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