Searching for James Baxter, Sr. in Pennsylvania, c.1785-1800

Sources for Research in Pennsylvania

Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania

Cumberland County Pennsylvania Archives

While I doubt I would find anything about my Baxter family at this site, it’s worth noting that it exists. I suppose I might find some land records. Deed books start at 1750.

Cumberland County Historical Society has The Pennsylvania Archives. Elissa Salise Powell, of Powell Genealogical Services, someone whose knowledge and expertise I greatly respect, has this to say:

The only online availability of virtually all of the Pennsylvania Archives is here, with free access, on . . . The valuable search capability created by provides the key to unlocking previously hidden names and events.

What can I find about “my” James Baxter in the records in Pennsylvania? He was there for about fifteen years, according to family lore about his immigration, marriage date to Rebecca Riddle, and place of birth for his older children. I think the only way to trace him back to his Old Country village, is to find everything I can find about him in Pennsylvania.

about 1785 | The only information I have about James’s immigration year comes from Alfred Baxter’s 1931 letter which he wrote with his 90-year-old father sitting next to him, trying to remember information about the family. The letter was written to a Mrs. Buck, who was evidently a genealogy researcher helping someone in Indiana research the family. Mrs. Buck may have been a D.A.R. member helping to research the book Roster of Soldiers and Patriots of the American Revolution Buried in Indiana, compiled and edited by Mrs. Roscoe C. O’Byrne, chairman, published by the Indiana Daughters of the American Revolution, 1938. From the foreword:

This volume of Revolutionary Soldiers buried in Indiana is presented with the hope that it will materially assist in increasing the membership in D.A.R. Chapters in the State. . . . This volume is not the work of one person, but the work of many.

I found this book at the St. Louis County Library genealogical section; it is now part of the database. For some reason, probably because of their stated agenda (above) of “materially. . . increasing membership,” the Indiana John Paul Chapter of the D.A.R. of the 1930s decided that this James Baxter fought in the Revolutionary War. This is from page 54:


There are a couple of things wrong here, right off the top: James’s DOB, which they state as 1765 instead of 1769, and his wife “Rachel,” who ought to be Rebecca. I found this record about five years ago when I first started researching James Baxter, and frankly I was surprised to see him listed as a Revolutionary Soldier, since this is the first and only place in the records where I found him linked to that war. On the contrary, the 1931 letter from his great grandson states exactly the opposite:

As far as I know none of the Kerr family, Baxter family or Francis family were ever in the Revolutionary Army.

Albert C. Baxter also has this to say about when James Baxter came to the United States:

He came to this country about a year and a half after the close of the American Revolution. . . .

What I also found curious was that none of the biographies found in the county “brag books” mentioned James Baxter’s service as a Revolutionary War soldier. So what I was finding was a serious disconnect–someone, either the Indiana D.A.R. or the Baxter family–was wrong about James Baxter and “his” Revolutionary War service.

It was easy enough to find all of the sources that the O’Byrne book mentions for James Baxter’s service, so I started there. Clearly someone named James Baxter from Pennsylvania had served in the war. I found what I was looking for in a volume titled Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series, Vol. IV, edited by Thomas Lynch Montgomery, published 1906. I found more information in books from the same series, Volumes II, III, and VI. The information in the Montgomery books matches the information from O’Byrne, so it would appear that the 1906 volume was the source for the “proof” that was put forward in the O’Byrne book. From Montgomery:

These cards contain transcriptions of data extracted from original records in custody of the State Archives, concerning Revolutionary War service in the Pennsylvania Militia, Pennsylvania Line, and the Navy. Note that duty after November 1783 is not considered Revolutionary War service. [emphasis mine]

Montgomery mentions a James Baxter, private, who saw service in 1777, 1778-1781, and 1782, all in the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment, Continental Line. I won’t go into details about his company or regiment, since that’s not important here, except to say that in every record, James’s rank is “private.”

So comparing what we know from the Albert Baxter 1931 letter to these records:

Penna Record: James was in the U.S. by 1777.
Family Letter: James came to the U.S. about 1785.

O’Byrne Book: James was born in 1765.
Family Letter: James’s DOB not mentioned.
Gravestone: Newly cleaned gravestone clearly shows year of birth as 1769.

Family Letter: specifically states that James Baxter did not fight in the Revolutionary War.

I imagine it would have been possible to misread the gravestone DOB in the 1930s. It’s not much of a stretch to mistake a “5” for a “9” on an old stone. The gravestone’s 1769 DOB would have been problematic for the O’Byrne book, since that date would have made James eight years old when he mustered in as a private in Pennsylvania. Even the 1765 date recorded in O’Byrne is a bit inconvenient, since while it’s possible that the regiment had very young boys serving as drummers or fifers, in every case in these Pennsylvania records where the person serving is a drummer or fifer, that information is clearly stated in the record. This James Baxter in the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment is consistently noted to be a private. Clearly, even if the family letter is wrong and he emigrated to the U.S. eight years earlier than thought, 12-year-old James Baxter was not a private in the Fourth Regiment.

But putting his age aside (OK, suspending disbelief–maybe James was big for his age or maybe he was taken on as a private of some kind, even at the age of 12), where did the O’Byrne book come up with the “1765” year of birth? What if the O’Byrne book hadn’t misread the birth year from the gravestone, as I assumed, but instead they had access to some other birth record? I was excited to think that maybe someone had found proof of James’s birth that I hadn’t found and that Albert Baxter hadn’t known about. Maybe the clearly readable date on the newly cleaned stone was wrong? This thought set me on a search for the records used for the D.A.R. applications made in the name of this James Baxter.

All of these applications are available at the D.A.R. website by doing an Ancestor Search. James Baxter is Ancestor #A007613, from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. I cannot quote extensively from these documents, since they are the property of the D.A.R. An application can be purchased on the website. A notation is made for every application about whether or not supporting documentation is available. The supporting information can also be purchased for an additional fee. The application can be purchased and a PDF downloaded immediately; the supporting information must be ordered and is sent by snail mail.

The 1956 Application

The first application I found was dated 1956–a copy found at the Jefferson County Historical Society. Interestingly, this record does not appear on the D.A.R. website for James Baxter. Perhaps this 1956 application wasn’t accepted? I simply don’t know. Also interestingly, this application states James Baxter’s year of birth as 1760–not 1765 as O’Byrne states and not 1769 as the gravestone shows. The application includes a “References for Lineage” page:

Give below a reference to the authority for EACH statement of Birth, Marriage* and Death. If from published records, give names of books and page numbers. If from unpublished records, applicant must file certified or attested copies of same.

I checked and discovered every reference given on this application. The only stated reference that might have corroborated James Baxter’s year of birth was “Craig Cemetery, Jeff. Co., Deed bk. D-320-321.” In other words, the 1956 application seems to have taken James’s year of birth from the gravestone and misread the date as 1760–which is completely understandable, since the stone was probably all but unreadable in 1956 and a nine could easily be misread as a zero. However, this application shows no other source for James’s year of birth. I haven’t seen this cemetery deed book, so I still don’t know for sure where the applicant came up with the date 1760. All I know is that it wasn’t some remarkable “new” record that no one else had access to.

Applications Found on the D.A.R. Website

So then I checked out the applications found for James Baxter on the D.A.R. website. There are five of them, and I bought all five. Most of them go through his son William, as do I. One of them goes through his son Daniel.

These first two applications, from 1976, were submitted on the same day. The women were apparently sisters, so it’s no surprise that they used the same references.

9 Jul 1976 application (McClain Repp)
James’s year of birth: 1765
The reference she gives for the year of birth is the O’Byrne book and the cemetery gravestone inscription.

9 Jul 1976 application (McClain)
James’s year of birth: 1765
The reference she gives for the year of birth is the O’Byrne book and the cemetery gravestone inscription.

1989 application
James’s year of birth: 1765
For proof of his birth year, this application references the previous 1976 applications.

1991 application
James’s year of birth: 1765
For proof of James’s birth year, the application references “Cem. Recs. from Madison Courier, Madison, IN, Aug. 15, 1940.” So this application also uses the gravestone as evidence for James’s year of birth.

1999 application
James’s year of birth: 1766
For proof of James’s birth, this application references the O’Byrne book and the previous 1976 applications.

Well–how disappointing. There is no “smoking gun” birth record in these applications that would give me any reason to believe that the gravestone birth date is incorrect. So, to recap: James Baxter was born “in the Old Country” somewhere, probably Ireland, maybe County Tyrone, village unknown, since “Gathenaysay” or any similar spelling is not found anywhere in Ireland. (Note: All of these applications, by the way, state that James’s place of birth was “Gathenaysay” in County Tyrone, Ireland–with no evidence.) He was born in 1769–not 1760 or 1765–and so would have been eight years old if he were the James Baxter of the Pennsylvania Revolutionary War soldier records.

Conclusion: Why does the birth year matter? Because it gives clear evidence that there was more than one James Baxter in Pennsylvania, and the one who fought in the Revolutionary War was not this James Baxter.

Which frankly hugely complicates any the search for “my” James Baxter in the Pennsylvania records. So to continue the timeline:

about 1785 | “Settled [with his brother Daniel] in what is now Carlisle, Pennsylvania”–from the Albert Baxter 1931 letter.

He brought with him his brother Daniel, who after two years returned to North Ireland and brought back his father and mother. Ten days after landing they developed a cholera and died, and were buried in Apple Pie Center, New Jersey.

There is an impression in the family that the old people all belonged to what was known as the Scotch Seceders, and really when they moved it was this church movement rather than family.

Scotch Seceders

So does Albert Baxter’s letter mean it was the “Scotch Seceders” movement that caused these families to emigrate? I need to use that as a clue.

This is from Rebels and Revivals: Ulster Immigrants, Western Pennsylvania Presbyterianism, by Peter E. Gilmore:

Those with Irish origins but of Scottish ethnic heritage who were Presbyterian in religion had a significant presence in western Pennsylvania from the beginning of European settlement and became the dominant ethnic group in many areas within the region (33, 34).

The presence of large numbers of recent Irish immigrants sympathetic to political reform in their home country, including separation from Great Britain and a creation of a democratic republic, can be inferred from the newspapers of Pittsburgh and Washington [County] (37).

The Irish Presbyterians, sometimes referred to as “Scotch-Irish,” of western Pennsylvania were strongly opposed to the Constitution. The radicalism of the backcountry Irish Presbyterians had been informed by deeply held religious values, and life in the American backcountry and in the North of Ireland. (“Scotch-Irish,” Gilmore, no page no.). Gilmore suggests a reference for understanding the northern Irish Presbyterians: Ulster and North America: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Scotch-Irish, by H. Tyler Blethen and Curtis Wood, U of Alabama P, 1997. Gilmore continues:

During the revolutionary era, many Irish Presbyterians embraced the American struggle for self-rule and a developing sense of ‘Irish’ ethnicity . . . . The region’s Irish seemed a dismal collection of riotous frontiersmen, runaway servants and uncompromising Calvinists . . . . lowly Irish Presbyterians. . . . squatters. . . .linking Irish origins with poverty, backwardness and contention. West of the Alleghenies, few Presbyterian Irish immigrants had achieved great material success, contrasted with the (apparent) disproportionate prosperity of the region’s Anglo-Irish and Scotts ((“Scotch-Irish,” Gilmore, no page no.).

If this family were living in Cumberland County, Penn. between about 1785 and 1800, and if they were committed seceders, then what church would they have been likely to attend? From Dructor: FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF CARLISLE RECORDS (CUMBERLAND COUNTY), 1785-1920. These records are on microfilm. The minutes book starts at 1816, but you might at least find a list of names going back as far as 1785.

There’s a history of the church on the church’s website. The church was established in 1734 by Scots-Irish from Lancaster County, a meeting house located about two miles west of the Carlisle Public Square. In 1757 the congregation “built the edifice in which we worship today.” The church archives are held at Dickinson College. There was a book written in 1877: A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Carlisle, Pa., by the Rev. Conway P. Wing, D.D. This is a free eBook at Google.

Here’s a sobering thought, when looking for these families:

The most recent estimate is that between 100,000 and 250,000 persons left Ireland for North America from 1700-1775 (from Fitzgerald and Lambkin, 123).

What about LAND RECORDS? Surely if James Baxter and his brother lived in Cumberland County, Penn. from about 1785 to 1800–a period of 15 years, at least one of them would have purchased land? You’ll find deeds going back that far in Cumberland County, Penn. This comes from Robert M. Dructor:

The most genealogically useful land records are not to be found at the State Archives. Private deeds transferring titles to land are maintained at the office of the recorder of deeds for the appropriate county.

What about COUNTY NATURALIZATION RECORDS? This comes from Guide to Genealogical Sources At the Pennsylvania State Archives, by Robert M. Dructor:

LISTS OF PERSONS WHO TOOK THE OATHS OF ALLEGIANCE, 1777-1794 (RG-26 and 27). The emphasis of the record is on the Philadelphia environs, with documents arranged by the date of oath. . . . From 1789 to 1794 the foreigner’s name, occupation, birthplace, age and date of arrival in America are frequently mentioned and in some instances the name, occupation and residence of the alien’s parents are noted. The oaths have been printed in the Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, Vol. III (9).

I found Series 2, Vol. III, “Names of Persons Who Took the Oath of Allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania Between the Years 1776 and 1794” at I started looking at the year 1778, which is about six years earlier than I thought he was there.

If you’re really lucky, this is the kind of thing you can find in the “Oath of Allegiance” records:

James Kierman, Labourer, son of John Kierman, farmer, and Ann, his wife born in the Parish of Cill, in the county of Cavin, in the Kingdom of Ireland last arrived from the town of Waterford, the Kindgom of Ireland, took the Oath of Allegiance on the 22d day of May, 1790.

Some who took the oath had been residing in Pennsylvania for five years or more–“upwards of eight years”–so it wasn’t necessarily something they did the minute they set foot in Penna. Many taking this oath were merchants and seamen. Many others were “gentlemen.” I see some farmers who emigrated from Ireland, but not many. Probably most were living in the city of Philadelphia. Considering that there were tens of thousands who emigrated from Ireland during these years, it just doesn’t seem likely that this James Baxter is going to be found on this list.

The following records are also found at


Captain, Jacob Martin. James Baxter listed as “sick.” There’s no way of knowing if this is the “right” James Baxter. In fact, it probably isn’t. In the First State Tax of Cumberland County for the Year 1778, there is a James Baxter for Tyrone Township, 67 acres, 2 horses, 2 cattle. This is probably the same James Baxter who was the J.B. who fought in the Revolutionary War.

1790 | Federal census. The only “James Baxter” indexed for Pennsylvania, Cumberland County in the 1790 federal census is one with 1 male 16 and over; 3 females–total household members 4, all free white. This is for Hopewell, Newton, Tyborn, and Westpensboro, Cumberland, Pennsylvania–all townships that are fairly near Carlisle, which is where James was said to be living. However, James’s household would have had 1 male 16 and over, 1 male under 16, and 2 females–not 3 females. However, it’s close and this might be the right James.

Note: I have found no Daniel Baxter for Pennsylvania in the 1790 census.

Counties of South Central Penn.


Counties of South Central Pennsylvania.

Townships and Boroughs of Cumberland County, Penn.


Pennsylvania Voter Rolls might be of some help, aka Septennial Census, 1779-1863. These can be found at There is a James Baxter and also a Daniel Baxter who show up on these lists, but there’s no way of knowing if they are the “right” Baxters. Also, James and Daniel aren’t living near each other, so that’s not much help. This is from A Guide to Genealogical Sources At the Pennsylvania State Archives, by Robert M. Druchter:

There have been no State censuses in Pennsylvania. The so-called SEPTENNIAL CENSUS RETURNS, 1779-1863 were merely enumerations of taxpayers every seven years for the purpose of determining representation in the General Assembly. Only a few (eleven per cent) of these records have survived, and usually they just list the name and at times the occupation of the taxable white inhabitant (Druchter, 98).

So the fact that a James Baxter does or doesn’t appear in these records isn’t particularly helpful.

before? 1794 | Married to Rebecca Riddle, “probably Pennsylvania.” At the St. Louis County Library, genealogy section: Record of Pennsylvania Marriages Prior to 1810, R974.8 R311. Note: “Exerpted and printed from Pennsylvania archives, series 2, vols. VIII and IX, 1880.” This record is also found online at Fold3. This is the same record found (below) at Still no James Baxter.

I found Series 2, Vol. VIII, Part 04 – “Marriages Prior to 1810 at First Presbyterian Church, Carlisle” at These are lists of the people who were married, including the date of marriage. There is no “James Baxter” married to Rebecca Riddle in the record. No Baxters on the list; there are two Riddle’s on the list: James M. Riddle m. Elizabeth Weaver, 12 Nov. 1811; and Mary Riddle m. Joseph Latshaw, 21 Nov. 1799. Wow, that’s disappointing.

I found Series 2, Vol. IX, page 534 – “Marriage Record of the Third Presbyterian Church Philadelphia, 1785-1799. 22 Feb. 1787–James Baxter m. Sarah Daniel. Not my J.B. [Record found at]

The date is based on the birth date of their first living child, Daniel Baxter, b. 27 Nov. 1794 in Pennsylvania. Stated information about the marriage on the D.A.R. applications:

Give, if possible, the following data: My Revolutionary ancestor was married . . . [filled in] (1) to Rebecca Riddle (at) “Probably Pa., prior to 1794.”

No other evidence is given for the marriage date to Rebecca Riddle on the D.A.R. applications, so they are no help.

1799 | 17 Jul. Born, Nancy Baxter to James and Rebecca, in Pennsylvania. The 1850 census states that Nancy was born in Pennsylvania. This is the last indication in this family of a date for them to be residing in Pennsylvania. Their next child, William, was born in August 1804 in Montgomery County, Ohio. Jame’s brother was apparently married in Montgomery County, Ohio in June 1804.


The upshot is, my only evidence for the James Baxter family being in Pennsylvania is the census records from 1850 on which give “Pennsylvania” as the birth place of James’s children and also the 1931 letter from Albert Baxter. I haven’t as yet found this family in a single record in Pennsylvania.


Druchter, Robert M. A Guide to Genealogical Sources At the Pennsylvania State Archives. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, 1988.

Fitzgerald, Patrick and Brian Lambkin. Migration in Irish History 1607-2007. Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2008.

Gilmore, Peter. “‘Scotch-Irish or Merely Irish’: Brackenridge, Findley, and Contestation of Ethnic Identity in the Early Republic.” From the SHEAR Annual Meeting, 17 Jul 2011.

to be continued. . .

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One Response to Searching for James Baxter, Sr. in Pennsylvania, c.1785-1800

  1. Pingback: Researching James Baxter, Sr., Ancestor #11/52 | The Shoebox Under the Bed

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