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York County’s First Election in 1749 featured the Pennsylvania Dutch versus the Irish in a Brawl

S. H. Smith visualization of the 1749 York County Election Polling Place at Baltzer Spangler’s Tavern in York Town
S. H. Smith visualization of the 1749 York County Election Polling Place at Baltzer Spangler’s Tavern in York Town

In 1845, I. Daniel Rupp wrote an early History of Lancaster and York Counties. The people west of the Susquehanna River were overjoyed when they attained their independence from Lancaster County in 1749.

Within the Rupp history is an account of the first election held within the newly created York County.  Quoting from pages 580-582, using Rupp’s spelling:

On so “formidable organization,” peace and harmony, it might be expected, would be preserved, if earthly men had not human passions, had it not been for an affray at the first election, in York county, “which cast a shadow of coming events.”

For sheriff, two prominent candidates, Hans Hamilton and Richard M’Allister, were before the people.  The place of hustings, or election, was at York, in 1749, and for years afterwards at the public house of Baltzer Spengler.  It was an unfinished building of logs, through an opening of which, at one end, tickets were received.

In the cool of the morning all was quiet, but as the sun warmed the voters, they grew in ardor for action.  Hamilton, the Irish candidate, was from what is now Adams county.  M’Allister was the favorite of the “Dutch.”  The Germans, as they are wont, without much ado, worked well for their candidate, evidently gaining on their competitors; this vexed the “ireful friends” of Hamilton.

Two or three stout Hibernians—boxers as they are called—took possession of the opening through the logs, where tickets were received—determined that none but their friends should enjoy the right of voting.  A stout German, equally determined to enjoy his sacred rights, without yielding an inch, went to the place of voting—tripped up the heels of one of the Irish bullies—which eventuated in an affray.

The standing saplings, which were near at hand, were soon torn down and cut from the ground, and used as offensive and defensive weapons—blows promiscuously dealt out—the Irish were routed and put to flight, and to escape fully merited chastisement, fled beyond the Codorus—and, for their lives, dared not to show themselves the remaining part of the day, east of the Codorus.

No lives were lost—a few human limbs were broken, and some blood spilt.  The Germans then voted immediately, and elected M’Allister, by an overwhelming majority.  But, in this instance, James Hamilton, Deputy Governor, as it were, to gratify the Irish party, disregarded the popular will, and exercised executive power, and commissioned Hans Hamilton, sheriff, for one year.

Tuesday is Election Day!  Make sure you vote.

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