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By the Way: Kathryn Finegan Clark

By the Way: Fierce land dispute did Col. Erwin in

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June 9, 1791. A single gunshot. A man fell to the floor in a frontier cabin in New York. He was Col. Arthur Erwin, probably killed by a Wild Yankee after serving in Bucks County’s Militia and surviving the Revolutionary War.

The body of the good colonel, a Scots-Irishman who had come to Pennsylvania in 1768, was brought home and buried just off the River Road in Erwinna, the village still bearing his name.

June 9, 2022. The Tinicum Players did a dramatic reading of The Assassination of Arthur Erwin at the Erwin Stover House in Tinicum Park. The small cast read from a script written by Amy Hollander, who also played the part of Col. Franklin. She describes herself as a storyteller, an exhibit designer and consultant. A member of the Bucks County Parks and Recreation board, she is also former president and CEO of the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem.

Careful to explain that the unfolding of historic events often leaves more questions than answers, Hollander described the background for the assassination. “Everyone thinks life was easy in the colonies, but not all were on the same page. There were boundary disputes, cultural changes, chaos.”

The borders were still undefined on the western sides, she said. For example, her research shows Erwin was shot in Painted Post, N.Y.; however, one the family records lists his place of death as Athens in Pennsylvania’s Bradford County. Another shows his death occurred in Luzerne County. Perhaps he did not die immediately.

Erwin, Hollander said, was caught up in a fierce dispute between the Pennamites, Pennsylvanians who believed the land was theirs, and the Wild Yankees of Connecticut who claimed they owned the same property, land they had already settled and farmed. The years extending from 1760 through the early 1800s were bitter ones.

Erwin, who owned 5,000 acres in Tinicum Township, had purchased 45,000 acres in the wilderness. At the time frontier land was selling for $7 an acre, while Bucks land cost $80 an acre, Hollander said. Erwin owned land in what is now Luzerne County and in Steuben County, N.Y., where, while visiting Painted Post, he was shot through a window (or door) in a cabin owned by his friends, the McDuffies. His killer was never found.

Half of the dramatic reading took place in the Erwin Stover House with costumed narrators moving visitors from room to room. The second half occurred in one of the park’s pavilions where the other side of the story, that of the Connecticut Yankees, was presented, leaving those attending to make their own decisions about the historic event. It was a program both compelling and charming in its detail and simplicity.

Hollander wrote the script, which she said was then tweaked by the players as they rehearsed. A dedicated historian, Hollander said the script was heavily based on actual letters once written by the characters portrayed, including Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Mifflin. Others taking part in the presentation were Doug Milne, Linda Koontz, Sue Meacham, Robert Greene, Bev Altrath, Joseph Vlossak, Debbie Good, Terry Johnson, Barth Johnson and River Venini.

Hollander organized the Tinicum Players a little more than a year ago and the group has scheduled similar historic shows as well as displays at several community events including Symphonia and Fireworks at Tinicum Park on July 2 and the Tinicum Arts Festival July 9 and 10.

The Tinicum Players Decades Club has scheduled four intriguing programs, exploring parlor games, music and dance through successive time periods: 1790s, An Evening of Colonial Tavern Games and Stories, on July 14; 1820s, An Evening of Regency Card Games and Gossip, on Aug. 11; 1860s, An Evening of Victorian Games & Dance on Sept. 8; and An Evening of Spiritualism & Gothic Tales on Oct. 13.

All will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Erwin Stover House. Admission is free but limited in number. Registration is required and may be obtained by emailing ashollander@buckscounty.org.

kathyclark817@gmail.com


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