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History of Wyoming, 1845
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History of Wyoming
Charles Miner
1845

 

History of Wyoming, by Charles Miner, in a series of letters, this son William Penn Miner, Esq

Letter XVI

Lights and shadows alternately brightened and obscure the Wyoming sky during the years 1777. The gloomy aspect of affairs along the seaboard; Burgoyne with his powerful army descending from the north; the ascension of the savage interest to the cause of Great Britain, carrying with it the certainty that the frontier settlements, as in the old French war, would be one long line of conflagration and murder, awakened in the breast of the Wyoming people, great fears for the general cause, and extreme anxiety for their own safety.

The companies had marched with the utmost alacrity-not a murmur was heard, for every man felt that the case was one of impervious necessity, yet not one of them entertained a doubt, but that the moment affairs below the mountains were restored to a state of tolerable order, the pledge "to be stationed in proper places to defend their homes," would be regarded in good faith, and the soldiers ordered back to the valley.

Treachery, a trick to entrap them into the service under so fair a pretense, and then to force them away, leaving their homes wholly exposed and unprotected, implied a degree of base and cruelty they could not even comprehend, and therefore did not fear. Cheerfully the soldiers marched to their duty, while hope of their speedy return sustained their families at home.

Town meetings were as heretofore, duly holden, and at the spring meeting, John Jang tends and Isaac Tripp, Esquires, were chosen members of the assembly, which was to convene in Hartford, in May. Westmoreland being now a county as well as a town, a place for the erection of public buildings must be fixed upon, and the old rivalry between Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, or, more extensively, between the east and west sides of the river, was, by the magnitude of the subject excited to a pitch that absorbed for a time, almost exclusively, the public attention. An intelligent committee of impartial men was demanded of the Assembly to settle the dispute.

Another matter created no little excitement among the ambitious men. Rumors had reached Wyoming, that the assembly intended to appoint to some of the more elevated judicial offices, certain persons not inhabitants of the valley, but chosen from that part of the state east of New York.

Voted, instructions to Messr. Jenkins and Tripp. "If any person that is not an inhabitant of this town, should be nominated for an office in this county, that they immediately remonstrate against it in the most spirited manner, as unconstitutional, as an unprecedented thing in this colony in any former times."

The county town was established at Wilkes-Barre, and the officers of the new colony were selected from the town of Westmoreland.

Scarce had this summer open when a new cause of terror and distress was developed in the Valley. The smallpox (how justly this then deadly plague was dreaded, the present generation can form but a faint idea,) made its appearance. One of the most respected citizens returned from Philadelphia, was taken sick with a disease, and died. Want of the advice and protecting influence of the numerous heads of families, away with the army, was sorely felt. But a town meeting was held, where wise and energetic measures were adopted to obviate to the utmost of human power, the ill effects of the contagion. A pest house was established in each township or district, half a mile from any road, where persons were to resort for inoculation. No one in the settlement was to receive the infection except in one of these houses, nor unless by express warrant from an examining committee. A strict quarantine respecting persons connected with the pest houses was established, and regulations for the careful change of clothes. Physicians were prohibited from inoculating except in the places designated. How many deaths occurred from the contagion is not known, but the means adopted had the most salutary influence and quieting alarm, and preventing the spread of the fatal disorder.

Throughout the proceedings of this year, schools appear to have engaged more than usual attention. State taxes, to go into the treasury at Hartford, were to be paid, county and town rates were levied, and yet the zeal for instruction was so unabated, that an additional tax of a penny in the pound was levied for free school purposes. Each township was also established as a legal school district, with power to rent the lands "sequestered by the Susquehanna Company there and, for the use of schools, and also receive all the school committee appointed by their town, their part of the county money, according to their respective rates."

It is also due to the pleasing fact, that it should be distinctly recorded, this year for the first time there was sent from Wyoming, a student to Yale College.

Were we the eulogist, instead of the impartial historian of Wyoming, we might inquire with emphasis, if there before was a people, surrounded by external dangers, pestilence in the midst, a large portion of their natural protectors away in the public service, whoever exhibited so praiseworthy a zeal to defuse the blessings of education among the rising generation?

We have before averted to the fact, that Pennsylvania land holders, masking their true character, came in, purchased a Connecticut right, and then denounced and undervalued the claim as of no validity. This was a mode of attack extremely annoying and difficult to repel. Chapman’s mill was in full and successful operation. A person by the name of Adonijah Stansbury, from the state of Delaware, purchased Chapman's interest, and was placed therefore by his business in instant communication with multitudes of people. It became soon apparent that Stansbury was a disguised enemy. Intelligent, plausible, active, he laughed at the pretended Connecticut claim openly as a folly, and derided it more secretly to some as an imposition. The good people had no other mill to grind for them, and the nuisance became insupportable and dangerous. Stansbury had violated no law, but except through the law there was no way to reach him.

Voted at a town meeting, "that Col. Butler, Col. Denison and Major Judd, be a committee, (the high standing of the committee indicates the importance of the subject,) to write to the Connecticut delegates, and give them a true character of Adonijah Stansbury, and the measures he has heretofore taken for the destruction of the settlement."

Stansbury disregarded the vote. More energetic measures became necessary, and as he owed no man in the town, an Indian, from the Oquago brought suit against him for a sum of money charged as being due on book, growing out of an ancient trade in horses. Active officers, and a willing court, found a heavy balance owing to the Indian. Suits accumulated. A whole people had taken the law of him, and he found his position to warmly assailed to render it endurable. A young man, true to the Connecticut interest, happily at this moment formed a matrimonial connection with Stansbury's daughter, an amiable lady, and purchased the mill of his father-in-law, who retired from the settlement. Trifling as the incident in itself may be regarded, it is deemed worthy of preservation as showing that the dispute respecting title, although it slumbered, was still alive, and as indicating the means taken by both parties, to remain their respective claims, or to annoy their opponents.

A more pleasing matter demands a passing notice. Surrounded by mountains, by a wide spreading wilderness, and by a dreary waste, shut out from all the usual sources of information, a people so inquisitive could not live in those exciting times without the news. Fortunately an old, torn, smoke dried paper, has fallen into our possession, which shows that the people of Wyoming established a post to Hartford, to go once a fortnight and bring on the papers. A Mr. Prince Bryant was engaged as post writer for nine months. More than 50 subscribers remain to the paper, which evidentially must have been more numerous and is torn in the center. The sums as given varied from 1 to 2 dollars each. In the list we find
 
Elijah Shoemaker Seth Marvin
Elias Church Obadiah Gore
George Dorrance James Stark
Nathan Kingsley Anderson Dana
Elisha Blackman Jeremiah Ross
Nathan Denison Zubulon Butler

Payment for the papers was of course a separate matter. It may well the be questioned, whether the there is another instance in the states, of a few settlers, especially as those that Wyoming were situated, establishing at their own expense, a post to bring them the newspapers, from a distance of 250 miles!

It has been regarded as an amusing characteristic of the Yankees, that they never failed in ancient times, to give any man the title which he might claim, from the governor of a colony, down to the sergeant of the company. A quotation from the Westmoreland records will show that the practice was strictly adhered to by the emigrants from Connecticut.

"December 1777, voted, they Captain William Worden, Ensign Daniel Downing, Lieut. Daniel Gore, Captain Nathaniel Landon, Captain Jeremiah Blanchard, Lieut. Aaron Gaylord, Silas Park, Esq., Isaac Tripp, Esq., Captain Stephen Harding, Captain John Franklin, be fence viewers for the ensuing year. The list contains two or three others without titles.

"December 30, voted by this town, to grant one penny on the pound as an addition to the two penny tax, granted Aug. 6." Three pence on the pound, on an assessment of 20,000 pounds would yield 350 pounds, $830. The town also vote to lend the county 40 pounds.

During the summer active measures were in progress to place the settlement in the best posture of defense the circumstances of the people would admit. By detachments the people worked on the several Forts; built upon a larger scale, and with greater strength, but in the same manner as those of Forts Ogden and Durkee. That at Wilkes-Barre occupied the ground on which the courthouse now stands. The venerable Major Eleazer Blackman says: "I was then a boy of 13, but was called on to work in the fortifications. With spade and pick I could not do much, but I could drive oxen and haul logs." Every sinew from childhood to old age was thus put in requisition.

A system had been established by which scouts were sent up the river, to watch the Indian paths, and bring intelligence. Each party of five or seven, was generally absent a week, but their numbers, and the frequency of their tours of duty were increased as emergencies seem to require.

Parties of the Indians were occasionally heard of at no great distance, but they abstained from violence, except so far as to take off prisoners. Up to this time, they had committed no murder and burnt no dwelling. It is not doubted, that by profound policy, it was their wish the settlement should be lulled into security, that the companies of Durkee and Ranson might not be recalled, but the Valley left exposed, and reserved as a cherished victim for another campaign, when the main body of the Six Nations, now engaged in the Northeast, in aid of Burgoyne, should be at liberty to detach a force competent to the certain destruction of the settlement.

An intercommunication it was known, or not doubted, was kept up between the disaffected settlers on the river, from near Tunkhannock to the Wyalusing, with the Indians at Tioga and Newtown, and the British at Niagara. Lieut. Asa Stevens was detached by the committee of inspection, with nine men, who returned bringing in five suspected persons, as prisoners. Lieut. John Jenkins having, as the commander of a scouting party, extended his march as far up as Wyalusing, (now the center of Westmoreland,) was taken prisoner by a band of the Indians and Tories. Three men were taken with him, a Mr. Yorke, Lemuel Fitch, and an old man, name Fitzgerald. The Indians and their allies, placed Fitzgerald on a flax-brake, and told him he must renounce his rebel principles, and declare for the King, or die. "Well," said the stout hearted, old fellow, "I am old and have little time to live, anyhow; and I had rather die now a friend to my country, then live ever so long and die a Tory!" They had magnanimity enough to let him go; but took the other three to Canada.

As Lieut. Jenkins was, himself, an active officer, and the son of one of the most distinguished men in Wyoming, the father having several times been chosen member of assembly, a proposal was made and accepted, to exchange him for an Indian Chief, then a prisoner in Albany. Under an Indian escort he was sent to this city, and when they arrived, it was found the Chief had recently died of the smallpox. The rage of the young Indians, who had escorted him, could scarcely be restrained. They would have tomahawked Lieut. Jenkins on the spot, had they not been forcibly prevented. They demanded that he should return with them. To have done so, would have been exposing him to certain death, probably lingering torture. But he was released, and instantly repaired to his post of duty. These were the first prisoners taken from Wyoming.

On an important occasion, a scouting party of 30 men under the command of Captain Asaph Whittlesy, ventured out as far as Standing Stone, within 25 miles of the north line of Westmoreland. The Rev. Benjamin Bidlack, then a young man of 20, who was out on this expedition, gives this picture of Wyoming, at that time. The young and active men were employed upon scouting parties, to guard the inhabitants from being surprised. Some portion of the militia was constantly on duty. It was necessary, as the able-bodied men were away with the Army, and the country so exposed. But the old man formed themselves into companies, and performed duty in the forts. Those companies of ancient men were called Reformados. Captain William H. Smith, (who acted also as physician and surgeon,) commanded one in Wilkes-Barre, of which Elisha Blackman was Lieut. The father of Mr. Bidlack commanded another and Plymouth.

In the meantime, Ranson and Durkee were stationed near the lines, between the two armies, in New Jersey; Washington, by his brilliant achievements at Trenton and Princeton, having wrested the western portion of the state from the hands of the enemy. They were termed "the two Independent Companies of Westmoreland," and kept from being incorporated with any corps or regiment, the intention being, it is not doubted, to order without unnecessary delay, their returned to the duty for which they had been enlisted.

After joining the Army, the first time they were under fire, was on the 20th of January 1777, at the affair, or battle, at Millstone, one of the most gallant and successful actions, considering the numbers engaged, that was fought during the war.

"When General Washington to Army was hutted near Moorestown," says Rogers, "and laboring under the fatal malody, the smallpox, a line of posts was formed along the Millstone River, in the direction of Princeton. One of these, established at Somerset Courthouse, was occupied by General Dickinson, with a few hundred men," (consisting of Durkee and Ranson’s independent companies, from Wyoming, mustering about 160, and 300 militia.) not very distant, and on the opposite bank of the stream, stood a mill, in which a considerable quantity of flour had been collected for the use of our troops. At this time Lord Cornwallis lay at Brunswick, and having received information of this depot, immediately dispatched a large foraging party, amounting to about 400 men, and upwards of 40 wagons, drawn by imported horses, of the English draft-breed, for the purpose of taking possession of it. The British troops arrived at the mill early in the morning, and having loaded the wagons with flour, were about to march on their returned, when General Dickinson, with an interior force, which he led through the river, middle deep, attacked them with so much spirit and effect that they fled, abandoning the whole of their plunder."

The Mill Stone victory was, to their latest day, a darling theme with the old soldiers. By the unanimous declaration of those engaged, the attack was impetus and well sustained. An order to charge was responded to with enthusiasm. Nor did the British yield the ground without a manly, though ineffectual resistance, the enemy retired in confusion, leaving to the victors a handsome booty, consisting of 47 wagons, and more than an 100 horses. Each man shared several dollars of prize money, and Captain Ranson sent one of the wagons to his farm, at Wyoming, as a trophy. Nor was the victory achieved without loss. Several were killed, and a greater number wounded. Among the former, Porter, he gallant young fellow, the pride of Ranson 's company, was cut down by a cannon ball.

His Excellency, General Washington, in a letter to the President of Congress, dated Moorestown, January 22nd, 1777, gives this account of the occurrence.

"My last to you was on the 20th instant. Since that, I have the pleasure to inform you that General Dickinson, with about 400 militia, has defeated a foraging party of the enemy, of an equal number, and has taken 40 wagons, and upwards of an hundred horses, most of them of the English draft breed, and a number of sheep and cattle which they had collected. The enemy retreated with so much precipitation, that General Dickinson had only an opportunity of making nine prisoners. They were observed to carry off a great many dead and wounded in light wagons. This action happened near Somerset Courthouse, on Millstone River. General Dickinson's behavior reflects the highest honor on him; for though his troops were all raw, he led them through the river middle deep, and gave the enemy so severe a charge, that although supported by three field pieces, they gave way, and left their convoy."

Gen. Lincoln's letter and Col. Butler's reply, will show the position of the companies, in May.

"Bound Brook, May 27th, 1777.

"Sir,-it is his Excellency, General Washington’s orders, that you march immediately with the three detachments from the Connecticut regiments, and the two companies of Wyoming men, to Chatham, there to take General Stephens orders, if there-if not, you will send to headquarters for directions.

"I am your humble servant, B. Lincoln."

"Chatham, May 29th, 1777.

"Pursuant to orders received from your Excellency, by the hand of Major Gen. Lincoln, I have marched with the detachments from the Connecticut Regiment, and a few of the Westmoreland independent companies, and expect more of them will join me this day, and now encamped upon the heights between Chatham and Springfield. I find General Stephens has gone from this place, and no orders can be obtained from him, as I expected. My quartermaster waits on your Excellency, by my directions, to know your Excellency's pleasure concerning my detachment.

"Many soldiers in the independent companies have received no clothes since they entered the service, and are almost naked. Many of their arms are useless, and some of them lost. They are also destitute of tents, and every kind of camp equipage. I hope your Excellency will give special directions how they are to be supplied with those articles. I am, with the greatest esteem and,

"your Excellency's most obedient

"humble servant, and Z. Butler."

The companies were at Bound Brook, at Brandywine, at Germantown, and at Mud Fort. At that terrible bombardment, Lieut. Spalding commanded a detachment of Ranson's company. Almost every shot from the British tore through the Fort, and men fell on every side. A soldier of Spalding's throw himself fled on the ground, "nobody" he said "can stand this!" "Get out, my good fellow," said Spalding, coolly, "I should hate to have to run you through-you can stand it, if I can;" and the man returned cheerfully to his duty. Constant Mathewson, who was with Spalding, a brave man an excellent soldier, a fine intelligent fellow, was blown to pieces by a cannon ball. Sickness carried off several. The two brothers, Sawyers, died of camp distemper. Porter was killed-Spencer and Gaylord died; and three or four were reported as discharged or missing. The Company of Ranson, in October 1777, mustered still 62.

The wealth and revenue of this infant colony, presents an interesting topic of inquiry. Before us is a warrant to Mr. John Dorance, to collect the State tax for 1778; but as it is based on the assessment of 1777, this seems to be a fitting place to introduce it to the readers notice.
 


It will be observed that the tax may be collected in continental money, but at what ever depreciation, the some must be made equal to "2032 pounds, five shillings, lawful money (of Connecticut) that is, $6667.

Without a remark from our pen, surprise, we are sure, will be excited, that a some so considerable, or indeed any sum, should be demanded of Wyoming, for the general purposes of the State Treasury at Hartford.

The whole assessment of the state amounted to 1,929,000 pounds, say, in round numbers, two millions. The assessment of Westmoreland to 20,332 pounds; say 20,000-so that the proportion of the town to the whole state was just about as 1 to 100. So too the population, Connecticut was estimated to contain 230,000 inhabitants. Westmoreland about 2,300, or again as 1 to 100. The quota of its troops demanded of Connecticut was 3228-the proportion that of Wyoming should have been the 100th part, (if indeed a frontier so exposed should have spared a man,) that would have been 32. But the Wyoming company still mustered 124- Gore and Strong’s men 36-making 160, five times the just proportion, admitting the State's quota to have been complete. But, from the urgent requisitions of Congress and the complaints of his Excellency, General Washington, it appears none of the quotas of the states were kept much more than half full. Allow that of Connecticut to have been two-thirds filled, than the number would have been 2152. Wyoming, to have sent in proportion, should have had 21 man in service-but she had about 160, so that in fact the settlement sent eight times its just number. Admitting the 13 colonies to have had a population of about three millions, then as Wyoming was nearly a thousandth part of the whole, the whole should have been furnished to the Army a thousand times as many man, that is 160,000.

While these calculations exhibit the great efforts made by Wyoming, they also show the powerful motives operating on the government of Connecticut, to detain the two companies in the Army. The relief to her was exceeding great and manifest. Accordingly they were numbered as a part of her quota, and their return, notwithstanding the solemn pledge at their enlistment, could not be complied with.

A brief recapitulation may give distinctness to the reader’s view. As the three years of war, from 1769 to 1771, should not be counted, the colony was now in the sixth year of its age. Nearly all their able-bodied men were away in the service. The remaining population in dread of the savages were building six forts, or stockades requiring great labor, and "without fee, or reward." All the aged men, out of the train bands, exempt by law from duty, were formed into companies to garrison the forts, one of the captains being also chief physician to the people, and surgeon to the military. Of the militia, the whole were in constant requisition to go on the scout, and guard against surprise. The smallpox pestilence was in every district. A tax to go to Hartford was levied on the assessment of the year, of 2000 pounds!!

Such is the picture of Wyoming for 1777; but before we closed the view, allow us to copy a heart touching resolve from the proceedings of the town meeting "legally warned," holden December 30.

John Jenkins, Esq., was chosen moderator for the work of the day.

"Voted by this town, that the committee of inspection be empowered to supply the Sogers’ wives, and the Sogers’ widows, and their families, with the necessaries of life."

Let it be engraved on plates of silver! Let it be printed in letters of gold! Challenge Rome in her Republican glory, or Greece in her democratic pride, to produce, the circumstances considered, an act more generous and noble.

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