Some Early Waterford Pioneers
by Lewis Dove, Fort Le Boeuf School District Teacher (Retired)
The Lady of the Lake: Canto III. - The Gathering
Time rolls his ceaseless course. The race of yore,
Who danced our infancy upon their knee,
And told our marvelling boyhood legends store
Of their strange ventures happed by land or sea,
How are they blotted from the things that be!
How few, all weak and withered of their force,
Wait on the verge of dark eternity,
Like stranded wrecks, the tide returning hoarse,
To sweep them from out sight! Time rolls his ceaseless course.
Written in 1810 by Walter Scott
Martin Strong came from good Connecticut stock, as they used to say. Born in 1770, his family provided a good education, including training in the profession of surveying. Early in 1795, when no more than perhaps a dozen settlers had come to Erie County, he arrived with his compass and chain. The land companies had not yet set up their offices so, not being one to waste time, he hired out to an early settler in Erie to cut planking from trees. He was paid 50 cents a day. He lived with the family. When time came to leave, he found that his bill for room and board was 75 cents a day. At first he refused to pay the 25 cent difference, but since the owner of the house had confiscated his surveying equipment, he was forced to give in.
Martin traveled down the Old French Road to a spot just past the Old State Line. This land, he knew, was controlled by the Holland Land Company and their agent was Major John Alden, whom he had met and worked at least two years for in the Susquehanna Valley near Milton; he went to work again for Major Alden and the company. Part of his salary was cash but he took most in land, including the area where he was camping. The agent for a rival company, the Population Land Company, tried to evict him and negate his surveys. They failed in a Pittsburgh court to support their claims.
As he prospered, Mr. Strong built a nice home on his property at the head of a deep gorge. He bought stock in the Erie and Waterford Turnpike Company, which followed the ridge out of Waterford that the Old French Road had followed and, since the new road, like the old, had to stay above the ravine, he was in the best spot where the tolls could be collected. He was "hired" to collect these fees, part of which he kept for his service. This also contributed to his wealth.
Martin had two wives and many children. His first wife bore one, Sarah Ann (more about her later).
The war of 1812 brought men and tons of supplies to be hauled over the turnpike from the port of Waterford to the harbor of Erie. The Strong home offered room and board to the men and stables, feed, and hay for the draft animals. His wealth increase - by now he was the most prosperous man in the county.
His friend, John Vincent, as well as three other salt merchants, used the road to transport their cargo from Erie to Waterford. Again, his home and the road fees added to his wealth. By 1803, in addition to his other interests, he owned eight hundred acres, a large land holding for a Northerner.
Later, when the authorities desired to change township boundaries, Martin Strong "pulled his weight." He said he wanted to live and die in Waterford Township; how could they refuse a man of his stature. To this day, the township has an almost inexplicable bulge into Summit Township.
When Colonel Freeland was shot opening the gate to the fort on the morning of July 29, 1779, John Lyle became the commandant of the fort - Fort Freeland. It was located on Warrier's Run in Northumberland County just north of the main forks of the Susquehanna River. The Indians under command of Captain McDonald of the British Army had killed two children and two men picking corn eight days before. After a lull in the fighting, they returned and besieged the fort until the 29th, when they ordered the fort to surrender or the fort would be "put to the torch and no mercy shown."
Most of the approximately seventy people in the fort were children, many women. Only about 15 men were left to defend the walls. They faced 100 British soldiers and 200 Indians. On top of that, they were out of powder and lead and could not hope for reinforcements. Captain Lyle, with his friend and aide, Cornelius Vincent, decided to capitulate. (One of the murdered children was Cornelius' son, Isaac.)
Cornelius Vincent's mother, Elizabeth, was crippled and therefore could not walk out on her own. His father, John, carried his wife out of the fort to a place where the British officer pointed, down the hill a bit, as the Indians burned the fort. That night a torrential rain fell; John and Elizabeth spent the night on the earth, half covered by water, in a depression. The next morning her husband helped her sit a horse, as they left the area. Their son, Cornelius, his sons Daniel, Benjamin and Bethuel, William Miles, Captain Lyle, and three others were marched off, all but Daniel going to Fort Niagara. They were detained at Niagara as prisoners until 1782. Young John Vincent stayed with his mother at Warrier's Run.
Mrs. Lyle and her young children, including John, Jr., were permitted by the British to return to her farm soon after the surrender of the fort. She needed help desperately and was lucky, she thought, when a stranger came by and offered to work for her. He proved to be invaluable, running the farm, caring for the stock, and doing the hard work required on the frontier.
Captain Lyle, as well as the other prisoners, had no way of getting word to their families that they were alive and taken to Niagara. So, the "hired hand" faked a letter from a soldier that reported that John Lyle had died - apparently from disease - while held captive. After much conjurering and sweet talk, he convinced Mrs. Lyle to marry him. She finally consented and they were married.
When the American treaty released John Lyle and the rest, they began their journey home. Lucky for the hired man, word travels faster than returning prisoners. Last seen the hired man, with belongings in hand, was heading west, fast! John and his wife were reconciled. They aided their son John to pull up stakes and head west - to Waterford. There he joined his life-long friend, John Vincent. John Lyle, Sr., followed soon after.
Cornelius Vincent had kept his ears pealed and eyes open while a prisoner at Niagara. Prisoners were allowed a lot of come and go. After all, he was at least two hundred miles from his home, while the woods were filled with British soldiers and Indians, whose villages had been burned at General Washington's orders and their people nearly wiped out. Prisoners stayed near the fort for their own safety.
While there he met and talked with future entrepreneurs who were looking forward to opening salt mines. They planned to develop salt springs near Salina and ship it west to Lake Erie. They could hardly wait for peace to come!
When peace finally did come, Cornelius returned home to his wife and began to rebuild his life. He encouraged his son, John, to emigrate for a better life. He had already told him about the people at Salina. John took the suggestions; at Salina he made arrangements to purchase salt which would be delivered to Erie at a date to be determined later.
John went to Waterford with all the money his parents could spare. William Miles, his family's friend and fellow ex-prisoner from Fort Freeland, had arrived two years previously and was doing well in the land business, representing the Holland Land Company.
With some advice and help from Miles, John began the necessary preparations in Waterford for what he realized wold be his "great opportunity" - shipping salt to Pittsburgh and beyond. Settlers along the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri valleys needed salt - he would get it to them. While awaiting the first shipment from New York, he hired carpenters and joiners to build flat boats, as much as forty feet long and sixteen feet wide, to carry the salt down stream.
The saw mills were only to glad to get his business, and Robert Brotherton's water mill, a mile up stream, was soon up and running. Boyd's mill followed soon after.
A legend persists regarding John Vincent. Soon after settling in Waterford he and a man named McNair faced a problem. They both claimed land under the Permanent Settlement Act. The problem? They both claimed the same land. The area at that time was under the jurisdiction of Allegheny County and the nearest court sat in Pittsburgh - a two week journey away. The land was not worth the cost of the trip. So, in a manner sometimes used on the frontier, they agreed to the English common law of "wager by battle." In this case, a no-holds-barred fist fight staged in a long barn near Waterford was the manner of settling the disputes. Vincent won and kept the land; McNair moved on.
Flat boats could not return up stream so they were sold at Pittsburgh to be used going down the Ohio. Mr. Vincent, seeing the opportunity of two way trade, began the construction of keel boats and turned his craftsmen to producing them. These craft could return loaded with manufactured goods - axes, saws, furniture, iron bars, etc. Soon he was prosperous - even wealthy for his time. He extended his trade to Wheeling.
A brief description of the salt trade is in order. Those prisoners at Fort Niagara knew that there were salt springs, a natural flow of water coming from the ground highly saturated with salt from underground formations created when western New York was the floor of an ocean. It was a simple process, but very hard work, to boil the water until evaporation left only the salt crystals. Coopers then build barrels and kegs to transport the product by ox-pulled sleds to Lake Erie, where they could be carried by water across the Great Lakes.
In 1800, John Vincent built a warehouse in Erie, where the lake craft could unload the cargo. Oxen then hauled the sleds, loaded with salt, over the Old French Road to Waterford. Depending on the weather and condition of the roads, the trip of fifteen or so miles could take from one to four days. The drivers, mostly farmers earning a "little extra," made good wages, sometimes paid in salt, which became a common means of exchange in Erie County for twenty years. Next to agriculture, the salt trade was the biggest business in the area.
In Waterford, Vincent had a warehouse that stored the salt until the next boat was ready to go. Since French Creek is swift and shallow, and because of ice during part of the year, storage was crucial to the enterprise. Then, when conditions were right, the river men loaded the boats and headed down stream. Water Street, in Waterford, was lined with many warehouses and shanties where the river men lived.
The men on the keel boats were a different sort - generally, they were not invited into people's living rooms. The four letter words used by their social predecessors, the Vikings, were their discourse. They smoked and chewed tobacco and drank like fish. No argument was too small that it could not be settled by a fist fight. They were also lacking in personal cleanliness.
On board they ate flour mixed with water, well kneaded, and baked on a shovel before the fire. They cooked bacon on sticks over that fire, allowing the grease to fall into their drink of chocolate melted in hot water. The drippings, they said, gave it a "mellow" taste. But the group of misfits created great wealth for their employer.
In 1802 John Vincent married Nancy Boyd. Their first child Bethuel Boyd Vincent, was born the next year.
By 1800 Erie County was established and a court system was set up. John Vincent was elected a Justice of the Peace in 1803 and an Associate Judge in 1805; he kept this post for the next forty years. Not bad for a man of limited formal education.
Mr. Vincent helped organize the Erie and Waterford Turnpike Company in 1805 and saw it completed in 1809. The price of transporting his salt fell by half - from $1.00 a barrel to 50 cents. His wealth continued to grow.
By 1819 the salt trade came to and end with the discovery of salt sources in Kentucky and Ohio. The export-import trade continued as did his mercantile business.
John and Nancy's child, Bethuel, started early to learn his father's business. After his elementary education in the public schools of Waterford and extensive training by the "dean" of Erie County surveyors, his father's friend, Martin Strong, he entered the Waterford Academy and studied under John Wood, the school's principal, who had been a civil engineer in the Old Country. (John Wood Married Phoebe Vincent, Bethuel's half-sister in 1833 - the first wedding in St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Waterford.) He was quickly hired by Colonel James Kearney, U.S. Army, to survey the most practical route for the Erie Extension Canal to follow. Bethuel worked this job until 1834 when he returned to Waterford to enter the mercantile business.
While living and working in Waterford, Bethuel renewed his old friendship with David Himrod, three years his junior, whose parents, Aaron and Isabelle Kirke Himrod, had been early settlers, who came from the Susquehanna Valley and settled just north of town in 1798. Bethuel was in attendance when David married Abigail Patten in the Simeon Hunt home on Cherry Street. Simeon owned a distillery located between Cherry and High Streets and aged his liquor in the basement of his house. (The house was later the home of Mr. and Mrs. Red Geisler.) David and Abigail would have ten children.
John Vincent decided to begin some business interests in Erie, where growth opportunities now seemed to be brighter. Bethuel and David moved to Erie, and with John they put their money into an iron forging company; it soon prospered. David particularly seemed to have a knack for that work. The business was called the Vincent, Himrod Company and later became the Erie Forge and Steel.
Growth opportunities at the time were limited for that business in Erie - manufactured goods could be sent in, cheaper than importing all the materials for production. The two men, Bethuel and David, agreed to sell out, which they did at great profit. Bethuel went into banking.
David Himrod heard of a floundering smelting company in Shenango, so he bought out the owners to see if he could turn it around. He ran into a problem - the same one the previous owners had. The only fuel to smelt iron, outside the anthracite regions, was charcoal. That source had dried up around Shenango, so he tried something else - mix charcoal with coke. It worked! OK, one step further - use coke alone with extra draft. That, too, worked! So how about a coke and soft coal mixture with lots of draft? It worked; the process was cheap, efficient, and very profitable. He sold his company for a huge profit.
Back in Waterford was the home he built for his wife and children in 1838 and he was anxious to return to it. It had fourteen rooms sitting on a hill overlooking the town. He certainly had the wherewithal to retire. The beautiful home stands at Chestnut and Fifth Streets.
But, his thoughts went back to Shenango and the tales told about a mountain of iron ore in Minnesota - mountains of iron but too brittle to be of value. In 1853, he packed his bags and headed for Duluth. Using his experience, his understanding of the process, and lots of work, David determined that by raising the temperature of the pig iron to a high heat and allowing it to cool slowly, the product was not only malleable, but was an excellent material to work. He organized the lake transportation necessary to take the ore to Youngstown where he built the Himrod Furnace Company. He then left the running of the company to others and returned to Waterford. In 1857, David Himrod was elected to the State House and enjoyed life in his beloved Waterford until his death in 1877.
Though the name David Himrod is not common in history books, he was a pioneer of the iron and steel manufacturing industry in America. His work at Shenango fore-shadowed the Kelly-Bessimer Process; he opened the Masabi Iron Range; he hastened the coming of lake ore traffic; he turned the village of Youngstown into a steel center; he championed the bituminous coal industry; he magnified the coke industry. Not bad for a small town boy.
Sarah Ann Strong
Sarah Ann was an attractive young woman, very intelligent, who married Bethuel Vincent, an up-and-coming civil engineer. In 1837 in Waterford a son was born to them with the fitting name of Strong Vincent, "Strong" of course being the mother's maiden name. At fourteen the father put him to work on the floor of his forge business, but the boy was not quite up to the task. The parents despaired that he would not live up to their expectations.
They sent him to Hartfort, Connecticut, for further education at a technical school and then to a private prep school. He was not a memorable student. The father was able to get him an appointment to Harvard where, if he didn't shine, he did graduate with a law degree. Back in Erie in 1859, the father procured a position for him in a law firm that did business with him.
When the Civil War broke out, Strong Vincent enlisted for the period his outfit was called for, three months, and then he immediately re-enlisted for three years. He had found his "calling." Everything about him changed. Against his family's wishes he married the girl he wanted - Miss Elizabeth Carter - though some thought she was "below his station." (She proved to be a loving wife.) He became a "soldier's soldier" - refusing an easy chair job in order to e in the field. His dedication was unlimited. In a letter to his wife, he said, "Surely the right will prevail. If I live, we will rejoice over our country's success. If I fall, remember you have given your husband a sacrifice to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman."
He and his command held off and advancing enemy force on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. It was a decisive scrimmage on a decisive day in a decisive battle. He and many of his regiment were killed, and many more were wounded. His ancestors would be proud. Today the road his two grandfathers build has been renamed the Strong Vincent Highway.
Shortly after his death, his only child died of a childhood disease.
In 1865, Bethuel Vincent became the founder and president of the Marine National Bank.
Vincent was born in Waterford, Pennsylvania son of iron foundryman B. B. Vincent and Sarah Ann Strong Vincent. He attended Trinity College and Harvard University, graduating in 1859. He practiced law in Erie, Pennsylvania.
At the start of the Civil War, Vincent joined the Pennsylvania Militia as an adjutant and first lieutenant of the Erie Regiment. On September 14 , 1861 , he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry and was promoted to colonel the following June. After the death of his regimental commander in the Peninsula Campaign (at the Battle of Gaines' Mill , Vincent assumed command of the regiment. He developed on the Virginia Peninsula and was on medical leave until the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, 1862. On May 20 , 1863, he assumed command of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps , Army of the Potomac, replacing his brigade commander, who was killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
At the Battle of Gettysburg , 26-year-old Vincent and his brigade arrived on July 2, 1863 . He had started the Gettysburg Campaign knowing that his young wife, Elizabeth H. Carter, whom he had married on the day he enlisted in the army, was pregnant with their first child. He had written her, "If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.
Due to a move against orders, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles of the III Corps had left a significant terrain feature, Little Round Top, undefended. The chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac, Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren , recognized the tactical importance of the hill and urgently sought Union troops to occupy it before the Confederates could. A staff officer sent by Warren encountered Vincent's brigade nearby. Vincent, without consulting his superior officers, decided that his brigade was in the ideal position to defend Little Round Top. He and a color bearer immediately moved to the hill and brought his brigade into position at the extreme left flank of the Union line.
One of Vincent's regiments, the 20th Maine, led by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain , has received most of the fame for the defense of Little Round Top, but there is little doubt that the efforts and bravery of Vincent were instrumental in the eventual Union victory. Vincent impressed upon Chamberlain the importance of his position on the brigade's left flank and then he left to attend to the brigade's right flank. There, the 16th Michigan Infantry was starting to yield to enemy pressure. Mounting a large boulder, Vincent brandished a riding crop given to him by his wife and shouted to his men "Don't give an inch!" A bullet struck him through the thigh and the groin and he fell. Due to gallant performances by the 20th Maine and the 140th New York, the Union line held against the Confederate onslaught. Vincent was carried from the hill to a nearby farm, where he lay dying for the next five days, unable to be transported to his home due to the severity of his injury.
The commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, recommended Vincent for promotion to brigadier general on the evening of July 2 . The promotion was approved and dated to July 3, 1863, but it is doubtful that Vincent knew about the honor before he died. Vincent's wife gave birth to a baby girl two months later, but his daughter died before reaching the age of one and is buried next to her father.
His corps commander, Maj. Gen. George Sykes, described Vincent's actions in his official report from the battle:
Night closed the fight. The key of the battle-field was in our possession intact. Vincent, Weed, and Hazlett, chiefs lamented throughout the corps and army, sealed with their lives the spot intrusted to their keeping, and on which so much depended . . . General Weed and Colonel Vincent, officers of rare promise, gave their lives to their country.
We began this treatise by saying:
"Time rolls his ceaseless course; the race of yore......"
The man and women whose lives are mentioned here, and the many others who were contemporaries, deserve to be remembered; They worked hard to bring changes to the wilderness. It is still in our power to preserve their contributions to our past and keep their rightful place in shaping the society of today.
During the writing of this booklet, John Vincent's home on First Street suffered severe fire damage. His original home is on the north east corner of Cherry and Second Streets.
Thanks to Lewis Dove, Fort Le Boeuf School District Teacher (retired), who furnished the above information. Mr. Dove has written many booklets and books about the history and people of Waterford.