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700 College Pl
Williamsport, PA, 17701
United States

Biography

In 1761, James Alworth was born to Margaret Ralston and her husband Benjamin Alworth in Lurgan Township, Pennsylvania.  At the time Lurgan was a part of Cumberland County, but has since become part of Franklin County.  During the American Revolution, James Alworth fought in the Pennsylvania Militia three separate times.  When the war ended, he stayed in Lurgan until November 1804, when he moved to Beaver Township in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.[1]  He also participated in the War of 1812 with his brothers, John and Benjamin, where he served in a volunteer army under Captain David Clark and fought in both the Battle of Lake Erie as well as the Battle of Buffalo.  James appeared in the Court of Common pleas in 1833 with hopes of attaining a pension from the Revolutionary War, but the judge denied his request.  However, the government accepted the request of his brother Andrew and put him on the pension roll in March of 1833.[2]  He died in Beaver Township in 1848 at the age of 87 years and his family buried him in Beaver’s Westfield Presbyterian Church Cemetery.[3]

His parents, Margaret and Benjamin Alworth, had at least seven other children.[4]  Benjamin was one of the first frontiersman of the area and became a farmer after he moved to the area from Ireland.[5]  His sons inherited his occupation.[6]  Before the war, Benjamin had 150 acres of land.[7]  In the next recorded land survey, his landed property decreased drastically to 35 acres.[8]  As the war progressed, he became wealthier and eventually had at least 300 acres to cultivate.[9]  While trying to settle the frontier and keep his land, Benjamin often had disputes with the local Native American tribes; his sons inherited this issue as well as his occupation.[10]

James Alworth married Margaret Strain.  She was the daughter of John Strain, who had three other children named Sarah, Mary, and James.  James and Margaret had nine of their own children and seven of them are known: Mary, Sarah, Margaret, Rachel, Jane, William, and John.[11]  It is likely that James followed the footsteps of his father and brothers.[12]  He bought a 200-acre tract from the McMillan family in 1804 and was the first to improve upon the land.[13]  This land eventually became a plot for a log schoolhouse.[14]  It is also unlikely that he was poor because he owned shares of Roseberg and Mercer Turnpike and Road Company by the 1830s.[15] 

James first mustered for war in Carlisle, Pennsylvania when he was just fifteen years old.  He began his first stint in the fifth Battalion of the Cumberland County Militia on January 1, 1776.  During this time, he was under Lieutenant John Stewart and Captain Charles McClay, who instructed his men to march to Philadelphia to help with the war effort.  He then entered the regiment of Colonel Joseph Armstrong and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Peebles.  After briefly staying in Pennsylvania, he spent time in Brunswick, New Jersey, where he scouted the English lines.  His commanding officer discharged him on March 20 of the same year.

James briefly stayed out of the war until mid-May of 1781, when he once again volunteered as a private for the militia.  He joined the fourth company of the sixth Battalion of the Cumberland County Militia.  His commanding officers were Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Culbertson and Major James McCalmont.[16]  He only stayed in the militia for about half a month; his commander discharged him in the beginning of June. 

In July 1781, James was drafted into the fourth Battalion in the seventh regiment of the militia.  His commanders were Colonels James Johnston and James Dunlap, Major William McFarlan, Captain James Miller, Lieutenants Robert Quigley and Joseph McCibin, and Ensign Samuel Walker. [17]  During this period, Alworth spent most of his time in Frankstown of Blair County, Pennsylvania.  The army was so indebted and underfunded that he supplied his own arms and provisions.  His company marched from Lurgan to Standing Stone and Finally to Frankstown, where they watched for Native American enemies in the gap between the Allegheny Mountains.[18]  Militia officials kept close watch of this gap because in June 1781 a Native American raiding party captured, wounded, and killed several militiamen.  James Alworth left the militia on November 1, 1781 when his regiment heard of Lord Cornwallis’ surrender.

 James Alworth likely volunteered for the militia twice out of the three times he served in order to combat the Native American threat on the frontier.  Alworth’s family lived west of the Susquehanna on the Pennsylvania frontier, an area that commonly disputed with the local native people.  Alworth’s father was one of the first men to settle in the area in and around Lurgan Township.  He fought with the Native Americans and his sons patrolled the frontier as rangers.[19]  Since James’ father and brothers were involved in Indian disputes, it is likely that he was similarly involved.[20]

Clashes with the local Indians were commonplace in his county for other frontiersmen as well.  Other Pennsylvanians knew Cumberland County inhabitants for their hatred of natives.  A Philadelphian predicted, “ The lawless Inhabitants of Cumberland County will massacre all Indians, who enter the interior part of it.”[21]  Furthermore, other residents of the frontier complained of issues they had with the local Indian tribes; the western Ohio Indians often raided the Cumberland County frontier.[22]  In a 1764 remonstrance to the government, Pennsylvania frontiersmen complained, “The frontiers have been repeatedly attacked and ravaged by skulking parties of Indians, who have with the most savage cruelty murdered men, women, and children without distinction, and have reduced near a thousand families to the most extream distress.”[23]  These discontented inhabitants also grieved over how the government protected the Indians without regard to their hostilities.[24]  Considering the fact that most frontiersmen quarreled with the Indians and detested the government’s involvement with them, it is very likely that James did as well.  This means that he would join the war effort not only to gain legislation that would help protect his family on the “lawless” frontier, but also because he would be able to fight against his perceived enemy, the Indians.

Caroline McMaster

Lycoming College

 

Endnotes

[1] Aaron L. Hazen, 20th Century History of New Castle and Lawrence Counties, Pennsylvania and Representative Cities (Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Publishing Co., 1908), 286.

[2] Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States: Being the First Session of the Twenty-First Congress Begun and Held at the City of Washington (Washington DC: Duff Green, 1829), 432.

[3] “James Alworth,” Billion Graves, http://billiongraves.com/pages/record/James-Alworth/7684704#given_names=James&family_names=Alworth (accessed April 15, 2015).

[4] “Canton Data Family History Collection,” list of children of Benjamin and Margaret Ralston Alworth’s children, Madison County Library System, Madison County, Mississippi.

[5] Virginia Shannon Fendrick, ed., American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County (Chambersburg: Historical Works Committee, 1944).

[6] William Henry Egle, ed., Pennsylvania Archives (Harrisburg: William Stanley Ray Printer, 1897), 3:26, 390.

[7] Pennsylvania Archives, 3:24, 629.

[8] Pennsylvania Archives,  3:20, 62.

[9] Pennsylvania Archives 3:20, 390.

[10] Pennsylvania Archives 3:26, 390

[11] Hazen, 20th Century History of New Castle and Lawrence Counties, 286.

[12] Fendrick, ed., American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County.

[13] Atlas of the County of Lawrence and the State of Pennsylvania from Actual Surveys and Official Records, (Philadelphia: G.M. Hopkins & Co., 1872), 73.

[14] Hazen, 20th Century History of New Castle and Lawrence Counties, 281.

[15] Gertrude MacKinney, ed., Pennsylvania Archives (1934), 9:9, 6646.

[16] Thomas Lynch Montgomery, ed. Pennsylvania Archives (Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1906), 5:6, 416.

[17] Pennsylvania Archives, 5:6, 449.

[18] Andrew Alworth, 18833, March 4, 1834, 22621.

[19] Pennsylvania Archives, 3:24, 281.

[20] Pennsylvania Archives, 2:18 109.

[21] Alden T. Vaughan, “Frontier Banditti And The Indians: The Paxton Boys' Legacy, 1763–1775,” Pennsylvania History 50, no. 1 (January 1894): 6.

[22] Matthew C. Ward, “Fighting the "Old Women": Indian Strategy on the Virginia and Pennsylvania Frontier, 1754-1758,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 103, no. 3 (July 1995): 301.

[23] “A Remonstrance from the Pennsylvania Frontier.” February 13, 1764, 11.

[24] “A Remonstrance from the Pennsylvania Frontier.” February 13, 1764, 11.