Land for Unity Cemetery purchased in 1774

Article courtesy of the Latrobe Bulletin. See original article here.

The landscape and fabric of Unity Township and Latrobe were quite different 250 years ago.

The area was hostile country in the mid-1700s, according to information published by the Unity Chapel Committee of the Latrobe Presbyterian Church and the Unity Cemetery Association.

“The English colonists contended for supremacy with the French, who were aided by ‘The Six Nations’ under the leadership of Chief Pontiac,” according to an excerpt from the Unity Cemetery and Chapel history book.

By 1758, British Gen. John Forbes led over 6,000 soldiers from Philadelphia – cutting their own road through the virgin Pennsylvania forest – to attack the French at Fort Duquesne.

“One of Forbes’ soldiers was Col. John Proctor, who – as payment for his services to the British army – was given a tract of land…located in the lowlands between what is now St. Xavier Road and the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport,” according to the Unity Cemetery and Chapel history book.

Speaking with the Bulletin last week, Mary Lou Townsend, executive director of the Latrobe Area Historical Society, recounted the early times of worship before the cemetery land was even acquired.

Two Presbyterian missionaries – the Revs. Charles Beatty and George Duffield – passed through the area and visited Proctor’s cabin on Sept. 4, 1766.

They conducted worship services for pioneer settlers – mostly Scots-Irish Presbyterians – Townsend said.

“They were holding services in what they called ‘Proctor’s Tent,’ and it wasn’t really a tent, more like a canopy,” Townsend said of the raised platform with a canopy of branches that provided little shelter to the ministers. “Proctor had a farm right where St. Xavier’s is, and it was kind of centrally located for the people around here, and they were outdoor services. People sat on the lawn.”

By 1768, a treaty was signed between the British and the Iroquois Indians at Fort Stanwix in New York. That treaty enabled William Penn’s grandsons – Thomas and John Penn – to purchase territory in western Pennsylvania.

The following year, the Penns established a land office in what would become Westmoreland County.

“It was in 1774 that the local Presbyterians appointed a committee to apply for a land grant,” Townsend said. “By then, it was William Penn’s grandsons who were in charge of signing off on these land grants.”

The last names of the committee members are still recognizable today.

“One of them was Robert Hanna, and Hanna’s Town was named for him, the first court was held there, and people came from as far away as Hanna’s Town to worship at Unity,” Townsend said. “Another one was William Lochry, and his brother was Archibald Lochry, and that’s the Lochry Blockhouse on the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve.”

Archibald Lochry, as a lieutenant colonel for Proctor, stored ammunition in what became known as the Lochry Blockhouse.

“It was Archibald’s brother, William, who was one of the trustees, and Archibald’s father-in-law, Joseph Irwin, was another,” Townsend said.

The fourth member of the quartet, Samuel Sloan, owned a lot of property in Latrobe.

“His home is no longer standing,” Townsend said, “but his son’s home, John Sloan, built what is referred to as Fort Sloan behind the Lincoln Road Shopping Center.”

It is the oldest building in Latrobe, constructed between 1790 and 1800. It was once a part of a Native American fort that extended through that area.

By arrangement with the land office, the committee took title “to about 60 acres of land for the establishment of a burial ground and meeting house for the Presbyterian congregation.

The deed is dated March 1, 1774.

Historians assume the amount paid for the land was roughly four pounds sterling – approximately $640 today – for 60 acres.

“At the time, there was no actual minister,” Townsend said. “They held services, but it was kind of within their own group. It was a big event when there was a traveling minister who came through who could hold services.”

The first chapel – a log church – wasn’t built until around 1780.

“We don’t know exactly when the first church was built, but they’re guessing it’s about 1780, according to several different sources,” Townsend said. “The trustees were meeting at Unity when they got word that Hanna’s Town was being attacked, and that was 1782. So the church had to have been there a little bit before then.”

Those interested in the history or attending upcoming events can learn more, including dates, times and locations, on the Unity Cemetery and Chapel 250th anniversary website, unitycemeterychapel.org.

This is the second piece of a biweekly series that will run through the end of the year honoring, celebrating and telling the stories from Unity Cemetery’s 250th anniversary, and Unity Chapel’s 150th anniversary. From marriages to funerals, many of our local families’ lives are touched by the history of the cemetery and chapel. It is one of few institutions in the area older than the nation itself. We look forward to bringing these stories into your homes every other Saturday for the rest of the year, and hope you look forward to reminiscing on some stories that maybe you once knew, as well as those you may not know.