|Grave of Dorcas Buchanan|
Already, I know you are scratching your head and asking: "Who is she and why is she important?" I know because I did the same thing the first time I heard of the name. Though known to local historians, those outside the region have probably never heard of her. In fact, the first time I visited the old cemetery, I had no idea who she was or her importance in local history.
The old cemetery is hidden among the maze of streets in the heart of Lewistown. The cemetery is at the junction of East Water and North Brown Streets; though they look like they are main roads in the town, I don't think I've seen ten vehicles driving on them during the three trips I've made to the old cemetery.
It was first brought to my attention by my sister who had "discovered" it one day and, knowing my love of older cemeteries, brought it to my attention. The cemetery isn't very big, but it was filled with the residents of years gone by; many of the stones had been broken or were missing either due to time or vandalism.
The approach into the cemetery was through two rusty gates along North Brown Street. One of the stone pillars has a plaque on it stating: "Dedicated to Dorcas Buchanan First White Woman Settler in Mifflin County."
|Old Town Cemetery, Lewsitown|
Near the rear of the cemetery, buried under a simple brown stone with crude writing, is the first white woman who settled the area with her husband and son. Dorcas was born in Ireland in 1712, she would move into this region in 1754 with her second husband, Arthur, and family. Her first husband, Henry Holt, died in Philadelphia in 1735. She would marry Arthur Buchanan in 1738.
During the French and Indian War, they left the valley; history seems to be unsure of where they fled to after Braddock's defeat. Local history states they settled near present-day Mexico (near Port Royal) while others claim they returned to Carlisle, the town they had once called home before settling in the Lewistown area. The stop in Mexico might have been a temporary one, because records show her youngest son was born in Carlisle.
Arthur died September 23, 1760 and was buried in Carlisle. Dorcas returned to Lewistown in 1765 and was one of the pioneer women of Mifflin County. She died in Lewistown, January 20, 1804, aged 93 years. At the time of her death, she had 118 living descendants between her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and great-great-great-grandchildren.
In Rung's Chronicles of Huntingdon County, he records that family lore states that at the age of 55, Dorcas completely lost her sight. She was blind for twenty-three years until, as mysteriously as she lost her sight, it suddenly reappeared and she was once again able to see.
|Dorcas and her son, Arthur, Jr, Old Town Cemetery|
The stone erected for Dorcas was not one provided by her descendants. Tradition states that in 1835 two strangers heard that she was buried within the cemetery in an unmarked grave. The two of them went up Shade Mountain and selected two slabs, one for the headstone and another for the foot of her grave. They crudely cut the letters into the diamond shaped stone by hand.
Col. Arthur Buchanan, Jr., is buried beside Dorcas. His grave was marked by a newer stone that was set in 1970. Arthur the younger was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
The cemetery that she is buried in was the first one set aside for a burial ground in Lewistown. It wouldn't be until 1814 that a second cemetery would be formed by the Lutheran and Reformed Church (the cemetery no longer exists - it was along West Third Street).