Biography of Dr. William Plunkett

Esther, daughter of John Harris, married Dr. William Plunkett, who was born in Ireland of noble family. In personal appearance he is described as of large stature, great muscular development and strength, while an imperious disposition was among his distinguishing mental traits. This is attested by several occurrences in his career which yet retain a place in the traditions of the locality which he afterward lived in Pennsylvania. On one occasion with several boon companions, he was engaged in some hilarious proceedings at an Irish inn. The adjoining room was occupied by an English nobleman, who had a curious and valuable watch, which he sent to Plunkett with a wager that he could not tell the time by it. Dr. Plunkett put the watch in his pocket and sent a message to the Englishman that he should call upon him in person if he wished to know the time, but the Englishman never called and it is said that Plunkett kept the watch to the end of his life. Afterward he became involved in an assault on an English officer who was seriously injured and he was smuggled on board a vessel in a barrel or hogshead and thus came to America. He located at Carlisle, Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, then on the western frontier, and he lived there during the French and Indian war, in which he was commissioned a lieutenant of the Fort Augusta Regiment of Northumberland county, and for his services received a grant of several hundred acres of land on the west branch of the Susquehanna river. To his property he gave the name of Soldiers’ Retreat. It was situated along the river above the Chillisquaque creek and he was living there as early as 1772, as shown by the fact that his improvements are mentioned in the return of a road in that year.

He was the first resident physician at Sunbury, Pennsylvania. He was commissioned a justice for Northumberland county, March 24, 1772, and officiated as presiding justice throughout the colonial period. In January, 1775, he was a representative from Northumberland county to the provincial congress at Philadelphia, and in December of that year led an expedition to Wyoming Valley against Brant and Butler. But during the remainder of the revolution, he remained neutral, for fear of forfeiting the title to his ancestral estates in Ireland, and he was not active in public affairs afterward. Dr. Plunkett resided some years in the McClay house, Sunbury, where, after the death of his wife, Betty Wiley was his housekeeper. His office was subsequently occupied by E. W. Greenhough, and David Rockefeller occupied the site of the E. W. Greenhough residence on Front street, Sunbury. During the last years of his life, Dr. Plunkett was totally blind and a rope was stretched from his house to his office, so that he could guide himself back and forth. His will was dated January 3, 1791, and proved May 25, 1791. He died in the spring of 1791 and is buried in an unmarked grave in the Sunbury cemetery. Although a physician by training he was the only one of the twelve judges, commissioned March 24, 1772, having a knowledge of the procedure of the English courts and for that reason was chosen presiding justice. One of his medical books, “Synopsis of Medicines, or a Summary View of the Whole Practice of Physick, ” by John Allen, M. D.. F. 1. S., printed in London, 1749, was owned by Dr. 1. H. Awl, who died in Sunbury in 1905. (See Bell’s “History of Northumberland County” (1891) ; Egle’s “History of Pennsylvania, ” pages 639, 640 and loon (1885) ; Lynn’s “Annals of Buffalo Valley, ‘ Pennsylvania.”) Dr. Plunkett and wife had children: Margaret, mentioned below, and three other daughters.



Milliken, Charles F. The History of Ontario County, New York, and Its People Lewis Historical Publishing Co., New York. 1911.

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