On this day in 1778, Rachel Silverthorn makes a daring ride. Tradition has it that she volunteered for her mission when no man would! She has been called one of the Paul Reveres of the West Branch Valley in Pennsylvania.
At the time, a tense situation existed on the Pennsylvania frontier. The British had allied themselves with local Indian tribes, and Indian attacks were becoming more frequent. On June 10, local settlers were shaken when the Plum Tree Massacre occurred. A group of sixteen settlers was attacked by Indians. Several of the settlers, including women and children, were killed and scalped. That massacre was followed by another on July 3. Indians later collected monetary rewards for 227 American scalps.
You won’t be surprised to hear that such events precipitated the so-called “Big Runaway” (or the “Great Runaway”). Settlers were fleeing the area in droves. At least a few “Paul Reveres” showed great bravery during this time. Remember, these attacks were occurring on the frontier, so news was not so readily available. Settlers did not always know that their lives were in danger. Riders were needed to spread the news, and several people showed great bravery during this time.
One of these riders was a woman named Rachel Silverthorn. She had sought refuge in a local fort, Fort Muncy. Importantly, a Captain John Brady was also said to be there at the time.
Many people sought refuge in the fort! However, some men were still out in the field, under the protection of soldiers and militia, harvesting their crops.
Some men were doing exactly that on August 8 when they were attacked by Indians. Captain Brady’s son was there and was unfortunately shot, stabbed with a spear, and scalped. A survivor quickly rode to Fort Muncy with news of the attack. Obviously, other settlers in the area would need to be warned! Can you imagine what it must have been like to stand in Captain Brady’s shoes? He had just received devastating news, but he still needed to lead those at the fort. “Brave soldier that he was,” one local historian writes, “he controlled his own anxiety and grief and thought of the safety of other harvesting bands that had gone from the fort that morning.” He gathered the settlers and asked for a volunteer to ride, spreading word of the danger. He concluded with the thundering question, “Who will go on this errand of mercy?” At first, no one moved. The settlers were terrified! Of course they didn’t want to ride. Would they be riding to their death? It was at this moment that the young Silverthorn quietly volunteered. Reportedly, she sprang into the saddle of the captain’s horse and rode off before anyone could stop her.
Silverthorn accomplished her task. She warned the families in the area, who traveled to the safety of Fort Muncy. She herself made it back to the fort by nightfall, unharmed.
Wow. What a brave act. And what a girl.
P.S. The picture is a mural of Silverthorn. It hangs in a post office in Muncy, Pennsylvania.
- Atlas of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (Beach Nichols ed. 1873)
- John Franklin Meginness, History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (1892)
- John Franklin Meginness, Otzinachson: A History of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna (1889)
- Robin Van Auken & Louis E. Hunsinger, Williamsport: Boomtown on the Susquehanna (2003)
- William Henry Egle, History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1883)
- William W. Betts, Jr., The Hatchet and the Plow: The Life and Times of Chief Cornplanter (2010)
- Wyoming Commemorative Association, Wyoming: A Record of the One Hundredth Year Commemorative Observance of the Battle and Massacre, July 3, 1778-July 3, 1878 (1882)