John Watson the iron forge man and Mary Ann Conrad his wife

John Watson first appears in Huntingdon County records in the 1830 census. He was an ironworker. Many ironworkers moved up from Lancaster County in the early 1800s as the iron forges were set up in Huntingdon. He may have been one of them. 1 Years later one of his sons wrote that John was the son of another John, who lived in Lancaster County and had sons John and William.2  Is there any independent evidence for the older John? The only John Watson in the 1790 or 1800 census of Lancaster County is the physician John Watson, who can probably be ruled out as the father.3 By 1810 there were two John Watsons in Lancaster County, both in Donegal Township, one with a large family and one with a small family. There is no way to connect either of them with the John who came to Huntingdon County. If the older John was really a veteran of the Revolution, then the second John would have been a rather late son.4

In any case, John Watson was supposedly born about 1796, raised by a relative, “perhaps an aunt”, after his father died, and moved to Huntingdon County about 1813.5 The only Watson in Franklin Township in 1820 was George Watson, living close to Daniel and Samuel Conrad.6 Was George an uncle of John’s?7  George and his wife were between 26 and 45, with three sons in the same age range, and a daughter 10 to 16. This is a mature family, where John could fit nicely, as a nephew, probably not as a son since John did name any of his sons George.

By 1830 John was married to Mary Ann Conrad, daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth, and they were living in Warriors Mark Township.8 John and Mary were both aged 20 to 30, with four young children and one girl age 10 to 15.9 Since Mary Ann was born in 1806, they could not have been married before about 1823. The girl over 10 may have been a niece (or a servant). She was still with them in 1840. By 1840 John and his wife had five children, plus the girl now age 15 to 20. They were in Franklin Township, the area that includes Spruce Creek. They were a few houses away from Jacob Conrad, a younger brother of Mary Ann.10

John was a worker in the iron forges as well as a farmer. He was exceptionally strong. The story was passed down in the family that the men of the town had a contest of strength, where they pushed a wheelbarrow filled with pig iron. John wheeled a total of 2,240 pounds which was considered remarkable.11 Where John was strong, Mary Ann was short and slight. She was kind and affectionate, and had dark eyes and hair.12 In 1832 John bought 112 acres from Henry Kreider. This was in Warriors Mark, near George Mong. It cost $600.13

By 1850 six children were still at home with John and Mary Ann in Warriors Mark, where he was called a farmer .14 By 1860 they were in Franklin Township, where John was a foundry worker.15 In 1864 two photographers, Burchfield and Buttorf, traveled around Pennsylvania and took photographs. John and Mary Ann had their photograph taken, and thought this was better than their son Jerry’s paintings. “The father of the artist naturally thought that photographing was a marvelous improvement over his son’s slower way of painting portraits.”16

In 1870 John and Mary Ann were living with their son-in-law Anson LaPorte and his wife Nancy.17 John is listed as a foreman or forgeman in a blow furnace, still working at a rigorous job even at age 70 or more. John died on June 23, 1871 and was buried at the Lutheran Cemetery at Seven Stars, Franklin Township. In his will, written two months before his death, he left his estate to his “beloved wife Mary Ann”. He signed it by mark.18 After his death Mary Ann went to live with her youngest daughter Elizabeth Salkeld in Washington DC, where Elizabeth’s husband John was a policeman. The bustling city must have been a change after a life spent in rural Huntingdon County. Washington had expanded dramatically after the Civil War, partly because of the growth in the bureaucracy serving war issues such as veteran’s pensions.19 Mary Ann died on April 12, 1877 and is buried with her husband at Seven Stars.20

Children of John and Mary Ann:21

Elizabeth, b. Aug 14, 1824, d. Nov. 4, 1901, m. 1842 Samuel Davis, lived in Altoona where he was a farmer. Samuel fought in the Civil War.22 He and Elizabeth were grandparents of W. Mills Davis.

John B., b. ab. 1827, d. March 18, 1892, m. Elizabeth Haslett, moved to Harrisburg, where he was an express messenger and later managed an express stable.23 He died in Harrisburg.24

Daniel, died of typhoid fever as a young man.

William, b. ab. 1829, d. 1903, m. Elizabeth Buck of Warriors Mark, moved to Lee County, Illinois.

Mary Ann, b. ab. 1833, d. 1915, m. 1861 Framton (“Frank”) Bloom, lived in Sunbury, Northumberland County, Frank was a farm laborer there in 1910.25 She died in 1915.26

Jeremiah, b. Feb. 1836, d. June 23, 1888 in Tyrone, m. 1863 Rachel Hall; he was a portrait painter and a veteran of the Civil War.27 He and Rachel had four children including a son Claude.28 He died of a pulmonary disease, probably tuberculosis, contracted during his service in the war. For the last five years of his life he was unable to walk, but continued to paint.29

Samuel A., b. April 29, 1838, d. May 20, 1917, lived in Bradford, later in DuBois, Clearfield County,  served in the Civil War, married, had a son Claude. Samuel wrote to W. Mills Davis in 1911 giving information about the family, unfortunately not including the name of his wife. In May 1901 Samuel and his son Claude visited Nancy Ann LaPorte in Tyrone, “whom he had not seen for twenty-nine years”.30

Priscilla, b. ab. 1840, d. before 1888, m. John Martin, r. Osceola Mills, Clearfield County, died there, had five children.

Nancy Ann, b. 1843, d. 1906, m. Anson LaPorte, lived in Franklinville, had two sons and five daughters

Mary Elizabeth, known as Lida, b. ab. 1847, d. Jan 5, 1892, m. John L. Salkeld, lived in Washington DC31

  1.  Not all of the people of Lancaster County were German. There was a large Scotch-Irish population. They moved up to Huntingdon County for the same reason, to find jobs.
  2. W. Mills Davis, History of the Davis, Eichelbarger, Watson, Conrad, Shank Stonebraker and Hyskell Families, 1911
  3. Dr. John Watson, a physician, was born about 1762. He fought in the Revolution, married Margaret Clemson, lived in Donegal Township, died in 1843 and was buried in the cemetery of the Donegal Presbyterian Church. References: Cemetery records of the Donegal Presbyterian Church online, census records of 1820; Jacob Ziegler, An Authentic History of Donegal Presbyterian Church, 1902, p. 67. However, he is not known to have a son William, he did not die when his son John was young, and his son John is supposed to have died unmarried.
  4.  Watson is a common name, both in Lancaster and Huntingdon Counties. There are many of them in the Lancaster County tax lists and the land warrants in Huntingdon.
  5. W. Mills Davis, based on the information from Samuel A. Watson in a letter of 1911. Watson was a son of John Watson of Huntingdon County. John Watson of Lancaster County would have been his grandfather.
  6. 1820 census, Franklin Township, Image 1.
  7. There is no obvious record of George Watson in the census of 1810 in either Huntingdon or Lancaster County.
  8. 1830 census, Warriors Mark township, Image 7. This was the only John Watson in Huntingdon County, and the only Watson in Warriors Mark or Franklin Township.
  9. The age was probably given wrong for John. He was more likely born about 1796.
  10.  1840 census, Franklin Township, Image 9, John and his wife both 30 to 40, 1 girl 15 to 20, 1 son 10 to 15, 2 sons and 1 daughter 5 to 10, 2 sons under 5.
  11. W. Mills Davis.
  12. W. Mills Davis.
  13.  W. Mills Davis.
  14. 1850 census, Warriors Mark township, Image 7
  15. 1860 census, Franklin township, Image 13
  16.  W. Mills Davis. The photograph of John and Mary Ann is not known to have survived.
  17. 1870 census, Franklin township, Image 19
  18. Wills of Huntingdon County, book 7, number 168.
  19. Wikipedia has a fine picture of Washington DC in 1874.
  20.  Cemetery record of Seven Stars, in the Spangler notebooks, Centre County Library; Findagrave index.
  21.  From Davis, with information added from census records. The order here does not quite match the information that Samuel Watson wrote to W. Mills Davis. He gave it as Elizabeth, John, Daniel, William, Jeremiah, Mary, Samuel, Priscilla, Nancy, Eliza, swapping Jeremiah and Mary Ann, otherwise reliable.
  22. Davis said that Samuel was a man of good humor but with a violent temper. He was a spendthrift, but his wife Elizabeth was economical and thrifty. Of their eight children, five died young. They are buried at Asbury Cemetery near Altoona. (W. Mills Davis) There is an obituary for Elizabeth.
  23. 1870 census, Dauphin County, Harrisburg Ward 8, image 28, and 1880 census.
  24.  His obituary in the Tyrone Herald, March 24, 1892. His middle initial is sometimes given as D.
  25. The date of marriage is from the card file of deaths and marriages at Huntingdon Historical Society. The census is Sunbury ward 5, district 0115, Image 20.
  26.  Her death certificate shows her death of birth as Nov. 10, 1836, but this is contradicted by several census records.
  27. His dates of birth and death from his obituary in the Tyrone Daily Herald, June 21, 1888. (online)
  28. His son Claudius became a railroad conductor in Harrisburg. (census records)
  29.  His obituary.
  30. Tyrone Daily Herald, May 23, 1901
  31. Her brief obituary in the Tyrone Daily Herald of Jan. 7, 1892. In 1880 they were listed in the census in Washington, with children Eugene, Raymond, and Lida. He was a police officer.

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