Stephen Merrill — a Glades country pioneer

Stephen Merrill was a pioneer settler in the Glades country of western Maryland.  He established a 200 acre farm on Hoop Pole Ridge where he would live for over fifty years, raising his family of eight children.  His descendants would remain on this land for another seventy years after his death, while his other children would migrate westward with the growth of our expanding country.

Place of Birth

Born about 1800, Stephen Merrill was likely the second or third son of Philip Merrill of Allegany County, Maryland.  Various secondary sources give his place of birth as “near Frostburg”.  Stephen Merrill was likely born just north of Frostburg on a farm called “Ridge”, the place where his father had settled upon migrating to Maryland sometime before 1800.  However, the little community was known as “Mount Pleasant” at the time of Stephen’s birth.  The town would not become organized and take the name of “Frostburg” until more than a decade later.

The first documented evidence of Philip Merrill living in Maryland is found in the 1800 U.S. Federal Census, where he is listed as living in “Wills Town” with his wife, three males under age 16, and three females under age 16.  “Wills Town” is a historical designation for the region extending from Cumberland on the Potomac River northwards to Pennsylvania following Will’s Creek.  The “Wills Town” district included land along Jennings Run from Corriganville to Barrelville, and also the territory of present-day Mt. Savage and Frostburg.

Wills Town area 1908

“Wills Town” district included lands from Cumberland to Frostburg

Date of Birth

Captain Charles E. Hoye’s genealogical and historical work, Hoye’s Pioneer Families of Garrett County, states “Stephen Merrill, son of Philip, died September 28, 1883, aged 92 years, 10 months, 21 days.”  From this information, Stephen Merrill’s calculated date of birth is November 7th, 1790.  This date is frequently cited by various genealogical researchers.  However, a review of the federal census records, a consideration for the ages of his wives, and a calculation of his likely age at the time of the birth of his children would lead one to deduce a significantly different date of birth for Stephen Merrill.

An analysis of the census records from 1800 to 1870 provides a range of possible birth dates for Stephen Merrill:

    • Census            Age (range)                Census date               Range of possible birth dates
    • 1800                < 10 years                   4 Aug 1800                 5 Aug 1790 – 4 Aug 1800
    • 1810                10 thru 15 years         6 Aug 1810                  7 Aug 1794 – 6 Aug 1800
    • 1820                16 thru 25 years         7 Aug 1820                 8 Aug 1794 – 7 Aug 1804
    • 1830                20 thru 29 years        1 Jun 1830                  2 Jun 1800 – 1 Jun 1810
    • 1840                40 thru 49 years        1 Jun 1840                  2 Jun 1790 – 1 Jun 1800
    • 1850                65 years                      1 Jun 1850                  2 Jun 1784 – 1 Jun 1785
    • 1860                60 years                      1 Jun 1860                  2 Jun 1799 – 1 Jun 1800
    • 1870                70 years                      1 Jun 1870                  2 Jun 1799 – 1 Jun 1800

The 1850 census information appears to be in error and must be disregarded.  Stephen Merrill was not listed in the 1880 census for unknown reasons.  Only two of the remaining seven census records allow for a birth year of 1790.  Minor errors (+/- 1 year) occurred if the census taker did not list the subject’s age as of the census date, which was usually different from the date the information was collected.  Within this range of error, the date of birth that would correlate with all seven census records would be mid-1799 to mid-1800.

An analysis of the census records from 1820 to 1840 provides a possible birth date for Stephen Merrill’s first wife, Catherine Workman:

    • Census            Age (range)                Census date               Range of possible birth dates
    • 1820                16 thru 25 years         7 Aug 1820                 8 Aug 1794 – 7 Aug 1804
    • 1830                30 thru 39 years        1 Jun 1830                  2 Jun 1790 – 1 Jun 1800
    • 1840                30 thru 39 years        1 Jun 1840                  2 Jun 1800 – 1 Jun 1810

Allowing for the minor errors (+/- 1 year) occurring when the census taker may have listed the subject’s age as of the date the information was collected, the birth date would be about mid-1800.  Catherine Workman was likely very close in age to her husband, Stephen Merrill.

An analysis of the census records from 1860 and 1870 provides a possible birth date for Stephen Merrill’s second wife, Nancy:

    • Census            Age (range)                Census date               Range of possible birth dates
    • 1860                55 years                      1 Jun 1860                  2 Jun 1804 – 1 Jun 1805
    • 1870                66 years                      1 Jun 1870                  2 Jun 1803 – 1 Jun 1804

Again, allowing for the minor errors (+/- 1 year) occurring when the census taker may have listed the subject’s age as of the date the information was collected, the birth date would be about mid-1804.  Nancy was likely slightly younger in age than her husband, Stephen Merrill.

Stephen Merrill’s first child was born in 1824 (Philip M. Merrill).  If both parents were born about 1800, then both parents would be approximately 24 years of age at the birth of their first child.  Their last child was born in 1841 (Isaac Merrill), making both parents about 41 years of age.

As no primary source information for the birth date of Stephen Merrill is known, the secondary source information from the eight census records documented during his life must be given the greatest weight in determining his approximate date of birth.  This would place his date of birth in late 1799 or early 1800, or “about 1800” for our purposes.  This date is also supported by an analysis of the ages of his two spouses and by his age at the time of his childrens’ births.

Childhood

Stephen Merrill grew up in a rural agricultural community at the eastern foot of Big Savage Mountain.  The identity of Stephen’s mother, Philip Merrill’s first wife, is not known.  From available records, Stephen appears to have had an older sister named Lydia (born about 1785), an older brother named Jesse (born about 1788), and a brother named Nicholas (born very close in age to Stephen).  Records of other children have not been documented.  Stephen’s mother died shortly after his birth and before the recording of the purchase of the “Ridge” farm in 1805.  Philip Merrill married again, after 1805, to Margaret Perry.  He would have at least six more children by Margaret.

Marriage and Family

The 1820 census lists Stephen Merrill as the head of a household of two – himself and his new wife, Catherine Workman.  The date of their marriage is not known.  Catherine was likely the daughter of one of the Workman families who were close neighbors to the “Ridge” farm.  By 1820, the land holdings of Stephen’s father had increased to about 180 acres.  The young couple were likely living on a part of his father’s land as there are no deed records documenting Stephen’s ownership of any acreage. In the census, Stephen was listed as engaged in agriculture, presumably working on his father’s farm along with his brothers.  The couple’s first child was born in 1824, Philip M. Merrill, presumably named for Stephen’s father.  A daughter would follow nearly three years later, Rebecca Merrill.

Westward to the Glades country

With a growing family to support, Stephen purchased his own farm.  Apparently using money accumulated over the years of work on his father’s farm, he went westward into the Glades country of western Maryland, slightly less than a wilderness at this time.  On the 29th day of August, 1828:

“Witnesseth that the said William W. Hoye for and in consideration of two hundred dollars to him in hand paid, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, hand bargained, and sold, and by these presents he the said William W. Hoye doth grant, bargain, and sell unto the said Stephan Mirrel his heirs and assigns all the following piece or parcel of land being two hundred acres, part of a tract of land called Veronica the Nun”.

Veronica the Nun

Map of military lots (1874)

“Veronica the Nun” was a tract of land originally surveyed in 1787 and divided into 50 acre lots to be given as a bounty to each soldier who served at least three years in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War.  Of the more than 4000 military lots surveyed, only 2575 were actually allotted to veterans, and most owners sold their lots to speculators for an average price of twelve dollars.  John Hoye obtained the rights to the tract of land called “Veronica the Nun” being 955 ½ acres total, and conveyed it to his brother, William W. Hoye, in 1828.  Stephen Merrill’s purchase of 200 acres appears to have included the Military Lots numbered 801, 802, 1040, and 1038.

Construction of a home and various farm buildings commenced following the purchase of the Merrill Farm, as it would come to be commonly known.  Captain Charles E. Hoye, grandson of William W. Hoye and founder of the Garrett County Historical Society, wrote:

Stephen Merrill moved to his new home here about 1831.  His frame house he built just below and east of the road from Yough Glades which followed the top of Hoop Pole Ridge north”.

The farm was located about two miles north of the village of Yough Glades (renamed Oakland in 1849 with the organization of the town).  The road along the summit of Hoop Pole Ridge followed the old Seneca Trail and no longer exists.  The site of the Merrill Farm is today commemorated by a small drive, Merrill Lane, on the west side of Route 219, north of Oakland.

 Hoop Pole Ridge

Hoop Pole Ridge

The 1830 federal census lists Stephen Merrill and wife Catherine still living in the district north of Frostburg, having added their third child in 1829, Nicholas Merrill, and awaiting their fourth child, Stephen Merrill (Jr), who would arrive in October of 1830.  The following spring the family of six would move to their new home in the Glades country.  The 1840 census is the first record of the family living in the Glades district, now with seven children including two more daughters, Sydney A. Merrill and Mary Ellen Merrill, and a fourth son, George William Merrill.

The 1840’s

In Hoye’s Pioneer Families of Garrett County, Captain Hoye continues:

“Here Stephen Merrill cleared the land.  He was an industrious farmer and always had an abundance of food for his family and animals.  He kept a large flock of sheep, and in the early years of his settlement he was obliged to keep them shut up near the house to protect them from the wolves which often came into the woods on Hoop Pole Ridge.”

The eighth and final child born to this family, Isaac Merrill, arrived in June 1841, presumably at the Merrill Farm.  By the time of the census of 1850, however, two significant changes in the composition of the Merrill family at Hoop Pole Ridge had occurred.  Catherine, the mother, apparently died prior to the census date of June 1st, 1850, although there is no primary source record of her death known to this author.  She was buried in the family cemetery on the Merrill Farm according to Stephen’s obituary.  Also about this time, the eldest daughter, Rebecca, became the first child to “leave the nest” when she married Frederick A. Gerken, a foreman on the nascent Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road.

The 1850’s

The 1850’s brought prosperity to the farm and further changes for the members of the family.  During this decade, Stephen would remarry to a woman named Nancy, her last name being unknown.  His two remaining daughters would leave the home, as would his eldest son, Philip.  Philip became a lawyer and settled in Lytle City, Iowa.  The last family member recorded in the 1860 federal census entry was a young boy of 11 years of age, Henry (Gerken), who was Stephen’s grandson by his daughter, Rebecca.  She and her German-born husband had followed the construction of the B & O Rail Road west to Fetterman and Grafton, (West) Virginia, where she died of tuberculosis in 1857.  The census record did provide evidence of the prosperous nature of the Merrill Farm during the decade, listing an increase in the value of the real estate to $3000 and also a personal estate of $827 by 1860.

The 1860’s

The 1860’s saw all three remaining sons marry and leave their father’s home.  Stephen (Jr) was the first to marry, going to Taylor County, (West) Virginia, to take a bride, Rachael Rohrbough.  The couple appears to have left Maryland following the Civil War and settled in Illinois where Stephen had a long career as a photographer, owning his own gallery.  The youngest son, Isaac Merrill, married Mary Ann Savage in 1863, she being from another early family of Allegany County.  Nicholas married Isabella Kight in 1866, a local girl from another long-established family, being 16 years younger than her new husband.  Both Isaac and Nicholas would establish their households on the Merrill Farm, as documented in the 1870 census.

The 1870’s

Misfortune would befall the Merrill family throughout the decade of the 1870’s.  Nancy, Stephen’s second wife, died about 1870.  The cause of her death is not known, and no death record has been located.  She was reportedly buried in the family cemetery on the farm near Stephen’s first wife, Catherine.  Following the death of his wife, Stephen would also lose three children over the next seven years.  Stephen’s eldest son, Philip M. Merrill, died in Lytle City, Iowa, in October, 1870.  The following summer, in June of 1871, Sydney Merrill Hessen would die of tuberculosis in Taylor County, West Virginia, as had her older sister fourteen years earlier.  Tragically, Stephen’s youngest son Isaac died in 1877 of typhoid pneumonia, and was buried in the family cemetery near his mother.  This left only Nicholas to manage the Merrill Farm, all the while looking after his aging father, his brother’s widow and her four young children, and his own wife and small children.  He also continued running his own business as a butcher.  His meat market stood near Wilson’s Run, east of Second Street in Oakland.

Final Years

In the midst of these sad events, Stephen Merrill began to decline in health and, not unexpectedly, in his financial well-being.  His obituary stated that “He had been confined to his bed for ten years previous to his death”.  With advancing age, poor health, and limited assistance with running the Merrill Farm, Stephen Merrill fell into debt.  Finally, in 1879, he was forced to secure a debt of only $163 with the deed to his 200 acre farm.  As his situation continued to deteriorate, Stephen Merrill refinanced his debt, paying off the first mortgage in 1881 by acquiring a new debt of $363, again with the Merrill Farm as security for the loan.

Stephen Merrill died in his home at the Merrill Farm on Friday, September 28th, 1883.  He had lived on the land that he had cleared and settled for over 50 years.  He endured the death of two wives and four children in his lifetime.  The Merrill Farm went into foreclosure in 1884, but was brought back into the family by Stephen’s daughter-in-law, Isabella Merrill, in 1885.  She purchased 110 acres of the original farm which continued to be held by Stephen’s descendants until 1952, when the property was sold and ultimately parceled out.

Stephen Merrill was a pioneer settler in the Glades country of western Maryland.  He established a farm where none had been, and raised eight children to adulthood.  His descendants remain in Garrett County, Maryland, and throughout the mid-western United States.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery on the Merrill Farm.  Perhaps the best epitaph for a grave marker would have come from his obituary, published in The Republican newspaper in Oakland on October 6th, 1883:

“He…had always been considered a most worthy and honorable man, and a man of more than ordinary intelligence.”



Stephen Merrill

    • Birth:  about 1800 – Allegany County, Maryland
    • Death:  28 September 1883 – Merrill Farm, Oakland, Garrett County, Maryland
    • Burial:  30 September 1883 – Merrill Farm Cemetery, Oakland, Maryland

Children of Stephen Merrill and Catherine Workman

    • Philip M. Merrill (1824 – 1870), married Sarah J. Whittington
    • Rebecca Merrill (1827 – 1857), married Frederick A. Gerken
    • Nicholas Merrill (1829 – 1918), married Isabella Kight
    • Stephen Merrill (1830 – 1919), married Rachel Rohrbough
    • Sydney A. Merrill (1833 – 1871), married Bernard Hessen
    • Mary Ellen Merrill (1835 – 1916)
    • George William Merrill (1837 – 1896), married Adelia Totten
    • Isaac Merrill (1841 – 1877), married Mary Ann Savage


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• Revised 3-18-2014 •

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