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The William Winters Connection
By Richard W. Knupp Sr. for Bellefonte Secrets
April 27, 2010
Famous Missing People of Centre County: Part One
An Eight-Part Series on People Who Were Great in History but Today Are Virtually Unknown
How is it possible for historians to miss a great person? When historians were gathering information many years after events occurred, there seldom were reliable sources especially if the people who would have known the facts had left the area or the facts had occurred in another area. Our three main individuals are William Winters, Andrew Boggs and General James Potter and many people associated with them who also should be known.
Our first subject is William Winters who lived in the Williamsport area many years before the town was settled. Why is a man from Lycoming County being written about in a Centre County newsletter? William Winters family was involved in other areas and Centre County was one of them. To find this information was easy for me since I have tools called modern technology. I have copies on disks of most of the Pennsylvania Historical books on the various counties that make searching electronically for subjects very simple.
According to “History of Lycoming County by Meginness, 1892”, William Winters bought 278&1/4 acres of land on July 2, 1792, in the Williamsport area. He was the brother in-law of Hawkins Boone, brother of the famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone. He married Ann Boone in 1747 in the Province of Virginia. She died in Williamsport in 1771 leaving eleven children, four sons and seven daughters. That is the complete story according to Meginness.
For a better history of William Winter it is best to find a book named “History of Centre and Clinton Counties by John Blair Linn’. Yes, Winters was married to Ann Boone who died in 1771. What is missing is that William married Elizabeth Campbell in 1774 who bore William eight more children, five daughters and three sons.
In Linn’s History you will discover that William’s oldest child, Hannah, married Thomas Lincoln, grandfather of Abraham Lincoln. This isn’t completely true since people who know the history of President Lincoln knew that Abe’s Grandfather Thomas was also from the same area as our Thomas Lincoln but this one wasn’t his grandfather.
Linn’s history also claims that Hanna was married to Abraham, grandfather of the President which a second person mistakenly gave Linn. Linn would print all versions of any story given him since he had no way to determine which one was correct.
Every generation of every Lincoln family would name their children after Biblical characters and the first three sons would be Abraham, Thomas and Mordecai. Our Thomas was Abraham’s brother which would make him a Great uncle of President Lincoln.
Another of Winters daughters, Sarah, married a prominent businessman from Centre County named Benjamin Harris who gave Boalsburg its name and was the namesake of Harris Township.
The thirteenth child was Mary Winters who became the wife of a forgotten Centre County legend, Judge Charles Huston. Judge Huston’s accomplishments in law-related deeds were many. He was the individual who had a mastery of settling land disputes and wrote the book, which was considered the Bible of land disputes; “An Essay on the History and Nature of Original Titles to Land in the Providence and State of Pennsylvania.”
Judge Huston first served the courts in Lycoming County before settling in Centre County. Later he also served in other courts as well as a term on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Judge James Burnside married Eleanor Winters Burnside. Judge Burnside was also a Centre County legend. He studied law under Judge Huston and also had quite a career in judgeships throughout Pennsylvania including a term on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The trail of the judges and lawyers of Centre County will be written in its own story in a later issue.
Now we get to the key that opens the door to a flood of information that provides answers to the reason that Linn’s History has much more information on William Winters, and his family, than the history of Lycoming County does.
Lucy Winters was the eighteenth child, and the last survivor of the William Winters fold. Born on July 7, 1790, married W. W. Potter on March 20 of 1815 and became a widow in late September of 1840. She was never able to have children and spent her last thirty-five years caring for her friends and family. It was Lucy who made sure the Potter family burial grounds were cared for until her burial there in June of 1875. She was the last of six people buried there.
Those interred there were General James Potter, his first wife, Mary Patterson Potter, Hero Wade, the generals attendant for his entire military career and his first son James who died in his teens. The General fathered another son to his second wife, Mary Brown, and also named him James. Judge James Potter became one of Centre County’s renowned judges. Also buried there were his grandson W. W. Potter and his wife Lucy Winters Potter.
Due to a lack of care of the cemetery, four of the bodies were exhumed and taken to the Brown’s Mills Cemetery in Greencastle where the
General had been temporarily interred after his death. W.W. Potter and Lucy were interred in the Union Cemetery at Bellefonte.
Lucy kept very good family records and made searching her family history very easy. Another item in Linn’s History, which seems to have been submitted by Lucy, was that her father was the first settler in the area settling there somewhere around 1747 which was 45 years before the 1792 date the Lycoming Historical book states. By that date he already had eleven children and married his second wife.
In the Lycoming Historical book there is much written about squatters who settled there while the area still had many wild Indians. The book also mentioned that Hawkins Boone, who was a surveyor, had done surveys in the area, and was one of the squatters, long before the 1769 date when it was surveyed to develop the area.
There is another fact that makes it possible that Boone and the others had made a deal with the Indians for the land. Back in the Reading area where the Boone’s, Lincoln’s and Winters lived was a neighbor named Conrad Weiser who was the individual who worked with the Indians whenever there was a problem. Conrad Weiser also had settled a problem in Centre County between the Indians and the white man.
My next two stories will be about the history of General James Potter and a completely unknown Andrew Boggs. After that I will write complete histories on Judges Huston and Burnside as well as W. W. Potter and Lucy and finally in this series will be an article on the historical significances of the accomplishments of these people.
A couple of questions: Please send me an email if you know the answers: email@example.com
1. Who was General Potter’s most famous grandson?
2. What was the highest office that General Potter ever held?
3. Is it true that General Potter was the first white man to witness the present Centre County Area?
4. Who was the first white settler in what is now Centre County?