In 1681, King Charles II handed over a large piece of his North American land holdings along the North Atlantic Ocean coast to Penn to pay the debts the king had owed to Penn’s father. This land included the present-day states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. William Penn purchased the area known as Paxtang, or “Paxto” from the Lenape Tribe.
In 1729 Paxtang Township of Lancaster County was established. The spelling “Paxtang” is from the original Indian name Peshtank, which meant “standing water”. The word “Paxton” is used today instead of Paxtang. Settling within the township during its colonial period were many German and Scotch-Irish immigrants. They established several farms and settlements throughout the area.
Paxtang is the site where Presbyterian Scots-Irish frontiersmen organized the Paxton Boys, a vigilante group that murdered twenty Native Americans in the Conestoga Massacre. On December 14, 1763, more than 50 Paxton Boys rode to the settlement near Millersville, Pennsylvania. They murdered six Natives and burned their cabin. Governor John Penn placed the remaining fourteen Conestogas in protective custody in Lancaster, but the Paxton Boys broke in, killed all fourteen people on December 27, 1763. In January 1764, 140 Natives living peacefully in eastern Pennsylvania fled to Philadelphia for protection. The Paxton Boys marched on Philadelphia in January 1764 with about 250 men. British troops and the Philadelphia militia prevented them from doing more violence.
Paxtang is home to the Old Paxton Church, one of the earliest in the area. It was built in 1740, the church is the oldest Presbyterian Church building in continuous use in Pennsylvania, and the second oldest in the United States. In 1726, the Rev. James Anderson of Donegal, Pennsylvania, became the first regular preacher. The history of the church is interwoven with the history of central colonial Pennsylvania.
In 1732, the congregation was officially organized as a Presbyterian Church by the Presbytery of Donegal, with the Rev. William Bertram as the first installed pastor. The Rev. John Elder, the “Fighting Parson,” became pastor in 1738. He was pastor during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War and served as a commissioned officer. The present stone sanctuary was erected in 1740, replacing a log meeting house which had previously served as the place of worship. A stone marker south of the sanctuary indicates the site of the log building. A replica of the log meeting house was erected north of the present sanctuary.
Adjacent to the church is a historic cemetery. Here lie the bodies of soldiers of the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. People who molded the early religious and political character of America are buried here, including John Harris II, William Maclay, the first United States senator from Pennsylvania, and four of the six commissioners who planned the town of Harrisburg with him in 1785. Ministers, legislators, farmers, teachers, men of affairs, and enslaved African Americans are buried here.
Elizabeth Moore, my 6th Great Aunt, was born in 1735 in Paxtang. She is the fourth of five children born to William Moore (1705-1767) and Mary Wickesham (1706-1763). She married James Forster (1728-1800) who was also born in Paxtang in 1757. They had 8 children, 4 sons, and 4 daughters. James served in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Liberty Company of Londonderry and a Frontiersman in 1775. Elizabeth died in 1805 at the age of 70.
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