Donaldsons on the Frontier

I have to admit that it wasn’t easy for me to become excited about researching the Donaldson family, my maternal grandfather’s family.  Maybe it was because until my grandfather, Eddie Earl Donaldson, moved here in the 1910s, none of my direct Donaldson ancestors lived in southwestern Ohio.  So, information on the Donaldson family wasn’t as easy for me to come by as it was for other branches of my family.

For quite a while, I wasn’t able to trace any further back than my fourth great-grandfather, Ebenezer Donaldson and his wife, Rebecca Hillis Donaldson.  Then one day I came across A History of the Donaldson Family and Its Connections by Alexander Donaldson on Google Books.  The story told in this book of Ebenezer’s parents and grandparents, if accurate, is quite incredible.  Personally, I am a bit of a skeptic about some of this story, since much of it was passed on through family tradition.  I have found additional information from other sources, some that corroborates the information in the Donaldson history, and some doesn’t.  This is the story I have pieced together from the various sources.
Jacob Donaldson (Ebenezer’s grandfather and my sixth great-grandfather) was born in York County, Pennsylvania and ultimately settled in the area of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.  He and his wife Janet had six children, Margaret, James, Jane, Mary, Elizabeth, and James.   Margaret first married a Mr. Stewart. I’m unclear where the Stewarts lived in Pennsylvania.   According to the obituary of one of Margaret’s sons, during the French and Indian War, she and Mr. Stewart left their children in their home while they went to a spring to get water.  Margaret and Mr. Stewart were attacked by Indians, who killed and scalped Mr. Stewart and captured Margaret.  While prisoner, Margaret gave birth to her third child whom her captors reportedly killed because of its crying. 

Margaret was later given to a different tribe that treated her more kindly.  She was away from her home for six or seven years before she was finally released.  When she returned home, she learned that another of her children had died while she was gone.  Later, she married Robert Orr and had five more children.  The Orr family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1798. 
Jacob Donaldson was killed in battle against the Indians prior to the Revolutionary War, possibly during the French and Indian War.  At the time his estate was settled in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1762, his eldest son James was also dead.  By this time, Margaret had apparently been captured and released by the Indians, since she was referred to in the estate documents as Robert Orr’s wife.

Jacob’s son Isaac was my fifth great-grandfather.  He and Martha Reynolds were married around 1769.  Isaac served in Captain John Rea’s militia company of the First Battalion of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War according to documentation contained in Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series, Volume VI.   Jacob purchased land in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and settled there with his family.
 By 1780, Isaac and Martha had five children, James, Ebenezer, Sarah, Margaret, and Isaac.  The Donaldson History says that in the summer and fall of 1780 there were Indian attacks in the area.  Back in those days, there were stockade forts where settlers could take refuge from such attacks.  Isaac, Martha, and their young family took refuge at Fort Wallace, moved onto Fort Ligonier (more likely a nearby stockade fort, Fort Preservation, rather than the military fort used during the French Indian War), and back to Fort Wallace.

In the spring of 1781, Isaac, returned to work on his property and Martha and the children remained at the fort.  The Donaldson history states that Isaac boarded with a “George Pumroy.”  Old Westmoreland: A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler indicates that Isaac was working for Colonel John Pomeroy.  Sources differ slightly on what exactly happened on the morning of Sunday April 1, 1781.  The Donaldson history states that Isaac walked a little distance from the house when the Pomeroy family saw Indians attack.  The Hassler account says that Pomeroy and three hired men were working in a field when the Indians attacked.  One man (Isaac) was killed, two ran for help, and Pomeroy ran back to the cabin to hide his children and fight off the attack with his wife.  When help arrived the following morning, they found Isaac’s scalped body and buried it.
Martha was now widowed with five children.  The Donaldson history describes her story as follows:

Shortly before [Isaac’s] death, [Martha] was bitten on the foot by a copper-head, and her oldest son dug a hole in yellow clay and buried her foot in it, and then poured cream around it until the cream assumed a greenish color, and the poison was extracted.  On the day when [Isaac] was killed, . . . she was crossing a stream on a log, carrying her youngest son, an infant, when, losing her balance, she fell into the water, and again the oldest son ran for help, and secured their rescue from a watery grave.
According to the Donaldson history, these events and her husband’s death caused Martha to descend into mental illness.  Her sister, Sarah Reynolds, took over the childrearing duties.  Martha died in late 1782. 

In April 1783, Martha’s brother John Reynolds returned to the area where Isaac was killed and took four of the five Donaldson children with him.  The exception was Ebenezer, who lived with family and acquaintances in York County, Pennsylvania.  Since Ebenezer is my ancestor, I would like to know why he didn’t go with the rest of the family and with whom he lived.
Ebenezer apparently lost contact with his brothers and sisters.  During the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, James Donaldson scraped together enough money for a trip to the Pittsburgh area, surmising that Ebenezer might be among the troops President Washington sent from eastern Pennsylvania counties to put down the insurrection in southwestern Pennsylvania.  After making some inquiries, James found his brother and the family was reunited.

Unbelievable story, isn’t it?  The stuff that movies, not my family history, are made of.   Maybe someday I’ll be able to determine how accurate it is!


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