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Home: Regional: U.S. States: Maryland: Frederick County

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Burkittsville not Harleysville
Posted by: John McLeod (ID *****6477) Date: December 03, 2012 at 20:48:39
  of 1832

I have found an important document relevant to the question; “Why is Burkittsville not Harleysville?” The case of Joshua Harley versus Joshua Harley in Liber HS-2 of the Equity Court records of Frederick County, beginning at the bottom of page 92 and carrying on to the top of page 121, goes right to the core of this issue. This discovery is a payoff for my willingness to correspond with anyone interested in the Slifer surname. One of these found a reference to this record in an index and pointed it out to me. I downloaded the actual text and spent hours poring over the legal boilerplate.
This is Joshua Harley, Junior, appealing to the court to have his father declared insane. On 15th January 1829 he filed a petition claiming that Joshua, Senior had not had a lucid moment for the previous 12 months. This was backed by all of his siblings and 20 independent witnesses. During the course of the court hearings, one witness testified to a temporary, but very dramatic, lapse of connection to the present which occurred in 1826. There were others from 1827. Based on this testimony, I think it probable that he had occasional moments of detachment as early as 1824 and might have been a bit fuzzy even earlier. The only document submitted to the court from the hand of Joshua, Senior, was dated May 1817. This gradual decay would go a long way toward explaining how Henry Burkitt was able to outmaneuver Joshua and overcome his lead in founding the town.

The court demanded a $10,000 surety bond in appointing a Trustee to administer Joshua’s estate. Otho Harley tried to raise this and failed. This task was finally assigned to a son-in-law, Ezra Slifer, husband of daughter Matilda Harley and my g-g-g-uncle, who had the backing of his father, John Slifer III, and uncle, Samuel Slifer. Ezra appears to have conducted the disposal of Joshua’s estate efficiently. All personal property, except what was necessary for the care of the “Lunatic,” was sold at auction on 30th November 1829. Land took longer because it had to be advertised-more widely, but that was accomplished on 17th March 1831. David Mullendore got the farm and Archibald Lamar got the “Tan Yard.” It is clear that Joshua was still alive at this time, since the house in Burkittsville (sic) was retained “for the comfort and care of the Lunatic.” On 16th January 1831, the court had granted permission to effect some repairs on this house. One of his sons, Thomas, had formally agreed to live there and care for his father. In October of 1833, the heirs were in court squabbling over the last scraps. Their petition opened with the statement that Joshua had died intestate on 9th November 1832.

The list of personal property begins with “Five negroes, Eight horses, 15 head cattle, etc.” At least they were at the head of the list! But it appears that they had not been counted very carefully. When careful bookkeeping required that they be listed by name it became clear that there were six! Mary and Lucy were retained to help care for Joshua. Ezra bought David himself, sold Jorvis to his cousin William, Anna to Christopher Long and Ginny to his uncle Samuel. Samuel’s wife had just died and I suppose he needed a housekeeper. These slaves presented a tricky problem. An owner could honor service in his will by freeing them. A Trustee of the court had no such option. At least he sold them locally and not off to a slave market. Keeping them in the community they knew was doing them a favor and was the best he could do for them. It would be interesting to find out what happened to them.

Finally a footnote on the hero of this case; Ezra and Matilda migrated to Missouri about 1845 and are buried at Providence Baptist Church, Wither’s Mill, Miller Township, Marion County, Missouri. This is about 7 miles from Hannibal, the birthplace of Mark Twain. Matilda’s stone is unusual; her given name is spelled in the largest possible letters without a surname attached. She does tell us the full names of her main men, Ezra Slifer and Joshua Harley, but that is in smaller letters. I sense a hint of feminism, well ahead of her time. She also tells us that she was born at Burkitttsville. I have not figured out what that tells us about her relationship with her father. It was not Burkittsville when she was born. Buried on Ezra’s other side is a Jacob Slifer, whom I presume to be Ezra’s cousin, son of David Slifer and Julianna Easterday. Descendants insist that Ezra and Jacob were brothers. I assume that this tells us who raised Jacob after his father died when he was only 5 years old.

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