Peterman Gourley Reunion

Newspaper account of the reunion from The Cochranton Times, Thursday, September 4, 1879.

View photograph from the Peterman-Gourley Reunion



One of the most enjoyable gatherings it has been our lot to share, for many a day, was the reunion of the Gourley and Peterman families in Fairfield Twp. on Thursday last.

Early in the day the people began to move on all the roads leading in that direction, at times forming into large processions, and all heading for the beautiful grove of Conrad Peterman, where the festivities were to take place.

By noon, a large company had met together and exchanged their first greetings, and at the appointed time the assemblage was called to order, and the regular exercises began. A spacious stand, handsomely festooned with evergreens, had been erected for the officers, musicians and others, and around this the people gathered to hear whatever was to be heard. The officers of the day were then announced, consisting of

David Gourley, Esq., President

Henry Peterman} Vice Pres.

Wm. L Gourley} Vice Pres.

That inspiring "hymn of the ages" the one hundredth psalm, was then sung by all the people, after which an earnest and feeling prayer was offered by the president. Then a merry song, "Gathered Once More" was rendered by a select choir of Fairfield’s good singers. This was followed by instrumental music from the organ and a good string band secured for the occasion, and then came the Address of Welcome, by J. H. Peterman, Esq. We give it in full:

We have met here for the purpose of holding a Peterman and Gourley reunion. Some kind friends selected for us this beautiful grove where the sturdy oak spreads forth it’s large branches and protects us from the hot, scorching sun, or the cold, bleak winds of autumn. As we look around this beautiful grove, or woods, we see that they are not all oak trees that grow here, and as we look again we see they are not all large trees and they are not all straight. Some are crooked by nature and some have grown so. The crooked, knotty trees grow for no good and apparently are a burden to themselves, while the straight trees appear beautiful and are a help to [Here, a line is not legible] not as straight as the poplar and the pine; it is not their nature to be so. In this grove there are not as many knotty, crooked tress as there are in some groves. So with this people - they are generally known as a straightforward going people, minding their own affairs and doing all the good they can. The oak, when we look at it’s massive trunk and large branches, we would not for a moment suppose liable to decay or to be blown over by storms, but when the sky begins to darken with dense clouds and the winds to blow, you hear the trees crashing and falling in every direction, the oak, like every other living thing perishable, falls, and if you had come out to this grove after a storm had swept the surrounding country you would have been surprised to see strong trees crushed by the storm and bowed to mother earth, while other trees looking weak and feeble, standing erect and smiling with dew in the sunshine. While here, before us, today, are our uncles and aunts, aged and infirm, some leaning on staves, they are still the spared monuments of mercy, like the weak and feeble trees, all smiling with dew in the sunshine after the storm.

As we look around here today, we see some clad in the garb of mourning, and we miss some that are near and dear to us by ties of nature, who mingled with us in days gone by. They were just, as it were, in the morning of life, and apparently as healthy and robust as you or I, and bid fair to live their three score years and ten as any one here. But like those strong trees in the battle with the storms of life, they have fallen.

We see represented here today the Peterman and Gourley families, brothers, sisters, cousins and second cousins. The parents of these two families, like these decayed trees, have sunk down to mother earth to live no more in this world, but their life still lived in the memory of their children, (our uncles and aunts) some of whom are here today, assembled with nieces, nephews, cousins, second cousins, friends and neighbors, all gathered here in one social band, to listen to the biographies of their parents and their grand-parents, to go back with them and compare our advantages with their disadvantages, and to see them in huts and log cabins, and see those parents contented in a kitchen with a large fire-place, see them gathered around the old stone hearth with a huge fire made of logs, knitting and spinning with nothing but a tallow candle to give them light, while we dwell in palaces, have both kitchens and parlors, newspapers to read, organs to play upon, stove and grates to warm by and beautiful lamps to give us light; all these things and many other advantages compared with their disadvantages. They had groves and woods, the same as we, but they did not have socials and reunions as we have. Their socials were at some kind of work, such as picking flax, rolling logs, quilting, scutching and spinning bees, and then dances and play. It was first work, then play, in our grandfather’s day.

We see here before us today, these same uncles and aunts who came and settled here in this section of the country with their parents, when it was all woods, and were sharers with their parents in all hard work and toil in preparing these beautiful homes that we now enjoy. It is in token of love and respect to these, our uncles and aunts, that we appointed this reunion of the two families, that they might have the pleasure of re-uniting with friends, relatives and old associates, and of seeing their children and their children’s children all united, as it were, in one great family.

This concluded, the choir sang again and the band gave more good music, when the welcome call to dinner was heard. The audience at once adjourned to the spot where the viands were spread. Here they found a collation prepared that did honors to the preparers thereof. Long tables had been erected, and at these, laden with abundance of good things, about 400 people of all ages sat down. They drank hot coffee and sipped hot tea and helped themselves form this bounteous repast until they were satisfied. Every one present voted this part of the reunion a very decided success.

The banquet over, the assemblage was again called to the stand, and after several fine pieces of music, both vocal and instrumental, the biography of the Peterman family was read by J. H. Peterman. We append it as follows:

About the year 1803, Conrad Hart, than living in York Co., Pa., hearing of the richness of the land along French Creek, together with the low price of the land, determined to emigrate hither with his family, consisting of three sons and four daughters. One of his daughters was married to Henry Peterman. They disposed of their property and put all they had together as common property. When they had gathered all together they had a half bushel full of silver dollars. They then made a small box and filled it with money to defray the expenses of the trip. They started in the spring of 1804 and came through in wagons by way of Pittsburgh. We were unable to get any other incidents connected with the trip, only that the money in the little box was all used up before they got here, and had to be replenished form the common treasury. Their first stopping place in this vicinity, that we have any account of, was on the Robin Young farm, where John Gourley now lives. They stopped there overnight; from there they went to the mouth of Conneaut Creek, arriving there in late May, 1804, where they met with Abram Kightlinger, who owned four hundred acres of land around the outlet of Conneaut. Kightlinger was a German, so was Hart; Kightlinger persuaded them to buy his farm. They gave seven dollars per acre, and paid it all at the time of purchasing. They distributed the land among them, Henry Peterman getting 88 acres, where Henry Hart now lives, and there he commenced life. He built a log cabin and split logs to make a floor. When young he had learned the trade of shoemaker and was quite a natural mechanic and genius. He moulded all their spoons out of pewter, and made all their knives and forks. For a wagon he went to the woods, chopped down a white oak about four feet in diameter and sawed off blocks or cuts about a foot in thickness, then he cut the side, leaving the rim about five inches in thickness, the center being left to form the hub. He made the axletrees and other attachments, and this was all the wagon he ever owned. He made plows for sale. He would go to the woods and select a twisty white oak, one that would be near the shape of the mould-board when split; he would make the land-side all of wood. For harrows he would take two poles, pin them together, bore them full of holes, and put in wooden pins for teeth. He made all their farming utensils, except the scythes. The necessaries of life were very dear and hard to get. One day he came home and said to his wife that he heard where they could get a peck of salt for a dollar, and they had better get it right away.

When they wanted a supply of salt they would take a canoe, go up French Creek as far as navigable, go from there to Erie, get their salt, bring it to the canoe, and from there down home. They got their first grinding done at the May mill, at the outlet of Conneaut. The milldam backed the water up the creek and made it sickly, and the people got together and cut the dam out. Henry Peterman cutting the first log; then they made a canoe about sixty feet long, out of a tree, and would load it with grain, float down to the mouth of Sugar Creek, get someone to haul the grain to Smith’s mill, or oftener they would have to carry it on their backs, stay all night and the next day carry the flour back to the canoe and push the canoe with poles back up to the mouth of Conneaut, where the grists would be distributed among them. They would take from 25 to 30 bushels at a load. At that time there were no roads and they used the streams for transporting the necessaries of life to and from their homes. When he came here there were no bridges across French Creek at all; the land where Cochranton now stands was all woods; Meadville consisted of a block house or fort and a few dwelling houses. When Hart bought the land from Kightlinger it was all woods; after they divided the land among them, they were afraid they would soon be out of timber, and they went out to the beech and bought a hundred acres more of woodland for a reserve.

One evening, after his father-in-law came in after a days hunting, he found seven Indians lying before the fire. When he came to the door they all raised up on their knees; he motioned them to lie down again; they did so, and when daylight came they all departed peaceably. Indians were very plenty then; they had a burial ground on the hill near the Exchange Bridge on the old canal. They never molested anyone after they settled here, although the settlers were afraid of them. In 1812 he went to Erie to help defend the place against the British; while they were gone the women would all go to the strongest house to stay all night. At that time bear, deer and turkeys were plenty. One winter he killed 17 bears. He was fond of hunting and fishing. Fish were abundant in Conneaut and French Creek. When they got a piece of ground cleared and sowed in wheat, they would have to watch the fields to keep the deer from pasturing it.

Meadville was the nearest market, and after harvesting and threshing the wheat, they would not get more than three shillings a bushel. There were neither churches nor schools at that time. He was a member of the German Reformed Church. They hired a preacher to come around to their houses and preach to them. The first German Reformed Church was built about 1825, on the Weaver farm, now occupied [illegible].

He lived in the log cabin till about the year 1824 or ‘25, when he built a house of hewed logs with a brick basement; this when finished was one of the best houses in that part of the country. He lived in this house until his death which occurred September 17th, 1827, and was 55 years old when he died. His wife survived him about 16 years, she dying August 9th, 1843, 69 years of age. He was a man of few words and his children could well say, with the poet Whittier -

“He was a firm, decisive man;

No breath our father wasted”.

‘Tis said when he had anything for his children to do he never told them but once. The rod of correction hung against the wall, but his neighbors said they never knew him to use it. He was well liked by all his neighbors, kind to the suffering, and generous to the needy. He lived without an enemy, and never engaged in any of the fights and sprees for which the early settlers were noted.

From his retiring disposition we are unable to get any facts connected with is father’s family. All we have been able to gather is that they emigrated from Germany at an early day and settled in York, Pa., seven miles from Little York, and thirty moles from Baltimore, on the Baltimore Road. He was the father of eleven children, four of whom are living and present with us today; three died a an advanced age, two of them leaving families; the other four died in their infancy.

More music followed, and then the biography of the Gourley family was read by W. Lindsey Gourley. It was as follows:

William Gourley, better known as Grandfather Gourley, was born in Ireland, County Armaugh, in the year 1783. He was a member of a family of seven, four boys and three girls. In 1811 he was united in matrimony to Miss Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, who, having a brother living in Meadville, perhaps encouraged him to try the wild woods of America.

Leaving the home of his birth on the 4th of April, 1831, taking passage at Warrenspoint on a sailing vessel, the Tarbolton, and landing in Quebec after a hazardous voyage of seven weeks and three days. Leaving there for Montreal in a steamboat, thence to Prescott by way of the rapids, coming around the Niagara Falls on wagons to Buffalo, thence to Erie by boat, then in wagons to Meadville, taking six weeks’ time from Quebec, making in all three months.

He rented a farm at first, and a year or two afterwards purchased 120 acres of Mr. John Reynolds, now owned by his youngest son, William. He first built a cabin, then one of the largest log houses in Fairfield township, in which he spent the reminder of his days, his wife dying 19 year previous to his death, which occurred on the 19th of May, 1867, at the age of 84 years.

We can safely say that during his life he bore the marks of a true follower of his Lord and Master, having served upwards of twenty years as ruling elder in the Christian church. At his death he was surrounded by his family and his fine friends. He could say, in the language of St. Paul, "I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith"; therefore a crown of righteousness awaited him.

His family are all with us today, with the exceptions of Robert and Joseph, who are deceased.

His brother, Robert Gourley, and sister, Jane Bickerstaff, subsequently followed him here. About the year 1851, Jane came to this country to make it her home. Her family, who are mostly residing in these parts, are principally with us today. Robert came in 1853. Being then over three score years, he never entered into business cares, his family being nearly all grown up and able to face life’s trials, he spent the remainder of his life dwelling with them.

We have given you a brief history of these two brothers and sister. They being the only members of this family that have ever emigrated to this country, we have confined our remarks to them. The Atlantic Ocean separated them about twenty years, and they enjoyed each other's society seventeen years after arriving here. Only five years separated them in their deaths, William dying in 1867, Robert in 1870 and Jane in 1872. Their united ages were 249 years, Wm. being 84, Robert 75, Jane 90.

In conclusion, we the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren assembled here today, let it be remembered by all that there is another reunion to take place where we will meet those loved ones gone before us, not as we meet today, to part again, but where parting will be unknown.

Next the choir sang a piece, then "remarks" were called for. There being no speakers on the ground, Dr. J. P. Hassler was unexpectedly summoned to the front. The doctor’s talk was about as follows:

"I am greatly amused at this summons. If a long speech had been desired of me, your president would have signified [illegible] age instead [illegible] minutes. You have noted on this occasion the absence of all professional speech-makers, from which I gather that this Committee of Arrangements desired to spare you the infliction of any long-winded talks. On this hint, I shall speak.

I am at a loss in what language to address you. One side of this company is represented by "the rich Irish brogue," and the other wing of it by "the sweet German accent," so that I hardly know whether to talk to you in Pennsylvania Dutch or Crawford County Irish. It is in this neighborhood - the blending of the nationalities represented by the families whose reunion this day we celebrate. From the results it can be safely pronounced a successful experiment. I remember hearing a shrewd old lady in the West say that the best wife a man could get was "a Dutch girl pretty well Yankied over," meaning, in this instance, a girl with the physical strength, industry and persistence of the German people, having the added refinement, economy and intelligence of the average Yankee. It would be doubtless a desirable combination of proper and becoming qualities; and yet I do not know that the blending of German and Irish blood is quite as fortunate a combination as the Dutch with the Connecticut Yankee. Judging from the specimens we have in this locality - girls in whose veins run the Celtic and Teutonic blood - we are sure there are no better wives, sisters or mothers, anywhere in the world.

I am glad we have these "reunions" and especially glad that we have this one today. While other families in various parts of the country are coming together this way, it is eminently proper that a connection so large, so respected and influential as that included by the names Gourley and Peterman should also meet in joyous reunion. Today you greet and take by the hand friends and kindred whom you may have not met for a score of years. These reunions seem to have developed out of the New England custom of collecting all the family together on thanksgiving Day. However scattered all over the world, the all try to get home for Thanksgiving dinner and the pumpkin pie. (if you have ever lived among the Yankees you have discovered they are extremely fond of pumpkin pies, and they know how to make them right well.) But these were family gatherings merely, the remoter connections did not share them. The popular idea today is to take in all the kindred, however distant, all are invited, and when once together how delightful it seems in this way to renew our youth again. How pleasant to see old faces we looked on in girlhood and boyhood, though they were round and rose-tinted than, but faded and wrinkled now. How the old memories revive! How many incidents rush into our recollections that we had supposed were gone for ever. It is well to give up for a day our business and our cares and to come together again in scenes like these. It is well to cultivate our hearts - not simply our broad acres. How much if happiness is developed among these friends, today, that otherwise they would not have known, and how bright this day will shine out through all the rest of their lives. It was never meant by our Creator that we should live only to toil. Our duty is not done by adding dollar to dollar and acre to acre. The essential duties of Christian people, as of all men, are embodied in the few words, “love one another.” Occasions such as these furnish the opportunity, and blessed are they who embrace it, to gladden the hearts of others and thus increased joy in their own. The Good Book says “no man liveth to himself,” and it is one of life’s successes to learn this truth and act it out in daily history. Manifold are the methods by which we influence each other, and how many are they whom we may gladden, whose burdens we may help to bear, whose sorrows we may sooth, and on whose darkened pathways we may throw somewhat of sunshine and gladness and joy? A child may make us sad, and how greatly do children add to the pleasure o four lives. How much more, then, those of us grown to manhood’s estate may brighten or darken the lives of those about us. Let these celebrations then, continue. One day in the year let everyone forsake his toil and meet his friends and kindred to celebrate, in happy reunion - in speech and song, and with stringed instruments and organs - the great fact of their brotherhood, to keep alive the memories of those on the other shore, as well as an ever-expanding affection for those who remain. And now, lest I trespass on the rule of these kind friends against long speeches, I bid you adieu, thanking you for your kind attention.”

Further music was discoursed by the band and the singers, and then Mr. Reuben Doutt, aged 80 years, read some verses from a big Dutch Bible, printed in Germany, over a hundred years ago. This Bible would weigh about twenty pounds, and was used as a school-book by Henry Peterman, who took it home with him every evening, so it should not [illegible].

The audience was [illegible] the stand, to visit, to shoot at mark, swing, and amuse themselves generally, till it was time to go home.

Altogether the celebration was a fine success, all the participants enjoying themselves highly. So pleased were the relatives that they voted unanimously to have another reunion, next year, in Robert Cochran’s grove in Cochranton.

Among the visitors we noticed Mr J. Penford and Mrs. Kirkpatrick from Canada, Mr. Hugh Martin, of New Wilmington, PA., who came to this country in the same vessel with the Gourley family over forty years ago, David Gourley and family and Thomas Kirkpatrick, of Meadville, Dr. Ferguson, Henry and Wm. Hart, John Bell, Robt Cochran, W. J. Patton, Smith Wyman, R. W. McFate and others from Cochranton, and many more worthy visitors had we the space to name them.

The music was a happy feature of the occasion, and we had a list of the singers who deserve mention, but it has been mislaid. Suffice it that Miss Mary Duncan presided at the organ for the singers, and Miss Mary Gourley for the players, who consisted of George and Ferguson Speer and Geo. Peterson. The music was most excellent and highly appreciated by all present.

This was transcribed from a copy of the newspaper clipping several generations old. The illegible parts occur at a fold in a previous copy. The spelling, punctuation and usages remain as they are in the clipping.