52 Ancestors II, Week 67: Michael Greenlee (Jr)

Robert and Ralph Greenlee wrote this biography about their grandfather: "Michael Greenlee, (the 6th child of 11) was born April, 1759, in Kent Co., Delaware, near the Maryland line.

Michael (33) married April 19, 1792, at Georges Creek, Fayette Co., Pennsylvania, Bethiah Maxson (24), of New Jersey, who was born about 1768." (1) They had 11 children between 1793 and 1811.  Our ancestor, Edmund (the barrel-maker) was their youngest.

"Michael was one of the oldest settlers of Crawford County, Pennsylvania. The Maxson family in moving to Virginia passed through Fayette County, Pennsylvania, where Bethia remained and did not go on with the family. She was living there with Rev. Woodbridge when Michael Greenlee married her.

After his marriage he resided in Franklin County for a period of two years, then moved to Pittsburg, where he remained one year, and then, in company with his family and a small colony of settlers, came up the Allegheny River and French Creek on a flat-bottom boat or raft, which was pushed up the stream with setting poles, to Meadville, where there was a small settlement. He brought with him eighteen barrels of flour, two barrels of side pork, a lot of flax, one and one-half bushels of salt, one yoke of oxen, one cow, two two-year-old heifers, one mare, one large black walnut chest and other household goods.

There was nothing but an Indian trail through the woods from Pittsburg to Meadville at that time, and the only stopping place in the whole distance was where James and Philip Dunn had settled. Here they stopped for a rest. During their trip up the river it rained so that their beds were getting wet, and he put boards on barrels for covering for his wife and little son, Robert. On this journey the livestock was driven to the new home along this primitive trail through the forest, and on this trip Mr. Greenlee injured his back pushing the boat, from the effect of which he never recovered.

He remained one year on French Creek Flats, near Meadville, where he raised a patch of corn. When the crop was ready to harvest, being unable to walk, he took a chain and rode one of the oxen into the field, where he hitched the chain around a shock of corn (a stack or bundle of bound or unbound corn piled upright for curing or drying) and drew it to a shed, thus saving his corn, while his neighbors left theirs on the field and it was swept down the creek in a freshet (the flood of a river from heavy rain or melted snow) and was lost.

The spring following, in March, 1797, he went on horseback to Venago Township, now Cussawago Township, and secured four hundred acres of land and built a small log cabin. When he went to look for the land, a man had agreed to come out from Meadville and bring him a gun and fire tools, but disappointed him, and the consequence was that he was obliged to stay in the woods all night with his horse and dog, without fire or gun, there being four inches of snow on the ground. He made his bed beside a fallen tree, against which he stood pieces of bark for covering. His dog barked continually, thus keeping the wild animals away; otherwise it seemed to him as though he must have been killed by them, as all through the long, weary night these denizens of the forest gave distinct evidence of their presence.

In order to get supplies for their families, the men had to go through the woods on horseback along an Indian trail to Pittsburg. During his absence on one of these trips, which took several days, Mr. Greenlee's wife was very much annoyed by wolves, bears and panthers, which came alarmingly near. She took lighted pine torches and threw them at the animals, which were afraid of fire, thus keeping them away. A blanket was used to cover the entrance to the little cabin and served in lieu of a door.

That fall Mr. Greenlee hired the underbrush dug out and the large trees girdled, for which service he paid five dollars, and the ground was prepared for seed in as effective a way as possible. He bought one bushel of seed wheat, costing four dollars, and sowed it on this acre of ground, which produced thirty bushels. There was a brush fence around this acre, somewhat protecting it from wild animals, but nevertheless it was necessary to guard it both day and night until the crop was harvested. That one bushel was all the wheat he ever bought for the use of his family.

Being an invalid, as stated above, he was unable to personally do much farm work, so he took up the manufacture of reeds for weaving, and other similar work. He always kept a yoke of oxen, and changed work with his neighbors by letting them use his ox team, and thus managed to get his heavy farm work done—work his boys were unable to do because of their youth. It is said of him that he never gave a note in his life and never had a lawsuit.

A notable characteristic of the Greenlee family has been equability of temperament. Each successive generation has shown the same mildness of disposition, the same gentle and kindly nature, and the deepest sympathy and regard for all men. Sterling integrity of character, strong mentality and excellent business ability have also been typified in the various representatives of the name. The family has ever stood for the highest order of citizenship, and has rendered strong allegiance to religious, educational and all other good work.

Mr. Greenlee was a First-day Baptist and his wife a Seventh-day Baptist, and accordingly they kept both days holy. Their home was always open to the itinerant clergymen of both denominations, and was to these noble pioneer workers in the Master's vineyard a home indeed. Mrs. Greenlee, in the mean-time lost her health and did most of her work in bed, such as sewing, knitting, mending, and sometimes spinning, the last work being accomplished by having one of the children turn the wheel for her. She was also quite a poet.

Bethiah (51) died in 1819. Michael (68) died in 1827, near Mosiertown, Pennsylvania.

(1) Greenlee Genealogy, by Ralph Stebbins Greenlee and Robert Lemuel Greenlee (Edmund’s and Mary’s  twin sons), self published in 1908 in Chicago.

1810 Federal Census


  1. Michael and Bethiah certainly started from scratch and the hardships of nature and bad luck often worked against them. Never the less they endured and prevailed. I wonder if Michaels' back injury could be fixed if he lived in modern times? Bethiah was very tough to go it alone against wolves, bears and panthers and Michael was lucky to have a good dog to hold off the denizens of the forest.


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