Fields of Conflict: The Sherfigh Property before 1742

This will be the first of several posts on the various farms located on the Gettysburg battlefield.  These posts will share the history of those who settled here first, the stories of those who experienced the battle, how farmers attempted to recuperate losses and recover after the battle, and how a property came to be a part of the Gettysburg National Military Park.


Upon receipt of a formal deed, Jacob Sherfigh (alternatively spelled Sherfig, Scherffig, or Sherfey) owned 349 acres, 111 perches of land which would later include the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, the Triangular Field, and Houck’s ridge along with part of the Slaughter Pen, Plum Run, and the Valley of Death.  The Confederate brigades of Wofford, Kershaw, Semmes, Anderson, Benning, and Robertson attacked across the Sherfigh property as did parts of Barksdale’s and Law’s brigades.  They were met by the Union brigades commanded by Graham, DeTrobriand, Ward, Sweizter, Tilton, Brooke, Zook, Cross, Kelly, Burbank, and Day as well as parts of McCandless and Nevin.  Of those 30,000 soldiers who fought or crossed over the Sherfigh property, at least 9,600 became casualties.   Long before that fighting, the Sherfigh properties were caught up in a series of land conflicts between the Penn’s and the Baltimore’s, the Penn’s and the residents of the Manor of Maske, the Penn’s and the state of Pennsylvania, and the Penn’s and the residents of the Manor of Maske once again.


William Penn, Founder of PA
Photo Credit: Library of Congress

In 1681 William Penn the Younger was granted a charter to 30,000,000 acres in America in consideration for the substantial debt King Charles II owed Admiral William Penn.  The crown required Penn to guarantee settlers the rights of an Englishman and allowed him to exercise broad powers over his property while reserving portions of it—manors—from settlement.  In addition to substantial freedom, no military obligation, and low taxation the Penn’s pursued a policy that prohibited settlement until Native American claims were extinguished by treaty.  As Charles Glatfelter and Arthur Weaner wrote, “One may question whether the two sides ever fully shared the same understanding of what they were doing when the natives formally relinquished their rights, but clearly this policy kept Pennsylvania free of Indian wars for more than seventy years, into the 1750s.” 


Charles Calvert, 5th Baron of Baltimore
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

                The first substantial land dispute over the future Gettysburg battlefield pitted the Penn’s and the Baltimore’s against each other.  The Penn’s claimed 39 degrees north latitude as the southern boundary of Pennsylvania which would have included the city of Baltimore in Pennsylvania, while the Baltimore’s claimed 40 degrees north latitude as the northern boundary of Maryland which would have included Philadelphia and the future town of Gettysburg in Maryland.  After settlers with grants from the Baltimore’s laid claim to their lands, the Penn’s responded by using posse’s to arrest interlopers.  After a decade of dispute, George II ordered the Penn’s and Baltimore’s to find a solution in 1738, which was done by extending a temporary line westward from the southern boundary of Philadelphia.  The solution remained in place until 1765 when the Mason/Dixon survey adjusted the temporary line 1600 feet south.


Manor of Maske within Adams County, PA
Photo Credit: ACHS: “The Manor of Maske”

On June 18, 1741 the Penn’s ordered a survey of the Marsh Creek watershed to be named the Manor of Maske after the estate of an uncle living in York, England.  A manor constituted land reserved to the Penn’s, removed from common settlement.  Manors tended to constitute about 10% of a particular area open for settlement, were usually laid out on the best land, and then quickly warranted and surveyed.  The Penn’s created some 80 manors consisting of 600,000 acres (2% of Pennsylvania) including the Manor of Maske at 30,000 acres.  When Deputy Surveyor Zachary Butcher reached Marsh Creek he found it occupied by several persons opposed to having the land reserved to the Penn’s.  Butcher listed 29 persons who obstructed his survey attempt including Thomas Hosack who “took the surveyor’s compass and declared that, if this chain were ‘spread again he wou’d stop it.’”  Butcher feared settlers resolved “to kill or cripple me, or any other person, who shall attempt to Lay out a Mannor there.”  Consequently, the Penn’s essentially closed the Manor of Maske from 1741 until 1765. With few exceptions, no warrants, surveys, or patent deeds were issued during that time, which meant there were no legal residents.


Manor of Maske Boundary Marker
Photo Credit:

Most Manor of Maske residents were Scots-Irish, families the British government relocated to Ireland from Scotland in a bid to create greater loyalty to the crown.  Eventually, they lost faith in the promises of the government to support them in Ireland and moved to the American colonies settling in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania, and surrounding areas.  Rather than obtaining patent deeds, these settlers “squatted” on the land making the improvements necessary to cultivate crops, constructing buildings, and creating five Presbyterian Churches.   When York County was created in 1749, residents of the Manor of Maske participated in county elections, held elected office, and paid taxes as well.  A resolution between the Penn’s desire to reserve their land for themselves and the squatter’s desire to retain land they had improved came about in 1765.  Manor residents who settled and improved the land prior to June 18, 1741 would have their claims recognized by the Penn’s on receipt of payment for the land at the common rate of £15.10.0 (15 pounds, 10 schillings, 0 pence).  Residents James Agnew and Robert McPherson produced a list of 157 names of individuals who settled in the expected boundaries of the Manor prior to 1741.   An official survey then proceeded which measured the Manor of Maske at 43,500 acres and was filed on April 7, 1768.  By the American Revolution just 6% of the Manor, approximately 2600 acres were titled through patent deeds.


ACHS Commemorative Manor of Maske Marker
Photo Credit: Historical Marker Database

                During the American Revolution, the Pennsylvania legislature moved to take control of all land open to common settlement under the terms of Penn’s Charter.  Acknowledging the Penn’s private estates including Proprietary Tenths and Manors, the November 27, 1779 Divesting Act seized all public lands not sold prior to July 4, 1779 and paid the Penn’s £130,000.  Residents in the Manor were left still trying to obtain deeds from the Penn’s while purchasing land elsewhere in Pennsylvania that was substantially more affordable. In the 1790’s the Penn’s began selling their manors to raise additional money and commanded all residents in the Manor of Maske to come forward within six months and settle claims in a May 22, 1793 edition of the Pennsylvania Herald and York General Advertiser.  In response residents of the Manor sent John Black, Alexander Russell, and Alexander Cobean to seek a bill from the state legislature extinguishing the Penn’s proprietary claims over the Manor.  After four years, a compromise was reached that would provide Manor residents who entered the manor after June 1, 1741 with property ownership and the Penn’s with funds from land sales.  Manor residents purchased land from the Penn’s at a rate of £15.10.0/ 100 acres and paid a 6% interest on the value of the land excepting then June 1, 1741 – May 31, 1765 when the Penn’s had closed the manor.  The Penn’s would receive the sum annually in thirds and would provide patent deeds upon payment of the first third and receipt of acceptable bonds or full payment.  The Penn’s issued more than 140 deeds, the last of which was executed on February 7, 1834.  As of 1992, about 50 tracts within Adams County, which were a part of the Manor of Maske, comprising of approximately 4350 acres—10% of the Manor—were still without a deed.


Detailed Manor of Maske Map
Photo Credit: ACHS: “The Manor of Maske”

Chronicling the precise arrival of Jacob Sherfigh and the history of his property is nearly impossible, but the key essential facts are decipherable.   Jacob Sherfigh was born the eighth of fifteen children on March 4, 1769 in Carroll County, Maryland to Kaspar Scherrfig and Magdalena Heilman.  His father was born in Germany and had immigrated to the United States from Rotterdam, Holland to Philadelphia. On December 13, 1794 he married Catharine Rosseman (appears as Bosserman in one record).   Historic records first place Jacob Sherfigh in Pennsylvania in 1797 when he paid a $3 tax  on his property.  Family records indicate that the Sherfigh’s were married in Maryland, but all of their children were born on their Pennsylvania farm.  Given that the first Sherfigh child was born on January 12, 1796, it is believed that the Sherfigh’s arrived in Pennsylvania in 1795.  The Sherfigh property appears as tract #168 in the Manor of Maske properties.  The earliest known claimant was Robert Fletcher, who settled there in May 1741 prior to the creation of the Manor and appeared on the 1767 York County tax list.  The Adams County Historical Society has determined that four other individuals claimed that property subsequent to Fletcher and prior to Jacob Sherfigh.  A Penn deed executed on August 8, 1805 shows that Jacob Sherfy received 349 acres, 111 perches of land from the Penn’s in consideration for £181.0.7 ($482.75).  Of that amount, £54.4.0 ($144.53) purchased the land and £126.16.7 ($338.22) paid 39 years, 9 months (June 1, 1765 – March 1, 1805) of interest (dollar amounts listed on transcription of deed).   Not only did Sherfigh pay the interest which accumulated prior to his presumed 1795 ownership of the property, he also paid interest that accumulated for four years prior to his birth!  Although it is not known how Sherfigh obtained his property in 1795, the estate records of Robert McCreary indicate that he was once the owner of tract #168 and may have sold it to Sherfigh.

                Jacob and Catharine Sherfigh prospered on their Gettysburg farm and raised an abundant family.  Catharine gave birth to eleven children, nine of whom survived to adulthood, eight boys and one girl: Daniel (1796), David (1797), Solomon (1799), Jacob (1801), Maria (1803), John (1805), Abraham (1807), Samuel (1810), Joseph (1812), Simeon (1814), and Hannah (1817).  The records of the 1798 Direct Tax indicate that the Sherfigh’s lived in 22’ x 20’ house with windows made from “old logs.”   The term “old logs” is perplexing because it seems to imply that Sherfigh either occupied an older house or built a new one from old materials, but no records indicated a previous house in the vicinity.  The Sherfigh’s also had a 20’ x 25’ log kitchen and a 52’ x 14’ log barn as well.  In 1802, when the Emmitsburg Road was constructed across their property, “Jacob Sherfig” received a payment of $93.75 for damages. Politically, Jacob Sherfigh inclined toward the Democratic-Republicans and unsuccessfully ran for Director of the Poor in 1824.  Displeased with Andrew Jackson, he joined several of neighbors in campaigning against Jackson in 1828 thus aligning himself with the nascent Whig or Federal-Republican party. By faith Sherfigh was a Dunkard.  He passed away August 5, 1842 at the age of 73 and Catharine died two years later on August 3, 1844.  Both were buried in Pine Bank Cemetery in Mount Joy Township about four miles from their home, where they were laid to rest next to the children they lost in infancy.


Sherfigh property with Peach Orchard in center
Photo Credit: National Park Service 

                Jacob Sherfigh’s will is the first and only document historians have following the record of the 1798 Direct Tax.  The will was written on August 9, 1841 and a codicil was added in March 28th of the following year upon the death of Jacob’s son Abraham. Additionally the codicil provided for Abraham’s children to inherit their deceased father’s share and also gave insight to an arrangement between Jacob and Joseph.  After losing many of his children to their travels, Jacob offered Joseph a special arrangement whereby he would be paid $50/year each year after his 21st birthday that he remained living and working with his father.  Joseph, later with his wife Mary Heagen, remained with his father for eight years after his 21st birthday until his father’s death.  The will provided that property was not to be sold during Catharine’s life, but rented with the proceeds given to her.  After Catharine’s death a public sale was conducted to liquidate the estate which consisted of 300 acres, a two-story stone house with a porch and attached log building (itself with two rooms and a kitchen), a stone bank barn, a wagon shed, a corn crib, a carriage house, a stone wash house, and a log stable.  The acreage included apple, peach, and pear orchards, and 140 acres of timber.  Concluded in 1849, the estate brought in $6700 which was split amongst eight children and three grandchildren.

                Much like the life of Jacob Sherfigh himself, the history of the beautiful stone house he built is obscured from the records.  Historical documents show that it did not exist at the time of the 1798 Direct Tax, but it did exist when Sherfigh drafted his will in 1841.  Tax records, where a new improvement would appear in the record upon first construction, are missing for Cumberland Township from 1812-1823.  Additionally the Sherfigh family reached its largest size in 1817, in the midst of the span of the missing records.  Taken as whole, these fragmentary pieces of evidence indicate that the building known as the Rose house, was built in the 1810s or early 1820s. Even so a precise date cannot be determined as has often been the case in the conflicted history of the Sherfigh property, which would witness an even greater conflict just less than 21 years after Jacob Sherfigh’s death.

Jim Flook, Park Ranger
Gettysburg National Military Park

Three significant sources found in the Gettysburg National Military Park library have been used:  Kathy Georg Harrison, “Historic Structure Report – Rose Farmhouse,” National Park Service, 1982; Charles H. Glatfelter and Arthur Weaner, “The Manor of Maske: Its History and Individual Properties, Adams County Historical Society”, Gettysburg, 1992; Harlan E. Pace (compiler), “The Sherfey Family in the United States 1751-2004 (Scherffig in Germany),” 2004.

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3 Responses to Fields of Conflict: The Sherfigh Property before 1742

  1. Interesting stuff! The Sherfy farm is one of my favorites on the battlefield. I didn’t know most of this history; though I had heard of the Manor of Maske I wasn’t aware of its history. I love these obscure Gettysburg stories!

  2. Scott Douglas says:

    Good stuff! I’d love to see posts about the Gettysburg area during the French and Indian War.

  3. Joseph Sherfy. says:

    Enjoyed this piece and will share it with other family members. So am I to understand that all of Jacobs property was sold after Catherine’s death. I guess I am not sure how Joseph ended up with the house marked as the Sherfy house and the peach orchard if this is the case.

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