People from the Past: The Pennsylvania Hermit
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Thomas Grey, 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'
When you read about history, remember: there were real people back then. Just like you, they lived, loved, wanted things, had health problems. A lot of them didn't become famous, but they all mattered. If you'd like to read about some of the fascinating characters who lived along the frontier of Pennsylvania more than two centuries ago from somebody who was there, try starting on page 206 in Anne Royall's Pennsylvania book. Anne Royall was a pistol: read about her here. She grew up in the back of beyond. Her stories tell about real people. This is an antidote to fake news, if ever there was one.
Stephen Rybolt the Hermit
Editor's Note: This story took place in Mount Pisgah, Pennsylvania, sometime during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).
An old man by the name of Stephen Rybolt, lived in the wilderness about ten miles beyond us, and remained there, throughout all the wars, till the day of his death. He was a German, without a family, and lived the life of a hermit, without any human being or animal, excepting a dog, whom he called Wasser.
He was an old man then, tall, slender, and swarthy, and bent from age; his chin was long and pointed, and his cheek hollow; but his countenance was bright and winning, and his conversation highly interesting. He came into the neighborhood at stated periods usually hung round with a great number of gourds. These he would give away to the women, and some he would fill with
lard, salt, &c. It did not appear that he, like the hermits of old, lived upon vegetables. He had lived in the wilderness from the earliest recollection of the inhabitants, neither afraid of, nor molested by the Indians. He called to see us often, and used to tell us that he charmed the Indians; and by calling his dog, (for he always kept a dog,) Water, it prevented the Indians from using their charms, (which he believed they could,) to stop him from barking, as you could not stop water from running. He was evidently superstitious; but, strange to tell, his superstition seemed to enable him to set fear at defiance. He walked with a long staff in his hand. I remember him more distinctly than any occurrence of Mount Pisgah.
Stephen Rybolt lived till within a few years since, and must have been the oldest man at his decease in America. Before he died he was bent nearly to the ground.
I am sorry that 1 am unable to tell the cause of his sequestering himself so far from the haunts of men.
No great length of time after our settlement on Mount Pisgah, we fled from the Indians into the neighborhood of the Denistons', &c. which has been narrated.