History of Wyoming/Letter IX

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The Susquehanna Company having completed their purchase of the soil, proceeded to make arrangements for establishing the settlements at Wyoming, possession only being necessary, in their estimation, to render their title complete. Their purpose, unquestionably was, to do, as all the previous companies, cut out of the original Plymouth Charter, had done, namely, to obtain a confirmatory charter from the King, and establish at Susquehanna, an independent colony. From all the lights before us, we regard the proceedings as a spontaneous unofficial movement of the people of Connecticut. Perfect in unanimity was not to be expected. The nature and history of man; reason and experience, preclude the idea. But we are confident in the opinion, that a people, generally, were never less divided upon any point of magnitude, than those of Connecticut on this subject. One thing more was demanded to satisfy the law. An assent, previous or subsequent to an Indian purchase within the limits of the colony, was required to render such purchase valid. Accordingly in May 1755, on the petition of Phineas Lyman, and others, a committee of the Susquehanna Company, reciting their purchase of the Indians, and praying the acquiescence of the assembly, and their consent for an application to his Majesty, to erect them into a new colony, or plantation, it was among other things, resolved, that, "they (the Legislature) hereby, accordingly, manifest their ready acquiescence therein," etc.

Subsequently, to wit: in 1782, the agents of Connecticut in setting forth their claim before the Court of Trenton, distinctly declare, that the purchase of the Susquehanna adventurers had the appropriation of the assembly.

An attempt to establish a colony at Wyoming, in 1762; the massacre of 20 of the settlers, and the expulsion of the remainder, the subsequent year, has been already noticed. The purchase of the soil from the Indians by the Pennsylvania government, in 1768, has been mentioned. And now commenced the strife, foot to foot, and hand to hand, of the conflicting parties for the possession of this beautiful valley. Gallant spirits, with a will to do, and courage to dare, met spirits equally gallant and determined. We approach the contest, still known in the common parlance of the country, as "the first Pennimite War." In the bosom of the wilderness, far removed from any civilized settlement, extensive plain, beautiful as Persian groves, or Eden’s bowers, the prize to crown and reward the victor. Though widely separated by rugged hills, and deep tangled forests, from the busy mart, or the church warning bell, yet were the combatants fully aware that the eyes of anxious multitudes were upon them. All Connecticut was on tiptoe to watch, to cheer, and to sustain her adventurous colony at Wyoming. Philadelphia, the first City on the continent-abounding in wealth, distinguished for talents, with such portions of the surrounding country as was more especially within the circle of her influence, gazing with anxious suspense, were equally eager, and not less zealously determined to stand by the party that had nobly volunteered to defend the honor and maintain the rights of Pennsylvania. The respective combatants, in no inconsiderable degree resembling the Roundheads and Cavaliers of the Civil Wars, the preceding century.

Before the charge is sounded, and the battle begins, each party must be traced in its march to the field of action.

First, then, of the Susquehanna Company.-Preparatory to a recommencement of their settlement, a meeting was convened at Hartford, in 1768, at which it was resolved, that five townships, five miles square, should be surveyed and granted, each to 40 settlers, being proprietors, on condition that those settlers should remain upon the ground, "man their rights" as was the phrase, and defend themselves, and each other, from the intrusion of all rival claimants. Forty were to set forth without delay; the others, to the amount in all, of 200, were to follow the succeeding spring. As further encouragement, a sum of 200 pounds, Connecticut currency, i.e. $667, was appropriated to provide implements of husbandry and provisions, (including, probably, arms and ammunition,) for those who might require assistance. To those 200 who emigrated on settling rights, must be added all those other proprietors of the Susquehanna purchase, who chose to take possession of their western property. Among the forty who obtained land on settlement rights, were no inconsiderable number of substantial farmers, who by this means, added to their other claims as proprietors, the choice of some of the most desirable lots, embracing the inviting river bottoms, unequaled infertility. Five townships in the heart of the valley, were the allotted for those adventurers, to wit:-Wilkes-Barre, Hanover, Kingston, Plymouth, and Pittston.

Subsequently, three other townships, to be located on the west branch of the Susquehanna, were appropriated to 40 settlers each.

Among the emigrants from the east, several bore parts so prominent in the scenes which transpired as to demand a particular introduction to the notice of the reader. The "Old French War," then a recent, had developed the talent, and called into action the energies of a large number of young men in the colonies of New England. Connecticut furnished her full complement for that war. Capt. Zubulon Butler, of Lyme, after sharing in the campaign at Tioconderoga and Crown Point, in 1758, commanded a company, and earned reputation at the taking of the Havanna, 1762. A brave and vigilant officer, his superior manners and address at once commanded general respect, and conciliated the attachment of his soldiers. This gentleman, if not clothed with official power, was, by common consent, regarded as the leader of the Connecticut train. Captains Durkee and Ransom, both of whom had seen honorable service in the French war, accompanied, and rallied under their old companion in arms. Full of enterprise, never doubting the entire justice of the Connecticut claim, tired of the piping songs of peace, they sought action, honor and independence in the stirring scenes, opening on the Susquehanna. Obadiah Gore, Esq., with his seven sons (who will figure conspicuously in the succeeding pages,) were among the early emigrants. Nathan Denison, from Stonington, a descendant of Capt. Denison, distinguished in the old Pequot wars, mild yet firm, grave yet active, constituted one of the number. Nor was the wise policy neglected, of obtaining friends and adherents within the limits of Pennsylvania. How effected, no account remain; but above the Blue Mountains, on the Delaware, a settlement existed nearby, or embracing Stroudsburg, the present seat of justice of Monroe County, whereof a number of the principal inhabitants united with the Connecticut people, and entered heart and hand into their cause. The aid afforded by these Pennsylvania allies, was of the utmost importance to the new colony. Benjamin Shoemaker, one of the executive committee, was from the settlement. John M’Dowell, a wealthy, high-toned Cameronian Scotchman, became a true friend to the Yankees. With Highland zeal, he espoused their cause. His granaries and purse were ever tendered to the sufferers with a "Highland welcome."

Other and efficient aid was found in the Stewarts, Young, with other bold and daring leaders from Hanover, near the Susquehanna, then in Lancaster County, now and Dauphin, who will presently appear among the armed combatants upon the field of action.

On the other hand, the proprietaries of Pennsylvania designated their leaders, and marshalled their forces for the contest. Charles Stewart, a surveyor, trained, like Washington and Wayne, in the hardships and dangers of a forest life, to lead in the paths of glory, stands forth most conspicuously. He was afterwards a popular and efficient officer of the Pennsylvania line, and for sometime an aid to General Washington. With him was associated Capt. Amos Ogden, and John Jennings, Esq., Ogden uniting to the truest courage, and untiring activity, and intuitive perception of all the arts and stratagems of war, was the indefatigable military leader. John Jennings, Esq., High Sheriff of Northampton County, was a civil magistrate. These three constituted the Chief Executive Directory, to conduct the proprietaries affairs at Wyoming. To these, a lease had been executed for 100 acres of land for seven years, upon condition that they should establish an Indian trading house thereon, and defend the valley from encroachment.

The names of several gentleman of distinction, besides Ogden, appeared in this war, at the head of armed companies. Asher, Clayton, Turbot Francies, Joseph Morris, John Dick, Andrew Ledlie, and Thomas Craig, were among the best officers of the province. The latter, by the merit of perfect discipline, and tried bravery, rose to be a colonel in the continental service, during the Revolutionary war, and was afterwards Major General of the militia. In declining age, when I knew him, his manners were highly polished, but he told me the habits of the soldier had become so fixed in him, but for 30 years he had not slept on a bed. At night, a blanket or two spread upon a table, constituted his most welcome couch. Col. Clayton had held a commission in 1763, in the Paxton Rangers, and was probably progenitor of the distinguished Senator, of that name, from Delaware. The son of Capt. Dick, full of wit, who loved his jest, his bottle, and his friend, though residing in Northampton, afterwards practiced law in Luzerne, a general favorite and successful advocate.

It will, at a glance, be seen that such parties did not meet, though the prize at issue was great, in mere mercenary contention.

Stewart, Ogden, and Jennings, were first upon the ground, having arrived in January 1769. It was winter, and the stillness of death routed over the valley. A block house and a number of huts, near the confluence of Mill Creek with the Susquehanna, a mile above the present town of Wilkes-Barre, left by the massacred, or expelled settlers of 1763, were easily fitted up, and afforded shelter for their men. The first step was to lay off two manors, embracing a considerable portion of the finest lands on each side of the river.

Having selected the heart for themselves, the proprietaries left the remainder to reward the enterprise of such friends as might be able to render assistance in meeting with defiance, and resisting with effect, the "moss trooping" Yankees from the east.

1769, was an eventful year in Wyoming history. On the 8th of February, the first forty, the pioneer detachment of Yankees appeared on the ground. Finding their expected shelter in possession of an enemy, the forthwith invested the block house of Ogden, cutting off all communication with the surrounding country, so that the besieged could neither obtain fuel or venison; and demanded in the name of Connecticut the surrender of the garrison, and peaceable possession of the valley. Expected reinforcements anxiously look for, not arriving, Capt. Ogden equally ready, for fair, open fight, or the subtle wiles of diplomacy, as might be best adapted to his condition, were calculated to affect his purpose-having only ten men able to bear arms, 1/4 only of his invading foe, determined to have recourse to negotiation. A very polite and conciliatory note was addressed to the commander of the forty, an interview respectively solicited, and a friendly conference asked on the subject of the respective titles. Ogden proved himself an accomplished angler. The bait was too tempting. Propose to a Yankee to talk over a manner, especially which he has studied, and believes to be right, and you touched the most susceptible cord that vibrates in his heart. That they could outtalk the Pennimites, and convince them the Susquehanna title was good, not one of the forty doubted. Three the Chief men were deputed to argue the manner, viz; Isaac Tripp and Benjamin Follett, two of the executive committee, accompanied by Mr. Vine Elderkin. No sooner were they within the block house, then Sheriff's Jennings clapped a writ on their shoulders. "Gentleman, in the name of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you are my prisoners!" "Laugh where we must, be candid where we can." The Yankees were decidedly outwitted. By common consent the prisoners were transported to Easton jail, guarded by Capt. Ogden; but accompanied in no hostile manner by the 37 remnants of the forty. Here the advantage of having friends in Pennsylvania was made manifest. No sooner was the key turned than bail was entered for their appearance, the prisoners were set at liberty, and returned immediately to Wyoming.

This was the first scene of the first act, of the Pennimite and Yankee war. So far, some ill temper may have arisen, but the deep feelings of revenge, and thirst for blood had been on neither side awakened. Important events now trod closely on the heels of each other. Ogden had gained nothing by victory-Yankees had lost nothing by defeat; nay, they had attained their object, and were, without any act of violence on their part, in peaceable possession of Wyoming.

Mortified at the result, aroused by pride, stimulated by the proprietaries, Sheriff Jennings raised the posse of Northampton County, and accompanied by several magistrates, repaired to Wyoming, stormed the fortified house in which the Yankees had entrenched themselves, and captured nearly the whole party. Trained as the New England men had been to an almost superstitious reverence for the civil law, a magistrates writ served by a Sheriff, had something to awful in its character to be resisted. Forthwith about 30 in number were marched to Easton, and all committed to prison, and almost immediately liberated on bail. This was in the month of March. All these changes of fortune had transpired within 90 days of the arrival of Capt. Ogden, and within less than 60 from the appearance of the forty at Wyoming. Twice captured and sent to jail, a distance of 60 miles, through a dreary wilderness, in the depth of winter too, it might well be imagined would have cooled the ardor of most impassioned zealots. They must have traveled going and coming twice, 240 miles. Yankee perseverance and enterprise were rare ever conspicuously exhibited under deeply discouraging circumstances. And this may be regarded the second scene of the first act in the drama.

The additional quotas for the other four townships, all forty each, making 160, arrived in April. These, were the first forty returned from prison, and a considerable number of adventurers who held shares in the Susquehanna Co., constituting 270 or 80 able-bodied men in all, assembled on the river banks, where Wilkes-Barre now stands, on the 10th of April. The blockhouse at Mill Creek was too remote from the flats near the old town of Wywamick, where large fields, long since cleared, invited cultivators. A new fortification, called Fort Durkee, after the new commander, was therefore erected on the banks of the river at Fish’s Eddy, (near the lower line of the borough) and 20 or 30 huts built in its immediate vicinity.

Forts, or fortifications, and block houses are so often mentioned in this and the succeeding war, that I cannot doubt but the reader will be pleased with a brief description of one of each, which will answer for all. The blockhouse is generally a square building of heavy hewn logs. When raised to the height of one-story, the timber used for joists or beams, are projected over every side six or eight feet. The second story is built up of lighter logs, placed on the end of these projecting timbers, the whole roofed of course with boards, shingles or bark. Loopholes are formed through which to fire on an approaching enemy. The purpose of making the upper story larger than the lower, is to enable those who defend the block house, to throw down stones (gathered for the purpose,) or boiling water, or other missiles, on the heads of assailants who should attempt to force the door, were set fire to the building.

Forts, or fortifications are built thus. The ground being fixed on, near to water, a square, or parallelogram is traced out, of a size proportion to the number to be sheltered and defended. That built subsequently at Mill Creek, was supposed to contain half an acre. A ditch several feet wide is then dug, in which hewn logs, 18 feet long, are placed on end, close together all round, except at the four corners, where flanking towers are projected. A ditch several feet wide is then dug four feet from the upright timbers, and the dirt thrown up against them. Sometimes, double rows of timbers are placed round so as to break joints. Usually there are two gateways, or entrances, opposite each other, strongly barricaded. Around the inside, against the wall of timbers, huts are erected for the accommodation of families, or messes. Loopholes at proper distances for firing rifles or small arms, finish the work within. Sometimes a covered way is dug to the water; and not unfrequently wells are sunk in the enclosure.

Having now complete possession, the Connecticut people entered with alacrity upon their agricultural pursuits, while their surveyors were employed in running out the five townships allotted to the actual settlers. But no one supposed that peace and security were finally yielded them by their alert and powerful opponents. Every breeze from the southern mountain awakened fears of an approaching enemy. Capt. Ogden with the civil magistrate, Sheriff Jennings, though, absent, had not been idle, but having recruited their forces, appeared on the plains on the 20th of May. After reconnoitering the position of the Yankees, finding it too strong, and the number to large to be attacked with a rational prospect of success, they withdrew to Easton; and Sheriff Jennings, in his report, informed the governor that the intruders mustered 300 able-bodied men, and it was not in his power to collect sufficient force in Northampton to dislodge them. In the delightful season of spring, nature unfolding her richest robes of leaf and flower, the Susquehanna yielding boundless stores of delicious shad, a brief hour of repose seemed only to wed the Yankee emigrants more strongly to the valley. The beautiful low lands, where scarcely a stone impeded the plow, contrasted with the iron bound shores of New England, and her rock covered fields, was a prospect as inviting as the plains of Italy of old to its northern invaders. But another force was treading the paths of the wilderness to attack them. Col. Turbot Francis, commanding a fine company from the city, in full military array, with colors streaming, and martial music, descended into the plain, and sat down before Fort Durkee, about the 20th of June; but finding the Yankees to strongly fortified, returned to await reinforcements below the mountains.

Knowing the value of time in strengthening and consolidating their settlements, for every day that accounts of the richness of those western lands reached Connecticut, new bodies of emigrants set forth for Wyoming; the Susquehanna Co. resolved to disarm the energies of the proprietaries by entering into negotiations. That the object was to amuse and create delay until the summer should have passed, we infer from the fact that the colony of Connecticut did not efficiently move in the matter, and the great improbability that the government of Pennsylvania could be induced to make either concession or compromise with agents merely of the Susquehanna Company. But the step was dictated by sound policy, and has not less merit that it did not succeed.

Early in the summer to distinguish personages, agents of the Susquehanna Co., viz: Col. Eliphalet Dyer, and Major Jedediah Elderkin, clothed with full power to open in negotiation with the proprietary government for a settlement of the controversy respecting the Wyoming lands, appeared in Philadelphia. They were met with the courtesy that ever has distinguished the manners of that city of polished gentlemen of the old school. The Honorable Benjamin Chew was appointed to confer with Messrs. Dyer and Elderkin. But to their propositions, to submit the question at issue to a court of law, or to arbitration, a respectful but decided negative was returned in answer. Nor did the Pennsylvania authorities for a moment intermit the vigorous prosecution of measures that were in train to throw upon the disputed ground a force decisively overwhelming.

The brave and indefatigable Ogden was to have the chief military command; yet as the whole bore the name, if not the character of the civil movement, Sheriff Jennings of Northampton, was clothed ostensibly with the direction, and to him the governor issued his orders. They conclude thus: "it is however, warmly recommended to you, to exercise on this unhappy occasion, the utmost discretion and prudence, to avoid the effusion of blood; and that neither you nor your party strike, fire at, or wound the offenders, unless you are first stricken, fired at, or wounded."

Sheriff Jennings commenced his march with about 200 men, well armed and equipped for battle, in the beginning of September. To enable him to comply more effectually with his peaceful instructions, an artillery company constituted part of his force. An iron four pound cannon, with a supply of cartridge and ball-the first piece of ordinance that ever was at Wyoming, had been brought up from Fort Augusta, (Sunbury) in a boat, by Col. Alexander Patterson, an active partisan officer, the most effective of Ogden’s subordinates. In a more elevated station, in a wider field of action, this gentleman will again be presented to the reader.

This Jennings approached the valley, Capt. Ogden, who was already on the ground with 50 armed men, by a vigorous and well timed movement seized Capt. Durkee, Commander of the Yankees. To valuable a prize to be risked at Easton, for greater safety the prisoner was sent in irons under a safe escort to Philadelphia, and their closely incarcerated in prison. Immediately after this successful enterprise Sheriff Jennings, and his pacific cohort, descended from the passes of the mountain, and displayed in formidable array on the plains before Fort Durkee. There Commander captured, menace by a force so imposing, above all, that terrible four pounder destroying every hope of victory, quelled all disposition to resistance. Being summoned to surrender, articles of capitulation were entered into. Three or four leading men were detained as prisoners. Seventeen men were to remain of the Connecticut people, to gather the ripening harvest; all the others, without exception, were to leave the valley immediately; the property being private, was to be respected. Taking up their melancholy march, sad as the exiles from paradise; men, their wives and little ones, with such of their flocks and herds as could be collected, with aching hearts took leave of the fair plains of Wyoming.

It is with pain we record the fact that so gallant an officer as Ogden, should sully his fair fame by acts of injustice and oppression. No sooner had the mass of settlers been expelled, then in violation of the articles of capitulation, he commenced the plunder of all the property remaining. Cattle, horses and sheep, were driven to markets on the Delaware, and the 17 left without means to sustain themselves, were compelled to follow their exiled friends on their journey to Connecticut. No life having been lost, not a wound having been received by either side; the campaign closed, the Yankees having been three times expelled, leaving the valley in undisputed possession of Ogden, Jennings, and their victorious forces. This closed 1769, the first year of the far famed Pennimite and Yankee war for the possession of Wyoming. But bolder spirits were on the way, and scenes of deeper interest were soon to be presented on the stage.