General William McAlevy - Revolutionary War Soldier and Pioneer of Huntingdon County

William McAlevy was a rebellious man who made his own path and was an influential anti-Federalist that shook up the law and government in late-1700s Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Early Life

William McAlevy was born in the year 1728 in County Down, Ireland. He left Ireland around the year 1746, at about the age of 18, and made the decision to move to the American colonies. It's unclear if any of his other family members joined him in the voyage or not. Though another source gives a completely different description of his arrival to the colonies.

After arriving, he first settled in the Cumberland Valley. Which had a large settlement of his fellow Scots-Irish Presbyterians. More specifically, he lived in the region between Harrisburg and Carlisle, Pennsylvania. While living on his homestead there, he met his first wife, Margaret Harris. Her family, her father Robert and mother Mary Ann, were immigrants from County Donegal in Ireland. Though her mother died in Ireland prior to their arrival to the colonies in 1746. The two married in 1758 in Carlisle.

William McAlevy didn't stay in that region though and he left his family in search of a new homestead for the family in the less tamed, more mountainous area of Pennsylvania. An area which, at the time, was mainly inhabited by Shawnee and Ohio Valley tribes. This new place was in what is modern-day northern Huntingdon County.

Move to Huntingdon County

He followed an old Indian path from the Susquehanna region, through the Sherman Valley (probably in the area of modern day Shermans Dale), onto Tuscarora, through Shade Gap, then known as the Shades of Death, to Aughwick, and stopping at Standing Stone (Huntingdon) before continuing on through Stone Creek Valley and to the unbeaten path, the forested areas of Northern Huntingdon County, following the banks of the Standing Stone Creek. This journey of his would've been during the year of 1765. It was at Standing Stone Creek where he found where their homestead would be, approximately 17 miles up Route 26 and somewhere in the immediate area of McAlevys Fort Road. He picked this place as he saw it as a great region for farming.

old path

Not long after, he began planning to bring his family and their belongings to their new homestead. Since the path he traveled along from Harrisburg was too rough for a wagon, especially through Jack's Narrows, he decided on making a canoe from a massive pine tree. He took this canoe and made his way down Standing Stone Creek, southeast down the Juniata, and then shortly along the Susquehanna to Harrisburg. Arriving at Harrisburg, his wife and children got into the canoe and their important belongings were loaded. McAlevy and his family then made their way back along the waterways in which he arrived, to Standing Stone (Huntingdon). From there, and onto Standing Stone Creek, he had a horse to help pull the canoe out of sandbars as it traveled up the creek.

After finally arriving at their new homestead they were wary of their "neighbors", Native American inhabitants of the area. They quickly came to the realization that they had to build themselves a fort . This fort was located only a short distance of a few hundred feet east of Standing Stone Creek, on a hill, and west of the where the community of McAlevys Fort present town site is today. Their fort was also used by those living nearby that needed refuge from raids and other offensive and defensive activities of the original inhabitants of the area.

In time, the McAlevy family began to turn this wild area, nature-wise, into a developed place for settlement and farming. The first few years there were rough, with attacks happening regularly. He once had a close call when he and a companion were a good ways from the fort. He was shot by a Native American man but was able to run away. His companion wasn't so lucky, being captured and scalped. Following this event though, he made headway and cleared enough land to farm and comfortably support his family.

Unfortunately, his first wife Margaret died before his time serving in the military during the Revolutionary War. She died in 1768, being born in 1734.

William married again, to a Mary Hays, but their marriage only lasted a year. There was a warning about an impending Indian attack that the fort may not have been capable of protecting everyone from. So many settlers, and the McAlevys, left the fort and took off to somewhere else for safety. They traveled across Stone Mountain on a log platform, a "slidecar", that was pulled by horses or behind wagons and dragged along the ground.

On her death, little detail is available (that i can find) but, as i mentioned, she died only about a year after they were married. William then ended up marrying yet again, this time to a widow, another Margaret, Margaret Allen on September 16, 1789. See 1811 here for the possible year of her death.

The Revolutionary War

During the Revolutionary War, William McAlevy commanded a company that was situated at the northern region of the Juniata Valley, not too far from where he lived. They were tasked with responding to and repelling attacks during the war. Yet, even prior to the war, it was his militia that defended against Indian attacks in the area. His experience became more important during the Revolutionary War and they were already, in an unofficial manner, against acknowledging the authority of King George III before they even knew the war broke out. Once they knew the war had started though, they clashed with Tories and Indians.

In the spring of 1778 there was a force of around 320 Tories, commanded by John Weston, who headed into Huntingdon and drove out citizens who were not loyal to the the crown. McAlevy, now a colonel, heard news of this but was initially unable to respond. As the Tory force was stronger, more prepared, and more well-armed. So he asked for reinforcements and Colonels Brown and Buchanan responded and their forces joined up with McAlevy's. They marched on to Huntingdon but, by the time they arrived, the Tories had already fled. McAlevy and his men continued defending the region against Tories and their Native American allies until Weston died and the alliance was broken.

McAlevy then became a brigadier general after the end of Revolutionary War. He aligned with Thomas Jefferson but, as an anti-Federalist, was opposed to adoption of the Constitution and made many efforts in politics to prevent its ratification. His influence, and his political partners, failed to achieve this goal in elections and, in turn, he turned to other methods to oppose the Constitution going into effect. He made "war" against its establishment in Huntingdon County for a year or two.

Creating Unrest in Huntingdon and Huntingdon County

What angered him, and many others, was that those who were appointed to head the government in the newly-established Huntingdon County were the elitists of the region, the easily corrupted. Which was a dislike of many anti-federalists, that the Constitution made political corruption far more likely. McAlevy and his allies formed up and headed to a county government meeting. This was in March of 1788 and six months after the formation of the county. Their intent was to break up the meeting on its first day. They were armed with clubs and had an effigy of Colonel Cannon along with them. The court heard of their march beforehand and two justices, Philips and Henderson, left the court and tried to stop them from heading to the court and disturbing the peace. They were unsuccessful and McAlevy and his men continued on all the way to the court meeting at Sell's Tavern. Which, at the time, was located off where Allegheny Street is today.

McAlevy's men then entered the tavern and began to make a racket to drown out the court and their speech. In response, the court had no choice but to end the meeting. Each warning the protesters received was completely ignored and this lead to the detainment of McAlevy by Sheriff Elliot. Being disliked by the protesters, this only made them more rebellious and they went at the sheriff and freed McAlevy. Elliot called for help but it was too much for those trying to oppose McAlevy's men and McAlevy was helped out of the court by his supporters. Immediately after the event, McAlevy and some of his allies were indicted and a grand jury met the next morning on this issue. The court was in session but the prosecution was unprepared to go ahead, especially with the uneasy atmosphere of the court, and the court was postponed.

In May of 1788, the annual militia muster was held in the region of Hartslog Valley. Sheriff Elliot was present, as he was also the lieutenant in Huntingdon County. Also present were many of the citizens who protested at the court back in March. Their intent though was to prevent the muster. At first, they pretended to fall in line with every participant. They then began to protest against the command of Major Spencer and Colonel Cannon and saw the two as being not fit for the positions that they were elected to. Tempers flared and Elliot and one of the officers was injured in the fighting. Fighting that was referred to by many as a 'riot'.

In response, an agreement was made to bring in another commander, for a temporary time, to appease those who weren't willing to muster under Colonel Cannon and Major Spencer. Then men who were against Spencer and Cannon were told to step forward. Which ended up leading to 1/3 of the men walking out. In response, given that so many refused to muster under the officers, Elliot and the officers had no choice but to end the roll call, leaving the field along with men who'd arrived at Hartslog as a part of the battalion.

This defiance by McAlevy and others lead to action against them. Justice Thomas Duncan Smith (possible match), who was also disliked by the protesters, was approached to file charges against McAlevy and two other men for their actions at the muster. Warrants were then issued for their arrest. They appeared at court and were told by a different justice, Thomas McClure, informing the men of the order for them to appear before Justice Smith in five days.

Five days later, McAlevy and the two other men showed up at the court along with a crowd of individuals also against the court. The hearing went on as normal (as things could be) and Smith said he would set their bail. McAlevy and the men refused this and demanded to be sent to jail. The justice was unable to do this, as a jail had not been built yet. Their stubbornness lead to the justice having no choice but to let them go without their having to pay a bail.

McAlevy and his men then left the court and the town to meet up at their meeting place. Once there, they began to plan a new action and gather up reinforcements. After a few hours they, a force of around 100, headed to Huntingdon, fully armed with weapons, guns, clubs, knives, tomahawks and other weaponry. They marched their way down the main street, and to the public square, then began to show their force while openly displaying their weapons and making plenty of noise. The crowd watching their activities, including authorities, officers, and citizens felt a sense of fear. They realized that McAlevy and his supporters had a power that couldn't be resisted.

In response, Justice Smith was called out to the "event" and was placed in the center of a circle, with a rifle pointed at him, and was surrounded by McAlevy's men. He was then ordered to revoke and destroy the warrants over their activities at the failed muster. Justice Smith complied, pulled the warrants out but he refused to destroy them himself. So Smith handed them to one of McAlevy's men, the one that had been pointing a rifle at him, and the man proceeded to rip up the warrants, tossing the ripped up pieces at Smith.

Court clerk Lazarus B. McLain was also sent for and was ordered to show the indictment from March. Being under intimidation, he produced the document and it was torn up just like the warrants were. Afterwards, to further their point, McAlevy sent some of his men to the courthouse at Sell's Tavern, following behind Smith and Henderson, to destroy the court docket containing more information of McAlevy and his men's cases. Smith and Henderson handed over the docket under force. These documents were also destroyed, possibly burned.

Out of these events, officials of the county were told that their lives may have been in danger. So many of them went into hiding or left the area completely. Justice Smith hid out at a friend's place while Justice Henderson left Huntingdon. After their fleeing from their own homes, their homes were searched by those suspected of being McAlevy's men. Either with or without the command (or knowledge) of McAlevy. David McMurtrie, Sheriff Elliot, and two other constables also left/fled the area to work elsewhere. Sheriff Elliot was unable to act, for his own safety, in his law enforcement duties throughout the county. Huntingdon County practically became lawless at this time.

This atmosphere continued and on June 5th, 1788 a call for aid was made to the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. They looked into the matter and by June 25th had made the decision to take measures to end the disturbances throughout Huntingdon County. Though nothing immediate came of this decision and the unrest continued throughout Huntingdon County.

Raids into Huntingdon became more frequent, citizens were being assaulted, and the homes of county officials were attacked and vandalized at night. In mid-August, 160 men from all over Huntingdon County joined up with McAlevy (under his leadership), with John Smith, Abraham Smith, and John Little as his lieutenants. They marched in the streets in Huntingdon and were provided weapons by those in fear of an attack. Government officials of the county, and supporters of the county government, took up defense in Sheriff Elliot's home and came armed to defend themselves. McAlevy's force never headed to Elliot's home though and instead stayed in the streets of Huntingdon. Around the same time as these marches, they had a meeting at William Kerr's house to choose delegates to send to a convention that was going to be held at Lewisburg. After this meeting they proceeded to leave Huntingdon.

By September, the Huntingdon County government was getting back on its feet and carrying on with their activities. Which included the court operations. They still had received no help from the Supreme Executive Council and McAlevy was still very active. Though his violence lessened and the political battles, under his influence, heated up instead.

In August of 1789, the Supreme Executive Council postponed any action in Huntingdon County. Mostly due to the fact that things were beginning to calm as the county government stabilized itself. All without any help from the feet-dragging Supreme Executive Council.

His Later Years

McAlevy still played an influential role in his anti-federalist party. He was still involved in the leadership throughout the 1800s and was still highly respected by its members. He was still involved with the military too and was made a brigadier general of the second brigade (mentioned above), by Governor McKean. The second brigade was in operation with forces comprised of those in Huntingdon and Mifflin counties. Which, at the time, included Centre County, which was a part of Mifflin. He also served proudly at his Presbyterian church at Manor Hill. He contributed in dispensing communion at his church, which was located not far from the fort he built.

On August 21st, 1822, at age 94, William McAlevy died at his daughter Jane's home near Petersburg. He's buried at McAlevys Fort Hill Cemetery in McAlevys Fort, PA.

For more materials, click History of Huntingdon County

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