History of Wyoming/Letter X

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To the year 1770 now dawns upon our view. It is the depth of winter. We look down the valley of Wyoming, the past season so animated by contending factions; smoke from a single chimney is the only indication that it is tenanted by a human being. So perfect had been the conquest over the intrudeing Yankees, their expulsion so complete, and so great the distance of their former homes to which they had gone, no immediate difficulty was apprehended from their return. Indeed, when the losses they had sustained, and the evidences exhibited to them of the power and determination of Pennsylvania to maintain her territorial rights, were considered, it was wisely doubted that so prudent and calculating a people would desist from any further attempt to establish a colony on the Susquehanna. Capt. Ogden therefore, leaving a garrison of 10 men to keep possession, and take charge of the property, marched his victorious troops below the mountains, where they were disbanded, while he and his able civil coadjutor, the spirited and efficient Sheriff, Jennings, repaired to Philadelphia to spend a part of the winter, display their laurels, and enjoy the well earned honors of victory.

Late in February there came the astounding tidings to Capt. Ogden, suddenly arresting the flowing tide of hilarity and enjoyment, that his garrison had been surprised and expelled by a superior force. Prompt, alert, he was instantly in motion; gathering a few tried followers, he hastened with all possible celerity to the field of action. Capt. Lazarus Stewart, from Hanover, and Lancaster County, with "forty" settlers, who had accepted from the Susquehanna Company a township, to be named after their parent town, having with him 10 Connecticut people, appeared in the valley the beginning of February, ousted the few men left by Ogden, from their comfortable quarters at Fort Durkee, but did not attempt to arrest or keep them as prisoners.

The dread cannon, the formidable four pounder, was the first object of concern. It had been carefully housed, with ammunition a good store, in the fortress at Mill Creek, from whence it was taken, and with the emotions of pride at the capture, and a pleasing sense of security from the possession, transported in safety to Fort Durkee.

It is difficult at this distant time to determine which should be regarded as most extraordinary, the facility with which the Yankees were taken to prison, or the certainty and ease with which they escaped. Our story left Capt. Durkee confined in the Philadelphia jail; but what means he obtained his freedom, I have sought information in vain; but we find him now, with unabated vigor and increased zeal at the head of the Connecticut forces.

Sheriff Jennings could not accompany has friend Ogden, but the latter, according to settled policy, choosing to be attended by, and to act professedly under the orders of the civil magistrate, took with him a deputy sheriff from Northampton. On arriving upon the ground, Fort Durkee being in possession of the Yankees, strengthened in its defenses and well garrisoned, Capt. Ogden with 50 men, entered upon his old quarters at Mill Creek, which he put in the best posture of defense. His policy was obvious and instantly adopted, his numbers being unknown, to keep them concealed as much as possible, to appear diffident, not venturing out, risking nothing, but seeming busy, as if adding to the strength of his fortress, so as to induce his enemy to suppose him weak and waiting for reinforcements, by this means leading them from too much confidence into some rash act that might expose them to capture.

A fortunate omen had already occurred to inspire hopes, and stimulate the ardor of his men. The Yankees, to avoid awakening suspicion, werer to come into the valley in small detachments; one of these, consisting of 10 or 12 men, who had learned the success of Stewart, but were not apprised of the arrival of the Pennsylvania force, appeared cold and hungry, before the gate at the Mill Creek fortress, not doubting a cordial welcome from expecting friends. Very readily where they admitted, but instantly arrested by the deputy sheriff as prisoners, and so closely confined that escape was impossible, and their arrival and capture was unknown to their friends at Fort Durkee.

The policy of Capt. Ogden produced its desired effects, (as afterwards the affected caution of Napoleon at Austerlitz, rendered presumptuous the Russian and Austrian generals, and terminated in their discomfiture.) Major Durkee and his officers, after full consultation, resolved to capture Ogden while he was yet weak, and before reinforcements should enable him to bid them defiance. Heretofore the Connecticut people had acted merely as civil citizens united for mutual protection; they now assumed a more martial aspect, and marched out with the Connecticut flag flying, to the inspiring music of the fife and drum.

However much this display may have imparted confidence, and inspired courage among the Yankees, Capt. Ogden was the last man in whom they could occasion despondence, or create the slightest alarm. A negotiation was opened immediately after the besiegers had drawn up before the Mill Creek fortress. Ogden, and to reconnoiter, came out with a flag to demand their purpose, and estimate their numbers. Finding their strength not greatly superior to his own, he retired. Placing the deputy sheriff on duty, he suddenly rushed out with all his men armed, ordered the Sheriff's officers to arrest the whole Yankee array, in the name, and by authority of Pennsylvania. A sharp conflict ensued; the Connecticut people were defeated with the loss of one man, William Stager, who was shot dead on the spot, and several were wounded. This was the first blood shed in those memorable Pennimite and Yankee wars for the possession of Wyoming.

Controversy arose as to which party was responsible for firing the first gun, and occasioning the first effusion of blood. Such an inquiry on this occasion, would seem to be useless, as regards the general question, as unavailing in this particular case. The Yankees marched forth in military array, with martial music, their guns loaded with ball, to capture Ogden. By every rule of honorable war he had a right to consider them as enemies, and would have been justified in opening a fire upon them from his fortifications, without notice or parlay. The manner in which they came, was a declaration of war. War was meant. And it was justifiable to answer war with war. But the first man who fell was one of the Connecticut party, and it roused into more fiery actions those deep and deadly passions, which the events of the preceding summer were calculated to awaken into bitterness. But there is another reflection of which, in justice, should be recorded in association with that just expressed. Was this the commencement of the contest? Had not the Connecticut people been expelled by an armed force, in full military array, with artillery as well as small arms, pointed for their destruction? Was not this in fact, the earliest decided belligerent demonstrations; an unequivocal act of war? Leaving this decision of this point to an abler casuist, or a less partial judge, I advance in the siege of Fort Ogden.

In possession of the cannon, it was a resolved to bring its power to bear on the enemy. A neighboring hill overlooked the Fort, and completely commanded the position. But the Yankees, with a respectful caution highly complementary to Capt. Ogden's prowess, did not choose to risk the piece within reach of a sortie of their intrepid enemy. A slight redoubt was therefore thrown up on the western river bank, directly opposite the fortification. The cannon was transported across, and mounted ready for action. The piece had to be elevated, for the Fort was not less than 50 feet above the level of the gun. The distance between the two points was about 60 rods. Little skilled in the science of projectiles, it would not be expected that the Yankee farmers could manage their artillery so as to produce a very powerful effect. But on the 15th of April, they opened their fire. Never, before, had echoes of those mountains been disturbed by, and answered to a voice so tremendous. Shot after shot was sent booming across the Susquehanna; day after day, roar succeeded roar, but to the astonishment of all, without doing the least possible execution. Time was too precious to be thus wasted. Reinforcements might arrive. The cannon was removed to the eastern shore, and Major Durkee, having received an accession to his forces, marched up a second time in military array to invest the Fort. Dividing his men into three divisions, each, with all possible dispatch, erected a breastwork; the cannon was mounted in the one under his immediate command. A spirited fire was opened on the stockade. The siege gave rise to a gallant act on the part of the Yankees. A storehouse adjoining the Fort, strong and well manned, was stormed, set on fire, and burnt to the ground, but which most of the valuable articles for peace or war, belonging to the Pennsylvania party, were entirely consumed.

Capt. Ogden had failed in no part of the duty of an able officer. Immediately after his attack, in March, he had dispatched a trusty messenger to the governor, stating his situation, urging the necessity of immediate aid, and saying he would defend his position to the utmost extremity, or while there are was hope of relief.

Gov. Penn was in no condition to comply with the request. A dark cloud, portending a storm, lowered in another quarter. The disputes between the colonies and the mother country seemed rapidly festering into an open contest. The massacre at Boston had taken place on the fifth of the month, and lurid flames of threatening war shot up from every point of the surrounding horizon. He, therefore, applied to General Gage, commander-in-chief of his Majesty's forces in North America, whose headquarters were then in New York, for assistance to suppress what was considered the lawless and unprincipled invasion by the Connecticut people, of the peaceful and assured territory of Pennsylvania. Such, it seems, General Gage did not regard it. His reply is important, not only as it shows his own, but, probably, as it exhibits the general opinion of the country in regard to the contest.

"New York, April 15, 1770.-The troops in all the provinces have orders, in general, to assist the civil power, when they shall be legally called upon; but the affair in question seems to be a dispute concerning property, in which I cannot but think it would be highly improper for the King’s troops to interfere."

No aid arriving, and the siege being pressed with vigor, a flag sent in by Major Durkee, led to negotiations which terminated in the surrender of the Fort. Articles of capitulation were entered into on the 29th of April. Capt. Ogden was to retire from the valley, with all his forces, in three days, except that to take care of his property, which was to be respected, six men were to be left in possession of one of the houses. To the surprise of the beseigers, and the delight of the captives, the party of Yankee prisoners were discovered and released, after more than a month's confinement, so rigorous, that they had not been able to give their friends the least intimidation of their captivity.

The nicer laws, which tend so much to soften the asperities and relieve the distresses of war, unhappily were but to slightly regarded on either side. Justifying his conduct by that of Capt. Ogden himself, to the 17 Connecticut people, left to keep possession, by the articles of capitulation the previous autumn, Major Durkee proceeded, very unceremoniously, to expel the six as very unwelcome neighbors, indeed, as spies on his proceedings, and according to established usage on both sides, or in the homely adage of the time, "tit for tat," he relieved them from the charges of what property had been left under their care. This, however, was not all demanded by prudence, and justified by the laws of war. The Fort was strong-the adjacent buildings comfortable. With the force then under his command, to spare a suitable detachment to garrison the place was impossible. If left, it was apprehended that the Pennsylvania party would retake possession, perhaps with more ordinance, and greater numbers, and bid defiance to all the power of the Yankees to dispossess him. After full consultation it was resolved to set fire to the Fort, and level the whole establishment with the earth. Eight years previous, the first habitations of white men had been erected on the spot by the unfortunate settlers of 1762, which had been preserved by the savages, when they massacred or expelled the Connecticut people from the valley. The aspiring flames were a grand but melancholy site, awakening sad recollections of the past, and gloomy forebodings for the future. But the position was too admirably chosen to be long neglected.

Reader, as we turned from this scene of destruction, I beg leave to remind you that we shall look in upon it again, ere long, under more pleasing auspices.

No sooner had the news reached Philadelphia, than the executive published a proclamation, denouncing what he conceived the high-handed, and outrageous conduct of the intruders.

Writs were issued by the Supreme Court for the arrest of several of the Yankee leaders, for whose capture a large reward was offered; under the authority of which Lazarus Stewart was made prisoner while on a visit below the mountains. By aid of partizans, with some violence to the officer, he succeeded to make his escape.

Planting time had come. Peace reigned. Wyoming was in the undisturbed possession of the Yankees. The luscious shad again came up an countless myriads, inviting the toil warned emigrants from the dangers of the fields, to the sports of the stream, from the half famished abstinence of the camp, to feast on the richest of nature’s dainties. Hope, and joy, and confidence began to prevail. Every new detachment of adventurous settlers, and especially one under the command of Capt. Butler, whose presence had been anxiously looked for, was hailed with shouts of welcome. Settlements commenced on the west side of the river, were prosecuted was spirit. Old Forty Fort, so celebrated in the future history of Wyoming, was begun. More distant positions were explored, David Mead and Christopher Hurlbut, Esqs., the principal surveyors on behalf of the Susquehanna Company, with untiring assiduity again followed the compass over hill and dale, in locating and lotting the several townships set off for actual settlers.

Spring passed away without the appearance of an enemy; summer followed, and not a foe had disturbed the repose. Rich harvests were ripening to crown their labors, and a feeling of security would have pervaded the breasts of the most timid, were it not for the recollection of the untoward events of the preceding fall.

Disappointed in his application for assistance from General Gage, Gov. Penn viewed the aspect of affairs at the North, with the extremist embarrassment, almost amounting to despair. But the arrival of Capt. Ogden, his faithful military commander, reanimated his desponding hopes, and he resolved to make a vigorous effort to regain possession of the disputed ground.-Moral as well as physical force was brought into action.-On the 28th of June a proclamation was issued, referring to the events which had recently transpired at Wyoming, and forbidding, under severest penalties, any person for making a settlement there, unless by the authority of the proprietaries, or their lessees, Stewart, Ogden, and Jennings. The utmost force that could be assembled for the occasion, was raised, and placed under the orders of Capt. Ogden, with directions to repair to the scene of action, and dispossess the Yankees if in his power. Again, with characteristic consistency, the military was marched under the ostensible auspices of the civil authority. The official term of Sheriff Jennings had expired, and Aaron Van Campen, Esq., a magistrate, whose zeal had previously led him to take an active part in the controversy, was selected to accompany the commander on his expedition. So difficult had it become to raise recruits, that it was late in September before he arrived on the eastern mountain that overlooks the valley.

Surprise will naturally be excited, that the powerful province of Pennsylvania did not at once raise and maintain a force of sufficient strength to expel the Connecticut people, and to build, arm, and garrison two or more forts, in suitable positions, effectually to put an end to all hope of making a permanent settlement at Wyoming. A popular government and a cause it deemed just, possessing the wealth, the numbers, and the resources of Pennsylvania, could have crusted, like an egg shell in the hand of a giant, all the power which the Susquehanna Company had yet been able to concentrate on the Susquehanna; for the colony of Connecticut, biding its time, cautiously watching events, had as yet neither committed itself by a direct recognition of, nor lent the least official aid to the measures adopted for the settlement of Wyoming, further than to express there assent to the formation of the company, the purchase of the Indians, and the proposed application to the king for a charter to the new colony. Had the proprietary government aroused itself with becoming spirit, and put forth at once, with decisive energy, all the strength the occasion demanded, Connecticut would probably have postponed the avowal of her claim to jurisdiction until a more inviting season.

Doubtless the inefficient movements on the part of the proprietary government are to be ascribed, principally, to its own unpopularity. It is sufficient that we advert to the long existing contention between the people of the province and the proprietaries, in respect to taxation chiefly, and the jealousy existing because of their immense, and as it was deemed, unreasonable land monopoly, connected with numerous other points of lesser magnitude, exciting feelings of mutual distrust and enmity, paralyzing almost every effort of the governor, either for good or evil. The contest at Wyoming was a dispute respecting the soil. The best part of the valley it was known, had been surveyed, and appropriated to the proprietaries themselves. Without scrutinizing very closely the origin of titles, the people sympathized very generally with the Wyoming settlers, and no inconsiderable number wished success to their cause.

We have before stated that they were three paths (roads they could not be called,) to Wyoming. The old warrior’s path, by way of the Lehigh water gap and Fort Allen, coming into the valley a mile below Solomon's Creek, in Hanover; the path from the Delaware at Coshutunk, (where was a small Yankee settlement,) which came in through Cob’s Gap to the Lackawanna, at Capouse meadows,-the other from Easton, to the Wind Gap, near the line of the present turnpike. By the latter way, all the military expeditions had heretofore invaded the valley, and that alone was watched by the Yankee sentinels. Aware of this fact, with far more tact than was displayed by his adversaries, Capt. Ogden took the old warrior path, marched with celerity and secrecy, and on the 21st of September encamped on the headwaters of Solomon's Creek. Kindling no fire, creating no smoke, giving no alarm, early the next morning this gallant leader took a position from which, with his telescope, he could bring and the greater part of the valley under his eye. All was quiet; the settlers were unconcernedly engaged in their usual occupations. The husbandmen repaired each to his own field, with his hands. The population was thus divided into little parties of from 3 to 6, through the flats, and along the meadows. Ready to conceive, and prompt to execute, this most able commander instantly divided his force, consisting of 140 men, into detachment of 10, each under an approved leader, and directed them to hasten noiselessly and secretly to the fields, and seize upon the laborers. The plan succeeded to admiration. A considerable portion of the settlement fell into his power, and were immediately sent the Easton jail, while the remainder fled for refuge to Fort Durkee. Capt. Ogden withdrew to his bivouac of the preceding night on the mountain, but in a way that left no suspicion that he had not entered by the usual route. The night was one of unexampled gloom and confusion in Fort Durkee. The position and number of their invaders were unknown, but it was presumed to be powerful; for it could not be supposed that the enemy was unapprized of the accession of numbers, who had emigrated during the summer from Connecticut, whether they would attempt to dislodge them without adequate preparation. A large number of their man the Yankees knew were made prisoners, and immediate assistance was deemed necessary. Four men were therefore selected to carry tidings of their disaster to the friendly settlement at Coshutunk, and solicit all the forces in their power to muster. A step so probable, the Yankees imagined the enemy would not fail to foresee and counteract. Taking it for granted that the passes by the usual Minisink Road, and the generally traveled central way would be guarded, the Yankee messengers, as directed, sought to evade the vigilance of the foe by taking the much neglected warrior’s ath. Scarcely had they ascended the mountain, when they found themselves prisoners in the presence of Capt. Ogden. The confused state of Fort Durkee was no sooner learned from the reluctant captives, then with a promptitude that would have done honor to Bonaparte, in his early Italian campaigns, Capt. Ogden put his men in motion-stormed the Fort was such an impetus rush, that Capt. Craig, who led the van, gave the first alarm by springing into the midst of the astonished multitude. But the armed men did not yield without a short, but severe struggle. Several lives were lost, and Capt. Butler was only saved from a bayonet aimed at his breast, by the noble humanity and timely interposition of Craig. severely hurt, Capt. B(utler) was taken into the hut of Mr. Beach, and had his wounds dressed. Ten years afterwards these two gallant officers, and Major John Durkee, making a third, found themselves each in the command of a regiment, in their country service, efficient supporters of the cause of independence, respected and beloved. Capt. Butler, Mr. Spalding, and a few the most prominent of the Yankee leaders were honored with the distinction of being sent to Philadelphia for imprisonment, while the others were escorted to jail at Easton.

All the Connecticut possessions were now, as on the preceding autumn, abandoned, and the whole labor of the summer fell in the hands of their Pennimite foes. Mr. Beach and his family started down the river in a canoe; tarrying a night at what is now Beach Grove, they liked the place, and made a settlement. The property lost was by no means inconsiderable, and the soldiers of the successful party were richly rewarded with the plunder.

Again Ogden retired from this fourth effectual expulsion of the Connecticut people, not doubting now, after this signal overthrow, that the contest was at an end, and the proprietaries secured in the peaceful possession of the valley forever.

A small garrison of 20 man was left as before, to take charge of the property, until the lessees should come out early in the spring, to resume their engagement to erect a suitable house and open a trade with the Indians.

But the Susquehanna Company’s forces were like the Arab cavalry, or the far sweeping hurrah of the Cossacs of Don; however often forced to retreat, they renewed the struggle again and again, with tenfold vigor. Though the middle of December was passed, the second year of the Pennimite and Yankee war had not terminated. On the 18th of that month, suddenly, without the slightest previous notice, a "Hurrah for King George!" Started the sleeping garrison, to confidently secure even to keep a sentinel on duty, and Capt. Lazarus Stewart with 30 man, took possession of the Fort in behalf of the colony of Connecticut. Six of the garrison escaped nearly naked to the mountains; the others were as unceremoniously expelled as had been the previous Yankee tenants. The fugitives hasten to give information to Capt. Ogden, who in the midst of festal enjoyment, and the sweetest of all adulation to the ambitious mind, that of plaudits to a victorious Chief, was once more astounded with the heart-sickening annunciation, that his thrice-conquered Wyoming was lost, and the audacious Yankees were again in full possession.

Thus closed 1770, an ever memorable year in our interesting annals.