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The McGills
The War of 1812—The Deadwater and Yankee Hill


The boys were ripening into manhood and they were a strong, sturdy lot—each one a worker— not a slouch among them. Arthur had four sons and four daughters—Patrick, three Sons and two daughters. Arthur’s sons were Arthur, Jr., Henry, John and Robert—and the sons of Patrick were John, William P. and Charles D. The second generation in America was starting in with seven healthy, wholesome, virile scions, giving fair promise to perpetuate the race.

In 1812, when the war with England occurred, Arthur, Jr., must have been about 22 years old, Henry 20, John 18, and Robert 12. Of Patrick’s sons—John was 17, William P. 16 and Charles D. 10 years old. Arthur, Jr., was probably engaged in his mail route affairs, but was nevertheless at Erie when the attack was threatened by the British fleet. Henry was there from the first inception of the building of Perry’s fleet. John was already in Erie learning his trade. These young men did not march with Captain Long’s company of Penn’s Militia called out in the crisis of affairs, but they were there long before Long was ordered out, putting in their best licks at getting out timbers for the ships, building fortifications and defensive works and doing whatever was to be done promptly and efficiently. Arthur, the Pioneer, the father of these boys, was then quite old, but age did not deter him from moving in a body to the threatened point. He was there with all his teams, rolling, dragging, sliding and pulling great timbers from the forest to the bay for building the war vessels. At his advanced years he was not supposed to put his shoulder to the canthook as in former days, but his experience and peculiar push were invaluable.

My father, John, was not permitted to take part in the campaign, whereat he was very sad. Patrick made him stay at home and attend to the growing responsibilities of a large farm, which were fast being transferred from the old to the younger shoulders. He submitted with filial obedience, but a sore heart.

Patrick, however, did not propose that his family should be unrepresented in the stirring events of the hour, and having unlimited confidence in his own valor, as proven in former wars - he took his old long-barreled rifle from the hooks, picked his flints, filled the pouch and horn and boldly marched for the scene of action.

They do say, that as he marched along through the dark defiles of the forest he kept step with true military precision. The gloom of night was closing in when he arrived in front of the battlements of the historic fortress of Fort Le Boeuf. He was not unknown in the little hamlet of Waterford and was soon surrounded by old cronies who patted him on the back and extolled his patriotism. They brought water and bade him wash his dirty feet - oil with which to anoint his blistered heels, and they gave him stimulants to make his heart glad.

He retired early and slept late, but was awakened in the morning by the trumpet of a courier just arrived from Erie announcing that the British fleet had retired up the lake and everything was safe. No further incentive to heroic deeds remained, and there was nothing left but to return home. But our great ancestor was in trouble. His feet were swollen and sorely blistered - his joints crackled for want of lubrication - his back ached viciously from having so long maintained the position of a soldier bold, but by dint of his indomitable will with the aid of potent irrigation he was enabled to fall into line and take up his march homeward by easy stages which required several days.

While all this was going on, John, who was pouting about his enforced absence from the scene of military activity, happened upon an incident that gave him great distinction and prestige.

It was the custom in those days to turn out the teams to graze on the Commons at will during the nights, and one morning when John was seeking his horses down on the flats in a very dense fog he came across a man sitting on a log at the bank of the Creek. They exchanged greetings, but before they could open conversation a mounted officer dashed out of the fog and riding straight at them called out, "Halt!" The man on the log plunged into the river - the rider, without a moment's hesitation plunged his horse right in after him. The footman evaded the horse and took to the shore again, the officer called to John, "Stop that man - he is a deserter!" John buckled right in with the stranger and there was a deadly struggle for a half minute, but the boy brought down his man. "Hold him," ordered the officer, as he extricated himself from the saddle, "there will be help here instantly."

Just at that instant two armed soldiers rushed out of the fog and pinioned the prisoner. Presenting their bayonets close to the person of the deserter the order was given to "move on," and he moved on into the fog and to his doom.

Before remounting his dripping steed the officer shook hands with the boy and said: "Thank you, my lad - you are a good one and a bold - you will be heard from some day."

Father said that during the whole affair there was no back talk - not a useless word spoken and orders were given so peremptorily that there was nothing to do but to obey, and the whole encounter did not last two minutes from start to finish - that he was not disconcerted but rather dazed by the unusual occurrence, and did not utter a word himself. He gathered up his bridles and went off into the fog after his horses, wondering whether he would really like a military career or not; however, he cherished with much pride the words of commendation so freely and heartily spoken by the warlike trooper.

Commodore Perry heaved his fleet over the bar armed and equipped for the fray. Furious at the non-arrival of the marines from New York, who were to man the squadron, he drafted a complement of yokels from the Militia and sailed up the lake in search of the enemy, and after a cruise of three days returned, and the marines having arrived, the yokels were discharged and sent home, having served fifty-nine to sixty-two days.

The country never had long to wait for results when Oliver Hazzard Perry took matters in hand, and on the "tenth of September" the famous dispatch came floating down the lake. "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

Never before since the morning stars sang together had such a wave of joy swept over the hills of western Pennsylvania. A halo of glory rested upon the people and even the "very poor" were transfigured and became characters of light. There was glory enough to go around and every man who dwelt within forty miles of the lake felt that he was in some sort a hero. But the real heroes, the men who marched to the front under Captain Long and General Mead, men who faced the apex of danger under the focus of hostile telescopes! What of them? Why, they were immortalized! The day was made a legal holiday to be ushered in with the roar of artillery, the firing of guns and the snapping of firecrackers, ostensibly in honor of Perry's victory on Lake Erie, but really to render luminous the deeds of our ancestors who boldly marched through the brush to the rescue of the fleet in the day of its helplessness.

On these occasions they were elevated on great platforms and eulogized by eloquent orators as the "venerable men who have come down to us from a former generation; heroes in bloody conflicts and fathers of the republic." They were mollycoddled, fed, treated and soaked, and when they became weary were carefully laid away to sleep it off.

The war of 1812 did not affect our local interests adversely - if anything it promoted rather than retarded development in the vicinity of Alden's Mills. Troops marched through the country and its superior quality of soil became better known. One detachment camped on our place, and some of those men after seeing the valley returned, bought lands and became residents. It also brought some money into circulation, which was a great relief.

The lands offered for sale by the Holland Land Company were really very cheap, quality considered, and the payments were arranged on liberal terms.

Such inducements could not fail to attract the notice of our Yankee friends in the East and soon brought an influx of emigrants from the Eastern States, more generally from Massachusetts. They were a hardy race of first-class men, and they and their descendants proved to be just the kind needed to build up the country. There were, however, prejudices among our people against the Yankee that could only be overcome by time and attrition. Unfortunately, with our Eastern friends came an undesirable class of people for whom the better element were not responsible, but we did not know this, and for some time regarded the Yankee with little favor. The early arrivals were mostly located in Rockdale township along the Deadwater, and their central habitation became known as Yankee Hill. Few of the undesirable drift were located permanently any place. They consisted of peddlers, sharps, gamblers, cheats, horse traders and thieves, and they overran the country to an alarming extent, cheating and swindling the people of the isolated settlements, stealing and running off their cattle and sheep-trading them worthless contrivances and deluding them by all kinds of fraudulent practices. The result was that any one who called a cow-ceow, or pronounced now-neow, was not only looked upon with suspicion, but was honestly regarded as a knave and cheat.

Grandfather Patrick had a little experience with that class of Yankee that is worth relating. He was a shrewd man and had enjoyed a wide experience with men and things and considered himself competent to cope with anything that came along.

But in these Yankees he encountered a new element in rascality that baffled his wits, humbled his self esteem and to a small extent depleted his purse. One morning he encountered at his stile a man leading the finest looking ram he had ever seen, and at once his hereditary admiration for the fine wooled sheep, begotten on the highland slopes, was alert, and he greatly admired the animal. "Neow, Mister (said the Yank), that ere anamile is the best blodded sheep in Ameraky - Hes right offen the Barkshire hills - I driv three on em cross Kintry at great trubble and expense jest to interjuce the stock inter this ere new diggins. I sold one on em to Mister Wilson King in Erie ceaunty and the other to Mr. Fullerton at the Dedwater, but this ere animile, the best on em, I resarved for yeow - havin hearn tell that yeow wor enterprisin abeout sich. Of cose, I expec pay for my trouble and expense, but nuthen for my time."

All this time the Pioneer's eyes were covetously fixed upon the sheep and he forgot to study the man, and therein he erred. He bought the "animile" and paid a great price, but he never would tell how much. The sheep proved to be of the Virginia stock - one that Patrick had imported and sold to a neighbor, three or four miles away. The scamp had stolen it and spent two days in the woods combing out its wool and fitting it for sale.

It was such acts as this, and there were many of them perpetrated, that fanned distrust into hostility, and combats with the Yankees became of frequent occurrence.

In good society it was considered the proper thing to have a knockdown on all suitable occasions. Henry McGill, a young man of ample proportions and mighty arm, took it upon himself by way of recreation to trounce any one he thought needed it, especially if he said "ceow," and the encounters were sometimes swift and furious, for many of those raw-boned Yanks had pugilistic proclivities under their hats, and it was not unusual to see a big fellow step out, bare a brawny arm and say, "Neow, Mister-if ye think well on't wade in"

These little pleasantries usually took place on "training days," when the militia mustered, and election days when the politician blustered, but the consequences were not all bad. Courage and pluck begat mutual respect and these people learned to know one another. The law soon weeded out the tares that had been sown along the Deadwater and around Yankee Hill and the wheat remained. The good Yankees were as desirous to get rid of the rogues as were the Scotch-Irish, and the courts had business every session until the nuisance was abated.

Among the sturdy, manly settlers from the East were Ames, Perkins, Cummings, Snow, the Roots and many more. The Birchards were a great people. They were relatives of the late President, Rutherford Birchard Hayes. There were several of them, large, stalwart, God-fearing men, and long life was theirs. These Eastern people were Presbyterians of Puritan derivation-ours were of the John Knox school. Their differences were in form only, originating beyond the sea, under conditions dissimilar to those existing on the Deadwater. The faith was the same, as everlasting as the decrees of God, and the bond of the Spirit was the personal righteousness of these men. They came to know each other and worshipped at the same altar, and there was no strife.

And were they not compatriots in our great revolutionary struggle-these Puritans of the East and Scotch-Irish of the Middle West-the two Pillar men appointed by Jehovah upon whose shoulders rested the Ark of the Republic?


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