Witness Tree Chapter, NSDAR History

The Witness Tree

The Witness Tree Chapter, NSDAR is named for an extraordinary event that occurred on a Sunday in September of 1777. During worship services at the Donegal Presbyterian Church, a message was received that British General Howe had forced General Washington’s Troops to retreat to Chadds Ford, and Howe would soon invade Pennsylvania. The congregation gathered outside around a large oak tree, joined hands, and pledged their allegiance to the cause for American independence. From then on, the tree would be known as the “Witness Tree”. Colonel Alexander Lowry, who was attending church services, and participated in the “witness ceremony”, gathered his militia battalion and answered the call of liberty.

Sadly, the Witness Tree succumbed to disease and was removed in 1991. It is estimated, by counting the rings of the Witness Tree, that it stood tall and mighty for over 250 years.

In 1897, the young women forming a new Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter in Columbia, Pennsylvania, found it easy to select "Witness Tree" as the name for the chapter. They felt it an honor and a privilege to preserve the name of the famous historical event. And while the wars of the 20th century may have supplanted this ceremonial event from many citizens' minds, members of the Witness Tree Chapter, NSDAR keep the true intention of that September day in their hearts and minds, preserving the past, educating the public, and illustrating their patriotism.

A monument to those who served

Although it is now weathered and faded, 110 years after it was erected, the 81 names of those early patriots are still readable on all four sides of the Witness Tree Monument. The first project of the Witness Tree Chapter, NSDAR was to raise money for a monument to commemorate those who served during the Revolutionary War. With a jubilant response, the new Witness Tree Chapter, NSDAR made plans to dedicate the monument less than one year later on October 4, 1899 on the grounds of the Donegal Presbyterian Church. True to Witness Tree Chapter, NSDAR founder, Lillian Slaymaker Evans's word, the monument honored all of those who served, including those who gave their lives.

The Witness Tree sculpture has been provided by High Industries, Inc. for the enjoyment of visitors to Greenfield Corporate Center. It was created by local artist, Dean Fox, and was carved from a section of the trunk of the famous "Witness Tree" of the Donegal Presbyterian Church, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

The Witness Tree was a 250-year-old white oak that shaded the Donegal Church, and was the scene of a noteworthy event in the early days of our country's birth.

During worship services in September 1777, an express rider alerted the congregation that the British had invaded Pennsylvania, and that help was needed at the front. Among the congregation was Colonel Alexander Lowry; along with many members of his battalion. They were ordered to march to the aid of General Washington in defending Philadelphia from capture by the British. Everyone left the service, circled the trunk of the tree and clasped hands, pledging their allegiance to the cause of independence.

When the Witness Tree died from age and disease, this large section was acquired and carved to keep the story of this historic tree alive. The sculpture was dedicated in September 2002, marking the 225th anniversary of the event.

This freedom they won must be guarded eternally,
The faith we inherit must be ever proclaimed;
Let us then witness with joy and thanksgiving
With hands joined together in dedication and praise.

Wood from the Donegal Witness Tree was ideal for the making of gavels and an untold number were fashioned and presented from the earliest days of the tree's fame. We know that two such gavels are being used by the Donegal and Witness Tree Chapters. Another was presented to the Lancaster Historical Society, January 7, 1897. It is greatly believed, however that many hand-worked gavels were made from wood of the Witness Tree over the 250 years of the tree's life. It is also probable that today they are being used in cities and towns across the Commonwealth as well as other states.