Wyoming Valley massacre

THE first severely bitter fruit of the alliance of Great Britain with the American savages was tasted in the Wyoming Valley in the summer of 1778. That valley is a beautiful region of Pennsylvania, lying between mountain ranges and watered by the Susquehanna River that flows through it. The first European known to have trodden the soil of the valley was Count Zinzendorf the Moravian, seeking the good of souls. The region was claimed as a part of the domain of Connecticut granted by the charter of that province given by Charles the Second, and was called the county of Westmoreland. The first settlers there, forty in number, went from Connecticut about the middle of the last century. When the old war for independence broke out, the valley was a paradise of beauty and fertility. As that war went on, and an alliance between the British and Indians became manifest, the people of the valley felt insecure. They built small forts for their protection, and called the attention of the Continental Congress, from time to time, to their exposed situation. When St. Leger was besieging Fort Schuyler, on the Mohawk River, in 1977, parties of Indian warriors threatened the valley, but the inhabitants there were spared from much harm until the summer of 1778.

Among the Tory leaders in northern and western New York were John Butler and his son Walter N. They were less merciful toward the Whigs than their savage associates in deeds of violence. John Butler was a colonel in the British service; and in the spring of 1778, he induced the Seneca warriors in western New York to consent to follow him into Pennsylvania. He had been joined by some Tories from the Wyoming Valley, who gave him a correct account of that region; and on the last day of June he appeared at the head of the beautiful plains with more than a thousand men, Tories and Indians. They captured the uppermost fort, and Butler made the fortified house of Wintermoot, a Tory of the valley, his headquarters. The whole military force to oppose the invasion was composed of a small company of regulars and a few militia. When the alarm was given, the whole population flew to arms. Grandfathers and their aged sons, boys, and even women, seized such weapons as were at hand, and joined the soldiery. Colonel Zebulon Butler, an officer of the Continental Army, happened to be at home, and by common consent he was made commander-in-chief. Forty Fort, a short distance above Wilkes-Barre, was the place of general rendezvous, and in it were gathered the women and children of the valley.

On the 3d of July, Colonel Zebulon Butler led the little band of patriot-soldiers and citizens to surprise the invaders, at Wintermoot's. The vigilant leader of the motley host, informed of the movement, was ready to receive the assailants. The Tories formed the left wing of Colonel Butler's force resting on the river, and the Indians, led by Gi-en-gwa-tah, a Seneca chief, composed the right that extended to a swamp at the foot of the mountain. These were first struck by the patriots, and a general battle ensued. It raged vehemently for half an hour, when, just as the left of the invaders was about to give way, a mistaken order caused the republicans to retreat in disorder. The infuriated Indians sprang forward like wounded tigers, and gave no quarter. The patriots were slaughtered by scores. Only a few escaped to the mountains, and were saved. In less than an hour after the battle began, two hundred and twenty-five scalps were in the hands of the savages as tokens of their prowess.

The yells of the Indians had been heard by the feeble ones at Forty Fort, and terror reigned there. Colonel Dennison, who had reached the valley that morning, had escaped to the stronghold, and prepared to defend the women and children to the last extremity. Colonel Butler had reached Wilkes-Barre fort in safety. Darkness put an end to the conflict, but increased the horrors. Prisoners were tortured and murdered. At midnight sixteen of them were arranged around a rock, and strongly held by the savages, when a half-breed woman, called Queen Esther, using a tomahawk and club alternately, murdered the whole band one after the other excepting two, who threw off the men who held them and escaped to the woods. A great fire lighted up the scene and revealed its horrors to the eyes of friends of the victims, who were concealed among the rocks not far away. Early the next morning, Forty Fort was surrendered, on a promise of safety for the persons and property of the people. The terms were respected a few hours by the Indians while John Butler remained in the valley. As soon as he was gone, they broke loose, spread over the plains, and with torch, tomahawk, and scalping-knife made it an absolute desolation. Scarcely a dwelling or an outbuilding was left unconsumed; not a field of corn was left standing; not a life was spared that the weapons of the savages could reach. The inhabitants who had not fled during the previous night were slaughtered or narrowly escaped. Those who departed made their way toward the eastern settlements. Many of them perished in the great swamp on the Pocono Mountains, ever since known as "The Shades of Death." The details of that day of destruction in the beautiful Wyoming Valley, and the horrors of the flight of survivors, formed one of the darkest chapters in human history. Yet Lord George Germain, the British Secretary for the colonies, praised the savages for their prowess and humanity, and resolved to direct a succession of similar raids upon the frontiers, and to devastate the older settlements. A member of the bench of Bishops in the House of Lords revealed the fact, in a speech, that there was "an article in the extra-ordinaries of the army for scalping-knives."

The settlements in the valleys of the Mohawk and Schoharie were great sufferers from Indian and Tory raids, during 1778. The Johnsons were anxious to recover their property and influence in the Mohawk country, and Brant, their natural ally by blood relationship and interest, joined them. Their spies and scouts were out in every direction. At a point on the upper waters of the Susquehanna, Brant organized scalping-parties and sent them out to attack the border settlements. These fell like thunderbolts upon isolated families or little hamlets in the Schoharie country, and the blaze of burning dwellings lighted the firmament almost every night in those regions, and beyond. Springfield, at the head of Otsego Lake, was laid in ashes in May. In June, Cobleskill, in Schoharie country, and the blaze of burning dwellings lighted the firmament almost every night in those regions, and beyond. Springfield, at the head of Otsego Lake, was laid in ashes in May. In June, Cobleskill, in Schoharie county, was attacked by Brant and his warriors, who killed a portion of a garrison of republican troops stationed there, and plundered and burned the houses. In July a severe skirmish occurred on the upper waters of the Cobleskill, between five hundred Indians and some republican regulars and militia. These marauders kept the dwellers in that region in continual alarm all the summer and autumn of 1778, and, finally, at near the middle of November, during a heavy storm of sleet, a band of Indians and Tories, the former led by Brant and the latter by Walter N. Butler, fell upon Cherry Valley and murdered, plundered, and destroyed without stint. Butler was the arch-fiend on the occasion, and would listen to no appeals from Brant for mercy to their victims. Thirty-two of the inhabitants, mostly women and children, were murdered, with sixteen soldiers of the garrison. Nearly forty men, women, and children were led away captives, marching down the valley that night in the cold storm, huddled together half-naked, with no shelter but the leafless trees and no resting-place but the wet ground. Tryon county, which then included all of the State of New York west of Albany county, was a "dark and bloody ground" for full four years.

Return to Our Country, Vol II