Historical Markers
Mercer County, Donation Lands Historical Marker
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Mercer County, Donation Lands

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
County Courthouse, at Courthouse Sq., Mercer

Dedication Date:
May 12, 1983

Behind the Marker

Map showing Locations of the Donation Lands in Pennsylvania. Thos. Rees Jr. District Cession to the U.S. by New York in 1871, by Massachusetts in 1785, and by the U.S in 1792, by act of Congress in 1788, Sold to Pa by the Indians in 1789.
Map of Donations Lands in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania's population doubled from about 300,000 to more than 600,000 between 1770 and 1800; many of these people were moving west, requiring government services, mostly courts and roads. Mercer was one of eight new counties formed in the year 1800 alone. Located in northwestern Pennsylvania, the 670 square miles that was to become Mercer County was originally inhabited by the Wyandot, Delaware, and Seneca Indians.

Between 1777 and 1785, the Pennsylvania Assembly reserved some of this land and the areas that would become Crawford, Forest, Warren and Venango counties as Donation Lands, to pay Revolutionary War veterans for their service during the war. The rest would remain in state hands to be sold as needed. The Assembly employed Benjamin Stokely to survey the Donation lands into rectangular numbered plots - a system used only in this area. In 1785, the Assembly then opened other unreserved land to white settlers at 80 cents an acre in 1,000-acre tracts. But few could afford to purchase such a large quantity of land.
Counties incorporated from 1784 Pennsylvania land purchase.
Mercer County, incorporated in 1800, shaded portion of the Counties incorporated...

Portrait General Hugh Mercer, Jr. (Study for The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton
Sketch of General Hugh Mercer, Jr. (Study for The Death of General Mercer at...

To encourage settlement, the state legislature in 1792 reduced the price of unreserved lands west of the Allegheny River to six cents per acre if the buyer settled and improved the land. This unleashed a boom of speculation. The Holland Land Company, Pennsylvania Population Company, and other newly formed investment groups bought up large plots of land, set up supply depots for new settlers, built roads, and offered 100 acres free to any homesteader who would buy an additional 300 acres at $1.50 per acre.

After Anthony Wayne's 1794 victory over the Miami Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers ended the threat of Indian hostilities, settlers - most of them Scottish Presbyterians - streamed into the region, organized the towns of Mercer, Sharon, Greenville, and Grove City, and in 1799 petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly to separate from Allegheny County. On March 12, 1800, the Pennsylvania Assembly granted their wish.

At a time when Pennsylvanians sought to honor their past, it was not uncommon to name new counties after Revolutionary War heroes. Such was the case with Mercer County, named for General Hugh Mercer, a Revolutionary War hero who had distinguished himself at the Battle of Trenton. In 1801, surveyors laid out the four original townships of Mercer County: Neshannock, Salem, Sandy Lake and Cool Spring. The county was attached to Crawford County until February 1804 when it was formally organized. Mercer, the county seat, was laid out in 1803 and incorporated as a borough on March 28, 1814.

Distilleries and grist and sawmills marked Mercer County's early economy. The opening of a canal to the Allegheny River in 1834, and another to Erie in 1844 stimulated coal and iron mining. While the low-quality iron ore was soon abandoned, Mercer's famous block coal sold well and became the major fuel for the county's iron and later steel industries, which at one time included fifteen blast furnaces in the Shenango Valley.
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