REPORT OF THE COMMISSION TO LOCATE THE SITE OF THE FRONTIER FORTS OF PENNSYLVANIA.
CLARENCE M. BUSCH.
STATE PRINTER OF PENNSYLVANIA.
The Frontier Forts Within The
North And West Branches of the Susquehanna River.
By John M. Buckalew.
The Frontier Forts Between The North And West Branches.
Fort Muncy is located about half a mile above Hall's station, immediately on the P. & E. R. R., and about four miles from Muncy, and was built by Col. Thomas Hartley in 1778, at the urgent solicitation of Samuel Wallis, Esq., who had erected a stone mansion here in 1769. It stood a few hundred yards in front of the famous Hall's house of 1769. It was designed to be the most important stronghold next to Augusta, and was situated midway between that place and the farthest settlement up the river; it was a rising piece of ground at the foot of which was a fine spring of water, a large elm tree now hangs over the spring. A covered way led from the fort to this natural fountain as a protection to those who went there for water. When the extension of the Philadelphia and Reading railroad was built to Williamsport, the elevation on which the fort stood was cut through. The excavation is quite deep and passengers cannot fail to notice it on account of the view of the Hall residence on the left being suddenly shut off as the train dashes into the cut (in going up). Col. Hartley informs us that the bastions of the fort were built of fascines and clay and the curtains were protected by the stockades in which quarters for the garrison were placed. (Meginness' Otzinachson, pages 484-5.)
One would understand from the many accounts that Fort Muncy had been destroyed twice. In the Penna. Archives, (Vol. xii, appendix, p. 418.) "The convoy arrived safely at Sunbury, leaving the entire line of farms along the West branch to the ravages of the Indians. They destroyed Fort Muncy, but did not penetrate Sunbury." Shortly after the big runaway Col. Brodhead was ordered up with his force of 100 or 150 men to rebuild Fort Muncy and guard the settlers while gathering their crops. After performing this service he left for Fort Pitt and Colonel Hartley, with a battalion succeeded him in 1778. Col. Ludwig Weltner, December 13th, 1779. I found Fort Muncy and Fort Jenkins, on the East branch, and with the magazine at Sunbury, to have been the only posts that were standing when he was ordered here from Wyoming.
"Col. Hunter, whom I consulted, was of the same opinion, the only difficulty was to fix on some place equally well adapted to cover the Frontier, as Fort Muncy was; Fort Muncy having been evacuated and destroyed." So Fort Muncy appears to have been destroyed the second time, as Lieut. Moses Van Campen, of Capt. Robinson's Rangers says, in the latter part of March, just at the opening of the campaign of 1782, the companies that had been stationed during the winter at Reading were ordered back by Congress to their respective stations; Lieut. Van Campen marched at the head of Capt. Robinson's company to Northumberland, where he was joined by Mr. Thomas Chambers, who had been recently commissioned ensign of the same company. Here he halted for a few days to allow his men rest, after which he was directed to march to a place called Muncy, and there rebuild a fort which had been destroyed by the Indians in the year 79. Having reached his station, he threw up a small blockhouse in which he placed his stores and immediately commenced rebuilding the fort, being joined shortly after by Capt. Robinson in company with several gentlemen, among whom was a Mr. Culbertson, who was anxious to find an escort up the West Branch of the Susquehanna into the neighborhood of Bald Eagle creek. Here his brother had been killed by the Indians, and being informed that some of his party had been buried and had thus escaped the violence of the enemy, he was desirous of making search to obtain it. Arrangements were made for Van Campen to go with him at the head of a small party of men as a guard. Lieut. Van Campen was captured while on this expedition and taken to Canada, where he remained some time, so we get no further information from him in regard to this rebuilding of Fort Muncy for the third time. Fort Muncy, if properly garrisoned, was an important position for the defense of the valley below it; here was a good place from which to support scouting parties, west and north, and from which passes of the Muncy hills to the eastward could be covered by strong scouting parties, but the country lacked men, and means to support them at this critical time. Near the site of Fort Muncy is the Indian Mound described by Mr. Gernerd in his "Now and Then," and near the Hall's station is the grave of Capt. John Brady, with his faithful old soldier comrade, John Lebo, buried by his side. The spring still defines the location of the fort.
Fort Menninger was erected at White Deer Mills, or at the time of building the Widow Smith's mills; it was built about eighty rods from the river, on the north bank of White Deer creek, covering the Widow Smith's mills, to which a gun barrel boring establishment was added in 1776, and is said to have turned out a good many of that much needed article. The fort was situated west of the mills forming the apex of an irregular triangle of which the mills formed one base and the small stone house, said to have been erected by the Widow Smith before the Revolution, which is not doubted, the other; its walls are two feet thick, and the building is in good condition, having a more modern addition to it at present. The fort and mills were abandoned at the time of the Big Runaway in 1779, and the fort burned by the Indians July 8, 1779. In John B. Linn's Annals of Buffalo Valley, pp. 239 and 240, we find: "In a petition to the Assembly of this year, 1785, by Catharine Smith, sets forth that she was left a widow with ten children with no estate to support this family except a location for three hundred acres of land, including the mouth of White Deer creek, whereon is a good mill seat, and a grist mill and saw mill being much wanted in this new country at that time, she was often solicited to erect said mills, which were of great advantage to the country, and the following summer built a boring mill, where a great number of gun barrels were bored for the continent, and a hemp mill. The Indian war soon after coming on, one of her sons, her greatest help, went into the army and, it is believed, was killed, as he never returned. The said mills soon became a frontier and, in July, 1779, the Indians burned the whole works. She returned to the ruins in 1783, and was again solicited to rebuild the grist and saw mills, which she has, with much difficulty, accomplished, and now ejectments are brought against her by Messrs. Claypool and Morris, and she, being now reduced to such low circumstances as renders her unable to support actions at law, and therefore, prays relief, &c. The Legislature, of course, could grant no relief under the circumstances and the petition was dismissed." She is said to have gone to Philadelphia and back thirteen times on this business. Her house was where Doctor Danonsky now (1874) lives, on the Henry High place, part of the old stone house being used as a kitchen. Rolly McCorley, who recollects the mill last built by her, said it was a small round log mill." A part of the foundation of this mill serves the same purpose in the fine modern mill of to-day owned by Captain David Bly, of Williamsport, who was born here and pointed out where, when a boy, he saw the remains of Fort Menninger removed from. Fort Menninger was built in the spring of 1778. Troops were stationed here a part of the time after its destruction. In November, 1779, fourteen men were stationed here, and most probably occupied the Widow Smith's stone house.
Gen. James Potter (In Penna. Archives. Vol. viii. p. 562), under date of Sept. 18, 1780, says: "I marched the remainder, consisting of 170 men up the West Branch to Fort Swarts. I then went to Col. Kelly, who lay at the mouth of White Deer creek, with 80 men."
Fort Antes was erected by Lieut. Col. Henry Antes in 1778, about opposite Jersey Shore on the east side of Nippenose creek, and on the higher plateau overlooking it, and also the river. It was defended by Col. Antes, its builder, until ordered to vacate it by Col. Samuel Hunter, at the time the military authorities considered it unsafe to attempt to defend these forts.
Col. Hunter sent word to Col. Hepburn, then commanding at Fort Muncy to order all above him on the river to abandon the country and retire below. Meginness' Otizinachson says, "Col. Hepburn had some difficulty in getting a messenger to carry the order up to Col. Antes, so panic stricken were the people on account of the ravages of the Indians. At length, Robert Covenhoven and a young millwright in the employ of Andrew Culbertson, volunteered their services and started on the dangerous mission. They crossed the river and ascended Bald Eagle mountain and kept along the summit till they came to the gap opposite Antes Fort. They then cautiously descended at the head of Nippenose Bottom and proceeded to the fort. It was in the evening and as they neared the fort the report of a rifle rang out upon their ears. A girl had gone outside to milk a cow, and an Indian lying in ambush fired upon her. The ball, fortunately, passed through her clothes and she escaped unhurt. The orders were passed on up to Horn's Fort and preparations made for the flight."
Fort Antes was a refuge for the Indian land or Fair Play men, as well as for those on the south side of the river. Col. Antes was a man of prominence in Northumberland county, in civil as well as military life. He was a justice of the peace and twice sheriff of Northumberland county. He was buried in a small grave yard near the fort he defended ably and abandoned with great reluctance at the command of his superior officer. Near Fort Antes we were shown the scalping knife, old flint lock pistol and pocket compass of the famous scout, guide and Indian fighter o the West Branch, Robert Covenhoven. The knife has nine notches filed in the back, to represent the number of Indians it has scalped.
Meginness says, "The most important defensive work, after leaving Fort Muncy and traveling westward by the river about twenty-five miles was what was known among the early settlers at Antes Fort, because it was built by Col. John Henry Antes. It was located on a high bluff overlooking the river and Indian land to the west, at the head of Long Island, in what is now Nippenose township, Lycoming county. Although every trace of the fort has long since disappeared, and the ground on which it stood is plowed and cultivated annually, its name is perpetuated by the little village and station on the Philadelphia and Erie railroad, about a mile eastward, called Antes Fort."
The builder of this stockade, which played an important part during the Indian troubles preceding the Big Runaway, was one of the earliest pioneers to effect a permanent settlement here. It is believed that he was induced to locate lands and settle here by Conrad Weiser, and that he came as early as 1772. He picked out a mill site near the mouth of the creek which still bears his name, erected a primitive dwelling place and settled. At that time the surroundings must have been exceedingly wild. The creek, which is the outlet for the waters of Nippenose Valley, flows through a canon [canyon] in the Bald Eagle mountain which, at this day, possesses much of its native wilderness. Behind him rose the mountain, covered from base to summit with its dark evergreen foliage of pine and hemlock, whilst a swamp, with almost impenetrable thickets of briars, tangled vines and underbrush, came up to within a few yards of where he built his cabin.
Perhaps as early as 1773 he commenced the erection of a grist mill. It was the most advanced improvement of its kind up the river, and proved a great boon to the settlers for miles beyond. To show the straightened circumstances of the inhabitants it may be mentioned that while the work of building the mill was going on coarse flour was made by grinding wheat and corn in a large iron coffee mill, and the bran was removed by a hair sieve. Tradition says that one person was kept turning the mill all the time to keep a supply of flour for the sustenance of the workmen.
It cannot be positively stated when the stockade was built, but it must have been in the summer of 1777, when the Indians became demonstrative and troublesome on the frontier. The site selected for the fort was on the hill overlooking the mill, which was within rifle shot. It was constructed according to the usual plan, by sinking vertically heavy timbers in a trench dug four or five feet deep, when the earth was filled in around them.
These stockades were from ten to twelve feet high, and notched at the top for musketry. No record has been left to show the extent of the enclosure, but it must have covered fully a quarter of an acre, as a militia company was stationed there for several months. Whether the fort was ever supplied with small cannon or not is unknown, but a tradition has existed that it was, because a cannon ball was once found near the river bank, under the hill. It might have been carried there by some collector of Revolutionary relics. But as Fort Muncy had one or two, it is not improbable that one of these was dragged up to Antes Fort to menace the savages when they appeared on the opposite side of the river.
Being active, vigilant and well informed for his time, John Henry Antes was appointed a justice of the peace for this part of Northumberland county on the 29th of July, 1775, by the court then held at Fort Augusta. He filled the office until the breaking out of Indian hostilities. On the 24th of January, 1776, he was appointed captain of a company of fifty-eight militiamen in the Second battalion under Col. James Potter, for the defence of the frontier, and he commanded a company in Col. William Plunket's regiment when he made his ill-timed raid on the Connecticut settlers at Wyoming.
After returning from the "raid" up the North Branch, he was commissioned a captain of foot in the Second battalion of Associators, April 19, 1776. In a little more than a year he was commissioned lieutenant colonel (May, 1777) of the Fourth battalion of the militia of Northumberland county, by the Supreme Executive Council, sitting at Philadelphia. His commission was beautifully written on parchment and signed by Thomas Wharton, Jr., president, and Timothy Matlack, secretary. It is still preserved by his descendants as a precious relic. On the 30th of July, 1777, he took the oath of allegiance and straightway entered on a more active career in the defence of the frontier against the savages, who were daily growing more bold and aggressive. It was about this time that he had a garrison at Antes Fort and kept a vigilant outlook for the foe, who could come within sight of the fortification on their own land. Scouting parties were frequently sent out for the purpose of keeping communication open with Fort Muncy, and to watch the great Indian path running up Lycoming creek, down which scalping parties frequently came to ravage the settlements.
The winter of 1777-78 was rendered distressing by the frequent inroads of the savages, and it was necessary to observe the greatest vigilance to guard against surprise. On the 23d of December a man was tomahawked and scalped near the mouth of Pine creek, almost within sight of the fort; and of the 1st of January another met the same fate further up the river. This month Colonel Antes visited Fort Augusta to consult with Colonel Hunter as to what had best be done. The result of the conference was that three classes of Col. Cookson Long's battalion were ordered to report to Colonel Antes. The men composing these commands mostly lived on the West Branch and were good riflemen. The inhabitants, in view of the increasing danger, did not deem it prudent to allow any more militia to leave the country to join Washington's army, and so informed Colonel Hunter.
The scarcity of arms and ammunition was another drawback to a vigorous defence. Colonel Hunter was constantly clamoring for arms, but the authorities were so hard pressed that they could not meet his demands. The British were making a supreme effort both in the front and rear of Washington. Indians and Tories were directed to descend on the frontiers of Northumberland county, from Fort Niagara to destroy the settlements and show no mercy to men, women and children. Colonel Antes had command of the frontier forces, with headquarters at his stockade, and ranging parties were kept constantly in the field. Colonel Hunter stated that Colonel Antes was the only field officer he was allowed, and he found it almost impossible to defend the extensive frontier with the small force at his command.
A body of Indians numbering eleven were discovered skulking in the woods above the Great Island, and as it was evident that they were bent on mischief, they were promptly pursued by a portion of Colonel Antes command. As a light snow had fallen they were easily tracked and soon overtaken. A slight skirmish ensued, when two Indians were killed. This caused the remaining nine to quickly take to the woods and escape. But, notwithstanding the vigilance of the scouting parties, small bands of Indians would suddenly appear in unlooked for places and do much damage.
The inhabitants complained that if no militia were stationed above Fort Muncy they would be forced to abandon their homes. This made it more responsible for Colonel Antes, and he was kept on the alert night and day. His stockade fort was the centre of military operations for months, and its value as a defensive point cannot be overestimated in those perilous times.
In June, 1777 , an exciting and tragic affair occurred within sight of Fort Antes, which shows the constant danger to which the occupants were subjected. It was on a Sunday morning, when four men, Zephaniah Miller, Abel Cady, James Armstrong and Isaac Bouser, accompanied by two women, left the fort and crossed the river in canoes to the Indian land for the purpose of milking several cows which were pasturing there. The four men went along as a guard. One of the cows wore a bell but they found that she was further back from the shore than the others. Cady, Armstrong and Miller thoughtlessly started to drive her in to be milked. It never occurred to them that Indians might be lurking in the bushes and that the cow might be kept back as a decoy. Soon after entering the bushes they were fired upon by the concealed foe, and Miller and Cady fell, severely wounded. With the agility of cats they were pounced upon by the Indians and scalped, when they as quickly disappeared in the thickets. Armstrong was wounded in the back of the head, but succeeded in getting away. When the shots were fired, Bouser and the women, who were in the rear, ran to the river bank and concealed themselves.
The sudden firing alarmed the garrison at the fort, but a number of militiamen, friends of the party attacked, seized their guns and hurried across the river. Colonel Antes stoutly remonstrated against their going, fearing that it might be a decoy to draw the force away, when the fort would be assailed from the rear, but the men were so anxious to get a shot at the skulking savages that they could not be restrained, although aware that it was a breach of military discipline.
When the rescuing party reached the shore they soon found Cady and Miller where they fell, scalped, weltering in their blood, and presenting a horrible spectacle. Cady was still breathing, but unable to speak. He was picked up and carried to the river bank, where his wife, who was one of the milking party, met him. He reached out his hand to her as a sign of recognition and almost immediately expired. Armstrong was taken to the fort, where he lingered in great agony till Monday night following, when he died.
The loss of these three men, through the wily methods of the savages, caused a feeling of sadness among those collected in the fort, and showed them very plainly that their safety depended on vigilance. The pursuing party moved swiftly and soon came in sight of the Indians who, on seeing that they were discovered, turned and fired, but did no execution. They then dashed into a swamp which then existed under what is now the hill on which the Jersey Shore cemetery is situated. Deeming it unsafe to enter the tangled thickets of the swamp, the pursuing party returned. They fired several times at the retreating foe and thought they did some execution, as marks of blood were seen on their trail as if they had dragged away their killed or wounded.
One of the strange characters who was a frequent visitor to Antes Fort in those gloomy days was "Job Chilloway," a friendly Indian of the Delaware tribe. He had been converted by the Moravians and remained steadfast in the faith. Having associated much with the whites he became very friendly and by many good acts won their confidence and respect. He was much employed as a scout by the military authorities and his fidelity was frequently proven by dangerous missions to gain information of the movement of the savages. He had a wide acquaintance among the Indians, as well as a thorough knowledge of the country, its mountains, streams and paths, and, therefore, was enabled to acquire information that proved of great value to the whites. At times he was suspected by the Indians of giving information, but through his artlessness and keenness of perception, he always managed to disabuse their minds of suspicion and escaped when others would have failed. In a word, he was a first class Indian detective, whose sense of gratitude never allowed him to prove recreant to his trust, and those who had befriended him, which was something remarkable in the nature and character of an aborigine. Through life he proved himself a "good Indian," and when he died near Fort Erie, Canada, September 22, 1792, he received Christian burial at the hands of his Moravian friends. He had learned to speak English well and understood several Indian dialects. He was the first to apprise the whites that the Indians were preparing to descend on the valley in force, and warned them to be prepared to resist the invaders.
Some interesting anecdotes illustrative of the character of this remarkable Indian, have been preserved, one of which may be related in this connection. One day, when the times were perilous, he was visiting at Antes Fort. As he was moving about outside the stockade, and ever on the alert for danger, he discovered a sentinel leaning against a tree asleep. Slipping up behind the tree he quickly threw his arms around it, and, grasping the sentinel, held him so that he could not see who had hold of him. The sentinel was badly frightened at his predicament and struggled to release himself, but in vain. At last he discovered that it was Job who had him pinioned, when he begged him not to tell Colonel Antes, who might punish him severely for such a grave offense. Job promised not to report him, but reminded him that if it had been an enemy that seized him, he might have been killed. "Yes," replied the sentinel, "I might have been caught by an Indian and killed before I knew who my assailant was." "It was an Indian that caught you," replied Job, with a grin, "but he was your friend."
This affair so much amused Job that he would burst into a fit of laughter whenever he thought of it. His frequent outbursts of merriment finally attracted the attention of Colonel Antes, and he asked what was the cause of it, but he refused to tell for a long time. At last he informed the Colonel that something serious had happened to one of his men, but he had pledged his word not to tell on him. But Job intimated to the Colonel that he might detect the guilty man by his countenance when the company was on parade. The Colonel scrutinized the countenance of his men sharply when they were paraded, which caused the guilty man to confess what occurred to him. The circumstance and the manner of its revealment through the suggestion of the Indian, so amused him that he did not punish the man, but admonished him not to be caught that way again.
In the early summer of 1778 another affair of an entirely different character occurred at the fort, which shows the prowling nature of the savages and how close they would venture to get a shot at a white person and possibly secure a scalp.
When Colonel Hunter sent word to the commanding officer at Fort Muncy that it would be necessary for the inhabitants living above the Muncy hills to abandon their homes and rendezvous at Fort Augusta, if they valued their lives, and despatched messengers with the warning to Antes Fort and Horn's Fort, some trouble was experienced in finding messengers who were willing to take the risk of traveling twenty-five miles up the valley, which was then infested by savages. Finally, Robert Covenhoven, the daring scout, and a young man employed at Culbertson's mill, volunteered to undertake the dangerous mission. The name of the young man, unfortunately for the benefit of history, has not been preserved, but the probabilities are that he did not go, because Covenhoven preferred, when on a dangerous mission, to go alone. We are led to this conclusion by the statement that Covenhoven started at once and stayed that night with a man named Andrew Armstrong, who had settled at a big spring a short distance east of the present village of Linden. This was about sixteen miles west of Fort Muncy and, therefore, a good stage for the first part of the journey. It is of record that he warned Armstrong of the impending danger and advised him to leave. He refused, and, in a few days afterwards, was taken prisoner, carried into captivity and never heard of again.
The next day Covenhoven did not take the risk of traveling up the valley to Antes Fort, but, crossing the river, ascended Bald Eagle mountain, and traveled along the level plateau on the summit. He knew that the Indians were not likely to be found there, as they preferred lying in ambush along the path in the valley to surprise incautious travelers. Then, again, he could look down into the valley and discover signs of Indians, if any were about. The only point of danger was in descending to cross one or two canons [canyons] which intervened before debouching near the fort. He made the journey successfully, and, in the evening as he was cautiously creeping through the bushes and when within a few hundred yards of the fort, he was startled by the sharp report of a rifle.
His first impression was that he had been discovered and fired upon by an Indian concealed in the bushes, but finding himself uninjured he made a dash for the fort, which he reached in safety and delivered the message of Colonel Hunter to Colonel Antes to evacuate the place within a week.
Investigation showed that the shot had been fired by an Indian at a young woman who had gone outside the fort to milk a cow. The Indian had stealthily crawled up until he, got in range and fired. The young woman was badly frightened, as she had made a narrow escape. The bullet passed through the folds of her dress without touching her person. Milking cows in those days outside of a fort was a dangerous experiment, and several narrow escapes are recorded.
As soon as the shot was fired a body of armed men rushed out of the fort and scoured the surrounding neighborhood for some distance, but the venturesome redskin could not be found. He had probably taken refuge in the swamp, about a quarter of a mile southwest of the forta favorite hiding place with the Indians.
It does not appear that Covenhoven continued to Horn's fortanother messenger evidently having conveyed the news thereas we are informed that he immediately returned to Fort Muncy. The brief record of the times does not tell us how he returned, but as an Indian lurked in nearly every thicket, we are left to infer that he made his way back by the mountain route, as it was the safest. In a few days afterwards we hear of him removing his wife to Fort Augusta for safety, and then returning to assist the panic stricken inhabitants in their flight down the river in what was known as the Big Runaway.
In less than a month after the flight armed bodies of men were hurried up the valley from Fort Augusta and posted at Fort Muncy, whence scouting parties were sent out to see what damage had been done. They found the cabins and barns of the settlers burned and their crops greatly damaged. In about a month many settlers were induced to return and gather what they could of their crops under the protection of armed men.
An advance scouting party hurried up the river as far as Antes Fort. They found the mill and outbuildings burned and the embers yet smoking, showing that the savages had just been there before them. The air was tainted with the aroma of roasting wheat, and everything destructible attested the work of the vandals. Antes Fort, however, was still tenable; the savages were unable to burn the stout oaken timbers which formed the stockade, and they were not disposed to undertake the hard labor of cutting them down or pulling them out of the earth, where they had been so firmly implanted. Everything else that could be destroyed was rendered useless.
Colonel Antes and family fled with the rest of the fugitives in obedience to the orders of Colonel Hunter, but he was among the first to return to look after his property. It does not appear that any militia were stationed at the fort again for any length of time, although it is probable that it was made a rallying point until all danger was over. On the restoration of peace it was allowed to fall into decay, and it soon became a ruin, which for many years was pointed out by the old settlers as a spot of great historic interest, on account of its association with the thrilling days of the Revolutionary period.
Colonel Antes, soon after the return of peace rebuilt his mill and for years it was the only one in that section of the valley to supply the settlers with flour, who came with their grists as far away as thirty or forty miles, and in some instances further. A mill still stands on the site today, although it is the third since the first.
This remarkable man, who played such a conspicuous part in the early history of the valley in both a military and civil capacity, was born October 8, 1736, near Pottstown, Montgomery county. His ancestors came from Crefeld on the Rhine, and in this country they occupied high positions in the Dutch Reformed church. His parents had eleven children, all of whom were ardent patriots and the males were distinguished for their military services in Revolutionary times.
Colonel Antes was chosen sheriff of Northumberland county in 1782, and commissioned on the 18th of October. He was reelected in 1783, and served a second term. His first wife Anna Maria Paulindied in March, 1767, leaving five children. By his second wife, Sophia Snyder, he had eight children. Colonel Antes had an elder brother, Philip Frederick, who married Barbara Tyson in 1755. Their youngest daughter, Catharine, married Simon Snyder about 1796. He became Governor of Pennsylvania in 1808, and served until 1817 three terms.
The Colonel was an active and busy man. He acquired considerable land on Antes creek and made many improvements. He died May 18, 1820, aged 83 years, 9 months and 5 days, and was buried in the graveyard near his famous fortification. This burial ground was started by those who were killed by the Indians. Here Donaldson (see sketch of Horn's Fort), McMichael and Fleming were buried, and here Cady, Miller and Armstrong were laid to rest. Since that timeone hundred and seventeen years agoscores of old and young have found a place of sepulture in its sacred soil, and burials are still made there.
No stone marks the grave of the old hero and patriot, Col. John Henry Antes, although the spot is pointed out by some of his descendants where he was laid three-quarters of a century ago. Considering what he did in a military capacity alone, the trials he passed through, the hardships he endured and the foundation he assisted in laying for the higher civilization which followed him, the time has arrived for the erection of a suitable monument to perpetuate his name and fame. Marble, granite, brass and bronze testimonials have been reared over the graves of those who did less for posterity; here lies one who is eminently deserving of an appropriate block of granite, indicative of his rugged character and sublime patriotism. Shall it be done or must his memory be allowed to perish?
Fort Horn was erected on a high flat extending out to the river and commanding a good view of the river up and down, as well as the north side of the river; is about midway between Pine and McElhattan Stations on the P. & E. R. R., west of Fort Antes. It was a place of refuge for those hardy settlers on the Indian lands on the north side of the river, as well as the residents on the Pennsylvania lands on which it was built. The river lands on the north side were outside the purchase of 1768, from the Lycoming creek up the river westward. These settlers were adventurous, hardy, brave. When I say they were mostly Scotch-Irish it will be understood they were also law abiding. As they were outside the limits of the laws of the Province, they had formed a code of their own and administered it impartially. In troublous times now upon these communities they all stood shoulder to shoulder, proving the saying that blood is thicker than water.
A few soldiers are said to have been stationed here and the settlers on both sides the river joined them in scouting duty, sending word to those below of approaching danger; several light skirmishes took place between the men of the fort and the Indians, in which several lives were lost. On an alarm, the inhabitants of the north side placed their families in canoes and paddled to Antes, Horn and Reid's forts; when danger passed over their families would return.
Accompanied by John F. Meginness, the historian, J. H. MacMinn, a great-grandson of Col. Antes, and quite an antiquarian, we visited the sites of these upper West Branch forts. A Mr. Quiggle, of Pine, accompanied us to Fort Horn. The old gentleman pointed out to us the depression where, in his younger days, had stood up the remains of the stockades. The P. & E. R. R. at this point has cut away about one-half the ground enclosed by the fort.
This stockaded fortification was situated on a commanding point of land on the West Branch of the Susquehanna river, in what is now the township of Wayne, Clinton county, one mile west of the post village of Pine. At this point the river describes a great bend, affording a commanding view for about one mile up and down the stream from the elevation or point on which Samuel Horn chose to erect his stockade. Looking across the river to the north, which, at this point flows to the east, a magnificent view of the rich, alluvial valley is afforded; in the rear, not more than one-fourth of a mile away, is the dark and sombre range of the Bald Eagle mountain, varying in altitude from five to seven hundred feet.
At the time Samuel Horn settled here the river was the Indian boundary line, according to the provisions of the treaty of 1768, therefore, he was on the northern boundary of the Province of Pennsylvania. From the point where he built his cabin he could look over the Indian possessions for miles and plainly see the cabins of a dozen or more sturdy Scotch Irish squatters on the "forbidden land." The tract on which Horn settled was warranted in the name of John L. Webster in 1769. Since that time it has passed through a number of hands, and is now owned by a Mr. Quiggle, whose ancestors were among the early settlers in this part of Wayne township.
Horn, when the Indians became threatening in 1777, with the assistance of his neighbors, enclosed his primitive log dwelling with stockades, and it became a rallying point as well as a haven of safety, in the perilous times which followed. The line of stockades can be pretty clearly traced to this day by the depression in the ground and the vegetation and underbrush. The enclosure probably embraced a quarter of an acre by affording ample room for a number of families. A small stream of pure mountain water ran along the west side of the enclosure, and it is probable that there was a way constructed so that it could be reached from within safety from the prowling foe. When the Philadelphia and Erie railroad was built the line cut through the northern end of what has been the stockaded enclosure, and the discolored earth showed very plainly where the timber had decayed.
Horn's Fort and the others of the upper West Branch we recognized by the authorities as defensive positions, and most of them, if not all, furnished with troops, either militia or Continental, when troops could be procured for that purpose when not garrisoned by militia, these forts on this flank, were held by the inhabitants of the Province of the south side of the river, assisted by their neighbors of the Indian lands the north side.
Colonel Antes was furnished militia to strengthen Antes Fort whenever Colonel Hunter, the commander of Northumberland county, could procure them. Moses Van Campen tells us Colonel Kelly's regiment of militia garrisoned Fort Reid at now Lock Haven, a few miles above Horn's, the most of the summer of 1777.
Tradition says that Horn's was a defensive work of no mean importance at that time, and was of great value to the pioneers who had pushed their way up the river in the advance guard, as it were. There was but one defensive work (Reid's) few miles west, and as it was on the extreme limits of the frontier there a company of county militia was stationed for sometime. Its location was admirably chosen. In all that region no more eligible position could have been formed. Standing on its ramparts, the eye swept the river right and left and the Indian lands to the north, for several miles. As the current bore immediately under its lea an Indian canoe could scarcely have glided past in the night without having been detected by a vigilant sentinel.
One of the most remarkable incidents of Revolutionary timesan incident which stands, so far as known, without its counterpart in the history of the struggle of any people for liberty and independence, occurred within sight of Horn's fort, but across the river on the Indian land. This was what was known as the "Pine Creek Declaration of Independence." The question of the colonies throwing off the yoke of Great Britain and setting up business for themselves, had been much discussed, both in and out of Congress. The hardy Scotch Irish settlers on both sides of the river, in the vicinity of Horns, bore little love for the mother country. The majority of them had been forced to leave their native land and to seek a home where they would be free from religious oppressionwhere they could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. They were all patriots in the broadest sense of the term, and a loyalist or Tory would not have been tolerated in their midst. They yearned for independence, and when the discussion of the subject waxed warm they resolved on calling a public meeting to give formal expression to their views. Accordingly, on the 4th day of July, 1776, the meeting, assembled on the Pine creek plains and a resolution was passed, declaring themselves free and independent of Great Britain. The remarkable feature of this meeting was that the Pine creek resolution was passed on the same day that a similar resolution was passed by the Continental Congress sitting in Philadelphia, more than two hundred miles away, and between whom there could be no communication for concert of action. It was, indeed, a remarkable coincidenceremarkable in the fact that the Continental Congress and the squatter sovereigns on the West Branch should declare for freedom and independence about the same time.
It is regretted that no written record of the meeting was preserved, showing who the officers were and giving the names of all those present. All that is known is what has been handed down by tradition. The following names of the participants have been preserved: Thomas, Francis and John Clark, Alexander Donaldson, William Campbell, Alexander Hamilton, John Jackson, Adam Carson, Henry McCracken, Adam DeWitt, Robert Love and Hugh Nichols. The meeting might have been held at the cabins of either John Jackson or Alexander Hamilton, as both were representative and patriotic men of the period. Several of these men afterwards perished at the hands of the savages; others fought in the revolutionary army and assisted in achieving the independence which they had resolved the country should have.
The majority of these men lived across the river from the fort on the Indian land, and they all received patents for the land they had pre-empted after the treaty and purchase of 1784, in consideration of their loyalty, patriotism and devotion to the struggling colonies. The name of Samuel Horn is not found among those that have been handed down to us, but it may be safely inferred that the man who was sufficiently patriotic to build a stockade fort for the protection of the neighborhood in which these men lived, was a sympathizer, if not a participant, in the Pine creek movement for independence.
There is nothing on record to show that the fort was ever supplied with small cannon. Its only armament was muskets and rifles in the hands of the hardy settlers when they had collected there in times of danger. That the savages regarded it with displeasure, and sought more than one opportunity to attack the occupants, there is abundant proof. They prowled about in small bands or laid concealed in the surrounding thickets ready to shoot down and scalp any thoughtless occupant who might venture a few hundred yards from the enclosure. Among the thrilling escapes that have been preserved is that of the young woman named Ann Carson, just before the flight known in history as the Big Runaway. She ventured out of the fort one day and was fired upon by a concealed savage. The bullet cut through the folds of her dress, making fourteen holes in its flight, but left her uninjured. About the same time another young woman named Jane Anesley, while engaged in milking a cow one evening outside the enclosure, was fired at by a lurking Indian several times. One bullet passed through her dress, grazing her body so closely that she felt the stinging sensation so severely that she was sure she was shot.
At the time Colonel Hunter sent up word from Fort Augusta for the settlers to abandon the valley and flee to places of safety down the river, as he was informed that a large body of savages was preparing to descend from the Seneca country to devastate the valley and wipe out the settlements, that fearless scout and intrepid soldier, Robert Covenhoven, bore the unwelcome news from Fort Muncy to Antes Fort and had a messenger dispatched from the latter place to warn the inmates of Fort Horn that they must fly if they valued their lives. The meagre records informs us that all the settlers within a radius of several miles were collected at Horn's and that a great state of excitement prevailed. Those living on the Indian lands across the river were gathered at the fort, anxiously awaiting news from below. Judging from the extent of the settlements at the time, a hundred or more fugitives must have been collected there.
The order to evacuate the fort was received with feelings of alarm, well nigh bordering on despair. The frenzied settlers at once set about making preparations to abandon their humble homes, their growing cropsfor it was in early June and fly. Many of them buried chinaware and other household effects that they could not well carry with them in places that they could recognize if they were ever permitted to return.
Soon after receiving Colonel Hunter's message four men, Robert Fleming, Robert Donaldson, James McMichael and John Hamilton started down the river in canoes for Antes Fort to secure a flat in which to transport their families below. They were squatters on the Indian land across the river from Horn's and they knew that the savages had a grudge against them for trespassing on their territory, and that they would fare badly if they fell in their hands. The dread of impending danger had driven them across the river with their families to seek the protection of the fort.
They reached Antes Fort in safety, engaged a flat and started on their return. But the eye of the wily savage was on them. They had pushed their canoes up through the Pine creek riffles, when they pushed over to the south side of the river for the purpose of resting and to await for other parties who were following them with the flat. At this point the mountain comes down almost to the edge of the river, and at that time it presented an exceedingly wild and forbidding appearance. As they were about to land, and not suspecting danger, they were suddenly fired on by a small band of savages concealed in the bushes. Donaldson jumped out of his canoe, rushed up the bank and cried to the others, "Come on, boys." Hamilton saw the Indians rise up, and at the same time noticed the blood spurting from a wound in Donaldson's back as he was trying to reload his gun. He soon fell from exhaustion and died. Fleming and McMichael were also killed. Hamilton, who was untouched, gave his canoe a powerful shove into the stream and, jumping into the water fell flat on the other side. Then, holding the canoe with one hand between the Indians and himself, he managed to paddle across the river with the other. Several bullets flew around his frail craft, but he escaped without a scratch. When he landed his woolen clothes were so heavy, from being saturated with water, as to impede his flight. He, therefore, stripped himself of everything but his shirt and ran swiftly up the river. His route was by the Indian path to the Great Island. He ran for life. Fear lent wings to his flight. The flutter of a bird stimulated him to increase his speed, and if a bush came in his way he cleared it with a bound. In this way he ran for nearly three miles, passing the place where his father had settled, until he came opposite Horn's fort, when he was discovered and a canoe was sent to rescue him.
The men in the flat being behind and hearing the firing and, divining the cause, hurriedly pushed to the north shore, below the mouth of Pine creek, which they hurriedly forded and ran up the path which Hamilton had so swiftly traveled. James Jackson, who was one of the party on the flat, found a horse pasturing on the Pine creek clearing which he caught, mounted and rode up to the point opposite Horn's fort, when he was discovered and brought over in a canoe. The other men made their way to the fort and escaped.
An armed body of men, as soon as the news was received at Horn's, made their way down to the place of ambuscade. Here the dead and scalped bodies of Donaldson, McMichael and Fleming were found, but the Indians had departed. They knew that they would be punished and hurried away as quickly as possible. The rescuing party secured the three dead bodies of their neighbors and carried them to Antes Fort, where they were buried in the little graveyard which had been started outside of the enclosure. Nearly all of these men left families, and the cruel manner in which they had been slain caused great excitement at the fort, as well as intense grief on the part of their wives and children. It was a sad day at Horn's. But no time was to be lost. Activity was the demand of the hour. The savages were emerging from the forests on every hand bent on murder and pillage, and the settlers collected at the fort saw that if they were to escape their relentless fury they must fly at once.
The same day the bloody affair occurred at Pine creek, a party of men were driving a lot of cattle down the river from the vicinity of the Great Islandthe thickest part of the settlement on the Indian landwhen they were fired on by a small body of skulking savages, almost in sight of Fort Horn. The whites, who were well armed, returned the fire, when an Indian was observed to fall and was quickly removed by his companions. This mishap seemed to strike terror into the ranks of the survivors and they fled precipitately into the forest, abandoning a lot of plunder, consisting largely of blankets, which fell into the hands of the whites. A member of the cattle party named Samuel Fleming, was shot through the shoulder and severely wounded. The Fleming family was one of the earliest to settle in this neighborhood, and as the head thereof had several sons, it is probable that Samuel was a brother of Robert, who was killed in the ambuscade at Pine Creek.
The firing was heard at Horn's and added to the alarm of the women and children assembled there, which only subsided when they found the party approaching on the other side of the river with their cattle. Fleming was ferried over to the fort, where he had his wound dressed. The cattle drivers continued on down the river in search of a place of greater security for their stock.
Such were some of the incidents preceding the Big Runaway in the latter part of June, 1778, when all of that part of the valley of the Wrest Branch, west of the Muncy hills, was abandoned by the white settlers to escape the fury of the savages. The stockade forts, like the humble log cabins, were dismantled and burned, so far as the remorseless foe was capable of carrying out their intentions.
A description of the Big Runaway, which has no parallel in frontier history, is not out of place in this connection. The best account is found in Sherman Days Historical Collections of Pennsylvania, p. 451. Mr. Day obtained it from the lips of Covenhoven himself in 1842, more than fifty years ago, when the thrilling incidents were comparatively fresh in his mind. After delivering the order of Colonel Hunter to the commander of Antes Fort, and seeing that the message was conveyed to Horn's, Covenhoven hastily returned to Fort Muncy and removed his wife to Sunbury for safety. He then started up the river in a keel boat for the purpose of securing his scanty household furniture and to aid the panic stricken inhabitants to escape. Day reports his story in these thrilling words:
"As he was rounding a point above Derrstown (now Lewisburg) he met the whole convoy from all the forts above (Muncy, Antes, Horn's and Reid's) and such a sight he never saw in his life. Boats, canoes, hog troughs, rafts hastily made of dry sticksevery sort of floating article had been put in requisition and were crowded with women and children and plunder' there were several hundred people in all. Whenever any obstruction occurred at a shoal or riffle, the women would leap out and put their shoulders, not, indeed, to the wheel, but to the flat boat or raft, and launch it again into deep water. The men of the settlement came down in single file on each side of the river to guard the women and children. The whole convoy arrived safely at Sunbury, leaving the entire line of farms along the West Branch to the ravages of the Indians. They did not penetrate in any force near Sunbury, their attention having been soon after diverted to the memorable descent on Wyoming. * * * After Covenhoven had got his bedding and furniture in his boat (at Loyal-sock), and was proceeding down the river just below Fort Menninger (at the mouth of White Deer creek), he saw a woman on the shore fleeing from an Indian. She jumped down time river bank and fell, perhaps, wounded by his gun. The Indian scalped her, but in his haste neglected to tomahawk her. She survived the scalping, was picked up by the men from the fort (Freeland) and lived on Warrior run until about the year 1840. Her name was Mrs. Durham."
Strange as it may seem, nothing has been preserved to show who Samuel Horn was, whence he came or whither he went after abandoning his fort. Neither do the records show that he ever warranted any land in that vicinity. That he had a family is reasonably certain, else it is not likely he would have gone to the trouble and expense of building a stockade around his cabin for protection and the protection of his neighbors, who made it a rallying point in time of great danger. All that has been preserved about him is what has been handed down in the form of tradition. It is probable that he never returned after the Big Runaway, but settled in some of the lower counties. His name, however, has been perpetuated in connection with the fort, and, although one hundred and sixteen years have rolled away since he hurriedly bade it adieu forever, the site where it stood is still proudly pointed out by the people in the neighborhood, who hold his name in grateful remembrance.
This report would be incomplete if no further reference was made to the fearless scoutRobert Covenhovenwho bore the last message up the river warning the settlers to fly to Fort Augusta to escape the wrath of the red-handed Ishmaelites who were bearing down on them from the north incited to commit the most atrocious deeds by the promise of British gold.
Who was Robert Covenhoven? He was of Hollandish descent, and came with his father s family from Monmouth county, New Jersey, where he was born December 7, 1755, and settled near the mouth of Loyalsock creek in 1772. A number of relatives accompanied them. Our subjectthe name has since been corrupted in Crownoverwas first employed as a hunter and axeman by the surveyors, and early became acquainted with the paths of the wilderness and inured to the dangers and hardships of pioneer life. This knowledge and service eminently fitted him to perform the duties of a scout, and as he was fearless, strong and sagacious and well acquainted with the wiles of the Indian, he became very successful in his dangerous calling.
On the breaking out of the Revolution he joined Washington's army and participated in the battles of Trenton and Princeton. In the spring of 1777 he was sent to his home on the West Branch to aid in protecting the frontiers, and few men in those stirring times endured greater hardships or had more hairbreadth escapes. He married Miss Mercy Kelsey Cutter (also a native of New Jersey), February 22, 1778, so that it will be seen that she was little more than a bride at the time of the Big Runaway.
To give a history of his life in full would require the space of a moderate sized volume. He was the principal guide for Colonel Hartley when he made his famous expedition up Lycoming creek in September, 1778, by direction of Congress for the purpose of chastising the Indians at Tioga Point (now Athens), and was the first man to apply the torch to the wigwam of Queen Esther at the Point.
He had a brother killed in a fight with Indians on Loyalsock, near where his father settled, and had another taken prisoner. He was himself chased for some distance along the creek, dodging up and down the bank alternately, that his savage pursuers might get no aim at him. Doubtless, his swiftness of foot and power of endurance saved him. He escaped to Fort Muncy and gave an account of the fight. On the close of the war he purchased a farm in Level Corner, Lycoming county, almost in sight of Antes Fort, and settled down to the quiet pursuits of agriculture.
He had a family of five sons and three daughters, all of whom are deceased. His wife died November 27, 1843, aged 88 years, 10 months and 8 days, and was buried in a cemetery on what is now West Fourth street, Williamsport. Her grave has been obliterated by a church, which stands on the spot where it was made.
When the veteran grew old and was borne down by the weight of years, he went to stay with a daughter who lived near Northumberland. There he died October 29, 1846, at the ripe and mellow age of 90 years, 10 months and 22 days, and was laid at rest in the old Presbyterian graveyard in the borough of Northumberland. A plain marble headstone marks his grave, and the inscription, now almost illegible, tells who he was and what he did to help achieve our independence. For years the old burial ground where his ashes repose has been a common, and cattle graze on its green sward in summer time, pigs root among fallen tombstones and listless vandals amuse themselves by defacing memorial tablets reared by loving hands to perpetuate the name of a father or mother. The old patriot left a request in his will to be buried by the side of his wife, but his executor failed to carry it out, and from appearances his humble grave will soon be obliterated, the corroding tooth of time will soon destroy his plain marble tablet, and his numerous descendants will no longer be able to tell where his bones were laid.
FORT REID AT LOCK HAVEN.
Fort Reid was the most westerly of the line of defences thrown out in advance of Fort Augusta, for the purpose of covering that place and as a rallying place for the inhabitants and the scouts when hard pressed. The Continental army had drawn largely upon the young active men of the region, leaving those less fit for active service at home to cope with an enemy, the most active and wily in border warfare of this kind in the world.
In this forest country, with the inhabitants isolated by the size of their land claims, he could lay in wait, concealed for weeks if necessary, to await an opportunity to strike the settler when off his guard or in a situation in which he could offer least effective opposition. Not hampered with baggage, never troubled about keeping open his communications, as he could glide through where a fox might pass, and as noiselessly; armed by his master with the best of arms the time afforded, while the pioneers could scarcely procure ammunition enough to keep his family in meat; the Indian was bountifully furnished from the ample storehouses of the English. One naturally wonders how, with all the disadvantages against him, the settler held out so long; his staying qualities were wonderful; with these strengthened houses inadequately garrisoned as the only refuge for his family, he was a man who elicits our admiration.
Reid's Fort was the dwelling house of Mr. William Reid, stockaded in the spring of 1777; its location is on Water or River street, in the built up part of the town east of the mouth of the Bald Eagle canal. Judge Mayer and others have kept up an interest in its site. Visiting the site, Capt. R. S. Barker and myself called upon William Quigley and his wife, who were said to be the oldest residents of the place, he being ninety years; we found the pair bright, intelligent people. He recollected the remains of Fort Reid and so did Mrs. Quigley. As their location is acquiesced in by Judge Mayer and the others, we give it.
A large Indian mound existed at this place on the river bank, described as high as a two-story house, surrounded by a circle of small ones. In digging the Bald Eagle canal they cut away the western half of this mound, exhuming quantities of human bones and stone implements. The banks of the canal were said to be whitened therewith for years after. Immediately to the east of the mounds and close thereto stood Reid's fort, traces of which could be seen after 1820. This gives us the exact site within, say thirty feet, of the chimney of the Reid house and brings us within the stockades.
As mentioned before it was the left flanking defence of the series and was vacated by order of Col. Hunter, who had command of these forts, and garrisoned when he had troops, but the principal defence fell upon the settlers of the regions they protected. The Indians seldom attacked these places with any persistency unless accompanied by whites. It was an important point to garrison, covering the river on both sides and the lower Bald Eagle valley, which, when well done by the assistance of Horn, Antes and Muncy, protected the whole of the region between the Bald Eagle and the Susquehanna down to White Deer creek.
Moses Van Campen, then orderly sergeant of Captain Gaskins company of Colonel John Kelly's regiment of Northumberland county militia, says the regiment was stationed here at Fort Reid during its six months service in the summer of 1777. As he calls it Fort Reid it must have been fortified at that time, as the position was on the extreme outer limits of the settlements and much exposed. This is, without doubt, correct. Scouting duty was performed by the regiment and guarding the inhabitants was performed vigilantly. Here, in the West Branch, is located at the mouth of the Bald Eagle creek, the "Big Island," comprising a few hundred acres and very fertile. This place attracted settlers early, while on each side of the river the lands were attractive and a considerable settlement existed in the vicinity of the fort at this time. Here Van Campen had his wrestling match with the champion of the Indian land men, or those settlers on the north side of the river, in which Northumberland's activity and muscle prevailed. Here the Bald Eagle valley terminates. The fort, when manned as it should be, protected the lower part of the valley. The Rev. Mr. Fithian, of the Presbyterian church, visited this place before the Revolution, going with Miss Jenny Reed and another young woman whortleberrying on the Bald Eagle mountain. On returning from the expedition they came part of the way by the river; their canoeman was unfortunate and overset the canoe, spilling out the girls and whortleberries. The water was not deep; the girls squalled lustily at first, but, finding themselves unhurt, they proceeded to chastise the canoeman by "skeeting" water over him with their tin cups until the poor fellow was effectually drenched, when, still indignant, they waded to the shore to their friends, who were there enjoying the scene.
The foregoing includes all the forts built as a defence against the Indians prior to 1783 I find in my jurisdiction, and they are fifteen in number.
Table of Contents