The Germans

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The Germans Homestead In Bedford County

   The earliest Euro-American settlers in Mother Bedford, so far as public records can confirm, were the four or five men who made their living as traders to the local Indian population, possibly as early as the 1730s. They tended to be single men, primarily of Scot or English descent, who would establish a trading camp in a certain location, operate their business there for a few years, and then move on. The traders, of whom we have record, included John Ray and Garrett Pendergrass, who set up their trading posts in the vicinity of where the borough of Bedford would come to stand in present-day Bedford County; Frank Stevens, who established his trading post in the vicinity of the village of Frankstown in present-day Blair County; George Croghan, who settled along the Aughwick Creek in the vicinity of the village of Shirleysburg in present-day Huntingdon County; and John Hart, who established a trading post in the vicinity of the village of Alexandria in present-day Huntingdon County. Apart from folklore and legends of their adventures and their names in certain features of the local landscape, those early traders left little else. It would be up to the families that followed them, who homesteaded on the land and tamed it from wilderness to cultivated farmland, to establish civilization in the frontier that was Bedford County. As noted in the section titled The Coming Of The Euro-Americans, settlements in the region that became Bedford County in 1771 had been established as early as 1710. Those first pioneer settlers were not German, though.

   The settlement of German families in Bedford County began prior to the American Revolutionary War, and increased dramatically as a result of the post-Revolutionary War migration via the old Forbes Road.

   Although it can't be given as a steadfast rule, the Ulster~Scots and Germans, in general, tended not to settle in the same valleys. It has been noted by many historians that the Germans seemed to seek out limestone based land which was the best suited for cultivation. The Ulster~Scots, on the other hand, were used to farming on less desirable soil; therefore they might not have been as choosy as the Germans. The Ulster~Scots also tended to move about more frequently than the sedentary Germans, the German settlements, therefore, tended to become more well known as established communities. But then, all that is a generalized viewpoint, and did not hold true in all cases.

   In present-day Bedford County, there were large numbers of German settlers in the Dutch Corner region and throughout the Morrisons Cove, which extended from Evitts Mountain northward along the west side of Tussey Mountain into present-day Blair County. The early settlers of Cumberland Valley Township included a number of German descent.

   In present-day Blair County, the Morrison Cove was not the only region settled heavily by the Germans. The Blue Knob mountain and the many valleys stretching down out of the mountain provided prime homesteading lands for German farmers. The Indian Path Valley that extends from the Borough of Bedford northward to the base of the Blue Knob Mountain, along the west side of Dunnings Mountain was settled mostly by German settlers.

   Settlers in the region originally formed as Quemahoning Township, which stretched from the Stony Creek Glades northward into present-day Cambria County, were predominantly German.

   Practically no German families homesteaded in the southeastern part of Bedford County which was erected into Fulton County in 1850. From the proliferation of Irish and Scot place names found in Fulton County (e.g. Belfast, Ayr, Dublin, McConnellsburg, etc) it can be seen that the region was settled predominantly by Ulster-Scots and Irish.

   Apart from the Woodcock Valley, there were few areas of German settlement in present-day Huntingdon County.

   The region lying west of the Allegheny Mountain Range, which is present-day Somerset County, and which included the area in which the Borough of Somerset was laid out, was originally laid out as Brothers Valley Township within Bedford County. The entire region was heavily settled by Germans who belonged to the German Baptist, or Brethren, congregation. The town of Berlin was entirely composed of German families, when it was founded in the 1780s. The valley lying between the Chestnut and Laurel Ridges, known as the Turkey-Foot Valley, is believed to have been the part of present-day Somerset County in which the earliest settlements were made, many of them being German.

   Into the 1790s a number of the residents continued to be refered to as "Duchman" if their given names were not known. The name of Duchman Butterbaugh was one of those that continued to appear on the tax assessment returns.

   According to Solon J. Buck and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck in their book, The Planting Of Civilization In Western Pennsylvania, in 1790, "Of the 12,955 white families in the five western counties of Allegheny, Washington, Fayette, Westmoreland, and Bedford in 1790, it appears that about…twelve (per cent were) of German (origin)…" Of the total population within the individual counties, they noted that, "Of Germans there were thirty-two per cent in Bedford…"

   Despite the large percentage of Germans residing in Bedford County (at least one third of the population in 1790), they were spread out. Except, as noted above, in present-day Somerset County and other particular regions, the German settlers were scattered among the other ethnic groups in Bedford County. They therefore did not create "isolated" ethnic communities such as those found in the eastern counties, the so-called "Pennsylvania" Dutch (i.e. Deutsch, or German). It should be noted, though, that the intermingling of the German settlers with certain of those other ethnic types (especially the Ulster Scots and Irish) resulted in an unique strain that was almost as exclusive as the Pennsylvania Dutch of the eastern counties.

   The various ethnic groups brought to Bedford County their own particular customs and ways of life, and the German influence was strong. The Germans celebrated many more holidays, such as Christmas, and many more social events, such as weddings, than their British neighbors. Unfettered by decades of Puritan austerity, as their British neighbors were, the Germans exhibited a love of social activities. Any event could easily become a community party, complete with the dancing of jigs and reels and the drinking of whiskey or hard cider, and most of them did. The making of apple-butter and the butchering of pigs in the fall called for a community get-together. House-raisings were another community-shared event. Families would get together to husk corn, to full cloth or to quilt or hap bedcoverings. This is not to say that the other ethnic groups did not help each other ~ they simply did not tend to make such events into parties complete with music and dancing and heavy drinking.