The Wyoming Battle & Massacre


Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
By: Henry Blackman Plumb, 1885, 498 pp.
Robert Baur, Printer and Stationer, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Website Compiled By: James H. Culbert


This page last updated: 4 Jun 2009

The information that follows was excerpted from pp. 100-112.

It is perhaps useful to set the stage for this epic event with some of the lesser events leading up to that fateful day in 1778.

In 1775, the town of Westmoreland was in existence.  Home militia companies were formed to defend the town and the surrounding settlements from their enemies.  They were organized as follows: (p. 101)

1st Company - Capt. Stephen FULLER, Lieut. John GARRET, Ensign Christopher AVERY

2nd Company - Capt. Nathaniel LANDON, Lieut. George DORRANCE, Ensign Asahel BUCK

3rd Company - Capt. Samuel RANSOM, Lieut. Perrin ROSS, Ensign Asaph WHITTLESEY

4th Company - Capt. Solomon STRONG, Lieut. Jonathan PARKER, Ensign Timothy KEYS

5th Company - Capt. William MCKARRACHAN, Lieut. Lazarus STEWART, Ensign Silas GORE

6th Company - Capt. Rezin GEER, Lieut. Daniel GORE, Ensign Matthias HOLLENBACK

Late in 1775 Colonel William PLUNKET received orders from the Pennsylvania proprietary government to destroy the Wyoming settlements and drive off the Connecticut settlers from the valley.  He led an invasion force of five hundred well-armed Pennsylvanian men, with cannon and stores in boats, along the Susquehanna River from Northumberland County.  At this time the number of Wyoming settlers who had taken the freeman's oath was 285, and this included many from the Lackawaxen settlement forty miles east of Wyoming.  The second Pennamite and Yankee War commenced upon PLUNKET's force arriving at the western opening to the valley, at the mouth of Harvey's Creek, on December 23rd.  The next day they attacked the Yankee breastwork a few rods above the creek, and were repulsed with light casualties on both sides.  After this PLUNKET sent a boatload of men upriver to try to get in behind the Yankees, but this move was anticipated and the boatload was fired upon.  The boatload begged for mercy, and were allowed to retreat by boat downriver, thus ending PLUNKET's expedition. (pp. 88-90)

According to the most reliable estimates, there were about 2,500 inhabitants in the town of Westmoreland in 1776, which contained seven townships, including the one at Lackawaxen, the one on the Delaware River, and Providence on the Lackawanna River.  At a town meeting in August it was decided to erect suitable forts for defense.  Sites were selected in Pittston, Wilkes-Barre, Plymouth, and Hanover, and the forts were erected, all without pay.  The Indians still living in the valley began to demand provisions and liquor from the settlers, with an air of authority and expressions implying vengance if their demands were refused.  The Continental Congress, being informed of the threats from Indians in the valley as well as from the Pennamites, resolved that two companies be raised (84 men each, providing their own arms and equipment) to be stationed in proper places for the protection of the town, its inhabitants, and parts adjacent.  They were to serve wherever ordered, and to serve in the War of Independence unless sooner discharged by Congress.  By December 12th the two companies were ordered to join Washington's forces at Baltimore. (pp. 90-93)

In 1777, with many of the able-bodied men away at war, the continued strengthening of fortifications and scouting was left to the older boys and the old men. (p. 94)

On 16 Mar, 1778 Congress authorized another company of men be raised from the town of Westmoreland on the east bank of the Susquehanna River for the defense of the town and the neighborhood, but there was no help from Congress or Connecticut to do this.  In May, scouts began to meet parties of British and Indians, and occasional shots were exchanged.  The people in the outer settlements fled to the forts for protection.  Wives sent messages to their husbands at war asking them to return home to protect them.  Finally, the Wyoming men in Washington's army who were left were organized into one company on the 23rd of June, to be sent to Lancaster and then to Wyoming.  They did not make it in time. (pp. 98-99)

An enemy force numbering about 400 British Provincials, consisting of Colonel John BUTLER's Rangers, a detachment of Sir John JOHNSON's Royal Greens, and the rest being tories from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, descended the Susquehanna River from Tioga Point [called Athens in 1885] with about six or seven hundred Indians.  They landed below the mouth of Bowman's Creek, about 20 miles above the Wyoming Valley, secured their boats and marched, arriving in the western mountains late on the 29th of June or early the next day.

All the settler men, consisting of six companies with about 275 men, gathered in Forty Fort in Kingston.  Many old men gathered what arms they could and marched to the field, adding perhaps another twenty-five to the defenders' side.

On 3 July, 1778, the settlers marched out of Forty Fort and up river about four miles where they met the enemy force.  The companies that went into battle were as follows:

1st Company - from the valley (called regulars), Capt. Dethic HEWITT

2nd Company - from Plymouth, Capt. Asaph WHITTLESEY

3rd Company - from Hanover, Capt. William MCKARRACHAN, with command given over to Capt. Lazarus STEWART

Hanover had a company of forty men or more in the battle.  Captain William MCKARRICAN was the commander of the militia company.  He was a school teacher and little used to war, and so gave up his command to Captain Lazarus STEWART.  Lazarus STEWART, Jr., a cousin of the captain, was the Lieutenant, and Silas GORE was the Ensign of this company.  All four of these men were killed in the battle and massacre to come.

4th Company - from lower Wilkes-Barre, Capt. James BIDLACK, Jr.

5th Company - from upper Wilkes-Barre, Capt. Rezin GEER

6th Company - from Kingston, Capt. Aholiah BUCK

The officers of the foregoing list of militia companies held their commissions from the Connecticut Assembly.  Most of them held other commands in the battle, as the above list shows, or were privates.

About 4 o'clock the order was given to attack, and counting off into two lines, the settlers advanced each line alternately five steps, halted, then fired, which was followed by the advance of the alternate line.  The enemy's left began to be pressed hard by Capt. HEWITT's company on the right, and the enemy recoiled.  At the same time the Indians on the settler's left outflanked the end of the line.  Colonel DENNISON saw this movement and ordered Capt. WHITTLESEY's company to leave the front and form a new line facing the Indians.  After the battle had been fought for about a half hour Capt. WHITTLESEY's company was ordered to wheel backwards to form a right angle with the original line.  The settlers understood this order to be a retreat, and they broke and fled.  Colonel BUTLER strove in vain to rally these raw recruits to no avail, recklessly exposing his own life between the two firing lines in the process.  The yelling onrush of Indians from the left doubled up the settlers' line against the original right side, which still held, and had refused to retreat when it became apparent that the Indians had gained their rear.  The Indians pushed forward to completely hem in the settlers, except for one side of the enclosure formed by the river, and this prevented many of the settlers from escaping to Forty Fort.  Thus ended the Battle of Wyoming.

Some men on the left got through the line of Indians and ran down to the fort.  Some reached the fort, but the old men and young boys were overtaken and killed.  Those on the right broke towards the river, and again the old men and boys were killed or captured.  Those that reached the river began to swim across.  Some were shot in the river.  Others were promised their lives if they came back, but those that did were tomahawked or speared.  The remainder swam to Monocony island or to the other side.

Meanwhile, those that did not escape the enclosure were killed or taken prisoner by the Greens and Rangers.  Those that were captured were savagely slaughtered by the Indians that night - seventeen by the semi-savage Hecate, Queen Ester, on a flat rock a short distance above the battlefield.

Some of the fugitives hid on the island to rest, and the Indians came across and killed all they found there.  Some were well hidden, and thus escaped.  On this island that night a tory even killed his patriot brother.  Their surname was PENCIL.

Early in the morning after the battle the British Colonel John BUTLER sent across the river to Pittston, and Captain BLANCHARD surrendered Fort Brown on fair terms.  The British Colonel also sent to Forty Fort to Colonel DENNISON to surrender.  Colonel Zebulon BUTLER was in the fort, but before the surrender he, along with the remains of HEWITT's company, left and went downriver to Shamokin.  Many women and children and a few men fled the valley to the east at this same time.

Colonel DENNISON met the British Colonel BUTLER at Wintermoots, and agreed upon a surrender.  All the military stores, prisoners, forts, and arms, were to be turned over to the British.  The inhabitants were to be allowed to remain in the valley provided they did not take up arms again.

These terms were disregarded by the British and tories.  All the houses were plundered, then burned.  The horses, cattle and sheep were driven off.  Their crops were destroyed, as well as all else that could not be carried away.  Of those settlers in the upper part of the valley (those who had not fled on the 4th), any hats, coats, bonnets, shoes, or other garments that were coveted were taken from them.  Everything was broken open and rifled.  In short, of those who remained at the surrender, nothing of value was left and they were compelled to flee the valley as well.  And Colonel BUTLER said he could do nothing to stop the pillaging and plunder.

Those who fled took little thought in carrying provisions for at least a sixty mile trek to the nearest other settlements.  Those from the lower valley fled down river or on the Warrior's Path in Hanover.  On this path there was one company of about one hundred women and children, with only a single man, Jonathan FITCH, sheriff of the county, to assist them.

Captain SPALDING and his men met some of the fugitives, and learned the outcome of the battle.  He relieved such fugitives as he met on his way, and advanced to the top of the mountain overlooking the valley, where he could see the smoke rising from the plains in all directions.  Seeing that he was of no use in the valley he returned to the Delaware.

It is thought that about 200 persons perished in this flight.  Those fugitives who survived made it to the German (Pennsylvania Dutch) settlements on the Delaware River, where they were fed and clothed, and those who so chose were provided for so they could continue their journey to Connecticut.  Many of those who did survive never returned.  The orphans who lived were bound out to tradesmen and farmers.  And, many of these orphans did later return to the valley after they had grown.

The British regulars left the valley on the 8th, with all others whom discipline could control.  Other than those tories who did not leave with the British, there was probably not a single white person alive in the valley after the British left.  There was hardly a building left standing from Nanticoke to Pittston.  The lower end of the valley below Wilkes-Barre had been abandoned on the 4th.  This was the sixth time that the Connecticut settlers had been totally expelled from the valley.

Few prisoners were spared with their lives.  Only four or five men who were taken prisoner were known to have survived, either by being taken away alive and surviving, or by escaping.  The only one whose name is known to have done so was Samuel CAREY.  Charles Miner's estimate of 160 Connecticut people killed and 140 escaped is thought to be much too low.  Later, it was determined that the British paid the Indians for 227 scalps, and undoubtedly many other men were killed in the river and in other ways in which their scalps were never delivered.

Early in August, Captain SPALDING's company, along with some of the fugitives, marched back into the valley in order to try to save some of the harvest.  They occupied the site of Wilkes- Barre.  At "Camp Westmoreland" on the 21st of October it was ordered that a party of thirty with arms be gathered as a guard to protect those who would go collect and bury the remains of those killed in July.  This was done on the 22nd, under constant alarm from the Indians, at a place called Wintermoot's Fort.  It was recollected by some that there were two burial holes dug, although only one was ever found.  These remains were gathered up in 1833, containing eighty-three skeletons, and placed in a proper burial at or in the village of Wyoming in Kingston township with the cornerstone of a monument over them.  The monument was not finished until 1843, being rectangular and sixty-two feet, six inches high. (pp. 112-113)

I will close this account with an extract from an address delivered at the "Centennial" of Wyoming held on the 4th of July 1878, by Sylvester DANA of New Hampshire:

"My father often described to me how, at the Wilkes-Barre fort, on this very spot, on the 3rd of July 1778, he anxiously listened to the rattling of musketry upon yonder battlefield;
how, on the day after the disastrous result, being nine years old, he fled with his mother and the family towards Connecticut;
how the party of some twenty wearily pursued their march into the night and into the morning, lest they should be overtaken by the Indians;
how the only man in the party followed behind the exhausted children, freely applied the rod to them when they faltered and fell asleep in their tracks;
how they suffered from hunger, the loss of shoes and other privations as they crossed the mountains before reaching the Hudson.
And, how at length they reached Connecticut, where, scattered among friends, they passed the remaining days of childhood, and in after years not a few of them (including my father and two of his brothers) returned to this desolated valley and commenced life anew."

To view a print of Massacre of Wyoming - click here.
Note that this painting is not noted for its accuracy in depicting the Battle and Massacre.

Artist: Alonzo Chappel (1828-1887)
Title: Wyoming Valley Massacre, 1778
Owner: Chicago Historical Society,
Illustration Shown: American Heritage, Vol. Xx, No. 6, p. 31

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