African-American Settlement in Cambria County

This Settlement was founded in the late 1790's by Edinborough Smith and William Harshberger - whose families have called the Johnstown Area home for over 200 years.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chapter 1 - Browns Farm - Johnstown - Lower Yoder Township


There are so many elements that help make up the story of Brown's Farm. From where it's located - 2600 feet up along the Cambria/Westmoreland County border - to the story of the families that called this part of the mountain home. It's a 150 years in the making, from the time of Presidents George Washington to beginning of the Nuclear Age with Harry Truman.

The site draws you in and you can't help wanting to go back again and again to explore the hundreds of acres now being reclaimed by the forest. Everytime I go there I see something different. Some call it  'the top of the world' which is a good match of name considering it's location.
The old farmstead (you are looking up towards where the house was) formed part of what eventually became known as Laurel Hill Settlement, an area settled by some of the first African-American families in Cambria County.  This photo is looking down from where the house was towards the old cemetery.
There used to be an easier trek up to the farmstead. But erosion, the water table and time has taken a toll on the main road that heads directly up there. Part of the road itself (Mountain Road) has been around since at least 1774. In the 1920's and 1930's parts of the road were used for the Johnstown-New Florence Highway. I believe it's no accident that the first African-American settler Edinburg Smith built his home here given that the Mountain Road was one of the only direct links in and out of the Johnstown Area (except for the rivers) in the late 1700's and early 1800's.
The following is taken from Frontier Forts of Western Pennsylvania, Volume II. In this brief excerpt is an early mention of  'Mountian Road' in regards to the murder of a friendly Delaware Indian killed at the mouth of Hinkston Run (opening at the old Mill Gate) in what is now Cambria City.

"In reference to the killing of John [Joseph] Wipey, Gen. Arthur St. Clair's statement is in entire accord with the fact of the Indian being killed. It is not above eighteen miles, perhaps but fifteen by the old Mountain Road, from the mouth of Laurel Run (Tanneryville), which is located about a mile and a half from Hinckston's Run [to Ligonier]. The old road, known as the Fairfield road (now known as Farifield Avenue), left the Conemaugh river about midway between the two runs."
Location of Brown's
You may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with Browns? What is the point that I am trying to make? It's this: Edinborough Smith was born in Pennsylvania give or take around 1780. Though some census records list the state of Virginia. Sections of Pennsylvania were at one time considered part of Virginia. To that you can add the well recorded history of African-Americans living amongst Native Americans. His first wife is listed as an 'Indian Squaw' who died giving birth to their son John E. Smith back in 1827. It's things like this Indian Grave located along the road to Brown's
and this very large possible Native American Burial Cairn located near the main house at Browns. These are some of the visual sides of possible Native American Ceremonial connections.
I believe that there was once an old Native American Village located at the site of Browns Farm. There was once an old Shawnee Village in Johnstown called Kickeneepawlin (see 'The Handbook of Johnstown for 1856, A.J. Hite, Johnstown, Pa.) and given that the Mountain Road once it passes Browns ends at what is now Route 711 near the old Fort Palmer Church area.

With Ligonier only a few miles away from there. Several miles to the east along the Conemaugh River was Squirrel Hill Old Town a Delaware Indian Village located along the banks of the Conemaugh River (New Florence, Westmoreland County - see U.S. Register of Historic Places Ref# 80003657). The Squirrel Hill site was also once occupied by a large Monongahela village during the pre-contact period. In fact it was one of the largest Monongahela villages in the valley of the Ohio River.
This cairn at Brown's contains all your basic Native-American symbolism. They used the triangle shape is to block uninvited spirits (water, sky and under the ground) out along with using the symbol to invited spirits in. This is something that a shaman would have used in his services.

1 comment:

  1. My friend and I have juste returned today 5/23/15 from checking out the Brown's Farm homestead. The cemetery was neatly mowed, flowers arranged and American flags flying. It was really remarkable. Similar to the previous Memorial Day photos posted in 2014. Amazing to me that something like this exists in our area. Well worth the effort getting there.