A Murder at White Rocks
The Polly Williams Story, Year 1810
There is a fascinating story about a young woman named Polly Williams. An ancient ballad tells the tale and a new marble tombstone marks the final resting place of the victim in a classic Fayette County tragedy. Polly Williams met her end at the foot of a nearby mountain precipice - and the foul deed was done, the ballad insists, by a "faithless lover." It happens in 1810...
Polly was a beautiful blonde 18-year old, the daughter of an impoverished family that had settled near New Salem. Then less than 10 years old, New Salem was a straggling village sometimes called "Muttontown" because of the number of stolen sheep supposedly turned up there. The young girl became a servant to the well-off Jacob Moss family and was soon accepted by them as a member of the family. She attracted the eye of the handsome Philip Rogers, a neighbor five years older than her. When Polly's family moved west in 1808, she stayed behind and everyone accepted that a wedding was in the offing. But Rogers keep putting off the date and, after two years, Poly became melancholy and confided to the Mosses that she feared Philip meant to kill her.
Mrs.Moss pleaded with her to break the engagement, but Polly cried and said she must marry him, even if it meant her death, because she could not live without him. In August of 1810, Philip told her he had arranged with a squire who lived on the slope of Chestnut Ridge to marry them. Happily, dressed in her best, Poly set out with Philip for the 14-mile walk. The next day, four children picking blackberries found her crumpled body at the foot of White Rocks, a steep outcropping about three miles east of the Hopwood-Fairchance Road. Polly was still clutching a piece of laurel bush in her hand where she had apparently ripped it out as she fell from the top of the cliff.
Her body was carried to the Nixon Tavern (thereafter known as the Polly Williams' House) at the corner of North Main and Elm in Fairchance, located where the Elizabeth and Frank Kovach, Sr. house now stands, and a coroner was called in from Uniontown . They found that it was more than just a fall; Polly's forehead had been bashed in, apparently by a rock. She laid at the Tavern and, since no one in the vicinity knew her, was buried in a small nearby cemetery. After a few days, Mr. Moss finally heard the story and, his suspicions aroused, had the grave opened and the authorities were contacted. Sheriff Jacob Harbaugh went to the Rogers home to see Philip. As he arrived he heard Roger's mother berating him for taking up such "trash."
The sheriff arrested him for murder, although Rogers denied pushing Polly off the cliff. He said they had quarreled and separated, implying she had lost her way and fell from the top of the rocks. The Rogers family spared nothing in Philips defense, even bringing in Senator James Ross from Pittsburgh to act as his lawyer. Despite the judge's comment that the evidence against Rogers was "very strong," the jury acquitted him. The trial lasted less than a day. Nevertheless, Rogers was condemned by public opinion. He moved to the Greensboro area of Greene County, where he worked as a stone mason. He married and raised family before he died at the age of 74. He never admitted the murder. The cemetery Polly was buried in is now know as the Little White Rock Cemetery. Her Tombstone has a epitaph that may have been taken from the ballad.
Behold with pity, you that pass by,
The original stone was defaced by souvenir hunters, and in 1931, the Polly Williams Sunday School Class of the Little White Rock Church replaced it with a new marker. This tombstone also fell victim of the ravages of time and in September,1972, the class erected a third stone, this one of marble. It bears the same tragic description There have been several accounts of the story of Polly Williams and White Rocks. One, by Ashbell Fairchild Hill, a novelist from German Township, was published in 1865. Although interesting reading, the book has very little semblance of truth, except for the locations. Another was part of the book, "Rosa and Elsa" by Elizabeth Curstead. She devoted a chapter of her book to places of historical interest and included the legend of White Rock and Polly Williams. She researched the story thoroughly and came up with what is probably the most accurate account of what actually happened.
Editors Note: John and I have made the trip to White Rocks to metal detect. We will be metal detecting up there again soon and will keep you posted of what we find.
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