The staff of the John and Kathryn Zimmerman Center of Susquehanna Heritage recently discovered a photograph of a previously unknown drawing of General Jacob Dritt (d.1817). The drawing is unsigned, but it is so similar in style to the many hundreds of original drawings done by folk artist Lewis Miller that it can almost certainly be attributed to Miller. (Those drawings were published recently by the York County Heritage Trust, now York County History Center, in a volume entitled Lewis Miller’s People. The book, identifying over 700 York countians of 200 years ago, is available at the York County History Center book stores and through the YCHC website.)
The newly found image is on display at the Zimmerman Center, which was General Dritt’s residence 200 years ago. It is stamped on the reverse: “J.E. Jeffries New Photograph Gallery, No. 6 West Market St., York, Pa.” According to York County History Center files and directories, Jeffries studio was at that address from about 1877 to 1886. The YCHC has a similar period photograph of a Lewis Miller drawing of James Smith, York County’s Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Once photography became practical, photographs of original art work was not uncommon in the days long before photocopiers and scanners.
Jacob Dritt is written in pencil at the bottom of the photo. Besides the photographer’s name stamp on the reverse, there is also, in pen and ink, “Jacob Drit, Great Grandfather, General in Revolutionary War,” and in pencil, “Grandfather Dosch’s sister was his wife.” The small photo was framed, and on the backing someone printed, “L. F. (Dick) Crouse’s Great, Great Grandfather, Col. Jacob Dritt—Rev. War.” As outlined below, Dritt did indeed participate in the Revolutionary War, but as a Captain. He attained the General title around 1800 for his Pennsylvania Militia duties. Those notations do sound like it was passed down through several generations and help to authenticate that the portrait is of Jacob Dritt.
Lewis Miller’s People does include a drawing of the Jacob Dritt who was Chief Burgess (similar to Mayor) of the Borough of York in the 1830s. That Jacob is very probably the son of General Dritt, as the elder Dritt was lost in the Susquehanna River in 1817. The recently acquired image might be the only know likeness of General Dritt.
About ten years ago, I did a good bit of research on General Jacob Dritt and wrote one of my regular York Sunday News columns on Dritt and his home at Long Level. The column, slightly updated, is below:
The River Rolls On
The mighty Susquehanna River embraces York County to the east and to the north and helps define who we are. The county historical societies of both Lancaster and York counties mounted major exhibits on Susquehanna River history in 2006.
Spectacular views of its curves are one of the prime appeals of the controversial Susquehanna Riverlands Park, a hot news topic a few years ago. The Susquehanna made news as America’s most endangered river in 2005 because of alarm over residential, agricultural, and industrial pollutants poured into the stream.
Settlers started using our section of the Susquehanna for transportation and commerce 275 years ago, Native Americans long before that. The river defies taming. Strong currents and a rocky, uneven riverbed defy navigation. Huge slabs of ice sometimes escape the banks and wipe away anything in their path. Much of the York County shore is the nearly inaccessible rugged steep bluffs of the river hills.
One lengthy stretch of open shore is Long Level in Lower Windsor Township. Old maps show that a major road led east from York to East Prospect (now PA 124), continuing down Bank Hill Road (now partly closed) to the river bank. From there travelers took the Blue Rock Ferry, established by Thomas Cresap around 1730, across the river to the road through Millersville to Lancaster. Cresap land was patented and the ferry chartered by Maryland, who claimed that their province extended to the 40th parallel, north of present-day York.
Pennsylvania settlers, anticipating the formal purchase of lands west of the Susquehanna “to the setting of the sun” from the Native Americans in 1736, claimed the same area. Hostilities broke out, culminating in the burning of Thomas Cresap’s house and his arrest and imprisonment in Philadelphia. Cresap sold the land soon after to John Moyer/Meyer and moved on to western Maryland. Meyer built a substantial stone mansion house around 1758. Surveyor George Stevenson drew up a plan in 1765, attesting that it was the same land as Cresap’s 1729 Maryland patent. Stevenson indicated buildings, including the mansion and the place “said to be” the location of Cresap’s burned house. The latter would have become part of the Tidewater Canal bed.
Meyer continued to operate the Blue Rock Ferry, as did Jacob Tritt/Dritt, who bought the property from the Meyer family. Jacob Dritt (1746-1817) was the son of Peter Tritt, of Swiss ancestry, who had emigrated from Alsace to this area. Dritt’s name is most prominently associated with the house and area today, probably because he was a Revolutionary War hero and a prosperous landowner and businessman. He also met with a newsworthy end.
During the Revolutionary War Jacob Dritt was commissioned a Captain in Colonel Michael Swope’s battalion under Brigadier General James Ewing. These York County forces went to assist General Washington at Fort Washington on the Hudson River at New York City. After valiant fighting, Dritt was taken prisoner, along with numerous other local soldiers on November 16, 1776, and remained captive for about two years. Captured officers, including Dritt, were eventually housed in private homes in the village of New Utrecht on the western end of Long Island. The British provided little for the prisoners, who survived by helping their oppressed hosts catch fish for food.
After his eventual release and return to York County, Dritt purchased the tract that included the mansion house, and outbuildings. He prospered there for nearly 40 years. Dritt’s landholdings reportedly totaled thousand of acres, including the river islands near the eastern bank. He operated the ferry, a saw mill, and mills that processed grain and flax. He reportedly dealt in wine and spirits and served as Justice of the Peace. Sometime after the Revolutionary War, Dritt was named a Major General in the Pennsylvania Militia.
On the 17th of December in 1817, 71-year-old Jacob Dritt ignored the concerns of his son, who lived at the Lancaster County terminus of the ferry. He attempted to cross the Susquehanna even though currents were running strong and high. The river was filled with large chunks of ice. His craft was swiftly swept downstream, capsizing off Turkey Hill. The York Gazette of March 19, 1818 carried the following item “General Dritt Found. The Baltimore Patriot mentions that a man supposed to be General Dritt, from papers found on him with a sum of money, was found on the Eastern Shore, Kent County, Maryland.”
In July 1818 the mansion house and land were transferred from Jacob Dritt’s estate to his daughter Margaret, wife of Judge Samuel Bonham. Later owners were Detwiler, Welsh, Marsh, Gnau, Leibhart, Wallick and Zimmerman. The Meyer/Dritt mansion house has been accurately restored in the past 20 years by John and Kathryn Zimmerman, and they presented the property in 2007 to the organization that is now Susquehanna Heritage. It sits proudly overlooking the broad Susquehanna, ready to witness the next chapter in the life of one of America’s premier rivers.