Newspaper clippings · Pennsylvania · School Violence

Teacher shot in back of neck in front of her school (1850)

September 28, 1850
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Rachel Sharpless is killed by a gunshot as she attempts to enter her schoolhouse

Sharpless (named Phebe or Phoebe in early reports, though her cemetery documentation states her name as Rachel) had been unlocking the Rocky Hill school when the back of her neck was hit with a bullet. Newspapers reported her death was immediate. Later that morning, her students arrived to the school to find her body.

Near Sharpless was a piece of newspaper used as wadding to load the gun which killed her. Police questioned a young man who had been seen lurking in the area before, named George Pharoah. Though he denied any involvement, police found a copy of the Saturday Evening Post in his possession, with a piece torn from it identical to the piece found near Sharpless.

Pharoah eventually confessed, claiming to have killed Sharpless to steal a gold watch she carried, and was executed September 15, 1851. Pharoah was hanged from the same gallows and the same rope as his maternal uncle, Jabez Boyd, executed in 1845 for the murder of a 14-year-old boy named Wesley Patton during a robbery. Patton had been home sick while his parents were out. Boyd beat the teen with metal tongs and threw his body into the fireplace, severely burning Patton’s head and upper torso, before stealing what he could.


The Star and Banner. Gettsyburg, Pennsylvania. October 11, 1850

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