Adjacent to Jacob Eyman in the 1779 Upper Paxtang tax
rolls was a "John Elder", most likely the prominent Presbyterian of the
neighborhood, and possibly the instigator of an incident which came to
be known as the "Paxtang Boys". Settlers on the frontier, feeling unprotected
by Quaker politicians from Indian raids took steps which alarmed many
and provoked widespread discussion. The chaps who rode down from Paxtang
to massacre among the few remaining Indians around Conestoga seem to have
been led by the Reverend John Elder.
John was a preacher of the gospel and developed a Donegal Prebytery,
which subsequently divided off to a Paxtang congregation.The son of Robert
Elder who had migrated from Scotland in about 1730, Elder lived on family
land near the first ridge of the Kittochtinny mountains, five miles north
of Harrisburg. Elder John was a fiery preacher with strong ideas which
were sometimes at variance with other Presbyterians. He took his "leadership
of the flock" responsibilities seriously and provided direction to political
and military affairs as well as spiritual ones. In the face of Indian
difficulties he trained his congregations as scouts, superintended the
discipline of his men, and mounted rangers which became widely known as
the "Paxtang Boys".
During two summers at least, in the 1760s, his parishioners went to church
armed. During the latter part of the summer
of 1763, many murders were committed in Paxtang, culminating in the destruction
of the Indians on Conestoga Manor at Lancaster. Although the men composing
the company of the "Paxtang Boys" who exterminated the savages were thought
to have been his faithful rangers, it was never proven that he Rev. Elder
had previous knowledge of the plot, though Quaker pamphleteers of the
day charged him with aiding and abetting the destruction of the Indians.
When the deed was done, and the Quaker authorities
were determined to proceed to extreme lengths with the participants, and
denounced the frontiersmen as "riotous and murderous Irish Presbyterians,"
he took sides with the border inhabitants, and sought to condone the deed.
His letters published in connection with the history of that transaction
prove him to have been a man judicious, firm and decided. During the controversy
that ensued, he was the author of one of the pamphlets: "Letter from a
Gentleman in one of the Back Counties to a Friend in Philadelphia."