History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 06

Created: Tuesday, 12 April 2011 Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2017 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

CHAPTER VI
SETTLEMENT AT MUNCY - INDIAN DEPREDATIONS - CATHERINE SMITH

MUNCY MANOR DIVIDED - JOHN HEADY BUILDS FORT - LOCAL EFFECT OF THE REVOLUTION - PRESENCE OF TORIES - FREQUENT MASSACRES - SETTLERS ORGANIZE DEFENSE - SHORTAGE OF ARMS AND AMMUNITION - CATBARINE SMITH - THE WYOMING MASSACRE

A number of squatters had settled on Muncy manor and, as the Revolution progressed and the tenure of the Penns on the lands in the province became more precarious, they determined to divide up the manor and sell off the land. Accordingly it was cut up into five tracts, one of which was sold to Mordecai McKinney, a prominent man of the period, who settled on it and built a house. This was destroyed at the time of the Big Runaway in 1778 and McKinney retired to Harrisburg and never returned. The second tract was sold to, and improved by, Peter Smith and Paulus Sheep. Tract number three was sold to Captain John Brady, who settled on and improved it by building a house and a defensive fort named Fort Brady. The fourth tract was sold to Caleb Knapp and also improved and built upon. The last tract was sold to John Scudder. Each of the tracts contained about 300 acres.

The John Brady fort was located in what is now the borough of Muncy near Muncy Creek and was occupied by him at the time of his death. It was a place of refuge in time of danger, not only for his family, but also for his neighbors. John Scudder, the purchaser of tract number five, came from New Jersey and settled on this land and built a log house and here, on May 21, 1771, his daughter Mary was born, she being the first female white child to come into being in that part of the present Lycoming County lying west of the Muncy hills. John Scudder became an officer in the Revolutionary War and served until its close.

The progress of the Revolution caused considerable excitement in the West Branch Valley and feeling ran high. Most of the inhabitants were intensely loyal to the cause of the colonists, but there were some few Tories who were active and, to keep watch on them and preserve their own safety, a committee of safety was organized composed of the leading patriots of the section. This committee became very active and vigilant.

There was continual friction between the committee of safety and the provincial authorities because of the fact that urgent requests were sent to the valley for men to serve in the Continental army while those in authority here were just as insistent that, inasmuch as this was a frontier section, the men should be kept at home for its protection. A number of them were, however, sent to the front.

At one time a man, Robert Robb by name, who was said to have Tory leanings, was brought to trial by the committee of safety and after conviction was sentenced to imprisonment in some place to be selected by the state committee, or to immediately shoulder his gun and march with the militia to the defense of the united States. Robb indicated his desire to appeal the case to the state committee but pending this he was brought to trial at the Northumberland county court for misprision of treason and was acquitted. His case aroused very bitter feeling and it was claimed by his friends that the charges were brought against him by his personal enemies in order to compass his downfall. The Robb family was prominent in the cause of liberty in the infant settlement and Robert Robb's descendants became closely identified with the progress and development of Lycoming County.

Another peculiar case that came within the cognizance of the committee of safety was that of William Read. Read was charged with refusing to take up arms for the colonies and, upon being questioned, explained that he was once concerned in a riot in Ireland and on being tried was acquitted upon his taking an oath never to take up arms against Great Britain. If he joined the colonists it would be a violation of his oath. Asked if he were willing to swear allegiance to the United States, he replied that he was, if it did not entail any obligation to take up arms against Great Britain. The committee had to let it go at that. He took the oath and was not again urged to take up arms.

During the gloomy period of the year 1777 settlers continued to flock to the West Branch Valley. Most of them came from New Jersey, which had been overrun by both the British and Continental armies and they were desirous of settling in a more quiet neighborhood. But, except for the more fertile land which they were enabled to acquire by this move, it is a matter of doubt whether they had bettered themselves materially for the valley now became under constant menace from the northern Indian tribes.

Day by day, urged on by the machinations of the English, the Indians became bolder and massacres of the white inhabitants became frequent. Constant representations were made to the provincial authorities for more adequate protection but these appeals fell upon deaf ears.

The danger from the incursions finally became so great that the inhabitants were compelled to begin the building of defensive forts. Fort Brady had already been constructed at Muncy and another one at the mouth of Loyalsock Creek. Colonel Henry Antes also built one on a high bluff opposite the mouth of Pine Creek and to this the inhabitants of the neighborhood frequently resorted for safety in times of danger. This became a place of considerable note and at one time a body of militia was stationed there.

But notwithstanding these precautions and defensive fortifications massacres continued to be perpetrated and more appeals went to the supreme executive council that bodies of the militia be sent to the frontier for the protection of the inhabitants. Some of these pleas were heeded and militia detachments were sent here but they remained for only a short time. As soon as things quieted down a little the militia was withdrawn and this was the signal for the Indians to renew their depredations. Except for the determined activity and skill of such men as Robert Covenhoven, Captain John Brady, Richard Armstrong and others of like character, the fate of the settlers in the West Branch Valley might have been sealed early in the Revolutionary days and the end of the attempt to establish representative government would have followed.

During these perilous times points of concentration were established along the river from Muncy to Lock Haven. Beginning with Fort Brady there were also, the Wallis farm at Halls, Fort Harris at Montoursville, a small defensive work at the mouth of Lycoming Creek, Fort Antes at Pine Creek and subsequently Forts Horn and Reid between Jersey. Shore and Lock Haven. During the year 1777 the Indians in the West Branch Valley took the war path in earnest and many tragedies followed in the wake of their forays. For a time what is now Lycoming County became a dark and bloody ground.

In the autumn of this year the Benjamin family, living on what was known as the Buckley farm on Loyalsock Creek, was attacked. They fled to the home of Daniel Brown, father-in-law of one of them, for protection. The house was set on fire but Brown refused to leave. He and his wife and one child were burned to death. One of the Benjamins was killed by a tomahawk and a child was scalped. The others were taken into captivity. This horrible affair added to the excitement which was running high in the valley and served to confirm the belief that the Indians were in alliance with the British authorities.

In December a man was killed near the mouth of Pine Creek by the Indians and another was murdered at the Great Island. The savages even penetrated the Buffalo Valley above Lewisburg and spread consternation in all directions. Again pleas were sent to the supreme executive council asking that militia be sent to the valley for protection of the inhabitants. But the soldiers were all needed at the front and the petitions went unheeded.

Another difficulty under which the settlers labored was the scarcity of ammunition. They were able to take care of themselves if properly equipped to do so but powder and ball were scarce articles and were almost worth their weight in gold, and it was difficult to obtain them even had the inhabitants had gold with which to purchase them. All the articles of lead in the settlements had been melted to obtain bullets which the women moulded themselves and other articles, such as round stones, could be used in their place, but there was no way of making powder as the materials for this purpose were lacking.

The Brown - Benjamin massacre was followed by others equally as revolting and the existence of the settlers in the valley became more and more precarious. Constant appeals were being made by the supreme executive council to send additional men to join the Continental army notwithstanding the fact that had those appeals beer: granted, it would have left the frontier without protection and the whole territory would have to be abandoned.

Another difficulty under which the people labored was the absence of constituted legal authority. The courts were poorly organized and the offices of the lesser magistrates were often filled by incompetents: The long distance from the upper parts of the valley to the county seat at Sunbury made trips to that place exceedingly difficult aside from the expense involved.

On June 7, 17787 one of the bloodiest massacres of these perilous times was committed near the mouth of Lycoming Creek when six persons were killed.

This affair sent a thrill of horror throughout the settlement and also aroused deep resentment in the provincial authorities. But by this time the people had become tired of appealing to the state officials and determined to take their grievances direct to the Congress of the United States.

This action on the part of the settlers in the valley produced some results for shortly afterward Colonel Hunter, in charge of what little militia was stationed along the West Branch, received $7,500 in cash with which to buy the much needed supplies. With a considerable portion of the money he bought food for his own men and the inhabitants who needed it. But the greater desideratum was arms and ammunition and even money could not buy these for there was no place from which they could be obtained except from the government.

A boring mill had been erected at White Deer in what is now Union County, by a widow named Catherine Smith, at her own expense, and she was thereby able to supply the settlers with a certain number of arms, which helped to relieve the situation materially, but it could not correct it altogether. The career of Catherine Smith was a sad one. For many years she devoted her services to the cause of the colonies without pay or remuneration of any kind. Subsequently her property was taken away from her by reason of a defect in her title and she lost all she had. In her old age she and her friends petitioned the state legislature for a small pension to relieve her of actual want in which was recited the eminent services she had so unselfishly rendered in the cause of liberty, but the petition was never granted and she died in penury and is buried in an unknown grave at White Deer. She was one of the real heroines of the Revolution and died a martyr to its cause.

The frequent appeals made to the supreme executive council were now beginning to take effect. The news of the massacres on the West Branch finally convinced that body that the inhabitants were in dire peril and it was at last aroused to action. Seventy-five rifles were forwarded to Colonel Hunter, but ammunition was still lacking.

Meanwhile the settlers were feverishly erecting small forts and places of defense and to these the women and children hurried as fast as they were completed. A pall of impending disaster hung over the entire valley and the inhabitants continued their preparations to meet any emergency.

It was unfortunate, too, that just at this time of grave danger a feeling of jealousy began to evince itself between the upper and lower ends of the county, those in the neighborhood of Jersey Shore being convinced that too much consideration was being shown the people of the lower end to their neglect. There was little cause for this feeling, for the authorities, in spite of innumerable handicaps, were doing the best they could with the means at their command.

Sporadic massacres continued to be perpetrated in different sections and the apprehension of the people grew more intense. Finally came the news of the horrible atrocity at Wyoming on the third day of July, 1778, and a veritable panic ensued in the West Branch Valley.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 106-112, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka-Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929