This is an excerpt from the 1755 Fry and Jefferson map. It shows the names of just a few of the many settlers who were living in the general neighborhood of Wills Creek before the French and Indian War. The names of many other Wills Creek area settlers have been discovered through the study of contemporaneous surveys, letters, legislation, court records, etc. Many of the early settlers were massacred by roving Native American war parties.
Lowdermilk's book says very little about the settlement of the Wills Creek area
William H. Lowdermilk's 1878 book "History of Cumberland, (Maryland)" has long been considered the definitive study of the Allegany County town of Cumberland, Maryland, which is located at the mouth of Wills Creek on the North Branch of the Potomac River. Since the history of the town traces back to a British military installation named Fort Cumberland that was constructed during the French and Indian War, Lowdermilk's book covers that topic in significant detail. It also covers the local activities of the Ohio Company of Virginia, which had a storehouse at the mouth of Wills Creek on the opposite (i.e.; Virginia) side of the river. The Ohio Company and their storehouse helped to put Wills Creek on the map, both literally and figuratively.
What Lowdermilk's book does not do is detail the settlement of the Wills Creek area before the founding of the town of Cumberland in the mid-1780s. It briefly mentions Pontiac's War, and then states, "The restoration of peace, and the feeling of security resulting therefrom, led many persons from the Eastern counties to settle in this section of the country. From what is now Frederick county came most of the early settlers about Fort Cumberland, nearly all of them being emigrants from Germany and England. Settlements sprung up at Fort Cumberland, Oldtown, on George's Creek, and at points further west." This statement is overlooked by many readers of Lowdermilk's book, leaving them with the impression that not-much happened settlement-wise in the Wills Creek area before the founding of the town of Cumberland.
Wills Creek history: A book about the settlement of the Wills Creek area
Lowdermilk's gap in the history of Cumberland and its environs has now been filled by Lannie Dietle's 982-page two-volume book "Fort Cumberland". Mr. Dietle reports that the primary objective of writing the book was, "to present the history of the environs of Fort Cumberland prior to the formal establishment of the town — including settlement activity prior to and during the French and Indian war." In other words, to cover the settlement of the Wills Creek area. The secondary objective was "to expand beyond Lowdermilk's Cumberland-centric look at the French and Indian war and examine the chain of events that brought war to Wills Creek from a broader perspective."
In defining the geographic scope of his book, Mr. Dietle wrote, "As a military post, as a transportation hub, and as a nascent commercial center, the influence of Fort Cumberland covered a wide area — its de-facto neighbors including settlers as far west as Turkeyfoot, and at least as far east as Old Town. Since Fort Cumberland was located at one of the narrowest points of the state, a study of its environs necessarily includes nearby parts of neighboring Virginia (now West Virginia) and Pennsylvania."
In its 43 pages, Chapter 4 of Mr. Dietle's book provides documentary evidence showing that the area near the eventual site of Fort Cumberland was populated before the French and Indian War and traces local civilian activity up until 1754, identifying many of the first settlers by name. Chapter 5 traces the origin of the French and Indian War to events deep in the Ohio country, fulfilling the secondary objective of the book.
Beginning with the year 1754, local history — civilian and military — is covered by individual chapters on a year-by-year basis ending with the year 1786. In general, the book shows that the general neighborhood of Wills Creek was settled prior to the French and Indian War. During the war, the population declined precipitously due to Indian depredation-related murders, abductions, and families fleeing the area. After that chilling look at massacres near Wills Creek, the book then provides information relating to the post-war recovery and expansion of the Wills Creek area settlement, which led to conditions that were conducive to the founding of the town of Cumberland. Click here to examine the Table of Contents of Volume 1. Click here to examine the Table of Contents of Volume 2.
The "Fort Cumberland" book explores settlement of the Wills Creek area before the French and Indian War. It also explores the complex factors leading to the French and Indian War and the military history, war-related devastation, and post-war recovery of the Wills Creek area. The utilization of Fort Cumberland during Pontiac's War and the Revolutionary War is also covered in detail. The book, which is available in print and Kindle format, is sold by the Allegany County Historical Society, which receives all proceeds.
Lannie Dietle's "Fort Cumberland" book breaks new ground with its study of the pre-1785 settlement of the Wills Creek area. Learn about the early frontiersmen and frontier women of Western Maryland — order today!