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The McGills
The Burgomaster in the Valley—The Town of Saeger Inaugurated


From 1800 to 1812 the lands in the vicinity of Alden's Mills had been "taken up" (by purchase) quite rapidly, and the settlement was assuming character and building slowly and surely for permanent advancement in moral and mental achievement. Wealth was not yet within their reach, nor was it a primary object of their ambition. They sought a new life in a new land, conserving whatever made for goodness and greatness in the old, and extended hearty welcome to the honest, worthy people who were gathering in around them. To the east on the J. Meece tract, came the Flaughs; beyond them the Rusts; north of the Flaughs Nathaniel Clark, a wheelwright. To the northwest, across the broad ford, were the Straws and Hoffman. Opposite the hamlet on the west, the Brookhousers settled; south of them the Logues and Gills, while on the east side of the creek, south of the mills, were the Peiffers, thus completing on every side the environment of the lands first settled by Arthur and Patrick McGill. All these bought their lands from the Holland Company, and with the exception of Clarke, Logue and Gill, were of German extraction, but not of the Hessian variety.

Up the Woodcock valley, due east, were the Blairs, Longs, Carrs, Prices, Wilsons, Ryans, Dicksons, Clarks, Wykoffs, McCollughs and Gilmores, all people of the true Celtic grit - intelligent and educated to the limit possible within their means - and they, too, all bought their land from the Holland Company. They were "very poor," as Dr. Bates quaintly remarks, their money having been sent across the sea, but they were not poor devils, and there were enough of them at crisis to organize a company of militia and march under Captain Long to the defense of Erie.

From 1812 to 1824 things progressed steadily and surely; the great drawback being the want of adequate transportation to a ready market, but the trade on the Great Lakes was in course of development and our contiguity to this world's thoroughfare gave promise of a bright future that was never realized. 1824 proved an epoch in the affairs of Alden's Mills, the history-making days of the little hamlet were at an end, and from henceforth it was to be obliterated from the map - its tally wiped off the slate and new notches cut on the stick from the beginning, as if no former period of life had existed, and its requiem was sung in another tongue.

Major Roger Alden sold his holdings of 624 acres, more or less, and his mills, including the water privileges and riparian rights thereunto belonging, to Daniel Saeger of Lehigh county, Pa. Mr. Saeger at once entered upon possession of his property and proceeded to lay out a town or village plot, principally located on the Alden purchase from the McGill tract, and named his town Saeger's Town. He built several houses and imported the people for his town from the Lehigh valley. There were probably from one hundred to one hundred and fifty of them in the first consignment. They were an innocent lot of little drunkards, very crude in the amenities of pioneer life. I do not wish to speak unkindly of those people; from childhood I grew up alongside of them and knew them well, and believe that before God they were not responsible for their mental and moral delinquencies, but I cannot do justice to posterity for whom I am writing without giving a more or less faithful description of their peculiarities.

These people were called Pennsylvania Dutch; but the title is a misnomer. We speak of the "Holland Dutch" and other varieties of Dutch, indicating the derivation of each variety. There is no variety of Dutch indigenous to Pennsylvania. They are exotics, transplanted from a far away land that have taken root on American soil with prolific energy. They were Hessians, and in 1824 had not been fifty years in the country. They came from several of the small Germanic principalities of Europe, not as voluntary emigrants, for their rulers did not permit them to stray away as long as they had a market value at home, but they were sold or leased by the Princes who owned them to George III. of England, for the specific purpose of subduing his rebellious colonies in America, and they came in a body armed and equipped for business, without any volition of their own, and formed a warlike contingent to the British Army in our Revolutionary War. General Washington picked up choice lots of them at Trenton and Princeton, and they were gathered in elsewhere, and some deserted, and the whole aggregation was sent into the Lehigh valley, Pa., and Shenandoah valley, Va., and turned loose in stockades and held as prisoners of war. It did not require guards to keep them. The rank and file did not know enough to find their way back to the British Army, without a driver if turned loose, and did not want to find it. They had no interest whatever in the controversy, and no ambition higher than food and shelter.

In their own country they had been fearfully oppressed by their brutal rulers and beaten into a condition of servile submission, incredible at this age. They were small men, five feet high, and wore fierce mustaches.

At the close of the war a majority of them remained, picked up "vrows" somehow, and entered upon an isolated citizenship of their own, retaining the habits and customs of their native land, and learning nothing from their new environment, but were, in fact, a block quarried from the middle ages and polished by the crucifixion of manhood. It was from the sons and daughters of these "revolutionary soldiers" that Daniel Saeger selected the material with which to people his new town of Saeger. It is not likely that in 1824 there were among these people any survivors of the Revolutionary period.

They were men of mature growth when brought over, and they were not a long-lived people. If any survived they were not included in Daniel's invoice, and I do not believe a native Hessian of our Revolutionary type was ever seen in the French Creek valley.

Their descendants, however, in form somewhat modified by intercourse with German-speaking people of the East and the Jew peddlers of Philadelphia, continued to arrive in installments, and the new town of Saeger became in a short time the most populous village in the county outside of Meadville. The language of these people on their arrival was an unknown tongue even to our German neighbors, who all could read the Bible and write letters in quaint German text, but the "Pennsylvania Dutch," as it was called, was beyond them, and there was no lexicon on earth that shed any light upon the mystery of its construction. This dialect was also an outgrowth of the mixed intercourse above mentioned.

The new arrivals seemed to comprise three distinct classes of people drawn or classified on lines strange and wonderful to the earlier inhabitants. There was the dominating or ruling class, which for the sake of distinction we will term the Burgomasters. This class consisted of the proprietor, his family and near relatives. The preachers of the Lutheran and Reformed churches and the leading physician were admitted to this circle socially, but horse and cow doctors were barred. There was no courtesy whatever extended to professional men, however learned and eminent they might be, who were not connected with their church organizations; and the rule of the priesthood was absolute in matters ceremonial and educational. In temporal matters the Burgomaster was the boss.

The males of this class were educated to the extent of transacting the current business of the day, but their literary attainments never extended beyond the day-book and ledger. The ladies of this group could not speak a word of English, and none of them could read or write. They were utterly illiterate and necessarily exclusive. When the ladies of the pioneer class, my grandmother and mother among them, made formal calls to extend kindly welcome to the newcomers, they found that anything like social intercourse was not only impracticable, but altogether undesirable. A sharp line of demarkation was then and there drawn, and for the first time in its history there were two distinct impassable and incompatible social systems set up in the community. No further advances toward amity on the part of our people were ever made, and, as a matter of fact, the coarse vulgarity developed by these Hessian dames made further association impossible.

Next to the Burgomasters came the "Handwarrakers." These were a jolly lot of little people addicted to schnapps and were the really useful contingent to the population. Among them almost every kind of handicraft was represented. There were hatters, tailors, shoemakers, weavers, cabinet-makers, masons, carpenters, coopers, blacksmiths, watch-makers, tinkers, butchers, tanners, saddlers and nearly every avocation in the mechanical line was filled by one or more workmen skilled in his trade after the manner of his tribe.

He would do his work remarkably well after the pattern and in the way his family predecessors had done it of old, but not otherwise. They were industrious, thrifty, and sometimes reasonably honest, but were hopelessly non-progressive and could construct things only as they had been taught, and their models and fashion plates came from the Rhine.

The vrows of the Handwarrakers were hearty, wholesome, good-natured women, always cheerful and pleasant to look upon. Their husbands were little, shriveled up fellows generally, but the vrows were large, fat, muscular, fresh in the face and big of hand and foot. They were industrious and ready to take a hand at any kind of work whenever help was needed. They cultivated their own gardens and you may be sure there was no spot of ground on the lot that was not made to yield edible roots and plants for the family table.

There was nothing about the whole aggregation that was more agreeable and pleasing than the Dutchman's wife. Of all the products of the Teutonic tribes from prehistoric times she takes the front rank among the useful and the good. She had no society fads-made no pretention to rank or position - put on no airs - would plunge into frolic and fun with childlike zest, and take her schnapps with the rest, but there was no household duty left undone, no comfort or pleasure that was not bestowed on her guests-no kindness withheld from suffering, and even her little, tipsy husband would be carefully fixed up into presentable shape and made to appear respectable.

It is a well authenticated fact that the brute sometimes beat her, but she suffered the indignity with patient tears, the virtue of submission to power being an ingrained quality of the Dutch peasantry. Her language was coarse; her voice loud and her stride ungainly, but her heart was in the right place and she was a redeeming feature in a population not otherwise attractive.

The third and culminating class of the Hessian invoice was the Narrowentles. This consisted of several rather large families, who were the menials of the community. The Wentle himself was a narrow-chested, bandy-legged, flat-footed fellow, with a small peaked head, enormously wide mouth and close, set eyes. He was an incessant talker, and his jabberings were interspersed with great oaths emphasized by such contortions of his twisted little body as rendered his delivery exceedingly grotesque.

The Handwarrakers were very submissive to the Burgomasters, but the Wentles were servile. They were laborers, but never rose to the dignity of any kind of mechanical employment. They would do any kind of dirty work required of them. Their drunken immorality was repulsive, but they could be used for any purpose, however degrading. They were consigned to Water Street as a place of residence, and a look into one of their homes will not be uninteresting. The building is a cabin roofed with slabs, and is fairly comfortable as a shelter or place to stay, but limited as to room for the group huddled within its walls. There are all sizes and grades in the family, and several different names, for in those days the law gave the name of the alleged father to illegitimate children, and we find such all through the little Water Street slum. Nearly every family had one or more idiots or semi-idiots, and many of the children were deformed in body and mind.

Several had fingers grown together, and toes also joined by skin or membrane such as connect the claws of aquatic fowls. Malformations were common among these poor degenerates. This picture is not overdrawn, incredible as it may seem, but they were not unhappy, and the Wentle was proud of his brood, and the old "mutter" with all her faults and moral delinquencies is far away the best one of the lot. She has a kindly face and gentle eye, and smiles with real pleasure if you pat one of her dirty brats on the head and speak approvingly to it-to caress it is impossible.

The Handwarrakers bought lots and built comfortable houses and shops on Main street, all in the quaint low Dutch style of the Sixteenth century, with the gable end to the street, set out to the exact line-the steps to the front door extending into the highway. The proprietor sold the lots at reasonable rates and his mills furnished the lumber for the dwellings-his stores supplied other wants and long credits were given-which enabled the industrious, thrifty inhabitants to secure respectable homes of their own in fee simple-a condition never before known in the history of their race -and this generosity on the part of the Burgomasters yielded them great gains - it was not a philanthropic movement on their part, but a shrewd, business transaction, by which both parties were benefited and for which they deserve due commendation.

South of the village plot on the most beautiful site, where once was the Fredebaugh jungle, the Burgomasters established their residences. Three dwellings, modern in that day, were erected and set back from the street far enough to afford a lawn in front enclosed by a paling fence. The houses were finished in very good shape, the grounds graded and walks laid. The front was toward the west with an unobstructed view of the river and the hills beyond. Shade trees were planted and the form and finish of the establishment showed in most respects correct taste and good judgment. The beauties of nature were blended with a crude glimmering of artistic skill in a manner that made this first abode of the masters very attractive.

A hotel was erected where whisky was sold over the bar at three cents a drink, which at once became a place of nightly resort and gross profanity, and obscene jests were the principal attraction. From top to bottom the whole Hessian outfit seemed to delight in coarse vulgarity.

The old pioneers looked with consternation on this influx of ignorance and vice; this open immorality to which their sons were necessarily exposed; but the young fellows did not take it seriously and extracted lots of fun out of the predicament. Thus at this era and under these auspices was the town of Saeger inaugurated.


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