I theorize that the Indian Trader John Owens may have been the earliest gunsmith in what is now Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He was a gunsmith for the Indian Affairs Department in 1761 at Fort Pitt. 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. Based on the On April 3, 1769 deed quoted below, he was living at Turkey Foot in 1755 (at the outset of the French and Indian War) when he was driven away. In addition to losing smith tools, iron, and steel at an undisclosed location, John Owens lost 12 horses and a canoe at Monongela, lost 9 horses and a canoe at Logstown, lost one horse at the Murdering Town, and lost a small fortune in furs that were owed to him by the various Indians who had trading accounts with him.
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 — " Braddock's defeat occurred on July 9, 1755. The existence of two log houses and several acres of cleared ground planted with corn suggest that he took up residence there prior to 1755, which seems to make him one of the first settlers in what is now Somerset County, PA. Annette Kapple's 2019 book "John Owens I Indian Trader, and family" reports that George Croghan added a statement to the deed verifying John Owens' signature and verifying that John Owens once lived at the forks of Youghiogheny (i.e., Turkey Foot).
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.
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.
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. Kapple's 2019 book reports that the 1769 deed was recorded in Bedford County in 1783, which is long after the formation of Westmoreland County. This means the deed did not pertain to property within the original extent of Westmoreland County, including what became present-day Fayette County. Since the deed pertained to Turkey Foot property, the property had to be located in the western part of Bedford County that became Somerset County.
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.
The 1769 deed from John Owens to William Smith may be 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. Nevertheless, based on the 1783 recordation date, logic dictates that Owens' Turkey Foot property was somewhere within the part of Bedford County then known as Turkey Foot that became part of Somerset County in 1795.
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.
The following 1769 deposition of John Owens reports "That sometime on or about the year 1744 he was present at Loggs Town..." The most likely route to Logstown from eastern Pennsylvania involved the Raystown Path, which passed through the territory of present-day Bedford County and Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
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. Gunsmithing services were ordered performed for the Indians at the treaty, and John Owens may have been involved with that activity. He is the only attendee of the treaty who I can identify as a gunsmith.
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, 1756 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.
Conclusion: Based on the information presented above, I suspect that the frontier gunsmith and Indian trader John Owens may have been the earliest gunsmith within the confines of what is now Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
See the Gunsmith Index, which provides links to extensive information about early Somerset and Bedford county gunsmiths and the guns they built.
See the Korns family genealogy home page