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The Massacre of Wyoming
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Article: The Massacre of Wyoming
Township: Wyoming County PA
by Horace E. Hayden
Submitted by Cinda Marsh 
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An Account by the Rev. Horace E. Hayden, of Wilkes-Barre

Appearing in The Historical Record, Vol. V, No. 1.

No one with a love for the beautiful in nature can stand on a summer day on the top of Prospect Rock and gaze upon the exquisite loveliness of the Wyoming Valley without a thrill of admiration. Nor will he wonder that Indians and White men could have battled with each other for its possession.

Its beauty was doubtless far greater one hundred and thirty years ago, before art had entered to change the face of nature, when the forest was broken only here and there by a few clearings and cabins, and the silence unbroken except by the voices of nature. It doubtless appeared a Paradise to the little band of colonists who came here to 1762, and were made to suffer so sorely in the Indian Massacre of 1763. Else why did a second colony from Connecticut essay in 1769 to recover what had been so mercilessly wrested from six years before?

Willing to endure, as they did, a series of disasters for the next twenty years or more, they settled, cleared, built and sowed with the desperate resolve to retain possession at the peril of life and fortune.

During the years preceding the Revolutionary War, from 1769 to 1775, so frequent were the conflicts resulting in bloodshed within the town of Westmoreland that it may be said to have been in a state of continual war. It was a repetition of the experience of their New England ancestors who went to the plow and the church with the trusty rifle slung over their soldiers.

Becoming used to dangers however the Wyoming people did not neglect the means of defense needed to protect their families. Nor were they unmindful of the events occurring beyond the limits of their town. The intercourse kept up with kindred in New England did not leave them in ignorance of the storm of war which threatened to burst on the whole of the thirteen colonies. News of the battles of Concord and Lexington promptly reached Wyoming. On the 1st of August, 1775, the proprietors and settlers resolved to "unanimously join our brethren in America in the common cause of defending our liberty". And despite the land difficulties between Pennamite and Yankee, the settlers were thoroughly in earnest in acting upon the resolutions of the Continental Congress for the Country’s defense.

During the summer of 1774 the people built five principal forts for the defense of the valley. Major Eleazer Blackman who aided the building of the fort at Wilkes-Barré enumerated them, in 1838, as the "Plymouth Fort"; the "Wilkes-Barré Fort", covering nearly half an acre, enclosing the public buildings, and formed by digging a ditch in which logs, sharp at top, 15 or 16 feet long were set in on end closely together, with the corners rounded so as to flank the fort, and with one gate; the "Forty Fort", at Kingston similarly planned, larger and with two gates; "Jenkins Fort", in Exeter township, built around the house of Col. John Jenkins, at the Pittston Ferry, west side; "Pittston Fort" at Brown’s just above the Ferry, east side, and "Wintermoot Fort", built by the family of that name near the head of the Valley. Beside these there were various block houses built by individuals. The Act of Congress, August 23, 1776 calling for two companies of troops to serve through the war met immediate response in the Valley, and by Sept. 17, 1776, Captains Durkee and Ransom had each filled the quota of their respective command. The Act of Congress specified that "two companies on the Continental establishment be raised in the town of Westmoreland and stationed in proper places for the defense of the inhabitants of said town and parts adjacent until further order of Congress". This was nullified by another clause providing that the men should be liable to serve in any part of the United Sates. Within three months after they were mustered in, these two companies were, "by the further order of Congress", commanded to report to General Washington, and were participators in the various actions of the Continental Army in New Jersey during the winter. Thus the Valley was left without immediate adequate means of defense against the common enemy.

Meanwhile Connecticut was not entirely unmindful of her people on the Susquehanna. The Assembly passed an Act in Oct. 1776, to complete the 24th Regiment of Connecticut Militia, to be formed of Westmoreland companies, and in November erected the town of Westmoreland into a County. The field officers of the 24th Regiment were, Zebulon Butler, Colonel; appointed May 1775, and succeeded by Nathan Denison as Colonel, promoted from Lieutenant Colonel May 1777; Lazarus Stewart, Lieutenant Colonel, promoted from Captain May 1777, resigned Oct. 1777, succeeded by George Dorrance promoted from Captain Oct. 1777; John Garret, Major, promoted from Captain October 1777.

The Captains of the Regiment were James Bidlack, Dr. Wm. Hooker Smith, John Garret, Nathaniel Landon, Asaph Wittlesey, Wm. McKarachan, Jeremiah Blanchard, Rezin Geer, Stephen Harding, Robert Carr and Elijah Farnam. Several of the companies were like the "Reformadoes", as Captain Wm. Hooker Smith’s company was called, formed of old men. The young men, the bone and sinew – the chivalry of the valley – had mainly enlisted in the tow Congress Companies of Durkee and Ransom. The defeat of the patriot forces by Howe at Brandywine, and the New Jersey Campaign of 1777 and 1778, kept these two companies with Washington.

The situation of the in inhabitants of the Wyoming Valley was therefore at this time most deplorable. The nearest settlements within the limits of Pennsylvania were Easton and Bethlehem, each 60 miles to the southward, and Sunbury, or Fort Augusta, 60 miles to the westward, their people unfriendly to the Connecticut settlers on the North Branch of the Susquehanna whom they regarded as intruders.

To the North dwelt the Six Nations, as cruel as they were crafty, whose powerful hand had wiped out in the Massacre of 1763, the Wyoming settlement of whom the Oneida Chief, Old King, had declared "they have taken their land from us". Stimulated by the thirst for revenge, and the reward offered by the British Government for American scalps, these only waited for the fit opportunity to make a second descent on Wyoming. This opportunity soon offered. Colonel Daniel Claus, the British Superintendent of Indian affairs, in his manuscript history of Joseph Brant, written Sept. 1778 and published for the first time in 1889, states that after the Battle of Brandywine, "the plan of Operations for the ensuing campaign was laid, and Mr. Brant determined to harass the Frontiers of the Mohawk Valley while Sakaqeuguaraghton took the Opportunity of this diversion to cut off the Settlements of Wayoming on the Susquehanna River".

It is true that between the Wyoming Valley and the Mohawk region there were here and there white settlers, Pennsylvanians. But these in 1776 had received such severe treatment at the hands of the Wyoming people that their friendship was turned to enmity, and being Tories, eager to retaliate for the wrongs they had suffered, they made common cause with the Indians against the inhabitants of the Wyoming Valley, and were doubtless important factors in the development of Brant’s plan of Campaign.

On the 30th of June, 1778, a large body of the Six Nations, led by the king of the Senecas, Sayenqueraghter, or Old King, with a detachment of Tories from Sir John Johnson’s Royal Greens, in all from 900 to 1200 strong, and under the command of Major John Butler, appeared at the head of Wyoming Valley and took peaceable possession of Fort Wintermoot whose occupants were always suspected of Tory proclivities. In Fort Jenkins there were then only seventeen defenders, mostly aged persons, including the Jenkinses, the Hardings (Captain Stephen, Stephen Jr., Benjamin and Stukeley), James Hudsall, Samuel Morgan, Ichabod Phillips, Miner Robbins, John Gardner and Daniel Carr.

On the morning of the 30th eight of these, armed with only two guns, went to the field to work. Returning at evening they were fired on by the Indians. Two of the Hardings were killed. Elisha Harding in his statement says, "they fought bravely as long as they could stand, but being overpowered by numbers were cut to pieces in the most shocking manner, many holes of the spears in their sides, their arms cut to pieces, tomahawked, scalped and their throats cut". Others were captured, thus leaving but ten persons in the Fort, two of them were old men, and three boys. On the 2nd of July when John Butler demanded the surrender of the Fort it was seen that resistance was useless and the surrender was made.

Meanwhile the news of Butler’s invasion had aroused the settlers in the Valley who hastily assembled at Forty Fort, the largest and strongest defensive post in the Valley. Colonel Zebulon Butler, then here on furlough from the Continental Army, was immediately placed in command. His experience as a soldier for twenty years made his service invaluable. His military career began soon after he had reached twenty-one. He was made an Ensign by the Connecticut Assembly May 8, 1758, Lieutenant 1759, Captain 1760, serving through the French and Indian War. When the battle of Lexington occurred he was a member of the Connecticut Assembly and was at once commissioned Colonel of the 24th Connecticut Regiment. At this time, July 3, 1778, he was Lieutenant Colonel of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment Continental Line having been appointed January 1, 1778. He was promoted Colonel Nov. 26, 1778, to date from March 13, 1778. He had been a participator in the actions at Danbury, Conn., White Marsh, Pa., etc., and had won the confidence and friendship of Washington. He was a kinsman of the Loyalist John Butler commanding the forces now invading the Valley. On the morning of July 3rd, a council of war was held in Forty Fort, when Colonel Zebulon Butler advised delay until the companies of Spalding and Franklin could reach the Valley. But this counsel was opposed by Lieutenant Colonel Lazarus Stewart then in command of Captain McKarachan’s company who urged the desperate measure of anticipating the enemy’s attack by surprise. Colonels Denison and Dorrance coincided with Colonel Butler, but the majority agreed with Stewart, who nobly laid down his life in the battle that day, and Colonel Butler reluctantly consented.

About 3 o’clock that afternoon the Americans left the fort and advanced in search of the enemy, their line of battle extending from the marsh to river a distance of about 1600 feet, Colonel Zebulon Butler commanding the right, and Colonels Denison and Dorrance the left. The advance was made with spirit, and the British purposely fell back until the Americans were drawn to a point in the field where their left wing, opposed by the Indians, was exposed to a flank movement. Then Sayenqueraghter with his savage warriors gained the rear of Colonel Denison’s wing and suddenly fell upon his men. Colonel Denison at once perceived his danger and ordered Wittlesey’s company to fall back so as to form an angle with the main line. The order was misunderstood as one to "retreat". The mistake was fatal, the falling back became a retreat, the retreat became a panic, and the massacre followed, the Indians pursuing the flying troops and attacking them with terrible slaughter. Historians say that the British line "gave way before the galling fire of the Americans in spite of all their officer’s efforts to prevent it." It is a singular fact that only two white men in Major John Butler’s command were killed, and the casualties included about a dozen Indians. Doubtless the falling back of the British line before the fire of the patriots was a part of their plan of battle. Colonel Claus, in the document referred to, supra, dated Nov. 1778, says that while Brant was devastating Schenectady and Cherry Valley, "Sakayenquaraghton at the same time put his plan in Execution, making every preparation, Disposition and Maneouvre with his Indns himself and when the Rebels of Wayoming came to attack him desired Col. Butler to keep his people separate from his for fear of Confusion and stood the whole Brunt of the Action himself, for there were but 2 white men killed….And then destroyed the whole Settlement without hurting or molesting Woman or Child, which their two Chiefs, to their honor it be said, agreed upon before they went into Action in the Spring".

This confirms Colonel Stone’s statement, viz: "It does not appear that anything like a massacre followed the capitulation". And Mr. Jenkins in his address of July 3rd, 1878, acknowledges that "so far as known to the people here not a woman or child was slain by the enemy in the Valley".

But it does not disprove the fact that between the 3rd of June and the morning of the 4th of July, there was a massacre of the male settlers, and of the Americans engaged in the conflict of the 3rd of July, equaling anything of the kind in Indian history for cruelty and atrocity! The capitulation of the Americans occurred on the 4th of July at Forty Fort and on the 8th John Butler withdrew from the Valley with his command, and with 227 scalps which he reported as taken at Wyoming. These scalps, valued and paid for by the British at $10 apiece, in all $2270, were not merely the scalps of men killed in actual combat. The highest estimate of the slain given by American reports and certified by the list on the Monument is 182, leaving forty-five of the number reported by John Butler unaccounted for.

The latest history of the massacre by Colonel Bradsby states that "it is pretty generally conceded that the story of Queen Esther and the Bloody Rock were without foundation; that the Queen was not there at all". That the Colonel did not exhaust all the official sources of information in his search is evident.

Mrs. Jenkins, the widow of Colonel John Jenkins, in her statement made to Congress in 1838, says: "The next day (July 4th) she went down to the battle ground…where Philip Wintermoot, a Tory with whom she was well acquainted said to her, ‘Look, but don’t seem to see’. The dead lay all around and there were places where half-burnt legs and arms showed the cruel torture our poor people must have suffered." Colonel George P. Ransom, 14 years old at the time of the battle, testifies that after the battle "we went in with Colonel Butler and helped to bury the dead as soon as it could be done. The battle field presented a distressing sight; in a ring around a rock there lay 18 or 20 mangled bodied. Prisoners taken on the field were placed in a circle surrounded by Indians and a squaw set to butcher them. Lebbeus Hammond for many years afterward a respectable citizen of Tioga County New York was one of the doomed. Seeing one after another person perish by her bloody hand he sprang up, broke through the circle, outstripped his pursuers and escaped."

Ishmael Bennet testifies that he was at Pittston Fort when it capitulated. "St. John and Leach were moving off with their goods, St. John was tomahawked, and leach had his child in his arms. The Indians tomahawked him and gave the child to its mother. On the night after the battle seeing fires under some large oaks near the river, he with his father, Squire Whitaker, and old Captain Blanchard went down to the river side, they could see naked white men running around the fire, could hear the cries of agony, could see the savages following them with their spears, it was a dreadful sight."

General Wm. Ross, aged 17 at the time of the battle, testifies of what he saw on the field. "The scene was shocking. There were two rings where prisoners had been massacred. There were according to his recollection 9 bodies in one and in the other 14."

If to "massacre" means, as Webster defines it, "to murder with circumstances of cruelty", the question as to whether the massacre of Wyoming preceded the capitulation of Forty Fort or followed it is hypercritical. No historian has yet published the "Petition of the sufferers of Wyoming, Pennsylvania, by depredations committed by the Indians in the Revolutionary War" presented to the 25th Congress, containing the statements of Mrs. Sarah Bidlack, Mrs. Huldah Carey, Mrs. Bertha Jenkins, Mrs. Myers, Mrs. Courtright, Edward Inman, Stephen Abbot who testifies that his wife’s grandfather, Constant Searle, Sr., was killed in the battle. Geo. P. Ransom, Ishmael Bennett, Ebenezer Marcy, Joel Rogers, Eleazer Blackman, Rev. Benjamin Bidlack, Joseph Slocum, Cornelius Courtright, Mrs. Phoebe Cooper, Gen. Wm. Ross, Anderson Dana, Elisha Harding. Many writers of Wyoming history have evidently never read this petition with its overwhelming testimony of 18 eye-witnesses. The sufferings endured by the women and children on this fateful 3rd of July and the week following it cannot be estimated. Exaggerated as the history of the sufferers may be, there is truth enough in the various accounts and records to justify the statement that language fails to give an adequate description of it.

Messrs. Robert Baur & Son allowed The Historical Register to use this article, taken from the Library News-Letter.

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