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Fort Henry

The History of Emmitsburg East of Flat Run
& the Families Who Called It Home

Michael Hillman


Contrary to local folklore, Emmitsburg was never home to a revolutionary era fort called ‘Fort Henry’, but in many ways, the history of the land that bore the name ‘Fort Henry’ is much richer than folklore had ever attributed to the imaginary ‘fort’.

The first history written of Emmitsburg, published in 1880 in the Emmitsburg Chronicle, focused almost exclusively on Samuel Emmit and his decedents, ignoring the roles and history of the vast majority of individuals and families who also called the Emmitsburg area home. Unfortunately, this error of omission has been carried forward into every subsequent history of Emmitsburg.

This article is the second in a series of articles designed to correct that omission. It focuses on the history of the land called ‘Fort Henry’, upon which today now sits everything within the town limits east of and north of Flat Run Creek, including the communities of Silo Hill and Emmit Gardens, and the towns newest neighbor, the Sleep Inn & Suites

Lets start at the beginning . . .

The First Settlers

Some years before the founding of Emmitsburg, in one of the ironies one can only appreciate through the hindsight history provides us, two religious sect, Catholics and Presbyterians, settled in close nit communities in the area. Back in their old countries, the two groups were engaged in bitter persecution and blood shed. But in this valley, the two groups, each brought to the area for their own reasons, lived in peace and harmony, having found common cause in the daily battle to survive on this then remote edge of the frontier.

The Catholics, who settled to the south of present day Emmitsburg, settled in the area in hopes of escaping the religious persecution practiced against them elsewhere in the then predominately protestant English colonies.

The Presbyterians, who settled on land which now comprises present day Emmitsburg, everything north of it, and east of it over to present day Four Points Road, chose this area because of the richness of the soil and the year round supply of water provided by the convergence of the areas three main streams: Tom’s Creek, Flat Run, and Middle Creek.

By most accounts, Robert and Elizabeth Wilson were the family to settle in the Flat Run area of eastern Emmitsburg. Sometime prior to 1733, they emigrated to the area, choosing for their homestead, land that lay in a gently slopping valley on both sides of Flat Run. The soil was rich from years of seasonal flooding, and with Flat Run providing a reliable source of clean fresh water year round, the Wilson’s had all any frontier family could ever hope for. Being alone in the woods, the Wilson’s never felt the need to acquire a deed for their land, which they called ‘Wilson’s Fancy.’ Things began to change however in 1742, when the neighborhood began to get ‘crowded’. In 1751, several years after Roberts death, his wife, Elizabeth, sold ‘Wilson’s Fancy’ to William Porter.

1742 marked the arrival of John Douthet to the Flat Run area of Emmitsburg. Unfortunately, we know little about John other then he settled just north of Robert Wilson on 50 acres of land he called ‘Douthet’s Chance.’ Eight years later, in 1750, John sold his land to Alexander Mckeen and moved onto parts unknown. Alexander Mckeen is best remembered for donating the land upon which the first Presbyterian church in the Emmitsburg area was built.

‘Carrollsburg,’ a massive track of land originally granted to Charles Carroll on September 2, 1732, lay to the south and west of the William’s homestead, and remained undivided until 1757, when Charles Carroll sold 2,250 acres to Samuel Emmit. Samuel established his homestead around the forks of Toms Creek, Middle Creek and Flat Run, two miles south east of present day Emmitsburg. Almost immediate he began to sell off parts of his holdings, including 106 acres upon which now lies the western half of Emmitsburg, referred to as ‘Shield Addition’, to William Shields, who made his living as a surveyor.

[It would not be until May 1786, that the first reference to a town appears in a deed for 55 acres from Samuel Emmit to his son William, "to extend the limits of the new town, now Emmitsburg."]

The Williams Family and the Birth of Fort Henry

In 1753, the parents of Jane [William] Shields joined the growing community of what was then called Tom’s Creek Hundred. Like countless other settlers, the Williams moved west in hopes of finding good, yet inexpensive land; land they would never have been able to afford back in home countries. Undoubtedly drawn to the area to join their daughter, William Shields, their son-in-law and noted surveyor, helped them acquire one of the finer farms then in existence: Wilson’s Fancy, the former homestead of the Wilsons, which they renamed ‘Wilson’s Round About.’

In addition to their daughter Jane, John and Mary had seven other children: Thomas, Mary, Margaret, Martha, Eleanor, Ester, and Henry. Upon his death in 1756, John Williams deeded his land, which included Wilson’s Fancy, and Porter’s 1st and 2ND Additions, to his three youngest Children: Eleanor, Ester, and Henry. While we know little about John and Mary Williams, and their older children, we do know much about their youngest child, Henry.

With the onset of the Revolutionary war, Henry, then 33, was elected second lieutenant of the Game Cock Company, one of the two companies raised in immediate area, both of which belonged to a regiment which was commonly referred to as "The Flying Camp Battalion." Henry’s company was commanded by his neighbor, Capt. William Blair's. Henry’s brother-in-law, William Shields, command the second company.

When Capt. Blair fell mortally wounded at the battle of Brooklyn Heights, Henry assumed command of the "Game Cock" company. First Lieut. George Hockersmith, Blair’s rightful replacement, yielding the rank of Captain to Henry on account of his great popularity with the noncommissioned officers and privates of the company.

Under Henry’s command, the company participated in many hard-fought battles. Henry was always in the thickest of the fray, and because of his courage, drew the attention of George Washington and the admiration of Gen. Lafayette, to whom he reported during the final assault on the siege of Yorktown.

When the war was over, Henry returned to his farm, where he married his first wife _____ McDonald, who died shortly after their marriage. In ____ Henry married Jane Witherow Cooper, widow of Robert Cooper. Jane, born in 1779, was the daughter of John and Margaret Barbour Witherow. With Henry, Jane had two son’s, Washington, who died in infancy, and John.

While for the most part, Henry quietly pursued the life of a farmer, he nevertheless took an active part in the politics of the nation he fought to found. In 1812, believing that DeWitt Clinton was a more energetic statesman and better suited to carry on the war then waging against Great Britain with more spirit and success than President Madison, and holding to the one-term principle for the Presidency, Henry ran for, and was elected as a Presidential elector in the district composed of Frederick, Washington, and Allegheny Counties.

Henry also keep a close eye of the health of the local economy. He realized the that the areas many rivers and streams, while a necessity to the farming community, were nevertheless a major obstacle to the transposition of the goods produced by the farms to potential markets along the cost. In order to address this issue, Henry help organize a lottery to raise funds for bridge over the Monocacy, the remains of which can still be see just to the immediate south of the present day Rt. 140 bridge over the Monocacy.  In addition to Henry also frequently served as county magistrate, and at the time of his death, in 1821, was the local justice of the peace.

Over his years, Henry Williams reassembled his father’s original holdings and added to them. In 1769, Henry bought his sisters Ester’s portion of the inheritance. In 1769 Henry traded 25 acres on the eastern most side of his farm - the bottom half of the 37-acre lot he bought from his sister - with Samuel Emmit in exchange for 20 acres on the Western side of his farm, on the western side of the bend in Flat Run. In doing so, he connected his holdings on the west and south of Flat Run.

In 1788 Eleanor Williams, who had married a John Friend and moved to Brafort County, Pa., sold her portion of the inheritance to Henry. In 1792 Henry bought 26 acres south and west of Flat Run from Jermiah Emmit. In 1808, Henry completed his land acquisitions with the purchase of 136 acres from Benjamin Mckeen. In 1812, Henry was a granted a re-survey of most of his holdings in order to bring them all under one deed - the combined property, 298 acres in all, was named ‘Fort Henry.’

In 1820, Henry died in his home on his beloved Fort Henry. Following his death, Jane continued the operations of the farm.

In 1825 Sara, Jane’s sister died. Six years later Sara’s husband, Alexander died, leaving a large family dependent upon the good will of their extended families, the children of Sara, went to live on the great ‘Fort Henry’ estate of their aunt Jane. The fondness Jane Williams had for her sister’s youngest son, Alexander, was demonstrated by her decision to follow a long held farming tradition which called for the youngest son in a family to inherit ownership of the farm.

The logic of this tradition stems from the fact that when a husband lost his wife, usually in childbirth, he would remarry, and more often then not, have a second family with the new wife. As a result, it was not untypical for the age gap between the old and youngest child to exceed 30 years. By the time the last child was ready to make their own way in the world, the older ones had long since established their own farms or business, leaving the youngest in the enviable option of staying on the home farm and carrying on.

John Williams, Jane’s only son, saw little interest in taking after his father in farming Fort Henry. Instead he persuaded his own interest, eventually rising to prominence in his own right to become the editor of the Frederick Examiner, and later president of the Frederick County National Bank. So in 1853, a year before her death, Jane sold Fort Henry to her nephew, Alexander L. Horner 3rd, for $7,000.

Upon her death, Jane was buried next to her husband Henry and their 4-month-old son, Washington in Tom’s Creek Presbyterian church cemetery.  The final resting spot of the Williams is one of the prettiest in a cemetery that is the itself the prettiest in the area.  A well maintained wrought iron fence surrounds the grave site, and an old growth cedar proved shade in the summer, and protection from the biting winds of winter.  Standing next to the grave, one can look down the gentle slope towards the distant town of Emmitsburg, over land which one day the Williams called home.

Go to Part 2:  The Horner and O’Donoghue Families

Part 2:  The Horner and O’Donoghue Families
Part 3:  The Annan & Baumgardner Families
Part 4:  The Nesters, Brookside Dairy, Epilogue

Appendix: List of Deeds for Fort Henry and surrounding properties

Read other stories by Michael Hillman

In preparing this article, we first conducted extensive land research to ascertain the trail of ownership for Fort Henry.  Once ownership was confirmed, we sought   the stories of the former landholder from their decedents all over the country via the internet.  We also drew heavily when possible from family histories complied in the autobiographical William's History of Frederick County, as well as oral interviews of present day senior citizens.  

Like all our stories, we consider this story 'work in progress,' so if you have anything to add to it, or have other stories about families that once called Emmitsburg home, please send them to us at History@emmitsburg.net