IN CAMBRIA COUNTY
By The Rev., Modestus Wirtner, O. S. B.
OR THE TRAPPIST
AT CARROLLTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
French Refugee Trappists At Carrolltown
The Catholic history of this section of the country dates from a period long anterior to the arrival of Father Lemke. The Rev. Oswald Moosmiller, 0 .S. B., "In Vincenz," A. D., 1873, page 199 informs us that: "About a half of a mile south of the present St. Benedict's church, on the southern slope of the Old Loretto Road, were to he seen until recent years the ruins of buildings erected at the beginning of this century by a colony of Trappist Monks." "Dom Urban Guillet, with a colony of Monks arrived at Baltimore, September 25, 1803, and came to the vicinity of the future Carrolltown; but failing to make a foundation there, they next proceeded to Pigeon Hills, Adams County, Pa."
Those Monks, in the strict sense of the word, are Benedictine Monks. They follow the strict wording of the Rule of St. Benedict in regard to silence, never speaking unless to the superior. They are called Cistercian Monks. Those that came to the United States were from the Monastery at La Trappe, France, whence the name Trappist Monks.
On February 13, 1790, all religious Orders of France were suppressed by a legislative act of the French Government, the work of Napoleon. There was too much of the spirit of St. Benedict, St. Bernard, St. Robert, and an Abbe de Rance at La Trappe, to be dispersed by a mere edict. Dom Augustine de Lestrange took his monks to Switzerland. In 1796 the revolution forced them to flee to Russia, then in 1800 to Prussia.
This revived in Dom Augustine the desire to establish his Order in America. He selected Pere Urban for this task. Dom Urban chose his companions, forming a colony of 36 persons, seven priests, eighteen laybrothers and the rest students. They set sail from Amsterdam on the night of the 24 or 25 of May and arrived at Baltimore on September 25, 1803. (Gaillardin, followed by Moosmiller, Lambing and Flick, is wrong in his dates. The letters of Dom Urban are to be credited in this matter.) They were kindly received by Rev. M. Nagot and were comfortably quartered and entertained at the Sulpician College for three weeks,
First Pennsylvania Location
The community then established itself on Pigeon Hills, in Oxford Township, about four or five miles from Conewago, Adams County. The superior of the Sulpicians of Mt. St. Mary's gave them the use of a property of about six acres, vacant for some years, and permission to use or buy it as they found it necessary.
Second Offer, Pennsylvania Location
In the life of Dom Urban Guillet, page 179, it is stated that: "During the month of May 1804, he, (Urban) went from Pigeon Hills to Philadelphia, taking with him a member of the Third Order and his two best gardeners, in order to visit and choose a tract of land which was offered to them. According to the claims of the proprietors they
were to find the best and the most beautiful land in the world, in a condition very favorable for the foundation which they intended to make. The result of their visit was a complete disappointment; they had been deceived."
In a letter of Dom Urban to Bishop Plessis in Quebec dated Bardstown, September 23, 1809, it is stated that: "The community remained on Pigeon Hills a little more than a year and then went to Kentucky." In the life of Dom Urban that: "The colony of Trappists departed for Kentucky in the beginning of July, 1805." In this case their sojourn on Pigeon Hills was about 18 months.
The Rev. P. Vincent de Paul
Later, page 281, in the Life of Dom Urban: "The Rev. P. Vincent de Paul had been sent from Bordeaux, France, to America by the Rt. Rev. Dom Augustine (de Lestrange) in order to make a foundation there. He, with two other religious, arrived at Boston, August 6th, 1811. During the following year he was joined by three lay brothers in Pennsylvania."
The Rev. P. Vincent de Paul was received with open arms by the Archbishop of Baltimore and after having made some inquiries he settled on one of the farms which belonged to the Jesuits. Where this farm was located was not stated, but it is likely in the North-eastern part of St. Mary's County, Md., and near the place where he after-wards bought some land and established his community.
Third Offer, Pennsylvania Location
"During our stay," we read in P. Vincent's Memoires," a rich (Catholic) man of Baltimore, who was once a Protestant, offered us 2,000 acres of land in the mountains of Pennsylvania, near a river called the Delaware. He was generous enough to offer me the service of his son, a recent convert, and who came with us to point out the property which, however, I was not able to inspect thoroughly as I remained only one day". The property must have been North-West of Milford, Pike County.
Soon after Father Vincent de Paul visited in Philadelphia. From there, accompanied by two novices, he made a second tour of inspection, of two weeks, and returned to Philadelphia. "After a year of crosses and difficulties in the way of our discovering a suitable and convenient place for our establishment, we found ourselves in Maryland."
Rev. P. Urban and the Rev. P. Vincent
When the Rev. P. Urban went to Kentucky, he lived with his community first at Pottinger Creek, Nelson County, then at Casey Creek, Casey County, finally in the spring of 1809, he bought Cahokia Monks or Mound, St. Clair County, Illinois. The new settlers soon felt the influence of the unhealthy climate. In 1812 a terrible plague visited the community. The fever which desolated the country, attached them
and rendered it impossible to do any work. Father Urban sold his property and returned to Maryland. Archbishop Spalding, page 174, says: 'They were there as late as March, 1813."
In Maryland, P. Vincent was not more fortunate. In fact he fared worse. He experienced the horrors of the black misery, caused by the want of resources, and his inexperience concerning the condition of the country. The effluvia from the marshes along the rivers breeded disease and pestiferous insects, and the great heat of the summer was most oppressive. The community remained there two years. P. Urban visited them and found them in a critical condition and he worked to extricate them. This is contained in a letter of P. Urban in which we read: "I went to see the confreres who are in a still more miserable condition than I, although they are near Baltimore, I did not intend to live with them but to help them otherwise. I found them all dying, one of them died in my presence." While waiting for better conditions, he settled them upon a little farm between Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Fourth Pennsylvania Location
"P. Urban then conducted his own subjects to an island near Pittsburgh and established them in a hut, large enough to hold two cows." P. Urban went to Pittsburgh on December 8th, 1813.
The Rt. Rev. Dom Augustine de Lestrange, New York.
Consult the Life of P. Urbain Guillet, page 282.
In the meanwhile Dom Augustine de Lestrange, pursued by the anger of Napoleon, who had even set a price upon his head, arrived in New York toward the end of December, 1813. The Jesuits had just given up their foundation in that city and Dom Augustine bought their classical school, called the New York Literary Institution, which was then located in a suburban village, the sit of, but not the lot on which stands, St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Dom Augustine called P. Urban and P. Vincent with their religious here and resumed the regular life and exerted on outsiders a salutary influence.
Fifth Pennsylvania Location
"A little later Dom Augustine sent P. Urban to look for another location. He went to Bedfade (Bedford), to a farm which was offered by M. Quesnel, Vicar-General of Philadelphia."
Sixth Pennsylvania Location
Dom Augustine followed a short time afterwards. He sent five or six brothers to one hundred miles from Philadelphia. They settled in a forest, where they had no other roof but one made of the branches from the trees. P. Charles Guery, the superior although a novice, was always sick. In the spring they returned, to Bedfade, where they met P. Urban with his confreres." P. Charles died a few days later at the residence of the pastor at Lancaster, i. e. April 2, 1814.
In La Nouvelle France, 17;222, it is stated that at the time Dom Augustine arrived in America, Dom Urban was thinking of acquiring property in Virginia.
Return To France
They had now been ten years in America without having succeeded in establishing a permanent settlement and this was a great cause of worry to the Rt. Rev. Dom Augustine. He did not know what to do when the news arrived of the fall of Napoleon and the return of the Bourbons to Paris. Full of joy he determined at once to return to France. He gave orders to all religious and also to Dom Urban to join him with his whole community. The members were then divided into three groups. The first, in charge of Dom Augustine, left for France on the Fingal, October 20, 1814. The second under Dom Urban left on the Gustavus Adolphus on October 24, 1814. The third division under Father Vincent left in May, 1815. The above extracts from the Memoires of the Rev. Vincent de Paul and from the Life of Dom Urbain Guillet were handed to me by the Rev. F. M. Guildas, a Cistercian Monk from La Trappe, Canada.
In olden times it was a difficult task to locate the land where Carrolltown is located or the land of Jacob Downing, a merchant of Philadelphia, upon whose land the Trappist Monks settled. This place was at one time in Bedford County, which was erected in 1771, and in Frankstown Township, erected in 1775. Then it was in Huntingdon County, erected in 1787, and in 1793 the western portion of Frankstown Township i. e. west of the Allegheny Mountains was called Allegheny Township.
The Rev. D. A. Gallitzin settled in a place called McGuire's Settlement or Clearfield. The three Clear Fields were near Ashville on the old Indian Trail that led from Frankstown to Kittanning. In 1803 Father Gallitzin called his place Loretto, and in 1815 sold his first lot in the town of Loretto, which was recorded in 1816.
When the Trappist Monks came here there was no official town of Loretto, but a St. Michael's church near the Clear Fields. On the 26th of March, 1804, Cambria County was established. The first lots were sold in Carrolltown on April 27, 1847.
Jacob Downing's land was recorded in the Recorders Office at Ebensburg among the "eleven several patents, situated in Huntingdon and Bedford Counties", as bought from Brown and Harris on the 12th of August, 1795. For details of location in particular etc., see the Public Office Patent Books.
The Rev. Oswald Moosmiller, O. S. B., who is followed by the Rev. A. A. Lambing in 1880, is probably wrong in placing the Trappist Monks here in 1803. Mr. J. G. Shea in his History of the Catholic Church in the United States, Vol. 2, P. 447, writes: "In 1794 a French Catholic Colony was founded by Mr. de Talon and Mr. de Noailles at Asylum,
in Luzerne County, Pa., opposite the Standing Stone, where Father Pellentz, in his time, had secured a lot for a church." On page 448, The Trappists had in 1803 thought of settling there as land was offered them." This is very likely Dom Urban's trip to Philadelphia in May, 1804. Asylum (Frenchtown) is in Bradford County, which was separated from Luzerne County in 1810.
House of the Trappists
Any one leaving Carrolltown for Ebensburg will notice a road, just outside of the town limits, leading to the East, the Old Loretto Road. From this road, about 200 to 300 yards from the paved Ebensburg road, another road leads South. In the first house on the latter road lives Walter Weakland. Next to this house is a field now owned by Augustine A. Lieb. By walking down the slope over the field to the fence, a person finds a good, strong spring of cold water. One hundred feet farther on, but a little to the right (South) may be seen what is left of the ruins of the house of the Trappists. The ruins of another building is across the fence on the late John Flick's farm. Between the two stands an old apple tree. South of the spring there arises a gully which passes down the slope between the apple tree and the second ruins and a short distance below joins the brook of the spring.
Lawrence F. Flick, M. D., LLD.
Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia.
In 1886 Dr. Flick read an account of the French Refugee Trappist Monks in America before the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia. At the time Dr. Flick was unable to obtain a copy of the life of Dom Urban Guillet. Since then other data have been found, which throws more light on the subject. An excerpt of the address, referring to Carrolltown, is here given.
"Some years ago two very old gentlemen of Cambria County gave me their reminiscences about the Trappists in Northern Cambria. Although many of their statements are contradictory, some noteworthy information is scattered through them.
"Mr. Bernard Byrne, one of the old gentlemen, said that the Trappists came to Northern Cambria, in 1811, and left in March, 1813, and that they came from Loretto to their location, near the present site of Carrolltown; that they were four or five in number, one of whom was a priest, and that they spoke German; that the brothers were low, heavy-set, awkward men, the priest tall, rather heavy and likewise awkward, and that all were of a dark complexion; that they ate but two meals a day, partook of neither meat nor butter, but subsisted on a paste of flour and water, and on boiled potatoes and turnips; that his father and others gave them oats wherewith to feed a cow, which they had brought with them; that they located in the woods, on a small spot of clear land, about the size of a large potato patch, and that they planted some potatoes around the house; that the
men in the neighborhood were allowed to hear Mass in their chapel, but not the women, and that he himself frequently heard Mass in their house; that the altar in their chapel was very plain, and made of boards; that the priest often traveled backward and forward between the settlement and Loretto, and frequently stopped with his father over night.
"Mr. Luke McGuire, the other old gentleman, stated that the Trappists came to their location in Cambria County in 1814, and remained there a few years; that they were five in number; that they could not speak English, but spoke French; that they lived in a wooden house, to help build which, Dr. Gallitzin had sent members of his parish; that they were accessory to their own deaths, as they exposed themselves to cold and wet; that they started back to France, and that he hauled some of their baggage and one sick brother as far as Bedford, where he left them with a Fernchman; that he had a letter from Dr. Gallitzin to Father Heyden at Bedford; that when they got to Bedford, they found the town full of soldiers on their way to Erie; that the Luthers who were other old settlers of Cambria County, hauled some of their baggage, boxed up, to Loretto; and that the sick brother was afterwards reported to have died on the way, between Bedford and Lancaster, two more brothers to have died at Lancaster and all three to have been burried there.
"Both old gentlemen related interesting anecdotes about the monks, which I must omit. What I have cited from my notes, taken almost word for word, as related by them, is sufficient to place beyond dispute the fact that the Trappists were in the northern part of Cambria County, Pennsylvania, and that they were there sometime between 1811 and 1814. For their identification nothing is wanting but recorded evidence. I, myself, feel morally certain that they were Pere Urban and his brethern. The restless disposition of the priest, as described by Mr. Byrne, exactly fits the character of Pere Urban; and the broken down sickly condition of the brothers, implied in Mr. McGuire's account of their departure from Cambria County, is what we would expect in men who had undergone years of hardship. But the strongest argument of all is the fact that it could have been no one else. The whereabouts of all the Trappists who had come to America, can be accounted for between the spring of 1813 and the early part of 1814, except that of Pere Urban and his brothers. They left Monks Mound in March, 1813, and came to Father Vincent de Paul's settlement in Maryland, in 1814. At the longest, it ought not to have taken more than two months to make the trip. It is quite reasonable to suppose that the interim was spent on the Allegheny Mountains. Dr. Gallitzin may have accidently met them in Pittsburgh and taken them to his mountain home; or the little band may have sought out the great missionary. Princess Gallitzin, the Reverend Doctor's mother, had been a friend and protectress of the Trappists during the troublesome times in Europe, - how natural for this stray remnant of the refugee colony to seek out the illustrious son of their former benefactress.
"The history of the Trappist settlement in Cambria County is a fitting epilogue to the history of Pere Urban's work in America. Its very obscurity adapts it to its place. Much of what Messrs. Byrne and McGuire have told us about it was no doubt dimmed by time and colored by immagination. Their dates and figures, tho probably
wrong, serve, nevertheless, as landmarks by which we may find the truth. Mr. McGuire's reference to the Soldiers in Bedford, gives us a reliable clew to the time of departure, placing that event in the latter part of 1813 or the beginning of 1814. Though Messrs. McGuire and Byrne both state that the Trappists were in Cambria County two or three years, it is probable that they were there only from about May until December in 1813. Mr. McGuire says that they came in Spring, and both he and Mr. Byrne state that they left in cold weather."
No clue was found in searching the Records of the County Recorder's Office at Ebensburg, Pa. There is nothing in Father Gallitzin's Baptismal Records which would give us any information. The Rev. Oswald Moosmiller, O.S.B., received his information when he was an assistant here in 1856 and published his book in 1872. Dr. Flick published his address in 1886, and shortly before gathered his information. There was no collusion between the persons interviewed. The Vie du R. P. Urbain Guillet was published (Montligeon) in 1899.
In the Life of D. A. Gallitzin (1872), page 393, Miss Sarah M. Brownson describes St. Joseph's Church as two missions, thus: "A station, a little settlement some fifteen miles from Loretto, called Hart's Sleeping Place, etc.; another station, about fourteen miles west of Ebensburg, where there were about a dozen families, headed by John Weakland, who had gathered themselves about a small church which Dr. Gallitzin had very recently dedicated to St. Joseph."
Could not the author of the Life of Dom Urban make a similar mistake? The location where Father Charles located could be the same as that offered by the Vicar-General Quesnel, and should be referred to the time of Dom Urban before Dom Augustine arrived in New York.
The distance from Philadelphia to Harrisburg is 104 miles by rail road. The distance from Philadelphia to Huntingdon is 201 miles. The distance from Philadelphia to Bedford is 253 miles. Now place a map of Pennsylvania before yourself. Then locate Philadelphia, also Bedford County, and Cambria County. Would you leave Philadelphia for Harrisburg (100 miles away) going there by way of Bedford, 250 miles away? Or would you, at Harrisburg, return to Bedford 150 miles west in order to go to Philadelphia and then to New York?
Let us now turn back to a previous page where the Sixth Pennsylvania Location is given. Let us change the reading. Dom Urban sent (Father Charles with) five or six Brothers to (a place in the vicinity of the present town of Carrolltown) one hundred miles from Bedford. In the spring they returned to Bedford, where they met Dom Urban, in order to go to New York. This latter discription gives a correct reading in regard to direction, mileage, etc.
Dr. Flick has, a short time ago, discovered the following data for the year 1813. Father Vincent was at Coffee Run on September 24: at Philadelphia on September 25; at Coffee Run on October 16; Dom Urban was at Frenchtown on October 29; at Coffee Run on November 5; went to Pittsburgh on December 8. Dom Urban, Pere Ugene, Pere Vincent de Paul, and Freres Louis, Xavier, Claude, Hugon, Paul and Dosithe were at Coffee Run on November 5, 1813. Where was Pere Charles?
If this chapter of the Life of Dom Urban were rewritten, I think it would be somewhat like this: Dom Urban left Kentucky for the East either in the latter part of March or during the month of April, 1813. In the East he met the Vicar-General Quesnel, of Philadelphia, who offered him a site for his Monastery. Dom Urban accepted the offer and sent Father Charles Guery with four Brothers to Father Gallitzin, agent for Jacob Downing of Philadelphia. Father Gallitzin directed them to the farm near the vicinity of Carrolltown. Mr. Bernard Byrne says they came here from Loretto (Flick). The roof of their first home was a canopy of the branches of the leaves of the native trees. Father Gallitzin sent members of his congregation to help build a log house on a small spot of cleared ground, about the size of a large potato patch; they then planted some potatoes around the house.
In the meanwhile Dom Urban continued his journey to Maryland where he found Father Vincent de Paul's colony in the most southern County of the State. The colony was in a miserable condition. Father Urban took them to a farm situated between Baltimore and Philadelphia, which would be Coffee Run, now called I believe Whitely, near Wilmington, Delaware. On October 29th, Dom Urban visits Asylum, that is Frenchtown, in Bradford County. He found that all the French people, except two servants, had left for France. Among the Americans he found a great antipathy against the French. On November 5th he is back again at Coffee Run. Here, on December 8th, he left with his band for Pittsburgh where he established them on an island.
Toward the end of December the Rt. Rev. Dom Augustine Lestrange arrived in New York. In the following year he bought a house recently vacated by the Jesuits. Dom Augustine then called Dom Urban, Father Vincent and Father Charles to New York.
Dom Urban and his companions traveled East over the good and shorter road, now the Lincoln Highway, passing through Ligonier to Bedford. Father Charles, whose boxed goods were hauled by the Luthers to Loretto, on sleds, traveled over the Indian or Kittanning Trail to Bedford where he met a Frenchman, namely Dom Urban with his band. Together they proceeded on their journey to Lancaster. Here a few days later, April 2nd, 1814, Father Charles died in the priest's house. Dom Urban and the Brothers continued on their way to New York, where his Brother-Monks had established a school and asylum for orphan boys.
The Trappist Monks, therefore, came here most probably in April or May, 1813 and were called away in March 1814.
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