Along the Waterways

The Story of our Earliest Crawford & Campbell Families in America


Larry Pearce


I live along a southern tributary of the Conemaugh River, in the mountains east of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, PA. Fox Chapel and O’Hara Township there became the early 19th century home of our Crawford and Campbell families, the subjects of this article. (See Family Trees.) These were two very common surnames among the Scots-Irish immigrants, so keeping the lines straight is no easy task. Furthermore, this is only the second time I’ve written from an easterly perspective in reporting genealogical research in Allegheny County, the first concerning the Forbes Road adventures of our paternal Austins and Pearces, who settled at Pearce Mill in1820. (See “Commentary of the Original Family Narrative: Part III” in the E-Gen Series.) These pages, however, are intended as a “prequel,” background if you will, to an earlier Crawford-Campbell story, a report on our maternal side. (See “Introduction to the James and Sarah Campbell Crawford Family of Western PA.”) My words are intended to provide context for and understanding of pioneer life on the Western Pennsylvania frontier and to inspire deeper research along specific family lines.

Let’s begin by clarifying that these Campbells are probably not the same immediate family line as Thomas, my great-great-great grandfather who went to Allegheny County directly from Northern Ireland in 1828, and married Mary Crawford two years later. Her mother, Sarah, had been a Campbell. However, referring to the Pittsburgh area, one source suggests that Thomas possibly had family already there (O’Hara). Cushing claims that Thomas’ parents had come from County Derry to Allegheny County in 1812. The Campbells of this study go back, we believe, several generations before Thomas, to the late 18th century. Sarah Campbell married James Crawford of what is now Indiana County, just east of Allegheny County. Our research question was two-fold, “Why did they first settle in Indiana County?” and “Why did they leave there and go west to Allegheny County?” We began the investigation in, of all places, the graveyard where James and Sarah are buried. An e-mail conversation with Diane Nichols, historian for the Pine Creek and Greenwood Cemeteries, Fox Chapel, indicated that our patriarch James Crawford (1764-1829) first settled in Indiana County in 1784, coming from Derry in Northern Ireland at the age of 20. He married Sarah Campbell (1759-1837) and they conceived six children before moving in 1809 to 120 acres atop the Pittsburgh area hills overlooking the Allegheny River. Again, returning to our research question, why did they first settle in Indiana County, living a quarter century there, before moving the relatively short distance west to resettle? In answering this question we’ll share stories of brave explorers, military men, and early diplomats. Investigating that time and place wouldn’t be complete without tales of wild animals and native inhabitants. So, read on, back to the days before the first shots were fired in the French and Indian War.

Whether Conrad Weiser (1696-1760), Pennsylvania’s official native language interpreter, was the first white man to pass through southern Indiana County, Pennsylvania, is open for debate, but he clearly refers to the land our Crawfords and Campbells first farmed in his famous journal of 1748. He was under orders from the governor to deliver an invitation for the restless natives in Logstown, just down river from what is now Pittsburgh, to attend a meeting with government officials regarding land acquisition and the cessation of hostilities with settlers. Petitions asking for help contained both the above family names, by the way. The state Council contained many Quakers, who opposed military action if there was a way to peace through negotiation. In late summer Weiser crossed the Allegheny Mountains along the Kittanning Trail near present day Altoona on his way from Philadelphia to “Indian Country”:

August 23d. – Came to Shawanese Cabins, [northeast of Indiana Borough; then he probably followed the Catawba Trail southwest] 34 miles [that day].

August 24th. – Found dead man [Indian?] on the road, who had killed himself by drinking too much whisky. The place being very stony, we did not dig a grave. He smelling very strong, we covered him with stones and wood, and went on our journey. Came to the Ten Mile Lick [near present-day Blairsville on U.S. Rts. 22 & 119], 32 miles.

August 25th. – Crossed Kiskeminetoes Creek, and came to Ohio [now the Allegheny River, probably between Pittsburgh and Freeport] that day, 26 miles. (Caldwell)

Prior to the Fort Stanwix Treaty between British colonists and the Indian Six Nations in 1768, explorers, traders, and pioneer settlers were the only white men to risk this rugged wilderness: Col. John Armstrong, who later defeated the natives at their Kittanning headquarters, George Croghan, John Davenport, James LeTort, Christian Frederick Post and, as we said, Conrad Weiser. By this time the only native inhabitants there were small bands of Delaware and Shawnee. The Joseph Johns historical website, which contains the story of this Amishman’s settlement of Johnstown (Schantztown) and the upper Conemaugh Valley, reports, “As early as 1731 LeTort reported to Governor Patrick Gordon that he found 45 Indian families living on ‘Connumach Creek’, also referred to in the colonial era as ‘Cough-naugh-maugh’, ‘Connumah’, ‘Ko-ne-ma’, or ‘Gunamonki’, to name a few of the derivatives” (Johnstown). These were the headwaters of the great river that has laid waste to thousands of residences and lives over the years through terrible flooding. The Conemaugh, meaning “long fishing place,” cuts through a 1,000-foot gap in Laurel Hill Mountain before joining Westmoreland County’s Loyalhanna Creek (meaning “middle river”) at Saltsburg, Indiana County, to form the Kiskiminetas (at least a half-dozen possible meanings, including “river of big fish” to “plenty of walnuts”). The Kiski then (see “Kiski-Conemaugh West Penn Trail” map in Appendix), flows northwest to spill into the Allegheny (the English interpretation of “most beautiful stream,” a derivation of “Ohio,” or “Beautiful River”), which meets the Monongehala (meaning “falling banks”) in the confluence of the mighty Ohio at Pittsburgh. Suffice it to say that Pennsylvania has preserved more Native American names than any other state in the Union. We’ll revisit these and others in our story later.

Regardless of when and if the Indians had a permanent settlement in Johnstown and the valley of the Conemaugh, it was definitely visited frequently by the Native Americans in 1769 when General Charles Campbell (1746-1828) of Philadelphia and later southern Indiana County, became the first owner of this floodplain (Johnstown). Kin of this Campbell is also credited with laying out the first properties down river in Blairsville. Once held captive by the natives, he was later appointed a Judge for the County. In 1772, Gen. Campbell established what was known as Campbell’s Mills, Wheatfield Township (est. 1779), later the site of a popular park that was washed away in the 1936 flood. This is the area of the county where most of the earliest Campbells resided, so this has become the object of our research. The Township, destitute of timber, apparently afforded good soil for growing wheat, and thus, the name. One settler’s property first surveyed in 1776 was described as situated on the “path between Conemaugh [River] and Blacklick [Creek], adjoining George Findley, and including Wipey’s cabin.” Findley had arrived as early as 1764 and Wipey was a peaceful Delaware Indian who was eventually murdered by the Whites. The feelings between the few remaining original inhabitants, the Indians, and the new settlers was seldom amicable. Revisionist modern history writers suggest that this is difficult to understand, but accounts of atrocities on both sides from old history books brings the reasons into focus. One positive thing we know is that Charles Campbell was an elder in the Bethel Presbyterian Church, lived to be 82 years old, and is buried in the Campbell family cemetery. Is he related to us? We don’t know, but we think we can connect our first Campbell family, the one that would produce Sarah, the wife of James Crawford, to the land around Blairsville in this same Wheatfield Township.

There are several references to a Campbelltown in this area, not to be confused with the home of the historic Academy near Lancaster. A post on suggests that a William Campbell, along with a Thomas and James Campbell, applied for land warrants of 200 acres each at the same time and near the same place as Charles. Whether or not they were brothers is unknown, but they were probably related. This first deed of William’s was in southeastern Westmoreland County, but five years later he patented a parcel in northeast Westmoreland, along the Conemaugh River in Derry Township, that he named “Campbellstown.” His dream, according to family tradition, was to establish a new community similar to the old Campbellstown, near Lancaster, that they had left. If his will of 1792 is any indication, he had been a prosperous farmer and rancher, leaving many horses, furniture, and a good bit of money to his heirs. Unfortunately, when his widow died in 1807, the estate was sold and his dream for the copied community died also (Malego).

At least two other Campbell applications for land deeds had been filed earlier with the State in 1769: James, “On the Allegheny Mountain, on both sides of the Buffalo Run”; and Attorney George, “Upon Plumb Creek, known by the name of James Litart’s, an Indian.” Early tax rolls (1807) and censes (1810) listings in and around Wheatfield and Blacklick Townships record the following additional Campbells as heads of household: David, blacksmith; James, shoemaker; Michael; Alexander; James; father and son Andrews; and John, all farmers; and David, a weaver. The same rolls also list Moses (b. 1772) and James Crawford as farmers. Other prominent Campbells also lived nearby in the early 19th century: David (b. 1794), who arrived in 1814, and Joseph (b. 1799), who had migrated from Maryland and became an Associate Judge. By 1820, Wheatfield Township had just over 2,000 residents and that number grew rapidly when the Pennsylvania Canal and Portage Railroad from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh opened in 1831. By 1852, when the Pennsylvania Railroad took its place, the Canal was rendered useless, and the population total fell significantly.

A quick check of the history of the Borough of Blairsville indicates that a James Campbell is given credit for founding and laying out the streets in 1811. In fact, one of the main streets is named for him and an historic bed and breakfast, established in 1823, still operates and gives tours. The town was a stopover on Pennsylvania Canal and later the Pittsburgh to Huntingdon Turnpike, now four-lane US Rt. 22. It is still a thriving place of commerce.

The 1871 Beers Atlas of West Wheatfield Township (see Appendix) locates a half dozen Campbells near the tiny town of Heshbon, along the Blacklick Creek, Rt. 259. Most are listed as farmers and cattle merchants. None was found on the East Wheatfield map but a Crawford was located in West Wheatfield across the Conemaugh River at Lockport.

How many, if any, of these families are directly related to our Sarah Campbell or could have produced our James Crawford or his family? We may never know, but our research continues.

Now, let’s consider other Crawford families in the area, most of whom, we believe, settled just down the valley in the township of Conemaugh. As with the Campbells in and around Wheatfield Township, the heaviest concentration of Crawfords could be found in this southwest corner of the county. Although Conemaugh Township was not formally organized until 1803, a William Crawford is said to have settled there as early as 1779, not to be confused with the earlier Colonel of Fort Pitt fame who was captured by Indians. The 1807 tax roll lists this William as a farmer. The area prospered from agriculture, timber, mining, the early canal commerce, and most notably, the salt trade, which began in 1812 with the discovery of salt water in a pool along the Conemaugh. The Native Americans knew the various places along the waterways where animals would come to enjoy the sodium chloride, as indicated in the names of tributaries like “Two Lick” and “Blacklick.” We won’t take the time here to relate all the stories of this industry, but there are many in the older history books listed below and the importance of the business to early America cannot be overstated. The population of Conemaugh Township rose dramatically from 1820 to 1830, from just over 1,500 to over 2,100.

No Campbells or Crawfords were found on the early Beers map for the township, but several Campbells and a Dr. Crawford were living in the Borough of Saltsburg in 1871.

The oldest graveyard (1810) in the southwest corner of the county belonged to the old Presbyterian church, which lay east of Saltsburg but was disbanded in 1849. Few names remain and the graves have been devastated by floods over the years. Two others in town, one started in 1817 and the other in 1868, list no Campbells or Crawfords.

The reflections of one pioneer woman reveals what life must have been like on the Western Pennsylvania frontier when our Crawfords and Campbells settled in the late 1700’s:

The country around us was an entire wilderness, with here and there a small cabin containing a small family. We were all nearly new beginners, and although we had to work almost day and night, we were not discouraged. We were blessed with health and strength. Our husbands cleared the ground and assisted each other in rolling the logs. Each settler had to go and assist his neighbors ten or fifteen days in order to get help in return at log rolling time; this was the only way to get assistance.

We had first-rate times, just such as hard laboring men and women can appreciate. We were not what now would be called fashionable cooks: no pound cakes, no preserves or jellies, but the substantials prepared in plain, old-fashioned style. Our diet was plain; our clothing we manufactured ourselves. We had none of your dainties, knick-knacks, and fixings that are worse than nothing. It was not fashionable to be weakly. We could take our spinning wheels and walk two to four miles to a spinning folic, do our day’s work, and after a first rate supper, join in some innocent amusement for the evening. (Caldwell)

One poem romantically puts it this way:

In every country village, where

Ten chimney smokes perfumed the air. (Anonymous)

But the first settlers lived in constant fear of the natives. Forts Palmer and Ligonier to the south was too far to reach in an emergency. So, each community usually had what was called a “block house,” a sturdy building about 50 X 16 feet, constructed of straight unhewn logs with notches near the top to admit rifle barrels. At the first alarm of Indians approaching, every man woman, and child hurried for safety, with any male over 12-years old taking turns as sentinel. Settler David Inyard tells the story of one time when young John Bennett, in the dark of night, mistook a valuable brood sow for an “injun” and put a bullet through her head.

Before the construction of grist mills, each home had a “hominy block,” a four-foot tree trunk hewn to a depth of about fifteen inches. Vertically, a smaller rounded log was inserted, attached to a spring pole, which was in turn connected to the joists of the cabin. As much as a peck at a time of wheat, corn, or barley then could be “pounded,” or ground, for use in cooking and baking.

The diet of the pioneers was rich: venison, wild turkey, rabbit, squirrel, opossum, raccoon, grouse, ducks, partridges, and pigeons. In those days the Conemaugh offered a multitude of fish: pike, sturgeon, catfish, and buffalo [fish] weighing from 15 to 35 pounds each. Baskets were used to catch bass and salmon. Trout were abundant in the nearby mountain streams. Wild plums, grapes, and berries of every sort were available in season: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, mulberries, and June berries. It wasn’t long before all of these staples made way for domesticated varieties: barnyard fowl provided eggs and feathers; pork was popular; but, cattle were needed for milk products and offspring, so were seldom eaten. Never the less, with foxes, weasels, wolves, and bears on the prowl, the settlers had a full time job protecting their food sources, not to mention themselves and their families.

In conclusion, returning to our research question, why did the Crawfords and Cambells stop first in Indiana County before settling in Allegheny? Diane Nichols puts it this way: They wanted to raise their families in “the relative safety of a county where Indian raids were not as immediate a concern as the land near the Allegheny River.” Pittsburgh truly was the “gateway” to the Indian Territory, so the land just to the east was the safest place to be at that time. A few years later, however, with the fertile Depreciation Lands north of Pittsburgh being offered for literally pennies an acre, the Crawfords, the Campbells, and many other Scots-Irish could not refuse such an opportunity. Some liked being closer to “civilization” while others liked being closer to family, maybe their children who had gone before.

Our next venture on this research tour will be a visit to southern Indiana County, from Blairsville to Saltsburg, with stops at the James Campbell B&B, the village of Hesbon, and of course, the old churches and cemeteries. Who knows, we may just park the car and ride the bikes along the new West Penn Trail. Maybe you’d like to join us?

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