SURVIVORS’ ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE OF WYOMING
Transcription by Michael J. Harding
The following is a transcription of an article that appeared in The Connecticut Journal, 29 July 1778. Where possible original spellings and syntax are maintained.
POUGHKEEPSIE, July 20.
Since our last, many of the distressed Refugees from the Wyoming settlement on the Susquehannah, who escaped the general massacre of the inhabitants have passed this way, from whom we have collected the following account, viz.
[Previous to the narrative, it may be necessary to inform some of our readers, that this settlement was made by the people of Connecticut, on a grant of lands purchased by the inhabitants of that colony under sanction of the government, of the Indian proprietors; and that these lands falling within the limits of the Pennsylvania claim, a dispute concerning the right, has arisen, between the two governments, and proceeded to frequent acts of hostility. When it was at a height that threatened the disturbance of the other governments, Congress interposed, by whose recommendation and authority, the decision of the dispute was suspended, till that with Great Britain, equally interesting to every American State, was concluded, when there might be more leisure to attend to the other, and consider the justice of each claim.
On this footing the dispute has lain dormant for two or three years; the inhabitants lived happily and the settlements increased, consisting of eight townships, viz. Lackewana, Exeter, Kingston, Wilksborough, Plymouth, Nanticoak, Huntington and Salem, each containing five miles square. The six lower townships, were pretty full of inhabitants, the two upper ones, had comparatively but few, thinly scattered. The lands are exceeding good beautifully situated along both sides of the Susquehannah, navigable for flat bottomed boats, and produced immense quantities of grain of all sorts, roots, fruits, hemp, flax etc. and stock of all kinds in abundance. The settlement had lately supplied the Continental army with 3000 bushels of grain, and the ground was loaded with the most promising crops of every kind. The settlement included upwards of a thousand families, which had furnished our army with a thousand soldiers, besides the garrisons of four forts, in the township of Lockewany, Exeter, Kingston and Wilkesbury. One of these forts was garrisoned by upwards of 400 soldiers, chiefly of the militia, the principal officers in which were Cols. Dennison, and Zebulon Butler.
The Tories and Indians, had given some disturbance to these settlements last year, before Gen. Harkemer’s battle at Oneida Creek, near Fort Stanwix, and our skirmishes soon after with parties of the enemy at and near Schohary, when they were dispersed, and the Tories concealed themselves among our different settlements; the people here remained undisturbed during the rest of the year.]
About this time the inhabitants having discovered that many of these villainous Tories who had stirred up the Indians, and been with them in fighting against us, were within the settlements, 27 of them were, in January last, taken up and secured. Of these, 18 were sent to Connecticut, the rest, after being detained some time, and examined, were for want of sufficient evidence set at liberty; they immediately joined the enemy, and became active in raising in the Indians, a spirit of hostility against us. This disposition soon after began to appear, in the behaviour of Tories and Indians, which gave the people apprehensions of danger, and occasioned some preparations for defence.
The people had frequent intimation that the Indians had some mischievous design against them, but their fears were somewhat abated by the seeming solicitude of the Indians to preserve peace; they sent down at different times, several parties with declarations of their peaceable disposition towards us, and to request the like on our part towards them. They were always dismissed with assurances that there was no design to disturb them. But one of those Indians getting drunk, said he and the other messengers, were only sent to amuse the people in the settlement, but that the Indians intended as soon as they were in order, to attack them. On this the Indian men were confined, and the women sent back with a flagg. In March, appearances became more alarming, and the scattered families settled for 30 miles up the river, were collected and brought into the more populous parts. In April and May, strolling parties of Indians and Tories, about 30 and under in a company, made frequent incursions into the settlement, robbing and plundering the inhabitants, of provision, grain & live stock. In June, several persons being at work on a farm, from which, the Tory inhabitants had gone to the enemy, were attacked, and one man of them killed; soon after, a woman (Wife of one of the 27 Tories before mentioned) was killed, with her five children, by a party of these Tories and Indians, who plundered the house of every thing they could take away, and destroyed the rest.
On the first instant, (July) the whole body of the enemy, consisting, it is supposed of near 1600 (about 300 of whom were thought to be Indians, under their own chiefs, the rest, Tories, painted like them, except their officers, who were dressed like regulars) the whole under the command of Col. John Butler, (a Connecticut Tory, and cousin to Col. Zebulon Butler, the second in command in the settlement) came down near the upper fort, but concealed the greatest part of their number, here they had a skirmish with the inhabitants, who took and killed two Indians, and lost ten of their own men, three of whom they afterwards found, killed, scalped and mangled in the most inhuman manner.
Thursday July 2. The enemy appeared on the mountains, back of Kingston, where the women and children then fled into the fort. Most of the garrison of Exeter fort were Tories, who treacherously gave it up to the enemy. The same night, after a little resistance, they took Lackewana fort, killed Squire Jenkins and his family, with several others, in a barbarous manner, and made prisoners of most of the women and children; a small number only escaped.
Friday July 3. This morning Col. Zebulon Butler, leaving a small number to guard the fort (Wilksbury) crossed the river with about 400 men, and marched into Kingston fort. The enemy sent in a flag, demanding a surrender of the fort in two hours. Col. Butler answered he should not surrender, but was ready to receive them. They sent in a second flag demanding an immediate surrender, otherwise that the fort should be stormed, plundered and burnt, with all its contents, in a few hours – and said that they had with them 300 men. Col. Z Butler proposed a parley, which being agreed to, a place in Kingston was appointed for the meeting, to which Col. Z Butler repaired with 400 men, well armed, but finding no body there, he proceeded to the foot of the mountain, where at a distance he saw a flag, which as he advanced, retired, as if afraid, 20 or 30 rods; he following, was led into an ambush, and partly surrounded by the enemy, who suddenly rose fired upon them. Not withstanding the great disproportion of 1600 to 400, he and his men bravely stood and returned the fire for three quarters of an hour, with such briskness and resolution, that the enemy began to give way and were upon the point of retiring - when one of Col. Z. Butler’s men, either thro’ treachery or cowardice, cried out that the Colonel ordered a retreat - This caused a cessation of their fire, threw them into confusion and a total rout ensued. The greatest part fled to the river, which they endeavoured to pass, to Fort Wilkesbury, the enemy pursued them with the fury of Devils, many were lost or killed in the river, and no more than about 70, some of whom were wounded escaped to Wilksbury.
Saturday morning, July 4. The enemy sent 196 scalps into Fort Kingston, which they invested on the land side, and kept up a continual fire upon it.
This evening Col. Z. Butler with his family quitted the fort and went down the river.
Col. Nathan Dennison, went with a flag, to Exeter fort, to know of Col. John Butler what terms he would grant on a surrender. Butler answered, the Hatchet. Col. Dennison returned to fort Kingston, which he defended till Sunday morning, when his men being nearly all killed or wounded, he could hold out no longer, and was obliged to surrender at discretion. The enemy took away some of the unhappy prisoners, and shutting up the rest in the houses, set fire to them, and they were all consumed together. These infernals then crossed the river to Fort Wilkesbury, which in a few minutes surrendered at discretion. About 70 of the men, who had listed in the Continental service to defend the frontiers, they inhumanly butchered, with every circumstance of horrid cruelty; and then shutting up the rest, with the women and children in the houses, they set fire to them and they all perished together in the flames.
After burning all the buildings in the fort, they proceeded to the destruction of every building and improvement, (except what belonged to some Tories) that came within their reach, on all these flourishing settlements which they had rendered a scene of desolation and horror, almost beyond description, parallel, or credibility; and were not the facts attested by numbers of the unhappy sufferers, from different quarters of the settlement, and unconnected with each other, it would be impossible to believe that human nature could be capable of such prodigious enormity.
When these miscreants had destroyed the other improvements, they proceeded to destroy the crops on the ground, letting in the cattle and horses, to the corn, and cutting up as much as they could of what was left. Great numbers of the cattle they shot and destroyed; and cutting out the tongues of many others, left them to perish in misery.
The course of these truly diabolical proceedings, was marked by many particular acts of distinguished enormity, among which were the following, viz.
The Captains James Bedlock, Robert Durkee, and Samuel Ransom, being made prisoners by the enemy. They stripped Capt. Bedlock, tied him to a tree and stuck him full of sharp splinters of pine knots, then pileing a heap of pine nuts round him, they set all on fire, put Durkee and Ransom into the fire, and held them down with pitch forks.
Thomas Hill, (whose father was killed by the Indians, last Indian war) with his own hands killed his own mother, his father in law, his sisters and their families.
Partial Terry, the son of a man who bore a very respectable character, had several times sent his father word, that he hoped to wash his hands in his heart’s blood. Agreeable to such a horrid declaration, the monster, with his own hand murdered his father, mother, brothers and sisters, stripped off their scalps, and cut off his father’s head.
Col. Dennison was seen surrounded by the enemy, and was doubtless murdered. Col. Zebulon Butler is supposed to be the only officer who escaped.
It is said he had several times written letters to the Congress and Gen. Washington, acquainting them with the danger the settlement were in and requested assistance; but that he received no answer, except that he had no cause to fear, since the Indians were all for peace, and quite averse to war. However he lately received a letter from Capt. Spaulding, acquainting him that neither Congress nor Gen. Washington had received any of his letters, which had been intercepted by the Pennsylvania Tories, who in all probability acted in concert with these execrable miscreants, against Wyoming. It is reported that these wretches, after completing their horrid business at Wyoming, are going or gone to Cherry Valley, and the parts adjacent.
We hear that a party of infernals of the like kind, have within this week or two, infested the parts about Leghawegh, near Rochester, on the Minisink road to Philadelphia, where a party of them, about 40 in number, have plundered and burnt several houses, abused some people and carried off three men - It is hoped speedy and effectual measures will be taken to punish and extirpate these monsters in human shape, from the face of the earth.
The distresses of the surviving inhabitants of that late flourishing settlement, are by their present circumstances, rendered such striking objects of charity, that withholding relief from them, by those who are able to afford it, argues a criminal obduracy, which deserves, and may be punished by distresses of a similar kind.
We are told that of the 1000 men in the Continental army, who went from that settlement, their number is by sickness and the cruel usage of the prisoners by the enemy, reduced to 400, who have now to lament the loss of their property, wives, children, and all that was dear to them in life! The helpless fugitives from the place, escaped with little more than their lives, they could bring nothing with them – hardly clothes to cover them, and nothing to eat, many were two or three days without sustenance, and several pregnant women were delivered alone in the woods. This it is hoped will be the concluding score of the tragedy acted by the British tyrant and his murderous diabolical emissaries, in a part of his late kingdom, which he has justly forfeited, and which is now forever departed from him.
|detail of the Wyoming to Easton route - 1778 Sauthier map, Library of Congress|
"Poughkeepsie." The Connecticut Journal 29 July 1778: 563-1. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 7 Nov 2013.
"Poughkeepsie." The Connecticut Courant, and the Weekly Intelligencer 28 July 1778: 705-2. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 16 Dec 2013.
Rae, Noel. " Pennsylvania and the Frontier." The Peoples War: Original Voices of the American Revolution (2012): 378-380. Print.
"The Connecticut Journal." Eighteenth-Century American Newspapers in the Library of Congress. Print.
"The Connecticut Courant." Eighteenth-Century American Newspapers in the Library of Congress. Print.
MICHAEL J. HARDING is a descendant of many of the early Wyoming Valley and Minisink Valley settlers including the Revolutionary War era families of Capt. Samuel Ransom and his wife Esther Lawrence, Michael and Mehitable Dunning, William and Elizabeth Quick Ennes, Philip and Margaretha Koenig Reasor, and Capt. Jan and Maritie Westfael Van Etten. Transcript corrections may be addressed to: gneissguy62 at yahoo.com