Aldrich History Project

Chapter V

The Revolutionary Period

The Revolutionary War -- Action of the Crown -- The Colonies Determined -- The Outbreak -- The Indians Hostile -- Six Nations Divided -- Depredations -- Defenses -- Struggles -- Close of the War

The active part taken by the English government in bringing into subjection the disturbing factions among the struggling American colonies during and subsequent to the French and Indian war, had involved the mother country in a debt of considerable magnitude, and in order to somewhat lighten the burden, she looked toward the country in whose interest she had so zealously contributed both of men and means.

The first move toward the accomplishment of this purpose, was the passage of an act of parliament in the year 1767, which laid a duty on a specified commodities imported into the colonies. This, with other acts oppressive in their nature, found serious opposition on this side of the broad Atlantic, and an organized and determined resistance was resolved upon.

The British ministry were soon made conscious of their error and offered a reduction of five-sixths of the duty imposed by the act of 1767, hoping, by this move, to restore tranquillity among the colonies, and in 1770 all duties were removed except one of three pence per pound on teas. Even this had not the desired effect, and the opposition to importations was as determined as ever. The Philadelphia merchants, as well as those of Boston and other ports, all signed the non-importation resolutions, and refused to receive this commodity into their storehouses, which act of refusal was looked upon as treasonable, and the king was requested to cause all offenders to be arrested and brought to England for trial and punishment.

So strictly indeed, had the resolutions of the colonial merchants been adhered to, that in 1773 over fifteen millions of pounds of tea were accumulated on the hands of the East India Tea Company. As a special relief measure, parliament then offered to allow this article to be shipped to any part of the world, duty free. Feeling that this action would pass their teas into the proper channels in America, the company immediately freighted several ships for the various ports of the colonies, but the people had interdicted and resolved against it.

At Philadelphia the pilots refused to conduct the vessels into port, whereat the owners deemed it unsafe to discharge their cargoes, but had them returned to England. At the port of New York a like result was had.

At Boston, as soon as the ships entered the harbor, the colonists, disguised as Indians, rushed on board and dumped the cargoes into the bay. This led to further complications. Parliament commanded and the colonies refused. The crown withdrew the civil authority vested in the several provinces, and the inhabitants organized to suit themselves, independent of Great Britain. The leading citizens of the province of Pennsylvania were called together to consult upon the situation, and resolved to endeavor to establish harmony on a constitutional foundation.

Pursuant to an agreement of the several provinces, a colonial congress met at Carpenters' Hall, in the city of Philadelphia, for the purpose of discussing the events of the day, and fixing upon future policy.

The declaration of rights was first agreed upon, and then followed a recital of the wrongs perpetrated by the crown upon the colonists. Upon receiving the news of this convention, both houses of parliament declared to the king "that they find that a rebellion actually exists in the province of Massachusetts," whereupon that province was excluded from foreign trade, and forbidden the usual fishery privileges. The same prohibition was soon after extended to five other of the provinces and the counties on the Delaware. A conciliatory course was then pursued by Great Britain, but without avail. In January, 1775, a provincial convention was held at Philadelphia, and continued in session for six days. During the progress of the convention the crisis had arrived. The arbitrary and oppressive acts of parliament were sought to be enforced at the point of the bayonet.

On the 30th day of June, 1775, the committee of safety was appointed. The British and Americans, who had been in the closest friendship, and who, under the same banners had passed along the frontier in every part of the province, were now destined to seek each other's lives on the blood-stained battle-fields of the Revolution, in the great war for American independence, for American liberty.

As dangers and hostilities increased, the Johnsons showed themselves clearly in favor of the king. Sir William was greatly disturbed by the gathering storm of war, but would undoubtedly used his power in behalf of his royal master. He died suddenly in 1774. Much of his influence over the Six Nations descended to his son, Sir John Johnson, and his nephew, Colonel Guy Johnson, the latter becoming superintendent of Indian affairs. Through his influence with the Indians, the powerful Iroquois confederacy was broken, and the Six Nations tribes, except the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, served under the banners of the king; but it was nearly two years before they committed serious acts of hostility. The Senecas held off for a while, but the prospect of blood and British gold was too much for them to withstand, and in 1777 they, in common with the Cayugas, Onondagas, and Mohawks, made a treaty with the British at Oswego, agreeing to serve the king throughout the war. Mary Jemison, the white woman, then living among the Senecas, declared that after presents had been distributed among the Indians, the British agents promised a bounty on every scalp that should be brought in. The Oneidas remained neutral throughout the war.

The most active of the Iroquois chiefs during the Revolution was Joseph Brant, or Thayendenegea, of the Mohawks. The leading chiefs of the Senecas were "Farmer's Brother," "Cornplanter," and "Governor Blacksnake." They were of equal rank, and received their orders direct from the British officers. At the massacre at Wyoming, in 1778, the leader of the Senecas, who formed the main Indian force on that occasion, was Guiengwahtoh, supposed to be the same as Guiyahgwahdoh, "the smoke-bearer." That was the official title of the Seneca, afterward known as "Young King." He was too young to have been at Wyoming, but his predecessor in office (his maternal uncle), might have been there. Brant was certainly not present.

The Shawnese, during the first years of war, remained friendly, as well as many of the Delawares, but the tribes in general were influenced by the emissaries of the Six Nation Indians on the frontier, and the still more potent factor -- gold. The recognized leader among the Shawnese was Chief Cornstalk. He used his eloquence to induce the northern Indians to side with the colonists, but in vain. The inducements held out by the agents of the king were too strong, and the council decided to fight with the British.

In 1777, Cornstalk, in company with a friendly Delaware chief, named Red Hawk, came to Mount Pleasant and informed the garrison of the determination of the council. Captain Arbuckle thought prudent that both should be detained within the fort, which was done. Soon after, Ellinipsico, a son of Cornstalk, came to the place in search of his father. While the three were there, two soldiers who were hunting in the woods near the fort, were killed by Indian prowlers, whereupon the enraged whites murdered the three hostages and the interpreter. Thus died Cornstalk, Ellinipisco and Red Hawk at the hands of the people they had wished to serve.

This unprovoked and willful murder of the chiefs was afterward fearfully avenged by the blood of the whites. From this time forward the Shawnese became the most deadly enemy to the pioneers along the border.

Early in the spring of 1778, General McIntosh was directed to defend the western frontier. He strengthened Fort Pitt, and subsequently built Forts McIntosh and Laurens. While General McIntosh protected this part of the border from serious depredations, he could not, by any means, so distribute his forces as to protect the northern and northwestern boundaries of the province. An attack was hardly looked for from that quarter, and the scattered sections along the Susquehanna were wholly unprotected. In July of that same year, a large body of Senecas, Tories, and a detachment of regulars descended the Susquehanna and attacked the village settlements at Wyoming. The attacking party numbered about two hundred British provincials, under command of Major Butler; about two hundred Tories under Sir John Johnson, and five hundred Indians, chiefly Senecas, led by the famous Guiengwahtoh. When they reached the mouth of Bowman's Creek, they waited the coming of another party that had been sent to devastate the West Branch valley, from the mouth of the Sinnamahoning. After the arrival of the second party, the whole force of invaders reached nearly twelve hundred. They passed down the Susquehanna in boats until about fifteen miles from Wyoming, when they traveled the remaining distance by land.

The force in defense of the settlement, numbering about three hundred, were gathered in Fort Forty, as the most available for the occasion. Colonel Zebulon Butler, with the assistance of Major Garrett and Colonel Dennison, commanded the defensive force. On the 3d of July they marched out to meet the enemy, and after a fierce battle of several hours' duration, the brave defenders were overpowered and cut to pieces without mercy by the infuriated Senecas. About two-thirds of those who went into the fight were slain. The survivors mainly found refuge in Wilkes-Barre Fort, and a few in Fort Forty. Terms of capitulation were then agreed upon, that the lives of the survivors and the women and children should be spared, and no property destroyed. In disregard of the latter part, the Indians destroyed the crops, plundered the dwellings and burned them.

At Cherry Valley, the same year, the Senecas were present in force, together with a body of Mohawks under Brant, and of Tories under Captain Walter Butler, son of Colonel John Butler, and there was another battle similar to Wyoming.

These events, and others on a smaller scale, induced Congress and General Washington to set on foot an expedition in the Spring of 1779. We refer to the celebrated expedition of General Sullivan against the Senecas and other marauding Indians in the vicinity in which these disasters occurred. Sullivan marched up the Susquehanna to Tioga Point, where he was joined by a brigade under General James Clinton (father of DeWitt Clinton). Sullivan, with a total force of some four thousand men, moved up the Chemung to Newtown (Elmira). There Colonel Butler, with a strong force of Indians and Tories, estimated at from one thousand to fifteen hundred men, had thrown up intrenchments, and a battle was fought. Butler was speedily defeated, retired with considerable loss, and made no further opposition. Sullivan advanced and destroyed all the Indian villages on the Genesee, burning wigwams and cabins, cutting down growing corn, and utterly devastating their whole country. The Senecas fled in dismay to Fort Niagara. The Onondaga villages had in the mean time been destroyed by another force, but it is plain that the Senecas were the ones who were chiefly feared, and against whom the vengeance of the Americans was chiefly directed. After thoroughly laying waste the whole Indian country, the Americans returned to the east.

Sullivan's expedition substantially destroyed the league which bound the Six Nations together. Its form remained, but it had lost its binding power. The Oneidas and Tuscaroras were encouraged to increase their separation from the other confederates. Those tribes whose possessions had been destroyed were thrown into more complete subservience to the British power, thereby weakening their inter-tribal relations, and the spirits of the Senecas, the most powerful and warlike of them all, were much broken by this disaster.

It was a much more serious matter than had been the destruction of their villages in earlier times, as they had adopted a more substantial mode of existence. They had learned to depend more on agriculture and less on the chase, and possessed not only corn-fields, but gardens, orchards, and sometimes comfortable houses. In fact they had adopted many of the customs of civilized life, though without relinquishing their primitive pleasures, such as tomahawking and scalping prisoners. They fled en masse to Fort Niagara, and during the winder of 1779-80, which was of unusual severity, were scantily sustained by rations which the British authorities with difficulty procured. As spring approached, the English made every effort to reduce the expense by persuading the Indians to make new settlements and plant crops. The red men were naturally anxious to keep as far as possible from the dreaded foe who had inflicted such terrible punishment upon them the year before, and were unwilling to risk their families again at their ancient seats.

Having now disposed of the most dangerous foes of the north and northwest frontiers of the province, let us look back and observe what, in the mean time, was transpiring elsewhere among the savages.

In the fore part of the year 1778 a plan was organized to concentrate a large force of Indians and Tories at Kittanning, then cross the mountain by Indian paths and at Burgoon's Gap divide; one party to march through the Cove and Conococheague Valleys, the other to follow the Juniata Valley and form a junction at Lancaster, killing all the inhabitants on their march. Although this offensive plan was partially carried out, it failed in the main purpose. Dissensions arose, and a leader of the Tories was killed by an Indian. The country became aroused, and the people flocked to arms. Some of the invaders were shot, others captured, and the balance driven out of the country.

To guard against like incursions in future, numerous small parties were stationed at convenient points along the frontier. Soon after Colonel Broadhead, with a considerable force under his command, swept the country on the Allegheny and upper West Branch and thoroughly cleared the borders of all plundering and murdering savages. The presence of his command had a salutary effect upon the Indians, and the inhabitants of the West Branch and Penn's Valley returned to their homes and gathered such of their crops as were not destroyed.

The great achievement of General Wayne at Stony Point, turned the tide of the Revolution in favor of the Americans. Their drooping hopes were revived, while the British and Tories were correspondingly disheartened. From that time forward the life of British supremacy in America hung upon a hair, and that slender cord was broken by the surrender of Cornwallis in the month of October, 1781.

In the fall of 1783 peace was formally declared between Great Britain and the revolted colonies, and, by that declaration, those colonies were henceforth to be acknowledged by all men as the United States of America, a free and independent nation.

In the articles of peace agreed upon between the British and American authorities, no provision whatever was made for the Indian allies who had so faithfully served their master. The English authorities afterward offered them land in Canada, but all, except the Mohawks, preferred their accustomed localities.

The United States, however, treated them with great moderation, and although the Iroquois had twice broken their pledges, and had plunged into war against the colonies, they were readily admitted to the benefits of peace, and were even acknowledged as having some rights to the territory not already sold to the provinces by virtue of the several treaties previously made.

In the month of October, 1784, a treaty was made between three commissioners of the United States, and sachems of the Six Nations.

The several treaties made with the Indians for the extinguishment of their titles to lands in Pennsylvania, we shall discuss at length in the next chapter.


Source: Pages 37-42, History of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich, Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1887.
Transcribed April 1999 by Amy S. Ramage for the Clearfield County Aldrich Project
Contributed for use by the Clearfield County Genealogy Project (

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