Is one of the original "certified" townships that retained its name in the division of the county in 1790; it was named for Exeter, R. I. and it is suggestive of the bloodiest chapter concerning the Wyoming valley and northern Pennsylvania. Its area has been much changed since its first formation under Connecticut, by taking off other townships and by carving out West Pittston and Exeter boroughs. Here the Hardings were murdered by some of the Indians of the British invader, Col. Butler, July 1, 1778. A full account of this is given in a preceding general chapter. In the account of West Pittston borough is found where the recent digging of a post hole for the electric car wires was exhumed the bones of one of the brave Hardings, who died with the others not far from where his bones had lain for more than a century. A part of the first graveyard had become a part of the street and no one knew where the first graves were until this recent find. The field where these men were at work when they were ambushed and so cruelly murdered and scalped is still a part of Exeter township. A portion of Col. Zebulon Butler's patriots came to the scene of the murder the day after its occurrence, and then the next day occurred the Wyoming massacre. All this occurred in what was once Exeter township, but the battle ground, or a part of it, is now within the lines of Exeter borough, and will therefore he again referred to in the account of that place.
The township extends along the west bank of the Susquehanna river, whereas originally it extended across the river and included Ransom township in the adjoining county. When Franklin township was taken from the west side it left the township a long strip, commencing at the extreme northeast of the county and following down the river to the Kingston township line, containing an area of about twenty- three square miles, less the boroughs of West Pittston and Exeter. It has much agricultural land in it—the valleys being rich and the hills proving fertile. In 1880 there were over 100 farms in the township, and since the rapid growth of the adjacent boroughs that furnish excellent markets, the increase of gardening and truck planting has been marked. This industry has succeeded the once all-important one of lumbering.
One of the curious incidents of the early settlements of this and many other parts of the valley was that the first settlers were in the heart of the rich and level valleys to make homes and farms on, and these lands were the first sought for. The flood that came down the river in 1785 caused many to seek the hills and abandon their valley land or sell at a low price. Then again the heavy growth of timber on the back hills was taken as an evidence by many that the soil must be rich and productive, and in not a few cases this decided many to pass over the valleys that had been denuded of much of its timber by the Indians. They would kill the trees by girdling, wait for them to rot down and in the meantime plant here and there their few vegetables. And then, too, in this condition a heavy growth of grass would come on the ground and furnish food for their ponies.
[p.551] The north limit of the Wyoming coal field along the Susquehanna is near the crossing of the center of the township.
One of the noted spots in the township is the old Harding cemetery, and by some believed to be the oldest or first burying place in the township. This, however, is a mistake, as there were burials where is now West Pittson at an earlier date than here. It was at the latter place the victims of the massacre of the Hardings in 1778 were interred. Capt. Stephen Harding was the first burial here in 1816. It was then a cultivated field, and for some time was used solely as a family burying ground.
In this township—the southern part, were Forts Jenkins and Wintermoot, but more of this in the account of the borough of Exeter.
The ancient township records are lost. The oldest official document giving some idea of the settlers at the close of the last century is the following list of taxables for 1796:
Joel Atherton, Joseph Black, Moses Bennett, Timothy Beebe, Roswell Beach, Peleg Comstock, Joseph Dailey, David Dailey, Jacob Drake, William Foster, Isaac Finch, Richard Gardner, John Gardner, Thomas Gardner, Abraham Goodwin, Richard Halsted, William Harding, Samuel Hadley, James Hadley, Stephen Harding, David Harding, Edward Hadsall, John Hadsall, Joseph Hadsall, William Hadsall, Peter Harris, Micajah Harding, Thomas Harding, Artimedorus Ingersol, Benjamin Jones, Sr., Nathaniel Jones, Sr., Majah Jones, Justus Jones, Benjamin Jones Jr., Thomas Joslin, Sr., Palmer Jenkins, Thomas Joslin, Jr., John Jenkins, Thomas Jenkins, John Knapp, Comfort Kinyan, Andrew Montanye, John McMillen, Benjamin McAfee, Benjamin Newbury, William Ogden, Jacob Wright, William Slocum, William Stage, James Sutton, Moses Scovell, Elisha Scovell, James Scovell, David Shauntz, David Smith, David Skeel, William Tripp, Abner Tuttle, David Smith, Jr., Gilbert Townsend, Lazarus Townsend, William Thompson, Thomas Williams, Ebenezer Williams, Allen Whitman, Zebediah Whitman, Nathan Whitlock, Joseph Whitlock and John Scott.
Two years later Capt. Stephen Harding, John Jenkins, Peter Harris, David Smith, S. Dailey and J. Phillips were made commissioners to lay out additional public roads in the township.
It should be remembered that this was the old township before any territory was taken off.
In 1776 James Sutton, with James Hadsall as partner, built the first gristmill and sawmill on Sutton's creek (now called at that place Coray creek). There the first grist was ground and the first board sawed. Hadsall was murdered and the mill destroyed during the invasion of 1778, and all that remains of the old mill is a crank preserved by the Wyoming Historical and Geological society as a relic of the oldest mill in the Wyoming valley.
Several years later Samuel Sutton, a son of James Sutton, built a second gristmill on the same site, and in 1846 E. A. Coray, having become owner of this site, erected the present gristmill. Subsequently another sawmill was built farther up the creek.
Loyd Jones operated a plaster and clover-mill on Lewis creek in 1845. The farmers brought their clover seed in the chaff to the mill to be separated and cleaned. The introduction of horse-power threshers put an end to this enterprise.
The Indian trail through Exeter was along the old turnpike, now the public road along the river. One of the first taverns here was built by Lewis Jones in 1806, near the present residence of George Miller.
The old "Red tavern" on Peter Sharpe's place was built the same year, and was kept by John Harding. Mr. Sharpe's house was formerly kept as a stage house by Isaac Harding. There was also another tavern, kept by the Scovells, down the river near Squire Slocum's. It was used for years as headquarters for the raftsmen on the river.
[p.552] Mr. Jones had near his inn a stillhouse, which did a business of fair proportions and constituted a valuable auxiliary to his tavern. He also opened a store in 1806, and kept it two years, when the principal stock in trade was salt, which was then worth $4 per bushel, used to cure the shad taken from the river in great abundance. It was hardly worth while to bring hogs here in the early times until the hunters had cleared out to a considerable extent the bears.
James Hadsall, a descendant of the famous Hadsall family, and who was a small boy at the time of the massacre, lived in the township to be nearly one hundred years old, and who could well remember when all the goods, including salt, was carted all the way over the mountains from Philadelphia.
The biographical sketches of the Jenkinses, Hardings and Hadsalls, and others of the first leading men here are given in another chapter.
One of the notable spots is called Indian park. This is where the savages camped the night before the battle of the 3d. It is owned by James S. Slocum, who is a descendant of Johnson Scovell, who purchased the land in 1776, and it is now Mr. Slocum's farm and home. This gentleman bears a name that will live as long as that of the Wyoming valley, is a pleasant bachelor, and seems set in the notion of allowing, so far as he is concerned, the name to perish with him. His public spirit, however, in other respects is very fine. At his own expense he built the Slocum chapel and donated it to the public as a place of worship.
Exeter postoffice was one of the earliest established in the northern part of the township.
In 1866 Stewart Pearce gave the following names and ages of the then living oldest settlers of the township: William Lane, seventy-seven; John Shales, seventy- five; Mrs. Hoover, seventy-five.
In 1795 a subscription paper to raise funds to erect a "meeting house" was signed by John Jenkins, £5; James Scoville, £5; and Benjamin Smith, Elisha Scoville and Thomas Jenkins, £1 each.
The township line crosses "The plains" (so often mentioned in accounts of the battle), a short distance below the historic Old Jenkins house.
Harding is the only postoffice now in the township since the formation of Exeter and West Pittston boroughs.