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York County Goes West

Where did all those people to the west of us come from? A lot of their families started out here, in south central Pennsylvania, a couple of hundred years ago. Some of them: the Morrows, the Ruhls and the Kinselys are highlighted in my recent York Sunday News column, which you can read below.

For more Ohio settlers from this area, see the three Gone to Ohio South Central Pennsylvania Genealogy Society publications compiled by Gloria Aughenbach. They can be read at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives and are available for purchase through www.scpgs.org.

Teresa Cook, Copy Editor at the York Daily Record/York Sunday News informed me that Conrad Richter’s fiction trilogy: The Trees, The Fields and The Town follows a family with similar story, with one of the sons becoming governor of Ohio. Richter (1890-1968) won a Pulitzer Prize for The Town, and his books have been described as “accurate portrayals of frontier life.” He was from Schuylkill County, Pa, but he lived in Ohio for a good many years.

From York County–Westward to Ohio
The Revolutionary War was over; we were an established, prosperous country now, and we needed room to grow. Here in the York County area, where agriculture was the principal occupation, children were growing up, marrying and starting their own families. Where could we find more land to cultivate? York countians spread southwest into Maryland, Virginia and on to Carolina. Some swung back up into Pennsylvania, following the National Road west (roughly today’s Route 40). Others from here worked their way westward across the mountains of the southern tier of Pennsylvania, through Adams (part of York County until 1800), Franklin, Bedford, Somerset, Fayette, Green and Washington counties. Next stop: Ohio.

Rebecca Anstine and Glen Knisely each alerted me to Ohio towns founded by York County natives. There are probably more, but the Ruhls of Galion and the Kniselys of New Philadelphia are good examples of the many local families that “went to the west” in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Their stories are shared below.

I also gleaned glimpses of other Pennsylvania-Ohio pioneers from three publications put together by Gloria Aughenbaugh and published by the South Central Pennsylvania Genealogical Society as SCPGS Special Publications 43, 53 and 54. Gloria combed through many hefty late-nineteenth century Ohio county histories and extracted information on all the settlers that came there from south-central Pennsylvania. All three publications are titled Gone to Ohio, but each covers different counties.

When the first settlers arrived, the new land wasn’t even Ohio yet, but part of the Northwest Territory, lands that lay northwest of the Ohio River. In fact, according to Ohio county histories, Jeremiah Morrow, who was born in the Gettysburg area in 1771, left for the then “far west” in 1795. He is credited with helping write Ohio’s constitution, and he became the first Representative to U.S. Congress from new state of Ohio in 1803. He later became a U.S. Senator and Governor of Ohio. His name lives on in the village of Morrow in Warren County, Ohio. Morrow County was also named for him, as well as the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, Ohio’s highest bridge, which carries I-71 over the Little Miami River.

The small city of Galion, with about 11,500 people, is in Crawford County in the northern part of Ohio, about half way across the state. It is on U.S. Route 30, like York. The town shares our industrial past. It is known for manufacturing road building machinery, like York was. Galion, however, has an even closer association with York County—its founding dates to 1831 and the York County Ruhls. John Ruhl and his wife and six children went to Galion around 1830. There was a small settlement there, but a town hadn’t been officially laid out. The only area inhabitants before 1817 were the Wyandot Indians. John Ruhl purchased a large amount of the land at Galion, selling sizable portions to his five sons. John, Michael and Jacob Ruhl laid out the town September 10, 1831, when it was still part of Richland County.

New Philadelphia, Ohio is the county seat of Tuscarawas County, and is located about a quarter of the way across the state, almost directly west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Founder John Knisely, born in Germany in 1752, emigrated and settled in York County before moving to Bedford County in 1795. He was a successful miller and hotel keeper there, but decided to move still further west. He and son Samuel arrived at Schoenbrunn, Ohio, a village established by Moravian missionaries to the Native Americans, in late 1803. John went back to Bedford to bring his wife, his other nine children and 33 friends to populate his new settlement. He bought 3,554 acres on a bend of the Tuscarawas River in 1804. He reportedly envisioned a new “city of brotherly love” and had the town laid out similarly to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, even naming many streets the same. Town planning paid off, with New Philadelphia being chosen county seat when Tuscarawas County was created in 1807. It probably helped that he donated land for the county court house and public buildings and also 100 town lots and 160 outlying acres to the county, to be sold to raise funds to erect the county buildings.

New Philadelphia now has over 17,000 people, with city offices housed in the John Knisely Municipal Centre. Photos of his large gravestone appear on the findagrave.com website. The stone was erected in the latter part of the 18th century by his grandson and clearly names John as the founder of the town.

These are but a few of the settlers that went from here to there. Gibson’s History of York County, Pennsylvania notes that many Quakers left York County for Ohio, establishing new meetings. One, Thomas James, was reportedly “carried across the mountains by his mother” on their journey to Ohio in the very early 1800s. Isaac Elliot was another Quaker who took his family to the state, in 1816.

The pioneers headed west the best way they could. Peter & Hannah Ely Worst supposedly walked to Ohio shortly after their May 1828 marriage. He became one of the first mayors of the town of Bucyrus. Charles Rupp, 21, travelled there by stage and canal in 1843. Others rode on horseback or took a long way around to find early roads that could accommodate a wagon, traveling across streams, over forested hills and through mountain passes.

Click here for previous posts on York County people moving on.