In the settlement of Tioga county two streams of immigration may be noted, one coming from the north, the earliest, and comprising people from the New England states, from New York and New Jersey; the other coming in from the south and comprising people from Philadelphia and vicinity. Immigration from the north entered largely by way of the Tioga River, hence the name of the first political division, Tioga Township. Immigration from the south had its source largely in Delaware and Maryland, hence the name of the second political division, Delmar Township, Delmar being composed of the first syllable of each state name.
Thus it will be seen that the people of Tioga Township were widely separated from those soon to attempt the settlement of what became later Delmar Township. The people of Tioga Township, then a part of Lycoming County, as was all this section, did not want a new county. In this township were 600 or 700 people, practically all of them in the valleys of the Tioga and Cowanesque rivers. No resident of this section petitioned the legislature for a new county. They did not want it.
Charles Tubbs, in his pamphlet, “Wellsboro and the Wells Family”, published by the Tioga County Historical Society, says that the new county idea was exclusively in the brains of the “Land Trust,” known as the Pine Creek Land Company, which was formed July 26, 1799, by land speculators, mostly residents of Philadelphia. Benjamin W. Morris, of that city, was the trustee of the company. It was found necessary, if their lands were to be disposed of, to construct a road through the wilderness. By making the lands accessible, they hoped to unload. They lobbied a bill through the legislature and obtained state aid. The road was surveyed in 1799 and that same year Benjamin W. Morris signed a contract to build it. In four years the road was completed. It ran from Newberry to the New York State line. It came up Little Pine creek, over the mountains, and down by the Catholic cemetery into what is now Main Street of Wellsboro. It was 73 miles long.
In 1804 a further step was taken. Legislative logrolling was again resorted to and a bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania State legislature called the “omnibus bill.” It provided for the formation of five new counties: Clearfield, Jefferson, McKean, Potter and Tioga. The bill became a law on March 26, 1804, which may be considered the natal day of Tioga County. With the exception of Clearfield, all these counties were formed out of Lycoming, which thus became the mother of Tioga County.
During the construction of the road through Tioga township [not yet a county], Benjamin W. Morris must have spent much time in this section, but he did not take up a permanent residence here until July 1805, when he brought his family to a log house constructed upon the site now owned and occupied by J.W. Moyer. Several houses were erected here by the Morris’s, the last a large comfortable frame structure built in the early thirties. This property, known as the “old Morris home,” was destroyed by fire some years later when owned and occupied by Dr. M.L. Bacon. He built the present beautiful structure.
Concerning this location, Mr. Tubbs says: “I have always thought it was selected with rare good judgment, high on the hillside where the wife and mother could look down on the treetops as their giant branches were tossed by the winds. It was here that Mary Wells Morris lived and died.”
Concerning the bill which erected Tioga county, Mr. Tubbs says: “The formative hand of the land company was everywhere visible in the provisions of the law. It was a centralized document. The affairs of each county were placed in the hands of three trustees appointed by the Governor. The trustees for Tioga County were John Fleming and Wellman Ellis, of Lycoming, and Wm. Hill Wells, of Tioga.” Mr. Wells was the brother of Mary Wells Morris, the wife of Benjamin W. Morris.
On Jan. 25, 1806, the following advertisement appeared in the American Daily Advertiser, Philadelphia: “Tioga county – The subscribers having received official information of their having been appointed by the Governor trustees for the county of Tioga; hereby give public notice that they are ready to receive proposals for a site of sites for the county town and to perform such other duties as the law governing their appointment requires; the increasing population near the center of the county rendering it probable that the subject may be brought before the ensuing legislature for final arrangements. Williamsport, Lycoming count, December 11, 1805. – John Fleming, Wm. Hill Wells, Wm. Ellis.”
All the preliminaries having been completed, Benj. W. Morris at once proposed to convey a certain number of acres to the trustees on which to locate the county buildings. The offer being satisfactory to those officials, an act was approved March 21, 1806, fixing the seat of justice at Wellsboro, and the trustees were authorized to survey a certain tract of land to include the said town and to lay out a lot for the public buildings.
The History of Tioga County, published in 1897, says: “When Morris succeeded in carrying out his plans by having the county seat of Tioga located at the place he had selected, and the trustees had formally accepted the same, he named it in honor of his wife, Mary Will Wells.”
Mrs. Morris had shared his trials and tribulations in the wilderness and he felt that to her was due the compliment of having her name perpetuated in this way. She was born in Philadelphia, Sept. 16, 1761, and died in Wellsboro, Nov. 6, 1819. She was buried in the Wellsboro cemetery.
It was not until March 16, 1830, that Wellsboro became an incorporated town. Its inhabitants at that time numbered less than 400. Some interesting history about Wellsboro may be gleaned from various records.
The post office was established in 1808 and Samuel Wells Morris, a son of Benj. Morris, was the first postmaster. He was 21 years old. The mail was carried weekly, on horseback, over the state road from Williamsport. A pair of saddlebags was sufficient, with room to spare. Newspapers were few in those days, the Lycoming Gazette being the only one printed within a radius of one hundred miles; and as postage was high, few letters were written. The name of the first mail carrier has not come down to us, but in those days the duty was performed by some bright, active boy.
We might call them the forerunners of the Boy Scouts of the present time. The route from Williamsport lay through a gloomy wilderness nearly all the way. The log cabins of the settlers were few and far between. Panthers and wolves roamed the forest and their howls frequently caused the mail boy to spur up his horse and dash swiftly through the gloom. One of those early mail carriers was John Sheffer, Junior, born Feb. 8, 1803. When thirteen years of age he carried the mail from Williamsport to Painted Post, a distance of 79 miles, by the way of the state and Williamson roads. The former as described above started at Newberry and passed through Wellsboro. It required nerve in those days to make this journey and when the youth of the rider is considered it is still more remarkable. The parents of this plucky boy was early settlers of Liberty or the Block House as it was then known, locating there in 1814. This family was a collateral branch of the one to which Mr. Francis M. Sheffer, of Wellsboro, belongs.
To return to Postmaster Morris. Not much of an outfit was required to transact the business of the Wellsboro post office in those days. It is said that the postmaster could often carry all the mail received in his hat. During the year 1808 the statistical report shows that the gross receipts of the Wellsboro post office were $27,06 and the postmaster’s compensation, $8.22. But he served the government faithfully for four years, retiring Dec. 21, 1812. Even before the post office at Wellsboro was established steps has been taken to provide for a place of worship.
Benjamin Morris and his wife, Mary Wells Morris, were members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, as they were called. Realizing the importance of having a religious organization in the new settlement, Mr. Morris determined to build a church. There were few people to attend it at the time and his wife was the first and only woman resident of the new town at this time, but, if they had a church, he argued, it would bring the surrounding settlers together occasionally and be instrumental in promoting the general welfare. The church was constructed of logs, which were hewn on one side and dovetailed together at the corners. It stood facing the square, on the rear of the lot now occupied by the law offices of Sherwood & Sherwood.
The Quaker meeting house was the finest building in the settlement. It was about 16x12 feet in size. There were no ministers to hold stated meetings but Mr. Morris officiated himself occasionally according to the custom of the Quakers. His wife also was very active as a member, and did much toward keeping the church together. There was a large contingent of Friends in Lycoming County and a church had been erected in the settlement known as Pennsdale as early as 1792. The Morris family of Wellsboro and the Ellis family of Lycoming County were related by marriage and by church affiliations. There was frequent communication between the two families and thus it came about that the Quakers of Muncy Valley gave sympathy and support to their co-religionists of Wellsboro. Ministers of high standing frequently made the toilsome journey over the state road from Newberry to hold meetings in the little log church in the wilderness.
The Quaker meeting house was often used for other than religious meetings, for we are informed that the first meeting of the Commissioners was held there on Oct. 8, 1808, for the purpose of organizing. After the death of the founder and his wife the membership of the Quaker church declined and as an organization ceased to exist.
Another justly prized institution of Wellsboro, organized before 1830, was the old Academy, located on the spot where the Catholic Church now stands. From early records we glean interesting accounts of its organization, its early struggles, its first instructors, and its useful work in the community.
The Academy was chartered by the legislature March 25, 1817. The building progressed slowly; owing to the difficulty of obtaining money. It was not until Oct. 14, 1824, that the trustees were ready to engage a regular instructor. At that time the president of the board, Benj. W. Morris, presented a letter from Jeremiah Day, president of Yale college, recommending James Lowry, a graduate of the college, as a person qualified for teaching the various branches of academic education. A resolution was then adopted engaging Mr. Lowry to teach school in the Academy for a term of six months, commencing the first day of November, the sum to be paid $226, exclusive of board and washing. A committee was appointed to put the Academy on order for the reception of pupils, to furnish fuel, and also to procure board and washing for the instructor. The price of instruction was fixed: Greek and Latin, $4; English grammar and the higher branches of mathematics, $3; and reading, writing and arithmetic, $2. Mr. Lowry entered upon his duties Nov. 1, 1824, a period of more than seven years having elapsed from the time the institution was chartered until it was formally opened as a classical Academy by a graduate of Yale.
All through these years the trustees had been beset by difficulties and discouragements. The people were poor and it was hard for them to meet their obligations. When Mr. Lowry took charge only the lower rooms of the building were furnished, so difficult was it to procure money and material.
The common school law of Pennsylvania was approved April 1, 1834 but
it was not until 1870 that the Academy “by act of legislature” was transferred
to the school district of Wellsboro. The History of Tioga County
says: “The old Academy accomplished great good in its time. It exercised
a strong influence over those who passed through its portals and was not
only beneficial to the people in whose midst it was located, but to those
of the surrounding country.”