EXPEDITION AGAINST KITTANING.
Eight companies of soldiers, constituting the second battalion of the Pennsylvania regiment, under the command of Lieut. Col. John Armstrong,7 were stationed at the forts on the west side of the Susquehanna. For the purpose of carrying out the expedition against Kittanning, planned as above stated, Col. Armstrong, with a part of the force assigned to him, consisting of 307 men, marched upon Fort Shirley, Monday, September 3, 1756, and joined his advanced party at Beaver Dam, near Frankstown, which they left on the 4th and advanced to within fifty miles of Kittanning on the 6th, whence an officer, one of the pilots, and two soldiers were sent forward to reconnoiter the town.
These men returned on the 7th and informed Col. Armstrong that the roads were entirely clear of the enemy, but it appeared from what else they said that they had not approached near enough to the town to learn its situation, the number of persons in it, or how it might be most advantageously attacked. The march was continued on the 8th with the intention of advancing as near as possible to the town that night. A halt was, however, made about nine or ten o'clock on account of information received from one of the guides that he had seen a fire by the roadside a few perches from the front, at which were two or three Indians. The pilot returned again in a short time and reported that from the best observations he could make there were not more than three or four Indians at the fire. It was determined not to surround and cut them off immediately, lest, if only one should escape, he might communicate their presence to his people in the town, and thus their well-laid plan of attack would be, in a measure at least, frustrated.
Lieut. James Hogg, of Capt. Armstrong's company, with twelve men and the pilot who first discovered the fire, was ordered to remain, watch the enemy until the break of day, on the 9th, and then cut them off, if possible, at that point, which was about six miles from Kittanning. The tired horses, the blankets, and other baggage, were left there, and the rest of the force took a circuit off the road, so as not to be heard by the Indians at the fire, which route they found to be stony. That condition of the route and the fallen trees along the way greatly retarded their march. Still greater delay was caused by the ignorance of the pilots, who, it seems, knew neither the real situation of the town nor the paths leading to it.
After crossing hills and valleys, the front reached the Allegheny river shortly before the setting of the moon on the morning of the 9th, about a hundred rods below the main body of the town, or about that distance below Market street, at or near the present site of the poorhouse, on lot number 241, in modern Kittanning. They were guided thither by the beating of the drum and the whooping of the Indians at their dances, rather than by the pilots. It was necessary for them to make the best possible use of the remaining moonlight, but in this they were interrupted for a few moments by the sudden and singular whistling of an Indian, about thirty feet to the front, at the foot of a cornfield, which was at first thought by Col. Armstrong to be a signal of their approach to the rest of the Indians.
He was informed by a soldier by the name of Baker that it was the way a young Indian called his squaw after the dance. Silence was passed to the rear and they lay quiet until after the going down of the moon. A number of fires soon flashed up in various parts of the cornfield, which, Baker said, were kindled to keep off the gnats, and would soon go out. As the weather was warm that night, the Indians slept by the fires in the cornfield.
Three companies of Col. Armstrong's force had not, at daybreak on the 9th, passed over the last precipice. Their march of thirty miles had wearied them and most of them were asleep. Proper persons were dispatched to rouse them; a suitable number, under several officers, were ordered to take the end of the hill at which they then lay, and to march along to the top of it at least one hundred perches, and so much farther as would carry them opposite the upper part, or at least the body of the town. Col. Armstrong, presuming that the Indian warriors were at the lower end of that hill, kept the larger portion of his men there, promising to postpone the attack eighteen or twenty minutes, until the detachment along the hill should have time to advance to the point to which they had been ordered.
They were somewhat unfortunate in making that advance. The time having elapsed, a simultaneous attack was made as expeditiously as possible, through and upon every part of the cornfield. A party was dispatched to the houses, when Capt. Jacobs and several other Indians, as the English prisoners afterward stated, shouted the warwhoop and yelled: "The white men are come at last and we will have scalps enough," at the same time ordering their squaws, and children to flee to the woods.
Col. Armstrong's men rushed through and fired the cornfield, where they received several returns from the Indians in the field and from the opposite side of the river. A brisk fire commenced soon after among the houses, which was very resolutely returned from the house of Capt. Jacobs, which was situated on the north side of Market, a short distance above McKean street, on Jacobs' Hill, in the rear of the site at the northern end of the stone wall in the garden, on which Dr. John Gilpin built, in 1834-35, that large two-story brick mansion now owned and occupied by Alexander Reynolds.
Thither Col. Armstrong repaired and found that several of his men had been wounded, and some had been killed, from the port-holes of that house and other advantages which it afforded to the Indians within it. As the returning fire upon that house proved ineffectual, he ordered the adjoining houses to be fired, which was quickly done, the Indians seldom failing to wound or kill some of their assailants when they presented themselves. Col. Armstrong, while moving about and giving the necessary orders, received a bullet-wound in his shoulder from Capt. Jacobs' house.
It is stated in "Robinson's Narrative," that Col. Armstrong said: "'Are there none of you that will set fire to these rascals that have wounded me and killed so many of us?' John Furgeson, a soldier, swore he would. He went to a house covered with bark and took a strip of it which had fire on it, and rushed up to the cover of Jacobs' house and held it there till it had burned about a yard square. Then he ran and the Indians fired at him. The smoke blew about his legs and the shots missed him." That house contained the magazine, which for a time caused it to be observed, to see whether the Indians, knowing their peril, would escape from it. They, as we say nowadays, "held the fort" until the guns were discharged by the approaching fire.
Several persons were ordered, during the action, to tell the Indians to surrender themselves prisoners. On being thus told, one of them replied: " I am a man, and I will not be a prisoner." Being told, in his own language, that he would be burned, he said: "I don't care, for I will kill four or five before I die." Had not Col. Armstrong and his men desisted from exposing themselves, the Indians, who had a number of loaded guns, would have killed many more of them. As the fire approached and the smoke thickened, one of the Indians evinced his manhood by singing. A squaw being heard to cry was severely rebuked by the Indians. But after awhile, the fire having become too hot for them, two Indians and a squaw sprang out of the house and started for the cornfield, but were immediately shot by some of their foemen.
It was thought that Capt. Jacobs tumbled out of the garret or cockloft window when the houses were surrounded. The English prisoners who were recaptured offered to be qualified that the powder-horn and pouch taken from him were the very ones which Capt. Jacobs had obtained from a French officer in exchange for Lieut. Armstrong's boots, which he had brought from Fort Greenville, where the lieutenant was killed. Those prisoners said they were perfectly assured of Capt. Jacobs' scalp, because no other Indians there wore their hair in the same manner, and that they knew his squaw's scalp by a particular bob, and the scalp of a young Indian, called the king's son.
The report of the explosion of the magazine under Capt. Jacobs' house, says Patterson's history of the Backwoods, was heard at Fort Du Quesne, whereupon some French and Indians, fearing an attack had been made on the town (Kittanning), instantly started up the river, but did not reach the place until the day after the explosion and battle, when the troops had been withdrawn. They found among the ruins the bodies of Capt. Jacobs, his squaw and his son.
Capt. Hugh Mercer, who was wounded in the arm early in the action, had been, before the attack on Capt. Jacobs' house, taken to the top of the hill above the town, where several of the officers and a number of the men had gathered. From that position they discovered some Indians crossing the river and taking to the hill, with the intention, as they thought, to surround Col. Armstrong and his force, and cut them off from their retreat. The colonel received several very pressing requests to leave the house and retreat to the hill, lest all should be cut off, which he would not consent to do until all the houses were fired. Although the spreading out of that part of the force on the hill appeared be necessary, it nevertheless prevented an examination of the cornfield and river-side. Thus some scalps, and probably some squaws, children and English prisoners, were left behind that might have otherwise been secured.
Nearly thirty houses were fired, and while they were burning, the ears of Col. Armstrong and his men were regaled by the successive discharges of loaded guns, and still more so by the explosion of sundry bags and large kegs of powder stored away in every house. The English prisoners, after their recapture, said that the Indians had often told them that they had ammunition enough to war ten year with the English. The leg and thigh of an Indian and a child three years old were thrown, when the powder exploded, with the roof of Capt. Jacobs' house, so high that they appeared as nothing, and fell into an adjacent corn-field. A large quantity of goods which the Indians had received from the French ten days before was burned.
Col. Armstrong then went to the hill to have his wound tied up and the blood stopped. Then the English prisoners, who had come to his men in the morning, informed him that on that very day two batteaux of Frenchmen, with Delaware and French Indians, were to join Capt. Jacobs at Kittanning, and to set out early the next morning to take Fort Shirley, and that twenty-four warriors who had lately arrived were sent before them the previous evening, whether to prepare meat, spy the fort, or make an attack on the frontier settlements, these prisoners did not know.
Col. Armstrong and others were convinced, on reflection, that those twenty-four warriors were all at the fire the night before, and began to fear the fate of Lieut. Hogg and his party. They, therefore, deemed it imprudent to wait to cut down the corn, as they had designed. So they immediately collected their wounded and forced their way back as well as they could, by using a few Indian horses. It was difficult to keep the men together on the march, because of their fears of being waylaid and surrounded, which were increased by a few Indians firing, for awhile after the march began, on each wing, and then running off, whereby one man was shot through the legs. For several miles the march did not exceed two miles an hour.
On the return of Col. Armstrong and his force to the place where the Indian fire had been discovered the night before, they met a sergeant of Capt. Mercer's company and two or three others of his men who had deserted that morning immediately after the action at Kittanning, who, in running away, had met Lieut. Hogg, lying by the roadside, wounded in two parts of his body, who then told them of the fatal mistake which had been made by the pilot in assuring them that there were only three Indians at the fireplace the previous night, and that when he and his men attacked the Indians that morning, according to orders, he found their number considerably superior to his own. He also said that he believed he had killed or mortally wounded three of the Indians at the first fire; that the rest fled, and he was obliged to conceal himself in a thicket, where he might have lain safely if "that cowardly sergeant and his co-deserters,'" as Col. Armstrong stigmatizes them in his report, had not removed him.
When they had marched a short distance four Indians appeared and those deserters fled. Lieut. Hogg, notwithstanding his wounds, with the true heroism of a brave soldier, was still urging and commanding those about him to stand and fight, but they all refused. The Indians then pursued, killed one man and inflicted a third wound upon the gallant lieutenant -- in his belly -- from which he died in a few hours, having ridden on horse back seven miles from the place of action. That sergeant also represented to Col. Armstrong that there was a much larger number of Indians there than had appeared to them to be; that they fought five rounds; that he had seen Lieut. Hogg and several others killed and scalped; that he had discovered a number of Indians throwing themselves before Col. Armstrong and his force, which, with other such stuff caused confusion in the colonel's ranks, so that the officers had difficulty in keeping the men together, and could not prevail on them to collect the horses and baggage which the Indians had left, except a few of the horses, which some of the bravest of the men were persuaded to secure.
From the mistake of the pilot in underrating the number of Indians at the fire the night before, and the cowardice of that sergeant and the other-deserters, Col. Armstrong and his command met with a considerable loss of their horses and baggage, which had been left, as before stated, with Lieut. Hogg and his detachment when the main force made their detour to Kittanning.
Many blankets were afterward found on the ground where Lieut. Hogg and his small force were defeated by the superior number about double of their Indian foes. Hence that battlefield has ever since borne the name of "Blanket Hill." It is on the farm of Philip Dunmire, in Kittanning township, to the right, going east, of the turnpike road from Kittanning to Elderton and Indiana, about four hundred and seventy-five rods, a little east of south, from the present site of the Blanket Hill postoffice, and two hundred and seventy-five rods west of the Plum Creek township line.
Various other relics of that fight have been found from time to time, among which a straight sword with the initials "J. H." on it, which is owned by James Stewart, of Kittanning borough, was on exhibition with other relics at the Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia.
It was impossible for Col. Armstrong to ascertain the exact number of enemy killed in the action at Kittanning, since some were burned in the conflagration of the houses and others fell in different parts of the cornfield; but he thought there could not be less, on a moderate estimate, than thirty or forty either killed or mortally wounded, as much blood was found in various parts of the cornfield, as Indians were seen crawling from several parts thereof into the woods, whom the soldiers, in their pursuit of the others, passed by expecting afterward to find and scalp them, and as several others were killed and wounded while crossing the river.
THE RETURN MARCH.
When the victors commenced their return march they had about a dozen scalps and eleven English prisoners. Part of the scalps were lost on the road, and some of them and four of the prisoners were in the custody of Capt. Mercer, who had separated from the main body, so that on the arrival of the main body at Fort Littleton, Sabbath night, September 14, 1756, Col. Armstrong could report to Governor Denny only seven of the recaptured prisoners and a part of the scalps.
The English prisoners recaptured from the Indians at Kittanning were Ann McCord, wife of John McCord, and Martha Thorn, about seven years old, captured at Fort McCord; Barbara Hicks, captured at Conolloway's; Catherine Smith, a German child captured near Shamokin; Margaret Hood, captured near the mouth of Conagocheague, Md.; Thomas Girty, captured at Fort Granville; Sarah Kelly, captured near Winchester, Va.; and one woman, a boy, and two little girls, who were with Capt. Mercer and Ensign Scott when they separated from the main body, and who had not reached Fort Littleton when Col. Armstrong made up his report.
Not having met with a description of the manner in which the Indian constructed their houses in Kittanning, which were burned by Col. Armstrong, the writer inserts here the following from the "Narrative of James Smith," hereinafter mentioned, which, it is presumed, gives in the main a correct idea of the manner in which they were constructed.
He saw a cabin erected when he was a captive among the Indians, along Lake Erie. "They cut logs," he says, "about fifteen feet long, and laid them upon each other, and drove the posts in the ground at each end to keep them together; they tied the posts together at the top with bark, and by this means raised a wall fifteen feet long and about four feet high, and in the same manner they raised another wall opposite to this, at about twelve feet distance; then they drove forks in the ground in the center of each end, and laid a strong pole from end to end on these forks; and from these walls to the poles they set up poles instead of rafters, and on them tied small poles instead of laths; and a cover was made of lynn [linden] bark which will run even in the winter season. * * * At the end of these walls they set up split timber all round except a space at each end for a door. At the top, in place of a chimney, they left an open space, and for bedding they laid down that kind of bark, on which they spread bearskins.
There were fires along the middle from one end to the other of the hut, which the squaws made of dry spit wood, and stopped up whatever open places there were in the walls with moss which they collected from old logs; they hung a bearskin at the door. Notwithstanding our winters here are hard, our lodging was much better than I expected." Perhaps the Indian houses in Kittanning, especially that of the chief, Capt. Jacobs, were somewhat better and differently built.
KILLED, WOUNDED AND MISSING.
In Lieut. Col. Armstrong's company Thos. Power and John McCormick, killed; Lieut. Col. Armstrong, James Carruthers, James Strickland and Thomas Foster, wounded. Capt. Hamilton's company John Kelly killed. Capt. Mercer's company John Baker, John McCartney, Patrick Mullen, Cornelius McGinnes, Theophilus Thompson, Dennis Kilpatrick and Bryan Carrigan, killed; Capt. Hugh Mercer and Richard Fitzgibbons, wounded; Ensign John Scott, Emanuel Minshey, John Taylor, John , Francis Phillips, Robert Morrow, Thomas Burk and Philip Pendergrass, missing. Capt. Armstrong's company Lieut. James Hogg, James Anderson, Holdcraft Stinger, Edward O'Brians, James Higgins, John Lasson, killed; William Lindley, Robert Robinson, John Ferrall, Thomas Camplin, Charles O'Neal; wounded; John Lewis, William Hunter, William Baker, George Appleby, Anthony Grissy, Thomas Swan, missing. Capt. Ward's company William Welsh, killed; Ephraim Bratton, wounded; Patrick Myers, Lawrence Donnahow, Samuel Chambers, missing. Capt. Potter's company Ensign James Potter and Andrew Douglass, wounded. Rev. Capt. Steele's company Terrence Cannaberry, missing.
Killed, 17. Wounded, 13. Missing, including Capt. Mercer, who reached Fort Cumberland, 19.
Col. Armstrong regretted that the advantages gained over the enemy were not commensurate with the desire of himself and his command; and that they were less than they would have been if the pilots had better understood the situation of the town and the paths leading to it.
Lieut. Gov. Denny, in his speech to the assembly, on Monday, October 18, 1756, among other things, said: "An express arrived from Major Burd, with letters giving an account of our old friend Ogagradarishah's coming a second time to Fort Augusta on purpose to tell several things of consequence which he had heard at Diahogo." A part of that "Honest Indian's Intelligence," given at Shamokin October 11, then instant, was: "Ten days ago, being at Diahogo, two Delaware Indians came there from the Ohio, who informed him that the English had lately destroyed the Kittanning town and killed some of their people, but avoided mentioning to him the number." If that was the first intelligence received at Diahogo of the battle at Kittanning, nearly a month must have elapsed before it reached there, that is, in traveling from Kittanning to the junction of the Susquehanna and the Cheming rivers. Ogaghradarishah belonged to a "village of the Six Nation country."
The destruction of Kittanning and so many of its inhabitants was a severe blow to the French and Indians, and afforded hope of security to those of our own race who had settled along the then frontier of the Province.
For the signal success which Col. Armstrong and his force achieved in the destruction of Kittanning, and thus breaking up a formidable base of French and Indian incursions, the corporation of the city of Philadelphia, October 5, 1756, voted him and his command the thanks of the city and other favors.
From the minutes of the common council:
"It being proposed that this Board should give some public testimony of their regard and esteem for Col. John Armstrong, and the other officers concerned in the late expedition against the Indians at Kittanning, and the courage and conduct shown by them on that occasion, and also contribute to the relief of the widows and children of those who lost their lives in that expedition;
"Resolved, That this Board will give the sum of £150 out of their stock in the Treasurer's hands, to be paid out in pieces of plate, swords, and other things suitable for presents, to the said officers and toward the relief of the said widows and children."
Description of the medal sent to Col. Armstrong:
"Occasion. In honor of the late Col. Armstrong, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for destroying Kittanning Indian towns.
"Device. An officer followed by two soldiers; the officer pointing to a soldier shooting from behind a tree and an Indian prostrate before him. In the background Indian houses are seen in flames.
"Legend. Kittanning destroyed by Col. Armstrong, September, 1756.
"Reverse Device. The arms of the corporation of Philadelphia, consisting of four devices: On the right a ship under full sail; on the left a pair of scales equally balanced; in the right, above the ship, a wheat sheaf; on the left, two hands locked.
"Legend. The gift of the corporation of the city of Philadelphia."
To Col. John Armstrong:
Sir: The corporation of the city of Philadelphia greatly approve your conduct and public spirit in the late expedition against the town of Kittanning, and are highly pleased with the signal proofs of courage and personal bravery given by you and the officers under your command in demolishing that place. I am, therefore, ordered to return you and them the thanks of the Board for the eminent service you have thereby done your country. I am also ordered by the corporation to present you, out of their small public stock, with a piece of plate and silver medal, and each of your officers with a medal and a small sum of money, to be disposed of in a manner most agreeable to them; which the Board desire you will accept as a testimony of the regard they have for your merit. Signed by order,
January 5, 1757. ATWOOD SHUTE, Mayor.
To the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, and Common Council of the Corporation of the City of Philadelphia:
GENTLEMEN: Your favor of the 5th instant, together with the medals and other genteel presents made to the officers of my battalion, by the corporation of the city of Philadelphia, I had the pleasure to receive by Capt. George Armstrong.
The officers employed in the Kittanning expedition have been made acquainted with the distinguished honor you have done them, and desire to join with me in acknowledging it in the most public manner. The kind acceptance of our past services by the corporation gives us the highest pleasure and furnishes a fresh motive for exerting ourselves on every future occasion for the benefit of His Majesty's service in general and in defense of this province in particular. In behalf of the officers of my battalion, I have the honor to be, gentlemen, your most obedient and obliged humble servant,
Carlisle, January 24, 1757. JOHN ARMSTRONG.
Governor Denny, April 9, 1757, wrote to the proprietaries: "After Col. Armstrong's successful expedition against the Kittanning and the conclusion of peace at Easton, the back inhabitants enjoyed rest from the incursions of the savages and the poor people who were driven from their plantations generally returned to them. Since the affair of Kittanning the Indians on this side of the Ohio [Allegheny] have mostly retired with their wives and children under the French forts on that river."
Hence it was that the legislature gave our county the name which it bears, adding another testimonial to the memory of Col. Armstrong. As Herschel, by his genius and astronomical discoveries, wrote his name upon a star, so Armstrong, by his skill, prowess, patriotism and military achievements, wrote with his sword his name upon the beautifully and ruggedly varied face of this county.
AFTER THE DESTRUCTION OF KITTANNING.
Although the success of Armstrong's expedition resulted in the removal of hostile Indians from the east side of the Allegheny river, various other causes operated to prevent this and other parts of northwestern Pennsylvania from being rapidly and permanently settled by the whites. William Findley, in his history of the Whiskey Insurrection, says: "The western and southwestern portions of what is now Westmoreland, and the southeastern part of what is now Armstrong, were settled about the year 1769, the next year after the proprietary of Pennsylvania had purchased the country from the Indians as far west as the Allegheny and Ohio rivers." In 1769 the land office, for the sale or location of the lately purchased land, was opened. Several thousands of locations were applied for on the first day. The settlement on the east side of the Monongahela and Allegheny was very rapidly extended from the Monongahela forty miles northward, as far as Crooked creek, and the first settlers were generally a more sober, orderly people than commonly happens in the first settlement of new countries."
At that time all of Pennsylvania west of the western boundary of Lancaster was in Cumberland county. Whatever people had then settled in what is now Armstrong county must have been few. Among the petitions sent to Gov. Penn, in 1774, from inhabitants near Hanna's Town, imploring protection and relief, it was, among other things, set forth that the petitioners were rendered very uneasy by the order of removal of the troops, that had been raised for their general assistance and protection, "to Kittanning, a place at least twenty-five or thirty miles distant from any of the settlements," and that it was theirs, "as well as the general opinion, that removing the troops to so distant and uninhabited a part of the province as Kittanning is, cannot answer the good purposes intended, but seems to serve the purposes of some who regard not the public welfare."
1999 Armstrong County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project