Yellowed from one hundred eighty-four years, the paper unfolds with a pungent, almost yeasty smell. Ink, now walnut brown, spreads line after line across the long, creased sheet. When pen touched this page, the roads west of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains were detestable. Neither railroad nor canal connected Greene County stock and crops to eastern metropolitan markets. Small farms dotted the hilly landscape and residents interacted with the same folks day after day after day. And yet my collection of family papers holds numerous examples of memoranda and receipts that clarify and testify to verbal contracts. The key to a prosperous and self-sustaining community, it seems, was documented communication.
The language of this Article of Agreement is rooted in the law. Though it names the parties as John P(ierson) Minor, my great-great-great-grandfather, and James McFarland, house joiner, it is unclear whether either man actually wrote this document on 22 February 1831. But someone in the Garards Fort area knew how to construct a legal-like agreement for a home renovation project on the “brick house formerly occupied by Jacob Myers.”
John P Minor stipulated that James work on site for the coming year, laying “plowed and grooved” floors upstairs and down, partitioning each floor into three rooms, and building sashes for all the windows. Mr. McFarland was to “run up two pairs of stairs in the dwelling house” and one “outside on the porch.” Cupboards were to be built in every conceivable space. To accomplish this work in a time-effective manner, James was to be lodged by the Minors, thus saving everyone from the headaches of a daily commute from neighboring Cumberland Township. John P. was to “furnish bords (sic) glass hinges door laches (sic) nails and all the necessary materials for finishing the same” and pay James upon “the true and faithful performance” of this renovation three hundred dollars cash.
There is neither codicil to indicate the project’s completion nor receipt of payment among my Minor collection. Yet the work must have been satisfactorily completed and the home occupied, for in his will John P leaves “unto my son, Francis Marion, the tract of land whereon he and I reside, known as the ‘Myers Farm’ containing three hundred twenty-nine acres more or less.”
But… why was this agreement preserved, first by John P and later by son, Marion?
John P and Isabella McClelland* Minor set up housekeeping within the boundaries of her father’s farm. Four children later, the couple had the resources to purchase a piece of Robert McClelland’s land, which abutted property of Jacob and Mary Corbly Myers. As neighbors and fellow congregants of Goshen Baptist Church, John and Isabella would have had many opportunities to hear of the Myers’ impending migration to Clear Creek, Ohio in the early spring of 1829. The township’s loss of the Myers’ family was to be a Minor’s gain of prime farm land. John P speculated in land throughout his life, accumulating acres in Pennsylvania, Missouri, West Virginia, and Iowa, but he, himself, remained at the home farm, the Myers’ farm, “enclosing his happiness within his horizons.”**
Marion, my great-great-grandfather, was just starting to pull up and toddle after his seven older siblings in 1829 when the farm was purchased, and just beginning to take on farm chores when the brick house was finally occupied by his mom, dad, and siblings, Abia, Robert, Hannah, Mary Anna, Margaret, Rebecca, Samuel, and Isabelle. For all intents and purposes, this was the only home that Marion ever knew, and this carefully preserved record of the 1831 renovation may have given Marion a sense of grounding, or prompted memories of childhood, or provided evidence of just how far the family had progressed in his lifetime.
The brick house, formerly occupied by Jacob Myers, became home, and the hills against which it nestled became a legacy, passing from father to son to grandson to great-grandson.
“…unto my son, Francis Marion, the tract of land whereon he and I reside, known as the ‘Myers Farm’ containing three hundred twenty-nine acres more or less.”
“to my son, Robert Minor, my home farm, situated in Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania containing three hundred acres more or less.”
“unto my son, Donald C. Minor, the farm on which he now (February 1938) resides, known as the Home Farm, containing approximately three hundred forty acres…”
A legacy that heard my mother’s laughter, sheltered her dog-grieving sobs, embraced her valedictory success, and witnessed the cutting of her wedding cake. This is the house that Jacob built, formerly occupied by the Myers family…and stuffed to the rafters with Minor hopes, dreams, and love.
*John first married Hannah McClelland in 1814. She died shortly after giving birth to their second boy in the spring of 1817, and John married her sister, Isabella, later that year.
**Alex de Toqueville made this observation of the German immigrants in eastern Pennsylvania, during his 1831 trip through America.
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