REPORT OF THE COMMISSION TO LOCATE THE SITE OF THE FRONTIER FORTS
Clarence M. Busch
State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1896.
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Site of Frontier Forts Between the Delaware and Susquehanna.
See Illustration of the Title Page.
An act authorizing the Governor of this Commonwealth to appoint five persons to make inquiry and examine into and make report to the next session of this Legislature, at its next regular session, the advisability of erecting suitable tablets, marking the various forts erected as a defense against the Indians by the early settlers of this Commonwealth prior to the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.
SECTION 1. Be it enacted, &c., That on and after thirty days from the passage of this act, the Governor of this Commonwealth is hereby authorized and required to appoint five persons to make inquiry in relations to the various forts erected by the early settlers of this Commonwealth prior to the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three, as a defense against the Indians. Said five persons are hereby authorized to make inquiry and examination as to the number and location of said forts and the propriety of erecting tablets to mark said forts and do such things as they may deem best to carry out the provisions of this act, and make report to the next regular session of the Legislature of this Commonwealth within 30 days after it shall convene.
SECTION 2. The persons appointed to serve in making such examination and report shall be allowed no compensation for their services, only such actual expenses as they shall incur in making such examination and report and such railroad fare, not exceeding three cents per mile for each mile actually traveled thereon, and such other expenses of other conveyances as may be necessary in making such investigation and report. An itemized account and statement whereof shall be certified to by the Governor and attested by the Auditor General of the Commonwealth before paid by the Treasurer, which shall accompany the report to the Legislature.
Approved The 23rd day of May, A. D. 1893.
ROBT. E. PATTISON.
In accordance with the provisions of the foregoing act, Governor Pattison appointed as Commissioners the following gentlemen:
JOHN M. BUCKALEW, of Columbia county.
SHELDON REYNOLDS, of Wilkes-Barre.
HENRY M. M. RICHARDS, of Reading.
JAY GILFILLAN WEISER, of Snyder county.
GEORGE DALLAS ALBERT, of Westmoreland county.
This Commission shortly after convened at Harrisburg, and nominated Captain
Buckalew as their chairman, and at once proceeded to arrange a program for carrying out the work as directed by law. It was then decided, on the ground of economy and expediting the work that Five Divisions be formed of those portions of the State where the Frontier Forts were erected, one of which should be confided to each member of the Commission. These were as follows:
I. That section of the State lying between the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna river, with the addition of Fort Augusta at Sunbury, to John M. Buckalew.
II. That section known in history, as the Wyoming Valley Region, to Sheldon Reynolds.
III. That section between the Delaware and the Susquehanna rivers, south of the Blue mountains, except Fort Halifax and Fort Augusta, to Henry M. M. Richards.
IV. That section comprising the Juniata and Cumberland Valleys, including Fort Halifax, east of the Susquehanna river, to Jay Gilfillan Weiser.
V. That section lying west of the Allegheny mountains designated as Western
Pennsylvania, to George Dallas Albert.
Each member of the Commission visited nearly all of the localities in person, thus covering every section of the country, celebrated in the annals of Frontier warfare; and the reports made, which are here published, were presented to the Governor of the Commonwealth, at the opening of the Session of the Legislature of 1895, and by him transmitted to the Senate and House of Representatives. The Assembly at once passed the following resolution:
In the Senate, January 10th, 1895.
Resolved (if the House concur), That the State Printer be directed to print and bind in cloth, under the supervision of the State Librarian, five thousand (5,000) copies of the report of the Indian Forts Commission, filed with the Executive of the Commonwealth as required by act of Assembly, approved the 23d day of May. A. D. 1893; 2,500 copies being for the use of the present members of the House of Representatives, 1000 copies for the use of the Senate, 500 for the Executive Department, 500 for the use of the State Librarian, and 100 for each of the five Commissioners who have made said report.
E. W. SMILEY,
Clerk of the Senate
The foregoing resolution concurred in January 23, 1895.
A. D. FETTEROLF,
Clerk of the House of Representatives.
Approved The 24th day of January, A. D. 1895.
In obedience thereto, the report of that Commission is herewith submitted to the people of the Commonwealth. In most respects it is interesting and valuable. As a historical document the report of the Commission will compare favorably with any heretofore published by the State. There may be errors of opinion, and perchance, errors in facts, but this is to be expected when so little that is reliable has ever been published in regard to the Frontier Forts.
Whether it be sentiment or historical pride, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania should take prompt action upon the recommendations of the Members of the Commission. They have done their duty well and faithfully. They have presented a report creditable to the Commonwealth, and invaluable as a contribution to the history of the State. The issue remains with the authorities. Let them act promptly and efficiently; and generations to come will rise up and bless their memories.
WILLIAM HENRY EGLE, M. D.,
THE INDIAN FORTS OF THE BLUE MOUNTAINS.
It is not within the scope of this report to analyze the reasons which induced the Indians to commit their terrible depredations in the Province of Pennsylvania, where the policy of the government had always been of a peaceful character and was based on the principle of fair dealing with the aborigines. It is sufficient to say that, as they daily saw themselves pushed back by the onward march of the white man, their hunting grounds, teaming with game, and streams, filled with fish, lost to them, either through fair purchase or more likely fraudulent action on the part of the settlers, it needed but a spark to fire the savage nature in their breasts and create a flame which blood alone could extinguish. That spark came from the field of Braddock's defeat in 1755, and, in its train, there swarmed amongst the frontier settlements of the Province hundreds of scalping parties, carrying death and destruction with them everywhere, whose work did not finally cease until the year 1783.
At this time the Blue Mountains, practically marked the limit of actual settlement on the part of the white men, and it was along this range that the storm burst in all its fury. Standing as it did on the verge of civilization, and forming in itself a natural barrier, it was but in accordance with reason to occupy it for the purpose of defense and to there stay the further encroachment of the enemy. It is well here to bear in mind the fact that the attacks and depredations of the Indians were not made by large bodies or any numbers combined, neither were the tactics of civilized warfare followed, but parties of from three to ten or twenty would creep noiselessly past alert and watchful sentries and suddenly fall upon their unsuspecting victims, just as suddenly disappearing after their horrible work had been completed, long before the alarm could be spread and the most active troops overtake them.
This required peculiar methods of defense, necessitating the erection of forts, not very distant from each other, which would occupy prominent points of approach, if possible be situated on elevated ground, thus furnishing a view of danger in advance, convenient of access to the settlers who might and did not constantly flee to them for refuge, and, last, but by no means least, be provided with an abundance of water nearby. Upon the occurrence of the first murders, blockhouses were erected by the settlers themselves, or farm houses used as such, which were located where the danger seemed most imminent and without respect to any general plan. In 1756, however, the Provincial Government took the defense of the people into its own hands. A chain of forts was established along the Blue Mountains, reaching from the Susquehanna to the Delaware, at distances of from ten to fifteen miles apart, depending upon the comparative situation of the prominent Gaps, which gateways were invariably occupied. Sometimes the chain of defenses ran on the south side of the range, then again on the north side, and frequently both sides of the mountains were occupied, as the needs of the population demanded. Some of these forts consisted of the defenses previously erected by the settlers, which were available for the purpose, and of which the government took possession, whilst others were newly erected. Almost without exception they were composed of a stockade of heavy planks, enclosing a space of ground more or less extensive, on which were built from one to four blockhouses, pierced with loop holes for musketry, and occupied as quarters by the soldiers and refugee settlers. In addition to these regular forts it became necessary at various points, where depredations were most frequent, to have subsidiary places of defense and refuge, which were also garrisoned by soldiers and which generally comprised farm houses, selected because of their superior strength and convenient location, around which the usual stockade was thrown, or occasionally block houses erected for the purpose. The soldiers who garrisoned these forts were Provincial troops, which almost with exception were details from the First Battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiment, under the command of that brave and energetic officer, Lt. Colonel Conrad Weiser.
When, by 1758, the fury of the first Indian outbreak had somewhat spent its force, and the terrors of Pontiac's war, which broke out in 1763, belonged as yet to the unseen future, the Government deemed it wise to abandon all but the larger and most important of the stations in the chain of defense, thereby materially reducing their number.
It is with these Indian forts of the Blue Mountains I have to do, of which, in this year of our Lord, 1894, but the slightest traces remain of a couple only, and of which the true location of many others had become a matter of mere conjecture, and, in the briefest time, would have been entirely lost to history, by so slender a thread did an authentic knowledge of their situation hang, had it not been for the wise appointment of the Commission whose labors have just been completed. It is therefore a source of much gratification to me to be able to report that I have ascertained, after much personal search and labor, the exact spot where stood each of the many defenses in the territory allotted to me. I beg to subjoin a map on which is correctly located every fort, and will proceed with a detailed and separate report of each one, beginning at the Susquehanna River and following the mountains of the Delaware.
(Log House of John Harris 1720.)
About the year 1705, John Harris, Sr., built his log house on the bank of the Susquehanna where now stands Harrisburg, the capital city of the Commonwealth. This building became, later, Fort Harris. He was more especially a trader but also engaged extensively in agriculture. It is said of him that "he was the first person who introduced the plough on the Susquehanna," and, moreover, that "he was a honest a man as ever broke bread." (H. Napey's Harrisburg Directory - Intro.,). There still remains, in the enclosure near the magnificent bridge of the Cumberland Valley Railroad opposite Mulberry street, a portion of the stump of the old mulberry tree, which stood near his house and to which he was bound by a party of drunken Indians to whom he had refused more rum, with the intention of burning him to death. From this death he was only saved after a struggle by another party of Indians, from across the river, who were more friendly disposed. When he died in 1748 his remains were interred, at his own request, beneath the shadow of this memorable tree. He was succeeded by his son, bearing the same name, John Harris, who was born in the old house in 1726, and was a most energetic and influential man. It was he who founded the city of Harrisburg, upon the site of what, for three quarters of a century, was known as Harris' Ferry.
After Braddock's defeat, the earliest onset of the savages was naturally felt along the Susquehanna. Mr. Harris was amongst the first to take up arms and otherwise arrange for defense, in which he became a leader. On October 28, 1755, he writes to the Governor detailing the massacre at Penn's Creek on the West Branch of the Susquehanna, together with the attack on the party which he led, whilst returning from that neighborhood, whither he had gone to protect the settlers (Col. Rec., vi, p. 654). On October 29, 1755, he writes to Edward Shippen, Esq., of Lancaster, as follows: "We expect the enemy upon us every day, and the inhabitants [are] abandoning their plantations, being greatly discouraged at the approach of such a number of cruel savages, and no sign of assistance. The Indians is cutting us off every day and I had a certain account of about 1,500 Indians beside French being on their march against us and Virginia, and now close on our borders, their scouts scalping our families on our frontiers daily. Andrew Montour and others at Shamokin desired me to take care, that there was 40 Indians out many days, and intended to burn my house and destroy myself and family. I have this day cut holes in my house, and [am] determined to hold out to the last extremity if I can get some men to stand by men, few of which I yet can at present, every one being in fear of their own families being cut off every hour (such is our situation)" * * * * * (Col. Rec., vi, p. 655.)
Besides providing port holes for musketry, Mr. Harris erected a substantial stockade around his home and otherwise made an actual fort of it. Edw'd Shippen in his letter of April 19, 1756, to Governor Morris, says * * * * "John Harris has built an excellent stockade round his house which is the only place of security that way for the provisions of the army, he having much good cellar room, and as he has but six or seven men to guard it, if the Government would order six more men there to strengthen it, it would in my opinion be of great use to the cause, even were no provisions to be stored there at all; tho' there is no room for any scarce in Captain McKee's Fort * * * * I speak with submission, but this stockade of Harris' ought by all means to be supported, for if for want of this small addition of men above mentioned, the Indians should destroy it, the consequence would be that most of the inhabitants within 20 miles of his house would immediately leave their plantations, the enemy can come over the hills at five miles distance from McKee's Fort." * * * * ( Penn. Arch., ii, p. 635.) Mr. Harris writes to R. Peters, under date of November 5th, 1756, "Here is at my fort two prisoners [that] came from Shamokin about one month ago. Be pleased to inform his Honor, Our Governor, that directions may be given, now they are to be disposed of, they have been this long confined. I hope that his Honor will be pleased to continue some men here during these calamitous times on our frontiers, as this place and the conveniences here may be of service if defended." * * * * (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 33).
The following extract from the Journal of James Burd, in 1758, shows the presence of troops here at that time:
Thursday, 16th February, 1758.
This morning set out from Lancaster to visit the troops from Susquehanna to Delaware, took Capt'n Hambright along with me." * * * *
Obliged to leave Capt'n Hambright here (sick at Barny Hughes's) I set off this morning at 9 A.M., for Hunter's Fort, at 2 P.M., arrived at Harris's, found Lieut's Broadhead and Patterson and Commissary Galbraith here, and 20 men" * * * * (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 352.) And on June 11, 1756, Colonel Clapham writes that he has detached Sergeant McCurdy, with twelve men to remain in garrison at Harris's and receive and stow carefully whatever provisions and stores which may arrive. (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 663.)
There then remains no doubt that the log house, erected about 1705, by John Harris, Sr., and later occupied by his son John Harris, was the Fort Harris at Harris' Ferry, now Harrisburg, as the large stone house constructed by Mr. Harris on Front street below Mulberry, was not built until 1766-69. What then was its appearance and where did it stand? Fortunately we have a representation of the building, taken from the original in the possession of General Simon Cameron, shown in the "History of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties" by Dr. W. H. Egle, p. 293, from which I have reproduced the following sketch: It was the typical log cabin of the early settler, with its huge chimneys, although somewhat more pretentious in size. "It stood on the lower bank of the river, about 150 to 200 feet below the spot where now repose his remains. The foundation walls of this house have been seen by some of our oldest citizens (about 1820 the cellar was visible - Pennsylvania Historic Collections - Sherman Day, p. 283). A well, dug by Mr. Harris, still exists about 100 feet east of his grave. It was covered over about 30 years ago (1850), but its site is easily distinguished by a small circular mound of earth. In connection with his mansion-house he erected a large range of sheds, which were sometimes literally filled with skins and furs, obtained by him in traffic with the Indians, or stored there by Indian traders, who brought them from the western country." (History of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties, Dr. W. H. Egle, p. 292.)
The exact location of Fort Harris admits of no doubt, if indeed it ever did. It would seem a matter of prime importance that its position and history should be perpetuated by a monument.
(Site of Fort Hunter.)
Six miles north of Fort Harris, or Harrisburg, at the junction of Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna river, surrounded by beautiful scenery, stood Fort Hunter, the next in the chain of defenses. It was about two and one-half miles below the present romantic village of Dauphin, and about one-half mile above that of Rockville.
Whilst its distance from Fort Harris was but six miles, not more than half as far as were from each other the remaining defenses planned by the Government, yet its very important situation "where the Blue hills cross the Susquehanna" gave it command of the passage around the same into the settled districts, and made it an admirable place or rendezvous for the batteaux which carried supplies up the river to Shamokin and Fort Augusta. It was this which, on several occasions, prevented its proposed abandonment, and insured its continuance when so many other forts were dismantled.
Exactly when built and by whom is not on record. It is very probable, however, that the defenses were originated by the settlers about October or November, 1755, at the time when the Indians made their first raid and committed the murders at Penn's Creek, and were afterwards completed by the Government troops when taking charge of them in January, 1756.
The derivation of its name is somewhat interesting and has a slight touch of romance about it. The first person to avail himself of this beautiful location was Benjamin Chambers, in 1720, the senior of four brothers, sturdy Presbyterians from the north of Ireland, himself a man of remarkable determination. Being, later on, joined by his brothers, we find that in 1735-6, the brothers Chambers, save Thomas, removed to the Cumberland Valley. A son-in-law of Thomas subsequently fell heir to the mill, and from henceforth it went by his name, and thus the Fort at Hunter's Mill - or Fort Hunter.
The first orders, on record, relating to Fort Hunter, were issued January 10, 1756, by Governor Morris to Adam Read, of Hanover township, Lancaster county, and were as
Orders to Adam Read, Esq., 1756.
Carlisle, January 10, 1756.
"The Commissioners thinking that the Company of 50 men under your command are sufficient to guard the frontier along the Kittektiny Hills, from your own house to Hunter's Mill, have refused for the present to take any other men in that quarter into the pay of the Government, and requested me to order, and I do hereby accordingly order you to detach 25 of the men now at your house, to the fort at Hunter's Mill, upon Susquehanna, under the command of your lieutenant or officer next under yourself, or in case there be none such appointed by the government, then under the command of such person as you shall appoint for that service; and you are to give orders to the commander of such detachment to keep his men in order and fit for duty, and to cause a party of them, from time to time, to range the woods along and near the mountains toward your house; and you are in like manner to keep the men with you in good order, and to cause a party of them, from time to time, to range the woods on or near the mountains towards Hunter's Mill, and you and they are to continue upon this service till further order.
You are to add 10 men to your company out of the township of Paxton, and to make the detachment to Hunter's Mill of 20 more men, which with those 10, are to complete 30 for that service, and keep an account of the time when these 10 enter themselves, that you may be enabled to make up your muster roll upon oath." (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 545.)
Hardly had this detachment entered upon its duties when further instructions were sent Mr. Read by Governor Morris, dated January 26, 1756, from Reading, containing the following: "I have also appointed Thomas McKee to take post at or near Hunter's Mills, with 30 men; you are to continue that part of your Company stationed there upon that service till they are relieved by him, when you are to give orders for their being dismissed, and you are to give directions to the officer commanding that detachment to deliver to Cap't McKee such Provincial arms, accouterments, blankets, tools and stores as he may at any time have received, and to take McKee's receipt for them, which you are also to transmit to me." (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 551.)
At the same time the following instructions were sent to Capt. McKee.
Reading, January 26, 1756.
"You are to receive from the officer now commanding the detachment of Capt. Read's Company at Hunter's Mill, and who you are to relieve, such arms, accouterments, blankets, tools and stores, as he may have in his hands belonging to the Province, with which your are to furnish your Company, but if that be not sufficient you are to apply to Capt. Frederick Smith for a further supply out of what he will receive from Capt. Read and Capt. Hedericks. But as the Province is at present in want of arms and blankets, if any of the men you shall enlist, will find themselves with those articles, they shall receive half a dollar for the use of their gun, and half a dollar for the use of a blanket." (Penn. Arch., ii P. 553.)
In connection with these instructions to Captains Read and McKee was a letter from the Governor, under the same date, January 26, 1756, to James Galbraith, Esq., a Provincial Commissioner, which rehearses sundry orders given, amongst them those just quoted, to which he adds, "I have also instructed Capt. McKee to advise with you whether to finish the fort already begun at Hunter's Mill, or to build a new one, and as to the place where it would be best to erect such new one. I therefore desire you will assist him in those matters, or in anything else that the King's service and the safety of the inhabitants may require." (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 554.)
The manner in which the Governor speaks of finishing the "fort already begun" indicates, of course, its incompleteness, and yet the order to Capt. Read, of January 10, 1756, distinctly directs him to "detach 25 of the men now at your house, to the fort at Hunter's Mill," so that a defense of some sort undoubtedly existed there prior to that date. We have nothing on record to indicate the fact that the Government made any systematic arrangement for defense in that locality before January, 1756, and can reasonably presume that Capt. Read's detachment were the first Provincial soldiers to occupy Fort Hunter. It can therefore fairly be taken for granted that the settlers themselves began some sort of stockade or defense, which, with equal reason, we can presume was about the time when the first real danger threatened them, in November, 1755, and can easily understand how the soldiers would naturally strengthen and complete what had already been started. I feel, therefore, that we are justified in naming the time about November, 1755, as the date of the erection of Fort Hunter. This is further borne out by the fact that in the report made by Edward Shippen to Governor Morris, from Lancaster, April 5, 1756, of ammunition distributed, he specifies "December 9, 1755, By Thomas Forster, Esq., and Thomas McKee, at Hunter's Fort, 12-1/2 lb powder and 25 lb swan shot" (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 614) at which time Mr. McKee was probably occupying the position with the neighboring settlers. He was temporarily relieved in January by the detachment of provincial soldiers from Capt. Read's house, and immediately after given a command himself and placed in charge of that district including Fort Hunter.
No stone was left unturned by the French in their efforts to enlist the Indians of the Province, the Delawares, in their cause. Their intrigues, aided by the natural disposition of the savage, too often met with success, as is shown by the following letter from Capt. McKee to Edward Shippen:
Fort at Hunters Mill, April 5th, 1756.
I desire to let you know that John Secalemy, Indian, is come here the day before yesterday, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon and gives me an account that there is a great confusion amongst the Indians up the north branch of Susquehanna; the Delawares are moving all from thence to Ohio, and want to persuade the Shanowes along with them, but they decline going with them that course, and as they still incline to join with us, the Shonowes are going up to a town called Teoga [Tioga], where there is a body of the Six Nations, and there they intend to remain. He has brought two more men, some women and some children along with him, and says that he intends to live and die with us, and insists upon my conducting him down to where his sister and children are, at Canistogo, and I'm loath to leave my post, as his Honor was offended the last time I did, but can't help it, he desires to acquaint you that his sister's son was killed at Penns Creek, in the scrimmage with Capt. Patterson. This with due respect from
Sir, your humble servant,
(Penn. Arch., ii, p. 616.)
In view of the alarming condition of affairs it was determined to select a place for the rendezvous of troops, and storage and forwarding of supplies. From its admirable location, both on land at no great distance from the source of these supplies, and on water by which, in batteaux, they could readily be forwarded and distributed, Fort Hunter was at once named for that purpose, and on April 7, 1756, Governor Morris wrote as follows to Colonel William Clapham, in command of that territory:
Philadelphia, 7th April, 1756.
As a magazine of provisions and other warlike stores will very soon be formed at or near Hunter's Mill, upon the river Susquehanna, I think it necessary for the protection thereof, and for the purposes, to order that you appoint the said place, called Hunter's Mill, or some convenient place near it, for the general rendezvous of your regiment now raising, and that you order all the men already enlisted, not employed upon some other service, to march immediately to the said rendezvous, and all your recruiting parties to send their recruits thither from time to time.
You will order proper guards upon the magazine, and upon the boats and canoes which shall be collected there pursuant to my orders, you will give directions that the officers and men keep themselves in good order, and ready to go upon duty at an hour's warning.
You will inform the Commissioners of these my orders, and apply to them for the things necessary to carry them into execution. (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 616.)
The next day Governor Morris, himself, writes to the Commissioners giving them a synopsis of the above orders. One of them, Edward Shippen, realizing how well Fort Harris was adapted for storage purposes, does not approve of erecting a multiplicity of stockades all over the country and even doubts the advantage of making a storehouse of Hunter's Mill. He writes from Lancaster, under date of April 19th, 1756, amongst other things "Hunter's house indeed would answer such a purpose were it stockaded; but as it is quite naked, and stands five or six hundred feet from the fort, the enemy may surprise it in the night, and kill the people, and set the roof on fire in three or four places at once, and if the sentries should discern the fire as soon as it begins to blaze, it might be too difficult a task for them to quench it without buckets or pails." (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 635.) In the same letter he mentions the fact that Capt. McKee's plantation is 25 miles above Fort Hunter.
Hunter's Mill was, however, a very important place, and needed for other purposes besides that of mere storage, and Col. Clapham's orders are not countermanded. He writes from Fort Halifax, July 1st, "I shall leave a sergeant's party at Harris's, consisting of 12 men, 24 at Hunter's Fort, 24 at McKee's Store, each under the command of an Ensign, and Capt. Miles with 30 men at Fort Halifax;" (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 686), and still further writes August 17th, from Fort Augusta that the garrisons at Fort Halifax, Hunter's and McKee's Store had very little ammunition. (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 751.)
On June 11, 1756, Col. Clapham notifies the Governor from his camp at Armstrong's, that he has stationed a party of 24 men, under the command of Mr. Johnson, at Hunter's Fort, with orders to defend that post and the neighborhood, and to escort any provisions, that should come to him, up to McKee's Store. (Penn. Arch., ii, p. 663.) The following orders to the commanding officer at Hunter's Fort are recorded: "Whither Mr. Johnson or Mr. Mears is ordered to furnish an escort of 15 men, under command of a sergeant, to conduct the wagon Master General, Mr. Erwin, to Fort Halifax, there join a detachment from Captain Jemison's Company, to be commanded by Lieut. Anderson, and march to Fort Augusta.
The commanding officer, at Hunter's Fort, is to take great care of the batteaux, and not to suffer them to be used unless by my particular orders; his is likewise to weigh the two cannon which now lie in the water and place them on the bank, at some convenient place for transportation, till further orders."
Fort Augusta, November 3rd, 1756.
A copy of Orders to the Commander at Hunter's Fort.
Orders to the Command Officer at Fort Hunter.
Enclosed in Col. Clapham's, of 23d November, 1756. (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 17.)
November 13, 1756, the State of the Garrison was:
Number of men - two sergeants, 34 private men.
Ammunition - 4-1/2 lb Powder, 28 lb of lead.
Provision - 1000 weight flour, 2000 of beef.
Men's time up - two men's times.
(Penn. Arch., iii, p. 52.)
About this time Robert Erwin, on his way from Philadelphia to Fort Augusta, with a draft of horses for the use of that garrison, applied to Mr. Mears, the Commandant of Fort Hunter, for an escort, claiming that such were the instructions of Col. Clapham, but was refused it, Mr. Mears informing him: "that he should not pay and regard to these Orders of Col. Clapham or the Governor's, for how could the Governor give him command of that fort and yet command it himself," whereupon, learning that there was the greatest want of the horses at Fort Augusta, Mr. Erwin felt obliged to proceed without his escort. (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 64.)
On March 14th, Lord Loudoun arrived at Philadelphia, where he remained two weeks, in consultation with Governor Denny. As a result of the conference on the defense of the Province, at which Col. Clapham and Lieut. Colonels Weiser and Armstrong were present, amongst other things it was decided that 400 men should be kept at Fort Augusta, and the works there completed; that 100 men should constitute the garrison of Fort Halifax, and that Fort Hunter should be demolished, only 50 men being retained there temporarily until the removal of the magazine, which was to take place as soon as possible. The long frontier, of the Blue Range, between the Susquehanna and Delaware was to be defended by Col. Weiser's Battalion, and the forts reduced to three in number. (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 119.)
This at once caused consternation amongst the settlers in its neighborhood and brought forth from them an earnest appeal to the Government, mention of which is made in the Minutes of the Council held at Philadelphia, Thursday, August 25th, 1757, as follows:
"A petition from the inhabitants of the township of Paxtang [Paxton]was read, setting forth that the evacuating Fort Hunter is a great discouragement to that township; that Fort Halifax is not necessary to secure the communication with Fort Augusta, and is not so proper a station for the batteaux parties at Fort Hunter, and praying the Governor would please to fix a sufficient number of men at Hunter's under the command of an active officer, with strict orders to range the frontiers."
"Commissary Young attended, and informed the governor and council that Fort Halifax was built by Col. Clapham, with the order of Governor Morris; that it is a very bad situation, being built beyond two ranges of hills, and nobody living near it, none could be protected by it; that it is no station for batteaux parties, having no command of the channel, which runs close on the western shore, and is besides covered with a large island between the channel and fort, so that numbers of the enemy may even in the daytime, run down the river without being seen by that garrison. He further said that though the fort, or block-house, at Hunter's was not tenable, being hastily erected, and not finished, yet the situation was the best upon the river for every service, as well as for the protection of the frontiers." (Col. Records, vol. ii, p. 724.)
Fearing this appeal might fail for lack of a little influence, the Rev. John Elder, of Paxton, adds a personal entreaty in a letter to Richard Peters, Esq., of Philadelphia, secretary of the Council, dated July 30, 1757, thus:
"As we of this township have petitioned the Governor for a removal of the garrison from Halifax to Hunter's, I beg the favor of you to use your interest with his Honor on our behalf. The defense of Halifax is no advantage, but a garrison at Hunter's, under the command of an active officer, will be of great service; it will render the carriage of provisions and ammunition for the use of Augusta more easy and less expensive, and by encouraging the inhabitants to continue in their places, will prevent the weakening of the frontier settlements; we have only hinted at these things in the petition, which you'll please enlarge on in conversation with the Governor and urge in such a manner as you think proper. It is well known that representation from the back inhabitants have but little weight with the gentlemen in power, they looking on us either as incapable of forming just notions of things, or as biased by selfish views; however, I'm satisfied from the knowledge you have of the situation of the places mentioned in your petition, you'll readily agree with us, and use your best offices with the Governor to prevail with him to grant it; and you'll very much oblige,
Your most obedient and humble servant,
(Penn. Arch., iii, p. 251.)
It is gratifying to know that this letter met with the success it so well deserved. Fort Hunter was not demolished, but, on the contrary, strengthened, and, on February 5th, 1758, we have a return of Adjutant Kern which gives, under Capt. Patterson and Lieut. Allen a garrison of 40 men, having 44 provincial and three private muskets, with 15 pounds of powder and 20 pounds of lead, (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 340); whilst, on February 9, 1758, James Young, Commiss'r of the Musters, , reports the force on duty at that point in the pay of the province, as one company of 54 men, (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 341.) James Burd, in his Journal, says, Saturday, February 18th, 1758, "set off for Hunter's Fort (from Fort Harris), arrived at dark, found the Capts. Patterson and Davis here with 80 men, the captains inform me that they have not above three loads of ammunition a man, ordered Mr. Barney Hughes Commissary of Supplies) to send up here a barrel of powder and lead, answerable in the mean time, borrowed of Thomas Galloher 40 pounds of powder and 100 pounds of lead; ordered a review of the garrison tomorrow morning at 9 A.M.
Had a review this morning of Capt. Patterson's Co. and found them complete, 53 men, 44 province arms, and 44 cartouch boxes, no powder, nor lead, divided ½ pint of powder and lead in proportion a man, found in this fort four months provision for the garrison.
Capt. Davis with his party of 55 men was out of ammunition, divided ½ pint of powder and lead in proportion to them. Capt. David has got 12,000 weight of flour for the batteaux, sundry of the batteaux are leaky, that they can't swim and must be left behind.
Capt. Patterson can't scout at present for want of officers. Ordered him to apply to the Country to assist him to stockade the fort agreeable to their promise to His Honor the Governor. Three men sick here.
This day at 11 A.M. marched for Fort Swettarrow, got to Crawfort's, 14 miles from Hunter's, here I stayed all night, it rained hard." (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 352.)
Notwithstanding its apparent necessity, the work of completing the stockade seems to have gone slowly as we notice by the following letter to Gov. Denny:
Fort Hunter, 22d July, 1758.
Please your Honor:
Whereas, I have the honor to bear a commission in your regiment, I was left in the garrison of Fort Hunter, and received orders from Gen. Forbes to repair it, and sent an engineer to inspect into the condition, who found necessary to stockade it, for which purpose I was to get the country people; and accordingly applied to the several justices of the peace for the townships of Paxton and Donegal, which latter I never had any answer from, but was informed by Parson Elder, of Paxton, whose word is the same with that of the justices, as they act in conjunction in such affairs, that till harvest be over the country people can do nothing; therefore thought proper to acquaint you of this, as a duty incumbent, also that I am relieved, and that should the work of the fort be postponed till harvest be over, 'twill be yet three weeks before they begin.
I am, your Honor's most obedient and most humble servant,
P.S. The stockades are cut.
(Penn. Arch., iii, p. 488.)
In spite of the constant vigilance of the soldiers, depredations were committed by the savages within the shadow of the fort, as is shown by the following.
Extract of a letter from Mr. Bertram Galbraith at Hunter's Fort, dated October, 1757: "Notwithstanding the happy situation we thought this place was in on Capt. Bussee's being stationed here, we have had a man killed and scalped this evening, within 20 rods of Hunter's barn. We all turned out, but night coming on so soon we could make no pursuit. We have advice from Fort Henry by express to Capt. Bussee that the Indians are seen [in] large bodies, 60 together." (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 277).
This is confirmed by the following report of Capt. Christian Busse to Governor Denny:
Hunter's Fort, the 3d October, 1757.
May it please your Honor:
In my coming back from ranging along the frontiers on Saturday the first instant, I heard that the day before, 12 Indians were seen not far off from here, as it was late, and not knowing their further strength, I though to go at daybreak next morning, with as many soldiers and batteaux men as I could get. But in a short time we heard a gun fire off, and running directly to the spot, found the dead body of one William Martin, who went into the woods to pick up chestnuts where the Indians were lying in ambush. I ordered all the men to run into the woods, and we ranged till it grew quite dark; the continual rain that has been since, has hindered my following them; there was a number of the inhabitants came here to assist in following them, but the weather prevented. There were only three Indians only seen by some people, who were sitting before the door of Mr. Hunter, and they say, that all was done in less than four minutes; that same night, I warned the inhabitants to be upon their guards, and in the morning, I ranged on this side of the mountain the next day. But my men being few in number, by reason of their being 14 of them sick, I could not be long from the garrison; and it seems yet probable to me, that there are great numbers of the enemy Indians on this river. The townships of Paxton and Derry have agreed to keep a guard for some time in the frontier houses from Monaday to Susquehanna and expects that your Honor will be pleased to reinforce this detachment. If these townships should break up, the communication between Fort Augusta and the inhabitants would be greatly endangered."
I am, with greatest respect,
Most Obedient Humble Servant
To the Honorable William Denny, Esq., Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania . (Penn. Arch., iii, p. 279.)
Capt. James Patterson, who was later in command at Fort Hunter, sent, on January 10, 1758, to Gov. Denny, the following interesting extracts from his Journal of duties performed at that place from Dec. 5, 1757, to date:
Fort Hunter, January 10, 1758.
"I took with 19 men and ranged from this fort as far as Fort, where I lodged, keeping a guard of six men and one corporal on sentry that night. The sixth day I marched towards Hunter's Fort, ranging along the mountain foot very diligently till I came to the fort that evening, my men being so afflicted with sickness I could not send out till the eighth day, Lieut. Allen, with 14 men, went to range for three days. On the 12th day Lieut. Allen, with 18 men and one sergeant ranged along the mountain about 14 mile from this fort, where he met Capt. Lieut. Weiser with his party and returned back towards this fort the next day and came to it that night. The 15th, Lieut. Allen with 18 men, kept along the frontier till the 25th and came to this fort that night. Hearing of Indians harboring about Juniata, on the 28th of December, I took 15 men with me up the creek, and about 14 miles from the mouth of it I found fresh tracks of Indians on both sides of the creek and followed the tracks about four miles up the said creek, where I lost the tracks, but I still kept up the creek till I got up about 25 miles from the mouth of said creek, where I encamped that night. The Indians I found were round me all the night, for my dog made several attacks towards the woods as if he saw the enemy and still ran back to the sentry. On the 3d of January I returned down the creek in some canoes that I found on said creek, and when I came about nine miles down I espied about 20 Indians on the opposite side of the creek to where I was. They seemed to get themselves in order to fire upon the men that were in canoes. I immediately ordered them all out but two men that let the canoes float close under the shore, and kept the land in readiness to fire upon the enemy, as soon as they moved out of the place where they lay in ambush, but I could see no more of them. On the 5th day of January, I came to this fort. On the 6th day I sent a sergeant and corporal with 15 men along the frontiers of Paxton and Mannadys, about 14 miles from this fort, and on the 7th day they returned back to said fort. On their march one of the soldiers espied two Indians just by one of the frontier plantations; the soldiers gave the sergeant notice and the sergeant kept on his course, as if he had not known anything of the Indians, till he got some bushes between the party and the Indians and then got round the place where the Indians were seen, but they happening to see the party ran off, when our party came to the place they saw the tracks of the Indians plain where they ran off. As I am recruiting to fill up my company again, and my recruits are not all qualified as yet, it is not in my power to send your Honor a roll of my company, but expect in a few days to be in capacity of doing it. As I am insensible there are enemy Indians upon the coast, I thought it fitting to send your Honor this Journal, and remain,
Your Honor's most obedient humble servant
(Penn. Arch. iii, p. 332.)
Truly the days of the provincial soldier of the French and Indian Wars were not passed in luxury and ease nor his nights upon a bed of roses. However, with the success of the British arms and consequent discomfiture of the French, the scene of action was shifted during 1758, and the garrison of Fort Hunter had a rest until 1763, when Pontiac and his followers burst like a storm upon our western frontiers and again deluged its fair fields with blood. Hunter's Mill was once more selected as a place of rendezvous for men and stores, and, in June, 1763, we find Joseph Shippen, Jr., Governor Hamilton's secretary, there in person, giving attention to the recruiting of soldiers, collecting of batteaux, and gathering of stores to be sent up the river to Fort Augusta. (Penn. Arch., iv, p. 111.) A list of ten canoes hired from sundry parties at a cost of £5-10 is given, (Penn. Arch., Iv, p. 112). The danger was imminent and it was determined to recruit 700 men for the defense of the frontier. Full instructions to that effect are given, July 11th, to Col. Armstrong. (Penn. Arch., iv, p. 114.) As the stores went forward to Fort Augusta they were accompanied by small detachments of soldiers as guards, to whom full and implicit orders were given to guard against surprise. (Penn. Arch., iv, p. 113.)
Fortunately the strife though bloody was short, and, with its close, the angel of peace took the place alike of warlike man and merciless savage. Fort Hunter remained such in name only until its last log had disappeared and now its memory alone exists. When the Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, a French traveler, passed up the Susquehanna in 1796, he stopped at three settlements only, the first of which was Fort Hunter. It had then passed into the hands of Mr. McAllister. He says, in substance, "McAllister owns about 300 acres - about 120 cultivated. Price of lands near to him is $8 for woodland; $50 for cleared. The houses, all of wood except the inn, stand on the Susquehanna and in the precincts of Fort Hunter, erected many years ago." (Penn. Hist. Collections, Sherman Day, p. 281.)
Mr. R. McAllister, of Harrisburg, has written the following interesting statement:
"The site of Fort Hunter is situated exactly six miles above Harrisburg on the Susquehanna river, at its junction with Fishing Creek. There are no remains of this fort, as upon its ancient foundations there is a very large storehouse, built by my grandfather, Archibald McAllister, in 1814, and now owned by my father, Capt. John C. McAllister. The situation of this house is very commanding, about 80 feet above the river Susquehanna and the surrounding scenery is of the most romantic character.
"During the Revolutionary War and the early periods of our history, a block-house or fort occupied the site upon which now stands my father's large stone residence. This fort was called the 'English Fort Hunter.' About a mile above this point, where the river has evidently forced its way through a mountain pass, and where the river is narrow, deep and swift, immediately below the romantic village of Dauphin, where immense rocks (not yet worn away by the hand of time or the friction of the water) jut out of the water, at this point, at the very base of the Kittattiny Mountains, the river is called 'Hunter's Falls.'
"In distinction from the 'English Fort Hunter,' there was another fort about one mile below this on the summit of the second mountain, a very high peak, entirely commanding the Susquehanna river, overlooking Harrisburg, and called the 'Indian Fort Hunter.' At this point tradition informs us that the Indians had some sort of an erection from which they would occasionally emerge, and after committing great depredations they would again retire to their stronghold, which was the terror of the country. To keep these Indians in check I have always understood that the English Fort was built. Tradition still delights to recount many fierce conflicts occurring between the inhabitants of these forts. Of the Indian Fort Hunter, which as a boy, I have frequently visited, there are yet distinct remains (1856). There is still to be seen a circular excavation of about four feet in depth and thirty feet in diameter. In this can yet be found heads of Indian arrows and other evidences of its former use." (Penn. Arch., xii, p. 378.)
The property built on the site of the fort is now owned by the estate of Daniel Boas, and occupied by John W. Reily.
I give a sketch showing in detail the location of Fort Hunter and its various surroundings.
All evidence and concurrent testimony locate the fort as shown, on a narrow elevation of gravel and boulders, about 40 feet high, at the mouth of the Fishing Creek where it empties into the Susquehanna River. It is also on the Harrisburg and Dauphin Pike, about one-half mile north of the railroad bridge at Rockville. The Susquehanna River is here about seven-eighths mile wide, and the space, of about 150 feet, between the pike and the river, which constitutes the grounds of the present substantial stone house built on the site of the fort, is very beautiful. The Pennsylvania Canal, Northern Central, and Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroads, all close together, pass by, to the west, distant about 600 yards. In the rear of the barn, now standing on the opposite side of the pike from the fort, were formerly erected barracks for the better accommodation of the soldiers forming the garrison, and recruits gathered for other points. A house and barn occupy the site of Hunter's house and barn, as shown. Hunter's Mill proper, was located where now stands the mill owned by Abr. Ream, which is built on its site, distant about 500 yards west of the fort. This will explain the various remarks made with regard to the unprotected nature of Hunter's Mill, when it was suggested that it should be used for a storehouse. We can readily see, also, how the commanding position of Fort Hunter, on the spot where actually built, made it most important, whilst its location, at the Mill proper would have had the opposite effect, even if better protection had been afforded, thereby, to said building. A little over one mile in a southeasterly direction from the fort is the base of a prominent peak of the Blue Mountains on which, for a number of years, was displayed a flag marking the position of the so-called "Indian Fort Hunter," of which Mr. McAllister speaks. It is to be regretted that this misleading term has come into such general use. It was contrary to the custom and nature of the Indian to erect any defense which might properly be called a "fort." Especially in the French and Indian Wars, so far as they relate to this vicinity, the savages never attempted to gather together at any one place, as headquarters, and fortify the same; least of all did they do so near Fort Hunter. We have seen from the records, that the marauding parties of the enemy were not of that immediate neighborhood, but, as at every other place, they consisted of small parties, from greater or less distances, bent solely on murder and plunder. I have learned nothing about the circular excavation of which Mr. McAllister writes, but have ascertained that there are still to be seen places in the rocks which have been hollowed out, of a smaller size, where, probably the women were accustomed to grind their corn. The place evidently marks the site of an Indian village, existing prior to the French and Indian Wars. The large excavation mentioned may have been a natural hollow, or, if made by the aborigines, could have been used for many different purposes.
Fort Hunter, it is true, was merely a blockhouse surrounded by a stockade, not so pretentious, perhaps, in size or appearance as some of its neighbors, but, after reviewing its history, we can hardly fail to realize its great importance and the prominent part it played in the history of the times. It would certainly be a source of regret were its location not to be perpetuated by a monument of some sort.
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