CI’s Sidetracks of History Book Club hosts author Norman Baker for Lecture and Signing – April 12, 2014 from 1-3pm

Norman L Baker, Braddock's Road, The Conococheague Institute, Sidetracks of History Book Club











Sponsored by the Sidetracks of History Book Club, this event celebrates the publication of the definitive account of the Braddock Expedition trek to capture Fort Desquesne (a.k.a. Fort Pitt) in 1755. An accomplished lecturer and authority on the French and Indian War, Mr. Baker will recreate the journey of 289 miles between Alexandria and the Monongahela by two British army regiments. To transport their sizable train of artillery and wagons across the Appalachian Mountains they had to build a road. That road became one of the most impressive military engineering accomplishments of the eighteenth century.

Although the general course of the road has long been known, its precise physical identification has, to a large degree, eluded historians. Using detailed maps and primary records of the personnel of the Expedition, Mr. Baker recounts the experiences at each of the twenty actual Camps struck along the way. Many scenes of the road-bed, both drawn from postcards created in the early 1900’s as well as contemporary photos, boost the reader’s appreciation of how difficult that journey must have been. Today, driving over those rugged mountains in Western Maryland on Interstate-70, at seventy miles per hour, we have to be both amazed and saddened that the British Army did in fact reach their destination, only to be brutally slaughtered on the banks of the Monongahela just eight miles south of the French fort. Even though General Braddock’s army met overwhelming defeat, it was that sacrifice that awakened the British Empire to the grim realization that they must engage France in an all-out war for North America.

Norman Baker, a World War II veteran, and an aerospace engineer, formally proposed the development of a space shuttle vehicle in October 1955. He makes history; he does not just write about it. Recipient of numerous awards for his research activities, he has compiled one of the most comprehensive studies identifying and locating the forts of the French and Indian War, extending from the St. Lawrence River to Georgia.

Along with his lecture about BRADDOCK’S ROAD: MAPPING THE BRITISH EXPEDITION FROM ALEXANDRIA TO THE MONONGAHELA, History Press, 2013, 190 pages, the author will be available to autograph copies of his book and share his special knowledge of the geography of the area. The book is available for sale at CI’s Gift Shop for $19.99.

Join us at the Welsh Barrens Visitor Center, 12995 Bain Road, Mercersburg, PA from 1-3pm for a delightful Saturday afternoon of armchair history and travel at its very best.


Joan McKean, Librarian

In His Own Words: The Diary of James McCullough, 1722-1781 – One Man’s Chronicle of Colonial History, by James W. Houpt, Jr.

James W Houpt Jr, The Conococheague Institute, James McCullough, Diary, Mercersburg PA

[Mercersburg, PA-native James W. Houpt, Jr., has produced his first work of historical fiction based on the Diary of James McCullough, an early Scots-Irish colonist on the Conococheague Settlement. Spanning the years 1747 through 1760, the diary chronicles the life of a farm family living along the Conococheague Creek in an era that included wartime attacks of Native Americans against the settlers during the French and Indian War and Chief Pontiac’s War. Mr. Houpt, who served as a pastor for thirty years, sought to evoke the “deep spiritual life of James McCullough” in his book. With thanks to Mr. Houpt for allowing us to reproduce an excerpt from his book, please enjoy “Introduction: the Diary,” (pages xi-xiii).]

James McCullough, Mercersburg PA, The Conococheague Institute, James W Houpt Jr

The back cover of James McCullough’s Diary

The leather-bound book which would become the diary of James McCullough was purchased on April 27, 1747, the day the ship carrying him and his wife departed Ireland for the New World. It withstood the years from 1747 until 2012 when it was carefully digitized and returned to its darkened bank vault for safekeeping.

As this story is being written in 2013, the diary is now approximately 266 years of age. Its history of survival includes not only the 3,200-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean, but also 123 miles by horseback from Newcastle, Delaware to Hunterstown, Pennsylvania, and then to Franklin County, Pennsylvania. From its new home it traveled 25 miles under great duress back to Hunterstown and then approximately 30 miles into Maryland, while being kept hidden from Indian attacks.

The Diary contains a number of pages that are nothing more than the scribbling and musings of a man who is busy thinking. There are pages where Mr. McCullough practiced writing his name, ranging from McCullough to McCullgh.

The Diary was used to record some events which were important to Mr. McCullough and the history of the region:

  • The date of the ship’s departure and purchase of the diary, along with the price of the voyage and the ship’s captain’s name,
  • The birth of a son,
  • A variety of attacks by the Indians in the French and Indian War,
  • Verse references of favorite scripture passages and many names from the Holy Scripture, and,
  • Various changes in the calendar and seasons.

James McCullough, Mercersburg PA, James W Houpt Jr, The Conococheague Institute

While some entries in the diary appear to be trivial, many seemingly important facts are missing. The diary does not record his wife’s name, the date of their marriage, or the dates of the birth of some of their children. He does note the capture of his sons by the Indians, but doesn’t record any additional information on that subject after their capture.

The things Mr. McCullough chose to record reveal a farmer’s closeness to the land, the influence of weather, and the interdependence of neighbors within a small, somewhat secluded community. He notes the coming of a thunder storm and a snow storm, lists farm products from honey to flax, and the process of clearing the land and planting the corn, wheat, rye. His notes about agriculture and tools – including entries regarding plowing, planting, and harvesting – are among the most plentiful in the diary.

He also discusses his relationship with many of his neighbors and names them as his friends. He records several occasions on which he loaned them money, purchased their products, and worked their fields to help them.

For reasons that are not clear, Mr. McCullough developed a code for discussing some of the events and facts recorded in the diary. The code is listed on page three of the diary, indicating that it was developed shortly after boarding the ship for the New World.

His code was a simple one. The vowels A, E, I, O, and U were substituted for numbers one through five. He then added the letters L, M, N, and R. For these letters he used the numbers six through nine.

His unique mixture of numbers and letters was only used on some occasions, as he felt he needed or wanted to. There does not seem to be any apparent or valid reason. He used it on several occasions when writing about his livestock.

The McCullough Diary was mostly written between 1747, when he notes the purchase of the book, and 1758. Some of the events of greatest historic value are the battles fought during the French and Indian War. Among the sixty-nine recorded events, he documents fifty-three battles with brief descriptions. Many of his neighbors were slaughtered during these terrible massacres and battles. He records the numerous trips his own family made back to Hunterstown or south to the Antietam, Maryland area for safety.

[Those seeking to purchase a copy of In His Words: The Diary of James McCullough, 1722-1781 – One Man’s Chronicle of Colonial History, may do so through the Xulon Press on-line catalog: A copy of James McCullough’s original diary is available for research at the Conococheague Institute’s Library, M-F, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. or by special appointment. Contact our staff at 717-328-3467 or for additional information.]

The Enoch Brown Massacre, July 26, 1764: A Trio of Paintings by Kevin Rice

1.  SILENCED SCREAMS; Enoch Brown Massacre


From the grass you spot the dark form of that which you have always heard about and feared in the night. It was talked about in whispers and in hushed tones around the hearth, but today it is here.  It’s the image of wild.  That shift like phantom shadows across the wilderness; Indians!

Enoch Brown’s School House in Williamson, PA was attacked on July 26, 1764. One account of the attack is recorded in, Notes on Franklin County History by John L. Finafrock.

One of the cherished traditions of the terrible tragedy is that Schoolmaster Brown was shot down with the Bible in his hand before he could make any resistance and on his knees begged only that the innocent children might be spared. Parkman, in describing the ghastly sight that met those who first entered the school house after the massacre says:  ‘In the center lay the master, scalped and lifeless, with a Bible clasped in his hands; while around the room were strew the bodies of his mangled pupils’.  Another tradition says that Mr. Linn, while working in a meadow in the vicinity, heard the shot that killed Schoolmaster Brown, and when he and others came to see what was the matter they found little Archie McCullough, who survived the scalping, sitting by the spring nearby washing the blood from his mangled head.  He told them that when the four Indians opened the door Master Brown, knowing well their object begged them to take him as their victim and let the innocent children return to their homes.  The same instant he was shot down, and then he and the other children were quickly tomahawked and scalped by two of the savages while the other two stood with murderous weapons in the doorway (51).

The raid on the remote school house in Williamson was sparked by much a larger event, Pontiac’s War (1763-66).  Pontiac, an Ottawa war chief, was successful in creating an Indian confederacy that went onto destroy many key British forts.  Pontiac’s success emboldened the Native’s while putting terror into the hearts of the inhabitants of Cumberland Valley.  Pontiac’s War was after the French and Indian War and before the Revolutionary War.


On the fateful day of the 26th of July, 1764, the day of the Enoch Brown Massacre at Guitner’s school house in Williamson, PA.  On this day an unusually high number of students were absent from school.  When that day dawned it is doubtful that any of the students feared that their school would be attacked, yet perhaps by providence many did not attend.

One of those absent from school that day was James Poe.  At least three different accounts exist about why he missed school that day.  The first is that he skipped school to watch mowers in a meadow.

What was the reality for this one student?  It is doubtful anyone alive today knows, but the story of a bright eyed youth, weary of the hard seats of school, decided to skip.  This is a story that strikes a familiar chord for many students who gaze out from the classroom windows to the streets or fields that hint and beckon of freedoms beyond.


The painting portrays James Poe with his slate and the family Bible. Often the only book students had in the house was their Bible, so it often was used in place of any uniform textbooks, which their parents could not or chose not to buy.  Teachers and students had to make do without the barest of education essentials.  “Many schools had no slates, pencils, pens, or maps.  Until the 1880’s, blackboards were considered a luxury item (Frontier life 1).”

When you look past James you will see three people in the field doing three different steps of the mowing process.  The man on the far right is cutting the grass with a scythe.  The girl is raking the freshly cut grass into small piles, while the young man is

carefully stacking the grass in neat rows on the hay stack.  Often a small structure of saplings would be constructed over the hay stack.  A thatched roof of grass or a roof of shingles would partially protect the hay from the weather.  Throughout the winter the hay stack was slowly used to feed the livestock.

The comparison of this truant lad’s day to the day of the dutiful pupils that went to school, helps illustrate the stark contrast between doing what we are told is right for us and what we know to be right for us.  This boy symbolizes those that have the courage to break away from the hard benches of conformity, to climb towards freedom.  As Helen Keller wrote in her book, The Open Door…”Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

As this lad knows, to climb tree is to see beyond yourself, your job, or classroom.  To gain another perspective on a day that appeared to dawn, just like the one before it.



As night falls,

a family stands by the cross

around the one they lost

Down they stare

fresh earth, a grave of many

pupils and a teacher

In unison their prayer

scarcely heard

“Our Father who art in Heaven

Hallowed be they name

thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven…”

Words ushered upward

beyond aged trees and rustling leaves

Remembering a special soul

many souls, a cluster of candles snuffed out early

The merry flicker gone

a flower fallen

From the darkness, “goodbye”

As night falls,

it covers rugged hills in a blanket dark

doves to the pines and below

chickens to the roost go

the inhabitants of Williamson PA

turn in for bed

dreams of revenge running in their head

yet others of the cross and forgiveness

An animal cries out in the hollow beyond

The home of the empty bed

To the West, distant mountains rise

Four shadows in silence slip

around rocks upon it’s ridge

bearing their grisly load

Back at the home of the empty bed

One candle in a window placed

it flickers,

dark winds unseen

and then…

it burns on