The Landis Mill Dam Incident
Yellow fever is one of those diseases that was of grave concern to our ancestors. About 1793, Philadelphia was experiencing an outbreak of the disease and when a febrious illness began to manifest in Harrisburg, there was great concern that it had reached them, too.
Efforts were made to protect the town and its inhabitants—the posting of guards on the roads, turning away travelers, etc. But the general feeling amongst the town’s inhabitants was that the disease was caused by the stagnant waters behind a dam on Paxton Creek. The mill was owned by Peter, John and Abraham Landis.
Articles of agreement were written between John Harris, founder of Harrisburg, and the three Landis men on 16 April 1790. Harris granted them “a mill seat on the waters of Paxton Creek the race whereof to be taken out of the said creek at any place between the two bridges now erected over the same opposite Harrisburgh aforesaid and to be dug or carried through the land of the said John Harris.” The men paid £600, plus interest, and were required to provide a sufficient merchant mill within three years.
Then the sickness came.
On 5 May 1794, a meeting was held and a committee designed to meet with the Landis’ and offer them £2500 in exchange for the mill. They met with the men the next day. The Landis’ refused to sell.
By January 1795, the inhabitants were determined to take action. At a meeting on 16 January 1795, it was voted to pay the Landis’ £2600 for the mill, and that in case the Landis’ again refused to sell, they would “prostrate the dam erected… and pay our proportionate parts of all legal expenses and damages that may accrue on any suit or suits.” An assessment was made on all property in the borough in order to make up the amount of the offer.  Amongst those assessed for property in town were John, Adam, and Christopher Hocker. A George Hocker—possibly their brother—was assessed as a single man, too.
Apparently, the Landis men were still not willing to sell and instead asked for £2000 for the water-rights alone. The committee apparently believed this was little more than extortion. They refused the counter-offer.
On Saturday, 18 April 1795, the committee and a number of inhabitants went to the dam and with four persons they had hired “opened the creek bed twelve feet wide.” This, for all intents and purposes, ruined the dam.
On 29 April 1795, with the dam all but destroyed and no other options, the Landis’ sold the mill property and equipment to a committee comprised of Stacy Potts, Moses Gilmore, William Grayson, Jacob Bucher, John Keen, John Dentzel and Alexander Berryhill.
The Landis Family
Peter, John, and Abraham Landis were, I believe, brothers
and sons of Felix Landis.
Felix Landis of Derry Township died after writing his will on 25 Jan 1770. He left his property on Spring Creek to his two sons—Peter and Jacob. Peter, in particular, inherited that piece of the tract “whereupon the house and barn and mill is standing.” This indicates to me that the mill business was a family industry.
All three men were of Derry Township in 1790 when they purchased the water rights from John Harris. In 1795 when they sold out, Peter and Eva, his wife, were of Derry Township, John and Catharine, his wife, were of Londonderry Township, and Abraham and Barbara, his wife, were of Paxton Township.
- George Hallenbrooke Morgan, compiler, Annals comprising memoirs, incidents and statistics of Harrisburg from the period of its first settlement (Harrisburg: George A. Brooks, 1858), page 91, online, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 20 Mar 2013), hereinafter referred to as Annals of Harrisburg. ↩
- John Harris to Peter, John and Abraham Landis (1790), Dauphin County Deed Book L:417, pdf, Dauphin County Recorder of Deeds, “Dauphin County Pennsylvania Public Web Search” (http://deeds.dauphinc.org/ : accessed 19 Mar 2013). ↩
- Luther Reilly Kelker, History of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania: with genealogical memoirs (New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1907), Volume 1, page 93, online, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 20 Mar 2013). ↩
- George H. Morgan, Annals of Harrisburg, page 95. ↩
- George H. Morgan, Annals of Harrisburg, page 92. ↩
- George H. Morgan, Annals of Harrisburg, page 92. ↩
- Peter Landis et al to the Borough of Harrisburgh (1795), Dauphin County Deed Book H:222, pdf, Dauphin County Recorder of Deeds, “Dauphin County Pennsylvania Public Web Search” (http://deeds.dauphinc.org/ : accessed 19 Mar 2013). ↩
- Felix Landis will (1770), online transcription, “Will of Felix Landis,” <http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sweetpoe/landis/states/jr-will.html>, viewed 20 Mar 2013. ↩
- John Harris to Peter, John and Abraham Landis (1790), Dauphin County Deed Book L:41. ↩
- Peter Landis et al to the Borough of Harrisburgh (1795), Dauphin County Deed Book H:222. ↩
Cite This Page:
Kris Hocker, “A Great Sickness at Harrisburg,” /genealogy the genealogy & family research site of Kris Hocker, modified 14 Nov 2013 (http://www.krishocker.com/a-great-sickness-at-harrisburg/ : accessed 9 Mar 2014).
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