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Peace and Prosperity of Wyoming. Renewal of Hostilities. Action of Congress. Expedition of Plunkett.
The settlement was now taken under the protection of Connecticut, and incorporated into that colony. The territory was erected into a chartered town called Westmoreland, and at. tached to Litchfield county; representatives from it were admitted to seats in the General Assembly, and Zebulon Butler and Nathan Denison were commissioned justices of the peace. Repose continued to reign in the valley, and unexampled prosperity blessed the settlement. A town immediately adjoining Wyoming Fort was planted by Colonel Durkee, and named Wilkesbarre; and the whole valley became a charming picture of active life and social happiness. The foot-prints of civil war were effaced, and the recollections of the gloomy past were obliterated. A dream of happiness lulled the people into the repose of absolute security. Isolated in the bosom of the mountains, and far removed from the agitations which disturbed the people upon the ocean coasts, they had heard little of the martial sound of preparations for the hostilities then elaborating in the imperial and colonial councils. They were enjoying, in full measure, the blessings of virtuous democracy, and felt none of the oppressions of Great Britain, then bearing with such heavy hand upon the commercial cities of America; yet they warmly sympathized with their suffering brethren, and their hearts and hands were open to the appeals of the patriots of the east.
Four years Wyoming enjoyed uninterrupted peace, when its repose was suddenly broken by an attack upon a branch of the colony, located about sixty miles below Wilkesbarre, by a body of Northumberland militia, who were jealous of the increasing prosperity of the Yankees. On the 28th of September, 1775, the unsuspecting inhabitants were suddenly assailed, several of them were killed, and the residue were sent to Sunbury and imprisoned. About the same time several boats from Wyoming, trading down the river, were plundered by the Pennsylvanians. The Continental Congress was then in session in Philadelphia, and the Connecticut people of Wyoming, preferring peaceful measures to a renewal of the civil war, petitioned that body for redress. Congress, “ considering that the most perfect union between the colonies was essentially necessary for the preservation of the just rights of North America,” adopted resolutions urging the governments of Pennsylvania and Connecticut to “take the most speedy and effectual steps to prevent hostilities” and to adjust difficulties.' But the lawless invaders had not yet learned to respect the voice of Congress. Its resolutions were unheeded, and the imprisoned settlers were more rigidly confined, under the apprehension that the exasperated people of Wyoming, now become numerous, might make a retaliatory movement against Sunbury. A proposition was made to raise a force, and march against Wyoming to subjugate it before the people could organize a military government. Governor Penn favored the design, and Colonel Plunkett, who was also a magistrate, was placed in command of the expedition. He was ostensibly vested with civil powers, and his December 90 force was called the posse of the county. Congress, still in session in Philadel.
1775. phia, passed a resolution urging the immediate termination of all hostilities be: tween the parties.” But the Pennsylvanians paid no attention to the resolution, and Plunkett advanced toward Wyoming. His progress was slow, for the river was much obstructed by ice; and before he came to the Nanticoke Rapids, at the south end of the valley, where he was obliged to leave his boats, the people had made ample preparations to receive him. The military were under the command of Colonel Zebulon Butler, and numbered about three hundred effective men.
From the summit of a bold rock on the western side of the river, that overhung the road along which Plunkett was marching, a volley of musketry was discharged as he approached. and arrested his progress. By means of a bateau, which he caused to be brought above the rapids by land, his men attempted to cross the river, to march against Fort Wyoming on the eastern side. They were assaulted by an ambuscade on shore, and the whole invading force immediately retreated to their provision boats, moored below the rapids, where a council of war was held. This council wisely concluded that the chances of success were few, and the expedition was abandoned.
*Ibid., p. 279.
* Journals of Congress, vol. i., p. 215.
The Colonies before the Revolution. Exposed Position of Wyoming. Indian Outrage. Indian Speech.
The war of the Revolution had now fairly commenced. The proprietary government of Pennsylvania was soon afterward virtually abolished, a constituent assembly was organized,a and the people and the governments of both colonies had matters of much greater importance to attend to than disputes about inconsiderable settlements. Henceforth the history of Wyoming is identified with the general history of the Union. I have glanced briefly at the most important events connected with its early settlement, for they form an interesting episode in the general history of our republic, and exhibit prominently those social and political features which characterized the colonies when the war of independence broke out. Separate provinces, communities, and families, having distinct interests, and under no very powerful control from without, had learned independence of thought and action, self. reliance, patient endurance under the pressure of circumstances, and indomitable courage in the maintenance of personal and political rights, from the circumstances in which their relations to each other had placed them. It was in schools like that of the Pennymite war, the resistance of the New Hampshire Grants to the domination of New York, the opposition to the Stamp Act and kindred measures, and the Regulator movement in the Carolinas, that the people were tutored for the firm resistance which they made to British oppressions during the seven years of our struggle for political emancipation; and there is more of the true philosophy of our great Revolution to be learned by studying antecedent, but relative events, than in watching the progress of the war itself. We will now turn to a consideration of the events which occurred in Wyoming during our Revolution.
The defection of a large portion of the Six Nations, the coalition of the Delawares and Shawnees with the friends of the king westward of the Alleganies, and the menaces of the tribes bordering on Virginia, with whom Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of that province, had long tampered, seeking to bring their hatchets upon the frontier settlements of that rebellious state, gave the Continental Congress much uneasiness at the beginning of 1776. Thousands of mercenary Germans were preparing to come like “destroying locusts upon the east wind;” the British Parliament had voted fifty-five thousand men for the American service; loyalty to the crown was rife throughout the land; and the dark cloud of savages upon the western border of the colonies, smarting under the wrongs inflicted by the white men for a century and a half, and without any definite ideas of the nature of the quarrel in question, or means of discriminating between the parties to the feud, were ready to raise the war-cry, and satiate their appetites for vengeance, rapine, and blood. Westmoreland, or Wyoming, was peculiarly exposed, lying upon the verge of the Indian country, and to the people of its lovely valley the conciliation of the Indians was a matter of vast importance. The council of Onondaga, the chief head of the Six Nations, made professions of peaceful intentions, but there was evident hypocrisy underlying the fair appearance of the surface, and occasional outrages upon the remote settlers had been committed without rebuke. On one occasion a man named Wilson, living within the limits of Westmoreland, had been cruelly treated by the Indians, and Colonel Zebulon Butler sent a messenger to ascertain the true intentions of the savages. A chief called John returned with the messenger, and, in a speech replete with Indian eloquence, disclaimed, in behalf of the Six Nations, all thoughts of hostility to the friends of Congress. The Rev. Mr. Johnson, the first pastor in Wyoming, acted as interpreter. “We are sorry,” said the chief, “to have two brothers fighting with each other, and should be glad to hear that the quarrel was peaceably settled. We choose not to interest ourselves on either side. The quarrel appears to be unnecessary. We do not well understand it. We are for peace.” He continued:
“Brothers, when our young men come to hunt in your neighborhood, you must not imagine they come to do mischief; they come to procure themselves provisions, also skins to purchase them clothing.
“Brothers, we desire that Wyoming may be a place appointed where the great men may meet, and have a fire, which shall ever after be called Wyomick, where you shall judge best how to prevent any jealousies or uneasy thoughts that may arise, and thereby preserve our friendship.
Colonel Butler deceived. Strangers in Wyoming. Suspicions of the People.
“Brothers, you see but one of our chiefs. You may be suspicious on that account; but we assure you this chief speaks in the name of the Six Nations. We are of one mind. “Brothers, what we say is not from the lips, but from the heart. If any Indians of little note should speak otherwise, you must pay no regard to them, but observe what has been said and written by the chiefs, which may be depended on. “Brothers, we live at the head of these waters [Susquehanna]. Pay no regard to any reports that may come up the stream or any other way, but look to the head waters for truth; and we do now assure you, as long as the waters run, so long you may depend on our friendship. We are all of one mind, and we are all for peace.” This was the strong language of assurance, and Colonel Butler, confident of its sincerity, wrote accordingly to Roger Sherman of the Connecticut Assembly. He mentioned in his letter that the Indians wanted an American flag as a token of friendship; and the whole tone of his communication evinced a belief in the professed attachment of the savages to the republicans. But at that very time the Mohawks, Onondagas, and Senecas were leaguing against the patriots; and already Brant and five hundred warriors had struck a severe blow of hostility to the republicans at the Cedars, on the St. Lawrence. The proposed council fire. at Wyoming was doubtless intended as a pretense for assembling a large body of warriors in the heart of the settlement, to destroy it; and the desire for an American flag was undoubtedly a wish to have it for a decoy when occasion should call for its use. Events soon occurred which confirmed these suspicions, and the people of Wyoming prepared for defense against their two-fold enemy, the Indians and the Tories." When the war broke out, the Connecticut Assembly prevented further immigration to Westmoreland. But people came there, from the Hudson and the Mohawk Valleys, having no sympathy with either of the parties in the “Pennymite war,” and, as it appeared, no sympathy with the republicans. Almost every original settler had espoused the cause of the Whigs; and the open expression of hostility to Congress by these interlopers, the most active of whom were the Wintermoots, Van Gorders, Van Alstyns, and a few other families, excited the indignation of the Wyoming people.” The recommendation of the Continental Congress, to organize committees of vigilance in every town, had been promptly acted upon in Wyoming, and these new comers, the avowed friends of the king, were soon subjected to the severest scrutiny of the committee there. The people of Wyoming, numbering nearly three thousand, and united in thought and action, were pursuing peacefully their various occupations. The sudden influx of strangers to them, not only in person but in political creed, justly excited suspicions that they were a colony of vipers, come to nestle among them for the purpose of disseminating the poison of Toryism. Influenced by these fears, several of the most suspicious of the interlopers were arrested and sent to Connecticut. This was an unwise act, although perhaps justifiable, and was one cause of subsequent disasters. In the mean while two companies of regular troops, of eighty-two men each, had been raised in the valley, under a resolution of Congress, commanded by Captains Ransom and
* On the 10th of March, 1777, the following resolutions were adopted at a town meeting held at Wilkesbarre : “Voted, That the first man that shall make fifty weight of good saltpetre in this town shall be entitled to a bounty of ten pounds lawful money, to be paid out of the town treasury. “Voted, That the select-men be directed to dispose of the grain now in the hands of the treasurer or collector in such a way as to obtain powder and lead to the value of forty pounds lawful money, if they can do the same.” It was also subsequently voted to empower a committee of inspectors “to supply the soldiers' wives and the soldiers' widows with the necessaries of life.” This was a noble resolution. * Mr. Minor, in a letter to the late William L. Stone, mentions the fact that among the papers of Colonel Zebulon Butler he found a list of Tories who joined the Indians. The list contained sixty-one names, of which only three were those of New England men. Most of them were transient persons, who had gone to Wyoming as hunters and trappers. Six of them were of one family (the Wintermoots), from Minisink. Nine were from the Mohawk Valley, doubtless in the interest of the Johnsons, four from Kinderhook, and six from West Chester, New York. There were not ten Tory families who had resided two years in Wyoming.—See Stone's History of Wyoming, p. 181.
The Wintermoots. Erection of a Fort. Counteraction of the old Settlers. Affair on the Millstone River.
Durkee, and were attached to the Connecticut line." The Wintermoots, who had purchased land toward the head of the valley, and upon the old banks of the Susquehanna," at a place where bubbled forth a large and living spring of pure water, erected a strong fortification known as Wintermoot's Fort. The town meeting alluded to, suspicious of the design of the Win- termoots, who had hitherto acted so discreetly -- --> . that a charge of actual hostility to Congress could - --- -- . not properly be made against them, thought it best --- - - - - to counteract their apparent belligerence, and resolved that it had “become necessary for the inhabitants of the town to erect suitable forts as a defense against the common enemy.” Augusts, A fort was accordingly built, about two 1776. miles above Wintermoot's, under the supervision of the families of Jenkins and Harding, and called Fort Jenkins.” Forty Fort (so called from the first forty Yankees, the pioneers of the Susquehanna settlers in Wyoming), then little more than a weak block-house, was strengthened and enlarged, and sites for other forts were fixed on, at Pittstown, Wilkesbarre, and Hanover. It was - -- agreed in town meeting that these several fortiSrre of WiNTERMoor's Font.* fications should be built by the people, “without either fee or reward from the town.” As we have observed in a former chapter, the tribes of the Six Nations which had receded from their solemn agreement of neutrality were not brought actively into the service of the king until the summer of 1777. It was then that the people of Wyoming perceived, and fully appreciated, the perils attendant upon their isolation, and the attention of the Contimental Congress was often called to their exposed situation. While St. Leger was investing Fort Stanwix, some straggling parties of savages hung about and menaced Wyoming ; but, after the siege was raised, the people were not disturbed again during the remainder of the year and the following spring. But early in the summer of 1778 the movements of Brant and his warriors, and the Johnsons and Butlers and their Tory legions, upon the upper waters of the Susquehanna, together with the actions of the Tories in the Valley of Wyoming, who were greatly exasperated on account of the harsh treatment of some of their number by the
*These two companies served with distinction at the skirmish on Millstone River, in New Jersey, on the 20th of January, 1777. This occurred while the main army of the Americans were suffering from the smallpox at Morristown. A line of forts had been established along the Millstone River, in the direction of Princeton. One of these, at Somerset Court-house, was occupied by General Dickinson with these two regular companies and about three hundred militia. A mill on the opposite bank of the stream contained considerable flour. Cornwallis, then lying at New Brunswick, dispatched a foraging party to capture it. The party consisted of about four hundred men, with more than forty wagons. The British arrived at the mill early in the morning, and, having loaded their wagons with flour, were about to return, when General Dickinson, leading a portion of his force through the river, middle deep, attacked them with so much spirit, that they fled in haste, leaving the whole of their plunder, with their wagons, behind them. *Along the western side of the Susquehanna, a large part of the way from the head of the valley to the village of Kingston, opposite Wilkesbarre, are traces of a more ancient shore than the present, when the river was broader and perhaps deeper than now. The plain extending from the ancient shore to the foot of the mountain is a uniform level, several feet above the alluvial bottom between it and the present bank of the river. *There was another fort, called Fort Jenkins, upon the Susquehanna, about half way between Wilkesbarre and Fort Augusta, or Sunbury. The fort in question was about eight miles above Wilkesbarre. * This view is from the ancient bed of the Susquehanna, looking west. The building, formerly the property of Colonel Jenkins, and now owned by Mr. David Goodwin, is upon the site of old Fort Wintermoot, which was destroyed at the time of the invasion in 1778. It is upon the ancient bank of the river, here from fifteen to twenty feet high, and about sixty rods from the stream in its present channel.
Alarm in Wyoming. Condition of the Settlement. Apathy of Congress. Patriotism of Wyoming Women.
Whigs, greatly alarmed the people. Several of the Loyalists had left and joined the forces under Colonel John Butler, and the people very properly apprehended their return with power sufficient to satisfy their manifest spirit of vengeance. Early in May the savages had committed many robberies, and in June some murders, in the neighborhood of Tioga, and other points on the upper borders of Westmoreland. The Indians were in considerable force at Conewawah (now Elmira, in Chemung county, New York), and were in constant communication with the Tory settlers, by runners, at Wyalusing and in the neighborhood of Tunkhannock, within the precincts of Westmoreland. These circumstances were alarming; yet the exposed territory, cut off as it was from immediate aid, if demanded, was weakened by drafts upon its able-bodied men for the Continental army, and demands upon its local treasury for the use of the Connecticut Assembly. Mr. Minor has given, in a spirited historic “pen-and-ink sketch,” a picture of the condition of Wyoming at the close of 1777, and at the opening of the active operations the following year. He says, “Nearly all their ablebodied men were away in the service. The remaining population, in dread of the savages, were building six forts or stockades, requiring great labor, “without fee or reward.’ All the aged men out of the train bands, exempt by law from duty, were formed into companies to garrison the forts, one of the captains being also chief physician to the people and surgeon to the military. Of the militia the whole were in constant requisition, to go on the scout and guard against surprise. The small-pox pestilence was in every district. A tax to go to Hartford was levied in the assessment of the year, of two thousand pounds,” not in Contimental bills of credit at their nominal value, but “lawful money of the state of Connecticut.” Such was the condition of Wyoming when, in June, 1778, an expedition of Tories and Indians was prepared to fall upon the defenseless inhabitants. Congress was apprised of the dark design. The officers and men in the army, from Wyoming, pleaded for their wives and little ones. General Schuyler wrote a touching letter to Congress on the subject; yet that body, always tardy in its movements, and at that time too much employed in sectional disputes and factious intrigues, left the settlement uncared for, and apparently unnoticed, except by the resolutions to permit the people to take measures for self-defense by raising troops among themselves, and finding “their own arms, and accouterments, and blankets.” The heads of the families there exposed were cruelly detained in the ranks of the Continental army elsewhere, and thus, naked and helpless, the settlement presented an easy prey to the vultures that scented them from Niagara, and whose companions were then glutting their appetites in the Mohawk and Schoharie settlements. A force, consisting of the Tory Rangers of Colonel John Butler, a detachment of Johnson's Royal Greens, and from five to seven hundred Indians, under the general command of Butler, and numbering in all about eleven hundred men, crossed the Genesee country from Niagara, and appeared at Tioga Point, in June, whence they embarked in canoes, and landed
* History of Wyoming, page 207. Mr. Minor mentions an instance of the patriotism of the women of Wyoming, and the draft which the people made, under the pressure of circumstances, upon their undeveloped resources. Gunpowder was very scarce at the time when the settlement was menaced by the enemy. The husbands, fathers, and brothers were away in the Continental ranks, and the females plowed, sowed, and reaped. Nor was this all: they manufactured gunpowder for the feeble garrisons in the forts. “They took up the floors of their houses, dug out the earth, put it in casks, and ran water through it, as ashes are leached. They then took ashes in another cask, and made ley, mixed the water from the earth with weak ley, boiled it, and set it to cool, and the saltpetre rose to the top. Charcoal and sulphur were then used, the mixture was pounded in an implement brought to the valley by Mr. Hollenback, and thus powder was produced for the public defense.”—Page 212.
* See resolution of March 16th, 1778, in the Journals of Congress, vol. iv., p. 113. This resolution authorized the raising of “one full company of foot in the town of Westmoreland.” Nothing further was done by Congress in behalf of the people there until the 23d of June following, when a resolution was passed to write to the two independent companies under Durkee and Ransom, then greatly reduced by battle and sickness, and permit them to return home for the defense of the settlement. Congress also resolved to pay the officers and soldiers of the companies authorized to be raised by the resolution of the 16th of March preceding, for their arms and accouterments. The sum of $1440 was granted to the Board of War, to be issued to Colonel Denison. The Continental paper dollars were then rapidly depreciating, four of them being at that time worth only one in specie.