Sadly, in the modern world violence has become such a common event that many have become insensitive to the horrific acts that permeate the news. While some are quickly forgotten, others remain fresh in our minds, especially when it comes to major acts of senseless violence that haunts our schools. The history of school violence predates these modern shootings by two hundred plus years, with the first in the Americas occurring on the Pennsylvania frontier in 1764.
I was in Greencastle in search of the Enoch Brown Memorial Park — a lasting memorial to the teacher and his students who lost their lives in the schoolhouse which once stood at that site. Arriving at the park, located northwest of town, I turned onto the narrow, dirt road that was lined with pine trees. I could see the memorial at the end of the tunnel of trees, which caused me to shiver at the tragedy that happened here so long ago.
Passing the pavilion and playground area, I found a place to park near the large memorial and walked over to it. After reading the memorial, I walked the short distance to the stone that marks the mass grave of those killed. Standing silently at the grave site, the stillness of the countryside seemed to grow quiet as if all of nature had joined me in a moment of remembrance.
The summer of 1764 was a very violent and bloody time on the Pennsylvania frontier. The Seven Years’ War – known in America as the French and Indian War – had ended only the year before with the Treaty of Paris. Though European countries had found a temporary state of peace, the war that had scarred the landscape and damaged the lives of those living on the American frontier, raged on. Due to the constant attacks and threats of warfare on the advancing settlements, the state of Pennsylvania offered a reward for any Indian scalp, male or female, taken from one who was over the age of ten.
With the promise of a monetary reward, settlers killed Indians at first sight and Indians retaliated by raiding the settlements even more than they had in the past. Tensions were high and both sides were spoiling for a fight. The result was known as Pontiac’s War, which started in 1763 and lasted through 1766. In the conflict, members of the Iroquois Nations joined together to fight the British in North America. People tend to think of the conflict as the British colonists versus the Indians, but it was not that clear cut – many Native Americans did not want to go to war and instead sought peace among the settlers. But the warring factions brought a reign of terror on the western frontier that swept all Indians – friendly or not – into a continual cycle of violence.
However, the Indians were not the only ones responsible for terrible and horrific crimes on the Pennsylvania frontier. On December 14, 1763, a group of men known as the Paxton Boys raided a peaceful Indian settlement at Conestoga, killing six of them. The remaining fourteen Conestogas were arrested for their safety and placed in the jail at Lancaster. On December 27, the Paxton Boys attacked again, breaking into the Lancaster jail and slaughtered the Conestogas being held there.
The spring of 1764 saw a number of raids into present-day Cumberland and Franklin Counties. Settlers knew that danger seemed to be behind every hill, bush and tree. But nothing would prepare the settlers for the terrible event that would occur in the summer of that year.
On July 26, 1764. one of the most horrific massacres of Pontiac’s War occurred. Located roughly three miles northwest of present-day Greencastle was a small schoolhouse run by Enoch Brown. Very little has been recorded about the life of Enoch Brown; however, he was described as a kindhearted school master who showed good Christian values.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary that morning as eleven students arrived at the schoolhouse for their lessons. The students included two girls and nine boys – Archie McCullough, Ruth Hale, Ruth Hart, Eben Taylor, George Dustan, two boys of the Dean family, plus four others whose names have unfortunately been forgotten over the years.
According to local legend, a number of students skipped class for one reason or another that morning, sparing their lives. If legend is true, then at least six children, if not more, had strange reasons as to why they were not in class – ranging from stopping to watch people cut hay to one girl who had a strange feeling of dread. One of the students who supposedly skipped school that day was a young James Poe, who would later become a noted Indian fighter on the Pennsylvania frontier.
While teaching the students that morning, the classroom was disrupted when three Delaware Indians barged into the schoolhouse. The trio, consisting of two elderly men and a young warrior, burst through the door bringing the day’s lessons to an end. Enoch obviously knew what was about to happen and in an attempt to save the lives of the children, he stepped forward and offered himself as a sacrifice. Enoch Brown was immediately struck down, beaten and scalped in front of his horrified students.
The taking of Enoch’s life did nothing to appease the raiders. They attacked the children next. One by one the children fell and were scalped.
The horrific scene was discovered a couple hours later by a passerby who was curious as to why the schoolhouse seemed so quiet. Looking inside the building, the terrible atrocity was discovered – Enoch Brown lay butchered in the center of the room, still holding onto the Bible he taught from. Around him were ten of the eleven students who attended class that day. The room was a bloody mess and the mangled bodies were lying in a large pool of blood.
Upon discovering this dreadful sight, the passerby ran to spread word. Soon families and neighbors arrived to claim their dead. A search of the area would discover the missing child who had survived the massacre. Archie McCullough was discovered washing his bloody, scalped head at the nearby spring that provided water for the schoolhouse.
Archie would later tell of how Enoch Brown offered his life for the safety of the children and how the trio attacked the defenseless children. Archie was struck on the head and brutally had a portion of his scalp ripped away. Once the raiders left the building Archie managed to hide himself behind the fireplace, afraid the Delawares would discover they had failed to kill him. After he was convinced they were gone, Archie crawled from the schoolhouse to the nearby spring where searchers discovered him. Archie would never mentally be the same again.
The families of the victims had a large box constructed and Enoch and the ten children would be buried in a mass grave near the schoolhouse.
Sadly, most residents forgot about the massacre and the mass burial of Enoch Brown and his pupils. Those familiar with the story thought it was merely a legend, because no identifiable grave could be located near the old schoolhouse. It would not be until the mid-1840s when the common grave was discovered by a group of men. They marked the grave with four locust trees.
In the spring of 1883, the four locust trees were cut down and, fearing the grave would be lost, a group of local men offered to purchase the land. On August 4, 1885, a granite marker was erected in honor of the victims of the massacre and at the location where the schoolhouse once stood a memorial to the tragic events was placed. Farther down the hollow from the grave site is the spring where Archie was discovered and it now bears his name.
As I stood there in silence, the only thing I could hear was the sound of insects buzzing. The sadness of this sacred place finally took its toll on me as a tear rolled down my cheek. I wiped it quickly away as I remembered the senseless violence that happened that terrible day.
I left the haunting memories of the past lingering in the hollow, remembering the sacrifice of the brave teacher as he attempted to protect his students and pupils — all who had become victims of the violence on the Pennsylvania frontier that terrible summer day in 1764 — and headed towards another nearby memorial to an event that happened almost one hundred years later.
The journey continues here: Corporal William Rihl.