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History of Bradford County by Bradsby
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History of Bradford County, Pennsylvania with Biographical Sketches

By H. C. Bradsby, 1891

CHAPTER XXIX. Burlington Township - Burlington Borough
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Pages 432-441

WHEN first organized Burlington comprised the territory now included in Burlington, West Burlington, Troy, and the greater part of Granville and Canton. The election was held at the house of Ezra Goddard. The first election board were: Noah Wilson, Nathaniel Allen, Mr. Campbell, James McKean, and Mr. Case.

The first hold adventurers that ever came to this part of the county were two men and a boy, in 1790, from Johnny Cake Hollow, on an exploring tour to the wilds of northwestern Sugar creek-Oscoluwa, then known as Juddsburg township, Luzerne county. Their names were Isaac DeWitt, Abraham DeWitt, and the lad was James McKean, aged nearly twenty. They came down the Susquehanna to the mouth of Sugar creek, and up that to the Indian quarters of the noted Tomjack,on the south side of the creek, near where is now Burlington borough.

From this Indian comes the name of Tomjack creek, that runs nearly through the village. Here these explorers made a stopping, and examined the country around. They then proceeded up the creek to near East Troy, or D. W. Allen's farm. This was as far up the stream as they traveled. Retracing their steps they selected their future homes. Isaac DeWitt chose his land near West Burlington, afterward the 0. P. Ballard place. Abraham DeWitt chose what was the J. B. Pratt and Thomas Blackwell farms; and McKean selected that which was always known as "The McKean Farm," but in modern times owned by B. H. Taylor. These men built a hut on McKean's selection, and here was the first white man's clearing and working on the waters of Sugar creek. These men bought corn and salt of Tom- Jack till they raised a crop. After their crop was matured they shut up shop, returned to Johnny Cake Hollow, and took specimens of the fruits of their farming, not forgetting some the wild grapes and plums. This summers experience advertised the new country and there was great excitement in Old and New Sheshequin, and a big force of the leading men organized a sappers' and miners' corps, and commenced to cut out a road from the river to the new settlement. This new road took nearly the direction now followed by the public highway.

On April 1, 1791, five families started for this land of milk and honey, from Chemung, including the three pioneers of the previous year, and also William Dobbin and a half-breed, Yoras. The women and children were put on horse-back to come across the country, and the men with goods on a raft, to go to the mouth of the creek, and there the women were to send the horses, after reaching their destination. But neither party could exactly keep the time-card. The women consequently suffered for provisions, and in mortal fear of the wolves and panthers. It was not till the first of May that the raft reached the mouth of tire creek, and now they soon were with their families-all in McKean's lot, cabin. The first night, when all were safe together, Mrs. McKean and Mrs. Dobbin resolved to have a prayer meeting to give thanks over the event. This was the first of the kind ever in the town- ship, and it no doubt was is good and effective as any ever held in the six-million-dollar modern cathedral. The next improvement was a stump mortar mill with a sprint, pole to pound out their meal that was sifted through a hair sifter; and now pioneer life was launched in the wilderness. The increase to this settlement that summer were the families of Ward, Campbell, Miller, Dunbar and perhaps a few others, all from Connecticut. These people all had implicit faith in the Connecticut title to the land. They sent one of their number to Wilkes-Barre and procured from the Susquehanna Company title deeds to their land. They had hardly more than done this when a Pennsylvania agent appeared and informed them that all the land belonged to Pennsylvania, and their titles were worthless, and offering each one who would take 424 acres to sell to them at an English shilling per acre. This the purchasers would not agree to. This was a damper to the new settlement, and the " Pennamite and Yankee war " soon broke out, and blood was shed, and men were ill-treated, tarred and feathered, etc. The next year, however, the Swains, Nichols and Noble families came and made settlements, also the Braffits and Joquas. There was distress-throughout the country, while those vexed land title questions were on foot; and in 1803, when they were settled, there still lingered very much of the heartburnings and ill-will.

In 1794 there was a good crop, and Mr. Ward, a carpenter, built a mill on what is now Mill creek, near the residence of the late Gen. McKean, a son of the ]ad McKean who first came; the neighbors all turned out to help build the mill, and it was soon up, but the whole was so rude and imperfect, -especially the dam, that the thing would not grind when it was completed-and the failure was a wide disappointment. In the spring of 1796 Ezra Goddard and his sons, Luther and Ezra,came. They brought much wealth and money (for those times) with them from Connecticut. They set about clearing a large tract of land, and soon built a gristmill and then a sawmill on the site of the Rockwell mills in West Burlington. An incident of this time is told that is an index of the people in the early pioneer times. The young folks had met at the cabin of a family that were away from home, and had kissing plays and some say actually danced, fiddle or no fiddle. When they were getting a little tired, some one suggested, partly in sport, that they close with a prayer meeting. No sooner said than it was put in motion, a psalm was sung and one led in prayer, another song and then all fervently kneeled, and in a few moments all were simultaneously praying with intense earnestness. Some one went for "Mother McKean," and on her arrival, she took in the situation; in a short time she had the whole under deep conviction. and nearly en masse they joined the church. From that extemporized prayer-meeting went out Andrew, an Episcopal Methodist preacher for forty years, who died in the harness at the extreme acre of ninety years. About this time the secured a missionary preacher, named Newman, who preached here and at Muncy and Sheshequin. In 1798 a congregation was formed at Burlington, and Rev. Jacob Gruber was sent as preacher. For some time the settlement got along well enough by referring all disputes to arbitration-a chosen committee-but about the beginning of the century Nathaniel Allen was commissioned a justice of the peace. He then lived on the Philo. Pratt farm, and this was then Lycoming county, and the new township was called Burlington, because a number of the settlers had come from Burlington, Vt.

At this time came a Connecticut settler named Kendall, all the way on foot, and in his knapsack were some apple-seed and cuttings of the apple called "Westfield- Seek-No-Further "-tremendous name, but these fine apples are still grown here. He first grafted them in Thomas Blackwell's orchard. Another important arrival was Deacon Moses Calkins, blacksmith, of Vermont, and he was much needed ; he plied his trade while his sons cleared away the forests. He finally built a sawmill on Leonard creek where Salisbury mill now is. The "Old Church " was built upon an acre of ground given by McKean, on which was also the graveyard, and to this day it is used for that purpose. This " Old Church " was built in the fall of 1794 ; everybody was invited to come to the "raising," and they came and in a few days the building was completed. It was burned in 1799; but rebuilt in better form in 1800 (this was hewed logs), and many good people said the fire was a good thing, and there was great pride in the new building, as it was ceiled on the inside, and had a pulpit, with a long double desk down the center for the school children. It was, fine as it was, torn down in 1822 to give place to the present building which is used on funeral occasions only. The first person buried in this ground was Robert McDowell, an Irishman; the next was James MeKean, who had donated the ground.

The Pratt families came, in 1796, from Massachusetts ; they were poor but strong and industrious. The wolves and panthers made it unsafe to leave a sheep out in the pen over night, and the most of the women were terrified by day at the numerous snakes that abounded everywhere. One day Mrs. Joseph Ballard was carrying a lunch to her husband in the field, and in passing through some tall grass was attacked by a black snake. It coiled about her body and tried to thrust its head in her mouth, but finding the food in the basket commenced devouring that; her screams brought the men, and it was killed, still coiled about her person. (Editorial Note from JMT - a tall tale if ever I heard one)

James McKean, Jr., and Paul DeWitt were hunting and killed a deer, when they heard a fearful human-like screech. They were not fooled, but knew it was a panther, and one of them circled and came upon and killed the animal, which measured nine feet in length. In the winter of 1802 a series of prayer-meetings resulted in adding to the church, among others, two young men, Henry B. Bascom and James Gillmore, who were from New York. Their after-lives became national in the church. The present road from Towanda to Troy was authorized, and an appropriation made therefore in 1804, but no work was done until 1810, and very little then, and it was not finished until 1817; there never was much done on it under State supervision.

The pioneers brought but few dishes, and these were mostly pewter. Ezra Goddard, one of the earliest arrivals in Burlington township, when he came brought a slave, a black man named Otho, whom he had owned in his native New England State. This slave was a turner, and he made most of the plates, turned of butternut wood, for the surrounding families for many miles. The people made their own spoons, mostly from clam shells, and a handle made and fitted to the shell from the leg bone of a turkey; their most difficult want to fill was knives, for which they could find no substitute for iron. They had to get along without chairs, which they could readily do ; but Jesse Marvin came, a chair and window-sash maker, and it was a great day in Burlington when he set up his little slow-going foot lathe and soon all the more prominent families were the proud possessors of three chairs.

About this time came Mr. Ferris, a shoemaker, and settled on the farm owned of late years by Mrs. Lydia Patrick and Jesse Beach. Timothy and Jesse Beach were sons of Mrs. Ferris, by a former husband; they were sturdy, industrious boys, and long before they were grown they could swing an axe " like grown men," and at night by the log fire would study their books; while youths they were noted as the best in figures and history in the township, and others often went to them to solve difficult "sums " that were too deep for them- such as telling how much 37 ½ bushels at 37-,1,- cents would " come to." I

n the fall of 1807, a family named Durand came with a sick child to the house of Mr. Braffit. Dr. Alexander was called in, and at once pronounced it a case of smallpox. The greatest alarm seized the people for they knew nothing of vaccination, and the three physicians in this part of the county were in active demand "inoculating " and attending upon the sick and frightened. The only death, fortunately, was that of the child that first had it. These physicians were Alexander, Rowle and Westcott. In I813 Dr. Ira Lee came into the county, bringing vaccine matter, and told the people they should all be vaccinated. But he was an Englishman, and we were at war with that country; the people did not like the English, and he was suspected of being an emissary, who, for " British gold," was sent to the country to poison good patriots; and as everv man in Burlington knew he was a patriot they rose as one, and it was by the skin of his teeth that the Escolapian escaped lynching; he fled the township and afterward settled over in Ulster. One of the first active opposers of the En glish doctor and his " pizen " was a Dr. Albert Russell, but in a little while the people found out he had duped them, and he had to hunt out new pastures for himself.

A disease called the "Cold plague " made its appearance in 1814. A case would commence with great cold and shaking for ten or twelve hours; then a slimy matter of yellowish tinge would exude through the skin from the loins and abdomen, when the argue would subside and a lethargy would follow, and the patient would die in about forty hours. It is said that not one in twenty, so seized, recovered; that more men than women were attacked, but none under fifteen years of age of either sex. This dreadful malady disappeared when the cold weather of midwinter came. Dr. Stephen Ballard was esteemed the most successful physician of his day, especially in fevers, scrofula, cancers, etc.

Late one June afternoon, in 1806, a queer looking, Quaker-dressed traveler rode into the neighborhood and put up at the house of Mrs. Jane McKean; he immediately announced there would be a meeting in the new church that evening. The appearance of the odd-looking creature helped to fill the hole; he was a total stranger in a strange land. When the people had assembled, he rose brusquely and said: " My name is Lorenzo Dow; my business here is to save souls from Hell my credentials are these (producing a Bible), which says ' Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; be that believeth and is baptized shall be saved-, but he that believeth not shall be damned."'

Betsey Hagar was one of the most remarkable Revolutionary characters that ever came to Burlington. She was born in Boston in 1750, and at nine ears of age was left alone in the world to shift for herself. She grew up on a, farm, was of a strong muscular frame, and learned to do all rough farm work, as well as being an expert at the loom. When the Revolution broke out she was at work for a man named Leverett, in his blacksmith shop; he was very ingenious, and he and Betsey were secretly busy fixing the old match-lock guns for the patriots. She would file and grind and scour the work, and fit it as fast as he would turn it out. The two, it should be remembered, were working gratuitously-solely for the cause of freedom. At the battle of Concord the British fled, and left six nice brass cannon, but all Spiked. They were taken to Leverett's shop, where he and his helper drilled holes opposite the spikes and then they could punch them out and stop up the hole with a screw. She worked hard at these cannon six weeks. She also made cartridges, and when her supply of flannel for this purpose gave out, she took off her underclothes and used them. At night, after the battle, she helped care for and nurse the wounded. Thus she helped during the seven years' war. In 1813 she married John Pratt, and they were on a rented farm at the time the "Shay rebellion " broke out, when she said: " John, you go and help kill Shay, and I will look after the crop." John went, and she made a fine crop. Her son was Thomas Pratt. In 1816 the family came to Burlington township, and settled on the G. A. Johnson farm. Among her other gifts was much knowledge of medicine---the herbs, roots and flowers of the country, and she often ministered to the sick, and was as much respected and "looked up to" as any person in the settlement. She lived to a green old age, dying in Granville in 1843, aged ninety-three years.

In the year 1814 Samuel McKean brought goods from Philadelphia, and opened a store in Burlington-the largest and finest stock then ever brought to this part of the county. He took in pay the only currency of the country-honey, deer skins, maple sugar. furs, flax seed and whiskey. All these went to Philadelphia via the Susquehanna river down to Chesapeake Bay, and around to the city; Meansville (Towanda) was the port of entry for this part of the county, and on the water were the Durham boats, managed by poles and rudder, and pushed slowly back. The whole people rejoiced when this store was opened, and it was crowded all day long. Then commenced the evil system of trading on credit. Persons would buy, much foolishly, and agree to pay the next spring when the sugar crop was gathered. Many of these debts laid over from year to year, until they outgrew all means of payment, and their little farms had to go. Then rye would not pay a store debt, but whisky would, and distilleries sprung up rapidly-they soon far outnumbered-the churches and school-houses.

Samuel McKean was born in Kishoquoquillas valley, Huntington Co., Pa., and came north with his parents when quite young; when sixteen he went with an uncle to Mar land, and there received a good education. He lived with this uncle till the latter died, and he then inherited a part of his estate, and this was his capital to open the store. In 1816 he was elected to the Legislature, and he was re-elected several times. He went to Philadelphia, a typical backwoodsman from Bradford, and the city members thought to have some fun with him ; he was invited to a fashionable dinner, and at the table was placed at the head with the carving knife and requested to help the guests " farmer fashion." He gracefully rose, took the carving knife,helped his own plate bountifully and remarked Gentlemen, as I have done, so to ye.." and sat down. It was all so gracefully done that the " f unny fellers " looked at each other with a kind of a "sold expression on their faces. He was elected to Congress in 1822 from the ten counties composing this district. being one of three members from the ten counties-the other two were George Kramer and Espy Van Horn. He served the district eight years, until it was changed In 1830, immediately upon his retirement from Congress, he was appointed secretary I of the Commonwealth, and served three years. While in this service he urged upon the members to pass a free school law, and drew the bill that was passed. In 1833 he was elected to the State Senate and during the term was elected United States Senator he served in the National Congress until 1838 when his health gave way, and he was given heavy doses of opium to relieve his neuralgia, and while in a fit of delirium he attempted suicide, inflicting a severe wound on his throat with a razor. He slowly recovered from the wound, but his mind was never right again, and he died in 1840 of softening of the brain. His widow, Mrs. Julia McKean, sister to Judge McDowell, of Elmira, survived him many years, and lived on the Burlington farm.

In connection with the account of Samuel McKean it is proper to state that in 1811 a mail route was established from Towanda through Burlington and on to the west, and Mr. McKean was the first postmaster at Burlington. One Needham rode the pony mail, and had a tin horn with which he always announced his approach-an exciting event.

In 1806, Ezra Goddard was killed by a falling tree. In 1808, Ephraim Blakesley was trying to put the first saw log on the carriage of his sawmill, when he slipped and the log caught his head against the carriage and killed him instantly. In 1813, Ezra Goddard, Jr., was going up the ladder in his mill from the basement, and being old and clumsy he fell backward, and died in consequence in a few days. John Ballard, Sr., was attempting to drive a dog from his house, and was bit on the lip. It was feared the dog was rabid, but the wound soon cured, and in his old age it appeared as a rose cancer, which resulted in his death. Luther Goddard was killed by the falling- chimney of his mill. He was a brother and joint-owner with Ezra Goddard. This last happened in 1814. The heirs soon after sold the mill to William Stevens, and his son, Hiram K., became the owner. James McKean, with others, was chopping one day when a bent limb was loosed and flew back, striking him on the head, killing him. He was one of the early settlers who came to seek a home for his father's family. John Pratt Was killed in 1827 by the limb of a tree falling and breaking his back. In May, 1829, his brother was chopping in the timber, and cut his foot so severely he had to be carried home; lockjaw supervened and he died in a few days.

Ancient Giants. -Some men in digging a cellar for Gen. McKean came to a rock-enclosed tomb, nine feet below the surface, and over nine feet long by two and a half wide. The soft bones of the skeleton, as it lay, were carefully measured by Joseph Williams, of Troy, and it was eight feet and two inches in length. There were two of those graves within the space of the cellar, and one was overgrown by a pine tree over three feet in diameter.

William McKean, of Troy, made a statement that, in 1841, in cutting down a noted old dead stump of great size, he found unmistakable marks of some sharp, ax-like instrument near the heart. It was carefully split and examined, and there could be no mistake of the nature of the cuts. He was assisted in the examination by the Rev. Moses Ingalls , they counted the rings and came to the conclusion that the marks had been made over four hundred years ago!

County Poor Farm. is situated about one mile West of Burlington. The land cost $11,500, and the buildings were erected thereon in 1880- the cost thereof being $38,500. There are about 175 inmates.

The first school-house in Burlington was on Sugar creek, In 1791. Mr. McKean gave an acre of ground for a graveyard and church site, and to this day the old church (not the first) stands on this ground. A road was cut through along the creek from Towanda in the winter 1790-91, by Jeremiah Taylor , Mr. Moffat and Benjamin Saxton. A mail route was established through Burlington from Towanda in 1811, and Samuel McKean was appointed Postmaster at Burlington. Luther's Mills is a small settlement at the crossing of the Sugar creek by the Towanda and Troy highway. It contains a saw and grist mill, postoffice, one or two stores, a blacksmith-shop, and a schoolhouse and a number of pleasant residences. 


The borough of Burlington was established in 1853. It lies on the north bank of the Sugar creek, its western boundary, being also that of the township. The Tomjack creek runs through the village from the northeast, taking its rise a short distance north of the northern boundary of the borough, which includes in its limits about two bundred and fifty acres, Tomjack's cabin was situated just above the mouth of the creek named in his honor, on the south side of the Sugar creek. The business of the borough is chiefly confined to an edge-tool and horesrake manufactory, carriage, wagon and sleigh manufactory, cabinet-ware and pumps. cooper, carpenter and blacksmith shops, general stores and drug-store, one hotel, two physicians and surgeons, and a postoffice. There are one good school-house and two churches in the borough.

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