Trenton, Princeton, Philadelphia, New York, Valley Forge
The colonial historical fiction novel that I’m currently writing is set in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania during 1777. It was a frightening time for this county’s settlers, many of whom were Scot-Irish Presbyterians, on what was then part of the American frontier. Deadly, lightning-fast raids conducted by British-allied Iroquois war parties swept across the rural county while General George Washington and the ragtag Continental Army of ordinary men did their best to battle the highly-trained professional British army in the east.
The story of the people who tamed and defended Pennsylvania’s backcountry and fought in the Revolutionary War is dear to my heart—mostly because my ancestors were among them.
After conducting eight months of intensive research about that era on the Pennsylvania frontier, I needed to create the characters for my novel—and desiring to make them realistic, I knew where to turn for inspiration.
A previous visit to the old Warrior Run Presbyterian Church and burial ground in Northumberland County had impressed me with the number of church members who not only lived during the Revolutionary War period, but who served their fledgling country as soldiers in the war for independence. You may recall my July 9, 2014 article “The Warrior Run Presbyterian Church in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania” about this church.
The first time I visited the historic church grounds, a well-maintained stone wall near the church caught my eye—and I knew I needed to investigate the enclosed cemetery more closely.
After parking my car underneath several ancient shade trees, I spotted an old iron gate.The iron latch was frozen in place from infrequent use, but I persevered until it released and allowed me to swing open the heavy gate and enter the peaceful enclosure.
Inside the wall was a neatly laid out cemetery, the final resting place of many of the area’s early Scot-Irish Presbyterian settlers.
I was intrigued by the numerous American flags held in place by metal markers and wondered which war the honored person had fought in. Walking past flag after flag, I was stunned by the number of men who had fought in the American Revolutionary War.
These were the very men who defended their communities from Iroquois war parties and battled the British so the American colonists would be able to govern themselves.
These men were not professionally trained soldiers. They were ordinary men—farmers, shopkeepers, husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and friends—who did extraordinary feats to defeat the Iroquois and British Army—the most powerful Army on earth.
While some of these brave men traveled east and fought the British Army, others stayed home in Northumberland County and fought the British-allied Iroquois Indians whose goal was to destroy the homes and crops and lives of the settlers trying to eke out a living on what was then the American frontier.
The men and women whose final resting place is inside the protective stone wall of the Warrior Run Presbyterian Church’s cemetery are the people whose lives inspired the characters in my colonial historical novel. In their honor, my characters bear a mixture of some of their first and last names.
Let’s look at the gravestones of several American patriots and spend a quiet moment honoring those who put their lives on the line so that you and I can live a free life.
A heartfelt thank you to my cousin and fellow DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) member, Julie Kane Trometter, for driving to the Warrior Run Presbyterian Cemetery and taking several of the photographs for this article.
Photographs by ©Julie Kane Trometter
Photographs by ©Cynthia Howerter
Historic Warrior Run Presbyterian Church and Cemetery are located at 246 Warrior Run Boulevard, Turbotville, Pennsylvania.Read More
The colonial historical fiction novel I’m currently writing is set in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1777. Because I want my book to accurately reflect the Scot-Irish Presbyterians who lived in that area during the colonial time period, I have visited a number of local historical sites. Come along with me as we visit the 179-year-old Warrior Run Presbyterian Church and learn about Pennsylvania’s Scot-Irish settlers.
By the early 1700s, large numbers of Scot-Irish Presbyterians began emigrating from Northern Ireland to the American Colonies. Many of those who arrived at Philadelphia or several ports in Delaware began moving into Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In addition to building homes there for themselves, they established Presbyterian churches which remain to this day.
In June, 1769, land in Northumberland County was made available for purchase. Many of the Scot-Irish sold their Lancaster County properties and bought land in this new area – then the unsettled frontier of the colonies. And being a godly people, they brought their Presbyterian faith with them.
The original Warrior Run Church was built about 1775. It was a log building situated next to where the Warrior Run Creek emptied into the Susquehanna River near present day Watsontown, Pennsylvania. In 1779, British-allied Seneca Indians burned down the log structure during the “Great Runaway” – a terrifying time in central Pennsylvania when settlers ran away from the area to escape marauding Indian war parties.
Once the threat of Indian attacks in Northumberland County had passed, the congregation rebuilt the church, but on land farther away from the creek and the river. This second building, also a log structure, was large enough to hold 300 worshippers. It burned to the ground in 1833, cause unknown.
Two years later, the congregation built the current building just feet away from where the second structure had stood. The congregants meant for their third building to last. Constructed with a limestone foundation and red brick walls, the one-story building is in the Greek Revival style.
Each of the church’s 13 windows contains 28 individual panes of original glass – a lavish expense when the rural church was built in 1835. As I looked through the windows, I noted the delightful bubbles and waves found in old glass.
The exterior shutters are functional. They were designed to be opened during warm weather to help cool the sanctuary and closed during winter to help keep the building warm.
The floor of the four-columned front portico is made from bricks and edged with limestone blocks.
Notice the herringbone pattern on the portico’s floor. Because limestone is plentiful in this section of Northumberland County, it was used as a base for the church’s foundation and porch.
On Sunday mornings, the congregants entered the large church via the two front doors.
The interiors of the old Presbyterian churches are austere. Because Presbyterians wanted to focus on worshipping God, their sanctuaries were devoid of “decorations” that could distract the people sitting in the pews.
Notice the lack of lighting inside the sanctuary. The Warrior Run Church never had electricity—or heat—installed. While the church is still used for special occasions, services are mostly held during the daytime in warmer months.
During the early 1800s, many members of rural Presbyterian churches actually paid rent in order to have their own pews. One of my Scot-Irish ancestors, Colonel John Kelly – a Revolutionary War officer from Northumberland County, rented Pew 33 in the nearby Buffalo Crossroads Presbyterian Church.
The main characters in my novel are Scot-Irish Presbyterians who purchased land in Northumberland County after leaving their home in Lancaster County. Their lives on the Pennsylvania frontier were fraught with danger. At times, it was difficult to distinguish a friend from an enemy. In such a sparsely populated area, the lines between right and wrong, good and evil could easily have been blurred. When the Indians massacred their families and friends, no settler would have been criticized had they decided to quit and leave. But along with their unwavering Presbyterian faith, the determination to succeed that had accompanied their fathers from Scotland to Northern Ireland had traveled with the sons across the Atlantic. These new Americans brought that same persevering spirit with them when they moved into Pennsylvania’s wilderness – and when they chose to fight for American independence from Britain. During that dangerous and frightening era, the Scot-Irish Presbyterians set an exemplary example for us to follow in today’s unsettling times.
As we leave Warrior Run Presbyterian Church, please look in the background of the final photograph for a glimpse of the adjacent cemetery. In August, I will discuss how I found the names for the characters in my novel by walking through this cemetery.
Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter
Historic Warrior Run Presbyterian Church is located at 246 Warrior Run Boulevard, Turbotville, Pennsylvania.Read More
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in a house built during colonial times? For over 60 years, my aunt and uncle and their children lived in a brick farmhouse built in 1779 in Pennsylvania. As a frequent guest, I had a unique view of the old house and its history.
Acquiring the Land –
In 1773, John Montgomery acquired farm land in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. Located near the center of the state, this area was part of the American frontier. After choosing a site for his house, John and his sons began clearing the land, using some of the cut trees to build a log cabin. A spring located about 80 feet away from the house provided the family with fresh water.
The Scary Summer of 1779 –
During the summer of 1779, British troops, allied Indians, and Tories terrorized this area, burning settlers’ cabins and barns and massacring those who resisted. Hearing spirited gunfire from nearby Fort Freeland on July 28, three miles distant, John sent two sons to investigate. Upon their return, the boys reported that the small fort was under siege by a large group of Indians, British, and Tories. John promptly loaded his wife and children into the wagon along with the few possessions they could grab and fled to the safety of Fort Augusta, some 25 miles away.
A New Beginning –
When peace was restored to the area, John and his family returned to their farm and found their cabin in ashes, the British and Indians having burned it the same day of the Fort Freeland attack. Close to the site of the log cabin, John built a two-story brick home. As a child, I marveled at the 1779 date carved into one of the house’s foundation stones.
A Wedding Gift –
When my aunt and uncle married in 1944, they were given the farmhouse and adjoining farm as a wedding present from the groom’s parents. This generous gift provided over 60 years of incredible experiences for my aunt and uncle, their children, and their extended family.
The Kitchen –
The house’s original source of heat was a large brick cooking fireplace in the kitchen. During the bitter Pennsylvania winters, heat produced in such fireplaces went straight up the chimney and left the room cold and drafty. At some point, possibly in the 1800s, a wood burning cook stove was installed to the right of the fireplace, replacing the hearth cooking. After 20th century renovations, an electric stove replaced the wood burning cook stove.
The Pantry –
Food was stored in the pantry, a large room separate from the kitchen. Along three walls, numerous ten-foot tall doors covered ceiling-to-floor shelves of home-made canned goods, dry goods, and kitchen equipment. My aunt’s delicious homemade cookies were kept in a cookie jar on the counter. I accompanied my older cousins on many daring cookie raids while Auntie was occupied elsewhere in the large house.
Heat and Light Come to the Old House –
During the early 1940s, electricity was installed throughout the farmhouse and a coal-fired furnace was set up in the basement, providing heat for the first floor only. The second floor was never heated.
Running Water –
Until the mid-1960s, the only indoor plumbing consisted of a small metal hand pump and sink in the kitchen that had been installed around 1900. Because its water source was the natural spring close to the house, the water was c-o-l-d year round. In order to get water for drinking or chores, one had to prime the pump (pump the handle numerous times) until water traveled through the pipe from the spring to the pump in the kitchen where it poured out of the spigot. The water drained from the sink into a pipe that exited the house and ran above the ground to a nearby muddy leech bed, a trap for the shoes of unsuspecting city cousins.
The Secrets in the Wood Paneling –
The kitchen wall containing the fireplace was covered with wood paneling, but a close inspection revealed two doors cleverly hidden in the wood work to the left of the fireplace.
The Necessary Room –
Behind the small hidden door next to the fireplace was a tiny walk-in room, about 4-feet wide x 4-feet deep x 4-feet high. Due to its low ceiling, a child could easily stand while an adult had to bend. Coat hooks protruded from a wood strip along its three walls. Because no plumbing had been installed in the house when I was a little girl, a chamber pot sat in the middle of the floor. As a toddler, this “necessary room” was my first introduction to colonial life. And hardship. During winter, a person could choose whether they used the chamber pot in the cramped room or braved the bitter cold in the small unheated privy that stood in a corner of the rear yard, about 200 feet from the house. As a small child who lived in a house with modern conveniences, neither choice looked good to me during a visit on a severely cold Christmas Day, nor was I anxious to return until warm weather arrived.
The Hidden Staircase –
To the left of the necessary room, another door concealed a narrow curved staircase which led to the master bedroom directly above the kitchen. This room received heat from the brick kitchen chimney, although in the middle of winter, the lack of insulation in the house walls, basement, and attic still made the room unbearably cold.
Unheated Bedrooms –
Because no heat had been installed on the second floor where all of the bedrooms were located during the 60 years my aunt and uncle lived in the house, people only went into their bedrooms to sleep. As one of my cousins explained, “Before going to bed at night, you laid out the next day’s clothing so you could jump out of bed the next morning and dress as quickly as possible before hurrying downstairs.” After one teeth-chattering over-nighter during the winter, I saved my long visits for summer months.
Wavy-glass Windows –
Single-paned wavy-glass windows were equally spaced in each room on the first and second floors. In winter, heavy curtains vainly attempted to stop cold from entering through the thin glass and wood frames.
The Secret Ingredient in the Plaster Walls –
Original plaster containing protruding horse-hair covered the interior walls.
Priceless Handmade Chestnut Flooring –
The floors were made of wide chestnut planks, burnished to a honey-gold patina through the years. Due to shrinkage, there were gaps between the floor boards. Square nails held the boards to large beams in the basement that still carried axe marks.
A Time to Say Goodbye –
Several years after my uncle passed, the house, then 228-years old, was sold. While I’m no longer able to spend time there, I’m grateful for my many memories.
Please note: the photographs are not of my aunt and uncle’s house, but of houses similar to theirs.