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The Real Roots of Emmitsburg &
the Dark Side of the Emmitts

Frederick Welty, in his 1957 letter to the Editor of the Frederick Post, presented this vivid, less then appealing glimpse into the family this town was named after:

"The Old Home Celebration at Emmitsburg has come and gone, leaving a great variety of memories.

Not least impressive, from this distance anyhow, was the memorial service in the Presbyterian Cemetery north of town, at he ‘grave’ of the town’s ‘founder,’ Samuel Emmitt. Representatives of all faiths participated, even a Catholic clergyman, at the holy ground of Presbyterian pioneers, a service under ancient significant trees in the hate of late summer, the restful, sympathetic mountains a backdrop for the lovely scene. Only one thing was missing ... Samuel Emmitt."

Contrary to public perception, Samuel Emmitt is not buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery. Two gravestones where planted there a century after the demise of the person’s they commemorate, figments of the disorderly imagination of James Helman as much as is his fantasia on Huckles Field appended without explanation to his bizarre "History of Emmitsburg."

Samuel Emmitt did not found anything. He was not the founder Emmitsburg. He did not even "found" an enduring family. How the name of a family extinct for over a century remains attached to the town Samuel did not found, but which his unsavory son William did exploit, is just one of the ironies of the town’s history.

There is strong, though not conclusive evidence that the name Emmitsburg was a third choice derived from a bar-room joke or from a clever broomlet of son William to line the pockets of a land-poor family. Samuel Emmitt was not the kindly, large handed, paternal, Irishman represented today accounts. Quite the contrary. The best evidence indicates he was a mean-spirited, religious bigot. A money grubber who looked out only for his interest, caring nothing for the hardships of others who settled in the valley near him. Record shows that he forced the Lutherans to build their ‘Little’ church up an alley, and that he drove his own Presbyterian pastor from the town.

Because of his unscrupulous actions, Samuel Emmitt was ultimately denounced from the pulpit of the old Toms Creek Presbyterian Church, as "unjust, slanderous, and vexatious."

Samuel’s son William, who laid out the original town, fell dead in the streets of Emmitsburg in 1817 on his way to start eviction proceedings against Mother Seton and her Sisterhood. Among the Hughes manuscripts (in the writers possession) is an account by Joseph Hughes of a land deal in which he was tricked by Emmitt. There are strong suggestions of how the Emmitts bought without paying and sold without transferring the title. Samuel was always in the background, and William acted as the agent, assignee, or ostensible owner. He probably cooked up something worse for Mother Seton out of an antique vendor’s lien.

John McCaffrey was wont to reminisce that as a boy he had peeped into a window of the town tavern to see William’s body lying in the parlor, brought there from the street. Apparently, on none of the lots reserved on the town plat for himself and his kinsman was there left a home with an open door, only the charity of a man he had cheated, the tavern door of Joseph Hughes. William Emmitt, ‘esquire,’ land-jobber, town maker, and son of Samuel Emmitt the figurehead.

Historical Society Note: We posted this note from Mr. Wetly as part of our policy to post all newspaper clipping that address in some part Emmitsburg's history.  While we agrees with Mr. Welty that Samuel Emmit did not found Emmitsubrg, we have found no documentation to support any of his claims on the character of the Emmits, nor do we support his portrayal of William Emmit, the true founder of Emmitsburg, a man legal records clearly show worked diligently to lay the foundation of the town, and who was clearly respected by it citizens.

Just like the internet is helping individuals rediscover their roots, so too, we hope the Internet will help the residents of Emmitsburg rediscover its great roots, and during the way, finally correct the errors and omissions that have long clouded the proper presentation of its history.

To learn more about Emmitsburg founding, we suggest reading: Setting the Record Straight - The Real History of Emmitsburg's Founding

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg? 
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net