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About Oak Spring Cemetery

In the beginning was the wilderness and a small but doughty group of pioneers who had come to be known as the Chartiers Settlement. The year was 1775. Washington County, Pennsylvania would not come into existence for six more years. The settlers "on the waters of Chartiers" were subjects of his Majesty, King George the Third, Ruler of the British Empire. With few exceptions, they considered themselves to be inhabitants of Augusta County, Virginia.

That April, at Lexington, Massachussetts, "the shot heard round the world" was fired. A month later, a committee met at Pittsburgh and resolved unanimously to approve the New Englanders' action in opposing "the invaders of American rights and privileges."

The heated dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania over the jurisdiction of this region was at its height. Indian atrocities and massacres would occur with increasing frequency over the next fifteen years. Into this boiling caldron of war and political disturbance came two prodigious men of God, John McMillan and Matthew Henderson.

Much has been recorded about these two pastors, but little about the devout, Godfearing men and women that formed their first congregations. No list is known of the first members of the Chartiers associate Presbyterian congregation as it existed in 1775 , but we do know the names of the four elders who signed the call issued to Matthew Henderson in 1779. They were James Scott, Nicholas Little, John White and David Reed. Two of the four are remembered in history because of their mention in George Washington's diary.

David Reed had emigrated from Lancaster County. He and James Scott, among others, purchased claims to land on "the waters of Miller's Run," presently the Venice-Southview area. However, it later developed that General Washington had been granted this same land by the colony of Virginia.

In 1784, on his only visit to this area, Washington lodged with John Canon and from here went to visit his land. On September 19, he noted in his diary, "Being Sunday, and the People living on my Land apparently very religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them until tomorrow."

The next day General Washington dined at David Reed's log house and met with the settlers, who were reported to be "mostly Seceders," another name for the members of the Associate Presbyterian Church. Washington wrote, "Dined at David Reed's after which Mr. James Scott and Squire Reed began to enquire whether I would part with the Land and upon what terms."

The diary of Washington continues, "I told them I had no inclination to sell, however, after hearing a great deal of their hardships, their religious principles and unwillingness to separate or remove...concluded by making offers, which after long consultation the settlers refused. All chose to stand suit and abide the issue of the law."

The court ruled that Washington's title to the land was the valid one; so, shortly thereafter, most of the settlers purchased new claims nearby in what is now Cecil and Chartiers Townships where they were still within walking distance of their meeting house at Oak Spring.

These Seceders of whom Washington writes were some of the founders of Chartiers Church. They were men and women of courage and strong conviction. They had forsaken their homes east of the mountains - left their families, friends, churches, schools, and the safety and conveniences of the settlements to seek a life of greater opportunity on the frontier.

Over the years there have been many changes. In the early years of settlement, there was an Associate Presbyterian Church that had only an open log 'tent" at Oak Spring. The primitive shelter was replaced by a log building, then a brick church, then other churches of the Presbyterian family came into being. During this time, the village of Canonsburg grew from a stop on the road between Washington and Pittsburgh to a market town, then the seat of a renowned college, then a town whose economy was based on industry. Now, as the 21st Century begins, computers far outnumber heavy machinery, we can be in touch with the opposite side of the world in minutes, and the Presbyterian churches are one.

In 1868, the Oak Spring Cemetery Association was organized. The Association purchased the Oak Spring property from the Chartiers Congregation in 1870.

Oak Spring Cemetery is beautifully located on a hill west of Canonsburg. Much of the cemetery is located in Chartiers Township. The earliest interment was circa 1775-1780.

Special thanks to James T. Herron

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