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The History Of Stony Branch Valley
(Part 1) 

Benjamin’s Good Luck

Michael Hillman

When the very first American homesteaders settled the Stony Branch Valley, ownership of land went to the one who had it surveyed. Folklore has it that Benjamin Biggs and Jonathan Hayes, neighboring land owners, discovered that there was a large tract of untitled land between their estates. As the Biggs' friendly version goes, Biggs and Hayes split the cost of the land survey. Being the sporting type, they then waged a bet whereby the first to reach Annapolis, where the grant for the land from the royal governor would be made, would "win" the land. Benjamin Biggs, having the faster horse, won, and in celebration of his good luck called the land 'Benjamin's Good Luck'. 

However, in the Hayes' version, Hayes commissioned the survey, intending to have any untitled land entered in his name. When the surveyor found a large strip of unclaimed land between Benjamin Biggs and Jonathan Hayes, he, for a reason now lost to time, offered the survey records to Benjamin Biggs. Biggs accepted the ill-gained survey and "hightailed" it to Annapolis, where he had the land deeded under his name, calling it ‘Benjamin's Good Luck,' perhaps mistaking "luck" for "cunning." Hays, having paid for the survey, did not look favorably on this act. He called the land ‘Benjamin's Treachery' and predicted destruction for all generations of Biggs. 

Sadly for those who love folklore, neither story appears to be true. What does appear to be true is that the Biggs' and the Hays' both settled the land during the mid-1700's with very different intents. Benjamin Biggs acquired the land to divide it into smaller parcels and to sell to later settlers at a profit. This gained him the distinction of being one of the first land developers of the valley. On the other hand, Jonathan Hays came to the Stony Branch Valley with a vision of settling down with his family and not growing an empire, but a family farm that his family could cultivate and grow on for many generations. The Biggs' and Hays' lived as neighbors for many years and their stories unfold as a reflection of the different types of settlers that inhabited the Stony Branch Valley. 

History records that Benjamin Biggs' grandfather, John, came from Worchester England, with the English expedition against the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now known as New York City. Benjamin's father, John Biggs Jr., an up-and-coming, moderately well-to-do aristocrat, left New York and settled on land west of today's Walkersville, near a ford in the Monocacy that now bears his name. Over his lifetime, John Biggs, Jr. laid to rest one wife and three children.

In spite of his trial and suffering, he nevertheless still inspired each of his children to achieve their best. Benjamin, his first son to reach maturity, (and the second to bear that name) moved to open land a few miles north of his father's at a bend in the Monocacy, between the mouths of Tom’s Creek and Stony Branch. In May of 1745, he had 100 acres of land deeded in his name under the title 'Benjamin's Good luck', a full nine years before Jonathan Hays appeared in the valley. Thus the name could not have come about as a result of either a horse race or treachery. In 1747, he went on to claim another 211 additional acres of untitled land adjoining his ‘Benjamin's Good Luck', made available to him because of his aristocratic roots. 

Jonathan Hayes' father (Jonathan, Sr.) was an officer in the British Army stationed at Philadelphia. He met a young Quaker girl, Elizabeth Elliott, whom he wished to marry. Her parents, being Quakers, were opposed to war and would not give their consent. Unwilling to lose his love, Hayes sold his commission, left the army, and married Miss Elliott. Moving eventually to Delaware, Jonathan and his wife took up farming and raised twelve sons.

In 1739, one 17-year-old son, also named Jonathan, set out to explore the wilderness, or the land we call home today. During his travels, the young Jonathan Hays married Mary Henderson, who had came to Maryland via Nova Scotia. The couple eventually made their way to the scenic country nestled between the foot of the mountains and the Monocacy River. They had been forewarned that there were a great many Indians here, but that they were friendly. A peaceful couple, Jonathan and Mary quickly won the Indians’ friendship and respect. Nevertheless, the Indians refused to let them settle on land bordering the river, as that was their prime hunting ground. Instead, the Indians offered the Hays' a 200-acre track of land bordering on Tom's Creek, about one-quarter mile above where Tom's Creek empties into the Monocacy. 

Jonathan and Mary Hays quickly set about establishing a homestead. A log cabin was built at the top of the hill overlooking the creek, near where today the Grimes' Bridge crosses it. Now as folklore goes, Jonathan Hays had a brother, Samuel, for whom he had great affection. Jonathan reportedly exacted a promise from Samuel that he would pay him a visit when Jonathan had settled and built his home. True to his word, Samuel Hays paid his brother a visit. When Samuel was about to return home, Jonathan told him that if he would remain, he would give him one hundred acres of his land. Samuel accepted the offer and Jonathan had the land surveyed and, following the sentimental custom of the time of applying names to parcels of land, Jonathan had the track titled under the name 'Brotherly Love'. 

At the time the Hays, the Biggs, and other inhabitants of Stony Branch were settling their land and having their families, the Royal English government was casting a worried eye at French moves to claim the interior of the American continent. In this time in history, title to vast tracks of unsettled land was based upon having settlements at either the headwaters or the mouth of rivers. The French, by placing settlements deep into the Great Lakes and at the mouth of the Mississippi, were well on their way to claiming sovereignty of the vast interior of the American continent. Their holdings threatened to limit the English land holdings to the coastal strip east of the Allegheny Mountains and also the English dominance of Northern America. 

In answer to this impending dilemma, the English government began an active policy of promoting settlement of the wilderness, which wilderness included modern day Frederick County. Once settled, the English could then press their claims for the interior of North America based upon ownership of the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  

Before settlers could be enticed into the wilderness however, the English Government had to first deal with the present landholders, the Indians. The Algonquian Indians, long occupants of this land coveted by the English along the south of the Potomac, were enticed by English offers and sold their ancestral lands and moved west. To the north, the Iroquois signed a treaty with the English never to cross south of the Susquehanna. Fortunately for the English, the Susquehanna Indians, to whom the Tom Indians were related, had by this time been decimated by both European instigated intertribal warfare and colonist introduced morbidities such as small pox. As a result, the land east of the upper Blue Ridge Mountains, present day Frederick County, was fairly clear of Indians and ripe for settlement. 

While the Royal government opened the land to all settlers for a nominal fee, it nevertheless still played favorites, offering a few select aristocrats large tracks of land in reward for support of the Crown. While this was classic patronage, it also removed the burden from the royal government of having to hire staff to solicit settlers for the land. Instead, the government left it to the land barons to solicit settlers and to divide the land for them, being satisfied to simply collect taxes on the produce from now 'productive' land. 

One of the earliest land barons in the valley was John Diggs. Diggs, a grandson of the Royal Governor of Virginia, was a wealthy Catholic who played a predominate role in the sometimes bloody border dispute between the Maryland and Pennsylvania governments, which in many ways mimicked the land dispute between France and England. With ownership of the Chesapeake and the mouth of the Susquehanna, Maryland was pressing its claim of what is now middle Pennsylvania. As early as 1727, John Diggs, under Maryland Authority, was offering land to settlers in present day Hanover.  

With Pennsylvania pressing their claim to the land in the Royal Court in England, however, title to lands purchased by settlers from Diggs proved vague and conflicting. It gradually became apparent to many settlers that Diggs was a man of somewhat doubtful honor. Indeed, it was eventually discovered that Diggs had sold land he did not posses. Diggs apparently assumed his right to land based upon his aristocratic standing, and thus felt entitled to most of northern and western Maryland. In 1732, Diggs formally claimed, though without any authority, all the vacant land on the Monocacy and its many branches. In spite of these outlandish claims, John Diggs still managed to receive grants for land. In July of 1743, Diggs received title to three tracks of land in the Tom’s Creek Valley, comprising close to 1000 acres, the first 547 acres, he aptly named 'Diggs Lot'. 

Diggs' land grabbing was quickly mimicked by others, albeit in a smaller fashion. In April of 1752, Daniel Dulany claimed 1,680 acres along the head waters of Stony Branch, which he titled 'Buck Forest', obviously for the great quantity of deer within it. Not to be outdone, in 1754, John Diggs claimed an additional 1000 acres of land to the north of his 'Diggs Lot'.

While the land barons were quickly grabbing the best land, some early pioneers still managed to stake claim to open land. As noted earlier, in 1754, Jonathan Hayes claimed his 200 acre 'Brotherly Love'. In 1756, Mathias Zacharias, a recent German immigrant, laid claim to 210 acres, which he called 'Mon-Doller', and in 1757, Samuel Emmit bought 2,250 acres at the head waters of Tom’s Creek. 

With so much open land available, both land speculators as well as settlers selected only the prime ground that consisted of the open fields and meadows which could be readily turned into productive farms. Rocky hills, marshy areas and thick woods were often ignored, and untitled for several decades. In many cases, the borders of these prime land tracks are still denoted by the wooded lots that now grace the Stony Branch Valley. 

Unfortunately for the land speculators and the settlers, the race between the French and English for the interior of the continent soon got out of hand. In 1754, the English were not only fighting the French, but their Indian allies as well. While little fighting actually occurred in the Stony Branch Valley, Indian raiding parties periodically moved through the area in search of revenge. These raids proved a strong deterrent to settlement in the open wilderness of the Frederick area. Many settlers withdrew to the relative safety of coastal cities. 

By 1759, however, the English had captured most of the French forts along the upper Ohio and to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Indian attacks on settlers in this area became increasingly rare. However, it was not until 1763, the end of the Seven Year War in Europe, in which France ceded sovereignty of the interior of North America, that settlers once again cast their eyes toward the wilderness.  

With the end of the Seven Year War war, expectations for a flood of new settlers caused existing land holders to cast about and claim any heretofore unclaimed land adjacent to their present land holdings. In October of 1762, Benjamin Biggs increased the size of his Benjamin's Good Luck by laying stake to an additional 800 acres to the north and west of Stony Branch. Jonathan Hayes laid claim to an additional 100 acres, increasing his ‘Brotherly Love' Track to slightly more than 300 acres, and William Diggs, who had inherited ‘Diggs' Lot’ from his father, laid claim to 3,012 acres to the east of Tom's Creek which he called ‘Carolina'. 

The names selected for tracks of land tell much about the land. ‘Rich Level’, claimed by Benjamin Tasker and Charles Carroll, is a broad flat flood plain which, because of its frequently inundation, has been heavily silted over the years and is thus richly fertile. The track of ‘Rich Level’ on the western side of the Monocacy, originality went by the name 'Fish Dam'. Prior to European Settlement, the Indians are known to have built dams in streams and rivers to create pools for fish. One such dam is still evident just north of Mumma's Ford on the Monocacy. 

The 'Fish Dam' track of land mirrors the lake that would have been created by this dam up on the Monocacy and up Stony Branch. The Dam was destroyed by early settlers to facilitate travel on the river, at the time, the only means of communication with the 'civilized' world.

‘Stony Hill’, claimed by Jacob Shiyer in 1766, was aptly named by anyone who has ever walked it. Lucas Flack's logic in naming his grant 'Long Field' become obvious when one stand upon the land and grazes across it as Lucas must have. His son's titling of a small track of rocky hilly land 'Hard Planting' needs no interpretation.

While each individual settler undoubtedly had their own unique reason for settling there, the cause of their removal from their native countries was equally varied. Some of them fled from severe religious persecution, others from the oppression of civil tyranny, and still others were attracted by the hopes of liberty under the milder influence of English colonial rule. But for the greatest part, the settlers flooded to the American continent in the hopes of abandoning the crushing poverty of their homeland and for the chance to own land and prosper by their own designs. 

The Stony Branch Valley began to fill with the settlers from across the Atlantic. Mathias and Elizabeth Zacharias, and Jonathan and Mary Hays were soon joined by settlers who, like themselves, came with fresh hopes and aspirations. And with their arrival, the Lower Valley began to echoed with the laughter, the tears, and the dreams of pioneer families bearing last names such as  Crabb, Flack, Forney, Hockersmith, Keffer, Koon, Marker, Miller, O'Neal, Paterson, Shiyer, Troxel, Whitmore, Williams, and Wilson. 

Read Part 2

Index of articles on the History Stony Branch Valley

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