John Owens: First Somerset County, Pennsylvania gunsmith?

I theorize that the Indian Trader John Owens was the earliest gunsmith in what is now Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He was a gunsmith for the Indian Affairs Department in 1761 at Fort Pitt.[1] The April 26, 1756 list of goods that he lost when driven from the waters of the Ohio River by the French and their allied Indians includes smith tools, iron, and steel.[2] Based on the On April 3, 1769 deed quoted below, he was living at Turkey Foot in 1755 when he was driven away.

The October 7, 1763 Royal Proclamation on North America generally prohibited settlement on the waters of the Ohio, and Pontiac's Rebellion made settlement there extremely dangerous. A harsh law on the subject was passed on February 3, 1768, and enforcement was attempted. During the Fort Stanwix treaty, also known as the "Purchase of 1768", the Six Nations granted a vast amount of land to the Crown. On February 23, 1769, the Land Office of Pennsylvania announced that it was opening lands west of the Allegheny Mountain for sale commencing April 3, 1769.

On April 3, 1769 John Owens signed a deed transferring improvement rights for a piece of land at Turkey Foot to the land speculator Reverend Dr. William Smith. A manuscript copy of the deed states, "Annexed by Geo: Bryan, — I do hereby declare that before Braddocks — Defeat I had Built two good Log houses & lived at a Place called the Turkey foot or 3 Forks of Yohiogeny & that I had cleared considerably and had several Acres of Indian Corn in the Ground at Braddocks Defeat when I was driven away from the said Place, & that I have & do here — by convey my Right of Improvement at the said Turkey foot to Rev.d Dr. W.m Smith of Philad.a for a a (sic) satisfactory Consideration rec.d this — 3d Day of April 1769 — "

The article "Provost William Smith and his land investments in Pennsylvania" in Volume VIII of "Pennsylvania History", (July 1941) identifies Owens' deed to Smith as Bedford County Deed A-509, but a manuscript version of the deed (quoted above) has "0502A" written on it. To be filed as a Bedford County deed, it seems like it would have been recorded after Bedford County was formed in 1771. The date of recording may provide additional insight regarding the location of the property. If the property were within the present bounds of Fayette County, the deed probably would not have been filed in Bedford County after Westmoreland County was formed from Bedford County, or after Fayette County was formed from Westmoreland County (see formation dates below).

In the mid-1700s, the name Turkey Foot referred to the general region surrounding the place where the Somerset County town of Confluence is now located. This means the deed could theoretically pertain to property in either present-day Somerset-County, Pennsylvania or Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

Bedford County was formed from part of Cumberland County in 1771, Westmoreland County was formed from part of Bedford County in 1773, Fayette County was formed from part of Westmoreland County in 1783, and the western part of Somerset County was formed from part of Bedford County in 1795. Based on these formation dates, I searched Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Bedford county warrant registers for early William Smith surveys.

In Westmoreland County there was an October 31, 1774 survey (Book A-27, Page 43) for property that was "...Situate on the Waters of Conemaugh adjoining land of Garret Pendergrass including his Improvement..." Although it is interesting that William Smith obtained property of the Indian Trader Pendergrass, the property was not in the Turkeyfoot region.

In Westmoreland County, there also was a June 21, 1774 survey (Book Y Page 99) for property on a "Northerly Branch of a Large Run that empties into Plumb Creek..." The referenced Plumb Creek is probably the one in what was then Armstrong Township.

I reviewed all the other William Smith surveys in old Westmoreland County that I could find. I eliminated them as candidates to be the property John Owens deeded to William Smith because the properties were far from the town of Confluence.

On August 9, 1774 William Smith warranted two properties on Laurel Hill Creek below the mouth of Lost Run (now Lost Creek), in what is now Middlecreek Township, Somerset County. One was surveyed on February 2, 1775 (C-183 Page 245) and the other was surveyed on February 14, 1775 (C-204 Page 77). Copies of these surveys are included below, along with a copy of the Middlecreek Township W.P.A. Survey map that shows where the properties are located. Middlecreek Township was formed from Milford Township in 1853, and Milford Township was formed from Turkeyfoot Township in 1780.

By the process of deduction, since there are no William Smith Surveys in old Westmoreland County near Turkey Foot, then the 1769 deed from John Owens to William Smith is probably for one of the two William Smith properties on Laurel Hill Creek in what is now Middlecreek Township. Those surveys are close enough to the site of present-day Confluence to have been referred to as being at Turkey Foot in the 1755 to 1769 timeframe. For example, George Washington's May 18, 1754 letter to Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie describes Ohiopyle falls (which is about ten miles from Confluence) as "at the Turkey Foot".

Someday, I would like to examine the warrants for the two properties on Laurel Hill Creek to see if either one mentions John Owens. I would also like to examine William Smith's Bedford County Deed A-413 to see if it has any relevant content.

1. Volume V of "The Papers of Henry Bouquet" (1984).
2. "The Ohio company papers, 1753-1817, being primarily papers of the 'Suffering traders' of Pennsylvania" (1947).

The locations of the preceding surveys are shown on the following portion of the Middlecreek W.P.A. survey map. The mouth of Lost Creek is at 39.94734170732124, -79.26742131443821, which is 10.46 miles north-northeast of the mouth of Laurel Hill Creek at Confluence, Pennsylvania.

Incidents from the life of John Owens

As I find information on the life of John Owens, I will add it below.

The following 1769 deposition of John Owens reports "That sometime on or about the year 1744 he was present at Loggs Town..."

1747-1748: The following item is from Volume II of the Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, and identifies John Owen as an unlicensed trader in the 1747-1748 timeframe.

1751: The following excerpt from Volume 5 of "Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania" documents John Owens as an attendee of the Logstown Treaty:

1754: The following excerpt from Volume 6 of "Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania" documents John Owens attending a 1754 Indian conference at Aughwick:

1756: The following excerpt from the July 26, 1856 issue of the "Pennsylvania Gazette" indicates that the wife of John Owens was an Indian. The article is also included in the August 5, 1756 issue of the "Maryland Gazette" newspaper.

1756: When compared to the preceding excerpt, the following excerpt from the 1846 book "The History and Topography of Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, Bedford, Adams, and Perry Counties" indicates that John Owens' wife was the daughter of the Half King, who was a stalwart friend of the English.

1758: The following excerpt is from Volume II of "The Papers of Henry Bouquet" (1951).

Undated: The following excerpt is from "The Papers of Henry Bouquet", Series 21655 (1943).

1761: The following excerpt from the 1898 book "Standard History of Pittsburg" shows that John Owen was a resident of Pittsburgh in 1761.

1761: According to page 413 in Volume V of "The Papers of Henry Bouquet" (1984), John Owens was listed as a member of the militia in the lower town at Fort Pitt on June 30, 1761, and he was also a gunsmith for the Indian Affairs Department that year at Fort Pitt.

1764: According to a table of correspondence in Volume VI of "The Papers of Henry Bouquet" (1994), Henry Bouquet wrote an order at Lancaster on December 28, 1764 for John Owens to be paid for blacksmithing.

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