Early settlers to Bridgeville area prospered in U.S. infancy
The January presentation in our “Bridgeville Remembered” series was subtitled “A New Nation: 1783 to 1800;” it dealt with events in this region during the years the original 13 states were trying to decided what the “United” in United States really meant. The talk began with an update of the pioneer families we had discussed previously – the Lesnetts, Boyces, and Hickmans.
Christian Lesnett had prospered. The 1783 tax rolls for Cecil Township, Washington County, reported that he was the proud owner of 400 acres of land, six horses, four cows, and five sheep. In 1787 his daughter Sophia married William Rowley.
His son, Frederick, had an exciting adventure in the early 1790s. He and a group of friends purchased a large quantity of flour at Canon's Mill, built a modest keelboat to transport it, and set off down Chartiers Creek with their ultimate objective being selling the flour at a nice profit in New Orleans. With some effort, they got the boat to the Ohio River at McKees Rocks and set off downstream.
Near Wellsburg, W.Va., a band of Indians shot Frederick in the calf of one leg. He was transported to Wheeling, where he left the expedition and returned home. This was a fortunate experience for him, and for all the Lesnetts descended from him; his friends were killed by “Spanish ruffians” in Louisiana and their cargo and boat stolen.
In 1796 Frederick married Isabel Wilson, the daughter of an Episcopalian minister who performed services at St. Luke's, where a wooden church had been constructed in 1790. Their first child, Christopher, was born in 1797.
The Boyces also prospered. Richard Boyce had 300 acres, two horses, seven cows, and twelve sheep in 1783; his taxes that year were 156 pounds. In 1787 his wife, Lydia, died after delivering a stillborn child. After a proper mourning period Richard married Peggy Lesnett, the daughter of his next door neighbor, Christian Lesnett. Boyce was 57 years old; his bride was 22. By 1800, they had produced three sons and a daughter.
As for the Hickmans, Adam and his wife Polly produced eight children. His sister Elizabeth married a Mr. White. These folks will disappear from our story, as they all moved to Columbiana County, Ohio, in 1802.
Not so for Peter Hickman – he married Abigail Fawcett in 1796, inherited the family farm and added to it by purchasing land from William Brice and Stewart Jordan. Abigail soon delivered two sons – Joseph in 1797 and John in 1799 – thus continuing the Hickman line in this area.
The land which now makes up the Borough of Bridgeville still was very sparsely populated. It was covered by three warrants. Thomas Redman owned Gould City Hill and the land northwest of it, to Chartiers Creek. Benjamin Reno owned most of the land east of Washington Avenue; Thomas Ramsey most of it to the west.
Reno died during this time frame; his land became known as “the widow's portion” and was sold off piecemeal in the ensuing years. Very little is known about Mr. Redman. Ramsey however is remembered quite negatively. The road from Washington and Canonsburg into Pittsburgh, now known as “the Black Horse Trail,” forded Chartiers Creek on Ramsey's property. He improved the ford and tried to charge a toll for anyone using it.
This practice alienated the local farmers and precipitated a serious confrontation. Eventually Ramsey lost the dispute when the Pennsylvania Legislature, in 1793, passed a law dealing with navigable waters. If a stream was large enough that a commercial vessel could use it, it was declared navigable, and property rights ended at the high water mark. Frederick Lesnett and his friends had proven Chartiers Creek was navigable. Ramsey eventually gave up and sold his land to Moses Middleswarth.
Arthur St. Clair's ill-fated campaign against the Indians in the Northwest Territory in 1791; “Mad” Anthony Wayne's victory over them at Fallen Timbers in 1794, ending the Indian threat in this area; and the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 completed the discussion of the years leading up to 1800.
This was a volatile time in the life of our young country, and the Bridgeville area was right in the middle of it. Next time we will examine life in this region during the first quarter of the 19th century. Included will be the first vestiges of habitation in what is now our community. The next presentation will be at 7 p.m. in the community room at the Bridgeville Public Library on Feb. 14.
John Oyler, a columnist for Trib Total Media, can be reached at 412-343-1652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.