Warren the Frontier
Early settler and Revolutionary War veteran can be linked to Cornplanter, Washington, Burr
James Morrison would join one last tour in his Revolutionary War service – from the Juniata River to Big Island, now Great Island, on the west bank of the Susquehanna in Clinton County, up into Blair County and then home.
Family tradition holds that he may have been in Warren County in 1777 on a scouting expedition “which discovered the portage route between the west branches of the Susquehanna and the Allegheny River. While by no means impossible, in the absence of any valid supporting evidence we must regard it as improbable,” the family concludes.
Morrison wrote in his pension application that he “never served in any other capacity than as a private and volunteer; being blind with one eye, was not subject to military duty.”
In 1778, he moved his family to Mifflin County on the Juniata River until 1785 when they moved to Lycoming County on the Susquehanna River.
The family then started to drift northwest – proceeding via keelboat and canoe up the Susquehanna, Sinnemahoning and Driftwood Branch and then via portage to the Allegheny’s headwaters, then located in Port Allegany.
“They camped there for several weeks. The trunks of a conveniently arranged group of trees were cut off six or eight feet off the ground on and on the stumps they built a platform.”
The women and children would stay on the platform while the men hunted and maintained large fires needed to keep away wild animals.
“After completing rude canoes and a raft for transporting their belongings they embarked on the river, leaving behind on the campsite a marker inscribed.”
The family first settled on the each branch of Oil Creek, now Pine Creek, in what we now know as Southwest Township.
Morrison was a “viewer” with Jeremiah Morrison in laying out the county’s first road from Warren to Brokenstraw and, as late as 1803 or 1804, constructed a house of pine timbers hewn square at Warren near a fort that stood here on what is now Pennsylvania Avenue West.
Hand-written family legend said that Morrison was taken from his home in Brokenstraw by Indians acting under the auspices and on the wishes of Chief Cornplanter.
The family genealogy states that “they stopped for the night on an island at Kinzua Creek and James thought it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Chief Cornplanter was a wise businessman and had wishes to see James about building mills. James at the time was a fine millwright.”
Cornplanter’s involvement resulted in Morrison obtaining the island and becoming the first white man to live at Kinzua.
The island, now inundated by the Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir, would eventually come to be known as Morrison Island.
The specific location, family genealogy states, was “at the present day Kinzua Beach and Morrison Bridge.”
Early in his occupation of the island, Morrison (allegedly – the record isn’t certain) lodged more early American royalty.
Aaron Burr, the third vice-president and perhaps best known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, spent a night at Morrison Island on a trip to Blennerhassett Island on the Ohio River.
While Burr would go on to allegedly plan an overthrow of the government while visiting Blennerhassett (a charge he would ultimately be acquitted for though his political career would be ruined as a result), he was undoubtedly a highlight to the area in the spring of 1805.
Burr is alleged to have offered Morrison to allow one or more of his sons to accompany him, an overture which was ignored.
Morrison would live out his days on the Island.
He farmed a significant portion of the land and is listed on the tax rolls of the county in 1806, in Conewango Township (then the entire eastern half of the county) from 1808-1821 and Kinzua Township from 1822-1839.
Morrison died at his home on September 4, 1839 from old age.
He was buried in the Kinzua Cemetery but was re-interred at the Willow Dale Cemetery outside of Bradford in the years before the creation of the Allegheny Reservoir.
He was married twice – first married to Margaret Rice in 1770 with whom he had five sons: Samuel (1772-1857), John (1775-1846), James, Jr. (1778-1854), William (1781-1850) and Ephraim (1784-1845).
He and his second wife, who would survive him, had six children, though it appears only five lived past infancy, including Elijah (1791-1862), Abel (1795-1874), Lucrietia (1797-1867) and twins – Priscilla (1799-1838) and Rachel (1799-1863).
Editor’s Note: We would like to thank Morrison’s 4 x great-granddaughter, Linda Rabineau, Daughters of the American Revolution registrar of the General Joseph Warren Chapter, for sharing the research she has done into Morrison with us. That research came from a multitude of sources we cited for this story including a book by E.J.P. Sage, Schenck’s History of Warren County, family genealogical writings, U.S. Census records and his own war pension claim.