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The Connecticut Women of the Wyoming Valley
by Bernice McGill McPherson
Where did the Connecticut women go? and when and why did these noble women leave the crescent shaped valley of Wyoming? Before we attempt to solve this triple problem let us borrow the cue of the Connecticut Yankee, and ask another question. Why were the Connecticut women in this valley at the time of the terrible Massacre? Well there was a good reason for them to be in that locality at a perilous time. The territory in the state of Connecticut being nearly taken up, many of the people began to turn their eyes towards some favorable location to make for themselves a home.
Rumors of the wondrous beauty and fertility of the Susquehannah Valley and the advantages to be derived by settling on the banks of the beautiful Susquehannah river were in circulation. A few prominent men of Connecticut wishing to know more of the country, sent a party to explore this region. The inspectors were charmed with the lower valley which they named the Paradise of America. One writer says that at the time of the bloody massacre it was turned from Paradise into Perdition. The valley with its broad plains, rich soil and beautiful woodland and background was to them a Paradise in comparison with the rock-bound hills they had just left behind them. After a favorable report brought back with them a company was formed and the valley was claimed by the Connecticut colony as early as 1753.
It is not my purpose to go into the details of the dispute arising between the Pennsylvania settlers and the Connecticut people over the territory for the readers of history are familiar with the full account of it in the story of the Pennamite and Yankee war. It has always been a matter of pride with me that my maternal ancestors were born and lived in Connecticut. Many a daughter of our country can justly be proud to trace her lineage back to Connecticut records; for Connecticut, although small in size, is no low down state. In the matter of education, Connecticut furnishes more college students in proportion to her population than any other state in the Union. A Yale pennant is sufficient to stamp the state, and we believe that the general high cultivation of the people today is due to the high standard of sobriety and herosism maintained by the Connecticut women, who have passed away and left their impress on the present generation.
The horrors of the Wyoming Massacre has many times been told in song and story but only those who were eye witnesses will ever know of the barbarities perpetrated by the Indians and Tories. The British army was enough to face but the soft-footed Indian and treacherous Tory knew nothing of mercy. One of our distinguished generals of the Civil War said that "war was hell," and I doubt not that the Connecticut women would have vastly preferred a storm of fire and brimstone to the treatment they recieved at the hands of the enemy. An eminent divine was asked what he thought of the American Indian and he replied that at one time he had quite an admiration for some of the Great Chiefs, but after reading the account of the Wyoming Massacre he thought that the Indian was an "electrified devil" consuming or blighting everything in his pathway.
After the smoke had cleared and the groans had died away where did the Connecticut women go? Most of the historians tell you that the remaining people, mostly women and children, fled for their lives to the forts in the older and heavier settlements, or took the blind paths through the forest. If Forty Fort and the Stewart Block House could have had eyes to see and ears to hear and a tounge to tell, many deeds of self sacrifice and heroic effort would be proclaimed which have never been written on the pages of history. It is said that after the affray the men that were left hurried their families to the forts and went to war. The Tories made for Canada and the valley again was like a lonely desert. Money was scarce, but there were no paupers or millionaires. It ws no light task to gather together what few belongings might be left and start out in the world homeless but not hopeless.
One officer of the continental army said that although the valley was devastated, homes and fields burned and desolation reigned everywhere, yet that as the settlers started on their journey they would look back with longing eyes on the beautiful spot that had been their home, as did Adam and Eve when they were thrust out of the Garden of Eden. And we ask again, where did the settlers go? At first it was thought best to assemble all the survivors at Forty Fort and there defend the women and children, but on account of scarcity of provision it was deemed inpracticable. No sooner had the fort surrendered than the Indians began to possess themselves of whatever pleased their fancy. The women were stripped of their wearing apparel. Meanwhile the people were fleeing in every direction. As many as could find boats or canoes escaped down the river. Many went on foot to Easton or Stroudsburg. From these places of comparative safety they made their way to distant homes.
It is supposed that many perished from hunger and fatigue or were lost in the vast forest. I do not suppose that every Connecticut woman returned to her native state. Doubtless there was just as winsome lasses and merry widows during the Revolutionary period as you will find at the present time, and if they choose to remain for better or worse, who should say nay? But we have record of many who did take up the dreary march through the forest going with no bed but the earth, and no covering but the star-lit sky, in constant fear of being devoured by the hungry wolves or pursued by the savage tribe. It would be impossible to give all of the names of the heroic women we have on record but a few will serve to show which way the tide turned.
Among the Connecticut settlers in the Wyoming valley was the family of James and Hannah Loomis Wells. They had come from Colchester, Conn. in 1771 and had built for themselves a log cabin in Wyalusing, the remains of which may still be seen. At the opening of the Revolution Mr. Wells enlisted. In the spring of 1778 he was serving in the capacity of lieutenant with the army of Washington in New Jersey. Rumors of the dangers that threatened his family reached his ears and he and Lieutenant Ross obtained leave of absence and hastened to the defense of his loved ones. They arrived in Wyoming just in time to join the battle of July 3rd. Both men were killed. There was no time to be spent in grief for the valient husband. Hannah Loomis Wells had but one horse in her possession, but she started at once with her 12 children to make her way back to Connecticut. The perils of this journey cannot be realized. The country was hilly and almost as trackless as the ocean. Many times the fugitives were obliged to subsist on berries gathered by the wayside. This was the spirit of this dauntless woman. She not only accomplished her journey in safety but when the times became more settled she once more returned to Wyalusing where she died in 1795. Her grave was the first to be made in the Merry-all cemetery and here in recent years her descendants erected a momument ot her memory.
Think you that this brave woman was less a patriot than her husband who gave his life for his country? Among the descendants of this noble woman are the great-great-grandaughters, Mrs. Willl Gordon and Mrs. Simon Rendall and the great-great-grandsons Dr. Leonard and Dr. Manville Pratt of this town.
The following is copied from the Stevens record prepared for their family reunion: The first Stevens of which I could find any record was beheaded by the order of Cromwell for the part he took in the English Revolution. His three sons, thinking that discretion was the better part of valor came to America. Their names were Simon, Cyprian and Stephen. They settled in Lancaster, Mass. Cyprian had two sons, Simon and Joseph. The third son of Simon was Jonathan, and his third son was Asa who was born May, 1734 and came to Wyoming, Pa. in 1774, living the first year at the mouth of Mill Creek; afterward moved to where the city of Wilkes-Barre now stands and at that time there were only four house there. Asa Stevens was a lieutenant in the Wilkes-Barre Company. He was killed at the Battle of Wyoming, leaving a wife and 10 children who fled with the other fugitives to Connecticut. One child dying on the march through the wilderness a grave was made and the body left alone.
"But the Angels their watch will keep And the little one will peacefully sleep."
The little boy Jonathan rather delicate and small for his years was dressed in girl's clothes, his mother hoping in this way to shield him from danger. Mrs. Stevens reached her Connecticut home after a long and weary journey. She was the wife of the great-great grandfather of Mrs. Polly Stevens Felton of our town, besides a number of other descendants in this vicinity.
In the burying groung at Burlington, Conn. there stands a monument bearing the following inscription: "Katherine Cole Gaylord, wife of Lieutenant Aaron Gaylord, 1745-1840. In memory of her sufferings and heroism at the Massacre of Wyoming, 1778. This stone was erected by her descendants and the Katherine Gaylord Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, July 3, 1895." Katherine Cole Gaylord was the wife of Lieutenant Aaron Gaylord of Bristol, Conn., who with his wife and three children joined a party of emigrants who were going to the famous Wyoming Valley. They settled at Forty Fort and for two years lived the usual pioneer life. A council of war was held and Lieutenant Gaylord informed his wife that the garrison was going to fight against his will. He counselled long with his wife and formed plans for her escape if he failed to return. After mounting his horse he gave her his wallet with all his money. As he rode away he called his son and bade him go to the pasture and get the horses and bring them to the fort, as they might need them. That was the last Katherine Gaylord ever saw of her husband. At nine o'clock she recieved word that her husband had been killed and scalped by the Indians. About midnight Mrs. Gaylord and her little brood passed out of the fort into the wilderness. For three nights they rested under the trees. The tired children sleeping with their heads on their mother's lap, while she watched for wolves and Indians. They lived on berries, birch-bark, roots and various edible plants. A fire they dared not build for fear of attracting the enemy. One time they were followed all day by a panther. The mother was almost wild with terror, but happily they came upon a deserted cabin where they kindled a fire and remaineed for two days, and then again resumed their journey. After many weary weeks they reached the home of James Cole, Mrs. Gaylord's father, all of them in good health notwithstanding their perilous journey. Mrs. Gaylord lived to the age of 95. The boy Lemuel afterward went back to Wyoming, where he married a daughter of Noah Murray. Phebe, the eldet daughter, married Levi Frisbie and lived in Orwell, Pa.
This is no fancy sketch. It differs only in details, more or less tragic, from that of scores of other brave an devoted women who fled from that awful scene of blood and pillage. This is only a sample of the bravery of the Connecticut women the records of almost every township in our county will give you the same story. The brave women did not always come from Connecticut but they shared the same horrors at Wyoming. Marion Crawford in his wondrous book "Stradella" says that the "God of war usually spares the coward, and slays the brave." This may do for fiction, but if this were literally true, not one of the Connecticut women would have been spared to return to her native state or go elsewhere as all would have been slain, for a braver "galaxy" of women never existed.
It was a hazardous undertaking to start with a large family of small children and tramp through the woods in sunshine and rain for weeks, but a brave mother could do it and did do it. But I'm inclined to think it would be more of a task today for a father to attempt to go to Connecticut with 12 small children. He would be followed with a posse of officers and overtaken before he reached the State line and accused of kidnapping children . One writer says that after the Wyoming battle the survivors' objective point seemed to be Tioga Point. Several families went up into Dutchess county, N. Y. where they had relatives, but afterwards returned to the Susquehannah Valley, and you will find scores of the most prominent family names throughout Athens, Ulster, Sheshequin, Towanda, Wysox and Wyalusing, who in the bloody massacre had a part and mourned a father, son or brother.
When did the Connecticut women leave th Wyoming Valley? Someone has said, "Stand not upon your order of going but go at once." I suppose it was Shakespeare because he could cover more ground in a dozen words than any other writer past, present or future. At any rate they followed the advice of Lady Macbeth and like the crow made wings for the rooky woods. Even before the dead were buried and before the smoldering ashes had cooled, they had begun their "Forward March" and having put their hands to the plough they dared not look back.
Why did the Connecticut women desire to return to their native state? Sorrow had come to them, their homes either destroyed or unsafe, the male members of the household either dead or fighting for freedom. Many of them "had not where to lay their head" and what would be more natural than their thoughts should turn back to the homes of their childhood? Down in some remote corner of every human heart there is said to be a "Homeland." Tiny it may be, but sometime, somewhere we will be conscious of its presence and be possesssed with and indescribable longing to go back to our first home, the home of our birth. Many a gifted American whose name stands out in bold relief on the pages of our country's history has been glad to go back to the home of his childhood and kneel at the feet of his old and sometimes toil-worn mother, whose devotion and sacrifice in days gone by made possible his present high position. Carnation Day should be observed by him every day of his life for such a mother.
A noted statesman in making an address before an athletic club said "that he regretted that during his busy life he had allowed athletics to be crowded out." He said I feel at this time of life that I might have been physically stronger and I am fond of outdoor sport. But he said, do you know that for years the desire of my life was to go back to a distant state and visit the home of my boyhood and stand on the top of a certain hillock where I cuffed Billy Saunders "up to a peak" for that was the proudest day of my life.
As this is "Woman's Day" it would scarcely be courteous not to mention a woman famous during the Revolutionary period. She did not come from Connecticut but she was "Queen of the Valley." Some smart wag sid that "Queen Esther was the first woman Suffragist in this country"; when asked why he said because she did what the Suffragette would eventually do--"she beat the men." This forest soverign was born to rule. After the death of the chief, her husband, for 25 years, her authority was never disputed and she ruled until her eldest son had earned by his bravery the right to wear the eagle's plume and take his father's place on the warpath and at the council table. In times of peace Queen Esther was said to have been a provident and wise ruler but in times of war a diabolical demon.
In times of peace we are preapared for war. It whould be a source of pride to every woman in our counrty that our splendid naval and military forces are equipped with modern appliances and that our loved ones go forth to war no more in a hand to hand conflict. If they engage in that kind of combat it is of their own choosing. Our fine military schools are a better place to teach our boys the tactics of war, than for them possibly to be obliged to restort to the pioneer method of exchanging the plough handle for a musket. In the breast of every American boy seems to be implanted the desire to fight. While still dressed in rompers the least provocation will bring up that little doubled fist. You have probably heard the story of the boy, whose father desired to make him happy on his birthday. He gave him a flobert rifle and a diary, and said, my son, be careful in handling the rifle and write in your diary every night what you have been diong through the day, and in future years it will be one of your most valued possessions. The next day it rained and he wrote "rained all day, did not use my rifle." The second day he wrote "rained all day, did not use my rifle." The third day he wrote "still raining, but I shot grandmother." There is no doubt but what the average American boy with an outdoor life and proper physical training will be at a suitable age be competent and willing to fall in line if the war whoop is sounded. And as the mode of warfare has greatly changed in the last century, may we not hope that the "angel of peace" may thake place of the "god of war." Fight if you must til the last foe expires, but be sure you must before you hurl the javelin into the enemy's camp. At the best the sword is a shivering instrument, and as a nation wer are proud that it has been possible at least for the present to turn our glittering swords into baseball bats and our belching cannons into speeding automobiles. Let us be true to our country and love our flag, but may we come to realize that the highest form of patriotism is to be able to settle all controversies, if possible, without strife and bloodwhed. A few weeks ago in the city of Philadelphia the mayor welcomed the Foreign Peace delegates at a banquet given in their honor. The mayor said, 'this must be a world peace," insisting that it must be made universal to be effective. It is not only our high privelage to be at peace with every nation of the earth, but may the spirit of peace dwell within our own borders, and if a company of Connecticut women ever come to Pennsylvania again, may we shower them with roses rather than with bullets.
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