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John Fraser - Indian Trader - A Stan Klos Website

 



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Part-printed document signed by John Fraser.  John Fraser was an Indian trader and gunsmith in Western Pennsylvania in the period 1726-1773.  His first wife was held captive by the Indians ((2 pages of notes re: Fraser are included)  Document Dated 1772 at Bedford County, Pennsylvania is an arrest writ for the arrest of Samuel McKee, signed by Fraser as a Justice of the Peace. Size 13 1/2" by 6 1/2" on laid rag-content paper. Age toned, heavy along folds and edges, edge nicks, mottled appearance from stains, small hole along fold, otherwise FINE condition.

 

 

John Fraser
by: Vaughn Whisker

 

Any one who has read the history of Bedford County could not help but come upon the name of John Fraser. Not only is his name inscribed in the history of this county, but he played an important part in the early days of western Pennsylvania.

 

In reviewing the Colonial Records in Volume III there appears there were two men by the same name but the years of their existence do not correspond. The first John Fraser was a Scotchman by birth and in 1719 one John Fraser presented a petition stating he was a merchant of London and that he was appointed "supercargo" of a ship "Nathaniel and Charles" in a voyage to several ports in America. After the departure of the ship for Jamaica the Commander died. Members of the ship mutinied. He was set ashore at Philadelphia where he appealed to the governor for help to obtain possession of the sloop.

 

We found no reference as to whether this man was or was not related to the John Fraser who later became an Indian trader. If this Indian trader was not the son of the London merchant, then he was one of the Scotchmen or ScotchIrish who came here and settled in Cumberland Valley in 1726. In 1737 he lived in Paxton along the Susquehanna River. His farm of 192 acres was patented to Arthur Park who died in 1739.

 

In the Pennsylvania Archives Volume 2 he is mentioned as a licensed trader in Pennsylvania. His license was granted August 10, 1747 by the courts of Lancaster County, his place of residence.

 

Many of the early settlers discovered it was very profitable to exchange trinkets, clothing, guns and ammunition as well as whiskey with the Indians for their furs. However many took advantage of the Indian and cheated him where ever possible. As a result of their complaints laws were made for the purpose of weeding out this type of dishonest trader..

 

In order to get to the various villages, particularly in, through and over the mountains, it was necessary for them to follow the paths of the Indians from place to place. Thus it was necessary to carry these goods or pack them on horses to places where canoes could not reach. These trails became known as 'Packers Paths'.

 

John Fraser was shrewd but fair and honest in his dealings with the red and white men. Because of this his reputation soon spread and thus he was able to remain in business in areas where others were either driven out or were murdered.

 

When the French came into the western part of what is now Pennsylvania in 1749 they found an English trading post on the mouth of French Creek (now Crawford County), being operated by a young gunsmith John Fraser. This place was known as 'Weningo'. When Washington came to Venango in December 1753 he found the French flag flying over Fraser's house. He then located on the Monongahela river at the mouth of Turtle Creek. Apparently he was driven out of this spot within a short time due to the French possession of the Forks. (now Pittsburgh). We next find that John and Jean were residing in Virginia in 1755. At Winchester, John joined Washington and Braddock to act as a guide and scout. After Braddock's defeat, John and his wife settled near Cumberland, Maryland. (This old house was torn down within the past twenty years. It was left to deteriorate as no one organization cared to spend money to preserve it).

 

A short time after they settled here, Jane was captured by the Indians and was taken into what is now Ohio. She was adopted by a chief of the trlbe. After a number of years she managed to escape. When she returned home she discovered that John had remarried. One report states that John erected a cabin on his property for his second wife where she lived until her death. A number of years ago we heard a historian from Cumberland give a talk on John Fraser. His version of what happened to his second wife was quite different. He said that when Jane came home and found another woman had taken her place she ordered her off the place. When she refused to leave, a fight took place. Jane ended the dispute by flattening her opponents head with a shovel.

 

A short time later Fraser accompanied Washington to Raystown. He soon brought his family with him. He built a log cabin on the outside of the Fort on the south side of the Juniata River. According to historians Jane soon set up an Inn and served meals to the officers of the army. It was named 'Fraser's Inn'. When the town of Bedford was laid out by the Proprietaries in 1762, he obtained a property (lot number 23) and later purchased several thousand acres in what is now Bedford County.

 

Records in the present Courthouse show that Jane Fraser was granted a liquor license in 1771. John continued his activities as a trader and gunsmith. In 1768 he was selected as one of the commissioners to settle the difficulties with the Six Nations in regard to the encroachments of the whites in western Pennsylvania. (Colonial Records Volume 1, pages 539 and 543).

 

He became a very influential citizen of Cumberland County-later Bedford. When the latter was formed on March 9, 1771 Fraser was appointed by the governor on March 11 as one of the Justices of the Peace and a Judge of several Courts which he held until his death on April 16, 1773.

 

Fraser's third son, William, was born in Raystown in 1759. Various historians have claimed he is the first white child born in Bedford County. Others have challenged this statement stating that records show families lived in what is now known as 'Dutch Corner' and Soutbampton Township many years prior to 1759 and that children were born in the homes of these settlers. However, there is no surviving records to prove this point.

 

At John's death he was survived by his wife and eight children-James, Margaret William, Benjamin, Catherine, Jane, Mary and Amelia. John left no will. However in Wili Book number 1, page 5, one can find an Indenture of his estate.

 

Letters of Administration were granted on his estate to his wife and General Arthur St. Clair. Through some mismanagement of the estate there appeared to be a deficiency of 217 pounds, 45 shillings and 9 pence.

 

On July 17,1775 the Orphans Court allowed, Margaret, Benjamin and William, who were under age to choose guardians. Their choices were James Piper, Bernard Dougherty and David Espy. The Court also appointed these same persons as guardians for the other five children who were under fourteen years of age.

 

His remains were interred in the burial ground located on East Penn Street. This cemetery had been granted by the Proprietaries to the Episcopal Church. Many early settlers were buried here, yet no church was ever built on the ground. In the course of time the ground was neglected and the old fence was entirely rotted away.

 

On August 6,1867 these lots in the cemetery were sold by the St. James Episcopal Church under the authority of the Court and the proceeds of the sale were invested in the lots on which the Episcopal Church now stands.

 

Perhaps there is some question as to what happened to Mrs. Fraser. In 1775 she married Richard Delapt, who was of Scotch-Irish descent. He had been a resident of Bedford. A daughter, Agnes was born March 9, 1776.

 

Delapt was a Captain of a Company of the Battalion of the Bedford Militia. In 1781 when this county was over run by the Indians, Captain John Boyd's Company, commanded by Colonel William Parker marched to Frankstown to relieve the Cumberland County Militia. Captain Delapt and his step-son, Benjamin Fraser were members of this unit. On June 3, 1781 a fight took place between this company and the raiding Indians. Captain Delapt and Benjamin were killed and scalped.

 

In September 1796 Jane Delapt made application for a pension. On December 7,1790 she purchased lot number 6 on the northeast corner of the Public Square. A real estate office is now located on this site today.


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