Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thomas Haggerty: A perspective of the early 1800's in Butler, County

Thomas Haggerty, my 5th great grandfather, and his family are included in the History of Butler County, Pennsylvania. With illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. The excerpts featuring the many challenges the family faced are included below. 

Chapter XXXIII: Donegal, Page 309

Some of the first settlers had no sheep, hogs or stock, other than their horses, and their poverty was painful. Mr. Haggerty became the possessor of two sheep, in which he took great pride, and in order to protect them from the bears and wolves they were securely penned up each night. One day he saw a wolf stealthily approach his sheep, and made all due haste to save them, but too late, for the crafty wolf killed one of them before he could get to it, and this loss, trivial as it may now appear, was then severely felt.

Chapter XXXIII: Donegal, Page 311

Daniel Slater settled in Donegal in quite an early day. His wife, Mary, now lives with her son Frank on the old homestead. Peter McKeever (now deceased) located on the farm in this township now occupied by his son John. Thomas Haggerty came from Donegal, Ireland, with his wife and three children and lived in Delaware. He afterward moved to Westmoreland County, and his wife having died, he married Anna McNealy. John, one of the sons of the first wife, lived in this county. About 1798, Thomas Haggerty and his family came to this township. He carried a bucket of dishes in his hand and walked, leading behind him an old horse, which carried his two small boys, John and James, in a bag, one on each side of the horse, and their heads protruding from the bags. Mrs. Haggerty walked, driving a cow and carrying in her arms her baby and the rim of her spinning wheel. The child thus brought here is still living. She is now Mrs. Rebecca Mehan, and is in the eighty-fifth year of her age. After coming here, Mr. Haggerty worked at Mason's furnace in winter to support his family, and the wife and small children were left alone in the woods. Panthers often cried about their lonely dwelling, and Mrs. Haggerty kept them off by waving fire brands. Mrs. Mehan, when a small child, was bitten by a rattlesnake and came near dying. She was unconscious for several days and sick for a month. Another time, she and her brother were chased by wolves, which they kept off with clubs. Two of the boys, Thomas and Archie, were in the woods one day, and Thomas, who was standing on a hollow log, felt the motion of something in the log. He went to the end of the log and discharged the contents of his gun into it. A fierce she-wolf came out and made for his throat, and would have killed him had not Archie came up and cut the beast open with his knife. At another time, the boys caught a cub, which they tamed and kept until it became so cross it had to be killed. Thomas Haggerty was the father of thirteen children by his second wife. Ten of them reached mature years. One of the sons, Thomas, married Catharine Higgins and reared a large family. He kept hotel in Pittsburgh and Lawrenceburg. In 1852, he moved back to the old farm in this township, where he died in 1877.

It was only by exercising the greatest diligence that Mr. Haggerty procured enough to sustain his family. Only one of his children, Mrs. John Mehan, now resides in the county, her home being with her daughter Nancy (Broomfield), and there now live in this house the representatives of four generations. The mind of Mrs. Mehan appears perfectly clear, especially on things pertaining to pioneer days. She in common with other women of her time, reaped wheat with a sickle, split rails and in fact performed all manual labor on her father’s farm. She distinctly recalls the time when such a thing as a fanning mill was unknown, and the process of cleaning wheat was called "riddling." The riddle or sieve, was made of deer skin, or tough bark cut in suitable slips for this purpose. It required the services of two persons to "riddle" wheat, one to shake it through the "riddle" while another fanned away the chaff with a sheet. The cloth manufactured by women was colored with plum, cherry, and other bark. It was no uncommon thing for people to attend church barefooted. Moccasins were much used. One pair of shoes per year, costing $1.25, was all that many could afford; still "frolics" and dances were frequent. Among the old fiddlers was John Wortman.

Chapter XXXIII: Donegal, Page 323

In 1867, he married Mrs. Ellen J. Griffin, widow of John Griffin, who died in 1863. By her first marriage she had four children—Frances A.. Mary L., Elizabeth A. and Catherine E., all living. The children of Mr. and Mrs. Brownfield are William A. who died when eighteen months old, Martha E., Margaret C. Olive M. .James H. and John E. Mrs. Brownfield is a daughter of Thomas Haggerty, whose father. Thomas Haggerty, was one of the first settlers of Donegal Township, and had his full share of the difficult experiences of those who began life in the woods of Butler County previous to the year 1800.

  1. Waterman, Watkins & Co. (1883). History of Butler County, Pennsylvania. With illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. Chicago, IL: Waterman, Watkins & Co. Available here to download:

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