Muncy’s female Paul Revere: Rachel Silverthorn rode to warn of attack
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)
As Paul Revere rode a horse to alert patriots of impending British invasion, so too did Rachel Silverthorn in early parts of eastern Lycoming County.
Silverthorn was dispatched to alert settlers of attack by Indian raiders, British loyalists known as Torys, and troops sent by England’s King George in the late summer of 1778, according to local historian John F. Meginness in his 1892 “History of Lycoming County.”
Accounts of her daring are briefly alluded to by Meginness and are depicted in a mural at the Muncy Post Office. It shows the woman riding a white stallion, believed to be owned by Capt. John Brady, as she alerted settlers of impending attack.
Indians constantly were on the watch for “stragglers” who ventured outside of Fort Muncy, Meginness said.
They either would be attacked by individuals who favored and supported British rule or by the natives, most of whom were supportive of the British and also believed the colonists were an invading force, according to Meginness.
On the appearance of the Indians, Silverthorn notified an individual, identified by Meginess as David Aspen, to leave his cabin for a place of safety.
Aspen, who is considered to have been one of the first white settlers to camp out at what would become the borough of Hughesville, would not survive into the cooler months that year.
Aspen listened to Silverthorn and fled his cabin, making a hasty retreat to Fort Muncy. There, at the farm of Samuel Wallis, he would remain relatively safer than exposed at his cabin.
But, when Aspen ventured away from the fort and did not return, a search was made. His body was found shot and scalped in an area that would become Muncy Township, Meginness said.
“Rachel Silverthorn spent one day in the history books,” said William Poulton, executive director of the Muncy Historical Society. “We don’t know where she was born or her family. She rode into the pages of history. Legend has it she took a white stallion and rode up through Muncy Valley and along Muncy Creek, warning settlers.”
Then, Poulton said, she disappeared.
The reason that little else is known about Silverthorn may have to do with sexism. Meginness lists a petition of those who were at Fort Brady and, while there are men with the last name of Silverthorn, no women are listed.
“Most petitions were signed by men,” Poulton said. “There isn’t much reference to women during the colonial period.”
There is no record of where Silverthorn died or is buried, he said.
“I’d love to be able to solve it,” Poulton said.
The mural at the post office was completed during the 1930s as part of a Works Progress Administration project, Poulton said.
These projects involved sending artists into communities to spend time with the locals and ask them what was important to them in their local history. In this case, Silverthorn’s legendary ride warning settlers of impending doom was on their minds, Poulton said.
Muncy isn’t the only place where Silverthorn’s name has been known. Her legend, bravery and spirit inspired the owners of a tavern in Hughesville to name it Silverthorn.