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KLINGENSMITH (Clingersmith, Clinglesmith), PETER, known as White Peter, settler; b. c. 1772 in Pennsylvania; m. Molly Ann —, and they had several children (one daughter was adopted); d. 1855 or 1856 in Nanticoke, Upper Canada.

Members of the Klingensmith (originally Klingenschmidt) family were early settlers in Westmoreland County in western Pennsylvania. This region was subjected to Indian raids during the American revolution, and on 2 July 1781, as related by Colonel James Perry, a war party attacked the “small Garrison” assembled at the home of one “Philip Clinglesmith,” several families having gathered there for protection. Most of the group were killed, including the immediate family of nine-year-old Peter Klingensmith, who was taken prisoner. The attack may have been made by Munsee Delawares from the upper Allegheny River in retaliation for the destruction of their town two years earlier by American troops under Colonel Daniel Brodhead. These loyalist Indians subsequently attached themselves to the Senecas of western New York and after 1784 settled with them on the Grand River, in what later became Upper Canada.

For a decade Peter’s fate remained unknown. Then in 1791 members of the Hoover family, who had known the Klingensmiths in Westmoreland County, settled north of Lake Erie in Walpole Township. They apparently met White Peter (as he was then known) and discovered his original name. Traditions preserved in both Canada and Pennsylvania relate that they persuaded him to visit his former home, where relatives welcomed him but would not accept his wife, a member of one of the Six Nations tribes. According to a Westmoreland County historian, George Dallas Albert, who dated the visit to about 1800, Peter had hoped to claim his parents’ property but was unable to prove his identity. Whatever the precise circumstances, he returned to the Grand River.

Although he evidently did not serve in the War of 1812, Klingensmith effectively supported the British cause. John Baptist Askin* later recalled that Klingensmith by his warnings, made “to the emenent danger of his own pate,” had been “instrumental” in saving three militia officers (Thomas Talbot, George C. Salmon, and Robert Nichol*) from the murderous depredations of a party of “vagabonds” led by John Dixon, a marauder who ravaged Long Point following the American invasion of the region in 1814. An “honest, peaceable and industrious Inhabitant,” Klingensmith subsequently settled in Walpole Township on lot 4 of concession 1, where by 1827 he had erected “a good frame barn, and sheds – well shingled and weather boarded.” Six years later he purchased the eastern half of lot 6, becoming the first settler on the site of present-day Nanticoke.

Although Klingensmith had a large family, only some of his children appear to have settled with him in Walpole. About 1825, according to his will, Sarah (Sally) O’Brian, a two-year-old girl, was left by her mother with the Klingensmiths and they raised her as their child. Peter’s wife had apparently died before 1851, when the census return for Walpole listed Peter and six others as residing in a one-storey frame-house. The occupants included Sarah and her husband, John Shuler, and Eliza Clingersmith, aged six. All seven were identified as Indians and as members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada. Elsewhere in the township lived John Clingersmith, a 26-year-old labourer who was possibly a son or a grandson of Peter. Other probable children joined the Moravian Indian mission at New Fairfield (Moraviantown), on the Thames River in the western part of the province. Among these were a white girl from the Grand River, Pahellau, baptized in 1834 as Ketura and identified then as a member of either the Munsee or the Mahican nation (her mother’s tribe), and her brother, also from the Grand River, Peter Clensmith (Klingersmith), who was baptized in 1844 as John Peter. He and his family thereafter used Peter as a surname. Other relatives, identified variously as Clingersmith, Clinansmith, Clingsmith, and Clinger, joined the mission at later dates.

Peter Klingensmith, a figure of more importance in the context of popular narrative than of history, died either in 1855, the date which appears on his grave marker at the Union Cemetery, Nanticoke, or early in 1856 (his will was registered on 13 February). He left his farm to Sarah Shuler and bequeathed a horse to his eldest son, “Fisjary (formerly called High flyer).”

William A. Hunter

AO, RG 1, C-IV, Walpole Township, concession 1, lot 4, J. B. Askin to Thomas Clarke, 13 June 1827. Haldimand Land Registry Office (Cayuga, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Walpole Township, 1, concession 1, lot 6 (mfm. at AO, GS 2771); Deeds, Walpole Township, 2: 731 (will of Peter Klingensmith) (mfm. at AO, GS 2776). Moravian Arch. (Bethlehem, Pa.), Indian mission records, box 166 (New Fairfield diaries, 1825–51); box 168, folder 4 (New Fairfield reg., 1870–1903); box 313, folder 8 (reg., including New Fairfield to 1870). PAC, RG 5, A1: 16395–98, 69624–30; RG 31, A1, 1851, Walpole Township (mfm. at AO). Pennsylvania archives . . . , ed. Samuel Hazard et al. (9 ser. in 119 vols., Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1935), 1st ser., 9: 240–41; 12: 155–58. U.S., Bureau of the Census, Heads of families at the first census of the United States taken in the year 1790; Pennsylvania (Washington, 1908), 262–63. Pennsylvania German pioneers: a publication of the original lists of arrivals in the port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808, comp. R. B. Strassburger, ed. W. J. Hinke (3v., Norristown, Pa., 1934; repr., 2v., Baltimore, Md., 1966), 1: 212–15, 678–81. G. D. Albert, “The frontier forts of western Pennsylvania,” Pa., Indian forts commission, Report of the commission to locate the site of the frontier forts of Pennsylvania (2v., [Harrisburg], 1896), 2: 379–80. K. [N.] Brueton, Walpole Township centennial history ([Jarvis, Ont., 1967]), 7–9. History of the county of Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men, ed. G. D. Albert (Philadelphia, 1882), 721. [I. D. Rupp], Early history of western Pennsylvania, and of the west . . . by a gentleman of the bar . . . (Pittsburgh, 1848), app., 259.

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Cite This Article

William A. Hunter, “KLINGENSMITH, PETER, White Peter,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/klingensmith_peter_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/klingensmith_peter_8E.html
Author of Article:   William A. Hunter
Title of Article:   KLINGENSMITH, PETER, White Peter
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   September 24, 2023