Sunday, October 18, 2020

Lowther Manor and the Shawnee presence in New Cumberland Borough

Evidence of the past can be found throughout Pennsylvania, often in closer proximity to us than we may realize. Sometimes, these clues may be found in the names of the roads we travel daily or in the creeks we take for granted. A little bit of curiosity and research can reveal little-known truths about an area. What began in March as a creek-side escape along the Yellow Breeches Creek from the stresses of lockdown, inspired me to want to learn more about the area and led to surprising revelations about the area directly across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In the 1730s, when colonial Pennsylvania was negotiating its boundaries with adjacent colonies and worried about the French expansion in the Allegheny Valley, the land along the Susquehanna River between the Conodoguinet and the Yellow Breeches creeks was part of a little known incident that reflects the complex political environment of the Pennsylvania frontier. The colonial government proposed to give this tract of land to the Shawnee, a Native American tribe who had migrated into the Commonwealth from the south. 

A little background is necessary to put this story in context. The invasion of North America in the 17th century by various European countries resulted in disease, warfare and the displacement of Native American tribes from their homelands. By the late 17th century, many tribes were searching for new homes. The Susquehannock Indians had controlled the Susquehanna Valley for more than a century but their power was broken by disease and a war with the Haudenosaunee (aka Iroquois) and by 1680 a political vacuum existed in the region. The Haudenosaunee recognized this issue and allowed the Susquehannocks (significantly reduced in numbers) to stay in the region with the promise they would not be involved with the fur trade. The Susquehannocks were not the only tribe suffering from the chaos caused by the European invasion. The Shawnee, originally living in Florida, had been moving north for several decades. The Haudenosaunee allowed them to move into the lower Susquehanna and also encouraged other tribes such as the Conoy and Nanticoke to do the same. There is some evidence that the Shawnee settled at the mouth of the Yellow Breeches Creek across from Harrisburg in what is now New Cumberland in about 1699. It is not clear how long they stayed at this location, maybe as late as 1728, but they eventually moved west to the Allegheny River as an increasing number of German and English immigrants moved into the area (Beckley 1973:8). 

Throughout the early 18th century, the French and English were colonizing lands around the world and competing for resources. During this time, world-wide tensions were building between France and Great Britain, eventually leading to the French and Indian War of 1756-1763. As part of that tension during the 1730s, the Pennsylvania colonial government was concerned with the activities of the French on their western border. Control of the Allegheny River Valley was crucial for the French to transport supplies and goods between the Louisiana Territory to the south, which they controlled, and Canada. The pacifist Quaker government did not believe in a standing army or militia. However, they did seem to be willing to attract Indian allies to do their fighting for them or at least act as a political barrier. In the winter of 1731, a communication was relayed to the Shawnee in the Allegheny Valley that a “large and convenient” tract of land (Lowther Manor) had been set aside for their accommodation. Lowther Manor (sometimes spelled Louther) was a 7551-acre area of land that was bound on the north by the Conodoguinet Creek, on the east by the Susquehanna River and to the south by the Yellow Breeches Creek. A straight line between the two creeks along St. Johns Church Road in modern-day Mechanicsburg formed the western boundary. This was an effort by the Pennsylvania colony to entice the Shawnee to return to the region that they had occupied many years earlier. 

This offer is considered to have been a bribe, in exchange for the Shawnee’s de facto alliance with the English Crown by way of proximity. This is no more clearly stated than in the Minutes of the Provincial Council, August 10, 1737, “all possible means ought to be used to prevent their defection and to keep them attached to the British Interest” (p.235). At the conclusion of this 1737 meeting, it was decided to send a present, valued at 10 pounds, to further entice the Shawnee (ibid). However, the Shawnee seemed to be satisfied with their home in Allegheny where they had independence and the French were supplying them with all they needed including muskets and gunpowder. An alliance with the Shawnee would reduce the number of Native Americans who supported the French and help the British to strengthen their defense against the French. The offer was not formally declined by the Shawnee until 1762, the reason for the 25-year delay is unknown.  

Today, not much more than a street name (Lowther Road) offers a clue to the largely forgotten past and its role in negotiating an effort to win the allegiance of the Shawnee. As a footnote of this event, Peter Chartier, a notable half-Shawnee/half-French trader and Shawnee leader,  was given rights in 1740 to purchase the plot of land indicated on the above map encompassing modern-day New Cumberland, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. According to Beckley (1973:11), this was one of the early settlements on the West Shore of the Susquehanna River. Over the next several years, Chartier occasionally returned to this area, although his primary settlement was in the Upper Ohio valley. In 1745, Chartier was referred to as a “Rebel against the King of Great Britain” as recorded in Minutes of the Provincial Council. Peter Chartier accepted the “French hatchet” and moved further west with the Shawnee. There is no record of him after 1759 (Beckley 1973:10). Chartier’s trading post in Lowther Manor was likely a safe distance from the river located between modern-day 15th and 16th Streets in New Cumberland (Beckley 1973:11). 

Left: a survey of Lowther Manor from 1765. Note Chartier’s Land not included in the survey. Right: The Historic map superimposed on modern imagery from Google Earth. The yellow lines are the historic roads which today roughly follow Market St./Carlisle Pike and Simpson Ferry Rd./Gettysburg Rd./Carlisle Rd. 

Nearby creeks, such as the Yellow Breeches provide an escape from the rigors of the “new normal” and a chance to imagine the resources that attracted people to this area. (image: Melanie Mayhew)

The Yellow Breeches remains a popular destination for fly fishing, bird watching, boating and tubing, with most modern visitors being unaware of its rich past. The land between the Conodoguinet and Yellow Breeches Creeks continues to be a major transportation corridor, rich with resources and providing easy access to trade routes. 

We hope you have found this post regarding community and local history of interest and encourage you to explore your own community. Preservation of our natural/historic resources begins with an appreciation of their origins and the impact those resources have had on our growth as a community and a Commonwealth.


Beckley, Gilbert W. New Cumberland Frontier. New Cumberland Old town Association.

Crist, Robert Grant (1993) Lower Allen Township: A History. Planks Suburban press, Camp Hill, PA
Donehoo, G. Patterson. (1995, 1928). Indian villages and place names in Pennsylvania. Baltimore: Gateway Press.

Hanna, C. A. (1911). The wilderness trail: Or, the ventures and adventures of the Pennsylvania traders on the Allegheny path (Vol. 2). GP Putnam's sons.

Pennsylvania Archives, Colonial Records, Volume IV, Minutes of the Provincial Council, Page 236
Pennsylvania Archives, Maps, Draughts of the Proprietary Manors in the Province of Pennsylvania, Page 35 

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Fort Hunter Flashback

The fall season brings to mind The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s excavations over the years at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park, a Dauphin County historic property on the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with our work at Fort Hunter, The State Museum’s Section of Archaeology’s annual excavations during the month of September and part of October have focused on areas around the current Fort Hunter mansion in hopes of finding structural evidence of the French and Indian War period fort. In these years, we uncovered archaeological evidence that shows the Fort Hunter site was in use by humans for thousands of years, beginning as a seasonal hunting and fishing site for Native Americans. This site has also been used as a family home and from which its name is derived and as a supply fort during the French and Indian War.

To begin our Fort Hunter “flashback” we will look at a few of the artifacts dating back to the prehistoric period. These artifacts include a Palmer corner-notched projectile point made in chert, which dates between 9800 and 9200 years ago; a metarhyolite broadspear, which dates between 3200 BP and 4850 BP; and a jasper Jack’s Reef corner-notched point, which dates between 1500 BP and 950 Bp. 

Note:  While teleworking from home over the past six months, the staff of the Section of Archaeology has been working hard to move our various artifact catalogue lists to Argus, a collections management program for all of the artifacts in the museum’s collections and it includes photographs. In addition, as part of Argus, we are sharing artifacts, including those from Fort Hunter and they are available to the public via the internet accessible Argus platform.

Let’s take a look at some interesting examples of prehistoric period artifacts we’ve excavated at Fort Hunter since 2006:

Palmer Projectile Point made in chert

Metarhyolite Broadspear 

Jasper Jack’s Reef Projectile Point 

Next, we will look at a few artifacts that date to the fort period.

One of these fort period artifacts is this three-inch iron cannonball, which was likely stored at Fort Hunter with the other supplies that were sent up the Susquehanna River to Fort Augusta at Northumberland, the major fort in the line of defense along the Susquehanna River.


Iron Cannonball 

Another fort period artifact is this brass star button, which may have belonged to one of the militiamen serving at Fort Hunter, although most of them did not have issued uniforms. The military didn’t designate regimental buttons until the Revolutionary War so there is no definitive way of determining if the button is a military issue.  The button may have also belonged to a member of one of the families that owned the mansion after the war.


Brass Star Button 

Additional possible fort period artifacts include gunflints. There are both English and French gunflints, which were held onto the gun by the “jaws” and when the trigger was pulled, the hammer came down causing a spark which ignited the gunpowder.

English Flint 

French Flint

There have also been other, more decorative, gun parts found at Fort Hunter including the following brass thumb and side plates.

Brass gun decorative sideplate

Brass gun decorative thumb plate

 Other interesting artifacts that have been found at Fort Hunter include a number of crucible fragments including the one below. These crucible fragments are most likely remnants from a blacksmith/gunsmith shop that was present on the property, used in the hot furnaces to melt down metals for gun repairs. 

Crucible fragment

We have also found many personal items at Fort Hunter, which include these green glass cuff links set in pewter, this brass stock buckle and several kaolin smoking pipe fragments. 

Green glass cufflinks

Brass Buckle 

Kaolin pipe fragments

We hope you have enjoyed looking back at some of the interesting artifacts we have found at Fort Hunter through the years. For additional information on the Fort Hunter artifacts and other collection’s, please visit the State Museum’s Argus website

We continue to do what we can to help preserve the past for our future during these tough times. We hope you explore all of the different sections of The State Museum and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission through Argus to learn more about what makes Pennsylvania what it is today.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .