Update on the Search for Lancaster County’s Oldest Headstone

Just when I thought the oldest headstone in Lancaster County debate was settled, I received this message from adventurer Katie Moore.

Attached to the message was an image of Sarah Patterson’s broken gravestone with the year 1700 visible. Moore’s find questioned the idea that Elizabeth King’s 1732 headstone is the oldest in Lancaster County.

That sure looks like the year 1700!


Here’s a recap of my earlier search for Lancaster County’s oldest headstone. There are three contenders, all, interestingly enough, belonging to women. They are Marie Ferree 1716, Elizabeth Shaw McPherson 1726, and Elizabeth King 1732.

Marie Ferree

Is this Mary Ferree’s original tombstone?

Marie (Warenbuer) Ferree was born in 1653 in Picardie, France. She came to America via Nutten Island (today Governor’s Island) between June 13, 1710, and August 2, 1710. She then made her way to the Pequea Valley area of present-day Lancaster County. Her family lived peacefully among the Native Americans who called this area home. Click here to read more about the Pequea Valley.

Legend has it that when Ferree arrived at her new home, she exclaimed, “This is paradise!” Hence the name of the nearby town and eventual township. Click here to read more about this peculiarly named town.

When Ferree died, she was interred at Ferree Cemetery, now known as Carpenter Cemetery, on Black Horse Road next to the Strasburg railroad tracks. The cemetery is in the middle of the 2,200 acres deeded to her son Peter and son-in-law Isaac Lefever.

At the time of her death on January 1, 1716, this area was inside Conestoga Township of Chester County. Lancaster County was not laid out until 1729. After the county’s formation, it became part of Strasburg Township. Then in 1843, it became Paradise Township.

Ferree’s grave is in the back right-hand corner of the cemetery. Here are the GPS coordinates: 39.994849, -76.119879.


However, there’s some debate about this not being Ferree’s original headstone but a replacement, given its condition. As a point of comparison, here’s Daniel “John” Ferree Sr.’s headstone from 1708. According to Find a Grave, he was married to Marie and died eight years before her. Although other sources cite, he is buried in Germany/France, which makes more sense since the family did not arrive in America until 1710. Either way, John is buried in Strickler-Miller Cemetery, York County, Pennsylvania, so not a contender for the oldest headstone in Lancaster County.

Marie’s stone is in considerably better condition for only being eight years younger. It also lacks the more ornate fonts and details found on many graves of the time. Could this the Ferree’s original tombstone? What do you think?

Elizabeth Shaw McPherson

Elizabeth Shaw McPherson died on December 17, 1726, at the age of 36. She is buried with her husband, William McPherson. The couple also shares a headstone—and here’s the caveat—William didn’t die until October 5, 1783. That’s 57 years after King. You could argue that the joint stone replaced Elizabeth McPherson’s original 1726 stone.

Elizabeth Shaw McPherson 1726

Elizabeth McPherson’s grave is located at the “Old” Chestnut Level Cemetery on the corner of River Road and Slate Hill Road in Drumore Township. After walking through the iron gate, it will be on your right in the first row, three stones in. The pin on the map below marks her grave’s exact location. Here are the GPS coordinates: 39.821679, -76.212163.

Elizabeth King

Elizabeth King died on February 21, 1732, at 23. Her slate headstone reads, “Here lyeth th(e) body of Elizabeth King who departed this life 21 day of Febu’y 1732 Aged 23.” Hand-carved flowers adorn the top of her stone. She is buried next to her husband, Robert King, who didn’t die until 1763.

Unlike the two previously mentioned headstones, there is no debate surrounding the authenticity of King’s grave being the original.

Screenshot 2020-03-23 at 11.18.04 AM
Elizabeth King’s 1732 gravestone.

Slate has a distinct advance over sandstone or limestone tombstones as it better preserves the engravings, which is why it looks much newer than it is.

Elizabeth’s grave is also located at Chestnut Level, but in the “new” Chestnut Level Cemetery across the parking lot from the church. You can find her grave by walking through the cemetery’s main gate. It will be on your left, about ten stones in and three rows back. The pin on the map below marks the grave’s exact location. Here are the GPS coordinates: 39.823572, -76.214471.

Honorable Mention: Izabela Moore

Also located in “Old” Chestnut Level Cemetery, Izabela Moore’s December 17, 1732 headstone is only ten months younger than King’s. She was 67 when she died.

Izabela Moore’s 1732 headstone. Look carefully at how the six is carved in her age (bottom row).

Sarah Patterson

Broken headstone of Sarah Patterson. Image courtesy of Katie Moore.

That brings us to Moore’s discovery of Sarah Patterson’s headstone. Her grave is located in “Old” Chestnut Level Cemetery. Patterson’s marker is not intact, though, adding an asterisk to the possibility of it being the county’s oldest headstone. It lies broken, propped up in the corner against the cemetery’s stone wall. Being made of slate, the stone is relatively easy to read. It says, Here lies the body of Sarah Pattrson who dsd this life Apr yc 10 1700 ecg 52 years.

A quick search on findagrave.com confirmed that she died in 1700, as indicated by the stone. At the time of publication, the FindAGrave listing said, “Death date is a little crude as it could be 1760 but appears to be 1700 because I do not think she was 110 yrs old as inscription says she was 50.”

Sarah Patterson’s FindAGrave listing.

This appeared to be an open and shut case. While broken, Sarah Patterson has Lancaster County’s oldest headstone. Nevertheless, I decided to dig deeper since the FindAGrave listing was pretty sparse. I also wanted double confirmation on Patterson’s death date. Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church maintains a spreadsheet of all the graves at the “Old” Chestnut Level Cemetery accumulated from various sources. I wanted to see if they agreed with my other source.

However, according to their records, Patterson died in 1760, not 1700. She was also born in 1717 and not 1650, as FindAGrave reports. Although it would seem that her birth year of 1717 would have to be incorrect if she was 52 when she died. Simple math says she would have been born in 1708.

Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church cemetery plot listing.

So who’s correct?

I think the answer lies with Izabela Moore’s previously mentioned headstone. Confused? Please bare with me for a minute.

Moore was 67 years old when she died. When we compare how the six from the 67 was carved on her headstone with the third digit in the year that Patterson died on her grave marker, those two numbers look eerily similar. This makes me think that the Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church records are correct, and Sarah Patterson died in 1760, not 1700. Take a look for yourself in the image compare immediately below.

In my opinion, it would appear that Elizabeth King’s February 21, 1732, marker continues to be the oldest known headstone in Lancaster County. Could there be an older one? Absolutely. Let me know if you stumbled upon a possible candidate, as Katie Moore did.

Note Well

Please do not confuse the oldest grave with the oldest headstone. There are likely countless Native American graves here in Lancaster County that predate the arrival of European settlers. Some even thousands of years old. There have been indigenous people in what is now Pennsylvania for almost 20,000 years. You can read more about the 19,000-year-old Meadowcroft Rockshelter here.

This article intends to locate Lancaster County’s oldest headstone. Something more straightforward to find and easier to validate. No carbon dating required.

What’s the Difference? Gravestone. Tombstone. Headstone. Grave.

Today we use all three terms interchangeably to indicate the marker placed at the head of a grave. Their actual meanings, while all burial place related, have subtle differences. For example, a gravestone is a stone slab that covers a grave. A tombstone was a stone placed on top of a stone coffin. A headstone is a marker denoting a grave. Meanwhile, a grave is a burial place for a dead body; typically a hole dug in the ground.

Planning Your Visit

All three cemeteries are open to the public from dawn to dusk. If you visit, keep in mind that you are in a cemetery and should conduct yourself appropriately and respectfully.

Adventure Awaits!

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Purchase a beautiful reproduction map of Drumore Township, home to Chestnut Level or West Lampeter Township, where Tschantz Graveyard resides.

Learn More

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#502: Ancient Algonkian warrior found near Shenks Ferry.

In the early 1930s, Donald Cadzow led an archaeology team to survey the areas that would be affected by the rising waters of the Holtwood and Safe Harbor dams. He likely took these three photos recently rediscovered in the Safe Harbor archives. Click here to read more.

Graveyard vs. Cemetery: What’s the difference?

Graveyard vs. Cemetery. What’s the difference? It’s subtle, but there is one. Click here to learn what it is.

Peculiar Names: Paradise

Lancaster County has several towns with peculiar names. This series examines their curious etymology. Up next: An area named for its beauty by French Huguenot Marie Ferree. Click here to read more.


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