Family Grows to Prominence from Humble Beginnings

By Robert B. Van Atta | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

Family Grows to Prominence from Humble Beginnings


Robert B. Van Atta, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


There was little to indicate the impact that Frederick Pfoerschin's arrival in America from the French province of Alsace in 1749 would have on Westmoreland County, the nation and the world. When he arrived at Philadelphia on Oct. 2, he had a term of indenture to work to pay for his passage to this continent.

He eventually Anglicized his name to Pershing, married Maria Elizabeth Weygandt, and in 1773 came to Westmoreland County from Frederick, Md. He located at what became the southern edge of Unity Township, then part of Mt. Pleasant Township. Not too long afterward, he built a mill on the headwaters of Nine Mile Run, a short distance from the future village of Lycippus.

The Pershings had four sons and two daughters. Two sons became Methodist ministers of note, Daniel and Conrad. About the latter survives a story of unique nature.

The Rev. Conrad Pershing accompanied Capt. Campbell's expedition against the Indians near Fort Ligonier during the 1792 uprising. It is related that when scouts located the Indian camp and made ready for an assault, Pershing insisted on a prayer. He prayed so loudly and fervently that he had to be requested to be silent.

When the assault was made, the Indian camp was found deserted, either from the noise of the nearby preaching or from scouts having detected the assault-ready militia. However, Pershing was requested to stay at home when forces took the field after that.

Some succeeding Pershing generations stayed in Pennsylvania and Westmoreland County. One grandson of Frederick's, John F. Pershing, migrated to Missouri by working his way down the Ohio River in the 1850s. He obtained a railroad track-laying construction job, married in 1859, and settled near Laclede, Mo. After a son was born, he served in the Union Army in the Civil War.

That son, a great-grandson of Frederick Pershing of Unity Township, was John J. Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe in World War I and became the nation's first six-star general since George Washington.

Three generations of the Oliphant family made a major impact in Fayette County during the 19th century. They were descendants of a Chester County resident, Indian trader Andrew Oliphant, who was involved with the ill-fated campaign of Gen. …

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