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History of Sheffield

A Brief History of Sheffield and Vicinity


In this historical sketch of Sheffield village we shall emphasize the period of time form 1836. We believe, however, that an outline of events previous to 1836 is necessary if we are to record with a true perspective the history of our town.For the actual story of Sheffield may be said to have begun when the first settlers came to the New World.

By virtue of John Cabot’s explorations, in 1498, England laid claim to a vast portion of the Western Hemisphere. In doing so, the English challenged the priority of Spain and the belated (1524) French claims to New World territory. The story of the long diplomatic and military struggle between these three nations will not be detailed here. England emerged from this chronic conflict, in 1763, in possession of the world’s largest colonial empire, only to lose a few years later, as a result of the American Revolution, the thirteen colonies which became the United States. Important events in the French-English conflict – Spain had bee practically eliminated as a world power with the defeat of the Armada in 1588 – took place not far from this region. France proceeded to lay claim to the Ohio River Valley by sending Celeron de Bienville from Canada down the Allegheny and Ohio rivers to formally acquire this territory. At the mouth of each important tributary along the route a lead plate was buried and a notice attached to a nearby tree. Both announced the domain of Louis XV of France. Several of the lead plates have been recovered, and one, as yet unrecovered, is said to have been placed at the junction of the Conewango Creek and the Allegheny River. Christopher Gist, a Pennsylvanian, followed the same route, in 1750, looking for prospective sites or settlements of the Ohio Company of Virginia. In 1753 George Washington was dispatched by Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia to warn the French from Western Pennsylvania. One of the French forts he visited was Le Boeuf, near what is now Waterford, Pennsylvania. The next year Washington, at the head of a small troop, clashed with the French and Indians at Great Meadows, over control of the important junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. This small skirmish marked the beginning of a great conflict (the Seven Years War) that affected three continents.

Prior to these events, in 1681, Charles II of England granted William Penn the region destined to become our native Commonwealth. The traditional fair-mindedness of Penn prompted him to purchase from the Indians land already his as far as the crown was concerned. Penn’s successors followed this policy, with perhaps less honesty, of purchasing from the Indians. Altogether, from 1686 to 1792, seven treaties were concluded with the Indians and one with the United States government,including all the land within the present bounds of Pennsylvania. Our section of the state was formally acquired from the Indians, known as the Six Nations (Iroquois), by the Treaty of F ort Stanwix in 1784.

At the close of the American Revolution the great region west of the Appalachian Mountains, including the vast Northwest Territory, and north of the Ohio River was opened to settlers. This land, available in most case at a very low price, combined with the possible adventure it offered, served as an incentive to a tide of western emigration which continued, greater at certain times than others, throughout the nineteenth century. The rapidity of the settlement in Western Pennsylvania is indicted by the speedy formation of local government units, the counties and townships. Beginning with the original counties of Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks, there occurred successive divisions and subdivisions. From the Revolution to 1860 this process took place at a very fast pace. By the latter date most of Pennsylvania’s counties, as we now know them, were laid out. Warren County was formed in 1800 from Allegheny and Lycoming counties. Sheffield Township was set off from Kinzua Township in 1833.

Settlers began to move into the Sheffield region several years before the town was founded, the village of Barnes having been settled in 1828. Most of the early of the early settlers in the township came from New York State, via the Conewango Creek and Warren, and were descendants of New England families. However, the majority of residents in the town of Sheffield in the late sixties were from Sullivan County, New York.

An interesting sidelight to the history of our township is the land speculation carried on by a group of Dutch bankers. They came to be known collectively as the Holland Land Company. About 1794 this corporation acquired a huge acreage of land in Northwestern Pennsylvania, including practically all of Sheffield Township. The object of the speculation was to make an immediate and profitable resale of their land to emigrants. In this object the Dutch bankers were disappointed. They were obliged to hold the lands for many ears before disposal was complete. The story of the sale and resale of the land in Sheffield Township and adjacent districts is too complicated to describe in the space allotted here. It is likely that many of the early settlers secured their titles by “squatter rights,” a process legalized to a degree by Pennsylvania laws. The greater part of the land in this section was, however, acquired by the usual method, in many instances through tax sales.

Persons listed as owning land on the 1834 tax list for Sheffield Township were: James Arnett, Timothy Barnes, John Brown, Joseph Carver, Richard Dunham, John Gilson, John Inglesby, Asahel Kidder, Nathan E. Lacy, Silas Lacy, Jeremiah Lane, David Mead, James T. Osgood, Adam L. Pratt, Orrin T. Stanton, Henry Snapp, Stephen Taylor and John Williamson. The complete list contains thirty-three names, but certain of these early landowners were merely transients or were non-residents who held the land as a speculative investment. At that time (1834) there were no settlements in Sheffield proper, the early homes being established in Barnes, then called Sheffield, in Saybrook, or in other nearby localities.

The pioneers of Sheffield Township found an unbroken wilderness before them. Huge pines along with hemlock and hardwood trees covered the hills and valley. One pine tree is recorded as having produced seventeen logs each sixteen feet in length. Obviously the majority of early settlers were attracted by the lumbering possibilities. Some lumber was manufactured locally by small mills many of which were operated with waterpower. The greater part of the logs were rafted down the Tionesta and Allegheny rivers, to the larger mills, as far as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.