Rupp's account of the Gray Land Dispute
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Rupp's account of the Gray Land Dispute


History and topography of Northumberland, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Centre, Union, Columbia, Juniata, and Clinton counties, Pa.
by Israel Daniel Rupp
published by G. Hills, Lancaster PA, 1847
pages 344-349



The first settlements in Tuscarora Valley were made by Scotch-Irish, from the Cumberland Valley, about the year 1749. At that day the slate lands bordering the mountains, watered by clear and copious springs, were more esteemed than the limestone lands, where the waters sunk beneath the surface, and expensive wells were consequently required. The adventurous pioneers, therefore, extended their researches over the mountains, and discovered the rich and well-watered valleys along the Juniata. In 1833, at the circuit court sitting at Mifflin, an important lawsuit was tried, involving the title to a farm of 190 or 400 acres of the best land in Tuscarora Valley, about six miles from Mifflin. The farm was in controversy for about 50 years, before various courts at Carlisle and Lewistown. It is known among lawyers as the Grey property case, report in 10, Sergeant and Rawle, page 182. Many of the facts given in evidence are interesting as elucidating the history of the times; and the whole case, with the amusing scenes that occurred at the trials, and the marked originality of many of the principal personages, would constitute an excellent theme for a historical novel. The following statement of the case is derived, partly, from a sketch by Samuel Creigh, Esq., published in Hazard's Register, and partly from verbal conversation with a number of the eminent counsel in the case.

Robert Hagg, Samuel Bigham, (or Bingham,) James Grey, and John Grey, were the four first settlers in Tuscarora Valley, and the first white men who came across Tuscarora mountain, about the year 1749. They cleared some land, and built a fort, called Bigham's fort. Some time in 1756, John Grey and another person went to Carlisle with pack-horses, to purchase salt: as Grey was returning, on the declivity of the mountain, a bear crossed his path and frightened his horse, which threw him off. He was detained some hours by this accident; and when he arrived at the fort, he found it had just been burned, and every person in it either killed or taken prisoner by the Indians. His wife, and only daughter, three years old, were gone, -- also Innis's wife and children. A man by the name of George Woods (he was the father-in-law of Mr. Ross, who ran for governor, and afterwards lived in Bedford) was taken outside the fort, with a number of others.

John Grey joined Col. Armstrong's expedition against Kittanning, in the autumn of that same year, in hopes of hearing from his family. The hardships of the campaign prostrated his health, and he returned to Bucks county, his original home, only to die. He left a will, giving to his wife one half his farm, and to his daughter the other half, if they returned from captivity. If his daughter did not return, or was not alive, he gave the other half to his sister, who had a claim against him of 13 lbs, which she was to release.

In the meantime, George Woods, Mrs. Grey and her child, with the others, were taken across the mountains to Kittanning, then an Indian village, and afterwards delivered to the French commander of Fort Duquesne. Woods was noted for his gallantry, and during their captivity at Fort Duquesne he represented to Mrs. Grey how much better married than single persons fared among the Indians, and proposed a match. Mrs. Grey had no inclination for a partnership in misfortune, and peremptorily declined. Woods was given an Indian by the name of Hutson; and Mrs. Grey and her child were taken charge of by others, and carried into Canada. About a year after the burning of the fort, Mrs. Grey concealed herself among some deerskins in the wagon of a white trader, and was brought off, leaving her daughter still in captivity. She returned home, proved her husband's will, and took possession of her half the property. She afterwards married a Mr. Enoch Williams, by whom, however, she had no issue. Some seven years after her escape, in 1764, a treaty was made with the Indians, by the conditions of which a number of captive children were surrendered, and brought to Philadelphia, to be recognized and claimed by their friends. Mrs. Grey attended, but no child appeared that she recognized as her dear little Jane. -- Still, there was one of about the same age whom no one claimed. Some one conversant with the conditions of John Grey's will, slyly whispered to her to claim this child for the purpose of holding the other half of the property. She did so, and brought up the child as her own -- carefully retaining the secret, as well as a woman could. Time wore away, and the girl grew up, gross and ugly in her person, awkward in her manners, and, as events proved, loose in her morals. With all these attainments, however, she contrived to captivate one Mr. Gillespie, who married her. A Scotch Irish clergyman of the Seceder persuasion, by the name of McKee, became quite intimate with Gillespie, and either purchased the property in question from him, or had so far won his good graces, that he bequeathed it to him. The clergyman made over the property to one of his nephews, of the same name. The clergyman had a brother, McKee, who, with his wife, was a resident of Tuscarora Valley. -- His wife "old Mrs. McKee," was a prominent witness in the subsequent trials. After a lapse of years, the children of James Grey, heirs of John Grey's sister, got hold of some information leading them to doubt the identity of the returned captive; and the lawsuits consequent upon such a state of things were speedily brought, about the year 1789. It would literally "puzzle a Philadelphia lawyer" to describe the multiform and complicated phases which the case assumed during a legal contest of more than 50 years, and would besides throw no light upon the history of the valley. The Williamses, the Greys, and the McKees, all claimed an interest by inheritance, -- to say nothing of the Beales, the Norrises, and others who had bought into the property, and several lawyers with large contingent fees. Many of the facts stated above were elicited during the examination, although some of them were not admitted by the court as legal testimony.

Mrs. Grey (or Mrs. Williams) said that when they were crossing Sideling hill she had examined the child Jane, and found a mark on her by which she had been able to recognize her. Mr. Innis was one of the captives, and remained with the Indians until the treaty; and when one day he chided Mrs. Williams for keeping a child not her own, she replied, "you know why I keep this girl." Mrs. Innis told her that her daughter was not returned, that this was a German girl, and could not talk English when she came to Montreal. Mrs. Innis herself had lost three children. One the Indians put under the ice because it was sick -- the other two she got. One of these a gentleman of Philadelphia had, and refused to give it up, until Innis proved the child his by a private mark. Mrs. Williams said to one witness, "No, this is not my daughter, but George Woods knows where my daughter is, as he has promised to get her." The real daughter, however, never was recovered.

Old Mrs. McKee, the principal living witness at a number of trials, and who spoke with a rich Irish brogue, on one occasion became quite garrulous, and entered largely into the history of the valley, to the great amusement of the court. Among other things, she described the spurious girl as a "big black ugly Dutch lump, and not to be compared to the beautiful Jenny Grey." Her historical developments so much interested one of the Jury at Lewistown, an old settler himself, that he -- forgetting the restraints of a juryman -- sent for the old lady to come to his room at the hotel, and enter more at large into "the days of auld lang syne." The old man was a little deaf, and the old lady's voice could be heard throughout the house. One of the counsel, whose side of the case wore a rather discouraging aspect, overheard the old lady; and the next morning exposed the poor juryman, amidst a roar of laughter from the court and the bar. The case of course had to be ordered for trial before another jury. The following is the deposition of George Woods, written by him or at his dictation, at Bedford, in 1789, but never sworn to. It was not without great resistance on the part of counsel, that the facts were introduced as testimony. The case was finally decided in 1833 or 34, against the identity of the adopted child, and the property vested accordingly.

Personally appeared, &c., &c., &c., George Woods, and saith, that about the 12th or 13th of June, 1756, he was taken by the Indians in the settlement of the Tuscarora, in the county aforesaid, [of Mifflin,] and that the wife of John Grey and his daughter Jane, and others, were taken at the same time; -- that we were all carried to the Kittanning town on the Allegheny river -- and there divided among the Indians, -- and some time in the month of July then next, the said Indians delivered me, together with Jane Grey, to a certain Indian named John Hutson; which said Indian took me and the said Jane Grey to Pittsburg, then in possession of the French; and after some days the Indian Hutson delivered me to the French Governor, Mons. Duquesne; from which time I heard nothing of the said Jane Grey until the winter after Stump killed the Indians up Susquehanna; at which time I found out the said Indian called John Hutson, who informed me that little Janey Gray was then a fine big girl, and lived near Sir William Johnson's -- which information I gave to Hannah Grey, mother of the said Jane Grey.

At the same time Hannah Grey showed me a girl she had taken out from the prisoners released by Col. Bouquet for her own child.

I then informed the said Hannah that the child she had taken was not her own child -- said Hannah requested me not to mention that before the girl she had taken, for that, if she never got her won, she wished not to let the one she had know anything of her not being her own child. Some time in the same year Col. George Groghan came to my house. I informed him the account I had got from John Hutson. He, Mr. Croghan, informed me that the Indian's information was true, and that he got the said Jane Grey from the said Indian; and hd put her into a good family to be brought up; -- all which I informed the said Hannah, -- and this-summer-was-a-three-years the said John Hutson, and his son, came to my house at Bedford and stayed some time. I inquired about little Janey, as he called the child he had got with me -- he informed me little Janey was now a fine woman, had a fine house and fine children, and lived near Sir William Johnson's seat, to the northward. I am sure that the girl Mrs. Hannah Grey showed me she had taken for her child was not the daughter of John Grey -- and further saith not.
Dated June, 1789 -- never sworn to -- used in 1815, 1817 -- Mifflin county.








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