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Parish tax kept Pa. Dutch from area

| Sunday, July 22, 2007

Many of the pioneer settlers in Southwestern Pennsylvania were Scots-Irish Presbyterians but had it not been for the well-entrenched Episcopal Church of Virginia, early colonizations might have been by the Pennsylvania Dutch and their German brethren instead.

Confused• There is a logical sequence of events that explains this extraordinary result.

It starts with the founding of the Ohio Company in 1748 by a number of Virginians, along with a representative of the king's council and a London merchant. Objective was promotion of settlement of "the wild lands west of the Allegheny Mountains." Included were two brothers of George Washington, Lawrence and Augustine.

The King of England granted 500,000 acres of land to the Ohio Company for use in settlement and to carry on Indian trade on a large scale. This would have given the Virginians an important advantage in commercial activity, it was felt. But remaining French influence and Indian forays slowed the process.

Lawrence Washington, who was prominent in the Ohio Company management, had the idea of inviting the Pennsylvania Dutch and their German associates to settle. Many would have, except that under Virginia law they would have been required to pay parish taxes to the Episcopal Church, which they did not want to do.

A letter of Lawrence Washington's at the time reported, "I conversed with all the Pennsylvania Dutch whom I met, and much recommended their settling. The chief reasons against it was the payment of an English clergyman, when few understood and none made use of him. ..."

Washington endeavored to remove that stipulation, but later reported that, "I am well-assured we shall never obtain it (removal)."

The first settlement in the Southwestern Pennsylvania corner was in 1752 in Fayette County's future locale at Mt. Braddock, by Christopher Gist, an Ohio Company agent.

And as a result of what Lawrence Washington called the "unyielding Episcopacy," at that early date, the ultimate residents who moved into the area after the French and Indian War were the pioneers who turned out to be primarily Scots-Irish Presbyterians.

It should be remembered that, before the late 1760s, both Virginia and Pennsylvania claimed the area. But it wasn't until after the French and Indian War that Pennsylvania demonstrated any interest.

If you are comfortably ensconced in a rocking chair while reading these Vignettes, be advised that such chairs are an American invention dating back to about 1740.

The English and French looked askance at rockers in the early days, and some actually feared that the rocker's motion showed that it was unstable and dangerous.

In 1838, an English lady commented about the rocking chairs while visiting the northeastern United States. Said she:

"In these small inns the disagreeable practice of rocking in the chair is seen in excess. In the inn parlors are three or four rocking chairs in which sit ladies who are vibrating in different directions and various velocities, so as to try the head of a stranger. How this lazy and ungraceful indulgence ever became general, I cannot imagine."

Similar sentiments were stated in a homemakers' book of advice written by a Pennsylvania woman in 1841:

"The practice of swaying backwards and forwards in a parlor rocking chair is considered obsolete in genteel society, and justly so, as it is a most ungraceful recreation, particularly for a lady, and very annoying to spectators who may happen to be a little bit nervous."

Despite these portents of gloom, Pennsylvania increasingly enjoyed rocking and even thought it was healthful.

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