Treaty with Indians in 1784 Paved Way for Settlement of Bradford

Early History Shows 20 Counties Ceded by Redmen

by D. Harvey Phillips, ''The Bradford Era'', Wednesday, November 20, 1946, pg. 9



Under the treaties made in 1784 between the State of Pennsylvania and the Indians of the Six Nations (Iroquois, Senecas, Tuscaroras, Delawares, Wyandots, Mohawks), a huge tract of many hundreds of thousands of acres, comprising some 20 counties in Northwestern Pennsylvania today, was ceded by the Six Nations to this state.

Senecas In This Area


The Seneca Indians occupied the territory along the upper Allegheny River near the Pennsylvania-New York State boundary line, and this particular Indian tribe was most concerned by the Treaty of 1784, for five years later, in 1789, a supplementary treaty was made which granted a sum of $800 to three Seneca chiefs to be held in trust for the Seneca tribe- these three chiefs being the famed Cornplanter, Half-Town and Big Tree.

With the official ratification of the Treaty in 1791, the Pennnsylvania Assembly passed an act to encourage settlement in this region, and in 1794 stationed troops at Fort Le Boeuf at Waterford, a few miles south of Erie, to keep the peace, as many of the Senecas refused to respect the Treaty, and charged Cornplanter and the other chiefs with being traitors.

Braves Urged to Fight


It is said that British emissaries secretly used Joseph Brandt, Chief of the Mohawks, to act as their agent, and urge on the disaffected braves to rise, but Brandt's logic could not affect Cornplanter, even though two British men-of-war were known to be lying off Fort Presque Isle in Erie to enforce the claims of the discontented Senecas.

At this time there were some 80 Seneca Indians residing in Cornplanter's village near Corydon on the Allegheny River, where a large tract of land had been reserved for them as a reservation, and is still their home today, a monument to Cornplanter having been authorized and constructed by the State of Pennsylvania in 1867.

This was large in recognition of his valuable services to the state in aiding in the securing of the land treaties with the Indians. It is of great interest to note that many of the speeches and writings of Cornplanter were actually recorded in a book entitled "Pioneer Life, or 40 Years a Hunter," dictated by Philip Tome of Corydon to his wife, and published in Buffalo in 1854. This historical book is now a collector's item, and of great value, as only a few copies of the first edition are known to exist today.

The writer, a distant relative of Philip Tome, formerly possessed an original copy, but it has either been lost or stolen within the past five years.

Sale By Lottery


When the Pennsylvania Legislature decided to throw open for settlement this huge tract of northwestern Pennsylvania, known as the "The Waste Lands", it decided to do so by sale through a lottery or auction. An application ticket with the number of acres desired was written and place in one urn, and each applicant then drew out a slip containing approximately the number of acres he wished. Part of this lottery land was in Eldred and Liberty Townships of McKean County.

The plan, however, did not attract many purchasers because of the Indian Wars raging until 1796, and also because the land was priced as high as $80 for 100 acres. Even though this was later reduced to $13.50 per 100 acres, buyers still held back, and the state decided to allow the sale of these lands in 1,000-acre warrants on condition of immediate settlement unless delayed by Indian troubles.

Thus, in 1793 William Bingham, son of a prominent English family, together with The Holland Land Company, purchased a total of 1,140 of the 1,000-acre warrents, or more than a million acres in northwestern Pennsylvania, and it was from these large landowners that John Keating purchased outright 300,000 acres, partly from Robert Morris of Philadelphia of Revolutionary War Fame, who had apparently acquired ownership from the Bingham's and or the Holland Land Co., and which title included McKean County.

The original deed on sheepskin from Robert Morris to John Keating is in the possession of the Hamlin family in Smethport, and may be seen with permission.

Road Location Picked


In 1797, John Keating, wishing to lay out a wilderness road, drew a line on an almost blank map which extended from the head of Pine Creek to the Oswayo River as a guide for three surveyors to follow in laying out such a road. The Oswayo River runs northward through the eastern end of McKean County through Shinglehouse and on to the New York-Pennsylvania border at Ceres, near which it flows into the Allegheny River.

Thus, in 1801, the three men, Lightfoot, King, and Ayers, commenced their historic survey.

The nearest Postoffice or large settlement was at Jersey Shore, 100 miles to the southeast, but there were very tiny settlements at Ceres which had apparently been established by John Keating's agent, Francis King, in 1798, and at Instanter in southeastern McKean County, these two being the first recorded settlements. The site of Smethport was surveyed by these men in 1801.

McKean County was established officially Mar. 26, 1804, being set off from Lycoming County,. Three trustees were appointed for the new county by Governor McKean in 1805, and in 1808 the trustees posted notices in Ceres, the largest settlement nearby, that they were ready to receive proposals for the county town or seat. Two offers were made: one by John Keating, the other by Paul Busti, agent for the Holland Land Co. Busti's offer was rejected in favor of the one from John Keating which offered 228 acres at the fork of the Cononoclan (Nun-un-dah) or better known today as Potato Creek. He offered to survey one-half of the lots, set aside 150 acres for the support of a school teacher, and give $500 in cash to aid in the erection of a school building, pointing out so clearly the beauty and utility of the location that on Sept. 21 of 1807 the three trustees and John Keating came to an agreement, thus selecting the side of the present County seat, and laying plans for a state road.

142 Residents in 1810


Thus we see how McKean County came into being early in the 19th century with Bradford still unknown. The census taker did not come until 1810 when he found 141 whites and one colored person in McKean County.

The western line of McKean County is often called the "Cornplanter Line," for here lived the old chief referred to above who had been born on the Genesee River to an Indian woman who was the hunting companion and wife of John O'Bail, a white trader from the Mohawk Valley.

Cornplanter is alleged to have been in the French service opposing General Braddock near Pittsburgh in 1755, and was certainly with the British at the Wyoming Massacre, and on their death-dealing raids through the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys, so that this Indian Chief who lived many years and died on the 640-acre Seneca Reservation in northwestern McKean County, the last piece of Indian land in this state, deserves a special place of honor in McKean County's history.

While Ceres Township at the northeastern side of McKean County is credited with the first settlement around 1800 by John Keating's agents and surveyor's that of Corydon Township on the western side came second with the arrival of Phillip Tome and others who came up the west branch of the Susquehanna and the Sinnamahoning, locating in the Kinzua-Corydon-Sugar Run Valleys about 1807-1808.

Reached Here in 1823


It was not until during the years 1823-1827 that immigration into the Tuna Valley commenced, bringing the pioneer families of Dr. William Bennett, the Pikes, Farrs, Scotts, Fosters, Beardsleys, Harts, Dollops and Fishers. It was this Hart family, consisting of some 14 members, who settled on the present site of modern Bradford. They held possession of the Forks of the Tunuanguant (Tuna) probably where the west and southern branches join near Hilton Street, welcoming newcomers and hailing the new settlers. To the north of them, Tarport, (East Bradford of today) was a flourishing settlement, while DeGolier (Degolia, three miles south) also was winning recruits. The Harts' chosen location was merely a mark in the huge forest wilderness where the streams joined. In 1829 it took David DeGolier and his wife three days to move from the site of the present town of Eldred to their farm south of Bradford in the section we know today as Degolia.

Of the first two houses built on the present site of Bradford, one was occupied by the Hart family mentioned above, there being three sets of twins among their six boys and six girls.

It is not recorded anywhere that the Hart family and any others nearby made any efforts to build a village on this site, and it was not until 1837, apparently, that people came, to stay.

250,000 Acres Bought



In 1836, the United States Land Company was organized in Boston for the purpose of purchasing and developing the rich resources of Western Pennsylvania. This company purchased 250,000 acres, paying six and one-quarter cents per acre, presumably from the Keating family, though the records available do not indicate the source, and the following year in 1837, Colonel Levitt C. Little was sent into this wilderness to act as the company's agent.

Accompanied by his wife and two stepsons, Philip L. Webster. Jr., 7 years old, and C.D.Webster, 9, Colonel Little started on his journey. At Olean he embarked on the Allegheny River, drifting seven or eight miles downstream until they reached the mouth of the Tuna, at what is today Riverside Junction, where he remained from September until December.

Then, embarking his family in little canoes, he continued his journey southward for 11 miles upstream and soon reached the present site of Bradford where he determined to locate permanently. As previously stated, this region was at that time an almost unbroken wilderness, and the only evidence of civilization he found was a little one-story log house which Mr. Bennett had built years before. One may gather that the large Hart family which had settled at the junction of the Tuna had moved elsewhere in the interim years.

Plans Draw in 1831


The plan for the new wilderness village to be first named Littleton, and later Bradford, had been drawn up in 1831 by a Mr. Leech of Boston, according to the ideas suggested by Colonel Little, but two years later, in 1833, another map was drawn based on plans by Philip Webster. He was the father of the two stepsons of Colonel Little, Philip Jr. and C.D. Webster, referred to above, who would have been small babies in 1833, and Colonel Little was associated with their own father at that time, later marrying his widow. Webster's sketch included a space for a church building on the later site of what was later to be the old St. James Hotel, and now The Emery.

Thus in 1838 the future site of Bradford was surveyed, and officially named Littleton. Colonel Little built himself a two-story house which apparently stood on the north side of Main Street on land bordered by Main and Pine. Other buildings shortly followed. The second house was erected on what is now Mechanic St., by John Willoughby in 1839, and then Dr. E.C. Olds, combining his medical profession with that of shoemaker and tanner, built his house on Mechanic St., near one of George Burtsell, a mechanic, from whose profession the street received its name.

Old-timers recall that Colonel Little was an energetic, wide-awake gentleman who in these times would be called "a hustler." That he saw the prophetic vision of this locality, and its importance as a possible growing lumber town, largely determined his making it the base of his operations.

Two Early Arrivals


Needing another surveyor, Colonel Little brought in a man named Sam Ames, who, it is said, drove the first wagon into this section from Smethport. Another early arrival was Jim Jacobs, a full-blooded Seneca Indian, who came from Red House to settle in the Tuna Valley, and was said to be of above average intelligence and to profess Christianity. Another well-known character was one "Duty" White.

Thus Littleton, or Bradford, had its origin, with lumbering the chief occupation throughout the 1840s as this little settlement slowly grew. In 1850 Daniel Kingsbury purchased from the U.S. Land Company, a huge tract of approximately 50,000 acres of land, and to this year we must look for the real beginnings of Bradford, though not until 1858 did Daniel Kingsbury make determined efforts to build a city.

The vast forests surrounding this area were divided into large blocks for timbering purposes such as Bingham, Borden, Kingsbury, Clark & Babcock, and Quintuple tracts. Lumber was rafted down to distant points, and the hardy woodsmen shantied in rough huts during the long winters.

Interesting Letter


A most interesting letter concerning early times in this region was written by Hon. Loyal Ward, who came about 1850 - "I came to Bradford 50 years ago," he writes, "and was engaged to teach the Kendall Creek or Tarport School, now the Sixth Ward of Bradford. Tarport was then the business center of the Tuna Valley, which contained three general furnishing stores, one grocery, and one hotel, all in full blast, and doing a flourishing business. The First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Wards of Bradford were then called Littleton.

"Contrary to my expectations, I found here a very progressive, intelligent and wealthy people, people accustomed to the refinements of society. Among some of the most prominent men I might name John Melvin, a lumberman and merchant, postmaster at Kendall's Creek. There was also Sabines Walker, Judge Holmes, a Mr. Porter, Harvey D. Hicks, W.R .Fisher, Zera Fisher, Enos Parsons, and J.S.Seward, all engaged in mercantile or lumbering, and residing at Kendall or Tarport.

"At Littleton were Colonel Little, Daniel Kingsbury, E.C. Olds, P.K. and C.D. Webster, S. Porter, Congregational Minister: Rev. Prosser, Baptist Minister, and A.K. Johnson, all talented and influential men. At DeGolier were Nathan DeGolier, lumberman and miller; M. and R. Inglesby, and others. At Foster Brook were Samuel Bradley, a wealthy lumberman: H.W. Barr, lumberman; L.S. Foster, father of Hon. C.H. Foster,deceased, all men of character and pluck. At State Line were Leech and Johnson, lumbermen; William H. Beardsley, and Messrs. Crook, Harris and others, all sturdy and intelligent men."

Colonel Little retained his position as agent up until his death in 1854, the year the name Littleton was changed to Bradford. Just why this change was made and at this time is a question no one seems able to answer. Some attribute it to jealousy by Daniel Kingsbury of Colonel Little; others that it was in honor of William Bradford, the first printer in Pennsylvania, whom Washington had honored, etc.

More Houses Built


In addition to the first houses named above, between 1840 to 1853, additional houses were built by Sands Niles in 1840, credited with being the first house on Main St., near the old Wagner Opera House at the corner of Main and Chambers. Bradford's first store was built by John F. Melvin and A.K. Johnson in 1853, located at the corner of Main and Congress, and was called "The Old Red Store" by virtue of the fact that it was painted red, the paint being manufactured from red clay dug from the surrounding hills, ground to powder in the old grist mill and mixed with oil to give it proper consistency.

Prior to this a saw mill had been built on Mechanic Street just above the present bridge, and a grist mill also was built "to bridge that awful chasm between high priced flour and low-priced wheat." A bridge was then built across the Tuna, and Bradford began to assume the airs and importance of a real village.

Colonel Little's wife died Feb. 9, 1858, four years after the death of Colonel Little, her second husband. She was born Lucy Jane Dix, a sister of Senator Dix of New York and had been married in 1826 to Philip Webster, a nephew of the illustrious Daniel Webster. Six years after his decease, she married Colonel Little, coming into the wilderness with her new husband and her two small sons, whose family name of Webster has been prominent in Bradford ever since.

On Friday, Mar. 12, 1858, the Bradford Miner was born, the first and oldest newspaper published in Bradford, the bound copies of the first year being still in existence, and which has been used widely for much of the source material in this article.

Also started soon or very shortly after the Miner was the McKean County Democrat. The only newspaper in existence in McKean County on the above date was the McKean Citizen.

Cost $1 Per Year


Regarding the future of the new Bradford Miner, the Citizen declares ---- "Mr. Sam C. Crane is to be its editor. Mr. Crane, if we are rightly informed, is from Bradford County, where he has published a paper. The Miner is to take no part in politics, but is to be devoted to the welfare of the county, the development of its coal and iron, and the facilitating of an outlet for its resources." Subscription rates for the new weekly were $1 a year. For advertising one could have a full column per year for $30, half column for $18; quarter column for $10.

Bradford's first newspaper, The Miner, Vol. 1, No.1 of 1858 lists the following business directory on its page No. 1 -----

Daniel Kingsbury, Successor to the U.S. Land Company - Good farming and timber and mineral lands for sale in large and small quantities, containing bituminous and canel coal, lime, stone, iron ore, and mineral paints of superior quality; A.K .Johnson, Commissioner of Deeds, Conveyancer of the State of New York in the land office of D. Kingsbury, Bradford, Pa.; William Wilkin, practical mechanic, millwright, bridge builder, Port Allegheny; C.D. Webster, Civil Engineer, Surveyor, Draftsman and Conveyancer at land office of D. Kingsbury; C.F. Peckham, M.D., physician and surgeon, office at residence on Main St.; Norton and Grenell, carriage and sleigh makers, Corydon St.; B. Marfit, millwright; Dr. E.C.Olds, Eclectic Physician; F.A. Fox, M.D., Physician and Surgeon. Dr. Fox may be found at The Bradford House when not absent on professional business.

Initial Advertisers


Among the advertisers in the first issue of 1858 were: Coal and Iron Lands near Lafayette by A.W. Newell; The Old Red Store at the corner of Main and Congress, advertised all kinds of dry goods, household utensils, all being sold for cash; one E.D.Norton, who was apparently in financial straits and owned a store at the corner of Corydon and Congress, advertised for all and sundry who "had a decent respect for the rights of others, and a feeling for the woes of suffering humanity, should induce every man who owes us a DIME to call immediately, and we confidently expect that everyone who has a spark of gratitude for past favors or any desire for a quiet conscience in this world, or any hope of a blissful immortality in the world to come will heed this call. We are still at the old stand, corner Congress & Corydon, where assisted by our good looking clerk (hope the ladies will call and see him) we are selling off our stock of goods at very low prices for pay."

Daniel Kingsbury advertised fruits and ornamental trees for sale; Augustus W. Newell, that he was a "Civil and Mining Engineer;" and that was all of the Bradford advertisements in that first issue. The others were from neighboring cities such as Olean, Dunkirk, Gowanda, Buffalo and Corning.

Perhaps one of the more amusing advertisements is in the second issue - that of the Limestone Hotel, Sabinus Walker, Prop. which read -- "The undersigned, grateful for past favors, would respectfully solicit a continuance of the patronage of his OLD PAYING CUSTOMERS: his house and barn will always be amply provided with all that can make man and beast comfortable; NON-PAYING CUSTOMERS are respectfully solicited to pass by on the other side. Be kind enough to bring along your wallet. Do not forget the needful. Signed, Sabinus Walker."

Prices in 1858



How did prices in 1858 compare with those today? Whee, here they are. As weekly corrected by David DeGolier:

Flour, l bbl. - $5.00-5.75
Wheat, 1 bu. - $1.00-1.25
Corn, 1 bu. - $0 .75
Buckwheat, 1 bu. - $ .63
Beans, 1 bu. - $1.00
Rye, 1 bu. - $1.00
Pork, 1 bbl. - $20.00
Hams, Smoked, 1 lb. - $0.12 - 1/2
Shoulders, 1 lb. - $0 .11
Butter, 1 lb. - $0.20
Tallow, 1 lb. - $0.12 - 1/2
Eggs, 1 doz. - $0.12
Candles, l box - $0.15
Apples, Dried, 1 bu. - $1.50
Potatoes, 1 bu. - $.50
Calf (small) - $10.00
Maple Sugar, 1 lb. - $0.10
Hay, 1 ton - $8.00
Salt, 1 bbl. - $3.50
White Fish, 1 bbl. - $11.00
Trout, 1 bbl. - $10.00
Codfish, 1 lb.- $0.06
Cord of Wood - $1.00

In 1858 Bradford's first modern hotel was being built on the North Side of the Public Square, as evidenced by the following advertisement: "Bradford House, North Side of Public Square - the undersigned having purchased the above property; is now prepared to entertain the traveling community and resident boarders on reasonable terms. Table well supplied with the best the country affords. A well-ventilated and capacious barn and stable are connected with the premises, and a careful ostler will always be kept in waiting. The undersigned hopes by prompt attention to the wants of his guests to merit the patronage of the public. Arrangements are already being effected for the erection of a main building in front of the present stand, three stories high, with a frontage of 58 feet, and running 32 feet back, thus making the Bradford House equal to any in the county. This work will be proceeded with immediately. Signed, Mark Horth, proprietor."

Of tremendous interest to the writer was the discovery that among others a letter was being held in the local Bradford Post Office unclaimed for "D. Phillips" in July, 1858, and to the following issue was an appeal for a machinist to open an establishment in Bradford. The writer knew his paternal grandfather had come over from England sometime in the middle of the 19th century, and as an expert machinist was in the employ of the American Locomotive Works in Dunkirk, long before moving to the lower oil fields at St. Petersburg, Pa., in the early '70s, and finally coming to Bradford in 1879 to open his machine shop at Coleville. This shop later moved to Bradford in 1880 and became the well-known DAVID PHILLIPS & CO. MACHINE SHOP, whose famous bits, jars, and fishing tools were known throughout oildom as being made of the finest tempered steel available. Mr. Phillips had been taught the trade in England, bringing his skillful knowledge to the infant oil industry. Apparently if he visited Bradford in 1858 it was merely to look over the ground to determine whether it offered more opportunities than his present work in Dunkirk. In addition to his machine shop, David Phillips became a well-known oil producer with leases in the Coleville area, until his death in 1895.

About this time a survey by D. D. Owen, geologist, of the region's timber and coal resources was made and published under the heading "A geological Report of the Coal and Iron Lands of D. Kingsbury and Others," and ran in several issues of the 1858 Miner covering the possibilities of the Tunungwant Coal and Iron fields extending to the New York State line, and about as far south as Minard Run. This coal was planned to be shipped by water as well as rail, with Buffalo and Rochester the nearest large available markets. But in this report we come upon our first mention of the production of oil from coal in this region . . ."The marvelous qualities of cannel coal for the production of oil, naptha, candlewax or parrafine are truly astonishing, and would scarcely be credited were they not fully substantiated by actual experience in Scotland and England, By a process of making, one ton of cannel coal produces about 140 gallons of crude oil, which when distilled, will produce more than 40 gallons of pure oil, equal to the best sperm oil for lubricating and burning, 25 gallons of naptha or benzole, 15-20 pounds of candlewax, making the product of a ton of this coal worth from $75 to $100. This burning oil is very limpid; it resists cold better than the purest sperm, does not gum the wick, and gives a clear brilliant light."

Not only the coal lands were classed by D.D. Owen, geologist, and later Professor Needham, mining engineer, a practically inexhaustible, but the white pine timber of McKean County was written of - "On the large tract of 23,698 acres, there are 3,000 acres of which produce a superior quality of pine timber, as well as some cherry, these being the most valuable kind of all timber growing on these lands. There are large quantities of hemlock, and of the most excellent quality. There must be over 300 million feet of hemlock. There is also one warrant alone on Minard's Run tract, containing white pine enough for 5,000,000 feet more." A final summary by these men of the resources of McKean County made in 1858 is most interesting. They list - "27,545 acres of coal lands producing 143,575,500 tons of bituminous coal; and 40,824,000 tons of cannel coal; ores for the production of 364,000,000 tons of pig metal; wood for making 392,000 tons charcoal iron; white pine for producing 80,500,000 feet of lumber; good farming land, say 40,000 acres; and limestone, fireclays, and mineral paints."

Prices Were Low


The Miner of Aug. 18, 1858 was full of news hailing the triumphant completion of the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable, and its first successful operation. Butter was now down to $.12 - 1/2 per pound that summer, smoked hams the same, eggs $.10 cents a dozen, wood $1.00 a cord. Oddly enough, the first message to come over the new Atlantic Cable for general publication was the news of Peace with China, for by the treaty England and France won all their demands, as well as indemnification for all the war expenses.

Under local items about this time we note that "Miss Annah Matteson will open a select school in the village of Bradford, with terms $2.50 to $3.00 per quarter" - as well as the somewhat startling information that "Palmeter, of Marshburg, has manufactured 125 gallons of superior Blackberry Wine, which is not only a harmless beverage, but has most excellent medicinal values." Likewise "The Bradford Band has been favoring our citizens during the moonlit evenings with some stirring music" . . . . "One of Bradford's pioneers died Oct. 30, 1858 in the person of John F. Melvin, 55, one of the first residents to come into this wilderness, who has done more to give mould and character to the place than any other man - merchant, lumberman, and county official." "R.W. Davis Esq. is erecting a dwelling house on Main St. to be a credit to the village when finished. People are urged to build as their means and fancy dictate without any regard to what others have built." . . . . "the printing paper for the Miner was purchased from M.G. Condon, Philadelphia, 500 sheets to the ream, and a gentleman to deal with." . . . . "Everybody and his wife can be accommodated with the best of oysters, well got up, at Harper's New Saloon, which the young folks may visit knowing it to be respectable." . . . . "Rev. T.W. Potter is the Methodist pastor here, while Rev. S. Porter takes care of the Congregational Society" . . . . "the first female juror in McKean County was from Bradford, Mrs. M.M. Colgrove . . . . "the Bradford and Buffalo Railroad was rapidly being built . . . . the first to link Bradford with the outside world . . . . and the Masonic Hall, Main St., was advertised as completed and fitted up to seat 300 persons, and could be rented "for lectures, concerts, exhibitions, meetings or schools" . . . . tea was $.37 - 1/2 a pound at The Old Red Store . . . . J.K. Haffey, second editor of the Miner, gave the first lecture in new Masonic Hall, subject not quoted, admission $.10, proceeds for charitable purposes.

Town Meeting Held


Bradford's Town Meeting was held early in 1859, and resulted in the following elections: Supervisors, S.Walker and Henry Tibbits; Justices of the Peace, S. Walker and H.D. Hicks; School Directors, Lorenzo Drake and C.D. Gilbert; Constable, J.R. Dart; Town Treasurer, H.D. Hicks; Auditors, J.F. Clarke and A.W. Buchanan; Assessor, P.M. Fuller; Judge of Election, W.R. Fisher; Inspectors of Election, A.W. Newell and W. Crook.

Perhaps we should not conclude this first year of Bradford's first newspaper, the Miner, of which Col. Sam C. Crane was the first editor, retiring late in the year to take up another occupation elsewhere, without concluding by quoting an advertisement which appeared just one year after Colonel Crane's first edition . . . . "Information Wanted – of the whereabouts of Colonel Sam C. Crane. His family having become town charge, any notice of his location, if he be living, will be thankfully received by the undersigned. Signed, S. Walker and H. Tibbits, Overseers of the Poor, Bradford, Mar. 1, 1859. Other editors please copy."

And thus in the beginning of 1859, we find Bradford a small village of some 300 people, bustling and thriving, living largely from the receipts of lumber and some coal, its first railroad almost ready to join it to the outside world, a new hotel, a flourishing newspaper, several churches, a bank, restaurants, and mercantile establishments – facing the future with confidence. In the deaths of Colonel Little in 1854, and John C. Melvin in 1858 the oldest links with the past were gone, but new hands were waiting to take up the burden laid down by the founding fathers.

Slaves in McKean County


Few people today realize that slavery actually existed in McKean County, but in 1806 a Negro by the name of Asylum Peters was brought to Ceres as a cook for the surveyor, Brevost. Peters was later sold to William Ayers for $100. Soon McKean County became part of the main route of the "Underground Railroad" for escaped slaves from the south into the north.

King's Settlement above Ceres became an important underground depot during the years when the Abolition Movement was gaining sympathizers in this region, and as far back as 1827 Smethport was a way station on the railroad. The escaping slaves came up the river from Pittsburgh to Warren, then into this county to Smethport, Eldred and Ceres, and eventually found their way to Buffalo and into Canada to freedom.

The discovery of oil near Titusville in 1859 by Col. Drake opened a new era, and, as the early oil fields were extended eastward and northward from the lower fields, it was only natural that wildcatting as such would eventually reach McKean County and Bradford.

Oil Found in 1861


About 1860 Fred Crocker came into this area, obtaining several leases, but so far as is known, accomplished nothing. In April 1861 oil was found on the Beckwith farm west of Smethport, and energetic oil men continued their wildcatting in the Tuna Valley. Sometime during 1861 the first well was drilled in the Bradford field on the north side of Corydon St., near the creek and within city limits. This was drilled to 700 or 800 feet and abandoned, largely because the outbreak of the Civil War enlisted the attention of the prospectors.

The second well was known as the old Barnsdall Well, drilled in 1862 near the west city line by the Barnsdall Oil Co., composed of William Barnsdall, P.L. Webster, Col. J.K. Haffey, C.C. Melvin, Enos Parsons and others. Using the rude, ild-fashioned spring pole, the well was driven down to a depth of 200 feet and abandoned, after which the company relinquished its leases. They still had 825 feet to go to productive sand.

In 1865-1866 the citizens of the village of Bradford, led by Daniel Kingsbury, formed a "hee" and managed to drill a well down to 875 feet, the driller being a Mr. Walshe. At the depth of 791 feet a vein of oil was struck, which, according to P.T. Kennedy, "yielded a fine quality of lubricating oil in small quantities." The well was pumped for a number of years by a man named Hale, but was not drilled down below 875 feet, as the little interested group formed their ideas of where the Bradford sand should approximately lie by the experiences learned in and about Oil City where the productive sand is between 500-600 feet.

More Disappointments


In 1864-1865 the Dean Brothers drilled a well 900 feet deep on the Shepherd Farm near Custer City, but disappointment was again in store for the Bradford sand was deeper here, and especially on the Shepherd Farm. The Dean Bros. drilled another well on the Clark Farm at Tarport, but again drilled only to 605 feet, stopping 400 feet short of productive sand.

However, in 1868 several enterprises of one Job ("Uncle Job" Moses gave an indication of what true development of this region might yield. A small well was drilled by "Uncle Job" near Limestone which produced a limited amount of oil, and records seem to indicate that he drilled a number of others in this area between 1865-1875.

The W.H. Taylor Oil Co. was organized in 1871 with J.K. Haffey, president, and included J.W. Hilton, T.J. Campbell and T.J. Melvin, to drill wells on Kendall Creek on the Moore Farm. In August 1871. a meeting was held at the Houseford House and re-organized the Barnsdall Co., which had drilled a well in 1862 mentioned above. In the new company were J.W. Hilton, J.R. Pomeroy, C.C. Melvin, T.J. Melvin, James Broder and Enos Parsons.

Foster Oil Co. Born


Old time methods were now changing for the better. Also in this year 1871 the Foster Oil Co. was organized with C.H. Foster, Job Moses and James E. Butts. This little group drilled a well two miles northeast of Bradford on the Hinchey Farm, reaching a depth of 1,110 feet, getting a 10-barrel per day producer. This seems to be the first actually successful productive well in Bradford, and is being commemorated by a Memorial stone and tablet during this Diamond Jubilee occasion. The "Uncle Job" Moses well, as it is called, seems, therefore destined to have the honor of being Bradford's first successful producer.

It was not until 1874, three years later, when Butts & Foster drilled their No. 1 well on the Buchanan Farm, a half mile northeast of their first well, that they struck a 70-barrel a day producer. In March 1874, the Emporium Press referred to the new Butts well at Tarport as follows: "The oil fever is raging in our neighboring county (McKean). The oil is of better quality than that found in the oil regions, and many oil men are changing base, preparing to operate in this new oilderado where oil is found at a depth of 1,150 feet."

In 1875 on the north side of Jackson Ave., near the residence of Judge Ward, a good producer was drilled in by Messrs. Jackson, Walker, Solomon, and Urquehart. About the same time Peter T. Kennedy drilled in a 10-barrel well on the P.L. Webster lot at the corner of Corydon and Chestnut St. In quick order Fred Crocker struck a 100-barrel well on the Watkin Farm, the Olmstead well came in on the Crooks Farm at State Line, and Lewis Emery drilled in his No. 1 well on the Tibbett's Farm at Toad Hollow (South Bradford). With these discoveries oil speculators and producers poured into Bradford, and the great boom was under way.

People Jam Town


Rigs multiplied "like rabbits in Australia," as one account states. Train and bus loads from every nook and cranny of oildom crowded the streets, overran the hotels and taxed the little village to the utmost. Town lots sold like hot cakes, and prices skyrocketed.

The new Bradford House became the headquarters of the oil industry, and literally hundreds of contracts were completed and closed in the second-story room where Lewis Emery, Judge Johnson, Dr. Hook and the advance guard of the invading host assembled.

It was in February 1879 that the first city charter was granted, and James Broder was elected Bradford's first mayor. In the mad haste to accommodate itself to the changing conditions, a series of costly fires broke out, which merely hastened the construction of newer and larger buildings. Horses and teams literally sank out of sight in the mud on Main Street. Ten churches, schools, stores, hotels, three newspapers, street cars, residences, narrow gauge railroads which circled the hills, seemed to appear overnight, and while the gushers were lacking, many wells produced from 25 to 200 barrels or more per day.

First 75 Years



With the opening of the Bradford Oil Field in these momentous years between 1875-1880, the author brings to a conclusion the first 75 (Diamond Jubilee) years of McKean County and Bradford's history. In the space and time allowed, one could not possibly do justice to the array of historic events and the individuals who trod that path those first 75 years. Only the high spots have been touched.

Because of the discovery of the first year's bound copies of the Bradford Miner of 1858-1859, in a remarkable state of preservation, no other volume or copy of which is known to be in existence, the existing printed historical records of this city have been moved back from the Era of 1877 now to 1858. The author wishes to express his appreciation to William McCord of Pleasant St., for the use of this rare edition of papers (each of which bears P.L.Webster's name) which was found tucked away in the old Brennan & Davis Building, 21 Main St., when the Davis Store, which had occupied the site for 50 years was remodeled to make way for the new business establishment about a year ago.

Other source references used include the 1890 Historical and Biographical History of McKean Co. and the illustrated copy of "Historical Bradford" printed in 1901.

Histories Are Wanted


The author, or the Bradford Public Library, would be most appreciative if residents of this city and community having in their possession early letters, papers, or printed documents relating to the early days of this region, would either give or loan them for historical purposes, so that the limited knowledge of the early history of this city, particularly in the period from 1827 to 1880 might be increased.

A history of the Allegany Oil Field of southwestern New York, which was discovered and opened up a few years after the Bradford Field, and has always been considered a part or extension of the Bradford Field, has been under preparation for a number of years by John P. Herrick of Olean, N.Y.

No one is more qualified or possesses the intimate knowledge of that area than J.P. Herrick, and it is to be hoped that before long some citizen of this community will perform a similar task for the History of the Bradford Oil Field is still waiting to be written.