I recently traveled again to Penn's Valley. And I remembered the soldiers. After scouring maps and historical references to the fallen men, my sister and I tried once more to find their graves. This time we succeeded.
Turning off the main highway onto a narrow dirt farm lane, we quickly came upon the grave site. Pamela had been right—one could clearly see the main highway from the burial site. I was stunned that I hadn't noticed the gravestone in all the years that I'd traveled that road.
|The graves of Thomas Van Doran and Jacob Shadacre in Centre County, Pennsylvania|
As a historian, I had to know the story behind the inscription on the grave marker. Thus began a search for Thomas Van Doran and Jacob Shadecre.
Penn's Valley—like all of the Pennsylvania back country—had been hit hard by raiding Indians during the Revolutionary War, especially in 1778. The four Iroquois tribes that allied with the British conducted devastating raids, burning houses and barns, killing livestock and people, and abducting settlers.
After the settlers planted their crops in the Spring of 1778, Indian raids in this frontier area forced them to flee their farms and seek safety east of the Susquehanna River. Summer arrived and the abandoned crops were ready to be harvested. Warily, some settlers returned. But new Indian raids threatened to drive them from the area before the harvest could be completed.
On the eastern side of Pennsylvania, Colonel Daniel Broadhead and his 8th Pennsylvania Regiment left Valley Forge on June 11th. They had spent the harsh winter of 1777-1778 there with General George Washington. The Regiment marched to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, arriving on July 8th. News of recent Indian raids in Pennsylvania's back country reached Carlisle and resulted in Colonel Broadhead being ordered to march his regiment up the Susquehanna River and drive out the warriors so the settlers could safely return to their farms.
Broadhead's men left Carlisle on July 12th and followed the Susquehanna River northward until they reached the confluence of the river's North and West Branches about July 20th, the site of Fort Augusta.
At Fort Augusta, Colonel Broadhead gave orders to Captain John Finley to march his company of about twenty-five men to Penn's Valley. Thomas Van Doran and Jacob Shadecre, young soldiers in the prime of their lives, served in Finley's unit.
Captain Finley led his soldiers to Fort Potter in Penn's Valley. This small fort, built by General James Potter the previous year, stood on a knoll that provided a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
Correspondence written by General Potter at his fort near the end of July reveals that the farmers in this area had generally returned. On July 24th, Finley's men left the safety of Potter's Fort and spread out across the valley. Thomas Van Doran and Jacob Shadecre walked together to a farmer's field—the same field you see in the photo below.
|Thomas Van Doran and Jacob Shadacre were killed in this field|
There, within sight of the fort, five Indian warriors surprised the two soldiers and engaged them in a fight. A well-aimed bullet abruptly ended Thomas's life. Jacob tried to put distance between himself and the Indians, running about 400 yards as a warrior pursued him. The Indian caught up to Jacob and they engaged in hand-to-hand combat, fighting for their lives with knives. Jacob killed his attacker.
But his victory was short-lived. Another Indian fired a shot that stole Jacob's life. His body lay on the ground, barely fifteen feet from the warrior he had slain.
Fellow soldiers from Finley's company buried the two young men next to each other at the edge of the field.
|DAR Monument and grave marker honoring Thomas Van Doran and Jacob Shadacre|
In 1900, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) erected the monument at Thomas and Jacob's graves, honoring the Revolutionary War soldiers who followed orders and gave up their lives on a sunny July day so that people like you and me could live on their property without fear of attack.
|DAR grave marker honoring a Revolutionary War soldier|
Photographs by ©2017 Cynthia Howerter
Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter grew up playing in Fort Rice, a Revolutionary War fort owned by family members, and lived on land in Pennsylvania once called home by 18th century Oneida Chief Shikellamy. Hunting arrowheads and riding horses at break-neck speed across farm fields while pretending to flee from British-allied Indians provided exciting childhood experiences for Cynthia and set the stage for a life-long love of all things historical. A descendant of a Revolutionary War officer and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), history flows through Cynthia's veins.