THE FIRST NORRIS FAMILY IN HUNTINGDON COUNTY
Joseph P. Norris, hereafter referred to as Joseph or Joseph, Sr., was the head of the first Norris family to settle in Huntingdon County. He was born in the colony of Maryland in 1729, likely in what was then Frederick County. His father’s name has not been proven, but an oral tradition from a 1913 reunion in Indiana stated that his name was John and that John was born in Ireland around 1700. Other sources claimed that the family came from England. No source has been authenticated.
Joseph met and married a young Welsh woman named Mary Moody, perhaps when he was about 20 years of age. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1750. She was the first of twelve children (three boys, nine girls), the last being born in 1774.
Joseph began buying land as early as 1757 and bought and sold land in Maryland as long as he lived there. Land records in Maryland indicate that Joseph, probably in anticipation of moving to Pennsylvania, began selling off land in 1781 and sold his last Maryland property in 1789.
The colony of Maryland was growing in the 1770s. As a result, a portion of Frederick County was sub-divided into what became Washington County with Hagerstown as its county seat in 1776. Joseph’s property lay within the newly formed county. His land is said to have been along the Antietam Creek.
The Revolutionary War began about the same time as Washington County was formed. The colony of Maryland declared itself independent of England, and militia units were formed to protect against English troop incursion along the Chesapeake Bay. After the militia marched away to areas of possible conflict, remaining men in the county were ordered to form companies to look after the needs of the populace, apparently in both goods and services. Joseph and his eldest son John Davis Norris were two of those men. Later on, he took an Oath of Allegiance to the colony, as did John D. For his services on behalf of the colony in fighting for independence, one or some of Joseph’s descendants succeeded in having him listed as a Patriot with the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Deed books in Huntingdon County indicate that Joseph began acquiring land before actually moving to Pennsylvania. In 1785 he settled in what was then Hopewell Township, Bedford County, along The Raystown Branch of the Juniata River; he and his household officially became residents in 1786.
In that same year, Bedford County was sub-divided, and Hopewell Township became part of the newly formed Huntingdon County. Decades after Joseph’s death, and because of population increase, Hopewell Township was sub-divided, with the Norris holdings then becoming part of the newly formed Penn Township.
Two early land purchases by Joseph in Bedford County amounted to about 600 acres. He transferred 200 of those acres to his son John D. who moved north with his father in 1785. John’s family included his wife, and four children. Joseph and Mary brought their younger children with them while a majority of their children, now married, remained in Maryland.
There were household members in addition to Joseph’s wife and children. In Maryland, the holding of slaves was fairly common for those who could afford them. Joseph was among the slaveholders. After settling in Pennsylvania, he sold a slave in Washington County, Maryland, but the first U.S. Census of 1790 indicated he was still the owner of three slaves in Hopewell Township. Because slaveholding in Pennsylvania was not very common, Joseph was the largest slave owner in the county. The 1800 Census showed that his slaves had increased in number from three to five, possibly through the birth of children.
In time, Joseph bought additional land in Huntingdon County and sold land as well. Fairly quickly, he became one of the largest landholders in the county. Land may have been equated with prestige and with business acumen for by 1789, Joseph was elected, or perhaps appointed, as Township Supervisor. A decade later he was named an Overseer of the Poor.
Before 1790, Joseph’s youngest daughters were married, and before 1800 his youngest child, Joseph, was married. Henceforth, the elder Joseph was known as Joseph, Sr. and the son as Joseph, Jr.
Of the three sons of Joseph, Sr., only two were alive at the time of moving to Pennsylvania. One was a 30-year old with a family, and the other had not yet reached his teen years.
How many daughters moved with Joseph and Mary to Pennsylvania is uncertain. Based on birth years, and the fact that girls often married in their late teens, perhaps as few as two or three daughters were unmarried in 1785 when the family moved north.
The Norris-Enyeart marriage connection was doubled in 1797 when Joseph, Jr., then 23 years of age, married William Enyeart’s 18 year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
At some time before Joseph, Sr.’s 80th birthday, he made and acted on a decision concerning his slaves. Perhaps because slave holding in Pennsylvania was not that popular, but more likely because of faithful service given by the folks who were his property and because other “colored” in the county were freemen, Joseph gave up ownership. The 1810 Census showed that Joseph had no slaves as part of his property. A search of the Census around the county revealed that a family of “free colored” owned land in Shirley Township; the name of the head of household was Jeremiah Norris. It seems that Joseph not only granted freedom, he also set the family up with a farm property on which they could make a living.
Joseph, Sr. died on March 18, 1813, and was buried in the nearby Norris plot that he had selected (See more on Norris Cemetery). The land that was Senior’s eventually came into the possession of Joseph, Jr. Exactly how that came about is uncertain, although it appears that there was some division of the land among the children who lived in Pennsylvania. Based on information in some legal documents at the courthouse, it also appears that Junior bought out his sisters’ shares and kept the acreage consolidated in his name. At the death of his father, elder son John was able to secure a parcel of land that was based on a written agreement with his father, but may otherwise not have inherited a share of the property.
Joseph, Jr. bought additional adjacent land during his lifetime. He died at age 65 in 1839, while his widow, Elizabeth, lived until 1855. Who managed the farm in those intervening years is not known, but Joseph had several adult sons who might have taken on the responsibility. Following Elizabeth’s death, the lands she owned were divided into 10 parcels and given a purchase value, as determined by a group of ten neighboring landowners and the sheriff. If one includes a parcel that Joseph sold before his death, he at one time owned nearly 2000 acres. His land reached along the Raystown Branch for some distance and to the top of Allegrippis Ridge, more than a mile from the river. Children of Joseph had first opportunity to purchase one or more parcels; the rest were then offered at public auction.
Elder son John D. did not accumulate as much land as Joseph, Jr. However, his holdings were substantial, as prior to his death he owned five tracts of land along and on either side of The Branch, plus land in Clearfield County.
In time, John’s name did not appear in the Census, and by 1830 his older sons to his first wife had left the county, several settling in Ohio and Indiana, some in other parts of Pennsylvania. He died in the fall of 1838 in Hopewell (later Penn) Twp. and court documents indicate that settlement of his estate began on November 1st of that year. His burial place was likely the Norris Cemetery alongside his first wife. However, no record of his place of burial has been found, nor was there a marker in the cemetery bearing his name. His second wife’s will, written in June of 1845, stated that she was living in Springfield Township in southernmost Huntingdon County. If she died there, it leaves uncertain whether her body was buried nearby or was transported to the Norris Cemetery across several mountain ridges, as well as The Raystown Branch.
With the death of John D. in 1838 and Joseph, Jr. in 1839, the accumulated lands of the Norris brothers in Huntingdon County began to be split into smaller parcels and sold. Although a majority of John’s sons left the county and/or the state, the Norris name was well represented, as sons of Joseph, Jr. did not emigrate. Of the more than sixty grandchildren born into the families of Junior’s children, fully three-fourths of them lived, died and were buried in Huntingdon County. Further, one-fourth of those grandchildrens’ tombstones are to be found in one cemetery at the White Church in Penn Township.
Later generations became more mobile and spread across Pennsylvania and the United States, but the Norris name is still well represented in the home area. In the Huntingdon County telephone directory for 2011-2012, there are more than sixty Norris names listed. One-fourth of those reside in Penn Township within a few miles of where Joseph Norris, Sr., settled in 1785.
Ronald M. McCall, Ph.D.
Geography and Earth Science Department
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