Archive for the ‘Battles’ Category

The Wyoming Massacre

I was born and grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, not far from Wilkes-Barre. My earliest impressions of the Wyoming Valley, bisected by the Susquehanna River, were physical. Of the anthracite or hard-coal fields in the area: a landscape dotted with collyeries, steam locomotives and railroad sidings, mine shafts and culm banks, refuse heaps which were often burning fueled by bits of discarded coal. Eventually this sort of mining deep underground became too expensive and was replaced by surface or strip mining which further ravaged the land until laws were passed requiring reforestation. Some of the area today still resembles the dead landscape of the moon.

As I grew up I also became aware of the early history of the Wyoming Valley—in the 1760s when the beautiful lands and fertile soil bordering the Susquehanna were claimed by Connecticut according to its founding charter. Many settlers from that colony, and some from Rhode Island, moved into the area. Periodically, conflict broke out between the locals and the “intruders” but nothing like what happened in 1778 in what is known as the Battle of Wyoming and the subsequent “Massacre.”

During the Revolution the British sought to put pressure on the American rebels by harassing frontier settlements with the assistance of the Indians who felt they had been displaced from land which was rightfully theirs. Settlers in the Wyoming Valley feeling exposed and insecure constructed several small forts for their protection. In July of 1778, British Colonel John Butler put together a force of some 1,000 consisting of British soldiers, Tories, and Seneca Indians and marched to the head of Wyoming Valley intending to clear out the settlers. Receiving news of this impending raid a small band of patriot soldiers and citizens hurriedly assembled, under the command of a Continental Army officer named Colonel Zebulon Butler, and attempted to repel the invaders. A battle ensued in which the heavily outnumbered soldiers and settlers were completely routed. Rampaging Indians slaughtered and scalped some 225 fighters and in the following days killed civilians and devastated the area, destroying dwellings and crops. Survivors fled to the east where many perished in the wilderness that was the Pocono Mountains.

Living in the area I also knew of the township of Slocum but had no idea of the derivation of its name. Research led me to the story of Frances Slocum, her connection with the Wyoming Valley, and her abduction and captivity by the Indians. More of Frances’ story in the next post.

posted July 30th, 2015 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Battles,Indians,Patriots,Pennsylvania,Slocum, Frances,Wyoming Massacre

“Rout that Impious Army”

MARY WHITE MORRIS wrote again from Aberdeen, Maryland (see previous post), where she had fled with her children against the expected advance by the British on Philadelphia in the winter of 1776, to her husband Robert who had remained behind.

December the 30 [1776]Dear Mr. Morris
We had been for many Days Impatiently wishing for a Letter from you, as the News we hear from any Other Quarter is not to be Depended on, but when the Welcomed one arrived, which brought those glad Tidings [probably news of Washington’s successful attack on the Hessians on the day after Christmas], it more than Compensated, for what our late Unfortunate Curcumstances, Prepared our Minds to Expect, which was Nothing more, then our Armys being on the Defencive, and fearing least their Numbers were not even Equal to that, but Retreat as Usiall, but I hope indeed the Tide is turning, and that our Great Washington will have the Success His Virtues Deserve, and Rout that Impious Army, who from no Other Principle but that of enslaveing this Once Happy Country, have Prosecuted this Cruell War. [M]y Father was greatly, tho Agreably Affected, at such good news, and I was the Happy means of makeing many joyfull Hearts, as we had many Guests added to our large Family to Celebrate Christmas. . . .
Pray were do you Lodge, I was told at Mr. Beveridge’s Country House, for Security, if I Exact all I wish to know I’m Affraid youll write the Seldomer, but Remember, it’s the greatest Gratification I can have, till I see you. . . . Bob walkd 3 miles to School today with one of his Cousins, I take a great deal of Pains to Preserve their Learning, Anna was right about my Shifts, but my needles I left in the tea Tabel [sic] drawer, put them there Myself, intending to put them in my Pocket the last thing. . . .
your Affectionate Mary Morris

Robert Morris Collection: Henry E. Huntington Library, Lists No. 5, pages 53-55, transcribed by Louise North. [Microfilm, courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Nuxoll].

posted June 4th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Battles,Children,Education,Hessians,Holidays,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert,Philadelphia,Washington, George

“a pair of brass Candle-sticks”

The Battle of White Plains, New York, occurred on October 28, 1776. General Washington was moving his troops northward from New York City into Westchester County after having suffered a major defeat by the British. It proved impossible to defend his position in the village of White Plains and so he retreated further north, eventually crossing the Hudson River, marching through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Phoebe Oakley, fleeing her home, had stored her valuables at her brother-in-law’s house for safekeeping. Unfortunately the house was in White Plains near the site of the battle. it was plundered by American soldiers. Her complaint listed the items stolen:

a trunk filled with Linen & cloaths . . . five feather beads [beds] & bedding, one looking glass, one Copper Coffey-Kettle, with lamp and stand, two muffs in cases, a long blue cloth cloak, one pair of brass knobbed hand irons, one painted and one woolen floor-cloth, one copper Tea Kettle, two Pewter dishes & one dozen of plates, a whole set of Tea China, and a small red trunk . . . a pair of boots almost new, a pair of brass Candle-sticks and some books.

Some items were returned to her, but the rest disappeared.

Phoebe Oakley’s list can be found on page 62 of In the Words of Women.

posted May 4th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Battles,Looting,Oakley, Phoebe

“my heart bleeding”

At the time of his death in the battle of Breed’s Hill (June 17, 1775), Dr. Joseph Warren was engaged to Mercy Scollay. His wife, Elizabeth Hooten, had died in 1772, leaving him with four children who were now orphans. After the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776, people began to come back to the city. In the following letter to her friend Mrs. Dix, at whose house in Worcester she had been staying, Mercy Scollay describes her feelings upon her return and how difficult it was to deal with the loss of her fiance.

Methinks I hear you say I give you joy Miss Scollay that you are again in the habitation of your parents [in Boston].—thank you my friend for your good wishes but Boston does not yet appear like my home—I go from place to place in the house as if I was searching for something with great eagerness, and then return with a dejected heart and disappointment seated in my brow—I look upon the wreck of my poor friends [Joseph Warren’s] furniture that papa [John Scollay] took into his care, with weeping eyes but check the hasty torrent, as quick as I can least I should be observed, and return to company with a smile on my face, but my heart bleeding—I see every moment faces that I know, but the one I would give the world to behold is not visable among the grope, and I turn from them disatisfyd—I have seen none that beheld the breathless clay [i.e. Joseph Warren’s corpse] and tho’ wondered at still doubt—Pity my weakness my Friend but don’t expose my folly none but you shall know my present thots and when I am confirmed in my hopes or fears you shall know.

The lady in “Lady in the Blue Dress,” by John Singleton Copley, is thought to be Mercy Scollay by Samuel Forman who makes a convincing case for his view in “A Valentine to Miss Mercy Scollay.” The portrait is at the Terra Foundation Museum in Chicago. Forman has written a new biography, Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. The text of the letter at the Cambridge Historical Society can be found HERE.

“I cannot forbear to drop a tear”

Joseph Warren, a medical doctor, was a prominent leader of the American resistance to the British in Boston. As president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress he dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous ride (April 18, 1775) to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, as well as residents of Lexington and Concord, of an imminent raid by the British. With Boston under siege, American forces, learning that the British planned to occupy surrounding hills, hurriedly threw up fortifications atop Breed’s Hill near Bunker Hill on the Charlestown peninsula. The British stormed the redoubt on June 17, 1775, and won the day, but at an enormous cost—casualties of more than 50%. Although Dr. Warren had been commissioned as an officer in the state militia, he chose to participate in the battle as an ordinary soldier. He was killed in the British assault; his body was mutilated and thrown into a ditch. It was found some months later by his brothers and identified by Paul Revere by means of an artificial tooth he had implanted in Warren’s jaw.

Mercy Otis Warren, patriot, poet, and dramatist, corresponded with a circle of well placed women friends, one of whom was Abigail Adams. But she also numbered Abigail’s husband among her correspondents. In the following letter to John Adams, she expressed her great distress at the sufferings of the people of Boston during the siege, and of the people in the surrounding countryside as well. She is well informed and knows about, and regrets, the death of Dr. Joseph Warren. The doctor was not a relative of Mercy’s.

Watertown July 5, 1775Dear Sir,—
I shall not attempt to give you a description of the ten fold difficulties that surround us. You have doubtless had it from better hands. Yet I cannot forbear to drop a tear over the inhabitants of our capital, most of them sent naked from the city to seek a retreat in villages, and to cast themselves on the charity of the first hospitable hand that will receive them. Those who are left behind are exposed to the daily insults of a foe lost to that sense of honour, freedom and valour, once the characteristic of Britons, and even of the generosity and humanity which has long been the boast of all civilized nations. And while the plagues of famine, pestilence and tyranny reign within the walls, the sword is lifted without, and the artillery of war continually thundering in our ears.

The seacoasts are kept in constant apprehensions of being made miserable by the depredations of the once formidable navy of Britain, now degraded to a level with the corsairs of Barbary.

At the same time they are piratically plundering the Isles, and pilfering the borders to feed the swarms of veteran slaves shut up in the town. They will not suffer a poor fisherman to cast his hook in the ocean to bring a little relief to the hungry inhabitants without the pitiful bribe of a dollar each. . . .

The venal system of administration appears to the astonishment of every good man in the corruption, duplicity and meanness, which run through every department, and while the faithless Gage will be marked with infamy for breach of promise, by the impartial historian, will not the unhappy Bostonians be reproached with a want of spirit in putting out of their own power to resent repeated injuries by giving these arms into the hand, which would have been better placed in the heart of a tyrant.

And now they are forbidden even to look out from their own house tops when he sends out his ruffians to butcher their brethren, and wrap in flames the neighbouring towns. But I think this advertisement was as great a mark of timidity as the transaction was of a savage ferocity. . . .

But nothing that has taken place is more regretted than the death of your friend, the brave, the humane, the good Dr. Warren. And though he fell covered with laurels and the wing of fame is spread over his monument, we are almost led to enquire why the useful, the virtuous patriot is cut off ere he reaches the meridian of his days. …

The illustration depicting Dr. Warren’s death is a broadside based on John Trumbull’s painting (1786) which is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The letter can be found in the Warren-Adams Letters Vol. I (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917), pages 71-72. The engraving of Mercy Otis Warren was taken from the portrait by John Singleton Copley (1763); it is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It appeared in Elizabeth Ellet’s book The Women of the American Revolution, Third Edition (New York: Baker and Scribner, 1849).

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