The Massacre of Captain William Phillips' Rangers

The following address was delivered by C. Hale Sipe, Litt. D., of Butler, Pa., author of �The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania,� �The Indian Chiefs of Pennsylvania,� �Fort Ligonier and Its Times� and other historical works, upon the occasion of the re-interment of the bones of the victims, May 28, 1933.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

On this day in the springtime, when the heavens are full of the glory of the springtime, it is a luxury to draw the breath of life almost anywhere, but especially as one drives over the Pennsylvania mountains, clothed in the verdure of the springtime, to talk to this assembly of Pennsylvanians on some of the things that rise up before us on this occasion out of the mists of the far, dim years. Assembled as we are, amid the ghosts and shadows of Pennsylvania�s historic, heroic and mighty past--amid the mighty memories of the Revolution that cling like gathering mists around these hills and mountains--, let us raise the historic curtain as we honor the memory of those who laid down their lives on this mountain-side that liberty might live.



Those whose bones will crumble into dust on this spot were killed by Indian allies of the British on Sunday, July 16, 1780, amid the fire and blood of the Revolutionary War. Raising the historic curtain, we see many scenes of horror in the cabin homes of the pioneers in these mountain valleys who rose to the defense of their borderland. We see the Senecas and other Indian allies of the British stain the soil of these valleys with the blood of patriots, combatants and non-combatants alike. We see bands of Indians--sometimes by themselves, sometimes accompanied by Tories or British, as in the case of the massacre of Captain Phillips� Rangers--hideously painted, roaming over the hills and through the forest, seeking the peaceful abode of the industrious pioneer, who, with his loving wife and children, had built a home in these mountains. We see these painted Indians, both by day and in the dead hours of the night, dashing with dreadful yells upon the defenseless family. We see them brain the father and husband before the eyes of his wife and children. We see them plunge the bloody knife into the bosom of the wife and mother, who gasps out her life, quivering in the blood of herself and husband on the cabin floor. We see them tear off the bloody scalps of the father and mother. We see them dash out the brains of the helpless children, tear off their scalps, or carry them away into captivity. Our flesh creeps and chills run down our pulses as we contemplate these scenes of horror.

But before we come to the conclusion that the Indian was

�In truth the veriest devil

That e�er clutched fingers in a captive�s hair,�

let us remember that the deeds of white renegades equaled and often exceeded the most horrible atrocities committed by the Indians; let us remember that many white men, actuated by an unrelenting hatred for the whole Indian race, made no distinction between good Indians and had Indians, but were simply Indian hunters and killers at all times, whether in peace or in war, and without regard to age or sex; let us remember that the American Indian never committed more horrible tortures upon captives, white or red, than civilized white men--Christians--committed upon one another in the days of religious persecutions only a few centuries ago.




And let us remember the British scalp bounties before we conclude that the American Indian was the most hellish of men. The British gave their Indian allies these scalp bounties as an inducement, well knowing that Indian warfare meant suffering and death to the innocent and helpless. The Indian was paid for slaughtering children before the eyes of their anguished parents; the Indian was paid for slaughtering wives in the presence of their husbands; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the aged man whose form was beat by a life of toil and hardship in these mountain valleys; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the aged mother whose hair had silvered by child-birth, pain and a life full of care and rich in service; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the boy just opening into adolescence; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the young man of talent, promise and joyous parental hope; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the maiden in all the loveliness of grace, beauty and virtue; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the widow, lingering at the grave of her buried love; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the matron, devoted and ministering to her children; the Indian was paid for slaughtering the child, angel-eyed and silken-haired, prattling at its parent�s knee, the Indian was paid for slaughtering the tender and helpless babe on its mother�s breast.

The Indian had no back-ground of centuries of Christian civilization-no knowledge of the God of Revelation, as the British had. Who, then stands with the greater condemnation before the Judgment Seat of Almighty God? Is it the untutored Indian, with passions when aroused, wild as the storms of these mountains? Or, is it the anointed children of civilization, education and Christianity, who were the instigators of his deeds of blood and death.?


When the storm of blood and death began to sweep down from the mountains into the valleys in this part of Pennsylvania, during the Revolutionary War, no only were the forts at Bedford and Huntingdon resorted to as places of refuge and defense against the Indians, but almost every pioneer's home was converted into a blockhouse. Other blockhouses, stronger than the average pioneer home, became places of refuge for the neighbors of the owner during Indian raids. Such were Sebastian Shoup�s Blockhouse, where Saxton now stands; Hartzog�s Blockhouse, where Marklesburg now stands; Lowery�s Blockhouse, in Canoe Valley; Anderson�s Blockhouse, near the present Petersburg; Colonel John Piper�s Blockhouse, in Hopewell Township. Bedford County; and many others in this part of Pennsylvania, not forgetting the comparatively strong Lead Mine Fort, or Fort Roberdeau, in Sinking Spring Valley, commanded part of the time by Captain Thomas Cluggage.

The scope of this address does not permit mention of all of the gallant men who defended this part of the Pennsylvania frontier when the Indian allies of the British invaded these valleys with rifle, tomahawk and scalping-knife. It is with regret, therefore, that I cannot devote time to the services of the Cluggages, for instance, who settled in the Black Log Valley prior to 1763--Robert, the father and his sons, Robert, George, Thomas, Francis, James and Gaven. Of these Robert was the most prominent. He marched with his company to the defense of Boston in 1775.

Before describing the massacre of the men whose bones rest near this monument, brief mention must be made of Colonel John Piper, whose letter of August 6, 1780, informing President Reed of the fate of Captain Phillip�s Rangers, will be quoted later in this address. Colonel Piper was born in Ireland, December 30, 1729. He spent some years of his early life at Shippensburg. Later, prior to 1771, he settled on Piper�s Run, where, in 1777, he erected a stone house to which people fled in times of Indian alarms and known as Piper�s Fort, or Blockhouse. He was Lieutenant Colonel of Bedford County during the Revolution and was in command of Fort Bedford. This defender of the frontier died in Bedford, January 31, 1816.







Omitting the details of Indian raids in this part of Pennsylvania during the Revolution, we hasten to say that, in the summer of 1780, Captain William Phillips, an experienced and energetic frontiersman who lived a few miles above the present Williamsburg and had been appointed a Captain by Colonel John Piper, was authorized to raise a company to protect the settlements against Indian incursions. It being harvest time, most authorities say that he succeeded in collecting but ten men. With these he decided to scout through Morrison�s Cove and the Woodcock Valley, as he had reason to believe that there was a large number of hostile Indians in the neighborhood of the settlements.

Captain Phillips and his men set out on July 15, 1780, and marched from the Cove across the mountains, entering the beautiful valley, they found most of the forest homes and farms deserted, but no signs of Indians. Late in the evening, they arrived at the deserted house of a settler named Frederick Hester, who had fled to Hartsog�s Blockhouse. This house, like nearly all other homes of the pioneers of this region at that time, had been pierced with loopholes for purposes of defense against hostile Indians. Here Captain Phillips decided to remain over Sunday. His entire force consisted of himself, his son Elijah, aged fourteen years, Phillip Skelly, Hugh Skelly, P. (Philip) Sanders, T. (Thomas) Sanders, Richard Shirley, M. Davis, Thomas Galtrell, Daniel Kelly, and two others whose names seemed to have been lost in the mists of the far, dim years. However, on page 533 if Vol. IV of the Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series, is an application for a pension for Agnes Berry, in which it is recited that she was formerly the widow of Joseph Roberts; that the said Joseph Roberts was killed at the massacre of Captain Phillip�s Rangers, Sunday July 16, 1780; that he was about forty years of age at the time, and that the said Agnes Berry remained his widow until March 24, 1783.

Phillips and his men passed the night in safety. While they were preparing breakfast after the first streaks of dawn floated over the forest-covered mountains, one of the Skellys, looking out of the door

discovered that the house was surrounded by Indians. It was a large Indian band, perhaps fifty or sixty, and among the Indians were two white men, painted and dressed in Indian fashion. Quite likely the Indians and their white companions had tracked the rangers to their hiding place. Captain Phillips commanded silence and awaited further movements of the enemy. He could see the Indians grouped together in consultation. About ten of them had rifles, and the remainder bows and arrows. Presently one of the Indians discharged his rifle, likely as a ruse to draw the rangers from the house, but Phillips and his men nevertheless remained in the house. A little later, another Indian, venturing near the house, was wounded by a bullet from Thomas Galtrell�s rifle. Then raising the war-whoop and expecting an immediate engagement, the Indians concealed themselves behind trees about seventy yards from the house.

The next action on the part of the Indians was the firing of a volley against the house, riddling the door and window. Phillips and his men stood bravely at their posts, firing whenever an Indian appeared within range of their rifles. In this manner two Indians were killed and two wounded. The Indians kept on firing on the door and window, but none of the defenders were wounded. Thus the combat between the white men and the redmen went on until about the middle of the afternoon, when Phillip Skelly shot the chief through the cheek. This so exasperated the Indians that they again raised the war-whoop and seemed more determined than ever to wreak vengeance on the gallant defenders. Captain Phillips related that, at this juncture, the muzzle of Davis� rifle, which was held at a loophole, was as effectually spiked by an arrow driven into it by an expert Indian archer that required the efforts of four men to withdraw the weapon.

Finally the Indians succeeded in setting fire to the house, and the gallant Captain was compelled to surrender. One of the renegade white men with the Indians acted as spokesman for them. He demanded that the Rangers should give up their arms, and that they should suffer themselves to be pinioned. The Rangers, being powerless to resist were obliged to accede to these demands. Their hands were securely tied behind their backs. The Captors and their prisoners soon started, as the Indians said, for Kittanning. However, they did not proceed far until a halt was ordered. Then five or six Indians having in charge Captain Phillips and his son, continued on their journey, while the others remained behind with their prisoners. The fate of these men was not known until the next day when they were found tied to trees, every one killed and scalped and with from three to five arrows sticking in his body. The bodies of the victims were buried where they were found.

Captain Phillips and his son were taken to Detroit. Likely the Indians thought that by sparing their lives, they would receive a larger reward from the British for the capture of an officer than for a mere scalp, which would indicate whether it was the scalp of an officer, or of a private. The Captain and his son returned home about the close of the Revolutionary War. The fate of his men preyed heavily on his mind for the rest of his life. This defender of the Pennsylvania Frontier is buried in a cemetery about two miles south of Williamsburg.


On August 6, 1780, Colonel John Piper wrote a letter to President Reed, giving an account of the massacre. This letter, in which he fails to mention the name of a single one of the unfortunate Rangers and in which he made the erroneous statement that Captain Phillips was killed, is found recorded on page 488 of Vol. 8 of the Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, and is as follows: �Your favor of the 3rd of June, with the blank commissions, has been duly received. Since which we have been anxiously employed in raising our quota of Pennsylvania volunteers, and at the same time, defending our frontiers; but, in our present shattered situation, a full company cannot be expected from this county, when a number of our militia companies are entirely broken up and the townships laid waste. So that the communication betwixt our upper and lower districts is entirely broken, and our apprehensions of immediate danger are not lessened, but greatly aggravated by a most alarming stroke. Captain Phillips, an experienced, good woodsman, had engaged a company of rangers for the space of two months for the defense of our frontiers, was surprised at his post on Sunday, the 16th of July, when the Captain with eleven of his company were all taken and killed. When I received the intelligence, which was the day following, I marched with only ten men directly to the place, where we found the house burned to ashes, with sundry Indian tomahawks that had been lost in the action, but found no person killed at that place. But, upon taking the Indian tracks, within about half a mile we found ten of Captain Phillips� company with their hands tied and murdered in the most cruel manner. This bold enterprise so alarmed the inhabitants that our whole frontiers were on the point of giving way; but upon application to the Lieutenant of Cumberland County, he hath sent to our assistance one company of the Pennsylvania volunteers, which, with the volunteers raised in our own county, hath encouraged the inhabitants that they were determined to stand it a little longer.�


Such, then, is the story of the fate of Captain Phillip�s Rangers. It gives us of the present day a good idea of the sufferings and sacrifices out of which came the American Nation. Let us honor the memory of these gallant pioneers and patriots by doing all in our power to guarantee the perpetuity of the Nation for which they laid down their lives. And let us have the spirit of the Stoler family, which for more than one hundred years, placed the flowers of the mountains and the flag of the Nation on the common grave of these citizen soldiers.

�Here, in the heart of the mountains of the land they loved, these Rangers sleep the last long sleep, with the rocks of the mountains to guard their rest, with the murmuring winds among the trees to sound their dirge, and with the wild flowers of the mountains to utter their eulogy in the oratory of the perfumed silence. Peace to their ashes.�






BY Michael H. Kennedy


William Skelly was born in County Antrim, Ireland, and came to America in 1729, landing at Philadelphia, according to the family record in his own Bible. He resided there for several years, and then went to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Later, with his wife and children, he settled near Elk Gap in the Woodcock Valley, in what was then Bedford County. It was probably as early as 1758 that he settled in the Woodcock Valley, as such has been the family tradition. He had three sons--Philip, Hugh and Michael. Both Philip and Hugh were killed at the massacre of Captain William Phillips� Pennsylvania Rangers, near the present Saxton, Bedford County on Sunday , July 16, 1780, an account of which massacre is given elsewhere in this booklet, the same being the historical address delivered by the noted Pennsylvania historian and author, C. Hale Sipe, as the occasion of the re-interring of the bones of the victims on Sunday, May 18, 1933. J. Simpson Africa, in his �History of Blair and Huntingdon Counties,� says that the Indians, but does not state the time nor the place killed Michael. William Skelly, the father of these men died in the Woodcock Valley about the end of the Revolutionary War.

In the Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series, Vol. IV, page 504, is the pension application of Mary Skelly, a minor daughter of Hugh Skelly, by her guardian, George Buchanan, reciting that the widow of Hugh Skelly had married Richard Clark and went to parts unknown, leaving the said Mary Skelly destitute of means of sustenance.

Philip Skelly, who was massacred, left a son, Philip Skelly, Jr., who was often called Felix in order to distinguish him from his father. He was born in Bedford County (in the Woodcock Valley), on December 16, 1759. According to Jones� History of the Juniata Valley, �Philip (Felix) Skelly and Mrs. Elder, who was his aunt, the wife of William Elder, were both captured in May 1780. This was near Cove Station. They were carried to an Indian town on the Allegheny River, family tradition says Kittaning, and later to Ohio. Both were compelled to run the gauntlet. Skelly escaped from his captors somewhere in Ohio and made his way to Fort Pitt. Mrs. Elder was taken to Detroit, where she lived in the British garrison in the capacity of a cook. From there she was taken to Montreal where she was exchanged and made her way back to her home by way of Philadelphia. Philip Skelly remained at Fort Pitt for about two weeks after arriving there from his escape from the Indians. From Fort Pitt he went to Fort Bedford in company with a band of soldiers going east to join Washington�s army, and from Fort Bedford he returned to his mountain home. Upon his arrival at home, he learned the news of the murder of his father at the hands of the Indians.

This Philip (Felix) Skelly, Jr., married Margaret McAfee, a resident of the Woodcock Valley, about 1794. A few years after his marriage, he, in company with his brothers and Luke McGuire, Michael McGuire, Daniel Diamond, Michael McAfee, Richard Plummer and several other neighbors, migrated to the vicinity of the present Munster, Cambria County. Shortly after arriving there, he bought a 300 acre farm near the present Wilmore, in Summerhill Township. Here he spent the remainder of his days, dying July 2, 1835. He is buried in St. Michael�s Catholic Cemetery, Loretto, PA. His wife died on January 11, 1851, and is buried in St. Bartholomew�s Catholic Cemetery, Wilmore, PA.


The children of Philip (Felix) Skelly, Jr., and his wife Margaret McAfee Skelly were:

(1). Margaret, born June 10, 1796, married John Kearns, and died November 2, 1848. She is buried in St. Bartholomew�s Catholic Cemetery, Wilmore, PA

(2) Daniel, born April 19, 1796, married Susan Noel, and died December 7, 1870. He is buried in the above cemetery.

(3) Hugh, born January 23, 1800, married Elizabeth Bridget Kennedy, and died on February 17, 1879. He is buried in St. Patrick�s Cemetery, Cameron�s Bottom, Indiana County, PA.

(4) Michael, born April 4, 1802, married Rachael Wilt, and died on February 20, 1873. He is buried in St. Benedict�s Catholic Cemetery, Carrolltown, PA.

(5) Eleanor, born June 4, 1804. She never married. She died June 18, 1876, and is buried in St. Bartholomew�s Cemetery, above named.

(6) Catherine, born February 16, 1807 married Patrick Skelly, a native of Ireland and no relative. She died April 23 1879, and is buried in St. Bartholomew�s above named.

(7) Mary Ann, born June 19, 1809, married Thomas McConnell. She died March 19, 1886, and is buried St, Bartholomew�s above named.

(8) Elizabeth, born February 21, 1812. She married Michael Rockett, May 27, 1833. The marriage ceremony was performed by the Rev. Father Prince Demetrius Gallitzin, in St. Michael�s Catholic Church, Loretto, PA. She died November 6, 1870, and is buried in St. Bartholomew�s Cemetery, Wilmore, PA.

She was the grandmother of the present writer, Michael H. Kennedy.

(9) Ann, born January 13, 1813, married Joseph Lecky. She died December 6, 1871, and is buried in St. Bartholomew�s Cemetery above named.

Margaret Rockett, daughter of Michael Rockett and his wife, Elizabeth Skelly (No 8 above), married Charles A. Kennedy of Carrolltown, PA. on November 4, 1861. The writer, Michael H. Kennedy, is their only son. Four daughters were also born of this union, three of whom are still living. The deceased daughter was Mary, who died unmarried. The surviving sisters are: Mrs. Elizabeth Gardner, Mrs. Agnes Foley and Miss Rose Kennedy, all of whom live in Pittsburgh. Mary the deceased sister, died in 1899 and is buried in Calvary Catholic Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. Her parents being buried in the same cemetery.

SOURCE; History of the Massacre of Captain Phillips� Pennsylvania Rangers, Saxton American Legion, Post No. 169, Saxton, PA., 1933

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