By Richard Gwynallen
1724 – 1752
Relationship to Fawn: 8th great aunt
Eleanor was the youngest known child of John and Agnes Mordah who emigrated from County Tyrone, Ireland to the Donegal settlement in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1729. Eleanor was only four or five years old when they made the trip. I’ve posted two essays about her sister, Jean, who stayed in Pennsylvania when most of the Mordahs went along the Great Wagon Road into Virginia and North Carolina. Eleanor, too, remained in Pennsylvania, and this essay is the beginning of her story.
I have seen in some research that Eleanor may have had the middle name of Gilchrist. It was a common practice among Scottish and Irish families, and later families of the American South, to give children a middle name that was from a family of a maternal line in order to preserve the name. Gilchrist certainly fits that bill. However, I have not found a Gilchrist family related to our Mordah family. For now, I mention it because others have, but I have no proof of that name at this time.
On 6 November 1746 Eleanor married James Brown in Paxtang, Pennsylvania, presumably at Paxtang Church. The marriage appears in the Record of Pennsylvania Marriages Prior to 1810, Marriage Record of Paxtang and Derry Churches.
Life on Conedoguinet Creek
At some point they settled along Conedoguinet Creek between Carlisle and Newville. This part of then-Lancaster County became Cumberland County in 1750.
We have not been fortunate enough to locate a surviving house they would have lived in, or other building they frequented, aside from the church, but a few remarks about things that characterized the life of settlers at that time might give color to the world in which they lived.
Much was happening in their day. The relationship between Native Americans and settlers was being tested by illegal settlements and traders pushing rum on Native peoples. The settlements were growing and settlers were planning for the development of mills, a constitution for Pennsylvania, and disputes arose over the existence of slavery in the colony.
Native Americans and the Lancaster County Settlers
The Shawnee were the first resident nation in the area, but many nations, most prominently the Iroqouis, used the area tfor rade and movement south.
This was a significant area of established Native American trading routes, which were critical for economic and cultural exchange.
Trade and negotiations with Native Americans was a part of life in the area when Eleanor and James lived there. A good overview can be read on the Cumberland County website.
That document relates some of the exchanges between settlers and Native peoples over illegal settlements. The first of several councils was held in 1750 near Carlisle. These councils represented a significant community matter in the last years of Eleanor’s life.
“The first council was held in 1750 at Silver’s Spring, east of Carlisle, to discuss illegal settlements along the Juniata River north of Blue Mountain. The area had not been purchased from the Indians yet and settlers were establishing homes in the region. A second council, called the Treaty of 1753, was held at Carlisle and is considered one of the most important councils held during that period.24 Pennsylvania Governor James Hamilton appointed Benjamin Franklin, Richard Peters, and Isaac Norris as commissioners to hold the conference. The council was held at the request of the tribal chiefs. The tribes represented at the council were Iroquois, Delaware, Shawnee, Miami, and Wyandot. The concerns were again the settling of lands north and west of Blue Mountain that had not been purchased. Another topic was the abuses of rum traffic in the region.”
Eleanor had died by the time of the second council. However, the primary topics in the community between 1750 and 1753 must have been relations with the Native people’s and how to handle illegal settlements.
The churches were at that time the major institutions around which community life revolved. It must have been the center for communal discussion of relationships with Native peoples. The Mordahs, Browns, and Rutherfords were surely participants in those discussions as several of the men served as elders in the Paxtang church.
Eleanor’s husband, James, was born in 1724 in or around Paxtang. Eleanor and James had four children. It appears she died of complications resulting from childbirth because she died on 20 September 1752, one day after the birth of her son, John Brown.
Their son, John, served in the Revolutionary War and was with the army at Valley Forge.
The first building on this site, a log structure, was erected about 1716. The present stone building was erected in 1740 and was restored in 1931. It is the oldest Presbyterian Church building in continuous use in Pennsylvania. The church site was deeded by heirs of William Penn in 1744.
This would have been the church in which Eleanor and James were married and which they attended afterward. I imagine Eleanor and her sister, Jean, saw each other here. Much of the community life of Eleanor and Jean would have been centered at the church.
Jean is buried in the Paxtang Presbyterian Churchyard. I had assumed Eleanor would be buried there as well, but I have not found a picture of her tombstone. Perhaps she was buried on the land she and James Brown owned.
Background on the Brown Family
The Browns are not the primary aim of my research, but one of them did marry one of our Mordahs, and this, a Mordah line follows that bore the name of Brown. So, to offer a brief picture of the forces that shaped the Brown family and led to their emigration I’ll include a few points about their ancestor John Brown.
The Brown family emigrated from Ireland, but they originated on Priestville farm in Ayrshire, Scotland. They descend from a John Brown (1627 – 1685) and Isabel Weir.
A 1900 publication, Matthew Brown: Ancestry and Descendants, compiled by Robert Shannon, describes much about the family’s life in Ayrshire. The book puts the Browns squarely in the middle of the religious conflicts of their times as Covenanters. There is a great deal of interesting information in the book about this era. Some of the language is clearly partisan as Presbyterian and Scots-Irish works of the era tend to be.
There is apparently nothing known of his parentage, and little of his early life. According to the Matthew Brown: Ancestry and Descendants, he was educated. He acquired his education from Presbyterian ministers that had been removed from their posts by Charles I, and who hid in hills and mountains of the uplands in southwest Scotland. They taught from home to home. Shannon records that John had thought about the ministry for himself and would have bee a great preacher but for the fact that he stuttered. Once these ministers had left the country or been arrested, John held a religious class in his home on Monday evenings.
He became a packhorse carrier early in his life, and it remained his main occupation throughout his life. In those days, products of the rural areas were taken to market towns by packhorse. The packhorse carrier would convey the product to market, sell them, and make purchases specified by their clients.
He also farmed, but the relative poor soil in the area was more conducive to raising sheep, so it is presumed that raising sheep was part of his enterprise. The area is even today known for its sheep.
Quoting from, Homes, Haunts and Battlefields of the Covenanters, the book describes John’s home: “Priesthill the abode of John Brown, was, in his days, a small moorland far lying far up among the wilds of Ayrshire in the eastern part of the county . . . it is nearly four miles northeast of the now large and prosperous village of Muirkirk, then only a small hamlet.”
The hill above his house apparently has incredible views; the Pentland hills to the east, the mountains of the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde to the west, the Galloway hills to the south, and Highland mountains to the north.
He was not known to have taken an active part in the Covenanter uprisings, but he subscribed to the Covenant, would not make a vow of allegiance to the British King, and did not attend Anglican services, which all were required to do. Therefore, his name was given to the authorities for not attending public ordinances.
He also continued allowing Covenanter ministers to meet at his home. Eventually crown forces caught up to him.
He was seized by soldiers in the early morning of 1 May 1685 on the hill above his house cutting peat. He was brought to his house and examined as to his reasons for not attending public services, and told to vow allegiance to the King in front of his family. He refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance. He was told he would be allowed to pray, which he did. After praying, he said goodbye to his family, and he was shot in front of them. The legend is that John Graham of Claverhouse, who was the King’s agent in hunting down the Covenanters, was present and shot the man himself.
The family was left alone on the moorland. In a few hours others from the area came to help. In 1825 a monument was raised on the spot.
His house is gone, but it is recognizable from a mound and a few stones thought to be part of the house.
The website WalkHighlands provides a good description of how to get to the remote site.
There are some good, even ghostly, stories by a couple who visited the area on Wandering Through Time and Space.
Below are views of and from the site, including the modern Priesthill Farm.
The Brown Family Migration
About a year after John’s death, Isabel and her two sons, John (born about 1684) and James (born 1685 after his father’s death), moved to Ireland with the help of friends.
The James Brown who married Eleanor Mordah was descended from John.
Both of Isobel’s sons would emigrate to the American Colonies in 1720. The name of John’s wife he left Ireland with is currently unknown.
The two brothers settled along Swarata Creek, not far from present day Middleton, in what was then Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and what is now Dauphin County. John is buried in the Old Paxtang Presbyterian Meeting House Cemetery.
And the Browns came to Lancaster County, James met Eleanor,
and we return to the beginning of our story