The Tulpehocken settlement


In 1723, Palatine emigrants from  New York, fed up with the way they had been treated there, negotiated with Governor William Keith of the Pennsylvania Colony to move to an area along Tulpehocken Creek at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Pennsylvania’s eastern Chester (later Berks County),

Thirty-three families were in the first group to arrive there in 1723 and they were followed by others within the next few years, and soon the Tulpehocken settlement was a thriving place.

The Palatines did not experience the restrictions and animosities they had faced in New York and that was probably due, in part, to the fact that Pennsylvania was a proprietary colony, presented by the Royal Crown to William Penn, a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) to pay a debt owed to Penn’s father. Penn admired the Palatines and their work ethic.

  NOTE:When Admiral Sir William Penn died in 1670, he was owed 16,000 pounds (about $100,000)by the English government for back pay and damage he suffered during the Dutch War. That debt was inherited by his son, William Penn.  He was 36 years old when he received a charter from King Charles II for the Province of what would become Pennsylvania in payment of the debt owed his father. It was a large tract of unexplored territory inhabited mostly by Indians. The land was surveyed and proprietary Manors were set up for Penn and his heirs.  Many of the tracts within the Manors were set aside by Penn and his heirs for their own use.  Portions were later sold to others. William Penn died in 1718 in England. 

It is believed that Michael Ernst Harness, Sr. arrived in Tulpehocken probably from the Schoharie settlement in New York sometime between 1725-28.  He is listed on the property assessment roles for 1725 as owning 240 acres adjoining Tulpehocken Creek and he is listed as a property owner on a map and sketch (shown below) drawn by C. I Lindemuth  and based on a 1723 survey now in the possession of the Tulpehocken Settlement  Historical Society:

Note in the sketch at left and the topo map below that the modern day community of Stouchsburg goes right through part of the former Ernst Harness plat.

The Harness property was located in Eastern Fell’s Manor (on map at left)).  It was a part of Fell’s Manor which occupied just under 10,000 acres in Marion Township.  The  240 acre Harness tract is identified as # 20 on the map, and to the west , on the tract identified as # 7, is the 170 acre tract owned by Harness’ brother-in-law, Adam Defenbach (Dieffenbach). Adam’s father, Johann Conrad Dieffenbach, had bequeathed the tract to his son in 1737, a year or so before Johann Conrad’s death. Both the Ernst (Harness) and Dieffenbach tracts abutted Tulpehocken Creek.

Just to the north of the Adam Dieffenbach tract is tract # 6.  According to Tulpehocken Settlement Historial Society records, it was the property of Johann  George Rieth.  His wife was Catherine Margareta Defenback (Dieffenbach), a daughter of Johann Conrad Dieffenbach’s by his first wife in Germany.   Margareta came to America  with Dieffenbach and his new wife and family.


NOTE: Gulielma Marie Penn, a grandaughter of  Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn, and her second husband, Charles Fell, initially held the proprietary rights to all of Fell’s Manor, but apparently made no effort to get a patent for it. The Manor changed hands several times.  In 1735 or so, it was sold to Casper Wistar, a Philadelphia brass button maker. It is from Wistar that Ernst (Harness) and  Dieffenbach obtained the deeds to their respective tracts.  It is not known how much Ernst (Harness) paid for his property, but information from the Tulpehocken Settlement Historical Society indicates that Dieffenbach paid 68 pounds for his tract.

Here are two other photo views taken from the former Ernst Harness farm at Tulpehocken in a visit to that area in 2006 by James T. Yocum.

The photo below is looking west from the Harness farm (the stream is Tulpehocken Creek)

The photo below looks south across the former Harness farm property:

Most researchers believe that Michael Ernst Harness, Sr. and his wife, Elizabeth, lived in the Tulpehocken settlement for 12 to 13 years.  It is believed that 7 of the couple’s 13 children (Michael, Jr., Elizabeth, Conrad, Barbara Rebecca, Jacob (the first son who had that name), John and Adam) were all born there.

Family tradition has it that in 1738 while a resident of Tulpehocken Settlement  township ,  Michael Ernst  Harness heard about a valley along the South Branch of the Potomac river (known then by its Indian name, the Wappocomo), on the Virginia colony’s rugged western frontier. 

Four men  had been sent out from Winchester, Virginia by British Lord Fairfax in 1737.  Lord Fairfax had inherited a large amount of land in that rugged unexplored wilderness and he came to America expressly to try and get a better idea of what his inheritance was like and what he might do with it to make some money. So he sent the four men to scout out the area.

The 4 men apparently made such a favorable report upon their return that Michael Ernst (Harness), along with friends  Matthias Yoakum and George (Jorg) Stump reportedly set out in the spring of 1738 from Winchester with the idea of determining whether they wanted to settle their families in the South Branch Valley. According to Yoakum’s grandson, George Yoakum, in the Draper papers, “they came by way of Winchester, then up Big Capon, Lost River and to the mountain.  Crossing over the mountain, they came to the south fork of the South Branch”. The men, so family tradition tells, liked what they saw and two of them, Yoakum and Michael Ernst (Harness), returned with their families the following year (1739) to become early settlers of the rugged western Virginia colony.

Family tradition indicates that Michael, Sr. and his family settled on a large tract of land on the west bank of the South Branch of the Potomac river. The land was said to have been  located between Buzzard’s Ford, which is near the modern-day Fisher community to the west of Moorefield, West Virginia, to a place now known as Mike’s Ford about five miles to the south.  Michael’s original  “tomahawk” land claim may have stretched 3 or 4 miles along the west side of the river, but that remains at this point in the area of family tradition, not verified fact.

Whether he knew it at the time  is not clear , but the area where Michael Ernst (Harness, Sr.) and his family settled on the South Branch and where he chose to build his home was on Lord Fairfax’s huge inherited estate, a portion of which the British lord some years later on his second trip to America would designate as South Branch Manor. Lord Fairfax sent surveyors, including a 16 year old apprentice surveyor from Winchester named George Washington, out to survey his inheritance with the idea of marking off lots and selling them.  There was one big  problem; Michael Ernst (Harness, Sr.) along with a growing number of other settlers,  many of them, like Ernst (Harness) Palatine emigrants, were already “squatting” on the land and they considered it theirs and clear.