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Long-lost manuscript lists more veterans of Revolutionary War

They were part of General George Washington’s greater combined army, which crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Eve 1776, attacked the British and Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey and after defeating them, went on to liberate Princeton in what became a major turning point in the war. That iconic crossing was depicted in Emmanuel Leutze’s famous painting.

A memorial was recently erected on the gravesite of one of those men: John Stryker (1724-1787) and his wife Judick Van Neste (1728-1801).

They were the first interments in the pioneer Stryker family burial ground, which would later become St. John’s Lutheran “Old Brick” Churchyard in Clinton Township.

How did Stryker and the names of 35 others come to light after over two centuries of silence for these unsung national heroes?

In 1981, while completing research on his book, “The Stryker Family In America,” the writer came upon a document printed in the 1896 annual volume of William Egle’s Notes and Queries. Egle was the state librarian from 1887 to 1889.

On Aug. 21, 1777, the men of Muncy Township signed the petition and addressed it to the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania reporting the election of two Justices of the Peace; Andrew Culbertson and Mordecai McKinney.

This manuscript was in the hands of county historian John Franklin Meginnes when he had it printed by Egle. It was a lengthy petition of several pages. But one small paragraph told an amazing story:

“We bravely stood a winter’s campaign in the Jerseys, where some of our brave young lost their lives, yet (it) did not in the least discourage us; of late, when our first two classes (Companies) of militia as soon as they received the alarm, left their harvests and helpless families and nobly marched to the defense of our metropolis (then Lancaster) and went as far as the verge of the county before they were countermanded; and they are still ready on any alarm to step forth at the command of authority to the aid and assistance our brethren in the defense of our glorious cause and country.”

The word “we” referred to Muncy Township at large. But, as all of the men there were required to be members of the Northumberland County Militia companies in 1776 — this was before Lycoming County was parceled out of Northumberland County — it is certain that all the signatories were members of that militia.

Of the surviving militia muster rolls from the 1770’s in the Pennsylvania Archives there are 102 soldiers’ names that remain unknown.

The petition provides us with 36 of those missing names and in 1982 the writer secured their registration with the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

They are alphabetized as follows:

David Austin, Matthew Blakely, Nathaniel Barber, Jonathan Benjamin, Daniel Brown, Michael Cady, James Chambers, John Coats, Robert Cole, Silas Cook, Peter Cool, Henry Cremer, Samuel Gordon, William Hammond, Adam Hegeman, James Hegeman, James Helms, James Hepburn, Jacob Houck, Michael Koons, Abraham Laguan, Cornelius Low, Thomas Newman, Sr. Thomas Newman, Jr., Ephraim Paul, Thomas Parton, Andrew Ross, Peter Smith, Thomas Snodgrass, John Stryker Sr., John Stryker Jr., Amariah Sutton, Samuel Sutton, John Thomson, Frederick Thorp, Minne Voorhees, Andrew Wortman and David Wortman.

All of these men were privates in either Captain Samuel Wallis’ company or Captain David Berry’s company of the Northumberland County Militia from 1776 through 1778. The six officers’ names in these companies have been preserved and all of them were signers of the above patriots petition.

So, where is this all-important historical document today?

Just three years after the 1896 publication, Meginness died and in January 1907, his widow Martha Jane Meginness sold it along with his entire historical collection to the James V. Brown Library in Williamsport for $500.

They are mentioned as new accessions in the library’s first annual report, 1908.

There, for almost 40 years, veritable Librarian Osmond R. Howard Thompson carefully maintained the manuscripts of this important cache of materials in the library’s vault.

On March 17, 1935, the West Branch of the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks and the water flooded the basement and reached a height of 22 inches in the library’s main floor soaking 17,000 books and an equal number of pamphlets.

However, the Meginness collection of rarities was moved out of harm’s way just in time and survived that epic deluge.

Confirming that fact is their listing among the library’s holdings in the Works Public Administration’s “Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in Pennsylvania” in 1939.

After Thompson died Dec. 22, 1943 at the age of 70, the library’s collection of historic documents was given over to the Lycoming County Historical Museum, which Thompson had arranged to be their part owner.

Then disaster struck once again and the manuscripts miraculously survived the museum’s devastating fire of Dec. 21, 1960.

The rescued documents were stored in various businesses and in the homes of trustees pending the rebuilding of their headquarters. However, that is where the trail runs cold.

The 1777 patriots petition was never seen again.

Other documents in the original Meginness collection have gradually been returned to the rebuilt Lycoming County Historical Society and Thomas Taber Museum as recently as 1995. However, the whereabouts of the 1777 patriots petition remains elusive to this day.