Early Settlers and Settlement of Newberry Township of York County, Pennsylvania


Newberry Township of York County was one of the earliest sections of the county that saw white European settlers.  Those early pioneers arrived in the northern section of York County in the mid 1730’s.  At the time of their arrival, York County was still part of Lancaster County which had been formed out of Chester County in 1729.  In John Gibson’s History of York County cited previously he makes the following remarks about these men:


“About the same time that the ‘Barrens’ were settled by Irish and Scottish emigrants, Newberry Township and the circumjacent region was settled by a number of families, from Chester County, who, under the auspicious influence of that spirit of peace and amity which had been spread abroad by the wise and excellent proprietary of Pennsylvania, sat themselves down here and there in a few rudely constructed cabins; surrounded on all sides by the still more rude wigwams of their aboriginal neighbors.  Thomas Hall, John MeFeeson, Joseph Bennet, John Rankin and Ellis Lewis were the first persons to visit this section of the county; and having selected the valley in which the borough of Lewisberry is situated, they gave it the name of the ‘Red Lands,’ from the color of the soil, and ‘red rock,’ on which it is based.  By this name it was principally known to them and their eastern friends for many years.  It was by a descendant of Ellis Lewis that Lewisberry was laid out – and it is from Joseph Bennet that the main stream which winds its devious way through the valley derives its name of ‘Bennet’s Run.’ “


It is generally asserted in historical accounts I have read that these earliest white settlers in Newberry Township where Quakers.  Their surnames also seem to suggest an English origin rather than German ethnicity.  Gibson discusses in his History of York County that poor farming techniques used by the first settlers caused a “material deterioration of (soil) quality, and was indeed almost ‘worn out’ by a hard system of tillage…”


Some accounts attribute the arrival of Germans into Newberry Township as a kind of “second wave” of white settlement.  The Quakers, according to this theory, moved on to more productive lands thus opening up Newberry Township for German immigrants who followed in their wake.  In summary, the first settlers were predominantly English Quakers who were followed and replaced by German immigrants.


By 1800, according to Gibson, better farming practices had been introduced into Newberry Township and adjoining townships which focused on replenishing the land with ‘liming’ and clover which was plowed down into the soil.  So the German immigrants were not permanently stuck with a worn out area of the county on which to produce their crops and raise their livestock.


An extremely helpful series of publications has been produced by Neal Otto Hively in 2002 on the subject of Colonial Land Records for York County, Pennsylvania.  Volume number 15 covers Newberry and Fairview Townships.  It is titled NEWBERRY AND FAIRVIEW TOWNSHIPS, York County, Pennsylvania; Original Pennsylvania Land Record Series (Volume 15).  Until 1803 Fairview did not exist as a separate Township.  During the colonial period the entire area of Newberry and Fairview Townships were simply Newberry Township.  A companion map (number 33) has also been published which plots the land warrants, owners, date of the warrant, etc. 


From that publication the following excerpts provide insight into the method of transferring land to settlers who wished to settle in available areas of Pennsylvania including the area west of the Susquehanna River later to become York County:


“The Colony of Pennsylvania from its very inception had a self-imposed policy of granting lands for open settlement only after those territories had been released by the Native American tribes by sale or treaty.  The Colony of Maryland had no such policy.  The region west of the Susquehanna River was under significant dispute by Pennsylvania and Maryland authorities.  Each colony authorized settlement in what would later be determined as the other’s territory.  Maryland claimed the region as far north as the fortieth parallel latitude.  Pennsylvania claimed land as far south as the thirty-ninth parallel.  After 1723, a demarcation line some fourteen miles south of Philadelphia was normative.”


“Land settlement west of the Susquehanna River by the Colony of Pennsylvania, including the territory of York County, was not normative until it was fully released by the Native Americans in the fall of 1736.  After that time, generous inducements and terms were employed to promote settlement into this region of the colony.  The Proprietor’s objective in land settlement was to encourage actual settlement at extremely favorable terms to the settler, then subsequently bring the settlers under regular colonial oversight and taxation.  The purchase price for 100 acres of land was fifteen pounds ten shillings; the quitrent was one sterling half-penny per acre, per year until 1776.”


These excerpts provide the broad brush setting for the settlement of land and the transfers from William Penn’s heirs (the Proprietors) to settlers.  Hively further details the specifics of the process of transfer of settlement tracts and the terminology employed as follows:


“There were five steps in the official land acquisition process from the Proprietors of Pennsylvania.  Beginning in the late 1730’s a (1) Application to Warrant to the Proprietors from interested prospective settlers initiated the land settlement process.  This resulted in the issuance of a land warrant.”


“A (2) Warrant to Survey was an official order from the colony to the Deputy Surveyor of the county to initiate a field survey of the described tract of land.  The warrant certificate detailed the county, township, the person to whom the warrant was issued, the approximate acreage desired, and the date of issue.  The earliest warrant certificates give a fairly general description of the land location.  Later warrants give increasingly greater and more accurate detail of the property, including contiguous neighbors and other indentifying features.  The original warrant certificates are maintained at the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (The PA Archives), Harrisburg, PA.  The Deputy Surveyor’s duplicate copies are still available in many county archives.”


“The third stage in securing land from the Proprietors of Pennsylvania was the official (3) Survey that was authorized by the warrant.  Usually the survey followed the issuance of a land warrant.  However, sometimes a surveyor would lay off a property before the issuance of a warrant, at the request of a prospective warrantee, on his own initiative, or at the request of a squatter who desired to secure an official warrant for the land.”


“The (4) APPLICATION FOR PATENT was a necessary preliminary step that led to an official review prior to full granting of a Patent.  During this step the property boundaries were reviewed for accuracy and validity.”


“A (5) PATENT, or Warrant to Accept was the official granting of full, clear release and title of the land by the Proprietors of Pennsylvania.  This step was always at the owner’s initiative.  Under what circumstances this step was initiated varied widely.  Some Patents were granted at almost the same time as the field survey in the Eighteenth Century.  Other families delayed applying for a Patent until as late as the mid 1870’s.  In the Nineteenth Century the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania attempted to prod land owners to secure patents for their lands by various means of incentives and restrictions.”



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