The Coming Of
      The Euro-Americans

     Page 5 ~
Fleshing Out The Pioneer Settlers Of Bedford County

   The determination of who were the early settlers of Bedford County is a rather difficult thing to accomplish. There is no single type of record which is one hundred percent reliable. Any survey of pioneer Euro-American settlers must take into account a number of factors upon which the accuracy and validity of the available records depend.

   Land warrants exist for tracts of land throughout Mother Bedford starting in the 1760s when the region fell under the jurisdiction of Cumberland County. Prior to that time the lack of land warrants could be attributed to two factors: 1.) The French and Indian War, which kept this frontier region of the Colony of Pennsylvania in a state of tension, was ended in 1763. With its conclusion, the relative "peace" on the frontier motivated an influx of settlers. 2.) Prior to 1765 the land laws of the province were not uniform and strictly adhered to. In 1765 the Proprietaries of the Colony of Pennsylvania instituted the Application System. Under the Application System, a person desiring to establish a claim to land would have to apply to the "land office" for a survey to be performed, with the intention of settling on the tract thus surveyed. The problem, therefore, of using these land warrant applications, is that they simply indicate the intention to settle; they do not offer proof that the land was ever in fact settled upon.

   Click on this icon to go to a page describing the Application System in greater depth.

   Tax assessment returns provide fairly reliable indications of settlement. Very few settlers could avoid, for very long, being known to the tax assessors and collectors. In order to avoid being known and having your land assessed, you would have to avoid all contact with any neighbors. You would have to figure out some way of disguising your homestead and any evidence of habitation, which was a feat that would have been next to impossible to achieve - especially when you would have had to build a fire in the fireplace in order to cook food, or provide warmth, to survive.

   Tax assessment returns listed the actual landowners, whether they were residents, single freemen, inmates, or non-residents. But even these records are not completely devoid of problems. One inherent problem was that the current year's tax assessment return was often copied from the previous year's return. A family might have moved in the meantime. The naive researcher might assume that, just because the name of a particular resident is included on the return, that person/family were physically there during that year. In many cases, the tax collector would make some sort of notation on the return to indicate that the resident listed was not actually residing there anymore, but mistakes might have been made, and no notation might have been written down. Another problem may have occurred as a result of just the opposite situation. A family might move in to the region just prior to, or just after the tax was collected. As a result, the name of the new resident would not be copied from the previous year. If the tax collector failed to write the name of the new resident at that time, the actual date of the family's move into the region might be incorrect by one or more years.

   Traditional Stories abound to fill in the gaps left by non-existant public records. Traditional Stories were most often created by descendants of early settlers, who might actually have existed, but for whom no or few written records can be found. Some have been created en masse by writers, such as Uriah J. Jones, who wrote narratives of the early settlers in his book, The History Of the Early Settlement Of The Juniata Valley in the first person format, despite the fact that he wrote his book eighty to one hundred years after the fact. Traditional Stories are never told of the simple farmer who merely eked out a living on the frontier. Traditional Stories are almost always about some heroic or adventurous deed which the early settler performed, as exemplified by the stories that abound of Tommy Coleman, "the Indian Fighter", whose number of victories against the Indians of this region grows with every telling. The problem with Traditional Stories is that although they often can't be proven, they likewise are difficult to disprove. And because they are imaginative, Traditional Stories are often popular with the audience; it is very difficult to persuade a person who has embraced a Traditional Story that it might be inconsistent with publicly documented facts. The only thing to be done is to preface the Traditional Stories with a statement to the effect that it is just that ~ tradition.