Blair County traces its ancestry, in an immediate sense, to Huntingdon County. To call Huntingdon the mother county of Blair is rightly so in view of the fact that roughly three-quarters of the land area of present-day Blair was removed from Huntingdon County in 1846. Cumberland County could also be called the mother county of Blair in view of the fact that she was the first county to be erected out of the lands purchased from the Indian nations which claimed this mountainous region as their rightful homeland. If one looks at the lineage of this county from a different perspective, though, it will be seen that Bedford was the true mother county. It was while under her jurisdiction that the region which would become Blair County took on the semblance of civilization.
The region in the Province of Pennsylvania that Bedford County encompassed when it came into being as a separate county on the 9th of March, 1771 is the region that I have chosen to call Mother Bedford; the top, central sixth of which would become Blair County only 75 years later.
An Act For Erecting A Part Of The County Of Cumberland Into A Separate County,
Passed 9 March, 1771; Rec. A, Vol V, Pg 416
Whereas a great number of the inhabitants of the western parts of the county of Cumberland have represented to the Assembly of this province the great hardships they lie under, from being so remote from the present seat of judicature, and the public offices: For remedying whereof, Be it enacted, That all and singular the lands lying and being within the boundaries following, that is to say; beginning where the province line crosses the Tuscarora mountain, and running along the summit of that mountain to the Gap near the head of the Path Valley; thence with a north line to the Juniata; thence with the Juniata to the mouth of Shaver's-creek; thence north-east to the line of Berks county; thence along the Berks county line northwestward to the western bounds of the province; thence southward, according to the several courses of the western boundary of the province, to the southwest corner of the province; and from thence eastward with the southern line of the province to the place of beginning; shall be, and the same is hereby, erected into the county, henceforth to be called Bedford.
As defined by the foregoing Act, the bounds of the new county extended to the western boundary of the province. In May of 1729, when the county of Lancaster was erected out of Chester, the western boundary went only so far as the Susquehanna River. Indian ownership of the lands to the west of that river was respected by the proprietary government of the Province of Pennsylvania; some groups of settlers, though, ignored the legal boundaries. As early as February of the following year (1730), the Assembly of Pennsylvania issued an Act titled: A Supplementary Act to an act of Assembly of this province entitled An Act against buying land of the natives. The original Act of the Assembly alluded to was passed in the year 1700 and reads as follows: Be it enacted, That if any person presume to buy any land of the natives, within the limits of this province and territories, without leave from the Proprietary thereof, every such bargain or purchase shall be void, and of no effect. William Penn's intentions for his proprietary colony were to maintain a peaceful coexistence with the natives. A certain sense of order had to be maintained so as to guarantee that the relationship between colonists and natives remain on a friendly basis. The western boundary, therefore, was not (as some historians might lead one to believe) presumed to extend to the western extent of the continent. The effective western boundary didn't even reach to the Ohio Valley.
In the summer of 1736 the sachems (i.e. rulers) of the Five Nations met in the country of the Onandagoes (i.e. in the region of the present-day state of New York) and decided to review the treaties that had been made between them and the colonists. They then traveled to Philadelphia and renewed old treaties of friendship with the Penn family. The Treaty of the Five Nations, signed by the twenty-three Indian chiefs present, granted to the Penns, among other boundaries: "all the lands lying on the west side of the said river (i.e. the Susquehanna) to the setting of the sun." Settlers had been moving into the lands west of the Susquehanna River since at least the year 1708, albeit illegally. With this treaty settling the question of whether these settlers were encroaching on Indian lands, the proprietary government turned its attention from worrying about the effect the settlements might have on their relationship with the Indian landowners to simply making sure that the settlers paid their allegiance (and taxes) to the proprietary government.
On the 19th of August, 1749 the county of York was erected out of Lancaster as the lands lying west of the Susquehanna River, extending to the South Mountain range. Soon after this, on the 27th of January, 1750, the county of Cumberland was erected out of Lancaster to the west and north of York's South Mountain western boundary. The Act of Assembly creating this second division of Lancaster County records Cumberland to be: "bounded northward and westward with the line of the province". At this time the "western line of the province", meaning the extent of the lands as currently purchased from the Indians by treaty, was a line following the summit of the Tuscarora Mountain range. Blair's hills and valleys lay still further to the west of the Tuscarora.
As the expansion of settlers pushed westward, the proprietary government entreated with the natives to gain more of their lands. In the year 1754, a conference was called together at Albany, in the proprietary colony of New York in order for the English governing bodies to present a unified effort against the French who were erecting a number of forts along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The Six Nations were asked to send representatives to the conference. In the course of this meeting, a new treaty was agreed to between the natives and the proprietary representatives of the province of Pennsylvania. The Treaty of Albany gave to the province of Pennsylvania (and inherently to the county of Cumberland which lay furthermost to the west) the region between the Tuscarora Mountain range and the Allegheny Mountain range. This new acquisition also extended northward to Penn's Creek which currently lies on an east-west line just about in the geographical middle of the state. A large half of the lands acquired in this 1754 Treaty of Albany contained the present-day counties of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon and Blair - in essence two-thirds of the county of Bedford at its formation.
Cumberland, only four years old at the time of this acquisition, became a county with a vast and sparsely populated frontier. It remained that way for many years. Trappers and traders moved into the region between the Tuscarora and Allegheny mountain ranges, but not in very large numbers. Prior to 1754 there were some, but few, white settlers in that particular region. It was not intrinsically an extension of Cumberland County in the sense of being settled by residents of that new jurisdiction; it was rather a new territory, with the potential of gaining its own unique identity. The topography of the region, with its many mountain ranges lying on a primarily north/south axis prohibited much travel and exchange between the few settlers who did take up residence there and the slightly more densely populated Cumberland County and eastward region. In fact, there tended to be closer ties between this new region and that of York and Lancaster Counties due to the more easily traveled routes down into Maryland and around the obstructing mountain ranges, and then back northward into the various Bedford County valleys. The predominantly German population that was moving into the new territory had closer ties to York and Lancaster Counties ethnically. Routes of migration from the eastern Pennsylvania counties are often found to have taken this "south into Maryland and back northward into Pennsylvania" route.
When, in 1768 the western boundary of the province was pushed to its present extent, the addition of the mountainous region between the Allegheny Mountain and the Laurel Hill ranges (which would eventually become Somerset County) complemented the Treaty of Albany region. The removal of the plateau region to the west of the Laurel Hill range, on the other hand, to form the county of Westmoreland in 1773 probably had little emotional effect on the settlers of Bedford County. The mountainous region sandwiched between the essentially level plateaus of the eastern counties and Westmoreland was, as most mountainous regions throughout the world tend to be, somewhat introspective. The German settlers who moved into the limestone rich valleys found the lands to their liking, being primarily farmers, and the Ulster-Scots (commonly referred to as Scotch-Irish) settlers found the mountains to their liking because it granted them the seclusion they were used to in their Scotish and Irish homelands.
It should be noted, at this point, that the Treaty of Albany, although it was very agreeable to the Pennsylvanian colonists and the members of the Six Nations, was not well received by the Indians of the Shawanee, Delaware and Monsey tribes, who were the actual inhabitants of the region. The assumption on their part, that the Six Nations had sold their rightful ownership of this region out from under them, set the stage for nearly thirty years of frontier warfare.
As noted previously, in 1768 another purchase of lands was made. This acquisition, called the New Purchase, was the result of a treaty agreed to between the Six Nations and the governments of the provinces of New York and Pennsylvania. In the terms of the treaty made on the 5th of November, 1768, the proprietaries of Pennsylvania gained control over all the lands south and east of a line which followed the Susquehanna River to the Towanda and Tyadaghton Creeks, up the West Branch and to Kittanning and then down the Ohio River. This boundary defined a diagonal line from the northeast (starting on the New York/Pennsylvania border in the center of present-day Bradford County) to the southwest (ending on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border in the center of present-day Beaver County). The New Purchase lands were divided up between Berks and Northampton Counties in the east and Cumberland County in the west.
Only three years after Cumberland County received the New Purchase lands to the west, doubling its total size in the process, the people began to complain of the hardships they were under in being so remote from the seat of judicature and the public offices. Villages had sprung up in the new territory around the previously established trading outposts during the late 1750s and the 1760s. The towns of Frankstown, Bedford and Standing Stone (i.e. Huntingdon) were attracting many settlers. With the influx of more settlers, there were more disputes that needed to be resolved. A boundary was laid out between the lands that would remain as Cumberland County and those which would form the new county to be named for the Duke of Bedford. The summit of the North Mountain, which is designated as the Tuscarora Mountain on its northern end, was chosen as one segment of the new boundary. Beginning at the Pennsylvania/ Maryland border, a line followed along the summit of the North-Tuscarora Mountain range to the gap at the head of Path Valley (due east of Fort Littleton) This gap was chosen as a corner point from which a line was extended northwestwardly to a juncture with the Juniata River, and then along that waterway to the mouth of Shaver's Creek, just north of the trading center of Standing Stone, (where the town of Huntingdon would eventually come to stand). The line was continued in a northeasterly direction until it reached the Berks County line, in the general vicinity of the northern end of the Bald Eagle Mountain. From this point, the boundary line followed the New Purchase boundary along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to the Ohio and on to the western border of the province.
The "mother" county of Bedford was eventually reduced in size by the erection of Westmoreland, Huntingdon, Somerset, and Fulton Counties from its original boundaries. Westmoreland was erected by an Act of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, passed on 26 February, 1773, Huntingdon on 20 September, 1787, Somerset on 17 April, 1795 and Fulton on 19 April, 1850. Each of these counties eventually gave up portions of their lands to form others: Westmoreland into Fayette, Washington, Greene and portions of Beaver, Allegheny, Armstrong and Indiana; Huntingdon into Blair and portions of Cambria, Clearfield and Centre; and Somerset into a portion of Cambria. Fulton was, itself, a final subdivision of Bedford.