Another Unusual Somerset County Miller: “Saucy Jack”

By
Larry Pearce
1/3/12

Local history books list him as “Saucy Jack,” and that’s how the Colonial English or Scots-Irish dialect would have sounded. But the modern equivalent would be more like “Sassy Jack,” referring to his devil-may-care attitude. We don’t know Jack Miller’s exact dates of birth and death, born sometime before 1736 and died around 1815, but we’re almost certain that he wasn’t related to our various German Millers from the area. More of those details in a minute, but the real purpose of this piece is to relate little snapshots from a truly unique individual who lived and worked on the Pennsylvania frontier. We hope to give you some idea of what those life and times were like. Without such brave men (and women) we probably wouldn’t be so comfortable here today. The next time you travel the old Forbes Road, today’s U.S. Rt. 30 or Lincoln Highway, look for PA historical markers indicating the home of “Saucy Jack” in northeastern Somerset County: Edmond’s Swamp, Miller’s Run, and Fort Dewart. But, let’s lay some groundwork for his interesting story.

In the mid 18th century, Somerset County was part of Bedford County, so early narratives and court records may mislead. Jack’s occupation was recorded as “hunter” and “innkeeper.” Beginning in 1758 he worked as a packhorse driver for General John Forbes while the road west was being hacked out of the wilderness to what would become Fort Pitt in the closing days of the French and Indian War. Two years later, a John Miller is recorded as owning the Miller Tavern in Shade Township in what is still called Edmond’s Swamp. This was the sight of Fort Dewart, a blockhouse built for the protection of soldiers and settlers about halfway between Forts Bedford and Ligonier. References to Miller can be found in various census records and two family letters. He probably came from the British Isles to Delaware before marrying a woman of Swedish descent named Jennie and settling on the Allegheny Mountain plateau.

John “Saucy Jack” Miller is believed to have been the first white settler in this part of Somerset County whose identity has been verified by at least two historical sources. One was the Rev. John Heckewelder, a United Brethren (Moravian) missionary to the Delaware and Mohegan Indians who kept a journal in 1762. He was an assistant to the better known Rev. Christian Frederick Post. Heckewelder records his stay with the Millers like this:
At last, a hard day’s journey, and just as night came on, we succeeded in reaching the cabin of a hunter, whose name was Jack Miller (also Saucy jack) in Edmund’s Swamp. Scarcely had we entered when the wolves began their dismal howl, which was the hunter’s night music all year round. Jack had no stable; but our horses found tolerable pasture on a piece of land of about three acres, which had been cleared and fenced in by the hunter and his sons .The young men offered to watch our beasts, and protect them from the wolves. A bell was fastened to the neck of each horse, a few fires were kindled, the hunters took their guns, and, followed by their dogs, began their watch, while we tried to refresh ourselves by a good night’s sleep. But in this we were disappointed. The howling of the wolves, the barking of the dogs, the tinkling of the bells, by means of which the young men were enabled to tell where the horses were, and more than the continual shouting of the guard from without, to assure their father of their watchfulness, and the answering cry of the old hunter from within, drove sleep from our eyes. Still we were thankful for the safety in which we were permitted to pass the night, and the next morning we took an affectionate leave of this wild but hospitable family.

The Rev. Charles Bailey also traveled the Forbes Road and wrote these words in his journal in 1766:
Sat out for Fort Pitt, being brought on our way by our friends Messrs. Ormsby and Dougherty. After riding about 15 miles, we came to the foot of Aleg-geny Mountain, and having fed our horses, we began to ascend the steep, which is two miles from the foot to the top of the mountain. We traveled about eight miles farther, along a bad road, to Edmund’s Swamp, and lodged at Mr. John Miller’s.

One of the founders of nearby Somerset, the county seat, Harmon Husband confirmed that the Forbes road was well traveled and that several enterprising people had build structures along it “for the entertainment of wayfarers.” He describes John Miller as, “a loose-tongued, devil-may-care sort of fellow known as ‘Saucy Jack.’”

Life was hard and provisions were scarce on the frontier. Local genealogist Leroy Baldwin reminds us that even wheat flour was a luxury among those households: “They made long, tedious journeys of more than sixty miles over the mountains to Carlisle, Cumberland County, and to Greencastle, Franklin County, for flour, tools, shoes, clothing, and cooking utensils.”

Historian Fredric Doyle repeats this often told story of one such trip to the store with some neighbors:
Jack Miller is jogging along the Old Forbes Road at the head of a convoy of pack horses. Suddenly the stillness of the mountains explodes with Indian war whoops and the roar of musketry. Several of the horses stagger, and fall with blood spurting from their flanks. Turning about, Saucy Jack sees his drivers ducking behind stumps and rocks to escape the whining rifle balls. In the same sweeping glance Miller is whipped into action at seeing his precious cargo of whiskey spouting from bullet holes in several of the kegs. Jumping from his horse he races to the casks, stops the leaks with his fingers, all the while yelling wildly for someone to make stoppers the save the firewater.

One website believes that the Jack Miller family lived at the tavern until 1786 and that “they had two or three children who were killed by Indians during King Pontiac’s War in 1763.” As many as 2,000 settlers were killed on the Pennsylvania frontier during these dangerous times. Our own “Indian John” Miller and Grandmother Hochstetler were a testimony to this. It wasn’t unusual for these pioneers to pack-up and move back east during threatening times. Miller’s neighbor Daniel Stoy, for whom the village of Stoystown is named, did so. But, perhaps Miller didn’t go too far from his mountain home. According to Forbes Road researcher John Finnigan, a new state road was being built about eight miles east of the Swamp at that time and Miller apparently constructed a stone inn along the passage. The respite was 46 feet square and archaeological digs of fifty years ago have uncovered foundation stones and many artifacts. Historians believe Miller moved back to Edmund’s Swamp sometime before the turn of the century, perhaps believing that the grass was about to get greener with the construction of another route between Bedford and Pittsburgh.

He lived out the rest of his days there. His will, probated in 1815, makes for some interesting reading. These are a few highlights:
First I commend my Soul to my God that gave it and my Body to the earth from where it came. Secondly I give and bequeath unto my beloved son William a tract of land situate in Stoney Creek Township in Somerset County containing three hundred acres. Thirdly I give and bequeath unto my beloved son Michael the tract of land he now occupies containing one hundred and fifty acres and all my personal property: horses, cows, and all other like cattle and my household furniture. I also give and bequeath unto my beloved daughter-in-law Mary Ann, widow of my oldest son john the sum of thirty dollars in the following payments: ten dollars thereof to be paid one year after my death, ten dollars to be paid two years after my death, and ten dollars to be paid three years after my death.

Saucy Jack gives likewise to his son-in-laws Adam Ross and James Evans. He gives his granddaughter Johana a three-year old heifer with the following provision:
And if she continues living with my son Michael, he is to feed said heifer for one half of the increase of said heifer, and when she think proper to discontinue living with my son, she shall then take the said heifer and the one half of all the increase of said heifer with her. If my son Michael is not satisfied of agreed after my death to pay the before mentioned Shares particular as described and as he payment becomes due, then all my personal property shall be sold and divided in equal shares among the whole of my children, except the heifer given to Johana.

I repeat that Saucy Jack was not related to our German Millers but he lived very close to their Brother Valley and Quemahoning Townships. We believe he is not only representative of the fortitude of these pioneers but, in many ways, of their unique character. Research continues as to whether any of his descendants are still living in our area. Perhaps they intermarried with some of the rest of our Somerset County families.

Works Cited

Baldwin, H. Leroy. Two Hundred Years in Shade Township, PA, 1762-1962. Central City, PA, 1962.

Cassidy. John C. The Somerset County Outline. 1932

Doyle, Fredric. Early Somerset County, 1945
http://www.pa-roots.com/bedford/history/earlysomersetcounty.html

Gull, Tom. E-mail. 21 January 2012.

Heckewelder, John. A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Delaware & Mohegan Indians. Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1907.

History of Bedford and Somerset Counties, PA, 1906.
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pasomers/hbs/chapter6.htm

A History of the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania. Vol. 1. George P. Donhehoo, Ed. Harrisburg: Susquehanna History Association, 1930

“Our Family Tree & Then Some.” 16 Dec. 2011
http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=25618&id=132345

“Will of John Miller.” Book 1, Estate 20. Bedford County, PA, 1815.

14 Responses to Another Unusual Somerset County Miller: “Saucy Jack”

  1. Tom Gull says:

    Hi. I’m probably the person who has done the most research on Saucy Jack’s family, having realized over 20 years ago that I was one of his descendants. His great-granddaughter Agnes Miller married into the Gull family of Somerset County. From a quick glance, much of the text on this Miller and Stoy family on “Our Family Tree…” may have come from my RootsWeb WorldConnect database. I just glanced at the text on Edward Higgins and noticed that is was very familiar. In any case, I would be happy to trade emails with you on Saucy Jack and can reassure you that there are almost certainly descendants of his still running around Somerset, Bedford, and Cambria counties. Some of them have corresponded with me now and then.

    And thanks for this writeup. I have a couple of minor corrections to suggest but you have definitely captured the flavor of this family. I do think they were English or Scots in origin (though not necessarily immigrants). Jack’s wife was Jennie Higgins, daughter of Michael Higgins and Frances Henrickson. The former was probably Scots or Scots-Irish, the latter possibly descended from the Swedish Henricksons of Wilmington, Delware. Daniel Stoy’s wife was Sarah Higgins, Jennie’s sister. So Daniel Stoy and John Miller were actually brothers-in-law and a lot of evidence wsa left behind in legal documents suggesting the strength of this relationship.

    • admin says:

      Hi Tom,
      What a nice surprise to hear from the expert! I try to credit all the sources I use so your name has been added. It’s amazing how many references there are to old Saucy Jack. What’s more amazing is how many Millers there are in our area. If you look around the Miller and Krause Family links on our website, they’re everywhere. I’m still trying to connect my brother-in-law and his wife genealogically, from Somerset and Bedford Counties respectively.
      So now your letter graces this page and adds to the richness of our heritage. Let’s talk more. My e-mail’s on the Homepage, or I’m the only PEARCE in the Somerset County phone book. Thanks for making my day!
      Larry

  2. Tom Gull says:

    Sorry for the delayed response, Larry. Just checked the link again for the first time since my post. Many if not most of the Miller families of Bedford / Somerset appear to be German. Jack’s family stands out in part because they weren’t part of that tradition. All of my other Somerset families except Evans were from German stock.
    One comment in the histories has always annoyed me mildly: that story about the attack on the whiskey packtrain is usually prefaced with “among the many stories told about Jack Miller is [this one]…”. But not one of the other stories except this one seem to have survived in sources I’ve seen except for the Heckewelder journal entry. Where are all those other stories?
    I’ll prepare a genealogy report out of my database and email it on to you in case you’re interested. If you have any data on these families that I missed, I’d greatly appreciate hearing about it. Sometimes one fact can bust a whole chain of inquiry loose. That actually happened in this case when someone sent me the will of John Evans of Holmes County, Ohio. That led to the identification of Jennet Evans as the wife of William Miller (Jack’s son). That made we wonder why the Spangler stories of 1912 insisted that Jennie Higgins was William’s wife – she was old enough to be his mother. Then it occurred to me – she was his mother! At that point, the whole story became coherent. / Tom

    • admin says:

      I have your document, Tom. What great work! Yes, if those Saucy Jack stories are out there, we’ll find them. I know what you mean about one little detail leading to lots of new material. Your work on our “unusual” Somerset County Miller started me on a quest that I just can’t quit, even though we’re not related. Thanks for following up on this rich source, and I’ll be getting back to you soon.
      Larry

  3. Greg Gohn says:

    Hello. By way of introduction, let me say that I am a descendant of Michael Higgins, Jack Miller, and Daniel Stoy, not to mention the Statlers, Lamberts, Mostollers, Lings, and many of the other old families of the Quemahoning-Shade-Stony Creek area. My Dad was born in Shanksville in 1918. I have been compiling family trees for these families for most of fifteen years, so it was interesting to find these posts about the Miller family. Also, I have seen several of Tom Gull’s compilations on Rootsweb and elsewhere through the years, and I suspect that I have compiled information from many of the same sources that he used.
    From time to time, I consider publishing parts of my database in book form, but somehow it never quite happens. It was nice to find this website where someone is making a success of communicating their family history.

    • admin says:

      Greg,
      Are we both living in Somerset County? Thanks for your kind response. Yes, Tom and I are in contact. He has done an amazing amount of work on the Millers and all. As research continues on my wife’s Somerset County families, I may have a question or two for you. We can use regular e-mail, though, for that. Thanks again for taking the time to write,
      Larry

  4. Tom Gull says:

    Hi again. One update. Edmond’s Swamp is about eight miles west of Fort Dewart and the 1786 tavern site (the Fountain Inn). Jack’s son William (my ancestor) remained at the Swamp and inherited that land. The rest of the family including Jack moved to the eastern tavern site, never living again at the Swamp.

  5. kathleen (miller) jacobitz says:

    I have three William Henry Millers who came from PA. All I know is that they always say they are PA Dutch —-help!!!! In 1815 a Miller married a Vosburgh; the next one a Sherman; and then a Smith…. these Millers and Smiths are hard to discover in research …… I believe the first William’s father was John Miller who married a Mary Hawk? Any help would be great…

    I’m helping an Amish friend with her research and she conects to both Indian John and the Hochstetlers. I would also be interested in this data… but as far as I know we are not related? My ggg-grandmother only had one photo taken and did not want it. She is wearing a scarf in the picture and my gg-grandfather said in his journal that she never took it off ??? take care and God bless. Kathy

    • admin says:

      Kathy,
      Seems like William Henry Miller would be easy to find, but I haven’t found any yet. As you know, Millers are extremely common here in Somerset County, PA, both English and German. I’ll keep you in mind as I continue my “Vitals” research, and please, you do the same. Thanks for your information,
      Larry

  6. Dave Kohler says:

    Members of Connomock Chapter 16, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, dug at Saucy Jack’s Tavern in 1964-65 at the invitation of Martha Eastwood. I believe that some “pieces of eight” were recovered which assisted in dating the occupation of the site. Somewhere a report on the excavation must exist.
    Dave

  7. John Brant says:

    My name is John Wesley Brant. I am a descendant of John Brant from Amsterdam, Holland who settled at Ligonier in 1769. His son John came to Somerset County after the Revolution, either to Stoneycreek Township or Allegheny Township. John Brant and his son Abraham are buried in a farm cemetery on the north side of Route 30, a few miles east of the Flight 93 Memorial. I was wondering if you would know who the parents and grandparents were of Elizabeth Miller who married John Brant, the great grandson of the original John Brant. John Brant and his wife Elizabeth were born in 1812. John and Elizabeth were the father of Solomon Brant who was born in 1835.

    The Brants were part of the settlers who were neighbors of Caspar Statler and his wife Rebecca Regina Walter. They also were intermarried with the Lamberts and Deeters.

    Thanks for any help which you can provide about Elizabeth Miller’s ancestors.

    • admin says:

      Hi John,
      My wife has several Elizabeth Millers on each side of her Miller and Krause families. (See those associated family trees & vitals.) Those are German, while “Saucy Jack” was English, I believe. I’ll keep my eyes open, and perhaps a reader can be of help. There’s plenty of Brants in Mid-Somerset County too. Thanks for writing.
      Larry

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