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The History Of Stony Branch Valley
(Part 3)


Michael Hillman

As the tensions between the English and the American colonists began to deepen, the English, following traditional warfare tactics, began to systematically occupy the major cities and their immediate surrounding countryside. The Colonial Confederacy, aware of the vastness of the continent, set about securing the interior of the country. With interior supply and communication routes free from British attacks, Washington settled down to fight the superior British forces in the only way he could, in a war of attrition. With the fighting confined to the coastal plains, life in Stony Branch valley continued on unabated. 

Nevertheless, many still wished to support the colonists’ army. Michael Smith, the first blacksmith in the Valley, served as a Private in what was called the German Regiment, seeing action at General Washington's defeat at the Battle of White Plains, New York. John Patterson also served as a Private. Henry Groff, who served in the Calvary, saw action outside of Philadelphia. Lastly, according to family folklore, Mathias Zacharias II was present at the siege of Yorktown and subsequently acted as one of the guards escorting the Hessians captured there as they were moved to York. 

Those who were unable to join the colonists’ army, joined the local militia. The militia provided local security against possible small-scale British attacks, thereby allowing the small regular American army to concentrate its efforts on attacking the main elements of the British army. Many farmers in the valley, flush with new farms and young families, opted to support the cause in this way, including John Crabbs, who served as a Corporal in Henry William's 'Game Cock Company, and Lucas Flack, who served as a sergeant in what was called the 'Flying Camp' Battalion. However, not all able-bodied men answered the call-to-arms. Abraham, David, and Henry Whitmore, Philip Miller, Henry Lynn, and Jacob Christ were all fined by the 'Committee of Observation' for failing to enroll in the local Militia. 

For those who, due to age or infirmity, could not or would not actively fight on the side of the rebellion, an oath of allegiance to the cause was required, typically to their new state government. This was conceived as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to the Revolution. Someone who swore the oath was a "juror" while someone who refused to swear, a "non-juror." Non-jurors come under suspicion of being Loyalists. This label often led to harassment, fines, confiscation of property or even expulsion from one’s land. Unfortunately, it wasn't always that simple to determine who was and was not a threat to the revolutionaries’ cause. 

Not all non-jurors were necessarily Loyalists. Quakers and German brethren refused to swear oaths of allegiance to any cause that would involve them in war. The Methodists also tended to refuse the oath based upon religious grounds. Because of the need to clearly identify Loyalists and supporters of the revolution, revolutionary leaders allowed those, who because of religious doctrine would not swear an oath, to, instead, 'affirm' their support for the revolution. Those Stony Valley farmers who publicly voiced their support for the Revolution included Benjamin Whitmore Sr., John Whitmore, Andrew Owler, Jonathan Hayes, and Nicholas Keffer. 

Failure to take the oath resulted in penalties from simple fines to outright confiscation of lands. Daniel Dulany, a patron of the Crown, refused to take the oath, and as a result, lost all of his lands, including ‘Buck Forest.’ Today ‘Buck Forest’ would encompass a large track of the land south of Motter Station Road. 

The decision whether or not to support a war effort is an age-old quandary. The families of the Stony Branch Valley had struggled to settle their lands, plant their farms and raise their families. Many had left their homes in Europe for freedom from both economic and religious tribulation. They did not take lightly the disruption of the lifestyle they had worked so hard to secure. As we, modern day inhabitants of the Stony Branch Valley, survey our lands, our lifestyles and our family security, it is not hard to imagine the sacrifices they contemplated as they struggled with the decision to support the colonies’ war effort. But support it they did, some from belief, some from social pressure and some for fear of reprisal. 

In spite of the war, or because of the war, new settlers continued to arrive in the valley. Among those arriving in the midst of the Revolutionary War were the last of the original founding families, the Troxels and Martins. 

‘John Peter' Troxel, the patriarch of the Troxel family in Stony Branch Valley, was born in 1719 in the Rhine area of Germany. One interesting tradition of this time period was German tradition of giving children traditional 'saint' names at baptism, which were not the names by which they were known. Thus it was not uncommon, if a family had a favorite saint, to have all the children of the same gender, with the same first name, though they would be known and sign documents with their middle name, which, needless to say, makes historical research of this time confusing at best. 

'Peter' Troxel, immigrated to America with his parents in 1737. On landing at Philadelphia, the Troxel family proceeded to the German settlement in Egypt, Pennsylvania. Remarkably, the house the Troxel's built in Egypt in 1744 still stands today. Thanks to the efforts of many concerned citizens, it is now completely restored -- a historical monument to a historical time period and family. Following the death of Peter’s first wife Anna in childbirth, in 1750, Peter married Catharine Schreiber and, over the next 29 years, they would be blessed with nine more children. In 1776, Peter, then an accomplished miller of grain, joined the German migration headed for the rich farmland of the south, settling just south and east of the present Tom's Creek Bridge. 

In Troxel family folklore, two stories have been passed down through the years about the Troxel's and the genesis behind the name for Tom's Creek. In the more chivalrous one, the Troxel's are credited with purchasing their land from the Indian Tom, for whom the well-known creek supposedly derived its name. 

In the other, the Troxel's were accompanied on their move into the valley by an Indian named Tom, whose name was then latter applied to the creek which ran through their farm. Alas, neither story appears true. The earliest known official use of the name 'Tom' as the designation for the creek that drains the Emmitsburg region is in a 1761 deed between Martin Earnest and Michael Stringer, for thirty-one acres of land just to the south of Tom's Creek Bridge, sixteen years before the Troxel's ever set foot in the valley. When the Troxel's did finally settle in the valley, they bought their land from Christian and Sara Keffer, not the Indian Tom. The 400 acre farm, which was known as 'Chance Medley', went for a whopping 2,450 pounds, a 300% profit for the Keffer's in just three years! 

In Emmitsburg's history, the Troxel family is most remembered for being the builders of the first mill at Tom’s Creek, near the junction of Tom's Creek and Flat Run. Credit for this achievement goes to Peter's eldest son, John Troxel. Born in 1747, John married Elizabeth Martin, sister of Mathias Martin, who had married his younger sister, Anna. 

The Troxel family members were also key players in the building of the Elias Lutheran Church, which closely resembles their old church in Egypt, Pennsylvania, most notably, the church's alter, which is an exact duplicate. Peter Troxel, Jr. is credited as the architect of the church's steeple, the stone of which was drawn from a small quarry on the hill on Mathias Zacharias' ‘Single Delight’, overlooking a long-forgotten log church. 

Mathias and Anna Martin, the founders of the Martin family in Stony Branch, participated in the Troxel move into the Stony Branch Valley, purchasing for 900 pounds from John Patterson, 204 acres adjacent to the new Troxel homestead. The prodigy of the Troxels and Martins have played a long and colorful role in the shaping of the Stony Branch Valley. It is often said, half jokingly, that one should watch what one says because you can never be sure if you’re talking about family. 

In fact, almost everyone who has not recently moved into Emmitsburg can somehow trace some part of their family tree to these two families. Interestingly enough, in spite of the fact that the colonies were in rebellion and resources were scarce, the offices of the government still functioned, including the land offices. One practically unknown scribe, unable to procure a new ledger during the war, made do with what he had and recorded all the land transactions in the back of an old ledger. Because of this person, the record of land transactions in Stony Branch was unbroken. 

In 1777, John Diggs, acting as executor of his father William's estate, sold 115 acres on the northern side of Tom's Creek, just above where it entered the Monocacy, to Isaac Hornacre for 155 pounds. Unfortunately, little is known of Isaac Hornacre, so little can be written about him. Following the death of Jacob Shiyer in 1778, Shiyer's daughters Susanna Forney, Elizabeth Ott, and Catharine Dotters, sold Shiyer's 130 acre 'Stony Hill' estate to their sister Hannah's son, Samuel Singer for 550 pounds. The price difference between these two similar size tracks of lands undoubtedly reflects, in addition to the presence of some type of home, the fact that Shiyer's 'Stony Hill' was adjacent, at the time, to a wagon road that connected the Tom's Creek Valley with the 'civilized' world down south. 

In 1778, Benjamin Whitmore sold his 96-acre track of land, called 'Benjamin's Adventure', just north of the Monocacy and east of Stony Branch Creek, to Jacob Thomas. In 1787 John Adams Forney divided his land in half, selling the northern half, upon which Bill Kuhn's new house sits, to Catherine Marker for 100 pounds. The southern half went to Lawrence Olar (now part Richard Valentine's Black Flint Farm) With her purchase, Catherine became the first woman in the valley to own land outright in her own. (Editors note: About time!!) 

In 1779, Jonathan Hays and Andrew Owler traded slivers of land, which would today be on the opposite side of Grimes' Road from their main farms. With this information, we can pretty well date the formation of the county lane that would someday become Grimes' Road. Supporting this conclusion are references in deeds to a 'Wilson's Ford' named after Joseph Wilson who owned the land to the east of Jonathan Hayes, his father-in-law. Joseph Wilson was the son of Robert and Elizabeth Wilson, who settled in the area around 1733, twenty-four years before William Emmit appeared on the scene. The original Wilson Homestead, known as 'Wilson's Fancy', was located on Flat run, on what is today the southeastern portion of Emmitsburg. 

In 1787 Philip Miller, passed the ownership of his lands, which included everything on both sides of Sixes Bridge Road, from Grime's Road to Sixes Bridge, onto his sons, Henry and Philip in return for certain guarantees, including that they school and support their sisters Sophia and Catharine. However, Philip was not long for the valley. In 1789, Henry Miller bought outright 205 acres from his brother Philip. Philip then sold the remaining 100 to Jacob Christ for 184 pounds. 

The most interesting, yet one of the smallest land transactions that occurred in Stony Branch in this time period was that for 5 acres from Mathias Zacharias to a Henry Boyer. Located just to the north of the then Thomas’ property, now Valentine property, it held a strategic crossroad for the valley. Through it, one could go south on the road that parallels Stony Branch Creek down to the Monocacy or go north towards the new mill built by John Crabbs and, if necessary, on to Emmitsburg. Travelers also could go west, up a sloping incline, where the path joined up with a wagon road adjacent to Stony Hill that would take them to Frederick and beyond. One could also go east, following the new lane between the Owler and Hayes farms, the present Grime's Road, cross the Monocacy at Wilson's Ford and head to parts east.

These paths, trodden by many a traveler 200 years ago, were still in use within recent memory and are still plainly visible today. One can only wonder about who has traveled these almost forgotten paths and of the wonderful rich stories that were told as they were lazily transmitted. It was on this crossroad lot, that in 1789, the community of Stony Branch erected a log church, the first and only church in Stony Branch Valley. The history of this church is shrouded in mystery, a mystery this community should consider well worth uncovering. 

Read Part 4

Index of the History Stony Branch Valley

Read more articles by Michael Hillman