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.