Petition For The Establishment Of Lancaster County - February 6, 1728/9


Click images for larger versions.

Lancaster Petition


Record Group 21: Records of the Proprietary Government, Executive Correspondence, Iron gall ink on paper, 29 1/4"X 12. " Names written in the hand of the assembly clerk.

Lancaster County was the first of the sixty-four counties created by Pennsylvania's legislature beyond the original three of Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia that William Penn organized. The population of Penn's colony increased rapidly. Founded in 1681 it was next to the last colony in British America. (Georgia, in 1732, was the last). By the time of the American Revolution (1775-1783), it was one of the most heavily populated with close to 300,000 residents. Approximately 2,000 people lived on the west bank of the Delaware River when Penn received his charter in 1681. With Penn came 2,000 emigres in 1682. By 1700, the colony included about 30,000 residents. In the late 1720s, there may have been 75,000 present. The earlier arrivals settled in the province's eastern corner. Although some of the later immigrants remained where they landed at Philadelphia, most had to go into the interior to find sufficient land for their homesteads. They moved north up the Delaware River Valley toward what became Easton, northwest to the Schuylkill River Valley toward what is now Reading, and west to the Conestoga region where in 1729 there were about 3,500 settlers. In that year a group of the residents requested the establishment of a new county.

Their petition contained several reasons that Pennsylvania's later officials would receive from similar denizens of the interior. The residents claimed that the Conestoga region was too heavily populated to be administered effectively from a county seat "eighty to one hundred miles away" in Chester. Because of the distance, the "arm of justice" was weakened. It was too expensive and time-consuming to travel to the courthouse to conduct legal business. "Grievances were not likely to be Redressed," among which were unfair assessment of taxes, townships that were "undivided," and bridges were not built "where they are wanted." Another problem was the presence of "Thieves" and "Vagabonds" who considered themselves in that area "beyond the Reach of the law." Unexpressed but possibly also valid was the desire of capable and ambitious leaders in the interior for political power. Among the petitioners were John Harris who operated a ferry across the Susquehanna River and Samuel Blunston who later issued unofficial "Blunston's licenses" to the settlers and then carried their claims to the land office in Philadelphia. Despite the large number of Germans and Swiss in the area, only about twelve of the 182 petitioners were of that background.

The authority to create new counties rested with the proprietor or his agent, in this case with Governor Patrick Gordon (served 1726-1736). Because the legislature would have to establish courts, the Governor submitted the petition to the Assemblymen who approved it on May 9, 1729. He signed it on the following day. The Governor appointed twelve commissioners, several of whom were experienced surveyors, to set the eastern boundary with Chester County. The western boundary was not defined until later.

Next came the organization of the county. Governor Gordon named it Lancaster possibly at the behest of John Wright, a prominent leader in the movement to create it, who was born in Lancashire, England. The Governor appointed eight justices of the peace who constituted the county court. In consultation with residents, they specified the townships' names and defined their boundaries. They appointed a temporary sheriff and coroner. When elections were held in the fall of 1729, voters elected these officials along with an assessor, and three commissioners. They elected a treasurer in the following year. Over two other sites, the commissioners selected as the county seat, "Gibson's Pasture," which became the city of Lancaster. They purchased land for a courthouse that they erected in the center square and for a jail that they built nearby.

The size and boundaries of Lancaster County are not now what they were when it was founded in 1729. From parts of its territory were created York (1749), Cumberland (1750), Berks (1752), Northumberland (1772), Dauphin (1785), and Lebanon (1813). Although Lancaster has not been divided since the early 1800s, the process of creating new counties from existing ones continued from the first instance with Lancaster in 1729 until the most recent county, Lackawanna, was established in 1878.



To the Honourable Patrick Gordon Esq'r Governor of the Province of Pensylvania, New Castle Kent and Sussex on Delaware and Council.

The Petition of the Inhabitants of the upperpart of the County of Chester Sheweth that by Reason of the Great Distance we live from the County Town Where Elections & Courts are held & publick Offices kept, The arm of Justice is weakened, The benefit of many Good & wholesome Laws almost if not Intirely Lost, & ye person who has Occasion to apply to them put to great and Burdensom Expense, Thieves Vagabonds & Ill people--Boldly infest our parts (Counting themselves beyond the Reach of Law) to the Disturbance of the Peace & very great Damage of the Inhabitants it being almost Impossible to take & Secure Such Villains where Justices & Constables are So thin plac'd as not one in Twenty or thirty Miles, & Assistance Difficult to be raised on Such Occasions Amongst people who would freely Serve but are Deterred by want of Ready Cash, to bear ye Charges of a Journey of Eighty or a hundred Miles to the County Jail, and as we are Mostly new Setlers far from a Market, and Trade and Commerce among our Selves Mostly by way of Barter, Money cannot be Supposed plenty. Therefore when Law Suits prove Necessary to Recover our Just Debts, the trouble and Expence of Travelling to Obtain a Writt or Sumons, having it Serv'd bringing Evidence (when needful) attending Two or three Courts, the Repealed Journeys amount to three or four hundred Miles, besides the loss of much time, all which being A ready Money Charge makes the Recovery of a Small Sum more detrimental than the loss of it, and is a very Great Oppression of the Debtor, and in debts under forty Shillings which canot be recovered without an Execution. The action Drops rather then Cause So great a Charge as would Accrue if the party be Sent to Jail, & taken from his ffriends (if any) who might Assist him, Run away Servants & Suspitious persons who often come this way to hide among us or Escape into the back parts of Maryland are Seldom taken up. The Reward for Runaways not answering the Trouble, And to far to Send Suspected Persons til they can make proof of their Clearness. Our highways are unrepaired, Townships Undivided nor Bridges Built, where they are wanted nor can our Taxes be as Regulary Laid, or our Griovance likely to be Redressed when the mean Distance to the nearest place of Appeal is at least fifty Miles, and neither Comishoner nor more then one Assessor (if that) Elected in many years within the Circle of five hundred ffamilies, These and many more Inconveniences of the like nature, & from the Same Cause which may Occur to you on a serious Reflection, we humbly offer to your Consideration, Hopeing as wee are his Majesties Leige Subjects, And Justly Entituled to all the ease & Advantages the Law will Afford, You will in Your Care for the Publick good be Ready to Redress, And in Order thereto as most of Your petitioners Liveing fifty or Eighty Miles from Chester & Some much further, and ye Bounds Yearly Enlarging, We humbly pray you would be pleased to Order A Divission line to be made between the uper and lower part of Chester County, which uper Divission when So made may be a County and Called ye County of--with Privilidge Granted to Elect Representatives, A Sheriff, & Other Officers in number and Manor as they are now Elected in Chester County, And have all other Officers, Offices powers and priviledges Equal with Other Countys, This we humbly Conceive would be the most Effectual means of Redress, of Great Ease and benefit to Your Petitioners, and no ways Prejudicial to Chester County or the province in General And for which your Petitioners as in Duty Bound Shall pray &c.

N.B. The under Written names are truly Copyed out of the Original Subscription to a Petition to the Assembly by us. Jno Wright

Tho: Edwards

Pat Anderson Caleb Pierce David Jones John Sickray
Ephrm Moor Jno Walter Thos Finball Jno Huwoll
Hugh Scott Alex: White Robt Cloud Jacob Lawson
Andrew Killbreth Robt Allison Jno Musgrove Robt Ceeas
Thos: Wilkins Gordon Howard Jno Griffith Alex McKeen
Wm Hayes Jno Sterret Rid Hastings Samll McGomrey
Jno Killbreth Zacharias Moor Smll Taylor Geo Muffet
Jno Mitchel Jno McLean Mat Watkins Jno Muffet
Rid Allison Jno Catherwood Jno Killbreth Jur Walter Tidiford
Jonas Devenport Jno Miller James Gibson Robt Killbreth
Wm Brian Jno Allison Jos Konedy Jams Arady
Hugh White Jno Harris Thos Hams Wm Allison
Thos Black Samll Scott Thos Willsson Samll Hunybrook
Pat Camphel Wm. Allison Jos Thatcher James Doke
James Stuart James Smith James Killbreth Jur Richard McLeure
Geo: Stuart James Robison Pat McKinley Jno White
Wm Meben Moses White Samll Parker Jno Taylor
John Wright James Moor John Kellsy Thos Mitchel
Tobias Hendrix Jon McFarland Moses Thomson Abraham Sott
Samll: Blunston Thos Howard Jam Killbreth Jas Work
Ed. Smout James Patison Robt Mcferlan Ed Dochgery
[Illegible] Jno McCurry Arthur Peterson Jams Swafford
Robt Barber Jacob Bar Jno: Miller John Klemsen
John Poslethwait Samll Bar Caleb Worley Jno Miller
Thos Gaill Abraham Mire Jams Hendrix Jur Ben Heath
Samll Taylor Christian Moser Geo: Holt Thos Clark
Jno: Swift Jur Jacob Funk Jno Hendrix John Boyle
Jno: Davis Jacob Fincher Robt Willkins Pat Jack
Thos Owen James Hendrix Enock Davies Geo: Bohnsan
Jon Linvil Joseph Higingbotham Tobias Hanspaker Wm Richardson
Albortus Hendrix Caleb Baker Charles Jones James Menir
Jos: Loe Jos Minshall Hugh Rurn Joseph Mays
Francis Worley Geo Middletown Wm Hughs Geo. Thomas
Joseph Jarvis Casper Loughasson Jno Fursey John Powel
Jno Cowin Wm Lindvil Samll Jones Samll Swallow
Dad: Cowin Isaac Woodrow Morgan Jones Danll Cookson
Christian Stoneman Simon Woodrow Henry Jones John Abbott
Danll ffree Peter Lemon John Jones Samll Vernor
Jacob Miller Christian Lemon Francis Jones Dad Vernor
Thos Folkins Gabriel Carpenter Jno: Minshall Jon Williams
John Musgrove Hans Grove Evan Evans James Gott
Henry Carpenter Rid Moor Wm Willson
John Howser John Wauks Danll Harmon
William Willis Rid Owen
Thos Edwards