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 Wyoming Valley Region.
By Sheldon Reynolds, M. A.,
President of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society.
Illustration of Pittston Fort
Pittston Fort was situated in the township of the same name on the east bank of the Susquehanna river, now within the limits of the city of Pittston, between Main street and the river, on land occupied in part by the lumber yard and buildings of J. E. Patterson & Co. It is nearly opposite the site of Jenkins Fort. The original defensive works that occupied this space were built under the authority of the proprietors. At a meeting of the proprietors and settlers, held in Wilkes-Barre, May 20, 1772, It was voted: "That ye Proprietors belonging to ye Town of Pittston have ye Liberty to go into their Town, and there to forty-fie and keep in a body near together, and Guard by themselves until further Notice from this Committee." (Westmoreland Records.) In accordance with this vote the proprietors of the township laid out the lot mentioned, for the purposes of a fort. Each proprietor seems to have had the right of building a house upon the lot suited for defence in case of attack, and following a general plan in respect to size and location, which, when completed would form a fortification of quite large dimensions, and that might withstand the assaults of a large force. The fort was composed of thirty-five houses of uniform size, built of logs, the houses "standing in the form of a pyramid or triangle, the base of which was formed by the river; each one being placed three feet within the other, on the upper side, so that the rear of every successive house could be defended from the preceding one. There was a space between the houses which formed the base and those which formed the sides of the pyramid, with a large gateway which was flanked with pickets at each end. The houses on the upper side faced toward the river, and those on the river side faced toward the hill or the inclosed area. Those that were next to the river were constructed so as to guard against an attack from the Indians creeping along the bank. The house at the apex of the triangle was situated on the highest ground and overlooked not only the fort but the river and surrounding country; on the top of this house was a promenade for sentries. The houses were so constructed as to communicate from the one to the other in the upper story. Along the north corner there was a stream of water from which the inhabitants of the fort received their supply." (Proc. & Coll. Wyoming Hist. & Geolog. Society, 11, 78.)
There is some doubt as to the time the fort was finished in accordance with this plan. It was begun in 1772 as before stated; in 1774 several of its houses were finished. The triangle, however, was not completed until 1779, or perhaps later. It is certain the fort was finished in the manner described soon after 1779, and remained in use a number of years. In 1778 the people of the neighborhood were sheltered in three blockhouses surrounded by a stockade built in the usual waythis being a portion only of the fort with the stockade added as a temporary defence. By this disposition it would be capable of being defended by a smaller garrison, and also furnish enough room during the emergency.
All the families living in Pittston and its neighborhood were assembled within this enclosure during the battle of Wyoming. The garrison consisted of about forty men under the command of Captain Jeremiah Blanchard, and comprised one of the companies of the 24th regiment that did not take part in the battle. The responsibility of protecting the women and children under their charge outweighed every other consideration. It is said also that Major Butler immediately upon his arrival gave orders for the collection and guarding of all craft upon the river thereabouts, making communication with the opposite bank impossible. From their station in the fort the people could see the enemy on the other side, and were witnesses to the battle and flight from the field, as well as to the unspeakable methods of torture practiced on the prisoners the night following the battle. On the 4th of July the fort was surrendered on the same terms granted to the other forts, an assurance of the safety of the lives of the occupants. The Indians placed a mark of black paint on the faces of the prisoners, in order that they might be known and saved from harm, as the savages asserted; and telling them further, in case they went outside the fort, each should carry a piece of white cloth for like purpose. The scenes that were enacted at Forty-Fort were repeated here; the savages plundered the people of all they possessed. As soon as possible after the surrender most of the inmates of the fort fled to the settlement on the Delaware, and made their way thence to their former homes in New England. A few, however, as happened at Forty-Fort, detained by sickness or other causes, remained in the fort two weeks after the battle, subjected to the constant terror and molestation of the hordes of savages that infested every place. After the fort was deserted it was partly burnt by the vagrant Indians; but within two years thereafter it was restored and the plan before described was carried out, making an extensive and strong defensive work. The houses of the fort being the dwellings of the proprietors, the garrison therefore comprised most of the inhabitants of the township. The fort remained standing until some years after the close of the war when the buildings were removed and the fort lot became a common, and was used for several years as a public parade.
Wilkes-Barre Fort was located in the public square, Wilkes-Barre, and occupied the ground now in part covered by the court house. It was built in pursuance of the vote of the town meeting of August 24, 1776, though owing to circumstances before narrated it was not finished until 1778. The court house and jail of Westmoreland county were also located here, and this place seems to have been selected for the building of the fort with the view of protecting these buildings by enclosing them within its walls. The walls were of a double row of logs set upright in a trench, in the same manner as those of Forty-Fort were constructed, and reached to the height of sixteen feet above the ground. The structure contained an area of about one-half an acre, and was in the form of a parallelogram, with flanking towers at the angles, and was provided with a single gateway opening toward the river, northwest. The sides were pierced with loop-holes to enable the garrison to deliver its fire without exposure; and one four-pound gun was mounted on the rampart, but, inasmuch as there happened to be no suitable ammunition, it served as an alarm gun only. Barracks or huts were built along the walls within the works, which, together with the room afforded by the public buildings, were sufficient to shelter the occupants. The work was surrounded by a ditch. The water supply was taken from a spring either within the enclosure or near at hand.
A large number of women and children were crowded into this shelter on the eve of the battle, with but a handful of men for their protection. The necessity of a large garrison was not so pressing in this case, perhaps, as in some others, owing to the muster of the militia at Forty-Fort, three miles north, on the opposite side of the river, and directly in the line of the advance movement of the enemy. A few of the survivors of the battle made their escape to the Wilkes-Barre fort, bringing word of the battle. During the night plans were made for flight; and on the morning of the 4th many of the occupants of the fort set out, empty-handed, on their long and perilous journey through the wilderness. On the same day the savages were in possession of the fort; there seems to have been no formal surrender, as the articles of capitulation of Forty-Fort included this also. During the day the fort was abandoned, and a band of savages seeking plunder entered it and set it on fire, reducing to ashes both the fort and the public buildings.
Shawnee Fort was built under authority of the town meeting heretofore mentioned. It was situated south of Plymouth in the township of the same name, on the southeast side of a roadway leading to Shawnee flats and called the Flats road. It occupied a slight rise of ground to which it gave the name Garrison Hill.
It was a stockade fort, the dimensions of which are not now known. A garrison composed of old men was stationed here before and during the battle. The women and children of the neighborhood were assembled here at that time. Soon after the result of the battle became known to the occupants of this stockade the exodus began as in the case of the other forts: some made their way down the river, while others, crossing the river, joined other fugitives in the journey through the wilderness. At this time the fort was partly destroyed by fire. The following fall it was repaired and garrisoned by a small company of men during the winter. They served as a protection to such property as had not been destroyed by the savages the preceding summer. During the winter the fort was attacked by roving bands of savages, who were, however, beaten off with no loss of life on the part of the garrison. The site of the structure was on the river flats and subject to overflow at the period of great river-floods. This fact was unknown at the time the fort was built, as no flood of extra ordinary rise had occurred since the settlement of the region. In 1784 however, there was an ice flood, the like of which has never been known since, and among the many buildings that were swept away were the remains of Shawnee Fort.
There were also blockhouses that served as places of refuge in times of danger, situated in places at a distance from the forts already described, and where the necessity of a larger work was not great.
Stewart's Block House.
The Stewart blockhouse was situated in Hanover township, a few rods from the bank of the Susquehanna river, on a slight rise of ground, on lot No. 3, First Division. It was built by Capt. Lazarus Stewart in the year 1771, and is said to have been the first building in the township. It was built of logs and was one and a half stories high. It contained four rooms on the first floor and ample space in the floor above for convenience of its defenders. The part above the second floor projected beyond the walls of the first story; this overshoot, as it was called, enabled the occupants of the house to protect the walls from assault of an attacking party, in a manner as effective as from flanking towers. A number of families were gathered there for protection on the third and fourth of July, 1778. After the battle, they, in common with all the inhabitants, departed from the Valley. This block house was occupied by the people of Hanover upon their return, and afterward, until peace was proclaimed; it afforded a safe retreat for the families of the place in time of alarm. A band of Indians made an attack upon it in June, 1781. The house was defended with great spirit, the women taking an active part in the defence. The attacking party was repulsed with some loss and were pursued by a detachment sent from the fort at Wilkes-Barre.
There was also a blockhouse in this township situated some distance south of Stewart's on lot seventeen or eighteen (and occupied as a dwelling by Roswell Franklin); its exact location is not known; it served a useful purpose during the revolutionary period, in the protection it afforded in time of danger. (Plumb's History of Hanover.) It was several times the object of attack by the savages, and in April, 1782, Franklin's wife and several of the younger children were carried away.
A third blockhouse was situated in the present limits of Plains township, called Rosencrans' blockhouse. On the approach of the enemy prior to the battle of Wyoming, the inhabitants of the neighborhood gathered at this house. Owing to the weakness of the work and the lack of means of defence, it was deemed unsafe to remain there, and accordingly the people sought other places of refuge, part of them crossed the river to Forty-Fort and others betook themselves to the protection of Wilkes-Barre Fort.
The blockhouse mentioned in Col. Butler's letter to Gen. Hand of 23d March, 1779, as situated on the opposite side of the river from Wilkes-Barre, may have been the one he erected during the first Pennamite war, 1771, and was one of the several fortified places from which Fort Wyoming, then in possession of the Pennamites, was successfully assailed. It was situated on the bank of the river nearly opposite the foot of Northampton street, where Fort Wyoming was situated, and the only definite reference to it, except as above, is contained in an unpublished letter to Col. Butler, dated Sunbury, February 21, 1779, from Capt. Geo. Bush.
"Your favor of the 19th inst. is before me . . . I am sorry for poor Buck's misfortune and the others that suffered with him. The men in the blockhouse behaved bravely indeed. I am happy to hear they defeated the damned yellow dogs and hope in the next summer we will make them severely answer for their past offences."
Miner speaks of the death of Lieut. Buck but gives no date nor mentions the blockhouse. There is no record of the number of the people who were gathered within the forts and blockhouses. One intelligent witness who was in Forty-Fort, says of that place "the settlers generally moved into the fort, it was crowded full." From the circumstances it is reasonable to conclude that the other forts were also crowded full.
The population of the valley may be ascertained by taking the original list of taxables in the central townships for 1777, and multiplying by six. This figure is selected in making the calculation, because of its general use at that day for similar estimates under like conditions.
Kingston had 92 taxables, by six is 552 Wilkes-Barre had 99 taxables, by six is 594 Pittston (and Exeter) had 99 taxables, by six is 594 Plymouth had 113 taxables, by six is 678 Hanover had 82 taxables, by six is 492 A total of 2,910
Deducting two hundred absent in the Continental Army, and three hundred who fell in the massacre, we have 2,410 noncombatants in the Valley.
Much of the greater part of the residents of Plymouth, and probably all of Hanover sought shelter in their own block-houses. All the others, more than fourteen hundred, gathered into the three forts at Wilkes-Barre, Forty-Fort and Pittston. Of these, from the evidence adduced, it is believed there were seven hundred in Forty-Fort, four hundred in Wilkes-Barre and three hundred in Pittston.
In ascertaining the number of fugitives after the disaster, it is necessary to include the people of the outlying townships, Capouse, Huntington and Salem, who seemed so far removed from danger that they did not seek the forts, but joined in the exodus, thus swelling the total to over three thousand.
Wyoming Valley, as has been said, was an isolated community in the country of a savage enemy. Two ranges of mountains lay between the Susquehanna and the Delaware. The nearest is the Pocono, and on the south side of Wyoming it is a plateau rising a thousand feet above the Valley, the greater part of which is still a dense forest filled with swamps. The sufferings of those who fled through this region baffles description. Most of the fugitives turning from the desolated Valley plunged into the wilderness, wandering in the marshes as chance or fear directed, without clothing, or food or guide, seeking their way to the Delaware and thence to Connecticut. So great a number perished from hunger and exhaustion, that these swamps have ever since been called the "Shades of Death."
(W. A. Wilcox, address Wyoming Com. Assn., 2d July, 1887.) Their flight was a scene of wide spread and harrowing sorrow. Their dispersion being in an hour of the wildest terror, the people were scattered, singly, in pairs, and in groups, as chance separated them or threw them together in that sad hour of peril and distress. Let the mind picture to itself a single group, flying from the Valley to the mountain on the east, and climbing the steep ascenthurrying onward, filled with error, despair and sorrowthe affrighted mother whose husband has fallenan infant on her bosom, a child by the hand, an aged parent slowly climbing the rugged steep behind them; hunger presses them severely; in the rustling of every leaf they hear the approaching savage, a deep and dreary wilderness is before them, the valley all in flames behind."
About one-third went by canoes and rafts to Sunbury. Mr. Wm. Maclay, to the council of Pennsylvania, 12th July, 1778, says, "I left Sunbury Wednesday last. I never in my life saw such scenes of distress. The river and roads leading down it, were covered with men, women and children, flying for their lives."
In Palmyra township, Pike county, the Connecticut settlers erected a palisaded fort about the year 1774 as a defence against the Indians. The settlement and fort were on the "Manor of Wallenpaupack," being tract 98 in Palmyra, in Wayne and Pike counties. "This fort which was probably somewhat primitive in its construction, was a field containing about an acre, surrounded by a trench, into which upright pieces of hewed timber were firmly fixed. The spot was selected from the circumstance of its containing a living spring. The fort was erected on the eastern side of the Sterling road, almost immediately opposite the point where the road leading through Salem, over Cobb's mountain, and along the Lackawanna to the Wyoming settlements, called the 'Old Wyoming road,' branches off from the Sterling road. It is six miles southwest from the hamlet now marked on the maps as Wilsonville. Within the inclosed space was a blockhouse, also built of squared pieces of hewed timber, upon the top of which was a sentry box, made bullet proof. There was, beside, a guard house standing just east of the blockhouse. The defences were so constructed that a rifle ball fired from the high ground on the east into the fort, would strike the palisades on the opposite side above a man's head. After the rumors of the Indian troubles on the Susquehanna, the settlers constantly spent the night in the fort." ( W. J. Woodward, M. 467.)
On the afternoon of July 4th, 1778, the news of the Wyoming tragedy of the previous day reached the settlement of Wallenpaupack, and before sunset the terrified inhabitants were fleeing toward the Delaware and thence made their way to their former homes. The settlement was entirely deserted. Sometime in the winter of 1778-79 the fort was destroyed by the Indians.
The settlements along the Delaware in what is now Pike county had built "forts" as they were called, but in reality their preparations for defence consisted in simple stockades around several of the stronger dwelling houses. One of these was at Dingman's; one at Capt. Johannes Van Etten's, three or four miles above Dingman's; another, "Fort Decker," about three miles below Dingman's, on Hornbeck creek; and still another was "Fort Brink," where John and Garrett Brink lived, two or three miles above the Bushkill. Emanuel Gunsalus (Gonzales) lived at the Bushkill, and his house, too, was placed in as good condition for defence as was possible.
As a matter of interest it is mentioned, that the "Manor of Wallenpaupack" was surveyed October 14, 1751, upon a warrant dated November 25th, 1748, "for the use of the proprietaries of Pennsylvania," and as if in marked defiance of the proprietaries, this body of men selected it for their settlement. It was within the limits of the Delaware Company's purchase and founded under the authority of that company, though its communications and associations were always more with Wyoming; and when the county of Westmoreland was erected the "Manor" was included and brought within its jurisdiction.
On the banks of the Delaware river at a point near the mouth of a stream known as Caulkins creek, in Damascus township, Wayne county, a blockhouse was built by Simeon Caulkins, Moses Thomas and others, in the year 1755. The site is on tract No. 178 in Damascus, surveyed to John Lande. It was the pioneer settlement made by Connecticut people in Pennsylvania, and was made by the Delaware Company, and by them named Cushutunk, after an Indian village lately existing at that place. In 1763 it contained about thirty log houses, a grist mill and a saw mill besides the blockhouse. In November of that year it was attacked by Indians from Wyoming, and of the three men present, one was killed and another wounded, before they could reach the fort, but it was successfully defended by the third, named Witters, who with the women and children kept the savages at bay until aid reached them from Minisink.
Bands of Indians and Tories twice raided the settlement in 1777, killing several people, destroying the crops, burning the dwellings and driving off the patriots.
Cushutunk was a peculiarly exposed locality during the war; it lay furthest north of all the settlements, upon the path down which the Indians came to strike the Minisink region, and in addition to this it suffered from internal dissension between patriots and Tories and between holders of lands under opposing titles.
Quinlan, in the History of Wayne County, says: "The Tories appropriated the abandoned property of their former Whig neighbors, and an almost constant local war prevailed between the two parties, and intermixed with its asperities were occasional murders."
Fort Sullivan was situated in the present borough of Athens near the public square. At this point the two rivers, Susquehanna and Tioga, approach within two hundred yards of each other, and again diverging form a junction two or more miles below. The intervening plain was known as Tioga Point. Gen. Sullivan with his army encamped at this place in August, 1779, awaiting the arrival of Gen. Clinton, who with his command was there to join the expedition against the six nations. Gen. Sullivan directed the building of a fort on the narrow neck of land mentioned, for the protection of the stores and the boats that had been, used to transport the supplies for the army from Wilkes-Barre, and which would be needed on the return: and to provide a base of supplies for the army while in the Indian country.
"Four strong blockhouses set in angles of a parallelogram served as bastions of the work; the two opposite onesdiagonallyresting on the bank of each river, and the other two midway between and at a distance of about one hundred yards from each other. The curtain was made by setting logs endwise into the ground. The whole being surrounded by a ditch, making a work of ample strength for the place." (Rev. David Craft's address at the Centennial of the battle of Newtown.) Two hundred and fifty men were detached as a garrison under command of Col. Israel Shreve of the Second New Jersey Regiment. The surplus stores were left here and the invalids, equal in numbers to the garrison. Col. Shreve was charged with the duty besides maintaining the post, of receiving and providing for all the sick and disabled that might be sent back, and of keeping communication open to Wyoming. The army on its return march reached Tioga Point September 29th, and after a rest of four days, resumed its way to Wilkes-Barre. Before setting out from Tioga Point on October 3, 1779, the fort was, by order of the commander, demolished in order that it might not fall into the hands of the enemy.
On the 4th of August, 1778, a month after the battle, Col. Zebulon Butler, ordered to the command of this post by the Board of War, returned to Wyoming with Captain Spaulding's Company, being the two Independent Westmoreland Companies now reduced to seventy-eight officers and men, and Capt. Smith's militia of thirty-four officers and men, and finding the Wilkes-Barre fort destroyed, and no other defensive work capable of sheltering his men, and the region still infested by Indians, immediately took measures to maintain his position. He took possession of a log house on South Main street, near the Pickering or Ross house and set up around it a strong paling, built of posts set into the ground about three feet and standing ten or twelve feet high, provided with loop holes for firing. This served as quarters for the small force until they could rebuild Fort Wyoming. The presence of this company in the valley gave some sense of security to the returning fugitives, a number of whom joined with the soldiers in the work of building the fort.
The fort was built of logs, on the site of the old Fort Wyoming on the river bank about ten rods below the junction of Northampton and River streets. Two parallel walls seven feet high and four feet apart were placed horizontally and framed to each other at proper distances; the space between the two was filled with well tamped earth. The walls were protected by a ditch, and beyond the ditch tops of trees with branches carefully sharpened were set in the ground, forming a kind of Cheval de frise. Within the inclosure a low platform was erected along the walls on all sides, standing upon which the men were able to deliver their fire over the top. A single four-pound gun was mounted in the works and in order to insure its greatest efficiency in time of need, embrasures were made in each of the walls, thus enabling the defenders by changing the location of the piece to turn its fire in any direction. The walls were rounded at the corners so as to flank on all sides, and a gate opened toward the west; access to a copious spring at the margin of the river was had by a protected way; the inclosure contained about half an acre of land and barracks were provided for the garrison. The fort was enlarged and strengthened afterwards. The garrison was increased as appears by the return of 1st September, 1778, by Captain Bush and company of eighty-five men and Lieut. Gore's company of eight, and was thereby enabled to send a company of men, the Wyoming Volunteers, to the West Branch to reinforce the battalions under Col. Hartley, of the Penna. line, in his expedition to Sheshequin, in September, 1778, to destroy the Indian settlement, which had served as a base of supplies for the savages in their frequent attacks on Wyoming. The expedition having accomplished its purpose returned to Sunbury by way of Wyoming, when the garrison was increased by the Wyoming Company and a small detail from Col. Hartley's regiment, making in all about one hundred and forty men on 3d October, 1778; included in this number were the remnants of a company under Lieut. Gore, and Capt. Smith's militia. This expedition marched three hundred miles in two weeks, devastated Queen Esther's country, and defeated the Indians in several skirmishes. In Col. Hartley's report he speaks in high terms of the conduct of Capt. Spaulding and the men under him from Fort Wyoming.
Soon after this, about the first of November, the Indians came down in force, destroying the settlements and investing Wyoming, taking prisoners from below Nescopeck, whereupon Col. Hartley advanced from Fort Jenkins, which was situated on the river about thirty-five miles below Wilkes-Barre, with its garrison, to the relief of Wyoming, and with this diversion in his favor, Col. Butler was able to sustain his position and repulse the enemy with his command alone.
In Col. Hartley's report to Ex. Council, dated Sunbury, 9th November, 1778, he says:
"The enemy within these ten days have come down in force and invested Wyoming. They have burnt and destroyed all the settlements on the North East Branch as far as Nescopeck. Fort Jenkins, where we have a small garrison, has supported itself for the present. About seventy Indians were seen twenty-two miles from here yesterday advancing towards the forks of the Chillisquaque; they took some prisoners. With the small force we have we are endeavoring to make a stand. Had one or two regiments been sent to Wyoming, as I requested, these calamities would now probably not have happened. Should the enemy take that fort, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey will then too late think of its importance. I am drawing some little force together and tomorrow will endeavor to attack the Indians on the Chillisquaque, and make a movement toward Fishing creek, which will probably be of use to the people of Wyoming."
And in an unpublished letter to Col. Butler from Fort Jenkins under date of 14th November, 1778:
"Dear Sir: I understand our friends from Chemung have paid you a visit. The West Branch is strong and safe. The troops from the main army are certainly on their march, I presume you have heard of their approach. I am advancing with horse, foot, provisions and artillery. I shall move early to-morrow, if there are any of the gentry on the way we shall make them know us. My men are in the highest spirits. Let me know of your situation by to-morrow night, we shall probably be about Wapwallopen: I move slow and if any of the lads show their noses they will be hurted. I have the best marksmen and the best powder I ever saw.
I am, Sir, your most
Obdt. humble Servt.,
Coll. Zeb. Butler.
Lieut. Coll. Commt."
And again three days later:
"Fort Jenkins, Nov. 17, 3 o'clock in the morning, 1778.
"Dear Sir: I just now received yours of the 16th inst. I am happy to find the savages have returned and that the communication is once more open between us. Your accounts are pleasing concerning the strength of your garrison.
Hearing of your distress I collected all the force I could and was determined to relieve you if it was in my power. We have made much parade, our advanced body was at Wapwallopen, our main body with the flour and ammunition at Nescopeck to-night: still firing our field piece, swivels, etc., as we moved forward, the Tories thought us numerous.
I adopted this mode of advancing, because my letter to you which I sent you by Carr fell into the enemy's hands. In this, among other things, I informed you that Congress had directed Genl. Washington to send on a body to break up the settlements at Chemung and protect the frontiers of Pennsylvania, New York, etc., and that I was ordered to hold myself in readiness to co-operate with those troops and was preparing for the same, and also gave you notice to do the like.
You will receive fifteen axes, a number of carpenter tools, ammunition, etc., forty-two barrels of flour, three barrels of whiskey, two barrels of biscuit; you shall have more as soon as I can send the same. Capt. Bush with a party conveys these stores as far as Wapwallopen, or the whole way if necessary.
Some men of Major Eichelberger's Company and one of Capt. Thornbury's Company, goes and is to be stationed at Wyoming. Capt. Thornbury's and Mr. Eichelberger's Company, but you will send the remainder of my men by Capt. Bush, unless there should be some new alarm.
I have wrote pressingly to Congress and Board of War for a regiment to be sent to garrison Wyoming, and that my regiment should be stationed here, and at the West Branch, and I have no doubt but this will be complied with.
You may keep the swivel which is on the big boat. You will please to let Mr. Lemon come down, Mr. Ensign Thornburg relieves him.
My compliments to all friends and am with much esteem.
Your most obdt
Coll. Commd' g.
To Lieut. Coll. Zeb. Butler, Comm'd'g.
"If you are reinforced with the regiment and would make a movement toward Tanckanock with two hundred men, I should imagine the enemy would be almost intimidated enough to leave Chemung, as they believe an expedition will be carried against them."
Yours etc., T. H."
During the winter and spring several attacks were made upon the part of the Indians and in March, 1779, a strong body of savages and Tories made a determined attack on the fort; three hundred painted warriors marching in the form of a semi-circle approached as if to carry it by storm: after a sharp engagement they were repulsed. The garrison being too weak to do more than hold possession of the fort, the enemy, though defeated in their main purpose, succeeded in destroying much property and carrying off a number of horses and cattle. Col. Butler in an unpublished letter to Gen. Hand thus describes the scenes occurring late in March, 1779:
Garrison, Wyoming, March 23d, 1779.
The intent of this is to inform you of a late affair at this post. On the 21st inst. there appeared a number of Indians on the flats opposite the fort, who had taken one old man before they appeared on the flats and were in pursuit after another, who the people in the blockhouse relieved by advancing upon them; but our people were soon obliged to retreat seeing a superior number, though a very hot fire on both sides. The enemy immediately ran about the flats collecting horses and cattle. I ordered a party over, who with those stationed in the blockhouse made about forty, and two subaltern officers, who pushed upon them with such bravery that they retreated through the flats with a constant fire on both sides till they came to woods, when our men discovered two large bodies over a little creek, suppose the whole to be upwards of two hundred; our men retreated slowly, firing, which prevented their pushing Indian like, and got back to the blockhouse well through a heavy fire. The Indians immediately went in pursuit of horses and cattle again, our men in small parties pursuing and firing upon them, but notwithstanding the activity of our troops, after severe skirmishing for two hours and a half the enemy carried off sixty head of horned cattle, twenty horses, and shot my riding horse, they could not catch him, and burned five barns that were partly full of grain and hay and ten houses that the inhabitants had deserted, shot a number of hogs and sheep that they left lying. We had not one man killed, taken or wounded except the old man first mentioned, though a considerable number of our men had bullets through their clothes and hats. Lieut. Pettigrew, a brave officer of Col. Hartley's regiment had his ramrod shot all to pieces in his hand. It is aggravating to see the savage wretches drive off cattle, horses, burning and destroying and we not able to attack them out of the fort. I have sent by the express, who will hand this to Capt. Pattison, to be forwarded to you a particular account of the affair and a particular state of this place to his Excellency Genl. Washington. I mention they have taken off cattle, horses, etc., they have got them out of our reach, but we have no reason to think they have left the place as a number of fires were discovered on the side of the mountain last night.
Can only say I have the honor
to be your honors
Most obt. humble
N. B. Of horses and cattle that were taken in the late action are seven continental horses and eight continental cattle, which were beef. Z. B."
What happened at the close, of this letter will justify my apprehensions of the enemy's not being gone. One o'clock after a large party were discovered on this side the river advancing toward the fort, they surrounded the fort on all sides, firing very briskly, while others were collecting cattle and horses. I sent out about forty men and a small piece and drove them back to a thick wood across a marsh where the enemy made a stand; the skirmishing held till sunset. At this time the enemy were driving off cattle and horses, they got fifty-one head of horned cattle and ten horses, burned three barns partly full of hay and grain and two dwelling houses. We lost no men killed or taken, we had two wounded but tis hoped not mortally. 24th and 25th March being extremely stormy we heard not much about them. 26th we discovered large smokes rising about four miles down the river on the other side, where we had a guard in a blockhouse to guard a mill. 27th two men from the blockhouse inform us all is well, except three barns partly filled with grain and hay and two houses with some quantity of provisions were burned. At the time of the burning our people discovered a considerable number running about, but none have been seen this day yet, it is now twelve o'clock. I have sent this same account to Genl. Washington and Board of War.
28th. Nothing happened since the above account, only we now believe we discover their smokes. From our last discoveries I rather think the enemy were near three hundred.
I am your honors
Most obt. Humble
Immediately after the attack here mentioned, early in April, the garrison was strengthened by the arrival of a German regiment of about three hundred men, and Col. Butler was enabled to drive the enemy from the valley, though it still lurked in the neighborhood. On the 20th day of April, 1779, Major Powell with a battalion of two hundred men reached the fort. This body, as well as the German regiment, had been ordered to Wyoming to await Gen. Sullivan's army and were to form part of the force that was designed to march against the Six Nations Indians. Gen. Sullivan arrived with his command June 23d, and after a time spent in preparing for the campaign and providing a fleet of batteaux as a transport train, he set out on the 31st July, leaving a garrison in the fort during his absence. He returned on 7th October after a campaign of so great success as to have broken entirely the power of the Six Nations, having devastated their country and destroyed their villages. He left for Easton on 10th October, 1779.
It was thought prudent to have a strong garrison at this post and accordingly it was increased to three hundred men: Soon after, however, upon the petition of the inhabitants of Northumberland county, seconded by the recommendation of Gen. Hand, one hundred and fifty men of the Wyoming contingent were ordered by the Board of War to be sent to Fort Augusta to strengthen that post; the detachment belonged to the German regiment and marched from Wyoming, October 29, 1779, leaving the garrison too feeble to do more than maintain that post, there being but one hundred and ten men left there, composed of Spaulding's Company, Capt. Schott's and a few others. The duties devolving upon the commanding officer by the circumstances of the situation made it necessary for him to afford protection to the returning inhabitants: to guard the approaches to the Valley, and exercise a surveillance over an extended country. With the men and means at hand it was impossible to make this frontier the bulwark and shield of defence it had formerly been to the country lying to the south and east, and predatory bands of savages were able to pass Wyoming at the points indicated and attack the settlements in the neighborhood of the Blue Mountains. During the spring and summer of 1780 many war parties passing down the Susquehanna river to the vicinity of Wyoming and thence moving by a circuitous route to avoid this post, penetrated the region mentioned and committed serious depredations. Owing to the frequency of these attacks and the serious consequences attending them, it became necessary to provide a defence for the country south of the Blue Mountains, which was fast assuming the character of a frontier: and a chain of forts and blockhouses was built and garrisoned, stretching from the Delaware to the Schuylkill.
Col. Butler continued in command until the controversy concerning the Connecticut title again became prominent. The State of Pennsylvania considering that she was supplying provisions to what was practically a hostile camp, stopped the shipment of stores in October, 1780, and the situation was critical until Congress, on 12th December, ordered the supplies to be forwarded and directed Gen. Washington to relieve the post by troops from the Continental army, not from Pennsylvania or Connecticut. Whereupon he appointed Capt. Mitchell with a detachment of the Jersey line to the Garrison, who relieved Col. Butler and his troops on the 22d of February, 1781, and continued in this position until the spring of 1783, when great complaint having been made of lack of discipline, his force was withdrawn, and two companies of Rangers under Captains Robinson and Schrawder were stationed there, under the plea of needed protection against the savages. They changed the name to Fort Dickinson in honor of the President of the Supreme Executive Council. Meanwhile the expediency of continuing the garrison had been referred to Gen. Washington but he did not feel at liberty to withdraw it without the express direction of Congress. Soon after the conclusion of peace with England the Company of Capt. Robinson was recalled. Capt. Schrawder, however, remained, and on 29th October, 1783, Capt. Christie arrived with his company and the two companies were quartered upon the inhabitants. The soldiery, having no enemy to engage, either Indian, Tory or British, became rude, licentious and insolent; and were used almost exclusively for the oppression of the Connecticut settlers, in the hope of driving them to acts of violence which could be construed into resistance to the State government. Goaded by persecution, dispossessed of their crops and lands, harassed to desperation, the settlers determined upon open war, and on 27th July, 1784, under command of Capt. John Franklin, they besieged the fort, but after a vigorous attack in which a number of lives were lost they were repulsed; and on the 29th, Commissioners arrived with authority to repress hostilities. The Connecticut people submitted readily, but the garrison refused and defied their power; negotiation failed, and treachery to the Yankees and their arrest and imprisonment followed; escaping from their jailers they again invested the fort on the 30th September, but were forced to abandon the siege with severe loss. Finally, the settlers having suffered innumerable hardships, outraged public opinion compelled the authorities to recall the troops, and they evacuated the fort on Saturday 27th, and the Yankees destroyed it on Tuesday, 30th November, 1784.
There are no ruins or remains of any of these forts, but it is recommended that suitable memorials be placed to mark the location of the following:
Wilkes-Barre Fort, in city of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne Co., Pa.
Forty-Fort, in borough of Forty-Fort, Luzerne Co., Pa.
Jenkins Fort, in borough of West Pittston, Luzerne Co., Pa.
Pittston Fort, in city of Pittston, Luzerne Co., Pa.
Shawnee Fort, in Plymouth, Luzerne Co., Pa.
Fort Wallenpaupack, in Palmyra township, Pike Co., Pa.
Damascus blockhouse, in Damascus township, Wayne Co., Pa.
Fort Sullivan, in Athens, Bradford Co., Pa.
Fort Wyoming, in city of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
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