20th. Went early this Morning to view my Land, & to receive the final determination of those who live upon it. Having obtained a Pilot near the Land I went first to the plantation of Samuel McBride, who has about 5 Acres of Meadow & 30 of arable Land under good fencing—a Logged dwelling house with a punchion roof, & stable, or small barn, of the same kind—the Land rather hilly, but good, chiefly white oak. Next—
James McBride. 3 or 4 Acres of Meadow. 28—Do. of Arable Land. Pretty good fencing—Land rather broken, but good—white & black oak mixed—A dwelling House and barn (of midling size) with Puncheon roofs.
Thomas Biggart. Robt. Walker living thereon as a Tenant. No Meadow. Abt. 20 Acres of Arable Land. A dwelling House and single Barn—fences tolerable and Land good.
William Stewart. 2½ Acres of Meadow. 20 Do. of Arable Land. Only one house except a kind of building adjoining for common purposes—Good Land and Midling fences.
Matthew Hillast [Hillis]. Has within my line—abt. 7 Acres of Meadow. 3 besides, Arable—also a small double Barn.
Brice McGeechen [McGeehan]. 3 Acres of Meadow. 20 Do. arable—under good fencing. A small new Barn good.
Duncan McGeechen [McGeehan]. 2 Acres of Meadow. 38 Do. Arable Land. A good single Barn, dwelling House Spring House & several other Houses. The Plantation under good fencing.
David Reed. Claimed by the last mentioned (Duncan McGeechin). 2 Acres of Meadow. 18 Do. Arable Land. No body living on this place at present—the dwelling House and fencing in bad order.
John Reed Esquire. 4 Acres of Meadow. 38 Do. Arable Do. A small dwelling House—but Logs for a large one, a still House—good Land and fencing.
William Hillas [Hillis]. 20 Acres of Arable Land. No Meadow. But one house, and that indifferent—fences not good.
John Glen. 2 or 3 Acres of Meadow within my Line—his plantation & the rest of his Land without.
James Scott. Placed on the Land by Thomas Lapsley. Has 17 acres under good fencing—only a dwelling House (which stops the door of a Cabbin built by Captn. Crawford)—white oak Land—rather thin—but good bottom to clear for Meadow.
Matthew Johnson. 2 Acres of Meadow. 24 Do. Arable Land. A good Logged house—Materials for a dble. Barn—very gd. Land, but indifferent fences.
James Scott. A large Plantation—about 70 Acres of Arable Land. 4 Do. of improved Meadow. Much more may be made into Meadow. The Land very good, as the fences also are. A Barn dwelling House & some other Houses.
The foregoing are all the Improvements upon this Tract which contains 2813 acres.1
The Land is leveller than is common to be met with in this Part of the Country, and good; the principal part of it is white oak, intermixed in many places with black oak; and is esteemed a valuable tract.
Dined at David Reeds, after which Mr. James Scot & Squire [John] Reed began to enquire whether I would part with the Land, & upon what terms; adding, that tho’ they did not conceive they could be dispossed, yet to avoid contention, they would buy, if my terms were moderate. I told them I had no inclination to sell; however, after hearing a great deal of their hardships, their religious principles (which had brought them together as a society of Ceceders) and unwillingness to seperate or remove; I told them I would make them a last offer and this was—the whole tract at 25/. pr. Acre, the money to be paid at 3 annual payments with Interest; or to become Tenants upon leases of 999 years, at the annual Rent of Ten pounds pr. ct. pr. Ann. The former they had a long consultation upon, & asked if I wd. take that price at a longer credit, without Interest, and being answered in the negative they then determined to stand suit for the Land; but it having been suggested that there were among them some who were disposed to relinquish their claim, I told them I would receive their answers individually; and accordingly calling upon them as they stood
John Reed &
John Glen—they severally answered, that they meant to stand suit, & abide the Issue of the Law.2
1. Although the arable and meadow lands total only a little more than 400 acres, the settlers also claimed much uncleared land, thus disputing most, if not all, of GW’s 2,813 acres. In 1781 Washington County taxed them for holdings in the Millers Run area ranging in size from 40 acres for James McBride and 70 acres for Thomas Biggert to 500 acres for David Reed and 800 acres for Duncan McGeehan. William Hillis and tenant Robert Walker had no land there then; the rest held between 200 and 350 acres each (WASHINGTON COUNTY SUPPLY TAX—1781 description begins “Effective Supply Tax for the County of Washington. 1781.” Pennsylvania Archives, 3d ser., 22 (1898): 699–782. description ends , 713–20, 774).
Not all of the settlers’ lands lay within GW’s lines. Matthew Hillis’s 300 acres and John Glenn’s 250 acres adjoined GW’s tract, overlapping it only slightly. Samuel McBride’s 350 acres were in tracts of 200 and 150 acres respectively, one of which probably lay out of the disputed area. Portions of some of the other settlers’ claims may likewise have been outside of GW’s tract. In addition, several settlers owned lands in other parts of Washington County. William Stewart had 150 acres and Thomas Lapsley 100 acres to the east in Peters Township; Robert Walker had 250 acres to the west in Donegal Township; James McBride had 300 acres and Thomas Biggert 250 acres to the north in Robinson Township (WASHINGTON COUNTY SUPPLY TAX—1781 description begins “Effective Supply Tax for the County of Washington. 1781.” Pennsylvania Archives, 3d ser., 22 (1898): 699–782. description ends , 715–17, 729, 758, 761–62, 768, 774).
Thomas Biggert (c.1740–1829) settled on his land in Robinson Township soon after bringing his family to America from Ireland in 1773, but Indian troubles forced his removal to Millers Run for most of the war years. Now, with his 70 acres on Millers Run leased to Robert Walker, he apparently was living again in Robinson Township, where he remained until his death (CRUMRINE  description begins Boyd Crumrine. History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, 1882. description ends , 901).
Biggert was typical of the Millers Run claimants in that he did not leave Washington County. The claimants were not itinerants drifting west with the frontier, but nearly all family men with strong ties to church and community. Of the 15 men named here by GW, 12 obtained warrants for additional Washington County lands between 1784 and 1789 (see WASHINGTON COUNTY WARRANTEES description begins “Warrantees of Land in the County of Washington. 1784–1892.” Pennsylvania Archives, 3d ser., 26 (1899): 529–624. description ends ), and only 3 of their names do not appear in the 1790 Washington County census: Thomas Lapsley was nearby in Allegheny County, while Brice McGeehan and William Hillis are not listed in Pennsylvania (HEADS OF FAMILIES, PA. description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: Pennsylvania. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1970. description ends , 16, 245–58). In the 1800 census only Duncan McGeehan’s name is missing from the state. Lapsley was still in Allegheny County; Brice McGeehan appears in Beaver County; and William Hillis was in Washington County, where the other 11 names remain (see PA. IN 1800 description begins John D. Stemmons, ed. Pennsylvania in 1800: A Computerized Index to the 1800 Federal Population Schedules of the State of Pennsylvania with Other Aids to Research. Salt Lake City, 1972. description ends ).
Thomas Biggert was also typical of his claimants in his relative obscurity. Only the brothers David Reed and Squire John Reed (d. 1816) achieved any real local prominence. Having moved to Millers Run from Lancaster County, Pa., in 1777, they served as officers in the frontier militia during the war: David as a captain and John as a lieutenant. Upon creation of Washington County in 1781, John Reed became one of the first justices of the county court and was again appointed a judge in 1788 (CRUMRINE  description begins Boyd Crumrine. History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, 1882. description ends , 859–60; PA. RANGERS description begins “List of Soldiers Who Served as Rangers on the Frontiers. 1778–1783.” Pennsylvania Archives, 3d ser., 23 (1898): 193–356. description ends , 266, 282, 310).
2. According to a Reed family tradition, GW today replied to James Scott and the Reeds “with dignity and some warmth, asserting that they had been forewarned by his agent, and the nature of his claim fully made known; that there could be no doubt of its validity, and rising from his seat and holding a red silk handkerchief by one corner, he said, ‘Gentlemen, I will have this land just as surely as I now have this handkerchief’” (CRUMRINE  description begins Boyd Crumrine. History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, 1882. description ends , 858–59).
The unexpected unity with which the Millers Run people stood against GW today was attributed by GW and his Pennsylvania lawyer Thomas Smith to the influence of James Scott, Jr., whom Smith viewed as “the ringleader or director of the rest” (Smith to GW, 7 Nov. 1786, DLC:GW). GW’s suit apparently was considered to be somewhat of a test case; “I have . . . been told,” GW wrote Edmund Randolph 13 Aug. 1785, “that the decision of this case will be interesting to numbers whose rights are disputed on similar grounds” (DLC:GW). Scott, a brother of Washington County’s influential court clerk Thomas Scott, certainly must have been aware of the local political implications of the suit, as was Thomas Smith. In a letter to GW dated 9 Feb. 1785, Smith declared: “I . . . have the strong & fomented prejudices of Party to contend with, and I have some reason to believe that a good deal of art & management were used before the People were prevailed with to stand the Ejectments” (DLC:GW). Nevertheless, all of the defendants fought GW to the last in court (Smith to GW, 7 Nov. 1786, DLC:GW).
The only claimant who did not stand with the others today was Matthew Hillis (d. 1803). Most of his 300 acres lay outside of GW’s tract, leaving only a small portion in dispute, apparently not enough to justify the expense of a defense against GW’s suit (WASHINGTON COUNTY SUPPLY TAX—1781 description begins “Effective Supply Tax for the County of Washington. 1781.” Pennsylvania Archives, 3d ser., 22 (1898): 699–782. description ends , 774; CRUMRINE  description begins Boyd Crumrine. History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, 1882. description ends , 860). In 1787 GW agreed to consider Hillis “as a preferable purchaser of that piece which runs along his line so as to include his improvements, provided it does not affect the sale of the rest” (GW to John Canon, 13 April 1787, DLC:GW). No such sale was ever made to Hillis.
3. Presley Nevill (1756–1818), a wealthy and aristocratic young man, lived on Chartiers Creek about six miles west of Pittsburgh in a house known as Woodville. Nearby on the opposite side of the creek stood Bower Hill, home of his father, John Nevill (1731–1803), who at this time was in Philadelphia serving as a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council (PA. ARCH., COL. REC. description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 14:209). The Nevills moved to Chartiers Creek from Frederick County, Va., about 1775, but served in the Virginia line during the War of Independence, John being breveted a brigadier general and Presley a lieutenant colonel in the course of the war. A favorite of Lafayette, Presley served for a time as one of the marquis’s aides-de-camp. He was captured with the Virginia troops at Charleston, S.C., in 1780, but was exchanged the following year, and served until the end of the war (BALDWIN  description begins Leland D. Baldwin. Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising. 1939. Rev. Ed., Pittsburgh, 1968. description ends , 45–46; HEITMAN  description begins Francis B. Heitman. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783. 1893. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C., 1914. description ends , 308).
4. Van Swearingen (died c.1793) was high sheriff of Washington County from Nov. 1781 to Nov. 1784. He and his brother Andrew Swearingen apparently moved to this area from Virginia in the early 1770s (CRUMRINE  description begins Boyd Crumrine. History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, 1882. description ends , 710–11; D.A.R. Mag., 44:310). In the War of Independence he commanded an independent company in western Pennsylvania Feb. to Aug. 1776 and then served three years as a captain in the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment. Detached to Daniel Morgan’s riflemen in 1777, he fought at Saratoga where he was wounded and temporarily captured (PA. ARCH. description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 10:647–49; HEITMAN  description begins Francis B. Heitman. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783. 1893. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C., 1914. description ends , 390). GW considered Swearingen a superb officer for “Frontier, desultory service” (GW to Daniel Brodhead, 25 June 1779, DLC:GW). Nevertheless, he received no promotion and resigned from the army Aug. 1779.
5. Matthew Ritchie (d. 1798), of Washington County, was a well-to-do bachelor who over a period of years acquired large landholdings in southwestern Pennsylvania. He was appointed sublieutenant for the county in 1781, was a county representative to the General Assembly 1782–84, and became a judge of the county court of common pleas in 1784. Ritchie bought all of GW’s land on Millers Run 1 June 1796 for $12,000 (CRUMRINE  description begins Boyd Crumrine. History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, 1882. description ends , 483, 859).