The year 1776, was the most important to Wyoming both in immediate events, and ultimate consequences, that had yet been experienced.
Extreme anxiety had existed on the part of Congress and the country, in respect to the part the Six Nations and other Indians, would take in the contest between Great Britain and the colonies. Every probable means suggested by prudence were adopted to conciliate their goodwill, and prevent them from taking up arms in favor of either party. The commissioners were sent among them was "talks" carefully prepared, stating the grievances which we suffered from Great Britain, and urging the Indians to leave the buried hatchet in repose, and maintain a position of peace and neutrality. Delegations of chiefs were invited to Philadelphia, where councils were held, and presents made to them; but amid general and professions of friendship, it was apparent that a more powerful influence inclined them to side with the enemy, and anxiety all along the frontier, ripened into alarm. So very important were our Indian relations to the quiet, if not existence of Wyoming, that a further exposition of the matter, appears to be required at our hand.
So early as the first of June 1775, a petition was laid before Congress from Augusta County, west of the Allegheny, Virginia, intimating "fears of the rupture with the Indians, on account of Lord Dunmore’s conduct." In December of that year, Congress thought fit to publish an extract of a letter from Gen. Schuyler, relative to measures taken by the ministerial agents to engage the Indians in a war with the colonies. In June, 1776, Congress was informed "by a letter from the president of South Carolina, that the Cherokees had commenced hostilities, etc."
The ill temper of the savages is shown by the speech of Logan, a chief, to the commissioners at Pittsburgh. "We still hear bad news. Connesdico and some of us are constantly threatened, and the Bear-skin, a trader from Pennsylvania, amongst others, says, a great reward is offered to any person who will take or entice either of us to Pittsburgh, where we are to be hanged up like dogs by the Big-knife. This being true, how can we think of what is good. That it is sure we have no doubt, and you may depend on it, that the Bear-skin told Metopsica every word of what I have mentioned."
August the 19th, Congress resolved, "that the commissioners being instructed to make diligent inquiry into the murder lately committed by Indians in the neighborhood of Pittsburgh, on one Crawford; and that, as soon as they discover by whom the same was committed, they demand due punishment on the offender or offenders, which being granted, this Congress will not consider the same as a national act."
Still the Chief Head, the Council at Onondaga, were making hollow professions of peace, and endeavoring to lull the frontiers into security. And outrage had been committed on a person named Wilson, who lived some distance up the North Branch, but within the limits of Westmoreland. Col. Butler, though not officially authorized to do so, thought proper on behalf of the people to send a messenger to the neighboring tribes, and ascertain their intentions. A chief returned with the messenger. His English name was John. We regret that his Indian name has not been preserved, for his speech is one of the most chaste, neat specimens of Indian oratory we have ever read. The Rev. Mr. Johnson acted as interpreter.
A conference held at Wyoming, or Westmoreland, between Captain John in behalf of the Six Nations, and Col. Butler of the colony of Connecticut.
"Brothers-We come to make you a visit and let you know we were at the Treaty at Oswego, with Col. Guy Johnson. We are all of one mind, we are friends, and bring good news.
"Brothers-We are also come to let you know, the Six Nations have been something afraid, but now are glad to see all things look like peace, and they think there will be no quarrel with each other, and you must not believe bad reports, or remember times that have been bad or unfriendly.
"Brothers-All our spirits are of one color, why should we not be of one mind. Continue to be brothers as our fathers and grandfathers were.
"Brothers-We hope and desire you may hold what liberties and privileges you now enjoy.
"Brothers-We are sorry to hear two brothers are fighting with each other, and should be glad to hear the quarrel was peaceably settled. We choose not to interest ourselves on either side. The quarrel appears to be unnecessary. We do not well understand it. We are for peace.
"Brothers-When our young men come to hunt in your neighborhood, you must not imagine they come to do mischief-They come to procure themselves provisions-also skins to purchase them clothing.
"Brothers-We desire that Wyoming may be a place appointed where the great men may meet, and have a fire, which shall ever afterwards be called Wyomick, when you shall judged best, to prevent any jealousies or uneasy thoughts that may arise, and thereby preserve our friendship.
"Brothers-You see one of our chiefs. You may be suspicious on that account, but we assure you, this chief speaks in the name of the Six Nations. We are of one mind.
"Brothers-What we say is not from the lips, but from the heart. If any Indians of little note should speak otherwise, you must pay no regard to them, but observe what has been said and wrote by the chiefs, which may be depended on.
"Brothers-We live at the head of these waters, (Susquehanna.) Pay no regard to any reports that may come up the stream or any other way, but look to the head of the waters for truth, and we do not assure you, as long as the waters run, so long you may depend on our friendship. We are all of one mind, and we are all for peace."
A letter from Col. Butler to the Honorable Roger Sherman then a delegate to Congress, from Connecticut, will throw in additional light on the subject.
"Westmoreland, Oct. 1st, 1776.
"Honored Sir:-In some of my last letters, you will recollect I informed you I had sent a messenger among the Indians upon the headwaters of the Susquehanna, and thereby informed them of an assault made upon one of our people, whose testimony has sometimes since been sent to you. The Indians, you will see by the enclosed messages, are disposed for peace, and think it necessary that this place be appointed to hold their council at, and, as they express it, to have a fire-place here. Their importunity was so pressing on that account, that I promised them to inform the Congress, and our assembly of their requests, and would beg the opinion of your self, and our other delegates, whether it is best to lay it before the Congress, and that you would be pleased to inform his honor, our governor, immediately, what you apprehend will be best for the colony to do, if anything, in that matter. The Indians when they come here, expect presents, or at least to be supported while among us, and no one is appointed to treat with them. They come to me, and I have frequently given them, but find the burthen to great for one man to bear.
"They also insist upon a new flag, such as is used by the army of the United States. They say their old flag came over the great water, and they now want a new one, as a token of their friendship to the United States.
"By the last papers we find that the report of Col. Butler, etc., with the Indians and Canadians being at Oswego, is disbelieved. By the accounts we had before received of that matter, some were much agitated here, but seem more easy at present.
"I expect to be at the assembly, and shall gladly receive any information you shall think proper to send me.
"I am, Sir, your humble servant, Z. Butler."
"N.B. The Indians deny having any hand in the attack made upon Wilson, and have engaged to let us know if they make any discovery of that matter.
Honorable Roger Sherman.
The earnest desire to have a fire-place erected at Wyoming, and that a great council should be held there, was probably a devised plan to introduce the savages into the settlement without creating alarm, and then treacherously to destroy the whole. The importunity it seems, "was pressing."
It would also appear that now, since war rumors were of float, numerous chiefs, claiming consideration, visited Wyoming, expecting presents and entertainment. "I have frequently given" says Col. Butler, "but find the burden to great for one man to bear."
But they wanted a new flag, such as the "United States Army used," probably as a decoy on a fitting occasion. In respect to the news of Col. John Butler with his Canadians and Indians being at Oswego, Col. Z. Butler says:-"Some were very much agitated here." The more sagacious men at Wyoming, could not fail to foresee and dread the danger. A tremendous avalanche hung over them, which the least jar might precipitate on their heads.
In September following, a deputation of three chiefs arrived at Wyoming, and brought a "talk," the "Great Head" at Onondaga having held a council. The top was agreed upon at Chenango by certain authorize chiefs. While it professes peaceable intentions, the tone is one of compliant. The length is too great to render proper its publication entire. A paragraph or two will give its spirit.
"Brothers-There is a great deal between us. The devil is always putting something between us, but this is to clear your hearts that you may speak clearly and pleasantly to us. A string of wampum.
"Well brothers-There is a great deal of trouble around you. Your lids are all bloody, but we come to clear away all suspicion that your hearts may be pleasant." Three strings of wampum.
Still desirous that a great council fire should be kindled at Wyoming, they proceed:-
"Well brothers-Our fireplace is almost lost, and our fire almost out. We think it hard, and desire it may be renewed, and the fireplace fixed here, that our mutual fire may give light from one end of this river to the other.
"Brothers-We are unwilling to have forts built up the river, but wish you would be content to build forts here among the lower settlers. A fort at Wyalusing will block out our new made, wide, and smooth road, and began making strangers to one another."
Three other paragraphs urgently desire at a "fire" may be kindled at Wyoming, "so that the flame and smoke may arise to the clouds," and etc.
After complaining of some wrong by a white man, done an Indian in the exchange of cows, and demanding satisfaction, they ask a new flag, and beg for some flour to take home with them, and request as they are for peace their guns and tomahawks may be put in order.
In conclusion, "well brother, Col. Butler, you must have an Indian name; Koorenghloognanna, (signifying a great tree,) we will henceforth call you."
The chiefs present were
William Nanticoke, Nanticoke Chief
Indian Joseph, Onondaga chief
Narondigwanok or Capt. Johnson, A Seneca chief
The "talk" was regarded as evasive and unsatisfactory. It may be considered as creditable to the Wyoming people, that Indian jealousy could find nothing in their five years intercourse, for their friends scattered through the valley to complain of, except the matter of the cow exchange.
In a letter from Col. Butler to Roger Sherman, dated August 6, 1776, he says:-
"You will see by the representations from this town that we are under apprehensions of danger from the Indians, as our army has retreated to Crown-point, and every artifice using to set the Indians on us, by Johnson and Butler, at Niagara."
Col. Butler also speaks of the settlement being in want of arms, "as those 80 guns taken from our people at Warriors Run, have not been returned," etc.
The report reached the valley the same month, that Col. John Butler, "with the Indians and Canadians, was at Oswego." Notwithstanding the professions of the Six Nations, no one doubted before the close of 1776, but that they were pledged to the interest of Great Britain, and on the invasion by Burgoyne early in the following year, numbers of them were found arrayed under his standard, active, brave and cruel, as became their long-established character.
Westmoreland extended north, five miles above the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers. The upper part of the town was therefore not only within the range of the Indian paths, but as previously stated, actually included several other settlements at Tioga point, Sheshequin and the Great Bend. In the immediate neighborhood were the populace villages of Oquaga, (one of the headquarters of Brandt,) Chenango, Owego, Choconut and Newtown, the latter a place where many distinguished chiefs are resided. The general, almost the universal, course of travel for the Indians going east or west, was through the upper part of Westmoreland. A moderate freshet in the river, would bring their boats and canoes, in 24 hours, from their place of rendezvous at Tioga, into the heart of the Wyoming settlement. Being therefore within easy striking distance, they were fully aware of their danger, and might well look with anxious solitude to the public authorities for protection.
A colony projected out of her own bosom beyond New York, 40 miles north of the Blue Mountains, and divided by an inhospitable wilderness, from any other settlement of sufficient strength to yield support in case of invasion, Connecticut seemed called upon by the strongest considerations of justice and mercy to take measures to afford effectual protection to this her exposed frontier.
In important inquiry presents itself: What were the numbers, and what the strength of Westmoreland? Trumbull states, and on his authority, Chapman copies the assertion, that there were 5000 inhabitants in the town. It will be observed that the number is stated roundly at 5000, as if it were a matter of guess, rather than of enumeration. From all lights before me, I am confident the number is greatly exaggerated. In the first place, during the years of peace and prosperity from 1774 to 1776 only 285 persons had taken the Freeman's oath, and exercised the right of suffrage in town meetings, when there were many and obvious motives to do so, and none that we can conceive of, to deter.
Second. When, after the Declaration of Independence, a new oath was demanded, only 269 had appeared and been sworn. Allowing an hundred Freeman to have been absent with the army, and the whole number would be 369. If we allow six persons to each voter, the number would be 2214. Third. A list of settlers at Wyoming for 1773, two years before, in Col. Butler's handwriting, numbers only 216. Fourth. An assessment for Wilkes-Barre Township in 1774, corrected January 1775, contains 120 names. The sum assessed was 3646 pounds. The whole assessment in Westmoreland Nang year was 13,083 pounds. Now if 3646 give 120 persons, how many would 13,083 give? It is apprehended this would be one fair mode for approximating the truth. The answer is 430, which multiplied by six, gives 2580.
In the Plunkett battle, when full notice had been received of the impending and pressing danger, and everything was at stake, only about 300 men could be mustered, and not all those with firearms. We see no reason to suppose the whole number of inhabitants exceeded about 2500. Perhaps to impress the enemy with an idea of her formidable power, might have been regarded as a means to prevent invasion, and therefore warranting the exaggeration. The date on which our conclusion is founded, being submitted, every person who takes an interest in the matter will form an opinion for himself.
Having presented a brief view of the position of Wyoming, the dangers the people had reasonable ground to apprehend, and as accurate an estimate as possible of the number of inhabitants, we approach a matter of the utmost moment; but previous to entering thereon, the duty and pleasure call on us to state some highly patriotic proceedings; while an equal sense of duty demands our notice of several painful events.
At a town meeting, held March 10th, "Voted, that the first man that shall make 50 weight of goods salt-petre in this town shall be entitled to a bounty of 10 pounds, lawful money, to be paid out of the town treasury."
"Voted, that the selectmen be directed to dispose of the grain now in the hands of the treasurer, or collector, in such way as to obtain powder and lead to the value of 40 pounds, lawful money, if they can do the same."
The Continental Congress having recommended the appointment of committees of vigilance in every town, and the arrest of persons hostile to the cause of liberty, a committee of inspection was established, a measure that became the more pressingly necessary, as, with the breaking out of the war, and the prohibition on the part of Connecticut of any further emigration to Wyoming, there had come in strange families of interlopers from Minnisink, from Westchester, New York, from Kinderhook, and the Mohawk, neither connected with Pennsylvania nor Connecticut, between whom it and the old settlers there was neither sympathy in feeling, nor community of interests-Wintermoots, Vangorders, and Von-Alstines. A path of communication was opened by the disaffected between New York and Niagara, to strike the Susquehanna 20 miles above Wilkes-Barre. Some of those new and unwelcome settlers soon made their sentiments known, and disclosed their hostility to the American cause, while others for the time remained quiet, though subsequent event showed the purpose other emigration to the Susquehanna.
John Secord, who had settled up the river near 30 miles above the valley, was known to harbor suspicious persons, and was suspected of acting as a spy, and giving intelligence to the enemy. Several British prisoners, confined at Lebanon, Connecticut, had made their escape, viz: Captain Hume, Lieutenants Richardson, Hubbage and Burroughs, with their servants. Having a pilot, they struck the river 20 miles above the valley, and were supposed to have been directed to, and entertained by Secord, furnished with provisions, and aided in their flight to Niagara.
The committee caused him to be arrested; but he petitioned Congress, complaining of the outrage on his rights, and by their order was liberated. A bold, bad man, he united himself to the enemy, the moment he could more effectually served them in that manner, and by professing friendship for the Yankees, and acting as a spy upon Wyoming. Two of the Vangorders, Philip and Abraham, were taken by the committee, and sent to Litchfield for trial. Andrew Adams, Esq., was employed to conduct the prosecution, but the issue we have not been able to learn. About the same time eight or ten persons were arrested, and sent to Hartford for trial, but were dismissed.
Doubts have been expressed whether there was not more zeal than discretion in these proceedings. With the faint lights before us it is impossible to form an opinion entirely satisfactory upon the subject. Certain it is, such an influx of strangers was deemed, and not without reason, extraordinary. Some of them it is known immediately opened communications with the enemy. The issue showed that they were all enemies in disguise. We are not prepared to say therefore, that the people were to blame in taking the most energetic measures to remove, or over-awe the more avowed disaffected, especially when the recommendations of Congress are considered.
John Jenkins, Esq., (the elder) and Captain Solomon Strong, were chosen members of the Legislature to attend at Hartford, in May, with express orders to request the assembly to demand of the Pennsylvania government 4000 pounds for losses sustained by their invasion, and if necessary to pursue the matter before Congress. As no further notice of the subject appears upon the records, and as it is certain no compensation was received, it is presumed that prudential considerations induced the general assembly to decline interfering.
"At a town meeting legally warned and held, at Westmoreland, Wilkes-Barre district, Aug. 24, 1776,
"Col. Butler was chosen moderator for the work of the day.
"Voted-As the opinion of this meeting, that it now becomes necessary for the inhabitants of this town to erect suitable forts, as a defense against our common enemy."
Recently there had been established by the General Assembly at Westmoreland, the 24th regiment of Connecticut militia. The meeting voted that the three field officers should be a committee to fix on proper sites for the forts, lay them out, and give directions how they should be built. The Wintermoots, a numerous family, seeming to have extraordinary means at command, had purchased and settled near the head of the valley upon a spot where a large and pure spring of water gushes out from the high bank, or upper flat. Here they had erected a fortification, known as Wintermoot’s Fort. This was looked upon with jealousy by the old settlers. A vote with therefore passed, that no forts be built except those which should be designated by the military committee. As it was too late to remedy the evil, the committee resolved to counteract as far as possible, by causing a fort to be built a mile above Wintermoots, in the neighborhood, and under the supervision of the Jenkins and Harding families, leading men and ardent patriots. It was named Fort Jenkins, (but must not be confounded by the reader with the Fort Jenkins, halfway between Wyoming and Sunbury, or Fort Augusta.) Forty Fort was to be strengthened an enlarged. Sites were fixed on in Pittston, Wilkes-Barre, Hanover, and Plymouth. And that was adopted the following beautiful vote:-"that the above said committee, do recommend it to the people to proceed forthwith in building said the Forts without either fee or reward from ye town."
We leave it in its simplicity to speak its own eulogium.
The die was cast. Independence was declared. War assumed throughout the land his sternest aspect, and everyday disclosed to Wyoming some new ground of apprehension. The savages, who yet dwelt in the valley, theretofore peaceable and quiet, now began to assume an insolent carriage, demanding provisions and liquor, with an authoritative air, accompanied by expressions implying threats of vengeance if refused. Justly dreading the ill consequences of a quarrel, the town passed a solemn vote, similar in spirit to one previously adopted, forbidding, under penalty of 40 shillings a gill, the sale to an Indian of any spirituous liquors, and also prohibiting the transportation of spirits upon the river above the valley.
In November, Col. Butler and Col. Denison, representatives to the October session of the assembly, held at New Haven, returned, bringing the good tidings that the town of Westmoreland was erected into a County, and henceforth its organization, civil and military, was complete. Jonathan Fitch, Esq., had received the commission of High Sheriff, and was of course the first person whoever held that responsible office on the North Branch of the Susquehanna.
During this summer Captain Weisner, from New York, was sent to Wyoming, to enlist part of a rifle company for the continental service. Obadiah Gore, Jr., an active and enterprising man, offered Weisner his influence, received the commission of Lieut., and raised about twenty men, with whom he marched to headquarters. Soon after, however, it being deemed proper that, as they were enlisted in Connecticut, they should be credited to her, and not to the New York line of the Army, they were transferred, it is believed, to the regiment of Col. Wyllis.
About the same time, Captain Strong enlisted part of a company, at Wyoming, the number is supposed to have been inconsiderable, not exceeding eight or ten. These being the first enlisted men, took with them the best arms that could be obtained. That a man should have left the valley, or that a musket or rifle should have been taken, is matter of surprise. But nowhere throughout the United Colonies, did this spirit of patriotism glow more intensely than in Westmoreland. We make the remark here, and shall repeated again, but like the generous steed which exerts every sinew, till he falls lifeless under his rider, Wyoming never seemed to know when they had done and suffered enough, if further duty or suffering was demanded by the cause.
Col. Butler, in a letter to a member, complaining that no restitution had been made, as recommended by Congress, of property taken, partly in boats confiscated while trading down the river; and horses, arms, and other articles taken from Wyoming, says:-"our other property, though valuable, we would not mention at this day, but our arms we cannot forbear speaking of, as there are none to be purchased, and we a frontier, and so unanimously willing to defend the United States of America, at the risk of our lives. But Congress must be best acquainted with the disposition of the Indians," etc. Congress being fully apprised of the situation at Westmoreland, determined to interpose and provide for the defense of the town. To this end-
"Friday, Aug. 23, 1776.-Resolved, 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, till further order of Congress; the commissioned officers of the said two companies, to be immediately appointed by Congress."
Aug. 26.-Congress proceeded to the elections of sundry officers, when Robert Durkee and Samuel Ransom were elected captains of the two companies ordered to be raised in the town of Westmoreland, James Wells, and Perrin Ross, 1st Lieutenants; Asabel Buck, and Simon Spalding, 2nd lieutenants; Herman Swift and Matthias Hollenback, ensigns of said companies."
Early in September, information was received of the Resolution of Congress, and rendezvous for the enlistment of men on the terms prescribed, were opened by Capt. Durkee on the east, and Captain Ransom on the west side of the river. As the troops raised were by the express pledge of Congress, "to be stationed in proper places for the defense of the inhabitants," while, of course, the existing danger should continue, the able-bodied men flocked to the standard raised, and in less than 60 days, both companies were full, numbering about 84 in each.
Washington's Army, greatly impaired in numbers and spirit, by their expulsion from Long Island, were now sorely pressed by General Howe. On the 15th of September, New York was taken possession of by the enemy. The battle at White Plains had been fought, and on the 16th of November, Fort Washington surrendered to the British arms, General Howe claiming to have taken 2500 prisoners. Gloom-almost despondence-overspread the American camp. Howe pushed his advantage with energy. Washington was compelled to retreat, from post to post, through the Jerseys. "The commander in chief," says Marshall, "found himself at the head of this small force, less than 3000 soldiers, dispirited by their losses and fatigues, retreating, almost naked and barefooted, in the cold of November and December, before a numerous, well appointed and victorious Army, through a desponding country, much more disposed to obtain safety by submission than to seek it by manly resistance."
On the 8th of December, General Washington crossed the Delaware, and Congress immediately took measures to retire from Philadelphia to Baltimore. At this moment of peril, they "Resolved, Thursday Dec. 12th, "that the two companies raised in the town of Westmoreland, be ordered to join General Washington, with all possible expedition." And the very same day adjourned to meet on the 20th, at Baltimore.
Promptly obeying the order, the two companies hastened their march, and before the close of the month and year, were upon the lines, under the command of their beloved Washington.