The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Wyoming Valley

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WYOMING VALLEY (a corruption of the Indian Maughwauwama, large plains), a beautiful and fertile tract on the Susquehanna river in Luzerne co., Pennsylvania. It lies N. E. and S. W., having an average breadth of 3 m. and a length of 21 m., and is enclosed by ranges of rugged mountains about 1,000 ft. high. It is rich in coal. (See Anthracite, and Lackawanna.) The valley was purchased from the Six Nations in 1754 by an association formed in Connecticut and called the Connecticut Susquehanna company; but no permanent settlement was attempted till 1762. The next year the settlers were dispersed by the Indians. In 1769 a body of 40 Connecticut pioneers was sent thither by the Susquehanna company, but found themselves forestalled by some Pennsylvanians, the Six Nations having in the preceding year again sold the territory to the proprietaries of Pennsylvania; and for the next six years Wyoming was the scene of numerous conflicts between settlers from the two colonies, both of which under their charters, as well as by purchase, claimed possession of the soil. The Connecticut people, however, so far succeeded in maintaining their hold in the valley, that at the commencement of the revolutionary war they had established there a flourishing town called Westmoreland, containing more than 2,000 inhabitants. On June 30, 1778, a body of 400 British provincials with about 700 Indians, under the command of Col. John Butler, entered the valley, which was ill prepared for defence, many of its best men having fallen in the continental armies. On July 3 Forty fort (so called from the 40 Connecticut pioneers), the principal fortification, was summoned to surrender. A consultation ensued, and the available military force, comprising about 300 men of all ages under command of Col. Zebulon Butler, a continental officer, having decided to give battle, were on the same day, after a desperate struggle, defeated and driven back to the fort, with a loss of more than two thirds of their number, who were massacred by the Indians and tories with every circumstance of savage cruelty, not even the prisoners being spared. Some of the latter were put to death on the evening of the battle, and Queen Esther, a half-breed Indian woman, to avenge the death of her son, tomahawked 14 with her own hands near a rock which still bears her name. On the 5th the fort surrendered; and notwithstanding the promises of the British commander, the Indians showed so little respect for property or life, that most of the surviving inhabitants fled from the valley. The whole number who perished during the war by violent deaths probably exceeded 300. The barbarities perpetrated by the Indians and tories, shocking as they were, were greatly exaggerated by contemporary and succeeding narrators. Brant, the Mohawk chief, whom Campbell in his “Gertrude of Wyoming” stigmatizes as one of the principal actors in the tragedy, it is now generally believed, upon his own testimony and that of his friends, took no part in Butler's invasion.—The troubles of Wyoming by no means ended with the war. The vexed question of title to the territory, which had remained in abeyance between Connecticut and Pennsylvania, was revived in 1782, and a commission, appointed by congress to decide upon the controversy, reported in favor of Pennsylvania. But upon an attempt by the authorities of that state to eject the Connecticut settlers from their lands, the latter again took arms, and for several years the conflicts of the early colonists were renewed. In 1787 the legislative assembly of Pennsylvania confirmed the settlers in their possessions, but it was not until after the commencement of the present century that all the land claims were quieted by law. Wyoming is now the centre of a rich agricultural and mining region. A monument was erected in 1843 on the site of the battle field of July 3.—See “History of Wyoming,” by Charles Miner (Philadelphia, 1845), and “Wyoming,” by George Peck, D. D. (New York, 1858).