From the book: History of the Presbyterian Church of Wysox,
Pennsylvania 1791 - 1936 by Victor Charles Detty, Pastor.
No Unauthorized Commercial Use may Be Made of This Material
Aerial Photo of the Susquehanna
River between Owego and Athens
The following narrative was made available by Mrs. Mildred Rahm Smith, whose late husband, Mr. Edward L. Smith, of Towanda, PA., was a lineal descendant of Sebastian Strope and also of Jonas Smith, early members of the Wysox Church. The paper was secured through the courtesy of Katherine Scott Hills, another descendant of Sebastian Strope, and she made the following note: "Mrs. Jane Whittaker's Narration, taken by Judge C. P. Avery of Owego, previous to her death in 1852. A copy of the original manuscript was made in 1878 by Mrs. J. E. Fox of Brooklyn, N. Y., from which this was copied."
NARRATIVE OF THE CAPTIVITY OF MRS. WHITTAKER, (Jane Strope)
DAUGHTER OF SEBASTIAN STROPE, A REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIER
The aged lady, Mrs. Whittaker, who gave me the following narrative, went West in the Autumn of 1850 with her son Oliver Whittaker, and is now living in Toulon, Stark County, Ill. with him. He is a gentleman of ample means and is doing all that lies in his power, as a correct man and dutiful son, to make cheerful the declining years of his venerable mother. (Note: Mrs. Whittaker died at Toulon July 6th, 1852 after a short illness; had been for 37 years a member of the Methodist church.) Her narrative has never been printed and I believe this is the first time it has been given in a public manner.
"My father and mother with their family, myself being of the number, settled at Wysox, then called Wysocton, in Bradford Co., Pa., just below Towanda on the other side of the river, five years before the Massacre at Wyoming (See deed &c. That would bring it in 1773). We moved from Catskill, my mother and her six children, including myself, were made captives by the Indians on the 20th day of May, previous to the Massacre (1778). My grandparents (Mr. and Mrs. Van Valkenburgh) who had come with my father from Catskill, were also captured. The capture was in the morning. We were all at breakfast. The Indians numbered thirteen, with three squaws in their company. I think they were Senecas. They came from Genesee. They took us at once to Tioga Point. There they gave us as prisoners to the English under Butler.
"We were at Tioga Point when they returned from the Wyoming Massacre with their booty. I was about eleven years old at that time. We knew when the expedition started that it was fitted out for Wyoming. Among their booty were cattle and horses in great numbers. I heard them say that some of the cattle &c. tumbled off from Breakneck hill and were killed. While at Tioga we picked our living from the fields and woods, strawberries and raspberries and later in the season, blackberries.
"The Indians did not abuse us except that they gave us no bread or salt. The Indians and other forces and all the prisoners, including myself, went up the Susquehanna to Bainbridge, and some went to Unadilla, which the Indians called Teunadilla. This was in the latter part of the summer or perhaps in July. We were in that vicinity several weeks. We went up in canoes, encamped the first night near the mouth of the Owego Creek, which the Indians pronounces Ah-Waghgha. At Bainbridge and Teunadilla we had the privilege of cooking by a fireplace, a novel luxury to us since we were captives. Bushes were stuck up and wove together at the top to make something like a tent to protect us. This the Indians helped us do, in which they were very skillful. We had eels and fish in abundance at these places. While we were there, two British soldiers deserted, making their way in the direction of Tioga Point, by the Way of Owego.
"They got as far as Monghantowaus, being the beautiful plain in Nichols, which in now owned by Gen. Westbrook. This plain was a favorite corn ground of the Indians. The name originally was Maugh, meaning great and Wa-mame, plains, now changed to Moughantowaus (Mockintowaugo.)
"The two deserters having got as far as this point, were overtaken, the forms of court martial dispensed with and they were shot down at once. Their bodies were left on the top of the ground as not entitled to burial. Queen Esther of Sheshequin superintended the digging of a grave for their bodies and they were buried after the manner of the Indians.
"These facts we learned from Queen Esther herself on our coming down from Bainbridge to Monghantowaus, a few days after the occurrence. We remained there three weeks, then we went to Tioga Point in canoes. My brother and cousin, two pretty well grown boys, pushed the canoes and fished for us in going up and coming down the river. We remained at Tioga Point sometime until Col. Hartley's victory over the Indians. (Col. Hartley of the Penn. Line with Major Zebulon Butler at the head of some hundred or more men, were that fall below, but in the neighborhood of Tioga to keep the Indians from a second attack upon Wyoming and to protect the frontier. This was previous and preliminary to the operations of Gen. Sullivan.) After the news of Hartley's victory, and contemplated invasion by the larger force, afterward of Sullivan, which already was apprehended by the Indians, all the captives were sent off up the Chemung on their way to Fort Niagara under an Indian escort. We passed through Newtown (Elmira), Painted Post up the Conhocton to Bath. (Mrs. Whittaker could not distinctly tell from this point their course, but she says there was a place on Lake Ontario, they called Vanderquest and to reach it "our last day's journey was on foot. We traveled twenty miles." (That point on the Lake was undoubtedly Irendequoit Bay, near the mouth of the Genesee. By looking at a map of that part of the State it will be seen that by following that part of the route of the usual Indian trails on the banks of the streams, the party to which Mrs. Whittaker belonged, from Bath, ascended the Conhocton to its head waters in the Southeast corner of Livingstone Co. Then across about six miles to Hemlock Lake on Conesus Lake, then down the Genesee to Irendequoit. The line thus described corresponds with the Indian Trail.)
Mrs. Whittaker continued, "It was a foot path well beaten and quite wide enough in many places for two abreast." After reaching the lake, part of the company went by land and part by water to Fort Niagara." As to their treatment by the squaws Mrs. Whittaker says, "They did not regard us much more than if we had been four footed animals. Sometimes they would come around and look at us and grin after the manner of the Indian but make no remark."
"We were at the Fort three weeks, then were put aboard of an English vessel and sailed for Bucks Island (I think she must have meant Duck's Island at the foot of the Lake, being next Westerly to the Thousand Islands at the head of the St. Lawrence). We had a terrible storm on the lake and were in great danger. We went from Bucks (Ducks) Island in batteaux down the St. Lawrence to a place called Sorel. Thence to Lachine, not far from Montreal, descending the rapids I distinctly recollect. It was winter when we reached Lachine. We shoveled away the snow to make a bed of hemlock boughs to sleep on the bank. It was very cold and the exposure distressing." (A person in the room at this point expressed surprise that she could have lived through such exposure. The response of the venerable lady was, "The Almighty suits the back to the burden.")
"From Lachine we were carried to a place called St. Johns where we remained as prisoners two years and nine months. From that place we were sent to Three Rivers Point where the settlement was called Machust. From thence on our people making application to the Gov. we had the privilege of going back to the neighborhood of Montreal, which we did on the 1st of May, 1781 performing the journey the most of the way on the ice. We remained at or near Montreal until August of that year. We then set out for home by the way of St. Johns to Crown Point. We landed at Whitehall, where the Colonists had a fort during the Revolutionary War. The British soldiers escorted us as far as that. Our Company consisted of old men, women and children to the number of 300. (This corresponds with the number given in our historical accounts as having been sent down for exchange.)
"Carts, wagons and all kinds of vehicles were gotten together at Whitehall to help the returned captives to their homes.
"From Whitehall we went to Albany." (When Mrs. Whittaker and her relatives were approaching Saratoga, an incident occurred , her meeting with her father, for whom they had mourned as among the slain at Wyoming, which renders it necessary to allude to the original capture at Wysox.) "The night before the capture which was May 20, 1778, an Indian sought the shelter of my father's house and remained there all night. Her father being on friendly terms with them generally the Indians often did so. In conversation however, during the evening with him, my father satisfied himself that the settlements were to be molested.
"The Indian left in the morning after having been very kindly treated, but my father had become so alarmed that he saddled his horse immediately to go to Wyoming to procure a sufficient guard to aid him in escorting his family and relatives to a place which at that time appeared to be a place of safety.
"He had before had the promise of a guard, --An officer of Wyoming had assured him that a guard should be sent whenever danger threatened. Within a few hours after he had received the parting salutations of his trembling family, the houses of the settlement were surrounded as before stated." (Note: The houses belonged to her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac VanValkenburg, and two other daughters of the VanV's, who were married, and with their families lived in Wysox. They were the first settlers. It does not appear that the Indian who had been so hospitably entertained the night previous was of the party.) Mrs. Whittaker said, "They looked diligently for my father in the beds and under the beds. They told my mother she might as well tell where he was for they would certainly find him, and if she did not tell they would scalp him when they found him. That he was no friend to the Indians for he had been several times to Wyoming and informed the people there that preparations were making for an attack upon them." (Her father thus escaped, but what must have been his feelings when he returned the next day full of paternal solicitude, accompanied by his guard from Wyoming to find the houses of the settlement in ashes, the hearthstone desolate and every one of his family in the hands of the Indians. Truly has this been called the time that tried men's souls, but behind the clouds the sun still shone and that same father, after offering up prayers for the protection of his family buckled on the patriot's armour and enrolled himself among the volunteers for the protection of doomed Wyoming and fought shoulder to shoulder with them in that memorable battle which preceded the Massacre. Having better fortune than most of that gallant band, he escaped the scalping knife and lived to do his country further service during the war. For three long years he lived without knowing the fate of his family, and they alike ignorant and doubting of his. Once they heard that he fell at Wyoming and again that he was saved, and again that he was slain.)
"It being understood throughout the state that 300 prisoners were coming via Skeensborough, my father made his way to Albany for the purpose of ascertaining whether his family might not possibly be among the returned captives. On examining the exchange list he found our names. He pushed on at once to Saratoga and a few miles beyond that point met them all."
(A description of the meeting we can all picture to ourselves better than describe. The venerable lady who gave me this account when she reached that part of the narrative, the meeting of her father, --made it deeply significant by her silence, her emotions were too strong for speech. To pursue the narrative, the father and family with all the restored captives came to Albany. There he took charge of his family and brought them to Catskill where they remained until the war was over. In the Spring of the next year, after peace was declared, her father and brother came on to Wysox, and in the Fall the family and relatives joined them. They found everything had been burned that could be fired. Their cattle had all been made booty of and everything of value plundered.)
"I was married some three years after we got back to Wysox and then my husband and I removed to Owego.
"My maiden name was Jane Strope.
"My father was Sebastian Strope. (My mother Lydia VanValkenburgh Strope.) My first husband, with whom I came to Owego was Jeremiah White. My second husband's name was Gideon Whittaker.
"When I first came to Owego, soon after my first marriage, we settled at a place near where the families of Ephraim Leach and his brother now live. At that time there was an old log house near the bank of the Susquehanna River in the lower part of the present village which surveyors had occupied. Esq. McMaster first came on with his family."
"While we were captives on the Susquehanna, a man by the name of John Secord, a Tory, had some flour which had been brought from Niagara and he was dealing it out to one and another of the company, and my mother went to him and begged for some for her children who were almost starving. He refused to let her have any. His son Cyrus who was standing by, said 'She is not to be blamed for her husband's being a rebel,' but he steadily refused to give her a morsel. The son however, gave some to my mother without his knowing it. After the war, this same Secord and his son Cyrus came from Niagara to Wysox to settle but he did not stay long. My father heard he thought of settling on Franklin Flats and he went to him with a heavy ox ship and said 'John Secord, do you suppose we are going to have you among us when you refused to let my wife have flour for her starving children,' and followed that up with a terrible whipping. He left the settlement, but my father also told him before he left, if his son Cyrus would come he would be glad to have him for a neighbor and would do all for him that one neighbor should do for another.
"When we were brought to Tioga Point as captives, we found the flats along the river at that place and Owego cleared and corn raised. The stumps from many of the flats off. Strawberries were wonderfully abundant.
"Queen Esther's plantation, as it was called, was on the West side of the Susquehanna, extending above and below the junction of the Chemung on its West side."
Mrs. Whittaker said the Indians pronounced the river Susquehawna, Wysox they called Wysockton--Tioga, Tow-e-o-gah. Towanda, Tawn dow. Chemung, Cheumak, Niagara, Oh taw-ga-rah, Owego--Aw-waw-gah.
"There was a squaw by the name of Chemnak, who lived up the Chemung, from whom I understood the river was named. She was called a Queen and Queen Esther called her sister, on a visit which both made to my father." (I mentioned to her what Red Jacket said of the origin of this name [Shemung]). She said she had often heard of this horn but not as connected with the name of the river. I may mention here the same horn was at an early day sent to the British museum by one of the Colonial Governors, as a great curiosity. It measured some 14 feet in height. It was a single horn from one side of an Elk's head.) "The squaws did not paint their faces. They never appeared disposed to harm us. They always kept on their side of the fire, and we on ours.
"When my first husband died in 1805, Humphery Avery helped and befriended me in settling his estate, as also did Judge Wills. My husband left no will, having died suddenly of an accident by getting his leg crushed in a Grist Mill near where the late Deacon Jones used to live.
"Above Wysox on the river, before the war, the nearest settlers were at Sheshequin and below the Fitzgeralds." [Rudolph Fox was nearer, but on the west side of the river.]