The trial of Jack LaPorte for the bloody murder of his friend Irvin

It was a moonlit night, a Thursday in May in Huntingdon County. John Burket was a music teacher. He had been teaching the band at the Cross Roads near Warrior’s Mark.1 He was walking home when he saw a dead man lying by the road near Thompson’s Lane. He called to a few men who were sitting on a fence nearby, “Boys, come here. There’s a man with his throat cut.” The man’s throat was cut from ear to ear and his head was bruised and cut. A bloody stone was found nearby. It was May 28, 1885.2

When the body was identified as that of John Irvin, suspicion immediately fell on Jack LaPorte and Jacob Harpster, who had been seen in Irvin’s company that night. Irvin and LaPorte worked together at Shoenberger’s mines near Warriors Mark. Irwin was a fireman on a boiler and LaPorte fired an engine. On Thursday they spent the day drinking at Chamberlain’s hotel with a few friends. By evening the proprietor noticed they were drunk, refused to sell them any more liquor, and tried to send them home. Three of them left, leaving Irvin and LaPorte together. They stood outside the hotel for a while and threw stones at it, without doing any damage, then started down the road where they encountered Harpster. They stopped by a tinner’s shop, where the tinner accused Harpster of stealing some rivets and threatened to call an officer. They ran away, but Irvin and LaPorte insisted on going back to finish the business with the tinner. Harpster left them and that was the last he saw of Irwin.

The next morning a warrant was issued for LaPorte’s arrest. The officers could not find him in Warriors Mark or at his father’s house in Franklinville. After dinner he turned up at the house of his brother Hunter, who was living on the family homestead near Franklinville. His father met him there and told his son that as an officer of the law he was duty-bound to deliver him to the Sheriff. So he harnessed the horse and drove to Spruce Creek to take the first train to Huntingdon, then to the jail. (The New York Times was impressed with this and called it a “heroic action” by a judge who put his duty above his loyalty to his son.)

The local paper reported that Jack was born in Spruce Creek Valley, about two miles from Warrior’s Mark. He had been employed as a clerk in Tyrone for several years, but was discharged due to his intemperate habits and for showing “traits of insanity”. It was said that his mind would wander and that he was a queer character. In his cell he passed the time reading and thinking, sleeping with a light on, and refused to be interviewed. Irvin was a sturdy, strongly-built man, known as a drinking man and quarrelsome. He was the sole support of his widowed mother, which generated some sympathy with the local people.

The trial started in mid-September and was reported as far away as New York, where the Times covered it as a sensation. More detailed reports came from the Huntingdon Globe, the local paper.

Wednesday, September 16, 1885: The trial was set to begin. Judge John LaPorte sat with his fellow judges for the preliminaries of bringing in the grand jury indictment, but he left the bench before his son was brought in by George Garrettson, Deputy High Sheriff of Huntingdon County.3

Thursday, September 17: The trial began by choosing a jury of twelve men, from all around the county. The defendant, Jack, was described as handsome, about 5 feet 10 inches, with jet black hair and moustache and a full face. The prosecutor was Mr. Orlady; there was a team of three defense attorneys. (The family spared no expense for the defense, both for the lawyers and for the expert witnesses.)

John Burket described finding the body. A barlow knife was later found about 100 feet away in a meadow. Upon analysis by a professor of chemistry at State College, traces of blood were found on the knife.

Thursday, September 24: William Weaver was called to testify, and his testimony seemed quite damaging to the defendant. Weaver had been working on the road on the evening of the murder. He saw LaPorte, Irvin and Harpster about 6:00. LaPorte said to Irvin, “Let’s have a drink.” Irvin pulled out a bottle and Weaver and Harpster each had a swig of whiskey. LaPorte vomited. They all sang “We’ll go and see Dolly tonight.” They walked off down the road together till they reached the lane where Weaver turned off.  Harpster headed home. Weaver looked back and saw LaPorte going toward Warriors Mark and Irvin getting a ride on a wagon toward Huntingdon Forge. Around 9:00 Weaver heard voices out on the road. One said, “By —- I’ll brain you.” Then, “Oh! no Jack, you won’t do that,” followed by “Yes, by God.” It was not long after that when another man came by in a buggy and cried, “Come down, come down; come for Jesus sake!” It was Robert Henderson who was calling Weaver to come and see the body.

Harpster testified to the same story. He and Irvin and LaPorte left Warriors Mark and headed toward Thompson’s Lane, where they met Weaver and another. They drank a little whiskey together, then Harpster headed toward the toll gate. Irvin passed him riding on a wagon, which Harpster tried to climb onto as well. When he got to the gate house, Jim Irvin was there sitting on a stone. They walked together for a bit but then LaPorte caught up to them and he and Irvin went off together in the other direction toward Warriors Mark, while he himself went to Richardson’s shanty to spend the night.

James Gillam saw LaPorte three or four times that evening. He bought a few cigars, asked to borrow a dollar, and got fifty cents from Gillam. The last time he came in was about 8:45, and he was looking for Irvin.

Antis Ellis saw Irvin and LaPorte leaving the hotel around 9:00, angry because Chamberlain wouldn’t give them any more liquor. LaPorte said “I will stone Spangler or kill some other fellow tonight.” When Irvin went up to John Lower and tried to start a fight, LaPorte separated them and said “I’m your superior, sit down.”

Squire John Kinch, the justice of the peace, testified that Judge John brought Jack to him at 4:00 in the afternoon on the 29th. He asked Jack why he killed Irvin, and Jack replied that he didn’t kill him. When Kinch asked Jack whether he had scuffled with Irvin, Jack admitted it. When asked why he didn’t come home that night, Jack claimed that he didn’t want his mother to see him because he had been drinking and was sick. There was testimony from several witnesses to the effect that the knife which was found in the field was not LaPorte’s knife.

Finally the defense opened its case. Mr. Speer outlined the case. First they would show that the defendant was insane, with hereditary insanity running in both sides of his family. His mother’s mother, his father’s mother, his father’s sister, his brother, and Jack himself—all would be shown to suffer from various signs of insanity.  Further the defense would show that when Jack was sober he was a model companion, but that excessive drink destroyed his moral and mental attributes.

Samuel Jones Esq. of Tyrone was the first witness called. As the brother of  Jack’s mother, he testified that his mother had become deranged around 1813, according to family tradition, and that he remembered her periodic attacks of insanity from 1826 on, lasting a year or so, followed by periods of lucidity. From 1866 to 1872, when she died, she was “radically insane.” Samuel’s sister Nancy became insane at the age of 38, which lasted two years. She was afflicted at various times throughout her life and died in the asylum at Harrisburg in 1872.

Friday, September 25: Judge LaPorte was sworn. He stated that his son Lemuel had died in the insane asylum in 1875 at the age of 35. Lemuel strongly resembled Jack. The judge first noticed mental unsoundness in Jack two years before. He was taciturn and reserved, and “would often start in one direction and then retrace his steps as if undecided where he wished to go.” When he first saw Jack on the day after the murder, Jack seemed wild and frightened. His clothes were wet. After he changed out of the wet clothes, they walked to Squire Kinch’s house to whom he said, “I have brought this man to put him into your custody, and we waive a hearing.” The judge denied that Kinch asked Jack why he killed Irvin or that Jack had admitted to a scuffle.

At some point that afternoon Jack said to his father, “If I had six grains of arsenic, I would relieve you of this trouble.” It was the only time he had ever heard Jack talk of suicide.

Mary LaPorte, Jack’s mother, testified that she helped Jack change his clothes that morning and noticed a lump on his forehead and a cut on his lip. Jack’s sister, Mrs. C. B. McWilliams, testified that she and her husband heard of the murder on Friday and drove to the judge’s house that afternoon in time to see Jack go up and change his clothes. Her husband asked Jack, “What got over you last night?”, to which Jack replied, “I don’t know.”

Before he went home that afternoon, Jack stopped at Hunter and Elizabeth’s house about 2:00 and asked for something to eat. He apparently also took off a bloody shirt and left it there. She testified that she gave it to the authorities without cleaning it and that she knew nothing of any shirt being burned at her house that day. Hunter stated that Jack admitted to having a “drunk and racket” with Irvin the night before. Jack felt sick and lay down for a while in the hay outside. Then he came back inside and complained, “Hunt, this is a devil of an affair.” When they told him that the authorities were looking for him, he said he didn’t know anything about it. Mrs. Sarah Myers of Tyrone, sister of Mary Ann, corroborated the story of insanity in the Jones family. Mrs. John Ingram testified to the mental condition of the defendant’s grandmother and aunt.

A parade of witnesses tried to establish insanity in Jack’s behavior. C. J. Kegel of Tyrone, who had hired Jack as a clerk, had fired him because of mental instability. In particular he told a story that Jack had ran into the store and asked to be released because he had just agreed to leave at once for Australia with a man he had met. John Wigton of Franklinville reported that Jack liked to wear his working clothes on Sunday and his best suit on Monday, among other peculiarities. James Morrow of Tyrone reported that once he and Anson Laporte took Jack back to Anson’s room at the Eagle Hotel in Tyrone and that Jack, who was drunk, broke the lock on the door in trying to get out. But the next morning he didn’t remember anything about it. Minnie Waddle and Dr. Piper both testified about occasions when Jack seemed dazed and confused but not drunk. On one of these he said to Minnie, “What is the use in our living? We had both better be dead.”

At the same time the defense tried to show that Jack had a good reputation. W. Fisk Conrad Esq. of Tyrone testified that he had known Jack since he was ten years old and had always considered him a model citizen. James Shultz, manager of the Shoenberger mines, testified that LaPorte had an excellent reputation at the mines, while Irvin was quarrelsome and had been discharged three times for disobeying orders.

After ten hours of summation by the lawyers on both sides, the judge gave his charge to the jury, regarded on both sides as a fair charge. The jury retired, with an injunction from the judge not to leave their room until they had reached a verdict. Not surprisingly, the court house bell rang soon after to indicate that the verdict was reached. “Hundreds rushed pell-mell through the streets and filled the temple of justice. In seven minutes the large room was packed from pit to dome by old and young, and many were unable to gain admission.” The jury filed in and the foreman Mr. J. C. Dunkle returned the verdict of guilty of murder in the second degree, a verdict which was accepted as fair by the people.

October 22, 1885: The sentence.  Judge Furst addressed Jack LaPorte before sentencing. He said that the defense was very competent and that everything possible had been done that could be. The jury had given careful attention to the case. He added that “We are well satisfied that you killed your friend and companion. We think we can trace the crime to your intemperate habit in the use of strong drink…..There was but one person save the eye of the Almighty who saw how this offense was committed; and whether there was any circumstance of provocation or of excuse you yourself know that fact—no other. We have taken into consideration, Mr. LaPorte, your youth and the hereditary taint of insanity that is in your family….There is one person living who will suffer as much—even more than yourself, and that is your aged mother…You are young in life and you should make your resolution here, if you have not already made it, that from this time until the day of your death you will never touch a drop of liquor; because with your habit and temperament the day may come when you will answer for murder in the first degree…The court after comparing differences of opinion, (and I will say here that I have held private consultation with your father and have differed with him), we have arrived at what we believe to be a proper measure of punishment in view of the circumstances of the case.”

Judge Furst then sentenced Jack to six years of “separate and solitary confinement” in the Western Penitentiary.

October 29, 1885: Sheriff McAlevy took Jack to the penitentiary. Jack was “docile”, “kind-hearted”, and did everything he was asked. They sat together in the smoking car of the Pacific Express. No handcuffs were used. “Jack seemed to enjoy the scenery very much.” (He had probably never been to Pittsburgh on the train before.) After arriving in Pittsburgh, the sheriff gave him a splendid dinner at the Seventh Avenue Hotel and then delivered him to the penitentiary where he put on his prison uniform. “The parting between the Sheriff and Jack was very affecting. As they were about to leave each other Jack warmly grasped the hand of the Sheriff and said: ‘Sheriff, good bye, I may never see you again in this world; you have been good and kind to me and I thank you for it. If we should never meet here again, I hope we will meet in that far off better land.’”

  1. There is still a road in Warrior’s Mark called Burket Road, just south of the crossroads.
  2. Huntingdon Globe, microfilm at Juniata College Library, Huntingdon.
  3. Court records, Huntingdon County Courthouse. These records contain only minimal description of each day’s events. They are not a transcript of the testimony. Fortunately the newspaper accounts were detailed.

The children of John and Mary Ann LaPorte

John and Mary Ann LaPorte had ten children, nine sons and one daughter. Eight of them survived infancy. 1

Benjamin Jones, sometimes known as “Jones”, b. Oct 21, 1834, d. April 19, 1915, m. Feb. 1872 Leander Ewing, r. Franklin Township. Benjamin’s wife was from a local Spruce Creek family. In 1880 they were living in Philipsburg, Centre County, with an adopted daughter Annie Ewing, possibly a niece. Jones was a wagon maker, like his father. In 1900 they were still in Philipsburg, and he was a justice of the peace (now called Benjamin instead of Jones). Leander died in 1911. Benjamin died in 1915 in Tyrone.2 They are buried at Upper Spruce Creek Presbyterian Cemetery.

Samuel, b. ab.1836, d. Feb. 19 1863, probably of typhoid fever.3 Enlisted in July 1861 in the 5th Reserves, Company I, a regiment recruited in Huntingdon County. The regiment served in Maryland and Virginia, but Samuel fell ill and was discharged on January 1862, with jaundice and typhoid fever. The family recalled years later that Samuel died two weeks after his return from the army, but it was actually a year later. 4

James Hunter, known as “Hunter”, b. July 7, 1838, d. April 3, 1914, m. 1) Catherine Gates, 2) ab. 1872 Elizabeth Conrad5; she was a cousin of Mary Conrad Watson. Hunter was named for the family who previously owned the LaPorte farm.6 His first wife died in 1869 at age 25 and is buried at Seven Stars Cemetery. After 1872 he married Elizabeth Conrad, daughter of Daniel and Mary Ann, and a cousin of Anson’s wife Nancy. In 1880 Hunter and Elizabeth were working in a general store in Warrior’s Mark. By 1900 they moved to Philipsburg, Centre County where he worked in a brickyard. In 1910 they were in Tyrone where he was a night watchman in a candy factory. He died in 1914 and is buried with Elizabeth at Upper Spruce Creek Presbyterian Cemetery. They had four children who lived to adulthood.7

Lemuel, b. 1840, d. Aug 14, 1875 in Harrisburg. Lemuel served in the 2nd Pa. Cavalry, Company F. He was mustered in September 1864 and discharged in May 1865. The Regiment was involved in small battles in Virginia, and was present at the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. After his discharge Lemuel lived in the State Lunatic Hospital in Dauphin County; perhaps he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Since he died in Harrisburg, he probably never left the institution. He was buried in Upper Spruce Creek Presbyterian Cemetery, close to his parents.8

Anson Parson, b. Feb. 12, 1842, d. July 22, 1913, m. Nancy Ann Watson, daughter of  John & Mary Conrad. Along with three of his brothers, Anson enlisted in the Civil War, serving in 1863 and 1865. In between he married Nancy Watson on August 14, 1864. In 1880 they lived in Rock Springs, Centre County, but moved to Tyrone by 1900. He was a carpenter. They had two sons and five daughters who lived to adulthood. Nancy died in 1906 of tuberculosis; Anson died in 1913. They are buried together in the Tyrone cemetery.

Adolphus Montgomery, b. Sept. 16, 1844, d. Jan 12, 1919, m. 1) 1870 Martha “Mattie” Given, m. 2) 1881 Maria “Myla” Porter (1853-1905). Adolphus served in the Civil War and was wounded in the foot at Cold Harbor. In 1874 he shot a hunting companion in the head, mistaking him for a wildcat. 9 He later worked as a life insurance agent, and rose to become superintendent of the Juniata Mining and Manufacturing Company and a pillar of the community.10 With Mattie he had a daughter Martha. He later married Myla Porter, and they raised a nephew Hugh Porter “as a son”.11 They lived in Tyrone, where they are buried in Grandview Cemetery.12

Elmore, b. March 2, 1847, d. August 1848, buried at Graysville

Sarah Margaret, known as “Margaret”, b. April 14, 1849, d. September 20, 1919, m. Cyrus McWilliams. They lived in Altoona where he was a wheel inspector in a railroad shop. After he retired they moved back to Tyrone. Margaret died in 1919, the last survivor of the children of John and Mary Ann.  She and Cyrus had no children. They are buried at Upper Spruce Creek Presbyterian Cemetery in Graysville.13

John Jr, b. 1851, d. 1854, buried at Graysville

John, known as “Jack”, b. April 27, 1856, d. Feb 1, 1907 in Tyrone, did not marry, convicted of murder in 1885, sentenced to six years of solitary confinement in the Western Penitentiary. After his release he boarded with others, including his nephew Charles LaPorte and wife Minnie. According to my grandmother Ada he got drunk and killed his best friend in Warrior’s Mark. He was jailed for this. Before this he had worked at Garman’s jewelry store in Tyrone and had been going with one of the best girls in town. Afterwards he never married. Ada had most of the details right.

{Next post: The murder trial of Jack LaPorte}

  1. Sources: census records, cemetery records (Upper Spruce Creek Presbyterian Cemetery at Graysville), obituaries, Civil War records.
  2. Pennsylvania Dept. of Health death index.
  3. His date of death from Headstones provided for deceased Union Civil War Veterans…, Ancestry.
  4. From the pension application of 1897. “It is alleged by the claimant that the soldier died, as be believes, from the results of an injury to his right foot said to have been incurred while in the service. The examination develops the fact that the injury referred to was received before the soldier enlisted, and it also goes to show that it had nothing whatever to do with causing his death. Nor did he die of the diarrhea, the disability for which he was treated as the records show for a month prior to his discharge. It has been impossible to obtain any medical evidence to show cause of death as the physician who attended him is dead. It was not until the very last of the examination I was able to obtain any evidence that showed with an degree of definiteness what was the cause of the soldier’s death. According to the testimony of the soldier’s brothers he must have died of the typhoid fever or the typhoid pneumonia. Probably the former and as one of them has stated it may have been a complication of diseases for it is shown that he was badly afflicted with the yellow jaundice at the time of his return from the army so badly in fact that several of those I have seen seem to think that was the cause of his death. The soldier only lived two weeks after his return from the army and whether his death was due to typhoid fever or the jaundice I believe the same had its origin in the service and is directly traceable to that and I believe the claim should be allowed. (pension application of 1897, F. F. Dean, Special Examiner)”
  5. His wife Elizabeth died in 1918; notice in the Democratic Watchman, a weekly paper in Bellefonte, Centre County, referenced in John Wion, Deaths in Central Penna.
  6. Reeve, A Historical Sketch of the Spruce Creek Presbyterian Church, 1949. She was not always reliable, but this is plausible.
  7. One of the children was Jessie, born in 1874, who married Frank Mattern and took over the general store of his father, selling dry goods and groceries. It was considered one of the best stores in the area. Frank and Jess kept it open six days a week, and only sold on Sundays for emergencies. “He knew the people and their needs and stocked the shelves with the best quality merchandise… made regular trips to Philadelphia where they purchased the latest merchandise on the market..beautiful yard goods..for dresses.” Nearhoof, Echoes of Warriors Mark, p. 140.
    Another of their children was Elizabeth, born about 1888, who married Arthur O. Hutchinson and wrote in later life that the family was descended from the LaPortes of Azilum.
  8. Headstones provided for deceased Union Civil War Veterans, on Ancestry. 
  9. Juniata Sentinel and Republican, Nov. 11, 1874
  10. He merited a biography in the Biographical Cyclopedia of Blair County, 1892.
  11. Obituary of Adolphus in the Altoona Tribune, January 14, 1919.
  12. My grandmother remembered Martha LaPorte, the daughter, as teaching five different languages at the Birmingham School.
  13. Her obituary in the Tyrone Daily Herald, on September 20, 1919.

John LaPorte the judge

The road along Spruce Creek in 1873

John LaPorte overcame the early death of his father, rose to become a respected citizen and a court judge, but died almost blind and impoverished. He had a large family, nine sons and a daughter, with his wife Mary Ann, but the sons brought much grief to the family. Two died in infancy, one died from disease worsened by the Civil War, one went insane, and one was convicted of murder and sent to prison. The murder trial probably hastened the death of Mary Ann, as her obituary hinted. In the end John and Mary Ann were buried at Graysville Presbyterian cemetery, along with almost all of their children.

John was born in 1811 in Jersey Shore, Lycoming County, the oldest son of Samuel and Nancy LaPorte. His father died when John was about twelve, leaving the family destitute. John left Lycoming County and moved to Warrior’s Mark, Huntingdon County, where he learned to be a wagon maker.1 On November 29, 1832 he married Mary Ann Jones.2 She also had lost her father when she was twelve, and was living with an aunt and uncle. John and Mary Ann settled down in Franklin Township, on the road that runs through Spruce Creek Valley. When they first appear in the census, in 1840, they already had four young sons.

From then on John and Mary Ann lived in Spruce Creek and raised their family.  A map of  Franklin Township, Huntingdon County, in 1873 shows the road along Spruce Creek, past the houses of John Ingram, John LaPorte, and Samuel Wigton.3

John worked as a farmer and wagon maker. His opinion was repected. When the county held its annual Exhibition of the Agricultural Society, he was on the committee that judged agricultural implements like plows and cultivators.4

The children came reliably every two years. John and Mary Ann followed tradition in naming them. Samuel was named for John’s father, and Benjamin Jones was named for Mary Ann’s father. Sarah was named for Mary Ann’s mother. From the census records we can tell that the sons went to school until they were about 14. After that they worked as wagon makers or farm laborers, following the trades of their father.5

By 1860 Mary had borne her last child, and the Civil War was about to begin. Four of the sons served in the war. Samuel was the most affected. He may have had typhoid fever before he enlisted, but whatever it was, the war made it worse. John remembered going to visit Samuel in the hospital, possibly in Washington, to try to get him discharged. Samuel was eventually discharged on account of illness, came home and died soon after. Lemuel was placed in a “lunatic home” in Harrisburg after the war, and died there. Anson served without any apparent ill effects. Adolphus was wounded in the foot.

In 1870 John and Mary were still in Franklin Township, with three of their children: James H., Sarah and John, plus Mattie, age 24. Who was Mattie? Was this the wife of Adolphus, temporarily living with her in-laws, or an otherwise-unknown daughter?

John was active in Republican party circles, and in 1880 he was elected as a judge for Huntingdon County in 1880; by 1883 he was the senior associate judge. A newspaper in 1884 referred to him as “ our old Republican friend, Judge LaPorte”. By then he was retired from farming, still living in Franklin Township, with Mary Ann, and Jack, the youngest son, who was working on the farm.6

On May 28, 1885, disaster struck the family. Jack was drinking with friends, became drunk, fell into an argument with one of them, and cut his friend’s throat. The next morning he appeared at his brother Hunter’s house. John met him there and told Jack that as an officer of the law he was duty-bound to deliver him to the Sheriff. So he harnessed a horse and drove to Spruce Creek to take the first train to Huntingdon, then to the jail. (The New York Times was impressed with this and called it a “heroic action” by a judge, who put his duty above his loyalty to his son.) John and Mary Ann hired a defense team on his behalf, which may have drained their finances. The trial began on September 16.  John sat with his fellow judges for the preliminaries of bringing in the grand jury indictment, but he left the bench before his son was brought in by the sheriff, and sat with the defense team.7 The trial continued for several weeks, the sensation of the county. The defense argued that Jack was insane, with hereditary insanity running in both sides of his family. His mother’s mother (Sarah Waters Jones), his father’s mother (Nancy Norville), his father’s sister (which one?), his brother (Lemuel), and Jack himself—all would be shown to suffer from various signs of insanity. The testimony at the trial suggested a close-knit family. Jack was convicted and sentenced in October to six years of solitary confinement in the Western Penitentiary. He survived the sentence and returned home to Tyrone, but he probably never saw his mother again.

Mary Ann died in July 1887, of “nervous prostration”.8 Her obituary in the Tyrone Daily Herald called her a “kind and affectionate mother”, adding that “She never fully recovered from the shock and nervous prostration produced by the trial and conviction of her youngest son some two years ago”.

By 1897 John was almost blind, from cataracts in both eyes. He applied for a pension, on the strength of Samuel’s service in the War. “Since the death of my wife I have no family. I have lived with strangers and non-relatives. Some of my sons have contributed voluntary to the payment of my boarding. I am deprived of things necessary for my comfort and demanded by my infirmities. This is none of my sons own real estate and could not be forced to maintain me except so far as they choose to do it and that is uncertain.”9 He may have exaggerated in order to get the pension; one would like to hope that his sons did support him. He went on to say, “I am entirely penniless and appeal to the generosity of my county.”

The examiner, F. F. Dean, summarized, “The claimant in this case is an old man and he is getting very feeble. His mind is not just what it ought to be although in talking with him any one would think he was very strong in that respect. He has made some errors as to dates but he can be excused for that on account of his old age and failing memory. The man is nearly blind so near in that he cannot recognize his friends or acquaintances while shaking hands with them unless he can hear their voice. He is an object of charity and entirely dependent upon others for support. In his day he has been a man of considerable means but according to reports one of his sons robbed him of all that he had and he is now left with nothing. Rather than leave the little village where he has always made his home and go and live with some of his children he prefers to board with his old friends and I judge it is they mostly who take care of him. At one time he was Associate Judge of Huntingdon County and has always been a respected citizen thereof. This claimant sent six sons into the Union Army, two of whom died soon after the war, one in the Insane Asylum and one on whose account he is now claiming a pension.”

Note that John actually sent four sons into the army, not six. It is not clear which of his sons “robbed him of all that he had”; could this be a reference to the cost of the defense team for Jack’s murder trial?

John died in on April 10, 1899. According to his obituary in the Democratic Watchman of April 14, he died in his house in Franklinville, survived by five sons and a daughter.10  John and Mary Ann are buried at Graysville Cemetery, along with Jones and Leander, Samuel, Hunter and Elizabeth, Lemuel, Elmore, John Jr, Jack, and Martha Diven LaPorte.11

The tradition was passed down in our family that John was descended from the Laportes of Azilum. My grandmother heard this somewhere and told it to me, although she did not say where she had heard it. She was not the only one who made this connection. John LaPorte lived next door to the family of Samuel and Eliza Wigton. Samuel’s granddaughter Mary was impressed by the romantic story of the French nobles in the wilderness and wrote a story connecting it to her family’s LaPorte neighbor.

“In the old, old Province of Limousin, in the city of Tulle lived a Huguenot family by the name of LaPorte …Barthelency LaPorte was evidently much looked up to in the plans for the trip across the Atlantic…He had a nephew killed by the Indians…This nephew of Barthelency LaPorte had at least two children, that we know of.  John LaPorte was the older one, who wanted to be an attorney, but when his father died there was no money for that education, so he had to learn a trade instead.  He chose ‘Wagon making’. He was strong and rugged and of a typical French build. Charles, the second son, studied law and practiced it in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania all his life. Well, the old letters tell of John being sent to Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania to learn his trade. He was only twelve years old. It is disappointing that we really do not know the name of John LaPorte’s father.  All we know is his uncle’s name — Barthelency LaPorte, from Tulle, France.… What a homesick little boy of twelve years, [John] must have been, torn from his mother and home even the language strange to him.12 Mary’s mother knew John as an old man, when he was known as the Judge. He was not living in his house by then, but came back once in a while to visit his neighbors, walking down the road with his cane.  We don’t know whether John was actually related to Bartholomew, but it is a pleasing picture to imagine him stopping by to visit, venerated and admired.

{Next post: the children of John and Mary Ann}

  1. Why did he go so far? There were no known LaPortes there at the time. Was a relative of his mother Nancy living there?
  2. His own statement in his pension application. (Available from National Archives). I have not been able to trace Rev. Daniel Moses on the web; John claimed that he was the minister who married them.
  3. Map online at the USGWArchives. The road today seems to be known as Willow Oak Road.
  4. Huntingdon Globe, Oct. 6, 1869, from the Penn State digital library.
  5. The 1850 census showed John in Franklin Township, age 38, a wagon-maker, with wife Mary, age 37, and some of the children.
  6. John Kinch and his wife Angeline were close neighbors. She would later make a deposition when John applied for a pension.
  7. Court records, Huntingdon County Courthouse.
  8. Deposition of Angeline Kinch for John’s pension application, from his Civil War papers. And the card file of obituaries at the HCHS.
  9. The pension application, from National Archives.
  10. The Democratic Watchman was published in Bellefonte, Centre County. (From the Spangler notebooks in the Centre County Library in Bellefonte.) The Tyrone Daily Herald of April 10, 1899 also had an obituary.
  11. Graysville Cemetery Records at the Huntingdon County Historical Society.
  12. Mary Wigton Reeve, “My Huguenot Neighbor”, manuscript. What is disappointing to us is that she didn’t put in more material from the ‘old family letters’. Why did she assume that he spoke French? She is not reliable in details about the family.

Samuel and Nancy LaPorte

There are stories about Bartholomew LaPorte of Azilum that suggest he had a brother named John, who may have left descendents in Pennsylvania. According to J. W. Ingham, “Bartholomew LaPorte had a brother who was a sailor, and who visited him at Asylum, although there were no railroads or stage lines to bring him from New York.” 1  Louise Welles Murray, who was a great-granddaughter of Bartholomew and who had access to family records (now lost), added, “He was visited at Asylum by his brother John, a sailor, who has been sometimes confounded with him.” 2

Is there any other evidence for John? According to a letter written in 1956 to Murray, the founders of our branch of the LaPorte family were John LaPorte and Nancy Norville. 3 The letter was written by Elizabeth LaPorte Hutchinson, the youngest child of Hunter and Elizabeth LaPorte, and a great-granddaughter of John and Nancy. 4 She was about 68 years old when she wrote the letter. We don’t know whether her parents passed on accurate information to her about her great-grandparents, a level where many people have trouble keeping track.

There were other LaPortes in central Pennsylvania besides Bartholomew. 5 In particular there was a group in Jersey Shore, Lycoming County, about 80 miles southwest of Azilum. In 1827 and 1828 Nancy “Layport” petitioned the Orphans Court of Lycoming County on behalf of her two sons, John and Charles, and William Turner was appointed their guardian.6 In 1837 a guardian was similarly appointed for “Lewis M. Layporte”.

If Nancy was the mother of John and Charles, who was their father? The only LaPorte in Lycoming County in the 1810 census was Samuel LaPorte, with two children. In 1820 he was still there, with four children (two sons and two daughters).7 The sons were both under ten; one daughter was under ten; the other was ten to sixteen. Samuel must have been born about 1785. He died before 1830, since he was not shown in the census then.

The evidence is suggestive that Samuel was the husband of Nancy and the father of the three boys. What happened to Nancy after Samuel died? It appears that she married Ellis Martin and had a daughter Mercy. Ellis, born in 1769, was one of four Martin brothers who moved from Northumberland County to Jersey Shore. Shown in the 1830 census with a wife and three children, he died about 1837.8 Nancy appears as Mrs. Martin in Jersey Shore in the 1840 with a young daughter. Nancy was probably born around 1783, according to her age in the 1850 census, so she would have been about 46 when Mercy was born, on the high end but not impossible. By 1850 Mercy was married to Christopher Nolty and Nancy Martin, age 67, was living with them. She was listed as insane then and again in the 1860 census, still living with them. The insanity of Nancy Martin is evidence in favor of her being the mother of John LaPorte of Huntingdon County, since there was later court testimony that his mother was insane.9 They were four households away from Isaac Britton and his wife Mary Ann, who was probably another daughter of Nancy’s. Nancy probably died between 1860 and 1870.10

From the available evidence we can suggest a pair of parents and group of children. Nancy is linked to her sons John, Charles and Lewis through the guardianship applications. The death certificate of Lewis listed his father as Samuel, born in France. The obituary of John listed Lewis as his brother, along with two sisters Caroline Nolty and Elizabeth Harliman. Mary Ann’s maiden name was Laporte, as shown on the death certificates of her daughters Eunice and Elizabeth, and Mary Ann named a son Samuel. We know that John, Charles and Lewis were all born in Jersey Shore. The ages and locations are a good fit. These people make a convincing group to be the family of the Samuel Laporte shown in the census of 1810 and 1820. We must assume that the name of her great-grandfather was passed on incorrectly to Elizabeth LaPorte Hutchinson. Was Samuel a nephew of Bartholomew LaPorte? There is no way to tell.

Children of Samuel and Nancy:

There must have also been two children born before 1810. They probably died young.

John, b. November 22, 1811, d. April 10, 1899, m. 1832 Mary Ann Jones, lived in Spruce Creek, Huntingdon County, a wagon-maker and a judge. They named their second son Samuel.

Mary Ann, b. 1814, d. 1901, m. 1840 Isaac Britton, lived in Lycoming County, had children James, Samuel, Eunice, Elizabeth. In 1860 they lived in Porter Township near Jersey Shore. Isaac was listed as a tailor, much poorer than his neighbors. He must have prospered, because in the 1900 census he was listed as a gentleman. Isaac died in 1905; he and Mary Ann are buried at Jersey Shore Cemetery. Note that Mary Ann is not named in John’s 1899 obituary, although she was alive then.

Charles M, b. 1818, d. 1896, m. ab. 1843 a woman named Elizabeth, lived in Lycoming County, left no known surviving children. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1841, was a town burgess in 1844, bought 400 acres of land in 1845. His two sons died young around 1850.11 He was a veteran of the Civil War, Co. B, 14th Regiment, in 1862. In the 1870 census as a lumberman,  in the same year he built a steam-powered saw mill on Harris’ Run. It operated for a few years then was moved to Upper Pine Bottom Run where timber was more plentiful. It burned down in October 1875.12 He is buried in Jersey Shore.13

Lewis, b. April 1820, d. 1909, m. about 1847 Penina Ammerman, lived in Clearfield County. They had children Laura, Lewis, Helen, Frances (a dau), Rosey, Augustine, Charles. His death certificate listed his father as Samuel, born in France, and his mother as unknown.14 He was a carriage builder, born in Jersey Shore, Lycoming County, died in Curwensville, Clearfield County. He was listed as a brother in John’s 1899 obituary. Lewis appears in the census through 1880.15

Elizabeth, b. ab. 1824, m. ab. 1845, Abraham Harleman, lived in Mill Hall, Clinton County. He was a blacksmith. Had two daughters before Abraham died in 1855. In the 1850 census in Bald Eagle Township, Clinton County, living next to an older Abraham Harleman. In 1860 she was just “Mrs. Harleman” with a daughter Emma, age 10. In 1870 she was still in Bald Eagle Township, living alone, age 46. Gone in 1880. In the 1899 obituary of John LaPorte as living in Mill Hall. But the family may have been mistaken, since there is no known record of her after the 1870 census.

Child of Ellis Martin and Nancy Norville:

Caroline [Mercy?], b. Jan 27, 1829, d. 1908 in Porter Twp, Lycoming County, m. Christopher Nolty, r. Jersey Shore, Lycoming County. She married Nolty before 1850, when they were living in Jersey Shore. He was a boat builder. Nancy Martin, age 67, insane, was living with them. In 1860 they were in Porter Township with five children. Nancy, age 75, was still there. They had several children, including a son Ellis. Mercy died in 1908 in Porter Township, a widow. Her parents were listed as Ellis Martin and Nancy Neville. Mercy is probably the “Caroline Nulty” listed in the 1899 obituary of her half-brother John LaPorte; either she used Caroline as a nickname or the family in Huntingdon County got the name wrong.

  1. J.W. Ingham, A short history of Asylum, Pennsylvania, 1916, p. 35.
  2. Murray, Louise Welles.  The story of some French refugees and their ‘Azilum’, 1917 p. 127. She was descended from Bartholomew through his daughter Elizabeth, who married Charles F. Welles in 1843.
  3. Research by Mimi Dittenhafer, personal communication.
  4. Hutchinson was born in Warriors Mark and later lived in Logan Township, Blair County. Her husband was Arthur O. Hutchinson, and the name on the letter was Mrs. A. O. Hutchinson.
  5. A John LaPorte lived in Wyoming Township, Northumberland County from 1785 through 1810, dying there in 1811. He was a weaver. Letters of administration for his estate were granted to his son-in-law Matthew Rhone. John was probably the John LaPorte who married Naomi Day near Morristown, New Jersey in 1764. Mimi Dittenhafer, who has studied the LaPorte family and who is a descendant of Matthew and Naomi, believes that John was related to the other LaPortes discussed here. But there is no evidence connecting him to the family of Lycoming County, or to the family of Bartholomew.
  6. Orphan’s Court Docket, Lycoming County, Book B. Her name was shown as Nancy Leeport. Turner was not a relative; he was an acting justice of the peace and conducted much business. (History of Lycoming County)
  7. 1810 census, Mifflin Township, Image 2, and 1820 census, Image 3 (part of Mifflin township listed on Ancestry under Dunstable.) In addition to the man and woman between 26 and 45 (presumably Samuel and his wife), there was another man over 45.
  8. Egle, Notes and Queries, which series?, p. 238. (from CD)
  9. Testimony at the murder trial of Jack LaPorte in 1885.
  10. An Ancestry tree gives Nancy’s date of death as March 12, 1861 (but it also gives her marriage to Samuel as 1828, which is impossible.)
  11. Census Mortality Schedule, 1850.
  12. Meginnes, History of Lycoming County, online.
  13. The date of birth is from his veteran’s burial card (on Ancestry). Meginnes, History of Lycoming County, has the record of admittance to the bar. It is interesting that both he and John were both jurists. The land grant is from Lycoming County Land Warrantees, vol. 25.
  14. For the death certificate, he is indexed on Ancestry as Laforte, with birthplace Tervey Shore and death place Carversville, Bucks County. The informant was Gus LaPorte (the son Augustine, born about 1861).
  15. In the 1870 census he was listed as Laport. In 1880 it was Laponte. I browsed through the Curwensville census for 1900  (districts 0069 and 094) but could not find him.

Bartholomew LaPorte and the strange story of Azilum

My grandmother Ada told me a story that had been passed down through the family. It went like this. The LaPortes had a fort in Sullivan County, which they built for the king of France, but he was beheaded first. This improbable bit of family lore actually turned out to be true. At least there was such a place as Azilum (or Asylum in the English spelling), though it was more of a town than a fort. It was built as a refuge, although there is no indication that the builders ever actually expected the king or queen to reach it. There was a LaPorte prominently associated with the founding of Azilum, and he left descendents in Pennsylvania.

Asylum was founded in 1793 by a group of French noblemen, seeking an escape from the turmoil in France. They bought a large tract of land on the Susquehanna in present-day Bradford County and laid out a town there. There were grand plans for a market square, four hundred lots, shops and mills. They brought in slaves from Santo Domino, Haiti, and built thirty log houses, plus a larger one called La Grand Maison, intended as a possible home for Marie Antoinette, but actually used for social gatherings.

A small group of émigrés reached Azilum and lived there for a few years. One of them was Antoine Omer Talon. A romantic story has been passed down about his escape to America.

“Talon…one of the most faithful advisers of the king…escaped and fled to the sea coast, Havre-de-Grace or Marseilles, where he lay in hiding for several weeks. At this time he became acquainted with a young Frenchman, Bartholomew LaPorte by name, who had been a prosperous wine merchant at Cadiz, Spain. A decree of the Spanish Government, banishing all French subjects and confiscating their property, had left LaPorte penniless and anxious to make his way to America, as Talon proposed to do. At last, having an opportunity to embark in an English merchantman at Marseilles, LaPorte concealed Talon in a wine cask, carried him on board and stowed the cask in the hold of the vessel, covering it with charcoal. Suspecting that Talon would embark, soldiers searched the vessel, but in vain. On reaching England, Talon engaged passage to American for himself and LaPorte, who was ever afterward his confidential agent and trusted land steward. Talon arrived in Philadelphia early in 1793. He had wealth, and it is said he purchased a large house at once which he threw open to all his exiled countrymen.”  Whether the story of the cask is true or not, it is unlikely that LaPorte was actually a wine merchant. It should be noted that this story was told by Louise Welles Murray, a great-granddaughter of LaPorte. A more plausible version of the story is that Talon met LaPorte in Marseilles in 1790 while waiting for a ship to America and engaged him as his assistant. In any case LaPorte travelled to Pennsylvania, settled there as a servant to Talon, and rose to become a land agent.

As David Craft related in his history of Asylum, Talon became more and more indispensable to Talon in Pennsylvania. “At one of his entertainments at which the Governor had distinguished guests, his butler having imbibed too freely of his master’s wine, spilled the soup upon one at the table. This was not his first, nor his second offence for which he had been sharply reprimanded. Mr. Talon at once sent for LaPorte to come to him and said, ‘Will you be my butler?’ Mr. LaPorte replied by pleading for the forgiveness of the offender; but Mr. Talon stopped him by saying: ‘He cannot hold his position longer; will you take it?’ ‘Yes,’ said LaPorte, and soon rose to places of higher responsibility as he more and more won the confidence of the Governor.”

The town of Asylum was short-lived. It was an unnatural setting for most of the Frenchmen and they were glad to seize the opportunity to leave it. They did not adjust easily to pioneer life, and when Napoleon issued a pardon most of them returned to France. In 1807, as the settlement was dissolving, the Asylum Company gave LaPorte a power of attorney to dispose of the property there. He bought over four hundred acres of the Asylum lands, settled down as a wealthy farmer, and raised his family. By then he had a wife Elizabeth; their only child John was born in 1798. John had a distinguished career, serving as Surveyor General of Pennsylvania, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, and Associate Judge of Bradford County. He married twice and had four children by his two wives. Some of the stories about Bartholomew were passed down from John and his friends. Bartholomew, the emigrant, died in 1836; his son John died in 1862. They were buried in the LaPorte family plot at Asylum, now a forlorn enclosure in the middle of rolling green fields.



Wharton, A. H. In Old Pennsylvania towns. Chap. 14, “A Pa. Retreat for Royalty”

Heverly, History and Geography of Bradford County, 1926

Murray, Louise Welles.  The story of some French refugees and their ‘Azilum’, 1917

Ingham, J. W., A short history of Asylum, Pennsylvania, 1916

David Craft, “A Day at Asylum”, Proc. Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, vol. 8, 1904

Land Warrantees, Bradford County, in PA Archives, vol. 24

Barney Zeigler the forgeman

Barney Zeigler first appears in the census in 1820, in Petersburg, Huntingdon County, with a wife and eight children. He must have come to Petersburg from somewhere else, but he has not been found in the 1810 census, even under different names like Barnabas, Barnet or Bernard. There are no early church records for Petersburg giving records of the death of his wife or the birth of his children. Fortunately, his daughter Sarah Zeigler Long lived to be 94 years old, long enough to have a state death certificate, which gives the names of her parents as Barney Zeigler and Fannie Kestler.

Barney was born about 1781. He is shown in the census for Huntingdon County from 1820 through 1860. Although the places were listed differently at different times, they were probably all the same place—the town of Petersburg, in the valley of Shaver’s Creek near Alexandria. In 1820 he was listed as Bernard Zigler, with a wife and eight children. In 1830 he was listed as Barnard Siglar, with his wife and still eight children. By 1840 he shown as Barnabas Zigler (which was probably his real name), with three children, but no woman over 30. His wife was probably dead by then. In 1850 he is still in Petersburg. He owned his own house, worth $500, which seems below average for the town, which seemed to have quite a few houses worth about $1,000.

Who is the Sarah Sigler living with him in 1850? She was about the same age as his daughter Sarah, but Sarah was already married to John Long by then. There could not be two daughters named Sarah. She was not a second wife, since both she and Barney were shown as single and because she was so much younger than Barney. She was most likely a widowed daughter-in-law who moved in to keep house for Barney. Since Jacob Ziegler was on the tax list for Petersburg until 1849 and not afterward, she may have been his widow.  Sarah was still there ten years later.

Barney was taxed in Petersburg from 1845 until 1867, but marked off the list in 1868. This must be when he went to live with his son Barney Jr in Johnstown, Cambria County. In the 1870 census he appears there, age 87. On December 30, 1876 Barney Sr died.  He was buried in Sandyvale Cemetery, Johnstown, Cambria County as Barnabas Zeigler. His date of birth was given as 1781, which may have been an estimate.

The one fact about Barney that we know for sure is that he was a forgeman. Petersburg was a small town on Shaver’s Creek, about three miles from Alexandria, dominated by the Juniata Forge. The forge was built just before 1800 by Peter Shoenberger, who also laid out the town streets and named it after himself. He reserved lots for a German church, Presbyterian church, English school and German school. Although these buildings were not erected at the time, they give a clue to the ethnic makeup of the workers whom he was recruiting. Shoenberg also kept the first general store and the first public-house (tavern). The early blacksmiths were Jacob Everly and Jacob Dopp; they did general work and work for the forge. Other early artisans were wheelwrights, saddlers, shoemakers, a glove-maker and two hatters. The earliest physician was Dr. Peter Sevine, who practiced until about 1816. He was followed by several different men until Dr. John McCullough came about 1832 and served for over twenty years.

The earliest church building in Petersburg was the Methodist church erected in 1846. Before then the Methodists met in the house of Calvin Wingart. The Mennonites met in the houses of the members, until in 1835 they built a log meeting-house in Porter Township. The Presbyterians did not build their church until 1854, but undoubtedly worshipped before then. There is an early burial ground near the mouth of Shaver’s Creek, now abandoned.

The dominant industry would have been the iron forge. The forges, scattered throughout Huntingdon County, burned charcoal to make pig iron to be shipped to the cities. At first it was shipped by horse-drawn wagon; later it floated down the Pennsylvania Canal. In 1875 the canal was damaged by a flood of the Juniata and many of the locks and bridges were washed away. By then the railroad was the obvious alternative.

A typical little town with an iron furnace included the mansion of the ironmaster and the modest houses of the workers. “Although the ironmaster was of higher social standing than his workers, all classes mingled freely on the iron plantations, buying goods at the same store and going to church in the same building.” There were different jobs in the forge: the founder (who managed the furnace), blacksmiths, carpenters, fillers (who loaded the charcoal and ore into the furnace), molders or guttermen, colliers (who made the charcoal), woodcutters, miners, teamsters. Since Barney was described only as a forgeman in the census, it is impossible to tell which job he performed.

The forgemen were very competitive. In December 19, 1816 the men of Tyrone Upper Forge proudly reported that they drew 12t. 7c. 1q. 4lbs. of bar iron in the preceding week, even though the forge had only three fires. Mr. Berry, the forge manager, asked the Huntingdon Gazette to publish this for the information of the men of Cove Forge.

Barney married his wife about 1805. Her name is only given in one record: the death certificate of Sarah Zeigler Long in 1910, which was many years after the death of Barney’s wife,  who would not have been personally known to her Long grandchildren. It was given as Fanny Kessler. Fanny may have been an English form of Fronica.

Children of Barney:

Sarah and Barnabus Jr are known to be children of Barney Sr from their death certificates. Jacob is presumed to be another son because he was in Petersburg at the right time, and because Barney Sr was known to have more children. There were other Zeiglers around in Huntingdon County, but none of them seem like a good fit for this family.

 Sarah, b. 1816, d. 1910, m. John C. Long of Williamsburg, Huntingdon County

Jacob, on the tax list for Petersburg from 1847 to 1849, 1 occupation

Barnabas Jr., b. May 14, 1822, d. July 23, 1913, m. 1847 Jane Wright (1829-1881), worked as a steelman.

Barney Junior had an interesting life and a narrow escape from death. Born in 1822 in Petersburg, he became a forgeman like his father. He married Jane Wright in 1847 at Petersburg, by a Methodist minister. He moved to Johnstown before 1860, when he appears in the census with his wife and four children. (They would go on to have two more.) He served in the Civil War, in the 192nd Infantry, which patrolled the Shenandoah Valley but saw no significant fighting. By 1870 Barney was back in Johnstown, the boss in the rolling mill.

In 1889 Barney Jr lived on Fairfield Avenue, Morrellville. This was northwest of the main part of the city, under the slopes of Laurel Hill. When the city directory listing was made, in April/May, there were two people living in the house, presumably Barney and one of his children. (Jane was already dead before then.) Two people were reported as living there after the disastrous flood. Barney survived, and in 1900 he was an inmate in the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie, a home for indigent and disabled veterans. By 1910, Barney Jr. was back in Lower Yoder Township, Cambria County, living with a son-in-law John Yocum and wife Elizabeth, age 56. Barnabus was age 87, widowed. He died in 1913 and is buried in Johnstown with his wife Jane.



Death certificates of Sarah Zeigler Long and Barnabas Zeigler Jr.

Records of the family of Johann Bernard Zeigler of Codorus Township, York County

Census records, 1820-1910

Findagrave records for Barnabus Sr and Jr

Simpson Africa, History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, chapter on Logan Township

History of Mt. Etna Iron Furnace, online (source of the quote on the social classes)

Keith Koch, “Bellefonte—the Iron ‘Plantation’”, Bellefonte Secrets, July 2008, online

Huntingdon Gazette, Dec. 19, 1816, microfilm at Juniata College Library

Tax lists, Petersburg Township, Huntingdon County Historical Society

History of Cambria County, vol. 2, online

John the blacksmith and Sarah the innkeeper

Deep in central Pennsylvania, the lush valley of Morrison’s Cove stretches for twenty miles under the shelter of the mountains. It lies under Tussey Mountain to the east, and Lock and Dunning Mountains to the west. After the Revolution German families moved into the valley, drawn by its fertile soil and numerous streams. This land is far northwest from Philadelphia, so any early farmer who wanted to prosper had to find a market for his produce. In the early 1800s they sent wheat, corn, rye, peaches and apples on wagons over the steep mountain roads to local towns like Huntingdon. Sometimes they made the grains into whiskey or flour and sent by the barrel on wooden flat-bottomed arks down the Juniata River to the Susquehanna and then to Baltimore. The arks floated down the Juniata with the spring freshets and had no way of  navigating back upstream, so they were sold in the city for lumber and had to be rebuilt each spring. These early farmers had to be their own blacksmiths, carpenters and wagon makers in such a remote place.

Then iron ore was discovered in the Huntingdon County valleys and the economy boomed. Iron-masters like the Royers, the Stewarts, and Peter Schoenberger moved in and built iron forges and furnaces. Furnaces burned day and night to convert raw ore into useable iron. The valleys had almost everything the iron-masters needed: iron ore, water power, and expansive forests to provide the charcoal fuel. But it took skilled workers to man the furnaces, so they hired blacksmiths, wagon makers, forgemen—many from Lancaster County. These people brought a new mix to the valley. Many were Scotch-Irish Methodists, unlike the Germans who were often Lutheran or Brethren. Because of the timing, the religion, and the occupation, it is likely that our Long family of Morrison’s Cove were ironworkers.

In 1810 only one Long family was living in the north end of Morrison’s Cove, probably in the little town of Franklin Forge. The family included John Long, his wife, and their five children, two boys and three girls. We know some of the children’s names because the family needed help to pay for their schooling. (In those days the town paid for the education of children between five and twelve years old when their parents could not pay the fees.) In 1811 the town paid for three daughters of John Long – Catherine, Elizabeth, and Mary. The following year only Elizabeth and Mary were listed; perhaps Catherine was too old. In 1815 Daniel Long was on the list, probably a brother of the girls. By 1820 John Long was no longer living in the town. Perhaps he had died and his wife had remarried.  This might have been the family of John C. Long.

In 1811 John C. Long was born in the Cove, as noted in the Bible record made years later by his son David.  We know that he was a Methodist because my grandmother remembered stories about him. (The iron masters approved of the Methodist church because it kept the men from drinking too much and missing work. The keepers of the local stores disapproved because it kept the men from buying their whiskey.) We know he was a blacksmith from the 1850 census record. The iron masters employed many blacksmiths, who repaired the tools and furnace parts and shoed the horses and mules that plodded back and forth day and night carrying the iron ore, fuel, and finished pig iron. This was a skilled, specialized trade, and a blacksmith could make as much as $400 a year. Given the large family he was to have, John would need a good salary to support them.

In about 1832, when he was about 21 years old, John married Sarah Zeigler, the daughter of Barney and Fanny Zeigler. She lived in Petersburg, about 18 miles up the Juniata River. This was a full day’s journey over the abysmal roads of the time, “hardly more than broad paths through the forest”, so how did John meet Sarah? If he was working for the iron masters, as seems likely, they moved their workers around as needed. John might have been sent to Petersburg for a time, to work in the forge there. Barney was already there, supporting his family by working in the Petersburg forge. He was a German, probably born in York County, who moved up to Petersburg and raised his family there. (His son Barney Junior, also a forgeman, later moved to Johnstown and survived the great flood with his wife.)

John and Sarah married, settled in Franklin Forge, Woodberry Township, and started their family, one that eventually grew to twelve children, including three sets of twins. One of his sons followed John into the blacksmithing trade, while others were farmers, a stone mason, and a wagon maker. Some of the children stayed close to home, never moving more than twenty miles away, while others moved west into Kansas and Iowa. John must have been a good father; three of his sons named their first son John.

John and Sarah rented a house in Franklin Forge, far from her Ziegler family across Tussey Mountain. Who supported her during her frequent cycles of pregnancy and childbirth? Perhaps it was fellow members of the Methodist church in nearby Woodberry. Founded in 1800, it first met in the house of Jacob Akely, then in a brick church built in 1831. In 1841 John Long was listed as an exhorter; was this our John? The exhorters were not trained ministers and did not preach a sermon; they led the prayer services and encouraged people to lead godly lives.

Through the 1840s and 1850s John worked as a blacksmith, while Sarah kept the house and raised the children. The people who lived around them were a mixed group – carpenters, fence makers, laborers, farmers, boatmen, Daniel Royer the wealthy iron master, forgemen, teamsters, lock tenders. The laborers lived in modest houses, valued at $400 or so, while the wealthy farmers owned property worth thousands of dollars.

The boatmen and lock tenders were there because of the Pennsylvania Canal, which was built in the early 1830s. After the Erie Canal was finished in 1825, Pennsylvania feared it was losing business to New York, so the legislature authorized the construction of a series of canals to open up the center of the state for safer and cheaper transportation. The Juniata Branch of the canal had 86 locks and 25 aqueducts, ran parallel to the Juniata River between the Susquehanna and Huntingdon, then merged with the river west of Huntingdon. The canal boosted the economy for a while, but the canal era was short-lived, as the railroads made them obsolete by the 1850s. Each generation saw an innovation in transportation. While John’s sons became blacksmiths or wagon-makers, his grandsons were more likely to work for the railroads.

In the fall of 1860 or the spring of 1861 John and Sarah left the valley of Morrison’s Cove and moved across Tussey Mountain to Porter Township, Huntingdon County. They had six children still at home, and Sarah was pregnant with her third set of twins! It must have been a difficult move for her. Since the Juniata Iron Works was in nearby Alexandria, John might have been transferred by his employer. But it’s also possible that at age 50, John was getting too old to be a blacksmith. By the 1870 census he was listed as a farmer, owning his own land, with four children still at home. On December 11, 1878, three days before he died, John made his will. He left everything to Sarah, after her death to be equally divided among the children. He stipulated that if any of the children stayed home to care for Sarah they could keep an account of their expenses and charge these to the estate. This would encourage them to take care of her, since it would not count against their share.

John’s death left Sarah a widow, with a farm that she owned free and clear. Three of her sons – Abraham, Samuel and Wesley – had left for the Midwest and had families of their own. Her son Robert stayed on with her for a while to run the farm, while her daughter Jennie also lived with her. Sarah would survive John by over thirty years. She found a way to support herself and her family by opening a boarding house with her daughters Sarah and Jennie. The property, called the Park House Inn, was on the road northwest to Tyrone. It was a well-known local establishment. After Sarah died in 1910 at the age of 94, it was run for years by the two daughters.

John and Sarah are buried together at the Methodist cemetery in Alexandria, Porter Township. I have an old, yellowed picture that is probably of Sarah. Her hair is parted in the middle and pulled tightly back. She is wearing a dark dress with a high ruffled collar. Her protruding ears and square jaw line would be passed down to several of her grandchildren. Although her face is wrinkled with age, she is smiling at the camera, and at us.


John C. Long, b. 1811, Morrison’s Cove, Huntingdon County, m. Sarah Zeigler about 1832, died Dec. 14, 1878 in Porter Township, Huntingdon County, buried in Alexandria.

Sarah Zeigler, b. Nov 16, 1816, m. John C. Long about 1832, died Oct. 29, 1910 in Porter Township, Huntingdon County, buried in Alexandria.

Children of John and Sarah:

Abraham, b. Nov. 1832, d. 1908 in Jasper County, Iowa, m. Nancy Pursell, moved to Iowa, farmed there, named his oldest son John.

Joseph H, b. 1834, d. 1864 of injuries sustained in the Civil War, m. Caroline Snare [Note: some discrepancies in the census records for him.]

Elizabeth, b. ab. 1837, alive in 1850, no further record

William, b. ab. 1841, alive in 1850, no further record

Wesley Howe, a twin, b. Sept. 30, 1845, d. 1926 in Atchison Kansas, m. Lucy Boals about 1871, moved to Iowa, then Kansas, worked as a blacksmith. Had sons John and Bert.

Emaline, a twin, b. Sept. 30, 1845, alive in 1860, no further record

David, a twin, b. Nov. 13, 1849, d. 1932 in Tyrone, Blair County, m. 1882 Mary Elizabeth Huston. A wagon maker,  named his son John.

Sarah, a twin, b. Nov. 1849, d. age 91 on Sept. 14, 1940, unmarried, kept the Park House Inn at Alfarata Park, d. there, buried at Alexandria Presbyterian Cemetery

Samuel, b. Oct. 1851, m. Lydia Emma, lived in Iowa, Oregon, and Florida, a blacksmith and truck farmer, died in 1942 in Florida

Jane, b. Dec. 1856, unmarried, d. 1929 in Porter Township, buried at Alexandria Presbyterian Cemetery

Robert H., b. July 7, 1860 in Franklin Forge, a farmer, m. Katherine Riley, d. March 17, 1939 in Porter Township, buried at Alexandria Presbyterian Cemetery

Oliver A., b. July 7, 1860, d. in Alexandria on March 31, 1951; m. Mary Brandt, she died January 26, 1924 from a copperhead bite, both buried at Alexandria Presbyterian Cemetery

Note: In the census record of 1910, Sarah Zeigler Long said she had borne 13 children, of whom seven were alive. There is one missing from this list, who must have died before 1910.



Wiley & Garner, Biographical & Portrait Cyclopedia of Blair County

Federal census 1800 to 1940

Tax lists, in J. Simpson Africa, History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties

Isenberg family website

“Furnaces and forges”, PAGenWeb for Blair County

Keith Koch, “Bellefonte—The Iron Plantation”, Bellefonte Secrets, July 2008

Pennsylvania v. Espy, Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas ruling

Obituary of Sarah Zeigler Long

Will of John C. Long

Family Bible of David Long, son of John and Sarah


Ancestry Family Trees

Research by Mimi Reed, Huntingdon County Historical Society

James Huston and Mary Grey

James Huston and Mary Grey were lucky to leave Ireland a few years before the start of the potato famine. They made their way to the rolling hills of Huntingdon County, which must have reminded them of the hills around Plumbridge and Gortin. There they married and started a family. Although they were not wealthy, they had enough money to invest in land out west in Illinois. Their luck perhaps ran out when James died when the youngest child was only two, leaving Mary to cope alone.

James was born around 1810 in Parish Bodoney, Tyrone County, Ireland, according to a record in the family Bible of his son-in-law David Long. Mary was supposedly from the same place. Perhaps they knew each other before immigrating. They came before 1844, and missed the start of the potato famine when the blight struck in September 1845. They were part of a large Scotch-Irish emigration to Pennsylvania which flowed continuously since the 1700s and provided many of the settlers of central Pennsylvania.

James and Mary were Protestants, and were married on May 4, 1844 in McConnelstown, a small town in Huntingdon County. They soon moved to Woodberry Township, Blair County, just across Tussey Mountain from McConnelstown, where James worked as a weaver. Did he work at the large woolen mill in Williamsburg there? They had two children by 1850, and soon added more. By 1860 they have moved to Walker Township, Huntingdon County, where they were farming.

James died on December 21, 1862; he was only 52. He was buried at McConnelstown Cemetery. Mary did not remarry, but lived with her oldest son Robert, a laborer. As the children grew older they scattered, and none stayed in Walker Township. Of the seven, only the two girls were known to have married, suggesting that the sons did not earn enough money to support a family.  Thomas, the twin brother of Elizabeth Huston Long, ended up in Mercer County, Illinois. When James died, the guardian of his estate petitioned the court for permission to sell real estate in Mercer County in order to settle the estate. Thomas would have been too young to buy that property, but perhaps there were other family connections that led him to settle there. The name Huston is too common among Irish immigrants to be sure.

Mary lived in Walker Township until 1885, when she was about 67. Then she moved in with her daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law David Long in Tyrone, when she lived until her death on March 16, 1892. She was buried in Tyrone cemetery, but apparently has no tombstone there.


James Huston, born about 1810 in Parish Bodoney, Tyrone County, Ireland; immigrated before May 1844; married Mary Grey on May 4, 1844 in McConnelstown, Walker Township, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania; died December 21, 1862; buried at McConnelstown Cemetery

Mary Grey, born about 1817 in Tyrone County, Ireland; married James Huston on May 4, 1844; died March 16, 1892 in Tyrone, Blair County, Pennsylvania; buried in Tyrone Cemetery (Grandview)

Children of James and Mary:

Catherine, b. June 21, 1846, died unmarried in Huntingdon in 1900

Robert, b. 1848, unmarried in 1880, living in the “far west” in 1892

Thomas, born Oct. 20, 1851 (a twin), living in Walker Township in 1870, in Alexis, Illinois in 1923, a miller, apparently unmarried; from his picture he had a rakish mustache.

Mary Elizabeth, born Oct. 20, 1851 (a twin), died May 25, 1923, married 1882 David Long, lived in Tyrone, Blair County; buried there

John, born 1853, no further definite record

James, b. 1856, living in Walker township in 1870, a stone mason, died before 1892 (possibly 1884)

Martha, “Mattie”, b. 1860, married Horace Caldwell about 1889, lived in Wilmerding, Allegheny County. Had a daughter Catherine who became a foster daughter to Elizabeth and David Long. Mattie died in 1905 in Joliet, Illinois.



Family Bible of David Long

Federal census records 1850 to 1880

Huntingdon County Orphans Court Dockets, on Ancestry

Huntingdon County marriages and deaths, Huntingdon County Historical Society card file

Tyrone Daily Herald, March 17, 1892 and 1923, on Ancestry

Pennsylvania Dept. of Health Death Certificates

Findagrave, Huntingdon County

Clark, History of Blair County

Township map of Walker Township, 1873, on the USGenWeb site

Burial records for McConnellstown, Huntingdon County PAGenWeb site







Elizabeth Huston Long

Known as “Elizabeth”, Mary Elizabeth Huston was a twin, the middle child of seven, in a family that immigrated from Ireland before the potato famine. The family was relatively poor, and only two of the seven children grew up to marry. She herself only had two children, a relatively small family for the time, but she had a comfortable life as the wife of a respected citizen of Tyrone.

She was born in 1851 in McConnellstown, a small town in the rolling countryside of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Her parents had moved there from Woodberry Township, Blair County, where her father James had worked as a weaver, possibly in the woolen mill in Williamsburg. In McConnellstown he made a living as a farmer, while raising his family. When Elizabeth was a teenager she went to work as a servant in the household of Charles Hamer, close to where her family lived. Another nearby family was that of John C. Long, a former blacksmith who turned to farming, and whose son David would grow up to marry Elizabeth. Before they were married, David went west to Kansas and Nebraska and used his carpentry skills to build bridges, while Elizabeth worked as a servant in the household of Charles Hatfield, a dry goods merchant in Alexandria who had two small daughters. In October 1882 David was back and he and Elizabeth were married in McConnellstown.

They soon moved to Tyrone, and David went into business for himself as a wagon maker. He built a house on South Lincoln Avenue, and they started their family with the birth of Mary Ella in September 1883, followed in 1887 by the birth of John Warren. David and Elizabeth later took in a niece, Catherine Huston, the daughter of Elizabeth’s sister Mattie Caldwell. Catherine became a foster daughter to them, and probably lived with them until her marriage.

Elizabeth was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Tyrone. She died in May 1923, suddenly of a heart ailment, leaving her husband David and the children to survive her. She was buried at Eastlawn Cemetery in Tyrone, where David would be buried next to her less than ten years later.


Mary Elizabeth Huston, born Oct. 20, 1851, Woodberry Township, Blair County, married David Long, October 26, 1882, died May 25, 1923, buried at Tyrone.

Children of David and Mary Elizabeth:

Mary Ella Long, born Sept. 12, 1883 in Tyrone, married Emerson F. Wade on May 26, 1908 at Alfarata, died Oct 13, 1925 at Pottstown, Chester County. Had five sons with Emerson Wade.

John Warren Long, born July 11, 1887, married Ada LaPorte on Oct 30, 1913 in Philadelphia, worked as a clerk for the Pennsylvania Railroad, lived in Tyrone, died Aug 21, 1943. Had four sons with Ada LaPorte.

Catherine Elizabeth Caldwell (foster daughter), born May 18, 1900, in Wilmerding, Allegheny County, daughter of Samuel “Horace” and Mattie (Huston) Caldwell, married Hubert Woodring in 1919 in Cumberland, Maryland. Catherine apparently died young, between 1923 and 1932.



Recollections of Ada L. Long and Harry H. Long

Letter from John W. Long to Mary Ella Wade, June 26, 1923.

Family Bible of David Long.

Federal census records, 1870 to 1930.

Obituary of Mary Gray Huston, Tyrone Daily Herald, March 17, 1892.

Obituary of Elizabeth Huston Long, on Ancestry.

Obituary of David Long, on Ancestry.

Pennsylvania Department of Health death certificates.

Huntingdon County Marriages, Huntingdon County Historical Society

David Long the wagon maker

When David Long died at the age of 82, he had been a respected citizen of Tyrone, Blair County, for over fifty years. After his adventure in the west as a young man, building bridges, he came back to Pennsylvania to marry a local girl, settle down, and start a family. But he enjoyed telling about his experience in the west for years afterward.

David was born in Franklin Forge, Huntingdon County, on November 13, 1849. He had a twin sister Sarah and at least ten other sisters and brothers (and one robust mother, Sarah Zeigler). His father John C. Long was a blacksmith, who probably worked in the iron forge at Franklin Forge. Sarah Zeigler’s father Barney was also a forgeman.

When David was eleven years old his family moved to Porter Township, Huntingdon County, across Tussey Mountain from Franklin Forge. His father took up farming there, close to the Huston family of the widow Mary and some of her children. Perhaps this is when David met Elizabeth. By 1870, when he was in his teens, David was apprenticed to a coach-maker, Joseph Piper. David lived with the Piper family in Alexandria, a small town on the road from Huntingdon to Tyrone, on the Juniata River. At the same time, in 1870, Elizabeth Huston, his future wife, was working as a servant in the household of George Hamer in Alexandria.

David was apparently not ready to settle down to a life building carriages. He headed west and spent some time as a carpenter building bridges in Kansas and Nebraska. He did not stay there, but came back to his family and to Elizabeth. They were married in 1882 at Huntingdon by a Methodist minister. They moved to Tyrone, where David built a house on South Lincoln Avenue and set up in business as a wagon maker. They started their family, with a daughter Mary Ella born in 1883 and a son John Warren born in 1887. They attended the Methodist Church. In 1892 Elizabeth’s mother Mary died; she was living with them at the time of her death. Around  1900 they took in a niece, Catherine Caldwell, the daughter of Elizabeth’s sister Mattie, who died in 1905. Catherine became a foster daughter for them, and probably lived with them until her marriage to Hubert Woodring.

When John was married, in 1913, David built an adjoining house for John and his family. David lived in the house down the hill, while John lived up the hill. They later swapped, since the lower house had more land for a garden (useful for John’s family of four sons).

By 1920 David worked as a mechanic, transferring his skills as automobiles supplanted horse drawn wagons in Tyrone. He was still in business for himself. In 1923 Elizabeth died suddenly of heart failure. David stayed in his house, eating most of his meals with John’s family. If he did not come down, they sent food up to him. He also stayed close to his sister Sarah, and spent several months with her before he died. (She never married and kept the Park House Inn at Alfarata Park, up the road from Alexandria.) David died in August 1932, and was buried with Elizabeth at Eastlawn Cemetery in Tyrone. His obituary called him a quiet, unassuming, home-loving man, who “took particular pride in relating his experiences” in the west.


David Long, born November 13, 1849, Franklin Forge, Blair County, married Mary Elizabeth Huston Oct. 24, 1882 at Huntingdon, died August 7, 1932, buried at Tyrone.

Mary Elizabeth Huston, born Oct. 20, 1851, Woodberry Township, Blair County, married David Long 1882, died May 25, 1923, buried at Tyrone.

Children of David and Mary Elizabeth:

Mary Ella Long, born Sept. 12, 1883 in Tyrone, married Emerson F. Wade on May 26, 1908 at Alfarata, died Oct 13, 1925 at Pottstown, Chester County. Had five sons with Emerson Wade.

John Warren Long, born July 11, 1887, married Ada LaPorte on Oct 30, 1913 in Philadelphia, worked as a clerk for the Pennsylvania Railroad, lived in Tyrone, died Aug 21, 1943. Had four sons with Ada LaPorte.

Catherine Elizabeth Caldwell (foster daughter), born May 18, 1900, in Wilmerding, Allegheny County, daughter of Samuel “Horace” and Mattie (Huston) Caldwell, married Hubert Woodring in 1919 in Cumberland, Maryland. Catherine apparently died young, between 1923 and 1932.



Recollections of Ada L. Long and Harry H. Long

Letter from John W. Long to Mary Ella Wade, June 26, 1923.

Family Bible of David Long.

Federal census records, 1870 to 1930.

Obituary of Mary Gray Huston, Tyrone Daily Herald, March 17, 1892.

Obituary of Elizabeth H. Long, on Ancestry.

Obituary of Sarah Elizabeth Long, 1940.

Obituary of David Long, on Ancestry.

Pennsylvania Department of Health death certificates.

Huntingdon County Marriages, Huntingdon County Historical Society