Turbett Township, Juniata Co PA - Part I
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Turbett Township
Part I

History of that part of the Susquehanna and Juniata valleys, embraced in the counties of Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Union and Snyder, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania...
Edited by F. Ellis and A. N. Hungerford.
Published in Philadelphia by Everts, Peck & Richards, 1886
Pages 773-780

By A. L. Guss

Turbett township was erected under the authority of the court at Lewistown, by a division of Milford township. A petition to this purpose was presented at the August sessions, in 1815, and William P. Maclay, of Armaugh, David Reynolds, of Fermanagh, and Andrew Keiser, of Lewistown, were appointed viewers. They reported the line as follows:

"Beginning at Tuscarora Creek, where the same crosses the line between Milford and Lack townships, thence down the middle of said creek to the lower corner of the land of Nicbolas Okeson on said creek, thence along the line between the said Okeson and a tract of land surveyed in the name of John Sherrard, to Tuscarora Creek, at John Patterson's Mill Dam, thence down the middle of said creek, the several courses and distances thereof, to the Juniata River."

At the November sessions, opening on the 20th, the Hon. Jonathan Walker presiding, the "Court confirm the said division and name the southern division `Turbett,' after Colonel Thomas Turbett, under whom the President of this Court marched as a common soldier against the Indians during the Revolution. He was brave, vigilant and humane." The first assessment was taken in 1817, and showed about one hundred and forty-five resident taxables and twenty-nine single freemen, which still left in Milford about two hundred and fifteen taxables and fifty freemen.

In 1858 Turbett was divided, the western end being formed into a township called Spruce Hill.

Turbett township is bounded on the west by Spruce Hill, on the south by Tuscarora Mountain, on the east by Walker and the Juniata River, and on the north by Milford, on the line of Tuscarora Creek. Limestone Ridge traverses it from west to east, and is bisected near the middle of the township by Blue Spring Hollow, down which flows Hunter's Run, emptying into Tuscarora just below the mouth of Licking Creek.

As Turbtt formed a part of Lack up to 1768, and part of Milford up to 1816, the reader will find the names of the first taxables in this region in the assessments of those townships; and the Milford township lists can be referred to for the early taxable industries.

EARLY SETTLERS.--Captain William Patterson, son of the Captain James who lived at Mexico, and grandson of the Indian trader, James, of Lancaster County, took up by warrant of February 5, 1755, a tract of three hundred and thirty-six acres opposite Mexico. This he sold to Philip Strouse in 1772, and removed to Foutz's Valley. The land now comprises the farms of Lawrence Wetzler, Philip Strouse and James North. Here the "young Captain" William Patterson raised nineteen men, and marched to Middle Creek, in Snyder County, in January, 1768, and arrested Frederick Stump and his servant, John Eisenhour (iron-cutter), for killing the "White Mingo" and nine other Indians, and lodged them in the Carlisle jail. They were afterwards forcibly taken from the jail by a band of some seventy-five horsemen from Sherman's Valley,-- an event that shook the old provincial government from the mountains to the Delaware. For this arrest Patterson was made a justice of the peace,--the first one west of the Tuscarora Mountains. Here William Patterson erected a fort, or block-house, as a defense against the Indians. It stood about thirty feet west of the present Wetzler House, and the cellar pit is yet visible, and the surface paved with stones has never been plowed. It was built partly of stone and partly of logs, and stood until a few years ago, performing the peaceful duty of a corn crib. The logs were well-hewn and notched down flat on each other, with loop-holes for defense. They are now in a house at the railroad near by. This fort, erected by William, must not be confounded, as has been done, with "Patterson Fort," on the other side of the river, mentioned in the colonial records; and it will prevent confusion to bear in mind that there were two Captain Pattersons,--father and son, James and William, one on each side of the river.

On the bank of the river, just below the house, stood a warehouse, used in the days prior to the canal, when surplus produce was shipped down the river in arks. Grain was here stored. It was about twenty feet square, built of logs, two stories high. This landing was a famous place for the first sixty-five years of settlement. The last ark built in this region was constructed by Samuel Thompson, on the river at Mexico, just above this warehouse. On Patterson's farm, just close by the Mexico Station, near the tool house, may yet be seen the marks of the foundation for a house, which was abandoned because the man digging it was shot by an Indian posted upon the end of the Limestone Ridge. About half a mile above the station, the railroad cut the base of the limestone rocks, which has since become a dangerous point, on account of the great masses of rocks that slide down from the side of the ridge, and it is known as the "Slip Rocks." At Patterson's place there was a ferry, and an early road led from it up the valley.

Alexander Dennison, by warrant of February 5, 1755, took up two hundred and six acres below Patterson on the river. It is now the property of Peter Kilmer's heirs. This and the Hepburn tracts were sold to James Potter, brother-in-law of William Patterson, who sold to John Bonner in 1773. Parts of it went, on his death, to Thomas Ghormley, William Curren and others,.in 1811. From these the lands passed at length to Philip Kilmer and Michael Brandt. The stream running into the river through these lands is called "Bonner's Run."

James Patterson took up, by warrant of September 22, 1766, a tract of two hundred acres below Dennison, at Tuscarora Station, now the lands of William Turbett, John Parker and Brandt heirs. This tract included the present railroad station and the Roaring Spring.

Stacy Hepburn took up two hundred and ninety-two acres, August 1, 1766, now owned by Philip and Henry Kepner. Aside of the above, and over next the mountain, William Patterson took up two hundred and ninety-two acres, November 4, 1771. William A. Patterson, son of Captain William, had his father's and the Hepburn tracts, which he also owned, surveyed in 1803, and there were eight hundred and forty acres in a body.

William Cochran, or Corran, December 17, 1772, took up one hundred and ninety-four acres, called Williamsburg, now owned by Noah Hertzler and Mrs. Jacob Groninger.

Above these, Thomas Lowery warranted two hundred and fifteen acres, September 15, 1766, where "Lowery's son made an improvement," now owned by William and D. E. Robison, D. T. Kilmer and William Kohler. Lowery sold to James Patterson, December 3, 1766, who sold to William Curran, June 23, 1770, who sold to Philip Kilmer, August 21, 1786, grandfather of D. T. Kilmer, two hundred and fourteen acres.

James Patterson warranted two hundred and eighty-five acres, February 5, 1755, embracing now the farms of James McLaughlin (late D. W. Flickenger), George Boyer and Philip Kilmer, "on Hunter's Run." In his warrant it is said to be "adjoining his son's improvement." The Cochran tract, however, intervenes, but it proves that William had settled here already in 1755, and no doubt was here in 1754. Along with the above tract, James Patterson wished to include an adjoining tract of two hundred and fifty-four acres more, lying north of Lowery, but which seems at a later date to have been ordered to be put in his name on a separate warrant. Patterson sold, April 20, 1759, to William Armstrong, who sold, December 24, 1768, to Robert Brown, who sold, March 29, 1772, to Benjamin Kepner.

On application No. 1719, October 29, 1766, there was granted to Robert Campbell a tract of three hundred acres, above those already named and near the mountain, which he sold to William Kenny September 2, 1774. This tract was owned by "Mountain" Thomas Wilson, from whom, by will, it passed to his sons,--Richard, John and "Mountain" Thomas, Jr.,--and is now owned by Leclerc Calhoun, William Kerlin and Robert McMeen.

Charles Hunter, November 4, 1766, took up two hundred and ninety-eight acres, running across the valley west of the above. He was here, however, long before, as "Hunter's Run" was a well-known land-mark as early as 1755. It took in the beautiful slope south of Church Hill, where Judge Koons now lives. In the assessment of 1769 he is marked "poor" and relieved from tax, though he had a tract as fine as any in the county. However, if he was poor in purse, he was a success as a hunter, for tradition says he and Griffith Thomas killed forty bears in a single winter season. This is the tract of which tradition says it was once offered to James Turbett for a hogshead of whiskey, and the offer refused. In 1781, when Turbett first appears on the tax-list, Hunter's property, called one hundred acres, is rated at one hundred and fifty pounds. This story, like many others, is therefore more than improbable. After this first owner arose the old name Hunter's Gap, afterwards Jennie's Gap, and also Hunter's Run, on which Hertzler's mills are built. A branch of this stream is called Hominy Run, and tradition states that it arose from a hominy-mill once erected upon it. It is possible that the name is much older. In William Byrd's "History of the Dividing Line between Virginia and North Carolina," he says: "We quartered on the banks of a creek that the inhabitants: call Tewahominy or Tuskerooda creek, because one of that nation had been killed thereabouts and his body thrown into the creek."

John McDowell, by warrants of July 1, 1762, March 29, 1769, and William Kenny, February 21,1769, took up small tracts, making three hundred and thirty-eight acres, which now form the farm of Daniel McConnell. This tract is the one on which widow McDowell lived.

James Kenny, of Chester County, warranted, February 3, 1755, a choice tract of three hundred and eighteen acres, called "Walnut Bottom," and lay aside of Hunter and across the valley, formerly the Turbett lands, now Mrs. Stewart Turbett. James Kenny also warranted two hundred and seventy-three acres January 2, 1766, adjoining his other land and extending up the north side of the valley. The McDowell lands were south of this tract. He sold the upper part to Nathan Thomas, one hundred and twenty-four acres, in 1791, who sold it to Valentine Weishaupt, April 10, 1800. The other half adjoining his main tract he sold to Alexander Kenny, who passed it to Charles Kenny, who lived upon it. Dr. G. M. Graham is now owner of this part. James Kenny never lived on his lands.

Kenny's main tract passed to Colonel Thomas Turbett, after whom the township was named. Here he started, in 1775, the first tannery in the present county, and which was run by him and his children for three-quarters of a century. William Turbett also put up a tannery at Graham's place, which ceased running in 1865. Stewart Turbett had a contract on the canal, and at its close brought a lot of Irishmen to dig him a mill-race at fifty cents per day. This was in 1828, but he is not taxed for it for some time later. It was run by one Spayd after Turbett, and since then by John Barclay and Jacob Rothrock, whose heirs still own it. Thomas, son of John and Priscilla Turbett, was born January 20, 1741; died June 20, 1820, aged seventy- eight years. His wife was Jane, daughter of Thomas Wilson, at the river. In 1776 he raised and marched a company to Carlisle for the Continental service. At Trenton he won renown by a bold encounter with a British officer, whom he shot. At a later day he was engaged in an expedition against hostile Indians. He is one of the most illustrious of our early settlers.

On the 15th of June, 1837, there was a violent hail-storm. William Turbett, grandson of Colonel Thomas Turbett, was caught by it while out in the woods on the ridge near Sterrett's, in Milford. He took refuge under a large fallen tree that lay a little above the ground. During the storm another tree fell across this one and crushed him to death. The tree, after doing its work of death, sprang back, and when found, it was not touching his body.

William Kenny took up also seventy-five acres February 21, 1769, formerly Jesse Saylor, now Robert Wharton. Another draft says, "Gained by law part of his land surveyed on application for three hundred acres."

At the foot of the Tuscarora Mountain John McAfee built a house twenty-eight feet square, with a chimney at each end, and planted an orchard. Fourteen of the trees still remain and peach-trees grow out of the debris of the chimney. After his death Jennie, his widow, long lived there, and from her the gap near by got its present name. Down through this gap came the Fort Granville path, still distinctly marked. It was the only way over the mountain up to 1811.

Jennie's house was a celebrated place in the old days, and many stories are related of her and that locality. The owl and the bat now sport in undisturbed pleasure where Jennie's mansion once stood. It is a common notion in the vicinity that John McAfee made his settlement at a very early period. The facts are he first appeared in 1794, and got a warrant for two hundred acres, September 15, 1800.

At the foot of the mountain is a little hamlet called McAfeetown, or Mechanicsburg. Here Daniel McAfee erected a small fulling-mill in 1819, and James had a carding- machine in 1829. About 1840 Peter Hench turned it into a foundry and built threshing machines for some years. In 1848 Noah Hertzler bought it and continued the foundry. In 1857 the building was removed and a saw-mill built in its place. The waters coming from the gap flow into, or rather form, Hunter's Run.

Robert Moore warranted one hundred and one acres, September 18, 1766, across Tuscarora Creek from Port Royal borough, now held by David Coyle. Back of this, in the ridges, George Moore held one hundred and thirty-nine acres, in the right of Robert Say, dated November 28, 1767. Thomas Hardy also warranted on the ridges, near Old Port town, eighty-four acres, January 26, 1768. He soon left and purchased the McGuire place, in Licking Creek.

John Anderson warranted one hundred and sixty-seven acres, September 15, 1766, on Limestone Ridge, now owned by Samuel Kepner and Thomas Stewart. It adjoined the surveys of Esther Cox and John and David Little. This is where Robert Woods after 1801 had his distillery. On a run passing through this land, Peter Rice, who died a few years ago in Lack township, says there was once a fort, called "Fort Muck," which was taken by Indians and twelve persons killed or carried away. No confirmatory evidence of this has been found, except the fact that the stream is still well known to the older people as Fort Muck Run, though it is now often called Woods' Run. Eastward of the above tract William Robison took up seventy-five acres, March 21, 1793, adjoining John Little, John Crozier and Abraham Wells.

As early as January 22, 1767, there was "a location granted to David Littel," surveyed April 25, 1791, by James Harris, who then made note that "Widow Armstrong has about two acres of meadow cleared and claims part of this tract." Mny 6, 1802, William Harris re-surveyed this on an order of the Board of Property, as Henry Taylor claimed thirty-three acres right in the heart of David Little's seventy acres, along the creek at the east end of the Groninger bridge, and included the house and a meadow below. Taylor held the Armstrong claim, but the Little survey was older and rested on a warrant, James Harris did not return the survey. William Harris says: "I do not know the reason why the location 2528, in the name of David Littel, has remained so long without being acted upon."

John Little (later spelled Lytle) warranted three hundred and thirty acres, June 16, 1794, east of David and south of Robert, and extending eastward as far as the Rankin- Hunter- Campbell tract. Surveyor, April 11, 1795, says this tract "appears to have been called Patterson's Land." It bounded Robert on the north and east. In this region the Rankin survey located Samuel Green, a squatter in 1763, no doubt. These lands are now owned by James P. Johnson, Benjamin Groninger, John Rigby, George Harner and William Groninger.

On June 16, 1794, Robert Little got a warrant for three hundred and thirty acres, now mostly owned by Uriah Guss' heirs, which passed May 7, 1802, to Sebastian Hustler, and from his heirs, May 28, 1814, to Abraham Whistler, then to Henry Zook, June 26, 1819. It is evident that the Littles long held a large tract of land which was unwarranted. Robert Little was a justice of the peace and one of the commissioners on the organization of Mifflin County. He is on the tax-lists from 1767 to 1805. He had two acres cleared in 1767, and in 1768 had stock for farming.

John Kepner lived about Millerstown, or below it. He had three sons, who moved into the present Turbett township. 1. Benjamin, who moved across the river from Mexico in 1772, whose sons were Jacob (merchant), Benjamin, William, John, Philip, Henry and David. 2. Jacob, who moved on the McCrum place, now owned by S. D. Kepner, in 1799, whose sons were John and Jacob by a first wife, and Benjamin, Henry and Samuel D. by a second wife. 3. Samuel, who moved on the Crozier place, next west of his brother Jacob in 1797, whose sons were Jacob, David, Samuel and John W. The daughters are not here given. There was also another stock of Kepners of the same family connection, but not related nearer than cousins to the three brothers above named, who moved on farms a little east of Johnstown. They were John, in 1791; and Major Benjamin, in 1790, whose sons were Solomon (the merchant), Benjamin, Absalom, David and Josiah. The major was also known as Judge Benjamin. The sons of Jacob, son of Jacob, were John, Jacob, Henry, Benjamin, Samuel, and daughters Catharine (Sulouff), Mary (Boyer), Christina (Hertzler-Heikes), Sarah (Rice), Elizabeth (Aughey).

John Hench was of a Huguenot family that had to leave France for the sake of his religion. He came to America from Metz, and lived near Yellow Springs, in Chester County, prior to the Revolution. Two of his sons, Peter and Henry, died in the famous prison-ship at New York. His son John married Peggy Rice, and lived in Perry County. Elizabeth was the wife of John Rice. Jacob married Susan Rice: Their children were Polly Ann (Breckbill), John (married Margaret Groninger), Nancy (wife of Jacob Groninger), Abigail (Calhoun), Zachariah (married Ellen Ickes), Peter (married Mary Stewart, then Sidney Strouse). The children of the above have long occupied a prominent position in the community. Judge Cyrus M. Hench is a son of John.

John Hench, first-named, had a daughter Christina married to a Sheridan. His will was probated December 9, 1807, and in it he left six hundred pounds to this daughter in case she should ever be heard from. It appears that she was lost or killed by Indians while descending the Ohio River in going to Kentucky, as we infer from the "Border Life." At all events, she was never heard from, and the money lay unused until 1876, when it was divided among the heirs, of whom there were one hundred and ten, and it made about five dollars apiece.

The Rice (German, Reis) family starts out with a remarkable record as to numbers and longevity. Zachariah lived near Chester Springs; his wife was Abigail, sister of Major Peter Hartman. He had a mill, and from his accounts it seems that Washington for some time put up at his house. The country got too small for his growing family. In 1791 he moved to Perry County and in 1808 to Turbett township, where he died August 19, 1811, aged eighty years. Before moving up, his wife died and was buried at Pikeland Church. They had twenty-one children. It is often stated that her tomb-stone has on it:

"Some have children, some have none;
Here lies the mother of twenty-one."

If the story is not true, the lines might have been truthfully placed there. Seventeen of these grew up and were married. Three sisters remained in Chester County ; four went to Ohio; Peter, John, George, Henry, Jacob, Conrad, Zachariah Jr., Benjamin and Mrs. John and Mrs. Jacob Hench and Mrs. John Weimer, stopped in Perry, where numerous descendants remain, and where a notice of them will be found. Peter, John, Jaoob, Henry and George, Mrs. Weimer and Mrs. Jacob Hench, (afterwards Bowers) removed to the vicinity of old Port Royal about 1797 to 1802. Henry returned to Perry. John's children were Judy, Tinnie, Jacob, William, John, Samuel, Jesse and Hannah. He died January 2, 1837, aged eighty years. In noticing the death of John Rice, the Juniata Journal mentions the large family, and says John was the eldest, and that "all were present at the interment of their generous mother." Jacob's children were Betsey, Jacob, Polly and Henry. Peters children were Zachariah, Peter, John, Sally, Molly, Samuel, Peggy, Abigail, Betsey. As a specimen we give some of these last-named children's ages: Peter, ninety-three; John, ninety-two; Molly, eighty-four; Peggy, eighty-five; and the others at similar ages. They are certainly the most remarkably long-lived people in the county. They have, moreover, become excellent citizens.

Captain William Martin, of Armand's First Partisan Legion in the Revolution, died in Turbett townsbip about 1822.

Benjamin Kepner, whose name appears as a taxable as early as 1772, died May 4, 1854, aged ninety-six years.

The land on the Tuscarora Creek opposite the mouth of Licking Creek was taken up by a survey, based on one warrant to Richard Rankin, Februarv 4, 1755, and another to John Hunter, April 1, 1755, and contained four hundred and thirty-two acres, surveyed June 6, 1763, by John Armstrong. It comprised all the land between the creek and the top of the ridge, including the Church Hill Cemetery, and from the upper line of Lemuel Kepner down to the "Barren Hill," east of Old Port hamlet. On Februarv 6, 1759, the warrantees sold their claims to Robert Campbell. This early and enterprising adventurer had his house near the present farm-house of David Hertzler, and this may be the "house of Robert Campbell" found by the Indians July 10, 1763, and at which they killed a number of persons. On July 29, 1790, Robert sold to John Campbell, and June 23, 1792, John sold two hundred and eighteen acres of the lower part to Lawrence King. King sold, April 13, 1801, to Zachariah Rice, who had it patented June 14, 1802, being one hundred and ninety-nine acres and one hundred and fifty-three perches, and called "Spring Hill." This part passed, Januarv 1, 1802, to his son, Jacob Rice, who sold off one acre and a half to the Lutheran Church, January 1, 1803; and in 1834 sold the tract to Daniel Hertzler. It is now owned: one hundred and fourteen acres by David Hertzler, forty acres by Noah Hertzler, twenty-one acres by John Hertzler, thirty acres by D. Kepner, six acres by J. J. Weimer. King built a saw-mill in 1792, at the west side of the dam above the road. Jacob Rice moved it down where the water-house now is, and added a pair of chopping-stones for grinding corn and plaster as early as 1805, and erected a carding-machine as early as 1820. Hertzler removed the saw- mill down nearly opposite David Hertzler's barn, tore down the old mills and erected in 1839 a woolen-factory, thirty by fifty feet, three stories high. John Hertzler then removed the saw- mill to the east side of the dam in 1864, and in 1837 rebuilt the mill, turning it into a first- class merchant grist-mill.

Robert Campbell sold, June 24, 1790, for five pouods yearly during life and other causes, to James McCrum, one hundred acres of the large tract west of that sold his son. McCrum sold to George Crane, May 13, 1797, and Crane to Jacob Kepner, of Greenwood township, November 4, 1799, from whom it passed to his son, Samuel D., and has been now eighty-six years in the Kepner name. The upper or western part of Campbell's tract was sold to John Crozier, about 1784, from whom it passed to Samuel Kepner, about 1795, and is owned by his descendants to this day.

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