open, were found the next morning!
Things had now come to a desperate pass. The State commissioners were becoming wearied over the strife going on between the rival factions, and there was danger that they might select Dunnsburg, where lots for the public buildings had been offered. That settled it, and from their report to the secretary of the Commonwealth there was no appeal-in the language of the act, it was "final." Judge Hepburn, although he owned land, was without money. He was ambitious and thirsted for political honors. Michael Ross, the founder, cared little about politics, but was anxious to sell lots and acquire money. Hepburn, who was a man of influence at that time, succeeded in persuading Ross that if he would tender the commissioners lots for the public buildings, they would be induced to select Williamsport. Ross, thinking that it would enhance the value of his property, acted upon the suggestion and made a tender of four lots-two for the court house and two for the jail which the commissioners accepted and the contest was brought to a close. At this sudden termination of the fight the indignation of the Jaysburg party was great, but they were helpless. They, however, hold on to the public offices so long, as will be shown hereafter, that the Governor was on the point of peremptorily ordering Prothonotary Kidd to remove his office to the point designated as the county seat.
It is difficult, on account of the lack of official records, to got at all the facts regarding that memorable contest. It is believed that Michael Ross, in consideration of the proffered influence of Judge Hepburn to manipulate the commissioners, placed himself under obligations to that gentleman which ever afterwards kept him in straitened circumstances, notwithstanding the increased demand for the sale of lots. This view of the case has never been stated in print before, but it has long been privately entertained by men of research and intelligence. At this lapse of time, nearly a century, what is believed to be true history, may be stated. The contest was so hotly waged, and the principals became so embittered at each other, that fully two generations passed before all feeling of hostility between the descendants of the respective parties was effaced.
That the commissioners who selected the place for the county seat made a report to the secretary of the Commonwealth, in accordance with the terms of the act, there is no doubt, but it can not be found at this day. It may have been a short report merely setting forth the result of their official action; or it may have entered into details recounting the difficulties which beset them before arriving at a conclusion.
An examination of the minute book of the commissioners of Northumberland county for 1795 shows that four out of the five commissioners appointed by the Governor served and were paid. The entries are quaint and read as follows: "September 28, 1795, paid John Hall, one of the commissioners for fixing the county town of Lycoming, £25 17s 6d; September 28, 1795, paid William Elliott on the same business, £22 10s." As Mr. Hall came from Philadelphia he was entitled to more pay and mileage than Mr. Elliott, who was from Franklin county. That explains the difference in the pay of the two.
The next entry we find under date of October 21, 1795, as follows: "Francis Nichols, one of the commissioners for fixing the county of Lycoming, £24 15s." The last of the four did not apply for some time for his pay. Under date of February 25, 1796, is this entry: "John Edic, for fixing the seat of justice of Lycoming county, $45." There is nothing on the minute book to show that from 1795 on, Alexander Scott, the fifth commissioner, ever received any pay, consequently we are forced to the conclusion that he did not serve, and the work therefore was done by the other four members of the commission.