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Donegal Township Was Settled During the Reign of George I

Apr 7th, 2010 | By | Category: Lead Article

20061019 Early Donegal King George IThe King of England, George I, did not speak English. The German Elector of Hanover had become the English king through a series of unlikely circumstances and cared little about England and less about the American colonies.

When the first settlers moved into the Donegal area of Penn’s Woods, they were not bothered by English government officials. English oversight of the colony was perfunctory mainly involving paper work. William Penn, the proprietor, had been given a huge amount of leeway to govern his colony as long as his laws did not contradict basic English law.

The reign of George I lasted from 1714 to 1727. During that time, Scots Irish and German immigrants followed a trail cut by a Frenchman, Peter Bezaillon, across what would later be Lancaster County to fertile lands along the Susquehanna, even before there was a city of Lancaster.

James Mitchell and his family were among the first Scots Irish to arrive in the Donegal area around 1719. He obtained a grant of land from William Penn’s heirs along Chiques Creek and another on the Susquehanna. In the same year, George Stewart acquired land at what was to become Marietta. Other immigrants from the Counties Donegal and Rapho in Ulster with last names like Galbraith, Smith, Buchanan, and Fulton came in a steady trickle attracted by the opportunity to own land. In Ireland they would have remained tenant farmers or worse yet tenants of tenants all of their lives.

The Scots Irish farmers were Presbyterians who asked for regular visits by ministers to their congregation beginning in August 1721. By 1726 they had called a pastor, the Rev. James Anderson, and built a meeting house. No town existed, but there was a church, the Donegal Presbyterian Church on Donegal Springs Road.

In 1727, George I died and his son George II, another German speaking king followed his father on the throne. At least the son could speak English although with a heavy German accent. Like his father his first love was the Electorate of Hanover and government bureaucrats in the king’s name laxly directed the royal governors and proprietors of the American colonies.

Meanwhile, German farmers were not far behind the Scots Irish in settling along the Susquehanna undisturbed by interference from England. A Mennonite minister, Melchior Brenneman, was one of the first Germans to buy land in Donegal Township. In 1728 he bought 700 acres on the Susquehanna between Bainbridge and Conoy Creek. He deeded 100 acres to his son Adam and later deeded the rest to his son Christian, who through other real estate deals acquired a total of 2,000 acres.

John Nissley, another Mennonite, settled in the vicinity of Elizabethtown in 1744 and had a warrant for 173 acres on both sides of the Conoy Creek. His small stone house is still used as a residence and is on the grounds of the Masonic Homes. The Mennonites worshipped in their homes so their places of worship were difficult to document.

Other German-speaking families moved into the area and steadily expanded into formerly Scotch-Irish territory. With people like Peter Blaser, Henry Eckenroth, William Bischoff, and Leonard Negley the Christian traditions of the Lutheran, Reformed and Catholic churches came into the region. At first those churches had to rely on visiting clergy to service their scattered communities.

In 1760, frontier posts of the French and Indian War in 1754

were as close to Elizabethtown as Carlisle and Fort Hunter, above Harris’s Ferry. Local resident like Thomas Harris, Barnabas Hughes, and William Buchanan acted as commissaries for some of the frontier posts supplying the colonial and British troops. Henry Eckenroth, a German Catholic, living near Elizabethtown in 1744 discreetly had Jesuit pastors from St. Mary’s Catholic Church to say Mass in his home. The French were the enemy and his family was Catholic so he bidded his time before establishing a local church.

Before the French and Indian War was officially over in 1760 George II died and George III came to the throne. His father, Frederick, was supposed to be the next king but he died and George assumed the crown. This King George, unlike the previous Hanoverian kings, cared little for his German territory. He wanted to take back into his own hands the political influence that had been delegated to the English ministry of the moment by his grandfather and great-grandfather, and he wanted to be a king who ruled England and her territories. The colonist had other ideas.

The British and Americans won the French and Indian War, but wrangling soon started over who was going to pay for the British troops assigned to the western frontiers beyond Carlisle and to the newly acquired French lands to the north. George III was determined the colonists would contribute to the English defense of the colonies.

In the same year the war ended, 1763, Barnabas Hughes laid out his farm along the Conoy Creek in lots. He needed money for his business ventures in Maryland where he had moved after making a financial killing by providing supplies for English and colonial troops during the French and Indian War.

The disputes about taxing the colonies led to the American Revolution as the colonies had no intention of paying the English directly or indirectly to defend them. George III was the king who received the Declaration of Independence written in Philadelphia in 1776. He was the last king to rule the colonies.

After Barnabas died, his son Samuel continued to sell the lots in Elizabeth until the last lot was sold in 1790. It was just 3 years after the Constitution of the United States had been adopted on September 17, 1787. The king was gone. There was a President as the head of the United States government. He was George Washington.

In Lancaster, the street names are a reminder of the Georgian period and our English heritage. The main east-west street was named King George (II) Street. To honor George’s wife the main north-south road was Queen Caroline Street. One block to the east was the Prince of Wales Street (title of the heir to the throne). Orange Street was named to honor King William III, an earlier English monarch who was born into the Dutch House of Orange. The specific identifications with English royalty were dropped from common usage even before the American Revolution.


Loose, John Ward Willson. The Heritage of Lancaster.

1978, Windsor Publications, Woodland Hills, CA.

MacMaster, Richard K. Elizabethtown: The First Three

Centuries. 1999, Masthof Press, Morgantown, PA.

Willcox, William B. The Age of Aristocracy 1688©1830.

1971, D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, Mass.

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