An Unabashed Biography of Thomas Cresap

from John J. Jacob, A Biographical Sketch of the Life of the Late Captain Michael Cresap (Cincinnati: William Dodge, 1866), 29-45. This was a reprint of the privately published edition (Cumberland, Maryland: 1826).

[Note: John J. Jacob apparently married Michael Cresap's widow, and lived at Oldtown, dying in 1826. He became a Methodist minister]

Chapter II. The Cresap Family

The author is aware that a mere catalogue of names, however respectable, must be an insipid and tasteless treat to the reader; but in the present case it seems so indispensable that if omitted it would leave a chasm in his book, so all important as to supersede in a good degree the necessity of this work; because it is evident that, inasmuch as Captain Cresap is now dead, and so long dead, if his accusers and enemies had suffered his ashes to rest in peace, time itself, at this late day, would have nearly obliterated the memory his name. I have among my papers a bill paid by Colonel Cresap to an old fellow for digging Sideling Hill, amounting to £25 . But, I say, as Captain Cresap is now dead and beyond the reach of malevolence and calumny, so of course nothing that has been or can be said can affect him personally. But the Cresap family is large, extensive and respectable; it will not yield the homage of superiority to any family in Virginia or Maryland. If, then, those black spots -- this stigma upon the name and character of Captain Cresap -- were permitted to remain, it would affect the whole family through all its various branches to the remotest degree of affinity. Hence the necessity of presenting to public view all or most of the names and grades of a family thus attempted to be exposed to public infamy.

Colonel Thomas Cresap, the father of the subject of this memoir, and the head and founder of the Cresap family, emigrated from Yorkshire, England, when about fifteen years of age; but the dark shades of oblivion rest upon all the intermediate part of his life from this period until he arrived at the age of about thirty, when he married a Miss Johnson, and settled at or near the place now called Havre-de-Grace, on the Susquehanna. He was at this time poor, and in providing the necessary articles for housekeeping got involved in debt to the enormous sum of nine pounds, currency, when, with a view it is believed to extricate himself from the pressure of this debt, he took a trip to Virginia, got acquainted with and rented a farm from the Washington family, with the intention of removing to that colony. But during his absence his was delivered of her first-born son, Daniel, and on his return refused to go with him to Virginia. Now, however, he might be displeased at this, he acquiesced; and after paid his nine pound debt he removed higher up the Susquehanna, to or near the place called Wright's Ferry, opposite where the town of Columbia now stands, and obtained a Maryland title for five hundred acres of good land. But this, unfortunately at that time was disputed territory; and as others set up a claim to this land under a Pennsylvania title, a war -- called the Conojacular war -- took place. Cresap espoused the cause of Lord Baltimore with as much zeal and ardor as the Pennites did that of Mr. Penn; and a battle ensued at a place called Peach Bottom. Cresap's party proved victorious, kept the field, and wounded some of the Pennites. But they soon recruited their army and besieged the old fellow in his own house -- which happened, I think, to be built of stone. The attack was made in the night; but as the besiegers had neither cannon nor battering rams, it was found that the fort was impregnable. Finding that it would in all probability be a work of time, the besiegers built a fire some distance from the house, that they might warm themselves, counsel and deliberate. Cresap, aware of his perilous situation, put out his son Daniel, now nine or ten years old, to warn his neighbors and friends to his assistance; but the assailants discovered and took him prisoner. The little fellow, however, well nigh played them a trick, for, seeing their powder in a handkerchief, he seized and attempted to throw it into the fire, which he certainly would have done, but they saw and prevented it.

The besiegers, finding all their efforts unavailing, at length adopted the same plan that Colonel Lee devised to take the British in Mrs. Mott's new house in Carolina, during our Revolutionary War -- namely, setting fire to the roof of his house. This had the desired effect, and the fort was no longer tenable. As no terms of capitulation were offered, the Colonel flew to the door, wounding the sentinel who stood there, and made good his retreat to his boat, which happened to be so fast as not to be loosened in time, and he was surrounded and taken. They tied his hands behind him, and were pushing across the river with their herculean prisoner watched and guarded by a man on each side; but our old Yorkshire hero, seizing a favorable opportunity, elbowed one of his guard overboard into the river. The night being dark, the Pennites thought it was Cresap in the water, and fell upon him randum tandum with their poles; but poor Paddy -- he was an Irishman -- not pleased at all at all [sic] with this sport, made such lamentable cries that, discovering their mistake, they hoisted him out of his cold bath.

When the guard arrived at Lancaster with the prisoner they had him handcuffed with iron, which was no sooner done than, raising both hands together, he gave the smith such a tremendous blow upon his black pate that it brought him to the ground. Now, having their prisoner secure, they marched him in triumph to the city of Philadelphia, were the streets, windows and doors were crowded with spectators to view such a monster of a man. He, the more to irritate them, exclaimed, "Why, this is the finest city in the State of Maryland!" And indeed it appears that he really thought so. I have myself more than once heard him say that if Lord Baltimore had attended to his own interests, or regarded his own rights, his title to the city of Philadelphia was certainly good; for inasmuch as the charter of the State of Maryland extended to the 40th degree of north latitude, it included the whole of that degree, and was not to be limited by the beginning.

But to resume our history. After the part reached Philadelphia with their prisoner he was committed to jail; but for some reasons not recollected it seems they soon grew weary of their guest and wanted him to go home, which he refused to do until liberated, I believe by order of the King. During all the time of the colonel's captivity Mrs. Cresap, with her children, took shelter in an Indian town on Codorus, near Little York, where they were received and hospitably supported by the Indians until returned to his family. Soon after this Colonel Cresap removed to Antietam, on a valuable farm called the Long Meadows, now in possession of the Sprigg family. On this farm he built a house of stone over a spring, designed as a fort, because he was on the frontier and in advance of a white population. He now commenced as an Indian trader, and borrowed from Mr. Dulany £500 to aid him in his business. Having provided a large quantity of skins and furs, he shipped them for England. But fortune still frowned. The ship was taken by the French, with all his skins and furs, and once more he was compelled to begin the world anew. In this dilemma he sent for Mr. Dulany, stated his loss, and offered him his land -- about 1,400 acres -- for the debt. Mr. Dulany acceded to the proposal, and Colonel Cresap made another remove, to the place now called Old Town, but by himself called Skipton, after the place of his nativity. This place is a few miles above the junction of the North and South branches of the Potomac, on the North fork, and at length became the place of his permanent residence; and here he acquired an immense landed estate on both sides of the river -- i. e., in Virginia and Maryland. It was, perhaps, about this time, or soon after, that, having renewed his acquaintance with the Washington family, he entered conjointly into an association with two or three gentlemen of this name -- of whom, I think, the General was one -- Colonel George Mason, and many other gentlemen in England and America, and formed what was called "The Ohio Company." This Company made the first English settlement at Pittsburg before Braddock's war; and it was through their means and efforts that the first path was traced through that vast chain of mountains called the Allegheny. Colonel Cresap, as one of that Company, and active agent thereof in this section of the country, employed an honest and friendly Indian to lay out and mark a road from Cumberland to Pittsburg. This Indian's name was Nemacolin; and he did his work so well that General Braddock with his army pursued the same path, which thenceforward took the name of Braddock's road, and which does not at this day materially differ from the present great National Road.

There can be no doubt that the exertions and influence of this Company had a strong tendency to accelerate the exploration and settlement of the Western country. They were, in fact, and might truly be said to be the corps of Pioneers that opened the way to that immense flood of population we now see spreading like a mighty torrent to the Pacific Ocean; and it may not, perhaps, be amiss at this place to state a circumstance, perfectly in my memory, demonstrative of that energetic and enterprising spirit always so conspicuous in the character of Colonel Cresap. The circumstance I allude to is a plan conceived and digested by the old gentleman when, I believe, upward of ninety years of age; it was to explore and examine the country quite to the Western ocean, and it appeared so rational and practicable, that if he had been thirty years younger it is probable he would himself have tested its practicability.

But to return. We do not pretend to say that all those efforts and exertions of the Ohio Company were purely disinterested. Not so; nor would it be reasonable to expect it. On the contrary, they felt the impulse of a strong excitement from a most powerful motive, viz: self-interest. They had the promise from the King and court of Great Britain of a grant for 500,000 acres of land on the Ohio, and this land was actually surveyed in 1775, but our Revolution prevented the consummation of the title. But let their motive be what it might, the Nation, it must be acknowledged, is under obligations to this Company, and especially to the bold and enterprising spirit of > Colonel Cresap for an early knowledge and acquisition of the country west of the Allegheny mountains .

But there is a very material fact not to be forgotten in the annals of our history, to-wit: that soon after the settlement made at Pittsburg, under the auspices and at the expense of the Ohio Company, they place was taken possession of by the French, who built a Fort, and which they called Duquesne. This place being considered all-important as well by England as by France, soon became a bone of contention; a war ensued, which cost England two hot-headed Scotch Generals, Braddock and Grant -- the latter I believe was only a colonel -- and their armies many subsequent battles and much blood and treasure to regain possession of this place, and it is possible, I think, that the great battle between Wolf and Montcalm on the plains of Abraham, near Quebec, decided the fate of the whole Western country.

This war, which is known and distinguished in this country by the term of Braddock's War, placed Colonel Cresap and his family in a perilous situation. The settlers around him were few and thinly scattered, and the settlement in fact was broken up. Colonel Cresap removed his family to Conococheague, but he was compelled to fight his way, for he had advanced but five or six miles on his journey when he was attacked by some Indians. They did no injury, however, and were soon dispersed -- after which he proceeded without further molestation.

It appears, however, that he did not remain an idle spectator of these scenes of blood and devastation that threatened ruin and desolation to the infant settlements on the head of the Potomac. He raised a company of volunteers, and marched to attack his Indian enemies whenever and wherever he might find them. He pursued, it seems, Braddock's road, not expecting, it is is probable, to meet with the enemy until he had crossed the mountains; but if so, he was deceived, for he met a small party of Indians just on the west foot of the Savage mountain; a battle ensued, and his son Thomas was killed by an Indian; but as both fired at the same time, he also killed the Indian, or so badly wounded him that he was killed a few minutes afterward by William Lynn. Nothing more, I believe, was done at this time or place, and the party returned home.

Colonel Cresap, however, soon got together another company of volunteers, and with his two surviving sons -- Daniel and Michael -- and a negro of gigantic stature, marched again, taking the same route on Braddock's road. They advanced this time as far as Negro mountain, where they met a party of Indians. A running fight took place; Cresap's party killed an Indian and the Indians killed the negro; and it was this circumstance -- the death of the negro on the mountain -- that has immortalized his name by fixing it on this ridge forever. This was, I believe, Colonel Cresap's last battle with the Indians, for after peace was made, he returned to his farm at Old Town, and what I have further to say respecting Colonel Cresap will be rather in the disjunctive and desultory way.

The reader has not forgotten, perhaps, that I have already mentioned the name of the Indian Nemacolin, employed by Colonel Cresap to lay out the road to Pittsburg. Now so strong was the affection of this Indian for Colonel Cresap and his family, that he not only spent much of his time with them, but before he finally went away, brought his son George and left him with the family to raise; and it is a fact within my own knowledge that this George lived and died in the family.

Again, at the time of Colonel Cresap's Conojacular war with the Pennites, they hired an Indian to go to his house and kill him. The Indian accordingly went to the Colonel's house, and continued lounging about several days, reluctant savage as he was to commit such cold blooded murder, until at length overcome with the kindness of the family, he confessed the whole, and went away in peace.

Once more, while the Indians were carrying on the desolating war already noticed upon the head waters of the Potomac, and other frontier settlements, they one day made an attack upon Colonel Cresap's for, at his own house, near Old Town. They killed a Mr. Wilder  who happened to be some distance from the fort; but the attack was feeble, easily repelled, and the Indian was killed who killed Mr. Wilder. But a certain old Indian named Kill-buck contrived to get under a bridge over a mill race, about one hundred and fifty yards from the for, where he lay quietly and patiently, two or three days and nights, with the sole view of killing old Cresap, whom he never saw during the whole time; and to add to his mortification, one day, while lying under the bridge, an old woman coming on the bridge, stopped directly over him, and let her water upon him. Now, whether this old fellow had ever of the Philosopher Socrates and his Xantippe, I know not; but certain it is, that under similar circumstances he was more passive and silent than even Socrates himself. For this story we are indebted to Kill-buck, or it would have remained a secret forever.

Although we believe every man is under the protection of Providence, yet from these anecdotes it would seem to appear that this old gentleman was most specially and peculiarly preserved.

Colonel Cresap's literary attainments were small; the incidents and unpropitious circumstances of his early life were such as to preclude and forbid every thing of this nature. His mind was, however, vigorous, comprehensive and strong; for notwithstanding the defect in his early education, and all the disadvantage of acquiring scientific knowledge in mature age, yet by industry and application he obtained a sufficient knowledge of mathematics to be entrusted with the surveyorship of Prince George's county  and such also was his decision and energy of mind, that he frequently represented his county in the Legislature, and for clearness of understanding, soundness of judgment, and firmness of mind, he was esteemed one of the best members.

Perhaps no part of Colonel Cresap's character was more estimated than his benevolence and hospitality. In early times when there were but few taverns, and those few were very indifferent, his house at Old Town was open and his table spread for all decent travelers, and they were welcome. His delight was to give and receive useful information; nor was this friendly disposition limited to white people only. The Indians generally called on him in pretty large parties as they passed and repassed from North to South on their war expeditions, and for which special purpose he kept a very large kettle for their use; and he also generally gave them a beef to kill for themselves every time they called, and his liberality toward them gained for him among them the honorable title of the Big-spoon.

His person was not large bur firmly set, and his muscular strength was very great; he had a sound constitution, and lived to the uncommon age of one hundred and five or six. About the age of three score and ten he undertook and performed a voyage to England, and came back in safety, bringing with him four nieces -- sister's daughters -- one of whom, an ancient woman, is still living . While in London, Colonel Cresap was commissioned by Lord Baltimore to run the western line of Maryland, with a view to ascertain which of the two branches of the Potomac was the largest, and which was in reality the fountain-head or first source of that river . I recollect having heard Colonel Cresap say that many years ago some gentlemen who were appointed commissioners to settle this question, came up to the junction of the two branches, but considering it difficult and dangerous to proceed further, measured the width and depth of the rivers and finding the north branch the widest and deepest, reported accordingly.

On his return home he employed surveyors and ran the line, as follows: A due north line from the head spring of the north branch to intersect the Pennsylvania line, and then beginning at the head spring of the south branch and running a parallel line north to the Pennsylvania line. It was thus discovered that the line from the head of the south branch was twelve miles west of that drawn from the north branch; hence it is probable that if our Revolution had not dissolved the charter of Baltimore and Fairfax, that the high Court of Chancery in Great Britain would have had an important cause to decide; but as the case now stands, it is a question between the two States of Maryland and Virginia, which may, it is possible, in some future day become a subject of inquiry and investigation.

A few more remarks and I am done with Colonel Cresap. When he was upward of eighty years old he married a second wife, and at the age of about one hundred, performed a journey, partly by sea and partly by land, from his residence at Old Town to an island near the British Province of Nova Scotia, and returned in safety. From this we seem warranted in asserting, that had Providence -- or chance if you like the word better -- placed Colonel Cresap at the head of an army, or state, or kingdom, he would have been a more conspicuous character. He was not inferior to Charles XII of Sweden in personal bravery; nor to Peter the Great of Russia -- whom in many things he much resembled -- in coolness and fortitude, or that peculiar talent of learning experience from misfortune, and levying a tax upon damage and loss to raise him to future prosperity and success.

Having now done with Colonel Cresap, I must entreat the reader's patience while I enter with some minuteness upon a catalogue of the Cresap family. I have already assigned -- and need not repeat them -- weighty reasons for pursuing this course.

Colonel Thomas Cresap had five children; three sons -- Daniel, Thomas and Michael; and two daughters -- Sarah and Elizabeth.

Daniel was a plain man -- the patriarch of the day and country in which he lived -- a man of sober habits, great industry, economy and temperance. Like Jacob of old, agriculture was his occupation and delight; and in the midst of his family, his flocks, and his herds, he spent his days and acquired immense wealth. He was proverbially the poor man's friend, and has been known, in scarce times, to refuse to sell corn to those who had money, that he might have enough to supply those who had none; and I suspect this original, although faithful portrait, has but few copies. What a pity.

I do not purpose writing the lives of all the Cresaps, yet there are a few circumstances in this man's life that deserve recording, especially as they have a remote bearing on the main object of this work, namely: to show that the public are greatly deceived in their opinion of the Cresap family respecting Indians and Indian affairs.

Old Nemacolin, the Indian already mentioned, was very intimate with and spent much of his time in the family of Daniel Cresap. They agreed one day to go out on a bear hunt, and after getting into what they thought proper ground, they separated, having fixed upon a place known to both where they would meet. Cresap pursued his way to the top of the Allegheny mountain, and soon started and treed some cubs. Anxious to get the cubs, and to learn his dog to fight them, he ascended the tree; but the cubs still moving higher, he pursued until the limbs of the tree broke, and down came Cresap and cubs to the ground -- or rather to the stones -- for it happened on a rough, stony piece of ground. This fall from such a height, and among stones, broke his bones, and nearly took his life. He lay on the ground motionless and senseless until the old Indian, who not finding him at the time and place agreed upon, and supposing that something had befallen, had the good fortune to find him, after diligent search, in the situation above described; but his wounds and bruises were such that he could not be moved. Nemacolin, moved with compassion, went to his house and informed his wife, and between them with the aid of a horse and litter they took him to his home.

I tell the reader this story not only to show the habits of intimacy between the Cresap family and the Indians, but it was this circumstance -- or his dwelling in the vicinity of the mountain -- that has immortalized his name; for it was from that the ridge of the Allegheny mountain called Dan's Mountain took its name, and which I presume is fixed on it forever.

Daniel Cresap -- son of Colonel Thomas -- had by his first wife one son, Michael, who commanded a company in Dunmore's war, and was afterward colonel of the militia of Hampshire County, Virginia, who is dead; and by a second wife he had seven sons and three daughters, to-wit: Thomas, Daniel, Joseph, Van, Robert, James, and Thomas again; and Elizabeth, Mary, and Sarah. Thomas died young.

Daniel Cresap -- son of Daniel -- was a lieutenant in his uncle Michael's company of Riflemen, who marched to Boston in 1775; was afterward colonel of the militia of Allegheny county, Maryland, and also commanded a regiment in General Lee's army against the whiskey boys. He died on his return from this expedition.

Joseph, his second second son by his second wife, was also with his uncle in Dunmore's war, although very young. He was in both expeditions: that commanded by McDonald, and also in that commanded by Dunmore in person. He also marched to Boston in the company commanded by his uncle and was one of his lieutenants. He has often represented the county of Allegheny, Maryland, in the Legislature, and was lastly a member of the Senate. He is still living, is a man of wealth and respectability, has been four times married, and has a large family of children.

Van, his fourth son, is dead. He left two sons and two daughters, three of whom are still living, have families, and are respectable.

Robert, like his father, is a plain, domestic man. His habits of industry and economy have produced their natural results -- wealth and independence -- and in respect to wealth, is among the first in Allegheny county. He is yet living and has a large family of children.

James is rich and very popular; has often represented his county in the State Legislature, and has a fine family of children. He is still living.

Thomas, his youngest son, occupies his father's old mansion house, and is highly respectable; has also represented his county in the State Legislature; is a present one of the judges of the Orphan's Court; is living, and has a large family of children.

And now may I not ask: how many fathers have so many sons honorable to their family and in such high estimation among their fellow citizens?

Elizabeth, his eldest daughter, was married to Thomas Collins, Esq., of Hampshire county, Virginia. They are both dead, but left several children, one of whom is -- or was -- colonel of the militia of Hampshire, but he has removed to Maryland.

Mary, his second daughter, was unfortunate in her marriage, but her dissipated husband is dead, and she has several fine children.

Sarah, his youngest daughter, is married to Aquilla A. Brown, Esq., attorney at law; they reside in Philadelphia, are wealthy and respectable, and have several fine children.

Thomas Cresap -- second son of Colonel Thomas -- was, as already related, killed by an Indian, but both firing at the same instant, killed each other. He was married and left a widow and one female child. This daughter of Thomas Cresap, Jr., was first married to a Mr. Brent, a lawyer, by whom she had a son and daughter, both still living. Her son Thomas Brent, Esq., lives in Washington county, Maryland, and is wealthy and respectable. She was afterward married to John Reid, Esq., of Allegheny county; they had several children, one of which, William Reid, Esq., is now a representative for his county.

Michael Cresap, the subject of this memoir and youngest son of Colonel Thomas, left five children -- two sons and three daughters. But as the daughters were the oldest we will begin with them:

Mary, the eldest daughter, was married to Luther Martin, Esq., Attorney General of Maryland. She is dead, and has left two daughters, one of whom is also dead.

Elizabeth, the second daughter, married Lenox Martin, Esq., -- brother of Luther. He was also raised to the profession of the law, and was for a period a practitioner, but is now a justice of the peace, and resides in Allegheny county, near Old Town. Himself and wife are both living, and have a large family of children.

Sarah, the youngest daughter, married Osborn Sprigg, Esq. They are both dead, but left four sons, one of whom (Michael) is a popular character, and at present is a candidate for Congress with a fair prospect of success.

James, the eldest son, was first married to a Miss Reid, but she dying young, he afterward married Mrs. Vanbiber, widow of Mr. Abraham Vanbiber, of Baltimore, by whom he had one son, Luther Martin Cresap, who is still living, but his father is dead.

Michael, youngest son of Captain Michael, married a Miss Ogle, a young lady raised by his mother. They live on the Ohio river, have several fine children, and are wealthy and respectable.

Sarah, daughter of Colonel Thomas Cresap, was twice married; first to Colonel Enoch Innis, and afterward to a Mr. John Foster. They are all dead, and she had no children.

Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of Colonel Thomas Cresap, was married to a Mr. Isaac Collier, from Pennsylvania, who was rather a dissipated character. They are both dead, but left several children, who reside in the States of Kentucky, Ohio and Alabama, and all of them are wealthy and respectable.

Thus have I brought into public view this numerous and respectable family.....