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God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Romans 5:8
The Lesnett family came from Germany. According to family tradition, Christian Lesnett came to America in 1752.
The name is spelled a variety of ways but the usual spelling in the early days was Lisnett. It later became Lesnett.
Points of interest: Christian Lesnett appears to have served in Col. Henry Bouquet battalion of the Royal American Regiments during the French and Indian War and later served in the militia during the Revolutionary War; Dell Lesnett served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
See George W. Bowers.
CHRISTIAN and CHRISTIANNA LESNETT
Christian Lesnett emigrated from Germany in the mid-1700s and settled near Pittsburgh just before the American Revolution.
Married Christianna. (See below)
Frederick Lesnett, born 1758.
Francis Lesnett, born Nov. 13, 1759.
Sophia Lesnett, born 1762. Married William Rowley.
Christopher Lesnett, born 1764.
Margaret Lesnett, born 1767. Married Richard Boyce.
Christian Lesnett Jr., born 1769.
Christianna Lesnett, born March 13, 1771. Married John Neal.
George Lesnett, born 1777.
An unusually large number of stories have come down to us concerning Christian Lesnett. Family members provided information for an 1889 history of Allegheny County, for various newspaper stories and for two genealogical books. Unfortunately, these accounts often contradict each other – and the 18th century records covering the family’s activities. The following account relies on primary sources but incorporates information from – and comments on – the family narratives where appropriate. (2)
Following Christian’s path through colonial America can be a bit tricky because his surname was spelled a variety of ways in the original documents. Consistent spelling was not a major concern in colonial days and English ears often had trouble with unfamiliar German pronunciations. As a result, tax lists, real estate records and militia muster rolls spell the name Lisnett, Lisnit, Listnet, Lesnitt and Lesneet. It also seems likely that it took the form of Leischnitz in some records, as will be discussed later.
In addition, records that are indisputably related to Christian are nonexistent prior to the 1770s. For example, no immigration record mentioning Christian – or anyone else with a name similar to Lesnett – has turned up despite more than a century of searching in Maryland and Pennsylvania by family genealogists. It’s not until the family’s arrival in the Pittsburgh area that records appear that everyone agrees are definitely related to Christian Lesnett.
As a result, family tradition has tried to fill the gaps. When the family’s historians started gathering information in the 1880s, several of Christian’s grandchildren were still alive to retell the family tales. If we draw these accounts together, we end up with a narrative that runs along the following lines. Christian was born in the Hesse-Cassel region of Germany, in what is now the northern portion of the state of Hessen. Twentieth century sources say he was born in 1728. (3) Most accounts claim Christian made the trans-Atlantic voyage in 1745, though one says it occurred in 1752. Some accounts add dramatic details, such as, “They landed at Baltimore, Maryland, after a long, stormy voyage of 90 days on the water.” (4) The ship that carried Christian to America also brought a young married couple. During the passage, the husband died and the wife, Christianna, gave birth to a girl. Within a few years of immigrating, Christian married Christianna. The earliest accounts say the family settled in Hagerstown, Md. Later sources say the family first settled in Frederick, Md., where Christian operated a cabinetmaking shop. While living there, Christiana gave birth to Frederick, the first child born in the town, an event that prompted its founder to present the child with a special ring. At some point after this, the cabinet shop burned down and the family then moved northwest to Hagerstown. In 1763, Christian joined a military expedition to Fort Pitt and realized the possibilities on the frontier. Sometime between 1765 and 1770, the family migrated to the Pittsburgh area.
Unfortunately, this account is built on a foundation of sand that cannot bear the weight of scrutiny. First, it wasn’t handed down fully formed by knowledgeable family members in the 1880s. It evolved over the course of four decades, with changing dates, places and events. And comparing the account to available sources from the time period raises serious questions. While broad strokes of the narrative are probably true, many specific details are provably false.
First, no 18th century record has turned up covering Christian’s birth date or place of origin. A birth in Hesse-Cassel in 1728 seems very reasonable and might be correct. However, that date doesn’t appear in the evolving Lesnett narrative until 1906 so it’s probably wise to be skeptical given the nature of so many other details in the narrative.
Next, the account of Christian’s immigration presents a few problems.
An arrival in Baltimore seems very likely. In the mid-1700s, most German immigrants arrived in the port of Philadelphia. Since Philadelphia kept good records of these immigrants and no name akin to Lesnett appears in any of its passenger lists, it’s fairly certain that Christian arrived at another port. Though not as popular a destination as Philadelphia, Baltimore received many German immigrants. Unfortunately, its records are not as comprehensive. Once again, no record has materialized.
With no passenger list or naturalization record, we will need to examine the family traditions to determine a likely immigration date. The account in the 1889 “History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania,” says Christian immigrated in 1745 and subsequent narratives used that date for the next 40 years. The county history states that John W. Lesnett’s “ancestors crossed the ocean in 1745 in the same vessel, and settled at Hagerstown, Md. The male ancestor married, about 1752, Christena, a widow, having one child.” This child was Nancy. The only problem here is that church and cemetery records indicate that Nancy was actually born in 1754 or 1755, which means that a 1752 wedding was impossible. (5) But in addition to undermining the wedding date, Nancy’s true birth date casts serious doubt on the immigration date. From the very beginning, one of the basic elements of the traditional account has been the assertion that Christian and Christiana immigrated aboard the same ship. However, the fact that Christiana had only one child before she married Christian is an indication that she and her first husband had been married for only a few years when he died. This would put their immigration within a year or two of Nancy’s birth. This would dovetail with a later development in the traditional narrative. Starting with a newspaper story about the 1912 family reunion, family accounts claim that Christiana’s first husband died and Nancy was born during the voyage to America. When Daniel Bennett published the 1931 “Family History of Christian Lesnett: 1728-1928,” he realized that linking the immigration date and Nancy’s birth date presented problems for the traditional timeline. He changed the arrival date to 1752 and he indicated that he settled on this date based on the assertion that Nancy was born during the voyage and the idea that she was 85 years old when she died in 1837. Unfortunately, Bennett got her age wrong even though he provided a description of her tombstone – which specifically states she was “in the 83rd years of her age” when she died, not 85. (6)
It’s impossible to say where the 1745 arrival date originated. However, it’s impossible for all of the details of the traditional Lesnett narrative to be true if the family arrived in 1745 rather than the mid-1750s.
This case demonstrates how a single loose thread – in this case, a tombstone that was easily accessible to the earliest researchers – can start to unravel the traditional account.
The uncertainty continues when trying to determine when Christian and Christiana were wed. The 1889 history says they were married “about 1752,” and some later accounts follow suit. Several newspaper articles covering family reunions in the early 20th century and one lineage book for the Daughters of the American Revolution say they married in 1751. (7) “Genealogy of the Descendants of Robert Smith” – which was published in 1923 and included much of the information later contained in Bennett’s work – also lists 1751 as the date. And Bennett says the marriage occurred in 1757. In this case, Bennett appears to provide the most accurate date. We know that Nancy was born in 1754 or 1755, which provides the earliest possible date of the marriage. We also know that Frederick was born in 1758, which provides the latest possible date of marriage. (8) Given that most couples started having children soon after they wed, a wedding date in 1757 seems very likely.
All of the accounts mention the family’s residence in Maryland, where Christian worked as a cabinetmaker. Unfortunately, each new version changed the “facts” a bit. As noted above, the 1889 history simply says the Lesnetts “settled at Hagerstown, Md.” The newspaper account of the 1891 family reunion says they “settled at Hagerstown, Md. … He married and moved to Fredericksburg, Md., in 1752. Their first son was the first child born in the town of Fredericksburg, and the founder of the town presented him with a silver ring and christened him after the town.” The newspaper story about the 1912 reunion says they “settled at Frederick, Maryland. … In 1752 Frederick, their first child, was born. The founder of the town at the christening called him Frederick for himself and the town, he being the first child born in that town, and presented him with a ring. … He moved from Frederick to Hagerstown, Md.” The Smith genealogy says Christian “settled at Frederickstown, Md. … In 1752 Frederick (Father of John Lesnett) was born. He being the first white child born in the town, the founder asked at the christening to have him named after himself and the town in commemoration of the occurrence presented him with a silver signet ring, with his initial on it, such as was used in those times for marking all writings. It was lost about the time of his death. … He moved from Frederickstown to Hagerstown, Md.” Bennett’s 1931 book states, “They landed in Baltimore, Md., then moved West to Frederick, Md. … Records found in the Pennsylvania Archives would show that Lesnett was a wood worker and cabinet maker, he had a shop in Frederick but was burned out, he then moved to Hagerstown, Md.” (9)
The only information that is common to each of these versions is a residence in Hagerstown. Indeed, this is the only assertion that rings true when all of the evidence is considered. However, even the Hagerstown tidbit needs to be qualified. Hagerstown wasn’t established until 1762, which means the family must have lived somewhere else between its immigration and its arrival in the Western Maryland town.
The accounts waffle on whether the family first settled Hagerstown – which didn’t actually exist when they arrived in America – or in a town identified variously as Fredericksburg, Frederickstown or Frederick. (For the record, the correct name is Frederick and it’s the seat of Frederick County, which also included Hagerstown when that town was finally established.) Many accounts also add the tale that the Lesnetts’ first son, Frederick, was born in 1752 and was the first child born in the town of Frederick, which prompted its founder to present him with a special ring to mark the occasion. This tale is nice but has no basis in reality. Frederick’s tombstone indicates that he was born in 1758, a good six years later than these accounts state. In addition, the town of Frederick was founded in 1745 and scores of children were born to its inhabitants before Frederick Lesnett appeared on the scene. It seems likely that Frederick owned a special ring but its significance is unknown.
In addition to the problematic dates and fanciful stories, there’s another big problem with accounts of the family’s residence in Maryland: lack of solid evidence. It’s a problem that vexed Bennett, who wrote: “I have written to Baltimore and to Frederick and had the records of the old churches searched, in hopes of finding a records of their landing or a record of their marriage, and the name of the widow, but none of them were able to give me any information, the time was before records were kept, and that existence was more important than were records.” My own searches for records in the courthouse and the historical society in Frederick and other repositories covering that area were likewise fruitless. However, Bennett is wrong to blame this lack of evidence on the difficulties of colonial life. Frederick was a well developed town in the mid-1750s and its church, property, probate and tax records are relatively extensive. And none of these contain a name that’s even remotely similar to Lesnett. And it seems an enterprise as substantial as a cabinet shop would appear in the tax or property records. The logical conclusion seems to be that the family resided in Hagerstown, but never lived in Frederick. This would match the earliest account – the 1889 Allegheny County history. In addition, since Hagerstown was smaller, newer and more remote, the lack of evidence is less surprising. However, as mentioned above, one has to wonder where the family lived between immigration and the founding of Hagerstown in 1762.
Once again, the answer to this problem is contained in a record that was readily available a century ago but escaped the attention of earlier researchers. It’s possible the document wasn’t consulted because Christian’s son Francis, like his stepdaughter Nancy, didn’t produce offspring named Lesnett and, thus, didn’t provide incentive to dig deeply for information about his activities. However, this record is actually crucial to our understanding of Lesnett activities before their move to the Pittsburgh area around 1770.
On Sept. 24, 1832, Francis Lesnett appeared before the court of common pleas in Allegheny County, Pa., to apply for a pension for his service in the Revolutionary War. After providing an account of his service, Francis was asked, “Where and in what year were you born?” His answer didn’t fit the traditional accounts of the family history. He replied: “in Pittsburgh in the year seventeen hundred & fifty nine, 13th of November.” (10)
In this one sentence, Francis undermines much of the traditional narrative. First, it moves Francis’ birth from its traditional location in Frederick, Md., to Pittsburgh. Second, it explains why Christian doesn’t appear in Maryland records during the late 1750s – he was in Pennsylvania. Finally, an understanding of what was going on in Pittsburgh in 1759 uncovers a path that leads to the truth about Christian Lesnett’s activities after immigration.
In November 1759, Pittsburgh wasn’t even a town. It was the site of a small fortification whose troops had just begun laying the foundations of Fort Pitt. Only a year before, British regulars and provincial troops had captured the remains of France’s Fort Duquesne, and additional attacks by French soldiers and their Native American allies were expected at any time. Since the area was still an active war zone and devoid of English settlers, the only civilians in the area were soldiers’ families and those serving the needs of the garrison. Since civilians were very few and most provincial troops had returned to their homes soon after the conquest of Fort Duquesne, it seems pretty certain that Christian was a soldier serving in the British Army. Fortunately, we can do much more than surmise because there’s evidence of Christian’s military service.
The unit that built and garrisoned Fort Pitt was the 1st Battalion of the 60th Regiment, or the Royal Americans, which was commanded by Col. Henry Bouquet. Many of the Lesnett accounts mention Christian’s service with this Swiss-born officer, but most stress service in 1763 rather than the 1750s. While no muster rolls of the regiment are readily available, Col. Bouquet’s papers twice refer to a man named Leischnitz. One of these entries appears on a list of accounts dated Feb. 9, 1759 – almost exactly nine months before the birth of Francis Lesnett. Although the entries don’t include any details that specifically link Leischnitz to Christian Lesnett, the names bear a striking similarity – especially when German pronunciation is taken into account. (11)
However, if we follow the Royal Americans’ path back two years, we make an even more interesting discovery. In April 1757, Col. Bouquet’s battalion was stationed at its usual home in Philadelphia. The 60th Regiment had been established in 1755 to recruit and train German settlers to fight “Indian style” on the frontier. As a result, many of these troops worshiped at the German-speaking St. Michael’s Lutheran Church when garrisoned in Philadelphia. On April 3, 1757, a certain soldier and his bride took the vows of matrimony. Christian Leischnitz, a soldier, married Christina Bettman, a widow. (12)
This record is a perfect match for the facts outlined above. The names are extraordinarily similar to Christian and Christiana Lesnett – in fact they are far more similar than some other records that are indisputably about the family. This Christina was a widow. The wedding date falls in the year before Frederick’s birth in 1759 and after Nancy’s birth in 1754 or 1755. And Christian was a soldier in the very same unit that was at Fort Pitt in November 1758, when Francis was born. For several years, some researchers have accepted this marriage record as a reference to Christian and Christiana Lesnett, but others still reject its relevance.
But if we accept that Christian was a soldier in the Royal Americans and lived in Pennsylvania during the late 1750s, we still shouldn’t reject the idea that the family spent some time in Maryland. From the earliest available account, family tradition held that Christian lived in Hagerstown before permanently moving to the Pittsburgh area. In addition, a stay in Maryland is mentioned in the earliest reference to Christian Lesnett in a secondary source. “History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania,” published in 1876 by Samuel W. Durant, states in its account of early settlers of South Fayette Township: “The next settler, and first permanent one, was Christopher Lesnet. He emigrated from Germany to Baltimore, Maryland, and came from there to South Fayette before 1770.” (13) This statement is particularly helpful because it appears in a source that seems to be independent of Lesnett family tradition. Finally, when Christian’s grandchildren were asked in the 1880 Census to identify the birthplaces of their parents, several called upon distant memories and replied “Maryland.” From this admittedly shaky evidence, it seems most likely that the family did spend some time in Maryland – probably in Hagerstown. And given that all of the accounts refer to a move from Maryland to Pittsburgh, it seems certain that the family lived there following Christian’s discharge from the army, which probably occurred sometime in the first half of the 1760s.
In addition, the information about Christian’s military service delivers yet another blow to the tale of Frederick’s birth and his special ring. It seems pretty certain that Frederick was born in Pennsylvania rather than Maryland. The movements of the 60th Regiment are well documented and Christian would not have been based in or deployed to Maryland during the 1750s. It seems likely Christiana would have stayed in the 1st Battalion’s home base in Philadelphia whenever she could not be with Christian. In fact, a Pennsylvania birth seems to be confirmed by the 1880 Census responses by Frederick’s children. Five of six replied that their father had been born in the Keystone State. (Most likely, the child who opted for Maryland – Elizabeth Weaver – remembered that her father had moved from Maryland to the Pittsburgh area as a child and simply made an assumption. She also said her mother was born in Maryland, which disagrees with the statements of all the other children.)
Although Christian’s date of enlistment in the Royal Americans is unknown, it was certainly before April 1757, when he was identified as a soldier on his wedding day.
The Royal Americans were established in late 1755 in response to the devastating defeat of Gen. Edward Braddock’s army by a force of French and Indians in the forests of southwestern Pennsylvania that summer. (14) The idea was to recruit German settlers, primarily from Pennsylvania, to serve in a unit trained to fight Native Americans in loose formation in the forests, but still maintain the discipline necessary to fight a European-style battle when necessary. Recruits signed up for three years of service.
In the summer of 1756, officers arrived in Philadelphia and began recruiting and training the regiment, which consisted of four battalions of 1,000 men each. Col. Henry Bouquet was placed in command of the Royal Americans’ 1st Battalion. (15)
After training was completed in September, the regiment’s 1st and 2nd battalions were deployed to upstate New York, where their troops built roads and small forts. In November, they were ordered to return to winter quarters in Philadelphia. There, a housing shortage literally left some soldiers out in the cold. To alleviate this, troops from other battalions were dispersed to other areas. As the winter progressed, smallpox broke out in the city and sickened and killed many soldiers. Additional troops were recruited to replace those who died.
The 1st Battalion remained in Philadelphia through the end of April – covering the date of Christian and Christiana’s wedding. Later in the spring, five of the battalion’s companies were deployed to Carlisle, Pa., to skirmish against Indian villages. In July, these companies were sent to Albany, N.Y., in anticipation of an attack at Ticonderoga. The 1st Battalion’s other five companies were led by Col. Bouquet to South Carolina, where they spent the remainder of the year. It is unknown which force included Christian.
In 1758, Col. Bouquet led four of the 1st Battalion’s companies during the expedition to drive the French from Fort Duquesne. Since these troops remained in the area to build Fort Pitt, we can place Christian in this portion of the battalion. The operation was commanded by Gen. John Forbes and included British regulars and provincial troops from several colonies, totaling about 6,000 men. Col. George Washington led the contingent from Virginia. The main force moved methodically across Pennsylvania, building a road that would later carry westbound settlers and eventually become parts of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. As the army approached Fort Duquesne in September, the British deployed a scouting force, which was met and defeated by the French. In turn, the French attacked a British outpost and were driven off. Meanwhile, British officials concluded a treaty with several tribes, who then abandoned their French allies. As a result of these setbacks, the French abandoned Fort Duquesne and blew it up in late November. The British moved in and gained control of the Ohio River valley. Elements of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Americans remained in western Pennsylvania and started building Fort Pitt the following year.
Through 1759 and 1760, British forces experienced a string of successes in other theaters that guaranteed victory in North America. It wasn’t long before the British began to demobilize and some members of the Royal Americans were discharged.
It’s possible Christian separated from the military about this time since his three-year enlistment would have ended about 1760. And it’s possible that he moved to Maryland at this point. That would certainly fit some of the traditional accounts, which say the family was living in Hagerstown when Christian decided to join Col. Bouquet’s campaign to relieve Fort Pitt when it was threatened by the Ottawa chief Pontiac.
In early 1763, Pontiac gathered warriors from the Ottawa and several other tribes and organized a series of surprise attacks at strategic points from Detroit to Fort Pitt. The English sent a relief force under Col. Bouquet to western Pennsylvania. It included elements of the 60th Regiment and two regiments of Scottish Highlanders. The force traveled along the Forbes Road until Aug. 5, when it was attacked by Native Americans at Bushy Run, about 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The British forces held off several attacks on the first day. On the second day, Col. Bouquet’s men faked a retreat and drew the Indians into a trap. They then counterattacked and scattered the Native Americans, which enabled the soldiers to march safely to Fort Pitt. (16)
The family accounts are nearly unanimous in stating that Christian served in this campaign. The 1889 history says, “Christy Lesnett enlisted in the army to come to Fort Pitt as a recruit, to hold it against the French and Pontiac, a chief of the Ottawa Indians, and was detailed to repair the supply-wagons.” The newspaper story about the 1891 family reunion says, “Christian Lesnett enlisted in the army to go to Fort Pitt (or Pittsburg) to help hold the place against the French and Indians.” The newspaper story about the 1912 family reunion says, “Here (Hagerstown) he joined Boquet’s army to go take Fort Pitt from Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa Indians. He was detailed to guard and repair wagons at Raystown, now Bedford, and traveled what was then called the Forbes road.” The 1923 Smith genealogy says, “He moved from Frederickstown to Hagerstown, Md., from there he joined the army under Col. Henry Bouquet to go to Fort Pitt to hold the place against the Indians, who were then headed by Pontiac, Chief of the Ottowas. At Raystown, now called Bedford, he was detailed to guard and repair wagons. They traveled over what is known as the Forbestown Road.” (17) It’s interesting that the most memorable aspect of Christian’s role in the campaign role was being detailed to guard and repair wagons at Bedford, which was one of the bases frequently used by the Royal Americans. Perhaps Christian missed the actual fighting at Bushy Run because of this.
It’s impossible to say whether these stories incorporate memories of Christian’s initial enlistment in the 1750s or a reenlistment specifically associated with Pontiac’s Rebellion. Since Pontiac’s attack on Detroit started in April 1763, it’s conceivable that Christian learned of the trouble and returned to serve with his former companions. However, it seems very likely that he never left the army and was still stationed in Pennsylvania. Conclusive evidence of the birth places of his children born in the early 1760s could solve this problem, but Frances appears to be the only one to leave a reliable record of his specific birthplace.
While family tradition strongly affirms Christina’s presence in Col. Bouquet’s campaign, there’s only one possible hint among contemporary documents. It’s the second reference to “Leischnitz” among Bouquet’s papers. The mention appears without context in a memorandum dated April 28, 1764 – eight months after the Battle of Bushy Run. It seems this Leischnitz – whether or not he was Christian – was still associated with the Royal Americans at this time. (18)
According to tradition, Christian left the military and moved to Maryland after his service in Pittsburgh. Perhaps this represented a return to that colony. Perhaps he ran a cabinet shop. Perhaps his shop burned down. At this point, no documentation has turned up to support any of this and it’s wise to be skeptical given the track record of family tradition.
However, the residence in Maryland wasn’t permanent. Christian had been impressed with the land around Pittsburgh but the land was not open to settlement until 1768, when the Iroquois ceded land south of the Ohio River to the British.
When he moved northwest, Christian traveled with his two eldest sons and a friend named Richard Gilson – listed as Gillion or Eilleon in some sources. (19) Several of the traditional accounts describe the party’s arrival and fist months at their new homestead. Although certain details are incorrect, the story probably contains many elements of truth and is worth recounting. The earliest complete version appears in the newspaper story about the 1912 family reunion, which follows.
“Christian Lesnett is next heard from when he and his two sons, Frederick and Frank, and a Mr Eilleon, who had been in the summer before and located on the McCabe farm, down the Chartiers valley. Christian Lesnett bought the claim west and adjoining Eilleon. Mr Eilleon had cleared a piece of which he sowed in rye and had built a house in which they were now going to live. Lesnett and his boys cleared some ground and planted corn and built a house. They sowed some rye and turnips.
“Early in the fall of 1765 the two men, Eilleon and Lesnett, started back to Maryland, leaving Frederick, aged 14, and Frank, aged 12 to hold their claims, expecting to be back before winter, but they were detained as witnesses in a government lawsuit. The winter had set in and the snow on the mountains became so deep between them and the boys that the boys passed the winter in the wild woods alone. In the latter part of April , they returned with their families and made a permanent home in South Fayette township, Allegheny County, 12 miles south of Pittsburgh, on the Pittsburgh and Canonsburg turnpike.”
The exact timing of the move to Pittsburgh is tricky topic. The 1912 version of the story claims they make their first trek to Chartiers Creek in 1765, but other accounts say it occurred in 1768, 1769 or “before 1770.” (20) When taken at face value, the account in the 1876 Allegheny County history seems most reliable since it appears to rely on a source independent of family tradition – essentially because Christian isn’t mentioned elsewhere in the book and it gets his first name wrong. This source places the migration “before 1770,” which isn’t of much help since it covers each of the other dates. As usual, contemporary records don’t support any of these dates. That’s not particularly surprising since settlement was just beginning and effective local governments hadn’t been established yet. And to make matters even more chaotic, both Pennsylvania and Virginia claimed the area and set up overlapping county governments.
If we ignore the dates, it’s possible the family accounts still provide important clues about the timing of the move. Even though they differ on the migration date, the family accounts agree that Christian’s sons Frederick and Francis were 14 and 12 years old when the move occurred. Since Frederick was born in 1758 and Frances was born in November 1759, it seems likely that some portion of the story unfolded in early or mid-1772, after Frederick turned 14 but before Frances turned 13 in November. Interestingly, there is a document that provides some support for this timeframe. When Christian applied for a warrant for his land along Chartiers Creek in 1785, the state government noted that he had to pay 10 pounds per hundred acres, plus interest “to commence from the first day of March 1771.” (21) This would seem to indicate Pennsylvania officials considered March 1, 1771, to be the official date of arrival. And that would place the winter the boys spent alone in early 1772.
As noted before, the area surrounding Pittsburgh was claimed by both Virginia and Pennsylvania when settlement began. Both colonies encouraged settlement and established local governments – Pennsylvania called the area Westmoreland County and Virginia organized it into West Augusta, Ohio and Yohogania counties. Toward the end of the Revolution, Pennsylvania was granted the area nearest Pittsburgh and the areas farther west became what is now the northern panhandle of West Virginia and the state of Ohio. (22) Many of the settlers preferred Virginia because it allowed more land to be claimed. Bennett says the Lesnetts favored Virginia and they were very upset when the territory was granted to Pennsylvania.
At this early date, much of the land in the area was claimed through “tomahawk claims,” and Christian used this method, according to the family accounts. This was done by deadening a few trees near a spring and marking the bark of others with the initial of the person staking the claim. Christian initially claimed 1,000 acres under Virginia law. However, when the area fell under Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction, he was allowed to keep only 414 acres, 20 perches. A 400-acre warrant for Christian Lesneet and a 150-acre warrant for Francis Leshnit are dated Sept. 3 and 16, 1785, respectively. Christian’s warrant describes his land as “including an Improvement on a branch of Chartiers Creek joining lands of John Springer and Shippen in Cecil Township.” (23) However, Christian’s warrant was disputed. A notice in the Pittsburgh Gazette reported in 1797: “John Campbell enters a caveat against granting a patent to Christian Lesnet on his warrant dated 3 Sept 1785, for a tract of land in Washington county, alledging, that he the said Campbell hath an older Virginia certificate for the same. The 1st Monday in October next is appointed for a hearing of the parties on this caveat, 30 days notice being given.” (24) However, Christian’s claim prevailed and he obtained a patent for the land on Feb. 13, 1800, according to the Lesnett genealogy, which includes a copy of the patent. Many of the early settlers named their property and Christian named his land “Berlin.” (25) One has to wonder whether the property’s name is a tribute to his home in Germany. Berlin was far from Hesse-Cassel.
The area in which Christian settled later became part of South Fayette Township in Allegheny County. The 1876 and the 1889 Allegheny County histories both credit him with being the township’s first permanent white settler. (26) But before the foundation of Allegheny County in 1789, Christian’s land fell within the boundaries of Washington County, Pa. As a result, he appears in the records of both counties, as well as the records of Yohogania County, Va.
Christian’s disagreement over the land patent wasn’t the only legal dispute that involved the Lesnetts. The Yohogania County court records contain several references to proceedings. For the July 27, 1778, court session, records state: “Recognizance of Christian Lestnett and wife, Christian Lestnett Jun. Frederick Lestnett, Francis Lestnett and Stoffel Lestnett was Returned and no prosecutors appearing Ordered to be Continued.” The nature of the case is unknown but it seems highly unusual that a legal proceeding would list children among the defendants – Frederick would have been 20 and technically still a minor, Christopher was about 14 years old and Christian Jr. probably wasn’t even 10. One has to wonder whether the boys had gotten themselves into some sort of trouble, and were released into their parents’ custody. And on the session of March 25, 1779, the family’s name is attached to three entries on a day that brought an enormous case load to the court. They were Listnett v McManamy, which was continued to a future session; Springer v Listnett, which was dismissed; and Common Wealth v Lisnett, which was continued. The court records don’t mention the origin or nature of any of the cases. It also should be noted that Common Wealth v. Lisnett would have been a case involving the Commonwealth of Virginia. (27)
By this time, the American Revolution had erupted and western Pennsylvania was once again an active theater of war. Unlike the fighting along the East Coast, the western region saw battles and tactics very similar to those of the French and Indian War. The British and their sympathizers spurred the Native Americans to attack the settlers. British agents provided weapons and bought scalps as proof of successful raids. The conflict took on a ruthless character as atrocities were committed by both sides. Fort Pitt and a collection of smaller fortresses were the main defenses but settlers were also organized into militia companies and built sturdy wood blockhouses for localized protection. Families fled to these blockhouses as soon as word of an Indian raid spread. (28)
Bennett describes one such raid as follows (with some of the grammar and spelling corrected): The settlers in those days lived in great danger of their lives, as the Indians were continually at war. The families had to frequently fly to blockhouses or forts. While the women and children would remain under their protection, the men would scour the country and drive out or exterminate them. Grandmother Isabell (Frederick’s wife) once described how they had to flee to the block house at Morgan’s place (now Morganza). This was the home of Geo. Morgan, a prominent man in his day. The Indians besieged the place all day. She helped the women make the bullets, which the men shot. She said things looked helpless, and they thought sure the Indians would surely break in, when assistance arrived from Elizabethtown, and the Indians were driven off.
Since they were under constant threat of attack by Native Americans and frequently called for militia duty, the settlers were keenly interested in military matters at Fort Pitt. During the spring of 1781, a dispute erupted between the fort’s commander, Col. Daniel Broadhead, and a large number of his officers, led by Col. John Gibson. This controversy spurred a petition to Pennsylvania’s executive council. Christn Lisnit and Francis Lisnit appear among the signers of the complaint about “the uncommon Stretches of power uniformly pursued and now adopted, by Colonel Brodhead Commanding in this Department.” The petition asked that Brodhead and his quartermaster be replaced and cited rights violations, corruption by the quartermaster and neglect of the area’s defenses. Brodhead ordered Gibson arrested on Aug. 30. On Sept. 17, Gen. George Washington ordered Brodhead to resign and placed Gibson in command of Fort Pitt until Brodhead’s replacement could arrive. (29)
During 1781 and 1782, Christian, Francis, Christopher and Frederick are listed on militia muster rolls from the newly established Washington County. (30) It seems likely that they would have appeared on rolls for Yohogania County in previous years, but detailed records are not available for Virginia’s militia companies in the Pittsburgh area. In Pennsylvania, militia service wasn’t necessarily a patriotic endeavor. The state required all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 53 to serve in their local militia. Those who refused were usually fined.
Christian first appears on the rolls of Capt. Andrew Swearingen’s company of rangers who served on the frontiers of Washington County from March 10 to Nov. 5, 1781. Rangers were generally skilled woodsmen and fighters who patrolled the frontiers, searching for Native American raiding parties. (31)
Although the Battle of Yorktown in the fall of 1781 ended most fighting in the east, the western theater of operations remained active. The spring of 1782 was particularly dark. A series of brutal raids by Native Americans prompted a small militia expedition led by Lt. Col. David Williamson to exact revenge. On March 8, Williamson’s force descended on Gnadenhutten, a settlement of Indians who were Moravians – a pacifist Christian denomination – and accused them of harboring the raiders. The Indians were massacred. This rogue operation enraged the Native Americans in the Ohio region and drew condemnation from many in the white community. Prosecution was discussed but not pursued.
Along with Williamson’s men, Washington County called up a large number of other militia companies on March 1, 1782. Among them was Capt. Charles’ Reed’s company of the 4th Battalion, which included Frederick Lesnit and Francis Lesnit. (32) Some researchers have said the rolls from March 1 represent a list of the perpetrators of the Gnadenhutten massacre. However, this is unlikely because the names of known participants don’t appear on these rolls. These lists almost certainly stem from the desire to bolster the county’s defenses in the wake of the recent raids.
In the aftermath of the massacre, Native American tribes began marshaling warriors in western Ohio. Officials in Pennsylvania decided to send an expedition against the villages along the Sandusky River in order to prevent a large attack on the settlements. In late May, Col. William Crawford gathered a force of 500 Pennsylvania militiamen and led them across Ohio. Three of the Lesnetts were among them. Christian Lesnit is listed as a private in Capt. David Reed’s company, while Francis and Christy Lisnet appear as privates on the roll of Capt. Charles’ Bilderback’s company. (33)
The Native Americans received word of the troops’ approach and were able to evacuate the villages. On June 4, a battle erupted and the militiamen held their own. But the next day, the Native Americans were re-enforced and Crawford decided to withdraw. While the militiamen prepared to retreat, the Indians attacked and scattered them. Many were captured and killed. Col. Crawford was captured, scalped and burned at the stake. It was seen as revenge for the Gnadenhutten massacre even though Col. Crawford had no involvement in that incident. About 70 militiamen were killed in the battle and its aftermath, including one man from Christian’s company and two from his sons’ company, according to muster rolls in “Pennsylvania Archives.” (34)
Francis briefly mentioned this engagement in his Revolutionary War pension application. He states he “volunteered in company with my brother under Capt. Bilderback & Col. Marshall & marched from Allegheny County to Mingo Bottom, where we were put under the command of Col. Crawford from whence we marched to Sandusky were we were in an engagement with Indians from about 5 oclock in the afternoon until night, commonly called Crawfords defeat.”
The war officially ended in 1783. This slowed the raids but didn’t end them. Native Americans continued to be seen as a threat until 1794, when they were vanquished at the Battle of Fallen Timbers by troops under Gen. Anthony Wayne. (35) During this period, Francis and Christopher appear on two undated militia lists. (36) Christian’s name does not appear, perhaps because he reached his 54th birthday in 1782 and service was no longer required.
Washington County’s tax lists for the 1780s reveal a little about the Lesnetts’ household. (37) In 1781 and 1782, Christian Lesnet was taxed for 400 acres, five horses, five cows and five sheep in Cecil Township. Frederick Lesnett is listed as a single freeman, a designation that usually indicates a man had reached his 21st birthday. Since he owned no property, he probably lived with his parents. In 1783, Christian Lesneth was taxed for 400 acres, six horses, four cows and five sheep. Frederick Leasneth and Frank Lesneth are listed as single freemen. The lists for 1785 and 1786 seem to indicate that Frederick and Francis had moved out of the household, at least temporarily. In 1785, Christian Lesnet was taxed for 400 acres, 3 horses and four cows. The decrease in horses can be explained by the fact that the single freemen Christopher and Frances Lesnet were taxed for owning horses, and Frederick disappears from the lists altogether. This represents Christopher’s first appearance on the list and is a good indication that he turned 21 that year. In 1786, Christian Lesneth was taxed for 400 acres, three horses and three cows. Stophel Lesnet is the only son appearing on the single freeman list. The previous year, Frances had received a warrant for 150 acres along Wheeling Creek and was living there. In 1787, Christian Lisnett was taxed for 400 acres, two horses and three cows. Frederick reappears on the single freeman list but Christopher is absent.
By 1787, the Lesnetts appear to have become fixtures in their community. The newspaper notice for the marriage of his daughter Sophia to William Rowley, states Christian is an “eminent farmer in Washington County.” (38)
In Cecil Township’s tax lists for 1788 and 1789, Christian continues to be listed as owning 400 acres, and two or three horses and three cows. And Frederick and Stophel are listed as single freemen who own no property.
In 1789, Allegheny County was established with land taken from Washington County. In the early days of the county, Christian’s property fell within Moon Township.
In 1790, Christian Lesnett appears in the federal census under Allegheny County. His household contained four males age 16 and older, one male younger than 16 and two females. In 1791, Christopher Lisnett appears on the tax list for Moon Township. This actually refers to Christian. (39)
A few years later, farmers in western Pennsylvania protested taxes on whiskey, which was a primary source of income for the pioneers. Whiskey – distilled from the grain grown by western farmers – was more easily transported to eastern markets than grain. The most dramatic encounter of the Whiskey Insurrection occurred on July 15, 1794, when rebels burned some buildings at the farm of the man responsible for collecting the tax, Gen. John Neville, who lived near the Lesnetts. According to Bennett, a group of rebels passed the field the Lesnetts were working and asked them to join. The Lesnetts replied that Neville was a neighbor and they didn’t want to get into a squabble that might make things unpleasant.
In 1798, the U.S. government levied its first direct tax of citizens and Christn Listnet is listed on the tax rolls for Fayette Township, Allegheny County. Christian’s listing might indicate why Sophia’s wedding announcement referred to her father as an “eminent farmer.” Christian was taxed for one dwelling house valued at $16, which was about average for the area. However, he owned substantially more land than most of the others in the township – 600 acres. The value of the property “as revised and equalized by the Commissioners” was $3,012. Very few in Fayette Township owned property valued above $2,000 and only four holdings had a greater value than Chrstian’s. (40)
In the 1800 Pennsylvania state census, Christian Lessnet is listed as a farmer living in Fayette Township. Frederick also is listed as he finally got married and established his own household about 1796. (41) In that year’s federal census, Christian is listed as Christopher Lenssis and Frederick is listed as Patrick Lessnis. The census taker appears to have had some difficulty with the younger Christopher’s name, starting it as Christian but crossing out the “ian” and adding “opher.”
In 1800, the dispute over Christian’s 1785 warrant was finally settled, which is why it is often linked to a date of Feb. 10, 1800. (42)
Christian appears to have remained relatively prosperous into later life. His estate inventory lists 32 notes for loans to family and neighbors. They total about 455 (it’s hard to say whether this amount is in pounds or dollars but pounds are the denomination used in his will).
He also appears to have maintained his health. Although he was in his late 70s when he wrote his will in June 1806, Christian mentions that he was in “Perfect health.”
Christian died in 1807, before Oct. 10, when his will was proved. (43)
Christianna died in 1813.
The Lesnetts are said to be buried in St. Luke’s Cemetery, Woodville, Pa., in a plot that is under the present church building. A memorial for them has been placed at the church.
(1) The children – except Christian Jr. – are listed in Christian’s will in Allegheny County Will Book 1, page 253. Christian Jr. is listed in a court case in “Virginia Court Records in Southwestern Pennsylvania; Records of the District of West Augusta and Ohio and Yohogania Counties, Virginia, 1775-1780,” by Boyd Crumrine, page 248. The names of the daughters’ husbands come from administration papers from Allegheny County Account Book 7, Page 114, available at “Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993,” at Ancestry.com. That of Rowley is confirmed in “Pittsburgh, Pa., Gazette Genealogical Gleanings 1786-1820, Vol. I,” by Mark H. Welchley, page 59. The husbands of Christianna and Sophia, and the wife of Francis – Rachel Kitten – are mentioned in Francis’ Revolutionary War Pension application – 22.661. The application also mentions the birth dates of Francis and Christianna. Many of the children’s birth dates are incorrect in the secondary sources that cover the family’s history. Frederick’s can be calculated from his tombstone. Francis’ appears in his Revolutionary War pension application. And Christopher’s can be calculated because he first appears in local tax records as single freeman in 1785, an indication that he turned 21 that year. (2) The popular sources for information on the Lesnett family are: “A Genealogical and Biographical History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvnaia.,” by A. Warner & Co., published in 1889, page 484; “Genealogy of the Descendants of Robert Smith, Who Settled Near Castle Shannon, Washington Co., Now in Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania, 1772,” by Edward U. Smith, Williamsport, Pa., published in 1923; and “Family History of Christian Lesnett: 1728-1928,” by Daniel M. Bennett, published in 1931. In addition, newspaper stories about family reunions from 1891 to 1912 contain early versions of the information incorporated in the Smith and Bennett works. These appear in The Canonsburg (Pa.) Weekly Notes of Sept. 19, 1891, page 1; and The Daily Notes of Canonsburg of Sept. 4, 1903, page 3; Aug. 30, 1906, page 1; and Aug. 17, 1912, page 1. The 20th century sources contain more information and additional anecdotes but have proved to be highly unreliable. The stories contained in the newspaper articles, Smith and Bennett are all very similar – sometime word-for-word the same – so it seems they relied on the same source, or each other. With these similarities, it’s odd that there are so many disagreements involving dates of key events. It seems likely that later writers realized that the earlier timelines were unworkable and tried to adjust. (3) Contemporary sources do not indicate Christian’s year or place of birth. The 1889 history doesn’t provide them either – other than to say he originated in Germany. The year 1728 does not appear until a newspaper story about the family reunion in 1906, and it mistakenly says Christian was born in “1628.” Later sources generally go with a birth year of 1728 and generally cite Hesse-Cassel as his birthplace. A birth year of 1726 appears in “Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Book” Vol. 83, page 40, and Vol. 159, page 278. The original source of this information is unknown in each case. (4) The 1889 history says Christian immigrated in 1745 and most accounts that mention a date follow its lead. However, Bennett gives 1752 as the date. The 1912 reunion story and Smith mention the stormy passage. (5) Nancy Morrow died April 23, 1837. Her tombstone says he was “in the 83rd year of her age,” putting her birth around 1754. However, the church records of her death says she was “in the 82 year of her age,” which would put her birth around 1755. Her death record appears in “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” records of the First Presbyterian Church in Duquesne, Pa., available at Ancestry.com. Nancy was the stepdaughter identified as Nancy Vance in Christian Lesnett’s will. She was the widow of John Vance when she married Morrow. Christian Lesnett’s administration papers from Allegheny County Account Book 7, Page 114, are transcribed in the Lesnett genealogy. (6) Bennett’s statement that Nancy was 85 when she died is a bit odd. He was aware that Nancy was buried at Bethel Cemetery but listed her age incorrectly even though it’s engraved on her tombstone. (7) “Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Book,” Vol. 83, says the marriage was in 1751. Vol. 159 of the “Lineage Book” says it was in 1747. The source of the information in both of these books is unknown. (8) Frederick’s tombstone says he died April 6, 1830, “in the 72 year of his age” – giving us the approximate birth year of 1758. The date comes from “Allegheny County Cemetery Records,” Vol. 1. (9) Bennett’s statement that “Records found in the Pennsylvania Archives would show …” is very strange. For one thing, Pennsylvania had published dozens of volumes containing its colonial and Revolutionary records by the time Bennett wrote this. None mentions Christian’s time in Maryland. In addition, such records would be in the Maryland archives, not the Pennsylvania archives. (10) Francis’ pension application appears in “U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Files, 1800-1900,” Pension W8247, available at Ancestry.com. When asked for proof of his birth, Francis said, “I have it at home, being the leaves of part of a Book in which my father recorded the births of the family.” If that book had survived, it would answer many questions. (11) “Leishnitz” references are in “The papers of Col. Henry Bouquet,” Series 21654, prepared by Frontier Forts and Trails Survey for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, edited by Sylvester K. Stevens and Donald H. Kent, 1941, page 168; and “The papers of Col. Henry Bouquet,” Series 21653, prepared by Frontier Forts and Trails Survey for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, edited by Sylvester K. Stevens and Donald H. Kent, 1940, page 287. (12) The wedding is listed in “The Pennsylvania-German in the French and Indian War,” by Henry M.M. Richards, Lancaster, Pa., 1905, page 493. The marriage is also recorded in “Records of the Marriages in the St. Michael’s and Zion Evangelical Lutherans Congregation in Philadelphia,” The Pennsylvania German Society Proceedings and Addresses,” Vol. 14, Philadelphia, 1905, page 65. This source does not contain the military information. (13) The reference to Christian’s origins appear in “History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania,” by Samuel W. Durant, page 151. (14) Information on the Royal Americans is from “Swift and Bold: The 60th Regiment and Warfare in North American, 1755-1765,” by Daniel P. Marston, thesis submitted to History Department of McGill University, Montreal, March 1997. (15) The 1st Battalion was certainly Christian’s unit since it was stationed in both Philadelphia in April 1757 and Pittsburgh in 1759. In addition, it would explain the references to Leischnitz in Bouquet’s papers. (16) “The Battle of Bushy Run,” by C.M. Bomberger, 1920; also “Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: North America's Forgotten Conflict at Bushy Run Battlefield,” by Jane Ockershausen, Pennsylvania Heritage Magazines, Vol. XXII, No. 3. (17) I have not included Bennett’s account because he seems to be off base. He says, “The English under Col. Henry Bouquet were assembling an army and Lesnett joined the rangers in the Maryland division, he was assigned to help repair and defend the wagons, they moved west to Wills Creek, (now Cumberland) then to Raystown (now Bedford, Pa.). The Indian tribes had been assembled, and were lead by Pontiac, Chief of the Ottowas.” Bennett’s claim that Christian “joined the rangers in the Maryland division” is probably an attempt to explain why someone from Maryland would participate in a campaign near Pittsburgh. That would fit with Bennett’s tendency to try to reconcile incongruous aspects of the traditional account. However, his version disagrees with earlier accounts that say he “enlisted in” or “joined” the army. In addition, there does not appear to have been a “Maryland division” in the campaign, only a detachment of woodsmen from Cumberland, Md., which isn’t very close to Hagerstown. This detachment is mentioned in “Broken Promises, Broken Dreams.” (18) The mention appears in “The Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet,” Series 21653, prepared by Frontier Forts and Trails Survey for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, edited by Sylvester K. Stevens and Donald H. Kent, 1940, page 287. The memo was probably written in Carlisle, Pa. (19) The traditional sources differ on the friend’s name and tax records from the 1780s don’t list anyone with a similar name. The 1889 history calls the friend Richard Gilson. The newspaper story about the 1912 family reunion calls him Eilleon, which is obviously a typographical error for Gilleon. Smith calls him Richard Gillion, and then Gibson. And Bennett refers to him as simply Gillion. Someone with the surname Gilson is listed as owning land adjoining near that of Christian Lesnet in Fayette Township in “The People and Times of Western Pennsylvania: 1797-1803,” Vol. 2, compiled by Clara E. Duer, Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, 1986, page 329. In addition, a George Gilson is mentioned as living near Chartiers Creek. And a George Gilson lived near Christian in 1790, according to that year’s U.S. census. It possible that this man was a son of the original Richard Gilson. Another possibility is that the name was originally Gibson, but the cursive “b” we switched to an “l” over the years. (20) The family accounts offer a variety of dates for migration – and for the births of Christian’s sons, which are important to determining a possible migration date. The 1889 history says Frederick, age 14, and Francis, age 12, arrived in the Pittsburgh area in 1768. No birth years are listed for the boys. Smith says Frederick, 14, and Francis, 12, arrived in 1765. He says Frederick was born in 1752 and Frank in 1754. Doing the math indicates that either the birth dates or the migration date is a year off (of course the whole idea of arriving in 1765 is problematic since the area wasn’t actually open for settlement for another three years). Finally, Bennett says Frederick, 12, and Frank, 14, arrived in 1769. Elsewhere, Bennett says Frederick was born in 1758 and Frank in 1760, so he obviously transposed the ages in the migration account and didn’t do the math since the boys would have been 11 and 9 in 1769. This leaves us with a chaotic collection of seemingly random ages and dates. Fortunately, we have what appears to be solid information on both sons’ births. Frederick’s tombstone indicates that he was born about 1758 and Francis’ Revolutionary War pension specifically states that he was born Nov. 13, 1759. (21) Pennsylvania’s warrant to Christian Lesneet appears in “Pennsylvania, Land Warrants and Applications, 1733-1952,” at Ancestry.com. (22) The border dispute is covered in many sources, including “A Genealogical and Biographical History of Allegheny County, Pa.,” pages 61 to 74. (23) The warrants are listed in “Pennsylvania Archives,” Series 3, Vol. 26,page 576. In image of the original record appears at “Pennsylvania, Land Warrants and Applications, 1733-1952,” at Ancestry.com. (24) The dispute is mentioned in “Pittsburgh Gazette Abstracts, 1797-1803,” compiled by Clara E. Duer, page 14. (25) The name is mentioned in “Early History of The Peters Creek Valley and the Early Settlers,” compiled by Noah Thompson, page 57. (26) The settlement claim appears in “A Genealogical and Biographical History of Allegheny County, Pa.,” page 22. “History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania,” by Samuel W. Durant, page 151. (27) The cases appear in “Virginia Court Records in Southwestern Pennsylvania; Records of the District of West Augusta and Ohio and Yohogania Counties, Virginia, 1775-1780,” by Boyd Crumrine. The first case is on page 248 and the others are on pages 324, 327 and 332. (28) Details on the frontier wars appear in “The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania,” by C. Hale Sipe. (29) The petition is recorded in “Frontier Retreat on the Upper Ohio, 1779-1781,” by Louise Phelps Kellogg, pages 363-370. The general outline of the dispute and its impact comes from “The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania,” pages 860-861, and “Fort McIntosh: Its Times and Men,” by Daniel Agnew, page 25. This book was written in 1893. (30) With the names Christian, Christy and Christen appearing on various lists, it sometimes requires a bit of thought to sort out who’s who. It’s pretty certain a 1781 list of rangers refers to the father because Christopher would have been only 17 years old, technically too young to serve. In addition, Christopher and Francis usually appear in tandem and Francis isn’t on this list. On the rolls of the 1782 Sandusky expedition, both Christian and Christopher – listed as Christy – appear. Francis’ Revolutionary War pension application confirms Christy was Christopher when it says Francis “volunteered in company with my brother under Capt. Bilderback.” The biggest question mark involves the appearance of “Christen Lisnet” on an undated muster roll that was probably from 1782. The name is very close to Christian and Francis doesn’t appear on the list so it seems likely it refers to the father. This list appears in “Pennsylvania Archives” Series 6, Vol. 2, page 157. In addition, two postwar rosters list Christopher and Francis Lisnet and Christy and Francis Lisnit. These appear on pages 243 and 239 of the same volume. Finally, it should be noted that the younger Christian can be ruled out because he would have been only 12 in 1781. An additional problems stems from inaccuracies in the early Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Books. They cite service in a Capt. Stockley’s company from 1778 to 1783 in Vol. 83, page 40, and in Capt. Charles Bilderback’s company in Vol. 159, page 278. I have been unable to locate a muster roll showing Christian’s service in Stockley’s company. The only mention I could find for service in Bilderback’s company was the reference Christy Lisnet, mentioned above. Unfortunately, this sort of misidentification is a common problem in the older DAR volumes, which is why the organization requires fresh proof of lineage. (31) The service with Swearingen’s company appears in “Pennsylvania Archives” Series 6, Vol. 2, page 94. (32) The March muster roll appears in “Pennsylvania Archives” Series 6, Vol. 2, page 137. (33) The participation in the Sandusky expedition appears in “Pennsylvania Archives” Series 6, Vol. 2, pages 389 and 398. This section of the volume includes extensive information about the campaign. (34) In addition to a first-hand account in “Pennsylvania Archives,” Series 6, Vol. 2, information on the battle appears in “A History of Northwestern Ohio,” by Nevin O. Winter, pages 29 to 42. (35) The battle is described in “Indian Wars of Pennsylvania,” pages 710 to 715. (36) The postwar rolls appear in “Pennsylvania Archives” Series 6, Vol. 2, pages 243 and 249. (37) Tax lists for Cecil Township, Washington County, Pa., appear in “Pennsylvania, Tax and Exoneration, 1768-1801,” at Ancestry.com. Some also appear in “Washington County Pennsylvania Tax Lists,” compiled by Raymond Martin Bell and Katherine K. Zinsser, page 29. (38) “The People and Times of Western Pennsylvania,” Special Publication No. 5 of the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, compiled by Clara E. Duer, page 12. (39) The Moon Township tax lists also appears in “Pennsylvania, Tax and Exoneration, 1768-1801,” at Ancestry.com. (40) The direct tax appears in “Pennsylvania, U.S. Direct Tax Lists, 1798,” at Ancestry.com. (41) “Pennsylvania, Septenniel Census, 1779-1863,” available at Ancestry.com. (42) The warrant appears in “Pennsylvania, Land Warrants and Applications, 1733-1952,” at Ancestry.com. (43) “DAR Lineage Book” Vols. 83 and 159 list his year of death as 1804. However, the will is dated June 27, 1806 and proved on Oct. 10, 1807, according to the will abstracts.
FREDERICK and ISABEL LESNETT
Frederick Lesnett was born in 1758 to Christian and Christianna Lesnett. (1)
Married Isabell Wilson. Isabell was born in 1776, allegedly the daughter of an Episcopal minister (2)
Christopher Lesnett, born Dec. 6, 1797.
John Lesnett, born Feb. 29, 1800.
Margaret Lesnett, born Oct. 14, 1803. Married Robert Christy.
Nancy Lesnett, born in 1805. Married Dell Weaver.
Wilson Lesnett, born Jan. 18, 1808.
Elizabeth Lesnett, born June 18, 1813. Married Thomas Weaver.
Francis Lesnett, born May 18, 1815.
Arabella Lesnett, born in 1820. Married John Ramsey.
Some of Frederick’s children were still alive when interest in the Lesnett family history was kindled in the 1880s. As a result, we have a good number of stories concerning his life. While many of these tales seem quite plausible, others seem to have been remembered incorrectly or had layers of legend added to fill in the gaps.
A good example is the latter concerns a silver ring that Frederick owned, which is described in several sources, including the book “Family History of Christian Lesnett,” by Daniel M. Bennett, which was published in 1931. According to Bennett’s account, Frederick was the first white child born in Frederick, Md. Because of this, the town’s founder asked that the boy be named after him and his town. The founder gave Frederick a silver ring, with a large “F” set on the top. (4) While this is an interesting story, it cannot be true. The town was founded in 1745 and Frederick was born 13 years later. Many children had been born in the town by the time Frederick came along. In addition, it seems most likely that his parents lived in Pennsylvania at the time of his birth in 1758. It seems very likely that they were married in Philadelphia in 1757 and they lived in Pittsburgh – actually Fort Pitt – in 1759. A birth in Pennsylvania seems to be confirmed by his children’s responses to a question in the 1880 Census about the location of their father’s birth. Five of six said he was born in Pennsylvania.
Frederick probably spent his first years living among the families of soldiers in the British Army’s 60th Regiment – or Royal Americans. He father served in that unit at the time of Frederick’s birth and continued to serve for several more years. It appears that the family moved to northern Maryland – probably Hagerstown – after Christian Lesnett was discharged.
While in Pittsburgh with the military, Christian saw the possibilities of the land. When the area was opened for settlement in 1768, he decided to move his family there.
The migration is described in a number of family sources, including Bennett’s 1931 genealogy. Following is Bennett’s version, with some light editing to correct typos and break up the run-on sentences: The year Lesnett came to this vicinity, a neighbor, Gillion by name, settled on what is now Heidelberg. Lesnett brought with him his two eldest sons, Frederick and Frank, aged 12 and 14 years, respectfully. [Bennett has the boys’ ages transposed.] They built a cabin, cleared some of the ground, and planted rye, turnips, and corn. In the fall, they left the two boys to hold the claim, and the men went back to Hagerstown, Md., to bring the rest of the families, expecting to be back before winter set in. But they were detained as witnesses in a lawsuit and, as the snow came early and deep on the mountains, they were unable to return until the following year. … The two boys were compelled to spend the long winter alone, seeing no one, not even an Indian. In the latter part of April in 1770 they returned, bringing their families. The trip would necessarily be slow being made on horseback. … What a reunion that must have been, that mother and the lonesome boys of a tender age, only 12 and 14 years. … The two boys, Frederick and Frank, suffered much hardship from the cold, that long winter. They had to hunt and fish for the food they needed. They saw no one that long winter, not even an Indian. On account of this hardship, Frederick became a sufferer from rheumatism that affected him the rest of his life. Think of those two boys, of tender age, spending a long lonely winter, where wild beasts or Indians were likely to pounce on them at any time. No wonder our forefathers were of such a hardy nature, the weaklings never grew up.
The next story about Frederick probably occurred when he was a young adult. Following is Bennett’s account, again with a few edits for clarity’s sake. Frederick and a number of men started down Chartiers Creek from Canonsburg, taking a boatload of flour to New Orleans. While polling down the Ohio River, they saw wild turkey along the bank at a bend near Wellsburg. Frederick and another man got out and started after them. While thus engaged, they heard the danger signal from the boat, warning them of Indians. They turned their canoe and headed back to the boat when the Indians opened fire. One of the bullets penetrated the canoe and struck Frederick in the calf, pressing the buckskin legging far into the flesh, making a painful and dangerous wound. None of the rest were hurt. When they reached Wheeling, they took Frederick ashore. He soon recovered and returned home afoot. The others continued down the river, but never returned because they were killed by the Spaniards, who controlled Louisiana. Some years later, when the United States bought Louisiana, a bounty was paid to the men’s survivors for the lost lives and the flour.
During the Revolutionary War, most men were required to service in the militia. On the frontier, militia companies protected the settlements by responding to Indian raids, patrolling in search of war parties and going on expeditions against Native American villages. The Lesnett men – aside from Frederick – appear on militia rolls of Washington County, Pa., several times. Concerning Frederick, the Lesnett genealogy states that he “seemed to have been more of a home boy than were his brothers, or else he suffered so much from the rhumatism he had contracted, the first winter he lived in this vicinity, that he was unable to travel about. We do not find his name on any of the war record as are his brothers.”
However, Frederick actually is listed in one militia roster from the Revolutionary War. He appears, along with brother Francis, as a private in Capt. Charles Reed’s Company in the 4th Battalion of Washington County’s militia, which was “ordered to rendezvous the 1st Day of March 1, 1782.” Their service appears to have ended on March 8. (5)
The muster of several companies from the 4th Battalion followed a series of Indian raids that killed and captured a number of settlers in the Pittsburgh area. There is nothing on the pages of “Pennsylvania Archive” to indicate that this was anything other than a typical militia rendezvous intended to pursue raiders. However, several researchers have suggested that these units were among those that ended up committing one of the greatest atrocities of the war in the West. The date of March 1 corresponds with the time Col. David Williamson set out on an expedition that attacked Gnadenhutten, a settlement of Indians who were Moravians – a pacifist Christian denomination. (6) Despite the timing, there is no proof that the Lesnetts participated in the attack on the Delawares. In fact, it seems unlikely. First, the editors of “Pennsylvania Archives” compiled a list of suspected participants and neither the Lesnetts nor the others mustered on March 1 appear on it. In addition, the attackers quickly realized the nature of their deed and initiated a sort of cover-up to prevent prosecution. As a result, the attackers failed to submit a roster of participants. That would seem to indicate that rosters that were submitted were for units that performed legitimate service on the frontier in the wake of the initial attacks.
Aside from the listing in militia records, Frederick appears in several tax records during the 1780s. He is listed as a single man owning no property or livestock in Cecil Township, Washington County, in the 1781, 1783, 1784, 1787 and 1789 tax lists. In 1787, he is listed as owning a horse. Frederick also received a warrant for 65 acres of land in Washington County on Oct. 11, 1787. (7)
Frederick is not listed in the 1790 federal census. He is undoubtedly one of the four males who were 16 or older living in his father’s household. They are listed in Allegheny County, which was formed from part of Washington County in 1789.
In 1796, Frederick married Isabell Wilson, according to Bennett’s 1931 Lesnett genealogy. The identities of Isabelle’s parents are unknown. The name of Isabell’s father is not listed in any of the early sources and no link has been found in the estate or property records of Allegheny County. The Lesnett genealogy says Isabelle’s father was an Episcopal minister who served St. Luke’s Church at Woodville, Pa. However, a history of St. Luke’s on the church’s website states that the first minister was named Francis Reno, who was ordained in 1791. After that, the pulpit remained unfilled. “No other clergyman is known to have served from the years 1797 to 1852, except for 1832 and 1833 when the Rev. Sanson K. Brunot served here part time and another diocesan congregation,” the history states. Although several Wilsons lived in the same area as Frederick in the mid-1790s, no solid candidate stands out among them. (8)
In the 1800 Pennsylvania state census, Frederick Lessnet is listed as a farmer living in Fayette Township, Allegheny County. (9) In the 1810 U.S. Census, Fredk Lisnit is listed in Fayette Township. His household contained two males under 10, two males age 10-15, one male 45 or over, two females under 10 and one female age 26-44.
In 1810, the census lists Fredk Lisnit as living in Fayette Township in a household containing 2 males under 10, 2 males 10-15, 1 male 45 and older, 1 female under 10 and 1 female 26-44.
The 1820 Census lists Frerdrick Lesnit in Fayette Township. His household contained one male under 10, one male 10-15, one males 16-25, one male 45 or older, one female under 10, one female 16-25 and one female 26-44.
Frederick’s appearance and temperament are described in “Genealogy of the descendants of Robert Smith,” by Edward U. Smith, which was published in 1923. Bennett relied heavily on Smith’s work, even copying it word-for-word at times. Smith states: “Frederick is described by those who recollect him; as a large board shouldered man, and in his later days he used a cane. His hair was light and hung around his shoulders, as was the custom in those days. The top of his head was bald, and he kept his face clean shaven. He generally wore a “red Wamis” or waist coat. He was a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and was noted for his sobriety. His brothers were more inclined to be military scouts and Indian fighters, and to participate in the sports of that day. Mrs. Sophie Morrow in speaking of Frederick said: ‘You never hear him scold or complain, no odd how many were loafing around or eating, everybody was welcome at Uncle Fredericks; but Aunt Isabelle would get out of humor and give all around a good hacking.’” (10)
Bennett adds, “An instance of a very disgusting character once occurred at the home of Frederick Listnett, that very much incensed him. A neighbor came to his house, and after being their a short time, apparently took very sick. [T]he man thought he was going to die, and solicited Frederick to send for the Rev. John Clark. [I]nstead of sending one of the boys he went himself, sent one of the boys for the Doctor and the other for the man’s divorced wife. [A]fter they all got there, the doctor could not find much the matter with the man. [A]fter a while the man acknowledged he wanted to have his wife reconciled to him. Federick was very indignant when he found he had been made a fool of, and was willing to give him a sound thrashing. [A]fter a good deal of solicitation, by the good preacher, and a word of sympathy from Aunt Isabel peace was restored and the couple were re-married at once, but Uncle Frederick never got over it.”
Frederick’s will – which was written on March 8, 1830, less than a month before his death – mentions that he was “weak in body but of sound memory.”
The papers from Frederick’s estate show a relatively successful farmer, with a good deal more livestock than many farmers in the region had at that time. Among the possessions listed in the inventory were three mares, a colt, five cows, two steers, a yoke of oxen, a small ox, two calves, eight first-choice sheep, 12 other sheep, five lambs, a sow with four pigs, 24 hogs, “1 Lot” of chickens, geese, turkeys and ducks, bees, much grain and assorted farming implements.
Frederick died April 6, 1830. Smith states, “The cause of his death was a cancer, believed to have been brought on from the stroke of a limb, while felling a tree.”
Both Frederick and Isabell are buried in Bethany Presbyterian Church Cemetery at the mouth of Miller Run, near Bridgeville, Pa. Although they are interred in the church’s cemetery, it appears they were not members at the time of Frederick’s death. A list of members in 1820 includes only one Lesnett – Rachel, the wife of Frederick’s brother Frank. Church records don’t list the couple among the people who joined the congregation druing the following decade. And the tally of congregational events for the span that covered Frederick’s death indicates that no members had died. (11)
(1) Frederick is named in his father’s will in Allegheny County, Pa., Will Book 1, page 253. The birth year appears on Frederick’s tombstone, which is recorded in “Allegheny County Cemetery Records,” Vol. 1. It is also listed in the records of Bethany Presbyterian Church of Bridgeville, Allegheny County, which are available through “Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church Records,” available at Ancestry.com. Several other dates are listed in secondary sources, including “Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Book” Vol. 83, page 40, which lists Frederick’s year of birth as 1752. (2) Isabel’s maiden name comes from “Family History of Christian Lesnett: 1728-1928,” by Daniel M. Bennett, published in 1931, page 6. However, I have found no proof of her link to a Wilson family, aside from the otherwise unlikely name of Wilson for one of the Lesnetts’ sons. Several secondary sources mention that Isabel’s father was a clergyman who preached at Old St. Luke’s Church, where the Lesnetts are buried. However, no Wilsons are mentioned among the pastors of that church. The Lesnett genealogy mentions that Isabel had a brother named William. A William Jr. and Sr. are mentioned in the 1783 tax records for Cecil Township, the same township the Lesnetts lived in at the time. Further research is required before any identification can be made. Isabel’s birth year can be calculated from her tombstone, which is also recorded in the same source as Frederick’s. (3) The children are mentioned in Frederick’s will in Allegheny County, Pa., Will Book 3, Page 406, which is cited in “Will Abstracts of Allegheny County,” compiled by Helen L. Harriss and Elizabeth J. Wall, page 77. Images of his estate papers are available at “Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993,” at Ancestry.com. The last names of Margaret and Nancy’s husbands are also mentioned in the will. The birth dates of most of the children appear on their tombstones. Nancy’s approximate birth year comes from her obituary in the March 28, 1891, edition of The Canonsburg Weekly Notes, which says she was 85 when she died. Arabella’s comes from the 1850 Census of Canonsburgh, Pa. (4) The birth story appears in “Family History of Christian Lesnett,” page 33, and several earlier sources that seem to be the source material for Bennett’s genealogy. (5) Frederick’s muster roll appears in “Pennsylvania Archives,” Series 6,Vol. 2, page 173. (6) The Gnadenhutten massacre is described in “The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania,” by C. Hale Sipe. (7) The earlier tax lists are in “Washington County Pennsylvania Tax Lists,” compiled by Raymond Martin Bell and Katherine K. Zinsser, pages 236, 32 and 171, respectively. The 1787 and 1789 lists are at “Pennsylvania, Tax and Exoneration, 1768-1801,” available at Ancestry.com. The warrant is in “Pennsylvania Archives,” Series 3, Vol. 26, page 577. (8) The account of the pastors appears in “A Brief History of OSL’s Buildings,” by Canon Rev. Richard W. Davies, at www.oldsaintlukes.org. It is possible that Isabel’s father is listed in either the 1790 Census or the 1800 Census living near the Lesnetts. The 1790 Census lists two Wilsons – George and Samuel – on the same page as Christian Lesnett but it’s impossible to say whether either is a good candidate to be Isabelle’s father. Their names are among those lsted alphabetically instead of geographically so it’s impossible to see how near they lived to the Lesnetts. In addition, there are only two very broad age categories for males and all females are lumped together in one big category so there’s no indicate whether the males are old enough to be Isabelle’s father or whether any of the females would be her approximate age – about 15. The 1800 Census provides more age categories so it’s easier to see who would be old enough to have been Isabelle’s father. The households that contained mean who were 45 and older in Fayette Township were those of Joseph Wilson and George Wilson. George is listed very near the cluster of households that contained Christian Lesnett and his sons and daughters. The 1800 Pennsylvania census lists the occupations of all of the men in the county. There are four Wilsons in Fayette Township – George, Seth, Joseph and Mary – and all are listed as farmers. (9) “Pennsylvania, Septenniel Census, 1779-1863,” available at Ancestry.com. (10) “Genealogy of the descendants of Robert Smith, who settled near Castle Shannon, Washington Co., now in Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania, 1772,” by Edward U. Smith, Williamsport, Pa., 1923. The description of Frederick appears on page 158. (10) “Genealogy of the descendants of Robert Smith, who settled near Castle Shannon, Washington Co., now in Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania, 1772,” by Edward U. Smith, Williamsport, Pa., 1923. The description of Frederick appears on page 158. (11) The records for Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bridgeville are available in “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2014,” at Ancestry.com.
CHRISTOPHER and MARGARET LESNETT
Christopher Lesnett was born Dec. 6, 1797, in western Pennsylvania to Frederick and Isabel Lesnett. (1)
Christy married Margaret Van Gorder, about 1819. She was the daughter of Jacob and Margaret Van Gorder and was born about 1800. (2)
Isabella Lesnett, born May 25, 1820. Married John Wright.
Nancy Jane Lesnett, born Dec. 4, 1824. Married John Brown.
Margaret Lesnett, born about 1826. Married Jeremiah Majors.
Elizabeth Lesnett, born about 1828. Married a man named Hauk.
Dell W. Lesnett, born March 18, 1831.
Sarah Rachael Lesnett, born about 1834. Married Phillip Click.
Robert C. Lesnett, born about May 1836.
Mary Emeline Lesnett, born April 15, 1839. Married William McElwain.
(A John Boyce Lesnett and a Rachel Lesnett, who died in infancy, are also mentioned in “Family History of Christian Lesnett,” by Daniel M. Bennett, which was published in 1931.)
Christopher grew up south of Pittsburgh, where his father owned a farm. In the 1820 Census, Christy Lesnit is listed beside his father Frederick in Fayette Township, Allegheny County. His household contained one male 16-25 years old, one female under 10 and one female 16-25 – Frederick, his daughter Isabella and his wife Margaret.
It is unknown how Christy and his wife met, but the circumstances were probably unusual for the early 19th century. The Lesnetts lived south of Pittsburgh and the Van Gorders lived in North Sewickley Township in northern Beaver County, more than 40 miles away. In those days, people typically married someone who lived within a 5-mile radius of their home.
At some point during the 1820s, the family moved closer to Margaret’s parents.
In the 1830 Census, Christian Lesnet is listed in North Sewickley Township, Beaver County. His household contained one male age 30-39, one female under 5, two females 5-9, one female 10-14 and one female 20-29.
In 1835, Christy purchased some land in Beaver County on the New Castle-Zelienople Road. In 1845, Christy purchased additional land. He seems to have been a successful farmer with land in Franklin Township, Beaver County, and Perry Township, which later became part of Lawrence County. At his death, Christy owned about 347 acres, six sheep, two calves, one heifer, three cows, two horses, two yearling colts, 15 pairs of chickens and “lot of hogs.” (4)
The 1840 Census lists Christ Lesnet in North Sewickley Township and his household contained one male under 5 years old, one male 5-9, one male 40-49, two females under 5, one female 5-9, two females 10-14, one female 15-19 and one female 40-49. One person was engaged in agriculture.
Christy Lesnet appears on the tax rolls for Perry Township, Beaver County, from 1846 to 1848. (5)
In the 1850 Census, Christy Lisnet appears in the Perry Township, Lawrence County, which has recently been established. He was a farmer who owned real estate valued at $3,500. His household contained his wife Margaret; Nancy, age 24; Elizabeth, 22; Delweaver, 19; Sarah, 16; Robert, 14; and Mary, 11.
In the 1860 Census, Chris. Listnett, is listed as a farmer in Franklin Township, Beaver County. He owned real estate valued at $5,500 and personal property $700. His household contained his wife Margt. and Mary, age 21.
The 1931 “Family History of Christian Lesnett,” by Daniel M. Bennett, provides an interesting account of the lifestyle of early Americans. It comes from an item on Christy’s sister, Elizabeth, but is applicable to all those of the time.
Like all early settlers, the Lesnetts had to depend upon primitive ways of getting along. All farmers in those days made their own soap, but lye was essential to soaponify the grease. To procure this, wood ashes were collected in a barrel. Small holes were drilled in the bottom and water poured in. The water would filter through the ashes and gather in a vessel below. This was the lye. They used bark from a sassafras tree to perfume the soap.
Clothes were all made by the women, who were experts in the use of the needle. The settlers grew flax and raised sheep for their wool. They had to create their own dyes: for brown, they used walnut shells; for red, the madder root from the woods; and other vegetables for other colors popular at the time. For their starch, they scraped white potatoes and boiled them, obtaining a clear liquid which they could use to stiffen up their clothes. The maple trees produced sugar water, which was slowly boiled down for syrup. A longer boiling would produce sugar. All fruits – apples, berries, etc. – were dried to preserve them. Baking was done in “Dutch ovens” and later in an outside oven. Other cooking was done over a wood fire. (6)
Christy does not appear to have learned to write because his will is signed with an “X.” When he wrote his will on Dec. 7, 1865, he said he was “very weak in strength but Sound in mind.”
Christy died in Jan. 23, 1866.
His estate inventory indicates that he owned a buggy, six sheep, two calves, one heifer, three cows, two horses, two yearling colts, 15 pairs of chickens, a “Lots of Hogs,” and numerous farming implements.
In the 1870 Census, Margaret Lesnet is listed as the head of a household in Franklin Township. She is listed as 70 years old and her household contained Elizabeth, age 37, and Mary M., age 11. According to the census, both of these females were named Lesnet. Although the age disagrees with early records, it seems that Elizabeth was most likely Margaret’s daughter of that name. It’s uncertain who the 11-year-old Mary was but it seems very likely that she was Elizabeth’s daughter. Elizabeth doesn’t have a married named listed in Christy’s estate papers. However, her surname is listed as Hauk in Margaret’s will. It very possible that the census taker missed Elizabeth’s surname, but it’s possible that Elizabeth wasn’t actually married until later.
The 1870 Census also indicates that Margaret owned real estate valued at $2,500 and personal property valued at $200. Elizabeth owned real estate valued at $2,000 and personal property valued at $100.
In the 1880 Census, Margaret Lesnit is listed in the household of William McElwain and his wife Mary E., in Perry Township, Lawrence County. She is listed as a 79-year-old widow and William’s mother-in-law. The census notes that both of her parents were born in New Jersey.
Margaret died Nov. 10, 1883.
The Lesnetts are buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Perry Township, Lawrence County. (7)
(1) Christy is named in his father’s will in Allegheny County, Pa., Will Book 3, Page 406, which is cited in “Will Abstracts of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Will Books I through V,” compiled by Helen L. Harriss, page 77. Birth dates comes from “Lawrence County Cemeteries: Book 8: Perry and Washington Townships,” compiled by Dwight E. Copper, page 15. (2) Margaret’s father is identified in Beaver County Will Book B, page 128. Her approximate birth year comes from “Lawrence County Cemeteries,” which says she was 83 when she died in 1883. That agrees with the 1850 Census of Perry Township, Lawrence County, Pa. (3) Christy’s children are identified in his will in Lawrence County, Pa., Testamentary File L, No. 21. They are also listed in Margaret’s will, which is available at “Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993,” at Ancestry.com. The birth dates of the following children are available at “Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963,” at Ancestry.com: Isabell, Nancy Jane, Dell and Mary Emeline. The approximate birth date of Robert appears in the 1900 Census of New Castle, Lawrence County, Pa. Dell’s birth date comes from his Civil War pension file – Invalid Pension 948910 and Revised Certificate Number 798.263. The other children’s birth years come from the 1850 Census of Perry Township, Lawrence County. Mary Emeline is probably the Mary listed as 11 in the 1850 Census. The daughters husbands are identified through a combination of the wills and census records. Although a transcription of Christy’s will says Sarah’s married name was Cliep, receipts and Margaret’s will list it as Click. (4) The 1835 purchase is mentioned in Beaver County Deed Book, 24, page 121, which records the sale of 3 acres in 1844. The 1845 purchase is mentioned in Beaver County Deed Book 163, page 367, which records the tract’s later sale by Christy’s son Dell to George W. Bowers. The rest of the information in the paragraph is recorded in Christy’s will. (5) “Tax Records 1841-1850 Beaver County, Pennsylvania,” by Helen G. Clear and Mae. H. Winne, page 3. (6) “Christian Lesnett Genealogy,” by Daniel M. Bennett, pages 30 and 31.
DELL and EMELINE LESNETT
Dell W. Lesnett was born March 18, 1831, in Franklin Township, Beaver County, Pa., to Christopher and Margaret (Van Gorder) Lesnett. (1)
Married Emeline Potter. (See below)
Permilla Lesnett, born Feb. 14, 1859. Married George W. Bowers, and later Ernest Wehman.
Olive Jane Lesnett, born about April 1870.
John B. Lesnett, born Nov. 13, 1873.
The 1900 Census of Beaver County records that Emeline gave birth to 12 children, but only three survived. Of these, John was deaf and Olive may have been deaf, according to family tradition. The 1880 Census does not mention that John or Olive had any disabilities, even though there is a question that specifically addresses deafness. In fact, Olive is listed as attending school. Both the 1900 and 1920 censuses record that John could speak English so it seems likely that his deafness developed after infancy. John’s World War I draft registration indicates he was “decrepit” and an “imbecile.” In 1917, Olive was appointed trustee for John and, in January 1921, John’s sister Permilla was given control of his property because he had “become so weak in mind and so mentally defective that he is unable to take care of his own property.” (3)
Dell grew up in Perry Township, Lawrence County, Pa. In the 1850 Census, Delweaver Lisnet is listed as a 19-year-old farmer living in his parents’ household in Perry Township. Based on this census listing, it seems very likely that Del’s middle name was Weaver. The name probably derived from the Dell Weaver who married his aunt Nancy Lesnett.
On March 27, 1856, Dell married Emeline Potter in Butler County, Pa. They were married by the Rev. Robert McCracken. Emeline was born Aug. 12 1833, in Pennsylvania to William and Mary Potter, who were immigrants from England. (4)
The 1860 Census lists D.W. Listnett as a farmer in Franklin Township, Beaver County, Pa. He owned real estate valued at $2,250 and personal property valued at $675. His household contained his wife Emeline, age 26, and Permilia, age 1.
During the Civil War, Dell was served in Company G of the 168th Pennsylvania Drafted Militia Infantry Regiment from Oct. 16, 1862 to July 24, 1863. (5) This nine- month unit never faced the enemy.
“History of Pennsylvania Volunteers” records the brief history of the 168th Regiment: “This regiment was raised in the counties of Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene, Beaver, Allegheny, and Erie. The men rendezvoused at Camp Howe, near Pittsburgh, during the latter part of October, 1862, where the companies were organized, and the following field officers were chosen: Joseph Jack, of Westmoreland county, Colonel; John Murphy, of Washington county, Lieutenant Colonel; John J. Cree, of Fayette county, Major. Clothing, arms, and accoutrements, and the State colors, were received on the 2d of December, and on the evening of he same day, the regiment started for the front.
“Upon its arrival at Fortress Monroe, it was ordered to Newport News, where it remained some two weeks, with the command of General Corcorn. It was thence ordered to Suffolk, Virginia, and was there assigned to Spinola’s Brigade, subsequently known as the Keystone Brigade. From Suffolk, the brigade was ordered to Newbern, North Carolina, whither it proceeded by way of the Chowan River, arriving on the 1st of January, 1863. The regiment was here thoroughly drilled, and the officers instructed in the duties. It was out upon several expeditions against the enemy, but did not come to battle. Soon after the retreat of the enemy under General Hill from before Little Washington, which he had been closely besieging, the Keystone Brigade was ordered thither to relieve the garrison. Here it remained until the 28th of June, when it was sent to Fortress Monroe, and thence to White House, to cooperate with forces under General Dix, in a demonstration towards Richmond.
“For nearly a week the troops were out upon this duty, and here the intelligence was first received of the invasion of Pennsylvania. A strong desire was at once manifested by the members of the Keystone Brigade, to be led to the support of the Union army, who expressed a willingness to remain beyond the period for which they were to serve. This wish was gratified, and the brigade was sent to Harper’s Ferry, where it occupied Maryland Heights. The battle at Gettysburg had, in the meantime, been fought, and as the army under Meade approached the Potomac in pursuit of Lee, the regiment joined it at Boonesboro. After the enemy had escaped into Virginia, the regiment was ordered for duty to Middletown, Maryland, and a few days later to Harrisburg, where, on the 25th of July, it was mustered out of service.” (6)
Although he never saw a battle, Dell seems to have been proud of his service in the war. In a photograph taken at least 30 years later, a long-bearded Dell can be seen wearing his soldier’s cap.
After the war, Dell settled down to farming again. In 1866, he inherited his father’s farm in Franklin Township. (7)
In the 1870 Census, Dell Lesnet is listed as a farmer in Franklin Township. He owned real estate valued at $6,000 and personal property valued at $1,000. His household contained his wife Emaline, Permella, age 11, and Olive J., 4 months.
Dell was farming and raising livestock in Franklin Township in 1876, according to a county atlas published that year. (8)
In the late 1870s, the family moved to Caroline County, Md. When his daughter Permilla married George W. Bower, in December 1879, she is listed as a resident of Caroline County at the time. The county’s grantee index shows that Dell W. Lesnett purchased land from Richard C. Carter in 1880. (9) In the 1880 Census, Dell W. Lesnett is listed as a farmer in the Greensboro District No. 2 in Caroline County. His household contained Emeline, Olive, 10, daughter; John, 6, son; and Joseph Morton, 30, listed as a cousin.
Before 1890, the family moved back to Franklin Township, where Dell W. Lessnett was listed in that year’s special schedule of Civil War veterans. It records his service in the 168th Pennsylvania.
Dell’s health apparently began to fail in the 1880s. On Sept. 16, 1890, he filed for an invalid pension, which was available because of his Civil War service. His application said “that he is wholly unable to earn a support by manual labor by reason of bronchitis, disease of the kidney, lumbago with sciatica.” A medical examination on Feb. 14, 1892, found he suffered from muscular rheumatism of the back and left hip and disease of the respiratory organs. It says he had “been coughing for 3 years” and “he walks a little lame and has a cane.” The doctor said the rheumatism “will always unfit him for hard work and in bad weather at times lay him up.”
The pension file also provides some physical description of Dell. He was 5 feet, 8 1/2 inches tall and weighed 157 pounds. He had blue eyes a light complexion and light hair (although he was old by this time and the notation may simply indicate that it was gray).
In 1890 tax records for Franklin Township, Dell W. Lesnett is listed as a farmer, and he was taxed for 174 acres, two horses and four cows. (10)
On March 17, 1898, Dell sold his 105-acre farm in Franklin Township to his daughter Permilla and her husband George Bower for $1,300.
The 1900 Census of Franklin Township lists Dell Lesnett as a farmer. In addition to his wife Emeline, his household included Olive J., daughter; John B., son; Hosia, 6-month-old grandson; and John Greib, a 15-year-old boarder and day laborer.
Emeline died Jan. 11, 1913. (11) It appears that she succumbed to pneumonia because the Jan. 10 edition of the New Castle Herald reported, “Mrs. Dell Lesnett, of Franklin township, is reported to be very low with pneumonia and but few hopes are entertained for her recovery.”
In September 1915, Dell suffered three broken ribs when he was “thrown from a rig that he was driving.” A notice in the Sept. 24 edition of the New Castle News indicates that he was “reported to be improving. On account of Mr. Lesnett’s advanced age, grave fears were at first felt for his recovery.”
Early the next year, Dell apparently sold rights to a local oil and gas company to drill for gas on his property. On Feb. 10, 1916, the New Castle News reported: “With bits eating into the earth more than 300 feet from the surface, the local officials of the Ellwood City Oil and Gas Co. are anxiously awaiting developments in the first ‘wild cat’ well for oil or gas drilled in this vicinity. Prospects are bright for a flow of gas or oil.
“The ‘wild cat’ well of the company is situated on the D.W. Lesnett farm south of this city and is about 1,000 feet from the big gas well now owned by the American Gas company. It is believed that the local company will be successful in their search for oil.
“Several hundred acres are now under lease by the company and more wells will be sunk providing the first well makes any showing.”
The drilling appears to have revealed a natural gas deposit. On March 11, the New Castle News reported that the Ellwood City company was planning to sell its holdings in the “Lesnett Gas Well” to the Americans Gas company. The newspaper article says, “The new well is one of the largest in the vicinity and is flowing steadily.” It also states, “More wells will be sunk on the Lesnett farm this spring, work to be started as soon as the weather grows warmer. It is believed that a good gas field can be developed in this region.”
It seems likely that the gas deal is responsible for later family accounts of the Lesnett family being relatively wealthy.
However, Dell does not appear to have enjoyed any profits from this venture. He died March 4, 1916, “following a general breakdown in health due to advance age.” (12)
In his will, he left the bulk of his estate to John, Olive and Olive’s son, Hosea. (13) John and Olive are listed as living “at home” in Dell’s death notice.
Hosea was born in December 1899 and was the son of George Bower. (14) The 1920 Census lists the 20-year-old Hosea as the head of the household containing John, his uncle, and Olive, his mother. Olive is listed as single, although the census taker initially marked her as married. They lived in Franklin Township beside Charles Bowers, the son of George and Permilla. During the 1930s, Hosea moved to Washington State with his half-brother Dell Bower, another son of George and Permilla’s.
On Jan. 22, 1921, the Beaver County court appointed Permilla guardian of the property of her brother John, who had “become so weak of mind and so mentally defective that he is unable to take care of his own property, and in consequence thereof is liable to dissipate or lose the same and to become the victim of designing persons.” (15)
On May 15, 1923, a tornado swept through the farm belonging to Permilla’s son Charles Bowers. It flattened the barn, killing John and all the animals. The next day, the New Castle Herald rushed a report into print that contained a number of errors. It states: “One life was lost, a number of persons were reported as injured and property damage to the value of approximately $50,000 was caused last evening when a terrific cyclone struck the district between Ellwood City and Zelienople. Dell Lesnet [actually John], well known resident of Perry township was instantly killed while feeding stock in the basement of his brother-in-law’s barn, W. Bower [actually Charles]. A terrific gust of wind struck the building, causing it to collapse and a huge beam struck Mr. Lesnet on the head, bringing instantaneous death. The deceased was 60 years of age.” The New Castle News reported in his obituary on May 18, that John “was killed Tuesday evening by falling timber when the barn was blown over during a severe storm.” It also noted that he “had lived his entire life at the home where his death occurred.”
Olive spent her later years in the Almira Home for Elderly Ladies in New Castle, Pa. She is mentioned as a resident of the home in articles appearing in the New Castle News June 20, 1939, and Oct. 26, 1948.
Dell and Emeline are buried at the English Lutheran cemetery in Zelienople, Pa.
(1) Dell’s date and place of birth come from his Civil War pension file – Invalid Pension 948910 and Revised Certificate Number 798.263. Dell is named as Christopher’s son in his will in Lawrence County, Pa., Testamentary File L, No. 21. Del’s middle name was probably Weaver. The 1850 Census lists as “Delweaver,” age 19, among Christopher’s children. (2) Except for Olive, the names and dates come from Dell’s pension file. The pension file says Olive was born June 21, 1870. However, Olive was listed as 4 months old when the 1870 Census was taken on June 8. (3) Beaver County, Pa., File No. 7 from December 1917 term and No. 180 of the March 1921 term. (4) Marriage information and maiden name come from Dell’s pension file. Margaret’s parents are listed in the 1850 Census for Franklin Township, Beaver County, Pa. Her birth date is from the listing for the English Lutheran cemetery in Zelienople in “Butler County Cemetery Inventory, Vol. 4,” page 18. Her birth place comes from the 1900 Census, Beaver County, Pa. (5) Franklin Township, Beaver County, Pa., 1890 Census. Bates’ “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers” mistakenly lists him under Company F. He is listed in Bates and in the National Archives as “Dell W. Lesmith,” but his pension is filed under the correct spelling. (6) “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861 to 1865, Vol. IV,” pages 1134 and 1144. (7) Beaver County Deed Book 163, page 367, mentions the inheritance and the later sale of the farm to George W. Bower. (8) “Caldwell’s Illustrated Combination Centennial Atlas of Beaver County, Pa.” (9) “Caroline County, Maryland, Marriage Licenses 1865-1886,” compiled by Dorothy H. Baird and Louisa A. Scott, found at Caroline County Library in Denton, Md., page 15. Caroline County, Md., General Index, Grantees, from 1851 to 1885, page 371. (10) “Eastside Beaver County Tax Records 1890,” by Helen G. Clear and Mae H. Winne, Publishers of Beaver County Records, 1998, page 2. (11) “Butler County Cemetery Inventory.” (12) Date of death comes from Beaver County Register’s Docket 11, page 449, and “Butler County Cemetery Inventory.” Dell’s pension file says he died March 5, 1916. Velma Holfelder in 1990 said his buggy was hit by a car. However, a notice of his death that appears in the New Castle News from March 6, 1916, indicates that he died “following a general breakdown in health due to advanced age.” It is possible that Velma was thinking of another great-grandparent, Sarah Belles, who did die in a buggy accident. (13) Beaver County Will Book T, page 163. (14) Hosea’s approximate birth date appears in the 1900 Census of Franklin Township, Beaver County, Pa. I have not located a birth record but Bowers family tradition indicates that he was the son of George Bower and Olive Lesnett. The 1900 Census lists “Hosia” as Dell’s grandson. The 1910 Census of Franklin Township lists him as the head of the household containing Olive, who is identified as his mother. (15) Beaver County docket for March Term, 1921, page 117.
Dell W. Lesnett, about 1890.
Emeline (Potter) Lesnett, about 1890.