BY GABOR BORITT / JUNE 12, 2015
Special to the Gettysburg Times
Let’s begin with the present generation, which is first hand material and has some benefits. We, the Boritt family, came to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1981. We stayed for two years at the Tom Oyler Farm; they were and are special people. In 1983 and 1994 we bought the land at 500 Plank Rd from difficult Baltimore area people. As we understand, nobody had lived that at the farm for many years. There were many squatters. Our neighbors, the Hocks, had young children and used to call it the “Bandit Farm.” Kay took care of Daniel, our youngest boy all the time. After we signed the deeds, the previous owner told us that the house was worthless. You have to build the new one. As for the barn–oh my, but it was better than the house. All-the-same, we wanted to save this historic place. We demolished the house down to its shell. Being a teacher, summers are “free”, so I started at 6 am and worked on a book on till noon; then on the house at times till close to midnight. We worked hard physically with my wife Liz, Elizabeth Lincoln Norseen. She did so much more, meals, etc. The same for our sons, Norse, Jake, and Dan, who over the years, became wonderful workers. We did get help, especially in 1983. For a fine example, see the Kellett’s. Just as classes to start in the fall, all 6 of them helped us free of charge for that day. (Incidentally, they told us that in 1981 this was the farm we should have.) Of course much of the work was done by us over the years, day after day, years after years. Our friend Ralph Woerner worked on our crops from 1984 until this day. Many famous folks stayed at the home, but this is personal. All the same, 200 years plus makes a difference: visitors tell us the Farm by the Ford is beautiful.
But now to the beginning of the farm. Near a big bend in Marsh Creek the Lenape or Delaware Indians used the area for trade. (We found stone arrowheads there.) Next the Penn’s manor land came from the King of England and its first settler was Thomas McLean of 1740 of the Settlement. There were hard times. The sheriff sold the land to David Grier, then was purchased by Abraham Usher of Baltimore, which in turn bough by William Crawford and his wife Anne in 1792.
It is my fault that I don’t know much about her, and historians must learn a whole lot more about women in general in Gettysburg. We all make mistakes, history continues to change, and now let’s talk about the positives. Crawford was born in Paisley, Scotland, and studied at the University of Edinburgh. With his degree he immigrated to the United States. He purchased 225 acres. Up on the hill they built a log house and dug a well. The later still exists. Next they built a two-story house, right on the creek from an abundant red shale stone. There is a well in the cellar–18th century indoor plumbing. Earlier, they built a barn around 1792? which, over the years, got progressively larger, as did the house itself. By then the doctor had become a much respected individual. He became an Associate Judge and then a Congressman between, 1808-1816. A file later stated: “Dr. Crawford was . . . active and brilliant intellect . . . A born leader.” One has to be careful about obituaries, but for once, this one seems to be realistic. William Crawford died in 1829 but his wife, Anne, lived to be 82. Both are at the Evergreen Cemetery.
Another person should be mentioned in the farm: tenant Basil Biggs and his wife Mary Jackson Biggs. An African-American couple had five children and came from Maryland in 1858–because Pennsylvania was a free state. Biggs was a farmer and often referred to as “the horse doctor “. Today it would be known as a veterinarian. Many decades later he was remembered for using the house as a stop on the Underground Railroad. One has to be brave do this. Just before the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Biggs took with his family to safe houses possibly? to Quaker Valley in northern Adams County. Then he came back to save his home, but had to escape with the help of Joseph Musselman Sr. Later the Biggs’s were given a large sum of money for property damages sustained testifying to his high standing with in the local community. Liz and I are going to have dinner with his decedent, Dorothy E. King, who works at Penn State University in Harrisburg. Another descendent is Curt Musselman who has been a friend of us for many years. The Biggs’s are at the Lincoln Cemetery.
The farm was occupied by Gens. Barksdale and Semme’s brigades and both died. Barksdale was especially brave. (In 1862, some think, Gen. Jeb Stuart came up on the hill, next to Crawford’s log house, and decided Gettysburg was not that important.) Everybody knows a huge amount about the Battle, and historians keeps changes, but this is not the time to discuss the subject. The farm had a large hospital for weeks, had hundreds of wounded, dozens of dead, and the dining room was for amputations. In short, the people and the place was badly hurt.
All the same, the Crawfords farm continued with the McPhersons on till 1947. This is a story by itself. William and Ann Crawford’s grandchild, Annie D. Crawford married Edward McPherson, who in the second-half of the 19th century became an important Republican Congressman, the Clerk of the House, a publisher of newspapers, including Gettysburg’s, and worked his books. He knew Lincoln. What was said of William Crawford can be said about Edward McPherson: “brilliant intellect . . . A born leader.” Luckily, we got to know some members of that family, especially Sally and Ted McPherson from Texas: a find family.
In conclusion, Don and Margaret E. Scott purchase the farm from 1948-68 and his son, Phil. At this moment as I am writing, there are some fine cattle, mostly Angus, across us on Marsh Creek. Then came the people from Baltimore.
Then came the Boritts. We are hoping that the Farm by the Ford will continue for many generations, as did the Crawford’s in 1792 on. There is a gigantic sycamore tree on the farm that has been there, possibly, for centuries, since the Native Americans plied this land. But if the tree dies, we will grow new ones.
Still, man suppose, God dispose.
Gabor S. Boritt, Emeritus, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies, Director of Civil War Institute, Chairman of the Board of The Lincoln Prize. This article was written for the Cumberland Township Historical Society.