By The Woman’s Club of Mercersburg
Published in The Journal of American History in 1913.
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The Patriotic Work of a Woman’s Club from the Picturesque History of an Old Pennsylvania Town has Keen preserved an Example of Women’s Loyalty Women’s Zeal, and Women’s Perseverance
THE old-time saying might be appropriately altered for modern Americans into “Of the making of Women’s Clubs there is no end.” They are scattered abroad through the land in villages, towns, and large cities. Women have organized in clubs social, clubs literary, clubs artistic, clubs educational, clubs philanthropic, clubs athletic, clubs political, and clubs patriotic. Many of these have accomplished noteworthy achievements, and indeed, as a general thing, their enterprises are far more numerous, and their energies far more spirited than are those of men’s clubs, which are usually purely social or athletic in nature. For the political society with men is apt to be more or less an official branch of a “party machine.”
But despite the energy and the myriad enterprises, it is a fact that all of the achievements of the women’s clubs. do not impress the American public at lame its being of really deep and permanent value to the whole Community or, perhaps, to the women themselves. Therefore, it is a pleasure to record in The Journal of American History from tithe to time the splendid records of the American women leagued together in high purpose and accomplishing “worthwhile” results in earnest, selfless, beautifully Womanly ways. The Journal American History has been naturally, from the scope of its own work, a devout supporter of the Patriotic Societies, and it is a truism that the most active workers in these are generally women. But most women’s clubs have some affiliation with the patriotic spirit. For patriotism in an ardent woman is like a rose at her breast, pouring out fragrance wherever she goes; while it is more often to a man symbolized by a laurel wreath whose shadow he sees above his own head.
It is not only a pleasure, but a duty, to bring to the admiration of The Journal readers the work of the ‘Woman’s Club of Mercersburg. A band of truly public-spirited women in a Pennsylvania town-which has played a noteworthy part in the annals of our Colonial and early Republic history. and which is today leading its unpretentious, dignified, cultured, typically American life, as through out the past generations-conceived a noble ambition and carried it out with admirable efficiency to magnificent success.
Their own account of their achievement is most womanlv-modest. “The Woman’s Club of Mercersburg, in search of some pleasant activity, decided to gather together the many scattered bits of history, biography, and tradition which were fast being lost sight of, and to put them into more nearly permanent form.”
Their work has been that of the true historian-tireless, unceasing. Carefully have they sought, skillfully have they woven together the many-colored threads of chronicle and legend, and their tangible result was a most valuable, interesting, and beautiful book, which it was the privilege of The Journal of American History to issue under its auspices. The edition was exhausted almost immediately upon publication, but the portions of these records of an old American town here given will convey to the readers of The Journal of American History at least something of the charm of the complete work, which we regret cannot here be reproduced in entirety.
Should other organizations be interested in learning more in detail of this achievement of the Woman’s Club of Mercersburg it would be a great pleasure to reply to inquiries and to place the service of The Journal of American History at their disposal for similar results.
The early history of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, is the history of the West Conococheague Settlement of Cumberland County, now Franklin. This settlement comprised all the country drained by the west branch of the Conococheague Creek, Hence its name. It embraced a territory of fourteen miles in length, extending from Mt. Parnell to the Maryland boundary and including St. Thomas, Fort Loudon, Mercersburg, Upton, and Welsh Run.
The pioneer settler of this town was James Black, who, tradition says, purchased the land on which Mercersburg stands from the Indians for a gun and a string of beads. Thus Black secured the good will of the Indians, without which the Proprietors of Pennsylvania were never willing that settlement should be made. “Be tender, of offending the Indians and let them know you have come to sit down lovingly among them,” were Penn’s instructions to his commissioners.
This James Black has appeared as a half-mythical person for whom tradition built a mill as early as 1730 on the stream at the northern end of the town. A diligent search after facts has given more definite knowledge of him. He was the son of John and Jane Black, who apparently were the earliest settlers in this region and possessed themselves of a large tract of land lying west of Mercersburg.
The mill Black built was a small log structure, long since disappeared. To this mill the settlers for miles around, afoot and horseback, brought their grist to be ground, waiting to take the flour home with them. Thus it became a waiting place and centre for the frontiersman; a store was added; gradually a few houses sprang up and the settlement became known as Black’s Town. A part of Black’s tract, with mill, store, etc., was purchased by William Smith on the 22d day of October, 1759, and Black’s Town became Smith’s Town, or Squire Smith’s Town, as it was frequently called. It is of interest to note the names of other settlers around here, some of these we get from the Shannon Patent, still in the possession of that family. It reads as follows
“Thomas Penn and John Penn, esq., true and absolute proprietaries and governers-in-chief of the province of Pennsylvania and the counties of New castle, Kent and Sussex upon Delaware. To all unto whom these Presents shall come, Greetings: Whereas in pursuance of a Warrant dated the 27th day of November, 1751, granted to Peter Corbett, there was surveyed for William Shannon (to whom said Corbet conveyed by deed, dated the 9th day of March, 1758) a certain tract of land called Shannon’s Industry situate in Peters town-ship, Cumberland county. Beginning at a marked hickory, thence by Thomas Baird’s land-thence by vacant land-thence by James Black’s land-thence by Joseph Huston’s and Joseph Bradner’s lands,” etc.
Other settlers were John Wray, who bought a tract that James Black had transferred to Richard Peters, Matthew Wilson, Benjamin Kirkpatrick, James Rankin, William McDowell, James and Robert McClellan, Robert Culbertson, James Gardner, and James Wilkins.
William Smith, the Proprietor of Smith’s Town, was the son of James and Janet Smith. He married his cousin Mary, a sister of Col. James Smith, of “Black Boy” fame. In 1755 William Smith was appointed one of the commissioners to build the military road which General Braddock had demanded of the Provincial Government. This road was to extend from McDowell’s mill to the Three Forks of the Youghiogheny. Under the personal supervision of the Commissioners the bridle path was converted into a wagon road for the passage of troops and transportation of military supplies, but the work was done under constant danger from the Indians. When William Smith went out with his three hundred road cutters, one of them was his brother-in-law, James Smith. Both William and James Smith were typical pioneers and played an active part in the early history of this part of the Province. When Black’s property passed into the hands of Smith (1750, he was the most active and prominent man on the frontier. This post, so near the gap through which the Indian trail led from the valley into the mountain, soon had an extensive trade with the western frontier and grew in importance. It was not an uncommon sight to see from fifty to one hundred pack horses in a line laden with salt, iron, and merchandise of all kinds, destined for the settlers or the Indians beyond the mountains. Later, when wagons came into use in the valley, freight was here transferred to pack horses to cross the mountains.
William Smith died on March 27, 1775, and in his will bequeathed the central part of his original tract to his son, William. The latter laid out on this land, March 17, 1786, a new town, which he named Mercersburg, in honor of General Hugh Mercer-a fitting tribute to one who had lived among these people, attended them in sickness, shared their dangers, and led them against their common foe.
The settlers of the West Conococheague, as early as 1748, found it necessary to organize themselves for the defense of life and property. The Indians had long forgotten that “the Indians and English must live in love as long as the sun gave light,” and the Provincial Government was obliged to frequently renew the treaties when the “Chain of Friendship” would be polished by presents of English goods. This “brightening the chain” proved so profitable to the Indians and they became so skillful in drawing out “well piled up” presents that the system became a burden to the white men.
The Quaker Government had been slow to use anything like a display of force with the red men, and settlers had been obliged to protect themselves; this they had done by organizing a militia and building private stockades and block houses. In 1748 we find Major William Maxwell and Lieutenant William Smith and John Winton, of Peters township, guarding the west side. The names James and Joshua Patterson, Irvins, William Rankin, Matthew Shields, senior and junior, and Daniel Shields, who all belonged to the militia or rangers, sound like West Conococheague names.
In 1753 war broke out in earnest between the English and French. The latter were always skillful in gaining the Indians as allies, and this means war for the English settlers. The annals of the Conococheague Settlement for the following twelve years cover a series of Indian incursions, captures and massacres.
The defeat of Braddock in 1755 left the whole frontier uncovered and the greatest consternation prevailed among the unprotected inhabitants of the Cumberland Valley and especially of the Conococheague Settlement. A reign of terror ensued and large numbers of the settlers fled to safer parts of the Province. Some neighborhoods were entirely deserted, and particularly of the West Conococheague Settlement was this true. The church, which the early pioneers had established in 1738, was for a time disbanded. Everywhere men flew to arms, and companies were organized. Hugh Mercer was made captain of one of these, while the Rev. John Steele was captain of another.
The danger was so imminent that the Colonial Government sought to establish a chain of forts extending from Path Valley to the Maryland boundary. At this time the West Conococheague had several forts which served as rallying points for protection and defense, and as places of refuge for the women and children when the men were absent from home. When the first settlers organized their church, in 1738, Churchill was chosen as the most central point in the territory it embraced. Early in its history this church became a place of protection. Built of logs, it was enclosed by a stockade of logs, which were seventeen feet long, pointed at the end and set in a ditch four or five feet deep. The stockade was provided with loopholes and on the inside was a platform, raised a few feet from the ground, on which the defenders stood. This was known as Steele’s Meeting House and Steele’s Fort from the pastor’s name. Rev. John Steele became the pastor in the troublous times of 1754. In those perilous days both shepherd and flock alike carried their arms with them to this place of worship. Rev. Steele more than once led forth his people in pursuit of the Indians; indeed, one of the first companies organized on the bloody outbreak of the Delaware Indians in 1755 selected him for its captain. He was called the Reverend Captain. In a government account the following is found: “Nov. 25, 1755. The Rev. John Steele at Conocochig: z quarter casks of powder; 2 cwt. of lead.”
Fort Davis was erected by Philip Davis in 1756 and was situated near the Maryland boundary line. It was a private fort, but was often garrisoned by companies of rangers. It seems to have been located near Casey’s Knob, on the McPherran farm, now owned by the Royer heirs, two miles southwest of Welsh Run, according to the “Report of the Commission to Locate the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania.”
Maxwell’s Fort was a private fort built by William Maxwell. It stood between Welsh Run and Upton, on judge Maxwell’s farm, afterwards the Duffield farm. The fort was built of logs and was but a few rods distant from the old stone mansion which was built later by the Maxwells and is still standing. This was formerly the home of James Duffield, Esq., of Welsh Run, within whose recollection there were still standing some remnants of the old fort.
The difficulties under which the defenders of the frontier labored are shown in a letter written by Mr. Steele to Governor Morris, April 17, 1756:
“Most of the forts have not received their full complement of guns. But we are in a great measure supplied by the arms the young men had brought with them. Captain Patterson had received but 33 fire-arms. Captain Mercer has not so many, but is supplied by Mr. Croghan’s arms, and Captain Hamilton has lost a considerable number of his at the late skirmish at Sideling Hill. As I can neither have the men, arms, nor blankets, I am obliged to apply to your Honor for them; the necessity of the circumstances has obliged me to muster before two magistrates the one-half of my company whom I enlisted and am obliged to order guns. I pray that with all possible expedition 54 arms and as many blankets and a quantity of flints, may be sent to me, for since McCord’s Fort has been taken and the men defeated and pursued, our country is in the utmost confusion, great numbers have left the county and many are preparing to follow. May it please your honor to enlist me an ensign, for I find a sergeant’s pay will not prevail with men to enlist in whom much confidence is reposed. I beg leave to recommend Archibald Erwin to your honor for the purpose.” (Rupp, p. 105.)
Mr. Cord’s Fort, mentioned here, was a private fort near Mt. Parnell, which was destroyed by the Indians on or about April 4, 1756. All the inmates, twenty-seven in number, were either killed or carried into captivity. This fort was on the farm now owned by John W. Bossart, midway between St. Thomas and Strasburg.
In 1761 an alarm of Indians caused all the settlers to flee to McDowell’s Mill for safety. After a time, the enemy seemingly having disappeared, and the supplies at the fort being low, one, Mrs. Cunningham, who was a sister of Rev. John King, laid it upon herself as a duty, to return to her own home, it being close by, and bring milk for the children. This she did, whereupon an Indian, lurking nearby, suffered her to milk the cows and return as far as to the foot of the hill near the fort, when he shot her in the back, killing her almost in sight of the fort.
John Work, who was one of the early settlers in “The Corner,” returning one day from tending his traps, found his house in flames and saw an Indian running away. Although the distance was great the settler raised his gun and fired; the Indian fell, killed instantly. He was buried on the spot, where his grave can yet be seen.
Fort Loudon was located about one mile southwest of the present village of Fort Loudon. It was built on the land of an early settler, Matthew Patton. This farm, which long remained in possession of the Patton family, is now owned by William Hoerner. The fort was built by Colonel Armstrong in 1756, to take the place of Fort McDowell, which was not deemed strong enough for the protection of the valley’ at this point, where the gaps in the Tuscarora Range gave the Indians easy access to the Kittochtinny Valley.
In crossing the country the Indian always chose the shortest way through the valleys and over the mountains; the hunter naturally took the same trail, and he, in turn, was followed by the trader; the way of the pack horse at last becoming the wagon road. It is interesting to note that the routes taken by men skilled only in woodcraft were followed in later years by the engineers of the turnpike and, in many cases, of the railroad. The trail through Cove Gap, west of Mercersburg, is a striking example of this. The path for the pack horses carrying their goods over the mountains followed the trail of the Indians through the Gap into the gorge known as Stony Batter. It then makes a steep ascent to the old John Tom place. The turnpike, on entering the Gap, diverges to the left and climbs the mountain by an easy, regular grade at no place more than a few rods distant from the packer’s path. At the Tom place the turnpike comes into the old path, which it follows to the top of the mountain. There it again diverges, this time to the right, leaving the path to the left. Like Stony Batter, the Tom place was a store and inn in the days when the packer’s path was a thoroughfare leading from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. It was a common sight in those days to see a long line of pack horses-often as many as fifteen-tethered together, with two men in charge. One man led the foremost horse and the driver followed the file to watch the packs and urge the laggards. Two hundred pounds were considered a horse’s load.
On the wagon road which succeeded the packer’s path, was seen the Conestoga wagon, that true American vehicle with its curved bottom, which made it especially fitted for traversing mountain roads, the curved bottom preventing the freight from slipping too far at either end when going up or down hill. The body was invariably painted a bright blue, with sideboards of a vivid red. Four to seven horses were used in these wagons, according to the load; and from twenty to one hundred teams would follow in close order. Taverns and inns were numerous in those days, each bearing a name, usually painted on a swinging sign board with some significant emblem added. It is said that every tenth house along the turnpike was a hostelry. The building of a turnpike was an undertaking equal to that of building a railroad in these days. The turnpike passing through this town was built about 1820, the contractor for part of the road being Mr. William Metcalfe, a citizen of Mercersburg.
What is now known as the Warm Spring road was originally an Indian trail extending from the East to the Warm Springs at Berkeley, West Virginia. This road enters Mercersburg on the east by Oregon street and continues through the town under the names of Oregon and Park streets, while beyond it is known as the Corner Road. Passing through Blair’s Valley, it reaches Berkeley by a devious course through the mountain passes.
The first road to Baltimore, which was mainly followed by the present turnpike, came about in this way. At the April session of the Cumberland County Court, in 1761, the people of Peters township petitioned for a road, saying that they have no prospect of a standing market for the produce of the country except at Baltimore, and flour being the principal commodity, this “township produceth and having two mills in said township, viz : John McDowell’s and William Smith’s, they pray the Court to “appoint men to view and lay out a road from each of said mills to meet at or near the house of William Maxwell and from thence to run by the nearest and best way towards the said town of Baltimore.” The viewers reported in favor of granting this petition, but the branch roads to the mills were restricted to bridle paths which were to unite near James Irwin’s mill in Peters township, and thence through Antrim township to Nicholson’s Gap in the South Mountain, and from there to Baltimore.
It is difficult to determine the soldiers who enlisted in the War of the Revolution from West Conococheague, as it then was part of Cumberland County. There was one Company, No. 4, from Peters township, that had the following officers: Captain. James Patton; First Lieutenant, Thomas McDowell; Second Lieutenant, John Welsh; Ensign, John Dickey. Another, Company 6, recruited from Montgomery and Peters townships, Captain, William Huston; First Lieutenant, William Elliott; Second Lieutenant, James McFarland; Ensign, Robert Kyle. It was on the occasion of this Company starting for the field that Dr. King made his stirring patriotic address before accompanying it as Chaplain. William Smith, Jr., the founder of Mercersburg, was a lieutenant in this Company and Captain in 1780. Captain John Marshall, Joseph Mitchell, James Morrison, Walter McKinney, James Smith, James Herod, William McDowell, Sr., Robert McCoy, Samuel Patton, William Waddell, Robert McFarland, and Jonathan Smith are given as soldiers in this war. William, James and David Rankin, three brothers, and Jeremiah, a son of James, all enrolled in Captain Huston’s Company.
In the above list of men given as soldiers in the Revolutionary War first appears the name of James Herrod, who subsequently emigrated to Kentucky, and who founded and after whom was named the town or village of Harrodsburg, in that State. That this James Harrod came from Mercersburg is clear from an old ledger kept by one of the earliest storekeepers in Mercersburg, and still in existence, which contains an entry, as follows
“Col. James Herrod, Land to be taken up for my use on Cain Tuskee or Cumberland River, or where the Colonel pleaseth, it being situate for trade.”
Military spirit ran high in this valley during the Revolution, as it did in the early days when the pioneers had organized themselves into a militia as their only safeguard. After this War the Assembly enacted laws for the regular organization of the militia and appointed officers to take charge and hold regular encampments and muster days. These muster days were great annual events in the country and were continued for many years.
In 1812, even before the formal declaration of war was proclaimed by the President, the Mercersburg Rifles, numbering seventy-two officers and men, under Captain James McDowell, tendered their services to Governor Simon Snyder as part of any quota of troops that might be called from Pennsylvania. The Mercersburg Rifles left in September, 1812, under Captain Patrick Hays. They were part of the first detachment to leave the county.
In 1814, a troop of cavalry from Mercersburg, under Captain Matthew Paton, went to Baltimore but were not accepted, as cavalry were not needed. The majority of the men, determined to go to the war, disposed of their horses and joined the infantry. Another company, under Captain Thomas Bard, left here n September, 1814.
The people of Mercersburg have ever been wont to pride themselves on their love of education. There is just cause for this, for as early as 1762 we find that the first classical school within the bounds of this county was established in the Conococheague settlement. The teacher, Mr. John King-afterward Rev. John King-gives this brief account of it: “After this, my father not judging that he could bear the expense of sending me to college immediately, I came to West Conococheague in Cumberland County, where I spent almost three years in teaching school, during which time I instructed some boys in the Latin language. The Indian war increasing in 1763, my sister that lived there being killed by the Indians and the school declining, I quitted this part and returned to Little Britain, Lancaster Co.” This school-house, built of logs, was situated near the first church, known as Steele’s meeting house or fort, at Churchill, and when Dr. King returned here later as the pastor he seems to have continued the school. This Latin school had a high reputation in the community.
After Mercersburg was founded there is little definite information in regard to schools, but everything seems to centre in the “Old Stone Academy.” When and by whom this was built is not known. The oldest inhabitants of today remember it in their youth and recall that their parents spoke of it as the Old Stone Academy, so it would seem to have always been old. The building was a two-story stone structure, and stood on the grounds of the Presbyterian church, near where the parsonage now stands. Ex-President James Buchanan, in his autobiography, gives the following: “After having received a tolerably good English education, I studied the Latin and Greek language at a school in Mercersburg. It was kept by the Rev. James K. Sharon, then a student of divinity with Dr. John King, and afterward by a Mr. McConnell and Dr. Jesse Magaw, then a student of medicine.” As Mr. Buchanan entered Dickinson College in 1807, it must have been before that date he attended school in the old stone academy. The earliest school-house used for what is termed the “common school” system, was a one-story brick building, also on the Presbyterian grounds. It stood facing Park street, almost exactly opposite the present blacksmith shop. This house was built by general subscription, the Presbyterian congregation giving the use of their grounds on condition that they be permitted to store their fire wood in the cellar. Some of the teachers of this school were Samuel Bradley, Jacob Hassler, James Williamson, John D. Crilly and Miss Sarah Andrews. The basement of the Methodist church was used at various times for school purposes. As early as 1841 it was kept by a Mrs. Harris and her daughter, later by John D. Crilly and others.
The old Stone Academy in its decrepit age opened its doors to yet another school and became the first home in Mercersburg of what afterwards became Marshall College. It was regarded as a stroke of genius that the Rev. Jacob Mayer, pastor of the Reformed congregation, conceived the idea in 1834 of having the High School and Theological Seminary of that denomination, which were then located at York, removed to Mercersburg. This place was then a town of less than a thousand inhabitants, largely of Scotch-Irish descent, belonging to several branches of the Presbyterian church. The West Conococheague had been settled by the Scotch-Irish originally, the agents of the Proprietors being instructed to induce the Scotch-Irish to locate in the Kittochtinny valley, while the German immigrants were sent to York County, thereby hoping to avoid the troubles that had been experienced in some of the eastern counties. It was not long, however, until the Germans appeared in this valley, as is shown by the census of 1790. By 1834 there were both Reformed and Lutheran congregations of strength and influence in this town. In bringing the High School and Seminary here, not only the Reformed Church, but Seceders Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Methodists were equally enthusiastic. A subscription of $10,000 was raised and other substantial inducements were offered, one of these being the old stone academy. Proposals from Chambersburg and Lancaster were offered “but this from Mercersburg, involving no conditions that might lead to difficulty or misunderstanding, was regarded as the best,” so the offer was accepted. The members of the Board of Trustees from this town were Daniel Shaffer, William McKinstry, Elliott T. Lane, Dr. P. W. Little, William Dick, and William Metcalfe.
The High School was removed from York in 1835. On a beautiful November day in that year, the students arrived in Mercersburg by stage, fourteen of them in two stages. The faculty consisted of Dr. Rauch and Prof. Budd. The school was received with great kindness by the people, but the removal had been premature, as the old academy needed extensive repairs and for awhile the school occupied a frame building near the Diamond. This building, after the organization of the college, was for some years occupied by the preparatory department. The houses for the professors were not ready, and during the first winter the school suffered many privations. Notwithstanding these drawbacks the number of students steadily increased. On March 31, 1836, Governor Joseph Ritner signed the charter of Marshall College, and the Legislature added an appropriation to the endowment of the new institution. It was named Marshall College “in testimony of respect for the exalted character, great worth and high mental attainments of the late John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”
The same summer (1836) the Seminary building was erected, and one of the professor’s houses. The next year the other house was built. Dr. Rauch superintended the work, while the building committee consisted of John Smith, George Besore, Daniel Shaffer and James O. Carson. Two of them were Reformed elders, one a Lutheran, and the fourth a Seceder. The grounds on which the building stood originally consisted of four acres, which were purchased from Mr. William McKinstry for $500, the amount of his subscription. Mr. Jacob Hassler, Sr., was another of the four who subscribed $500 each.
This building soon became overcrowded by the seminary and college and the students were compelled to take lodgings wherever they could find them. In 1838 the Board resolved to build a suitable building for the college on a tract of land at the southern end of the village, which had been purchased from Mrs. Brownson for $1,000 No one doubted that the college building would soon be erected, but the claims of the Preparatory Department were pressing and came first. It still occupied the frame building in the town (this was destroyed by fire in 1841), which was inadequate to its needs, so it was deemed advisable to erect the preparatory building first. In 1844 and 1845 the two beautiful halls of the Diagnothian and Goethean Societies were erected. These were alike externally, built in the classic style with a portico supported by six Ionic columns and so situated that the proposed college building could be erected between them. This would have been imposing had the plan been completed, but the college suffered many financial embarrassments. At one time, in 1841, to save the school from loss, the trustees were compelled to purchase the Mansion House. The combination of college, seminary and hotel aroused much amusement, but the trustees bravely held the hotel till 1845, when Colonel John Murphy bought it. In this year the King of Prussia donated 1,500 German thalers to Marshall College.
The number of students in 1845 was 204, an increase of nearly fifty over the year before. The following year Prof. Samuel Budd, after a short illness, died. A Princeton graduate of high standing, he impressed upon the High School a collegiate character, so that when the change was made to Marshall College, there was no difficulty in arranging the students into college classes.
When necessity prompted the union of Marshall College with Franklin College, located at Lancaster, the citizens of Mercersburg objected most vigorously. An indignation meeting was held in the Methodist church, at which the people protested against the violation of plighted faith involved in the proposed removal. They even agreed to resort to law if necessary to prevent it. The accusation of “violation of plighted faith” was disposed of satisfactorily to the Synod, at least, and the college was removed to Lancaster in 1853.
The feeling in this community was nevertheless sectarian in regard to Marshall College, and this is well shown by the order of proceedings on commencement day, which was a great day for Marshall College and the whole town took part in it. During the early years the commencement exercises were held in the Presbyterian church, it being the largest for the purpose, and the following was the order usually observed: The procession was formed at the Reformed Church and proceeded through Main Street to the Presbyterian Church. First came the brass band, then the trustees, the faculty, and the orator of the preceding day, the graduates, the clergy, physicians, borough council, undergraduates and the citizens and visitors.
Marshall College had a separate existence of only seventeen years, but though its life was brief and much troubled by financial problems, it was strong intellectually, and it left its stamp on the community as well as on its students. Under the leadership of Dr. Rauch it evolved a system of philosophy which later, under the seminary, developed into the doctrinal system known as Mercersburg Theology.
In 1848 the Mercersburg Review, a quarterly publication, was established here; it is continued to the present day under the naive of the Reformed Church Review.
The Theological Seminary remained here until 1871, when it, too, was taken to Lancaster. It is interesting to note that the last class to leave the seminary went out of town on the first passenger train to Chambersburg.
After the removal of Marshall College, the Preparatory Department, under Revs. Samuel Wagner and Clement Weiser, continued for two years longer, and then followed the college to Lancaster. A private school was then opened under Rev. John Kooken. When Mr. Kooken left, in 1857, the citizens of Mercersburg formed a stock company, under the name of Mercersburg (sometimes Marshall) Collegiate Institute. The principal of this school in 1860 was Rev. Joseph Loose, who was followed in 1862 by A. A. Kemble. Mr. Kemble died in 1863 and was succeeded by his daughters. The last to lease the school was Charles Fisher.
In October, 1865, the property was bought by the Classis of the German Reformed Church, and the Collegiate Institute developed into Mercersburg College. The chartering of this college was largely due to the efforts of Dr. Henry Harbaugh, president of the Theological Seminary.
The education of the girls of Mercersburg was not neglected. Mrs. Young’s Select School for Girls, which had been located at York, followed in the wake of the high school and seminary and removed to Mercersburg. Mrs. Young’s sisters, Mrs. Dr. Rauch and Mrs. Train Green, were at different times identified with the school, which was called Locust Grove. In 1848 the principals of the school, E. Dean and Susanna Dow, advertised this in the town paper: “This institution is pleasantly situated in a retired part of the village of Mercersburg.” The principal in 1850 was A. F. Gilbert, and in 1857 this advertisement of J. E. Alexander is found, “building has lately been repaired. Boarding, Fuel, Light, Room, Furniture, and Tuition per year, $130. Music, French and Drawing (extra).” This institute, or female seminary as it was later called, was the property at the north end of town now owned by Mrs. Johnson Rankin. It was used for school purposes until about 1880, when it became a private residence.
When the public schools were opened, all the children living north of the Run were obliged to attend school in their own township ( Peters) . The school was a small brick building and stood on the left side of the pike on the way to the Gap. There are yet living men and women who received their early education at this little brick school-house, which has long ago disappeared.
Mercersburg has been the home of many good and brave and able men and women, and some of these have achieved fame. It is fitting to give here some account of a few, at least, of the latter.
In the Parish Register of the little country church at Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, there are the following entries: “June 9th, 1723, this Lord’s day, Mr. William Mercer, the Mistress Anne Munroe, were proclaimed for the third time.” Their marriage followed in the same month. Then: “January 17th, 1726, the Reverent Mr. William Mercer, and Mrs. Anne Munroe his wife, had a son baptised named Hugh.”
In view of the above entries, I must take issue with such of his biographers as give the year 1721 as the date of the birth of my great-grandfather, Hugh Mercer. More accurate history should place it in the year 1725.
Descended, on his paternal side, from a long line of ministers of the Church of Scotland, dating from about 1650, it was doubtless both from inheritance and training that Hugh Mercer was so thoroughly imbued with those sterling virtues of truth, a high sense of honor, loyalty, and devotion to duty, which made him the good and great man he was afterwards to become. According to our family tradition he was a man of modest, gentle, unassuming nature, content to do his duty faithfully as he saw it, without any undue regard either to the praise or blame of others; and he would, no doubt, in his early years have been very much surprised had it been foretold of him how prominent a part he was destined to play in after-life, in the history of his adopted country. Hugh Mercer became a student of medicine at Marischal College in 1740, and we next hear of him as an assistant surgeon in the army of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in 1746, in that ill-fated attempt to place him on the throne of his fathers. The Scotch, especially those from the Highlands, were always loyal to the House of Stuart, and Mercer, no doubt convinced of the justice of the cause, and with all his martial and patriotic spirit stirred to the depths, hastened to “link his for tune and his fate” to the cause of the Pretender. This was all the more to be expected as he had fighting blood in his veins, his maternal grandfather being Sir Robert Monroe, who fought with distinction in the British Army on the Continent, at Fontenoy and elsewhere. He was ordered home to oppose the Young Pretender, and was killed while in command at the battle of Falkirk in 1746. We do not know whether his grandson, Hugh Mercer, was his opponent on that bloody field, but we do know that he was certainly at the battle of Culloden, where Prince Charlie’s army was completely crushed, and the Stuart cause lost forever. “In his flight the Pretender was like a hare hunted by hounds. Flora MacDonald, a Scottish maiden, foiled his pursuers; and at length he reached France in safety. His loyal and loving followers found refuge in any way possible, hunted down and mercilessly butchered when caught. The terrible tragedy of the battle was as nothing compared to the butchery of these fugitives by the relentless and implacable Duke of Cumberland, a name made infamous by his treatment of a fallen foe.” After remaining in hiding for a time, Hugh Mercer managed to escape the vigilance of his enemies, and in the fall of the year 1746, embarked at Leith for America, landing a few weeks afterwards at Philadelphia. He remained but a short time in that city, however, and then made his first attempt to establish a home, on the western border of the State of Pennsylvania, at a place then described as “near Greencastle,” but now, since named in his honor, known to all the country as Mercersburg. Here he settled down to the practice of his profession-a varied experience in those Colonial times on the frontier of civilization, requiring high qualities of endurance, patience, skill and courage. It is believed that Mercer’s services as a physician and surgeon covered the whole Conococheague Settlement, embracing the entire district between Chambersburg and his own residence; and young as he was at that time, he was well known to all the inhabitants of the region round about, loved and welcomed everywhere, and looked up to as one who not only healed the sick, but who strengthened the weak, comforted the weary, and cheered the sorrowing. It was a splendid preparation for the hardships and privations he was in future called upon to endure-“A life of hardship well done, and consecrated by self sacrifice.” But Dr. Mercer was not to be allowed to lead his chosen life for a very long period among those peaceful scenes in that beautiful part of the State of Pennsylvania. After Braddock’s disastrous defeat by the French and Indians in his attempt to capture Fort Duquesne in the year 1755, the Indians, emboldened by success, became more and more troublesome, and in self-defense the colonists formed themselves into companies of Rangers, of one of which Dr. Mercer was made Captain. His commission is dated March, 1756, and his territory extended to the Welsh Run district and Mercersburg into the remote regions among the foothills, with headquarters at McDowell’s Fort, now Bridgeport. In one of his Indian fights he was severely wounded, and having been left behind by his retreating companions, he narrowly escaped with his life. Closely pursued by the savages, he providentially found a place of safety in the hollow trunk of a tree around which the Indians rested, and discussed the prospect of scalping him in the near future. When they had taken their departure, Mercer struck out in another direction, and completely outwitted them. Sick with his wounds, and worn out with his struggles, he began a lonely march of one hundred miles, but finally succeeded in joining the remnant of his command at Fort Cumberland. To sustain existence while on this wearisome march, he was compelled to live upon roots and herbs, the carcass of a rattlesnake proving his most nourishing meal. Hugh Mercer was with the force that surprised and destroyed the Indian village of Kittanning in 1756, but was severely wounded in that encounter, and once more counted among the missing. For the second time he had to use all his wits to maneuver and march through the forest, half famished and faint from the lack of food, until he succeeded in joining his surviving companions. Such energy and bravery elicited the applause of all who knew his experiences, and in appreciation of his services and sufferings, the Corporation of Philadelphia presented him with a vote of thanks, and a beautiful memorial medal.
In the summer of 1757 Mercer was made commander of the garrison in the fort at Shippensburg, and in December of the same year was appointed major of the forces of the Province of Pennsylvania, posted west of the Susquehanna. In the following year he was in command of a part of the expedition of General Forbes against Fort Duquesne; and it was on this memorable march that he first met George Washington, then a Brigadier-General of Virginia troops. A strong attachment soon sprang up between these two men, which lasted as long as Mercer lived, and as a result of that attachment, on the advice and at the suggestion of Washington, Virginia became the home of Hugh Mercer, and Mercersburg lost a good and valued citizen.
After the conclusion of the French and Indian War, and the evacuation of the forts by their French garrisons, Mercer, who had been promoted to the rank of Colonel, retired from military life, and moving to Fredericksburg, Virginia, again commenced the practice of his profession as a physician. “At this time, although thinly settled, this part of Virginia contained the homes of many of the most distinguished families on the Continent. They gave Mercer the cordial welcome to which his education and talents entitled him, reinforced by his brilliant career as a military man, and supplemented by the brotherly love and many favors shown him by General Washington.”
Life in the quiet little town of Fredericksburg during the next few years was uneventful; the only matter of interest being Mercer’s marriage to Isabella Gordon, the daughter of a prominent Virginia family, and a sister of the lady who married George Weedon, a major-general in the War of the Revolution. At his death General Weedon left his property, “The Sentry Box,” to Hugh Mercer, second, who was an infant at the time of his father’s death at the Battle of Princeton.
In 1775 Dr. Mercer’s quiet life was again to be interrupted by political troubles. “Ominous clouds were gathering in the Colonial sky, and the perilous situation was quickly and fully realized by the patriotic Virginians. When the general British order went forth to seize all military stores in the Colonies, the Americans made prompt resistance without further parleying. Massachusetts was speedily followed by Virginia; and in almost the first important item we find that Dr. Hugh Mercer was drilling a partially organized body of Virginia men to be ready for any emergency. They did not have long to wait, and when “the next gale from the North brought the clash of resounding arms, the patriots of Virginia commenced organizing for immediate fighting.”
In March, 1775 the Virginia Convention assembled in St. John’s Church, Richmond, where the eloquence of Patrick Henry and his splendid rallying cry of “Liberty or death,” stirred all hearts to decision and action. Mercer, with his customary modesty, made to the Convention his simple proffer of service in the expressive words, “Hugh Mercer will serve his adopted country, and the cause of Liberty, in any rank or station to which he may be assigned.” Noble words, these, which found their echo in what he said later, “We are not engaged in a war of ambition, or I should not have been here. Every man should be content to serve in that station in which he can be most useful. For my part I have but one object in view, and that is the success of the cause; and God can witness how cheerfully I would lay down my life to secure it.” After some balloting and discussion, to Mercer was assigned the Colonelcy of the Third Regiment of Virginia, but Congress having adopted the Virginia troops as a part of the Continental Army, Mercer was not long permitted to remain a Colonel, but on the urgent recommendation of Washington was made a Brigadier-General. His commission is dated June 5, 1776, and his assignment with “the Army around New York.”
The friendship between Washington and Mercer continued warm and unabated, and there is every reason to believe that the latter was often consulted upon military matters by his great Chief. It is stated on good authority that the idea of attacking the British army at Trenton originated with Mercer, and he is also credited with the plan of the Battle of Princeton. This was a most daring venture, for our little army was struggling against tremendous odds, and a single break in the American calculations meant untold disaster. “All went well through the night, but in the early hours of the 3d of January, 1777, the American troops were surprised by the Seventeenth British Regiment under Colonel Mawhood. General Mercer was on a fine gray horse, occupying the post of honor in the front, and at the first volley from the enemy his horse was brought down, and his most trusted lieutenant, Colonel Hazlett, killed. The British troops charged after the third volley, and the Colonists were driven back in disorder before a bayonet charge, by a force vastly superior in numbers.” Mercer was unable to extricate himself from his fallen horse in time to defend himself at once, and at that instant he was surrounded by a detachment of the enemy, who thought from his prominent position in the front that they had captured the “rebel General Washington.” They demanded his surrender, but with too reckless courage he refused, and sought to fight his way out with his sword, when he was struck from behind by a blow with the butt end of a musket, and was knocked down, receiving while he lay helpless no less than seven bayonet wounds in his body, in addition to two wounds in the head. As soon after the battle as possible General Mercer was moved to an adjacent farm house owned by Mr. Clark, where he was tenderly cared for by Mrs. Clark and her daughter; and for a time his recovery was hoped for in spite of the intense pain from his wounds and the great loss of blood. Everything that medical skill could accomplish was done to alleviate his suffering, and to save the life of this brave and gallant man, but nine days after the battle he expired in the arms of Major George Lewis, who had been sent by his uncle, General Washington, to minister to the wants of the dying hero. General Mercer died as he had lived, bravely and calmly sinking into his well earned rest. “What is to be, is to be! Goodbye, dear native land! Farewell, adopted country! I have done my best for you! Into thy care, O America, I commit my fatherless family! May God prosper our righteous cause! Amen!”
James Buchanan, the fifteenth President of the United States, was the second child of James Buchanan, a native of County Donegal, Ireland. In 1783 when twenty-three years old, the elder Buchanan came to Philadelphia; and after a few months became a clerk in the store of John Toms at Stony Batter, at the foot of the North Mountain, near Mercersburg. Five years afterward he was in business for himself at the same place. He was a shrewd business man, with a good English education and a knowledge of men that kept him from being deceived in his trading. His place of business was a good one, and he prospered from the first. Here people from “the West” brought their varied products to exchange for salt, cloth, and many other things that older communities could furnish for their needs. These articles were brought on wagons from Baltimore, and after the exchange at Buchanan’s place were put on pack horses for the trip over the mountains.
In 1788 the young merchant married Elizabeth Speer, whose home was at the foot t of the South Mountain, between Chambersburg and Gettysburg, and for eight years they lived at Stony Batter. At this place, April 23, 1791, the future President was born, and here he spent the first five years of his life.
In the autumn of 1796 the family removed to Mercersburg, where, two years later, the father started a store. This business, like the former venture at Stony Batter, prospered greatly, and continued to increase until the merchant’s death, in 1821.
After James, the younger, had received a fair English education, probably from his mother, he attended a school in Mercersburg, where he was taught Latin and Greek. The first teacher was a student of divinity under the Rev. John King, named James R. Sharon, the next, Mr. McConnell, and after him Dr. Jesse Magaw, who later married young Buchanan’s sister.
In the fall of 1807 the young student was sent to Dickinson College. The school, he tells us, was without discipline and he soon fell into the mischievous ways that prevailed among the student body; but being naturally a hard student, he kept up his college work. However, he tells of an incident that occurred during the vacation of September, 1808, that made a lasting impression upon him. While sitting with his father on a Sabbath morning his father opened a letter just received, read it, and with downcast look handed it to the son, and left the room. The letter was from Dr. Davidson, Principal of Dickinson College, and stated that, but for the respect they had for the father, they would have expelled his son James. Having endured to the end of the term, they could not receive him again, and wrote to the father to save him the mortification of having the son sent back.
Young James was greatly mortified, but soon resolved upon what to do. He betook himself to the great spiritual leader of the community, the Rev. John King, trustee of Dickinson, and a man of great influence in the county. Dr. King lectured the boy gently, and on condition that he give his word to behave better at college, promised to intercede for him. As a result, young Buchanan returned to college and applied himself with such diligence that he was put forward by his Society as a sure winner of the first of two honors granted by the school. He, however, believed that his Society was entitled to both honors, and had another candidate from his Society put up with him.
But the authorities gave first honor to his opponents and second to his colleague, leaving Buchanan out entirely. They gave, as the reason for their action, that it would have a bad effect to give an honor to a student that had shown so little regard for the rules of the school as young Buchanan had shown. This so incensed his friends that they were willing to refuse to take part in the commencement exercises; but he would not allow them to do so. In fact, after receiving a kind letter from the faculty, he himself took part.
Of course, the father was given the son’s side of the affair; and his letter is here given for its local association and as a human document.
“Dear Son: “Mercersburg, September 6, 1809.
“Yours is at hand (though without date) which mortifies us very much for your disappointment, in being deprived of both honors of the college, especially when your prospect was so fair for one of them, and more so when it was done by the professors who are acknowledged by the world to be the best judges of the talents and merits of the several students under their care. I am not disposed to censure your conduct in being ambitious to have the first honors of the college; but as it was thought that Mr. F. and yourself were best entitled to them, you and he ought to have compounded the matter so as to have left it to the disposition of your several societies, and been contented with their choice. The partiality you complain of in your professors is, no doubt, an unjust thing in them, and perhaps it has proceeded from some other cause than that which you are disposed to ascribe to them.
“Often when people have the greatest prospects of temporal honor and aggrandizement, they are blasted in a moment by a fatality connected with men and things: and no doubt the designs of Providence may be seen very conspicuously in our disappointments, in order to teach us our dependency on Him who knows all events, and they ought to humble our pride and self sufficiency.
I think it was a very partial decision and calculated to hurt your feelings. Be that as it will, I hope you will have fortitude to surmount these things. Your great consolation is in yourself, and if you can say your right was taken from you by a partial spirit and given to those to whom it ought not to be given, you must for the present submit. The more you know of mankind, the more you will distrust them. It is said the knowledge of mankind and the distrust of them are reciprocally connected…..
“I approve of your conduct in being prepared with an oration, and if upon delivery it be good sense, well spoken, and your own composition, your audience will think well of it whether it be spoken first, or last or otherwise.
“We anticipate the pleasure of seeing you shortly, when I hope all these little clouds will be dissipated.
“From your loving and affectionate father,
The young student returned to Mercersburg, where he remained until December, 1809, when he went to Lancaster to study law with Mr. Hopkins. Although always a diligent student, he describes this period of his life as the time when he studied hardest. He says: “I studied law, and nothing but law, or what was essentially connected with it . . . . I almost every evening took a lonely walk, and embodied the ideas I had acquired during the day in my own language.” He was pleased with the law and with Lancaster; and was encouraged by his parent’s letters not only to do his best in study, but to guard against all temptations.
He was admitted to the Bar in November, 1812. The second war with Great Britain had just started, and, naturally, his first political speeches were on questions arising from that struggle. At that time he was a Federalist, but his poise was such that neither partisan zeal nor prejudice carried him from the plain pathway of patriotic duty. In his papers he speaks of a letter received from his father in Mercersburg, in which the father tells of a strong Federalistic sermon preached by Rev. Mr. Eliot, September 12, 1812, who spoke of the war of a judgment,-for what sins the note does not say.
His first public speech to the people was made just after the British took Washington in 1814, at a meeting called to adopt measures to hurry volunteers to protect Baltimore. He was one of the first to enlist, and his company, under Major Charles Sterrett Ridgely, was the first of many from Pennsylvania for the defense of that city. He remained in Baltimore until honorably discharged.
In October, 1814 he was elected to the lower house of the Legislature. At this time Philadelphia was threatened, and the chief business of the Legislature was to provide for its defense. The question at issue was whether there should be a conscription law, or a business-like volunteer act. Buchanan urged that the patriotism of the people could be trusted to provide a defense when the volunteers were properly officered; and he gave the fighting on the Niagara frontier as proof. While the Senate and House were wrangling over the question, the news of peace arrived. So strongly had Buchanan urged a vigorous policy of defense that soon afterward William Beale, a shrewd and powerful Democratic Senator from Mifflin County, carne to him and urged him, since he was a Democrat in all but name, to change his party name and to call himself a Democrat, predicting that if the young man did so, he would become President some time,-a prediction often made of promising young men, but seldom verified. But the young lawyer was not yet a Democrat in principles.
From his father at Mercersburg Buchanan received many letters at this time; in which the father feared his election to office had taken the son from his law studies and practice at the wrong time, hoped the young man would merit the approbation of his neighbors, and “above all to merit the esteem of heaven.” February 24, 1815, the father wrote hoping that the Legislature would repeal many war measures, and says that that night Mercersburg will be illuminated “in consequence of peace.”
Buchanan was returned to the Legislature October, 1815 Now, the great question was the suspension of specie payments. Buchanan was chosen leader of the minority against a proposed law to compel banks to pay specie for their notes, under penalty of losing their charters. In his argument he showed how the suspension of specie payments was brought about by perfectly natural causes, and that for the time the banks should not be disturbed. This debate is mentioned only because it was during this fight that Buchanan changed his views on the United States Bank, and became, to use his own words, “decidedly hostile” to it for the rest of his life.
At the end of the session of 1815-16 he left the Legislature to take up his law practice again; but he was not destined to remain long out of the public eye. Judge Franklin, of his district, had made a ruling regarding the status of militia taken into the service of the United States. The Supreme Court of the United States afterward ruled differently, and in the political excitement of the time judge Franklin was tried for impeachment. Buchanan, now in his twenty-sixth year, defended him in an address that produced a most profound impression, and which secured the acquittal of the judge.
About this time the young lawyer became engaged to Miss Anne C. Coleman, daughter of Robert Coleman, Esq., a wealthy resident of Lancaster. She is described as having been a singularly beautiful and attractive young woman. After the engagement had existed for some time, in the late summer of 1819, Miss Coleman wrote Buchanan saying that it was her desire that he release her from it, and, of course, he did so. On the 9th of December, while she was on a visit to Philadelphia, Miss Coleman suddenly died. She was buried a few days afterward in Lancaster. Her lover was heart-broken, and in a tender letter to the father, asking to see the body before burial, he hints that both she and himself have been victims of the malice of others. It is a shameful commentary on the methods of partisan politics of the time that this incident should have found its way into campaign documents, but such was the case. The estrangement of lovers has never been a strange or unusual occurrence; but the coming of death at such times, as in this case, makes a tragedy such as threw its shadow over Buchanan’s long and useful career.
In 1820 he was sent to Congress as a Federalist. Federalism then meant opposition to the War of 1812, and had little in it that appealed to a young man twenty-nine years old, already a leader in his own community. In the same year Monroe was chosen President, almost unanimously, and the Federalist National party disappeared. New parties were soon to be formed on the questions of finance, internal improvements, and slavery.
He first took part in debate in January, 1822, on a bill making appropriations for the Military Establishment. Opposition to the bill was really an attack on Calhoun, Secretary of War. Buchanan defended the Secretary, and was answered sharply by John Randolph, of Roanoke. For a new member he took part in many discussions, his views being conservative rather than radical.
In 1824 he supported Andrew Jackson, and first met the General when sent to ask him, during the struggle over the election in the House, whether he had said that, if elected, he would make Clay Secretary of State. Jackson assured him he had made no such promise. After the House chose John Quincy Adams, Buchanan, then on a visit to his mother in Mercersburg, wrote a letter to the General deploring the outcome of the election in the House and assuring Jackson of the loyalty of his many friends in Pennsylvania. In the bitter strife that followed the election Buchanan became one of the anti-Adams leaders in the House. Another future President, James K. Polk, was also a leader against Adams.
On the 11th of April, 1826, Mr. Buchanan made a speech on the constitutional position of the House in appropriating money to defray the expense of a Panama Commission that brought from Mr. Webster the compliment that “The gentleman from Pennsylvania has placed the question in a point of view which cannot be improved.” In the long and varied discussion of this question he also made his first declaration in Congress on the slavery question. He denounced it as a great political and moral evil, thanked God that he had been reared where it did not exist, but stated that if slaves were freed at that time, in many parts of the South, they would rise against their masters and that for the defense of the chivalrous southern race from servile rebellion he would gladly shoulder his knapsack. In his tariff debates he was clear and convincing, and stood for a moderate tariff in the interest of the whole country, rather than of a single section. Though an opponent of Adams, he gladly supported projects for “Internal Improvements.”
In 1828 Mr. Buchanan was one of the most influential Jackson leaders in Pennsylvania, which gave the General her twenty-eight votes. He was returned to Congress, where he became Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His work on this committee was dignified and able; and some of his speeches on the various questions may still be read with profit. He intended to retire from public life at the end of this session. His experiences in Congress had given him valuable training in constitutional law, and as his professional income was dwindling, he desired to return to his practice. But it was not so to be.
In the summer of 1831 President Jackson appointed him Minister to Russia, the appointment being confirmed early in January, 1832. In March he left Lancaster by stage for Washington by way of Baltimore; and on the 8th of April he set sail from New York for Liverpool, which place he reached after a voyage of twenty-five days. The pilot who came on board gave the passengers the welcome news that Liverpool had no cholera, but that it was raging in Cork and Dublin. After he was shown about the city, he left by railroad for Manchester. He notes the fact that the run from Liverpool to Manchester, thirty miles, was made in one hour and thirty minutes. This was over the first stretch of railroad in England. Arriving in London, he wrote a long letter to his brother, Rev. Edward Y. Buchanan, in which he tells of the show places he visited and speaks with due reverence of Oxford Cathedral and Westminster Abbey; but says that as “places of worship, however, they must be very damp and uncomfortable.” He also speaks of the troubles of King and Church over the Reform Bill agitation; and, like a good American, prefers the American churches to the English State Church system. He requests his brother to forward this letter to his mother at Mercersburg. From London he passed by packet to Hamburg, and from there overland to St. Petersburg.
Writing to Jackson June 22, 1832, he speaks of the cold climate, the short summer knight, the manner of building and heating houses; but adds that the objection an American feels to living in the country is not so much physical discomfort as the absence of a free press, due to what he calls “a calm despotism.” Nicholas he describes as the kindest of despots, and says, “But still he is a despot.” He speaks of the Empress as having referred in an interview to the troubles with some of the Southern States, and says that the people in Europe expect a revolution every time they receive news of such political troubles in America.
As minister to “the most formal court in Europe,” he was compelled to do many things not to his democratic tastes. He writes: “Foreign ministers must drive a carriage and four with a postilion, and have a servant behind decked out in a more queer dress than our militia generals.”
The chief object of his mission to Russia was to conclude a commercial treaty with that country. Russia still adhered to her policy of aloofness; but with wonderful skill for one of no previous diplomatic training, Mr. Buchanan set to work. Against him were all the leading men of the Court except Count Nesselrode, the chief statesman, who, as minister in 1814 had signed the agreement of the Powers that sent Napoleon to Elba. This great statesman and diplomat became a friend of Buchanan from the first, even giving him suggestions privately as to certain points in the American’s proposals to the Russian government. But even with Nesselrode’s help it was no easy task to overcome the opposition. It was with great satisfaction, therefore, the American minister learned from the Emperor at a levee in December that the treaty would be concluded. For this treaty Mr. Buchanan deserves all the more credit, because he was practically out of touch with his home government during the negotiations.
After the treaty was concluded, he was absent from St. Petersburg for about a month, spent mostly at Moscow. Soon after he returned to the capital, on the 19th of July, he received the sad news that his mother had died, at the, home of one of her daughters, at Greensburg, Pennsylvania, May 14, 1833. He had written a letter to his mother on July 3d, and as his work in Russia was almost done, he had great hope of seeing her once more. Mrs. Buchanan was buried in Waddell’s graveyard, a few miles north of Mercersburg, where her grave and that of her husband may be seen marked with modest stones.
Mr. Buchanan arrived in America in November, 1833. In December, 1834, he was chosen United States Senator to succeed Mr. Wilkins, who succeeded him as Minister to Russia. He entered the Senate as a Jackson Democrat. The Senate at that time was hostile to the President, especially on the bank question. Webster and Clay led the majority against the President and Benton, Wright and King, the Jackson supporters. Of course, the first great party struggle came when the President removed the executive officers. Webster and others held that the constitutional right of the Senate in consenting to appointments applied also to removals. Mr. Buchanan refuted this in an able address; but all agree that his greatest Senate speech was made on the resolution to expunge from the record a resolution formally carried by Clay, condemning the President for unconstitutional acts in removing the public money from the United States Bank. Mr. Buchanan’s speech is a strong condemnation of that purely partisan thrust of Clay’s friends.
On the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia he held that, since the District had been carved from two slave-holding States, Congress had no constitutional right to abolish slavery there any more than it had the right to abolish it in the States themselves.
On the question of recognizing the independence of Texas, he said he would gladly vote in favor of doing so when Texas had won her independence.
As Mr. Buchanan had been the defender of Jackson’s financial schemes, it became his task to meet the opposition of Webster to Van Buren’s sub-treasury plan. Both men made powerful arguments from their respective points of view; and while the system has its opponents in our day, it has remained since Van Buren’s time.
Mr. Buchanan had been re-elected Senator in 1837, and, therefore, was not affected politically by the Whig triumph of 1840. Only one man had previously served more than six years as Senator from Pennsylvania. He was elected for a third term as Senator; and as the election of 1844 was coming on, his friends urged his nomination as the Democratic candidate for President. But many of the delegates were pledged to Van Buren and the Pennsylvanian with drew his name in the interest of harmony before the convention met. In a private letter he expressed the opinion that Van Buren would be nominated and defeated; but Polk was nominated and elected over Clay on the Texas question.
President Polk chose Buchanan as Secretary of State, the man best fitted in his party for the place. The new Secretary was at once in the midst of the Oregon controversy and the Texas question. Had these questions not kept him in his office, he certainly would have been made a justice of the Supreme Court.
But he stuck to his post, though with longing eyes on the Bench. The country was safely steered through the Oregon difficulty, which many had believed would bring on a third war with Great Britain. Even the Mexican difficulty might have been settled amicably; but Mexico refused to receive our Minister Slidell, and war broke out on the Rio Grande. When, during the Mexican War, Great Britain made encroachments upon Central America, Mr. Buchanan had President Polk reassert the Monroe Doctrine in all its old-time vigor; but this course was not followed by their successors, and the affair ended in the disgraceful Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.
In 1850 the Whigs were in power and he had no part in the discussion of the “Great Compromise” in Congress; but in public addresses and by his pen he urged its passage, and declared that the Fugitive Slave Law carried out the spirit of the Constitution.
At the convention of 1852 Mr. Buchanan and several others were each so strong that the nomination went to a younger and less well known man, Franklin Pierce. In this campaign Mr. Buchanan’s chief service to his party was a long and effective speech delivered at Greensburg against General Scott.
President Pierce made Mr. Buchanan Minister to England, and he left New York for his post August 1, 1853, reaching Liverpool on the 17th. When Parliament opened in 1854, there occurred the “Court Dress Episode.” Secretary Marcy had issued an order that American diplomats should appear in the “plain dress of American citizens.” The Master of Ceremonies issued a statement that when the Queen opened Parliament, the diplomats should wear court dress. Consequently, the American Minister was absent at the great ceremony; and this caused much comment in the papers. The Queen soon held her first levee, and Mr. Buchanan informed the Master of Ceremonies that he would appear in the dress he always wore with the addition of a small black dress sword. Though he knew he would be received in any dress he chose to wear, he did not expect the very cordial reception he received.
As minister he had to deal with Central American problems and the Clayton – Bulwer Treaty. Owing to the condition of European politics, England was ready to fight somebody, and he expected Palmerston to assume a warlike attitude; yet, in a private letter to Marcy, Secretary of State, he announced his determination not to yield “one iota of our rights.” The Crimean War brought up the question of rights of neutrals; and he handled it with the skill of the trained diplomat that he was, carefully avoiding all entangling alliances. The war, however, ended all further negotiations regarding the construction of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and he asked to be recalled.
But whatever the vicissitudes of official life in London, his social life there was enjoyable. His niece, Miss Harriet Lane, had joined him in the spring of 1854, and her letters home are radiant with descriptions of receptions, personages, and costumes. While they were in London, Napoleon and Eugenie, then in the height of the glory that went out in the Franco-Prussian War, made their famous visit to London. Miss Lane returned to America in the autumn of 1855, and Mr. Buchanan in April, 1856, when he was accorded a most cordial reception.
Already the Democrats of his State were putting him forward for the Presidency, and at the convention at Cincinnati, without any organized effort on the part of his friends, he was easily nominated without pledge or promise. In the election that followed he carried the slave States, with the exception of Maryland; and of the Northern States, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, and California.
The history of the administration of Mr. Buchanan is not within the province of this paper. The first three years of it were spent in trying to allay the bitterness engendered by many years of political strife, while the last months were spent in dealing with one of those crises which are beyond human guidance; but which themselves move men as pawns. By his enemies his administration has been bitterly attacked; and it has been most ably defended by his friends; but he himself never doubted that the ultimate judgment of his countrymen would do him justice. That he was right in this can be seen in our day; and the time is almost at hand when some historian, without partisan bias, or thought of the need of vindicating Mr. Buchanan, will write the straightforward history of those momentous years.
When his term of office expired, he retired to his estate, “The Wheatlands,” which had been his home for many years. It is near the city of Lancaster and was purchased by him in December, 1848. Here, with no offices to give, he enjoyed the letters and companionship of his many true friends. Soon after his retirement he prepared a defense of his administration and had it published about 1865. He even planned a more elaborate work, an autobiography; but owing to the infirmities of old age this latter work was never completed. In the fall of 1861 he wrote a public letter urging all loyally to aid in the war “made inevitable by the Confederate attack.”
He was a man of impressive appearance, over six feet tall, broad shouldered, and somewhat stout. His eyes were blue, one near, and one far-sighted, which caused a habitual inclination of the head to one side.
He was fond of the society of men and women, and was popular at social gatherings. Not a fluent public speaker, he was clear, forceful and convincing. In that Senate noted for its great men, he always commanded attention. His personal integrity was beyond the pale of partisan accusation; and he was always ready to aid those in need.
Reared by pious parents, he was all his life a Christian man; but not until September 24, 1865, did he become a church member. On that day he united with the Presbyterian Church in Lancaster.
He died June 1, 1868, of rheumatic gout, and was buried at Lancaster June 4th. The funeral sermon was preached by his friend and spiritual advisor, John W. Nevin, D. D., President of Franklin and Marshall College.
Mr. Buchanan had inherited the business ability of his father, and he left an estate valued at $300,000. Little of this, however, was from his salary as President; for, while in office, he insisted on paying many bills that Presidents do not usually pay. He also paid the expense of entertaining the Prince of Wales, although he was really a national guest.
The Buchanan home in Mercersburg was the lower part of what is now Hotel Mercer. The property was sold to J. O. Carson, and later came into the possession of the McAfee brothers, who refitted it to be used as the McAfee Hotel. Later, a third story was added, and after a few years the property was sold to its present owner, C. W. McLaughlin.
The Dunwoodie farm, in which the elder James Buchanan had taken so much interest, is situated about two miles east of Mercersburg on the West Conocheague Creek. In 1863, Jeremiah S. Black, without seeing the farm or sending any one to inspect it for him, purchased it from the ex-President for $15,624. It is now called “Patchwork” and is owned by Miss Mary Black.
Eighty years ago there was born in the quaint old village of Mercersburg, a little girl, Harriet Rebecca Lane, the youngest child of Jane Buchanan and Elliott T. Lane.
Harriet Lane was of English ancestry on the side of her father, and Scotch-Irish on that of her mother. Her grandfather, James Buchanan, settled near Mercersburg, and in 1788 he married Elizabeth Speer, a woman of strong intellect and deep piety.
The eldest child of the marriage was James, the late ex-President. Jane Buchanan, the next child after James, his playmate in youth, his favorite sister through life, known as the most sprightly and agreeable of a family all gifted, was married in the year 1813 to Elliott T. Lane. Mr. Lane was a merchant, largely engaged in the lucrative trade at that time carried on between the East and the West, by the great highway that passed through Franklin County. Harriet spent the first years of her life in “Old Mercersburg” in the beautiful home built by her father, near the Town Square. Old citizens like Mr. John Hoch and Mr. Thomas Waddell, who were her schoolmates in childhood, have passed with her into the Great Beyond, and none are left of those who knew her here.
We are told she attended Mrs. Young’s School, a merry, mischievous girl, never so happy as when ringleader of school-girl pranks. “In all the counties of Southern Pennsylvania there was no comelier and more high-spirited maiden.” Inheriting the vivacity of her mother, she overflowed with health and good humor. Her Uncle James, then in the prime of life, paid frequent visits to his family in Mercersburg, and the impression which his august presence and charming talk made upon little Harriet was deep and lasting. In 1839 Harriet was left motherless and, when, two years later, death again entered her home, taking her father from her, Harriet and her sister Mary were invited to become members of their Uncle James’s home at Wheatland.
Here it was that Harriet Lane, in her early girlhood, helped to entertain the statesmen who were almost constantly the guests of her uncle. The following winter was passed under the care of two elderly maidens at Lancaster, famous for their strict sense of propriety; and her horror at finding herself installed in this pious household, must have been very amusing to Mr. Buchanan, who was never blind to the humorous side of things. He was in the Senate at the time, and Harriet poured out her soul to him in childish letters that complained of early hours, brown sugar in tea, restrictions in dress, stiff necks and cold hearts. She was solaced by fatherly letters from her uncle, to say nothing of pocketfuls of crackers and rock candy. At the age of twelve she was sent, with her sister, to a school in Charleston, Va., where they remained for three years. During this time Harriet made unusual progress in music, but the one great event during those three years was a visit to Bedford Springs, a glorious, never-forgotten time. Next came two years at the convent at Georgetown, a school celebrated for the elegant women who have been educated there. Once a month Miss Lane spent Saturday and Sunday with her uncle, in whose home she met such men as few young girls could appreciate.
He took pains, however, to restrain her youthful inclination to play the role of a belle at Washington. He was especially solicitous that she should not contract an early marriage, saying: “Never allow your affections to become interested, nor engage yourself to any person, without my previous advice. You ought never to marry any man to whom you are not attached; but you ought never to marry any person who is not able to afford you a decent and immediate support. In my experience I have witnessed the long years of patient misery and dependence which fine women have endured from rushing into matrimonial connections without sufficient reflection.” It was not long before Harriet became a favorite among the young women of the national capital. Her sagacious uncle admonished her to keep her wits about her in the gay scenes she would find there, and always to be guarded against flattery. “Many a clever girl,” he said, “has been spoiled for the useful purposes of life and rendered unhappy by a winter’s gayety in Washington.” But it was not until the winter of 1854 that she began to attract general attention among the brilliant belles of the Pierce administration, as she conspicuously did at the great ball which the Minister from Brazil gave in honor of the birthday of his imperial master.
When Mr. Buchanan was appointed by President Pierce as Minister to England, he was not accompanied by his niece, but she joined him some months later.
Her first appearance at a drawing-room was a memorable occasion, not only to the young American girl and her uncle, but to all who witnessed her graceful and dignified bearing at the time. For a girl who had never been outside her native land she carried herself through the ordeal with unusual tact and self-possession. Despite her uncle’s disposition to simplicity and economy, and his constant cautions that she should make no attempts at “display,” her fine appearance and her youthful animation enabled her soon to become a favorite.
The only time when the dress question seems to have disturbed her was when she had an invitation to dinner with the Queen while the court was in mourning, and found that she had no black dress in her wardrobe, and that it was necessary to get one at a day’s notice. At the dinner Harriet thought that the Queen, who herself was also still a young woman, and who talked a good deal with her, was “most gracious,” while Prince Albert was equally talkative to her uncle. “Everything, of course, was magnificent,” she wrote to her sister. “There was gold in profusion, twelve candelabra, with four candles each. But you know I never can describe things of this sort. With mirrors and candles all around the room, and a band playing delicious music all the time, it was like fairyland in its magnificence.”
At one of the “Drawing-Rooms” in Buckingham Palace the fair young American, attired in pink silk and tulle and apple blossoms, awakened general admiration among the courtiers. On her way home with her uncle he remarked “Well, one would have supposed that you were a person of great beauty, to have heard the way you were talked of today. I was asked if we had many such handsome ladies in America. I answered yes, and,” he went on to say, as if he felt it were his duty to sprinkle some cold water on the flattery, “many much handsomer. She would scarcely be remarked there for her beauty.”
During her year’s residence in London she enjoyed several marks of both royal and popular esteem. But not the least notable event in which she participated was when her uncle took her, one summer day in 1855, to Oxford, where he and Alfred Tennyson each received the degree of Doctor of Civil Laws. The poet, then in the prime of manhood, was hardly a more conspicuous figure in the august ceremony at the venerable seat of learning than the golden-haired American girl, whose appearance the English students welcomed with an outburst of cheers.
It was characteristic of her uncle that when she had returned to the United States he wrote her: “Take care not to display any foreign airs or graces in society at home, nor descant on your intercourse with royal people, but your own good sense will teach you this lesson. I shall be happy, on my return, to learn that it has been truly said of you, `She has not been a bit spoiled by her visit to England.”‘ Six months later, when he took his farewell audience, the Queen expressed a kind remembrance of her, and when he parted with the Marquis of Lansdowne that nobleman exclaimed enthusiastically: “If Miss Lane should have the kindness to remember me, do me the honor to lay me at her feet.”
It was only a little more than a year afterward that Mr. Buchanan was called to the Presidency of the United States. His bachelorhood caused his niece to be noted with uncommon interest, but her season in England had given her complete confidence in herself. Indeed, since the time of Dolly Madison there had been few mistresses of the White House who had united to personal charm and popularity an understanding of the graces of social intercourse.
Harriet Lane went into the White House when only twenty-six years of age, with all the exuberance of health, and with a beauty of face and figure such as no young woman who had been its mistress had before shown. It was her destiny to be the only maiden that has ever reigned there during four years as its social queen. Her public advent into Washington in that role was at the Buchanan Inaugural Ball, which was held in a structure temporarily built for the purpose. Attired in a white dress with artificial flowers and a necklace of many strands of pearls around her neck, she was a picture of youthful freshness of spirit as she learned upon the arm of her tall uncle and was escorted by General Jessup in full uniform. Indeed, almost from the beginning, the dinners and receptions at the White House, notwithstanding the President’s desire not to have “too much fuss,” gave her a reputation as a young woman of fine manners and strong sense.
She was very much the modern girl; but her generation was not educated up to her ideas, and the physical exuberance that would have made her a tennis expert and golf champion today subjected her to many a mild snub from her conservative guardian. Buchanan was fond of teasing her with the tale of how she challenged a young man to run a race, and beat him hopelessly-a most unfeminine proceeding. Secretly, he was immensely proud of her, but the times did not endorse such vigor.
Harriet Lane’s position in the White House was more onerous, perhaps, than that of any one since Martha Washington, for Buchanan had many personal visitors in addition to his official ones. At the English court Miss Lane had added experience to her attainments, and was quite equal to anything her new position might offer, even to acting as hostess to the Prince of Wales. One of the entertainments provided for him was a visit to the tomb of Washington, where he did reverence most suitably, like the well-bred young prince he was.
On the way up the river to Washington Albert Edward danced with Harriet Lane on the deck of the steamer, and with other girls among her friends. This they all especially enjoyed because Mr. Buchanan would not permit dancing in the White House. The day closed with a sumptuous dinner at the house of Lord Lyons, the British Minister, with the Prince on one side, at the head of the table, and Harriet Lane on the other.
In person, in speech, in carriage and in manner Harriet Lane had the charm of a regal presence. She suggested to her countrymen the grand dame of European society more than had any of her predecessors. Her stature was a little above the average of her sex, her figure moulded in a noble cast, and her head firmly poised on neck and shoulders of queenly grace. On public occasions the air of authority in her deportment was such that Mr. Buchanan’s political followers would sometimes enthusiastically hail her as “Our Democratic Queen,” while his opponents would solemnly remind him that he would do well to restrain the spirit of royal manners in his household. Her blonde hair, her violet eyes, her fine complexion, and the contour of a face and expressive mouth on which the lines of character were strongly written, marked her at once as a woman of both charm and power. Her voice had the bright musical intonation of a wholesome nature; few English women could surpass her in athletic exercises, and no other “Lady of the White House” has since been so widely copied as a model in her toilettes.
It was said that the White House had never been gayer than on the final night of Miss Lane’s public career as its mistress. All Washington had come to say farewell. The band played alternately “Yankee Doodle” and “Away Down South in Dixie.” Hour after hour the crowd passed through the doors until it numbered more than four thousand. Dressed in pure white, the mistress of the mansion was greeted with effusive admiration, and by many, too, who believed that in looking upon her they saw the last woman who would grace the White House, and upon her uncle as its last President.
In the winter of 1866 Harriet Lane was married by her uncle, the Rev. Edward Young Buchanan, to Henry Elliott Johnston, of Baltimore, a union which proved ideally happy. Years later, Mr. and Mrs. Johnston brought their two sons to Mercersburg, that they might see the birthplace of their mother and her family; and always on her return to her native town Mrs. Johnston visited the old Waddell graveyard, where the bodies of her ancestors lie buried. That Mrs. Johnston had love for the home of her childhood was evidenced by the fact that she gave to Mercersburg Academy a portrait of her uncle, James Buchanan, and her last visit to the town was when that portrait was unveiled. When she died, in 1903, she willed that the Buchanan birthplace, land at Stony Batter, be purchased, and a monument erected thereon.
It was a strange irony of Fate that Harriet Lane, so “friended” in her early life, should have lost both husband and sons, which left her to pass the evening of life in comparative loneliness, with only past glories and beautiful memories for companions.
Another of the notable women of Old Mercersburg was Elizabeth (Irwin) Harrison, mother of Benjamin Harrison, twenty-third President of the United States.
Archibald Irwin, son of Archibald and Jean McDowell Irwin, succeeded to the old Irwin homestead and the “Irwinton Mills” on the West Branch of the Conococheague. Both the dwelling house and the mill were built by his father. He married for his first wife Mary Ramsey, daughter of Major James Ramsey, who built the mill near Mercersburg, since known as Heister’s. The elder of the two daughters by this marriage was Jane and the younger Elizabeth. Nancy Ramsey, a sister of their mother, married John Sutherland, an Englishman, who lived in Ohio, near the home of General William Henry Harrison, at North Bend. The Irwin girls visited their aunt, Mrs. Sutherland, in Ohio, when they met the sons of General Harrison, William Henry and John Scott Harrison. The result of these meetings was that William Henry Harrison, Jr., came to Irwinton Mills in 1824, to wed Jane Irwin. At that time her sister Elizabeth was only fourteen years old. Eight years later she married John Scott Harrison, in Ohio.
In 1889 Benjamin Harrison, the eldest son of Elizabeth Irwin Harrison, became President of the United States. Jane Irwin Harrison was mistress of the White House during the brief administration of the first President Harrison, in 1841. The fine old mansion, built of limestone, in which these two fortunate women, one of them the another of a President, were born, is still standing, little changed from what it was at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century.
It is said that Jane was one of the most beautiful, as well as one of the most gracious, women who has ever presided over the White House. Of Elizabeth, we have this from the pen of her daughter: “In regard to my writing anything about our dear mother, I feel I could not do as well as some others, as I was only a child of eight or nine when she died. I remember her as an angel in our home, a devoted wife and mother. I have never heard any one speak of her in any other way. Our old nurse has frequently told me of her home life and her mild, yet always firm, control of her children. I remember her last visit to the old Mercersburg home-how her little ones missed her and the royal welcome she had on her return.” She died many years before her son Benjamin became President of the United States.