1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wyoming Valley

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WYOMING VALLEY, a valley on the N. branch of the Susquehanna river, in Luzerne county, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Its name is a corruption of a Delaware Indian word meaning “large plains.” The valley, properly speaking, is about 3½ m. wide and about 25 m. long, but the term is sometimes used historically in a broader sense to include all of the territory in the N.E. of the state once in dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut. In Connecticut the Susquehanna Land Company was formed in 1753 to colonize the valley, and the Delaware Land Company was formed in 1754 for the region immediately W. of the Delaware river. The rights of the Six Nations to all this territory were purchased at Albany, New York, by the Susquehanna Company in 1754, but the work of colonization was delayed for a time by the Seven Years' War. A few colonists sent out by the Susquehanna Company settled at Mill Creek near the present site of Wilkes-Barré in 1763, but were (October 15th) attacked and driven away by the Indians. In December 1768 the company divided a part of the valley into five townships of 5 sq. m. each, granting to forty proprietors the choice of one of these on condition that they should take possession of it by the 1st of February 1769, and the other four townships to 200 settlers on condition that they should follow by the 1st of May. The first group arrived on the 8th of February, the first division of the larger body on the 12th of May, and the five original towns of Wilkes-Barré (q.v.), Kingston (q.v.), Hanover,[1] Plymouth and Pittston were soon founded.

In the meantime the Six Nations (in 1768) had repudiated their sale of the region to the Susquehanna Company and had sold it to the Penns; the Penns had erected here the manors of Stoke and Sunbury, the government of Pennsylvania had commissioned Charles Stewart, Amos Ogden and others to lay out these manors, and they had arrived and taken possession of the block-house and huts at Mill Creek in January 1769. The conflict which followed between the Pennsylvania and the Connecticut settlers is known as the first Pennamite-Yankee War. Although defeated in the early stages of the conflict, the Yankees or Connecticut settlers finally rallied in August 1771 and compelled the Pennsylvanians to retreat, and the war terminated with the defeat of Colonel William Plunket (1720-1791) and about 700 Pennsylvanians by a force of 300 Yankees under Colonel Zebulon Butler (1731-1795) in the battle of “Rampart Rocks” on the 25th of December 1775. The General Assembly of Connecticut, in January 1774, erected the valley into the township of Westmoreland and attached it to Litchfield county, and in October 1776 the same body erected it into Westmoreland county. On the 3rd of July 1778, while a considerable number of the able-bodied men were absent in the Connecticut service, a motley force of about 400 men and boys under Colonel Zebulon Butler were attacked and defeated near Kingston in the “battle of Wyoming” by about 1100 British, Provincial (Tory) and Indian troops under Major John Butler, and nearly three-fourths were killed or taken prisoners and subsequently massacred. Thomas Campbell's poem, Gertrude of Wyoming (1809), is based on this episode, various liberties being taken with the facts. As the War of Independence came to a close the old trouble with Pennsylvania was revived. A court of arbitration appointed by the Continental Congress met at Trenton, New Jersey, in 1782, and on December 30th gave a unanimous decision in favour of Pennsylvania. The refusal of the Pennsylvania government to confirm the private land titles of the settlers, and the arbitrary conduct of a certain Alexander Patterson whom they sent up to take charge of affairs, resulted in 1784 in the outbreak of the second Pennamite-Yankee War. The Yankees were dispossessed, but they took up arms and the government of Pennsylvania despatched General John Armstrong with a force of 400 men to aid Patterson. Armstrong induced both parties to give up their arms with a promise of impartial justice and protection, and as soon as the Yankees were defenceless he made them prisoners. This treachery and the harsh treatment by Patterson created a strong public opinion in favour of the Yankees, and the government was compelled to adopt a milder policy. Patterson was withdrawn, the disputed territory was erected into the new county of Luzerne (1786), the land titles were confirmed (1787), and Colonel Timothy Pickering (q.v.) was commissioned to organize the new county and to effect a reconciliation. But a few of the settlers under the lead of Colonel John Franklin (1749-1831) attempted to form a separate state government. Franklin was seized and imprisoned, under a warrant from the State Supreme Court. As Pickering was held responsible for Franklin's imprisonment, some of Franklin's followers in retaliation kidnapped Pickering and carrying him into the woods, tried in vain for nearly three weeks to get from him a promise to intercede for Franklin's pardon. The trouble was again revived by the repeal in 1790 of the confirming act of 1787 and by a subsequent decision of the United States Circuit Court, unfavourable to the Yankees, in the case of Van Horn versus Dorrance. All of the claims were finally confirmed, by a series of statutes passed in 1799, 1802 and 1807. Since 1808, mainly through the development of its coal mines (see Pittston, Pa.), the valley has made remarkable progress both in wealth and in population.

For a thorough study of the early history of Wyoming Valley see O. J. Harvey, A History of Wilkes-Barré (3 vols., Wilkes-Barré, 1909-1910); see also H. M. Hoyt, Brief of a Title in the Seventeen Townships in the County of Luzerne (Harrisburg, 1879).


  1. Several Scotch-Irish families from Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, accepted Connecticut titles and settled at Hanover under Captain Lazarus Stewart.