History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 05

Created: Wednesday, 24 March 2010 Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2017 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email




Soon after the completion of Fort Muncy, Congress decided that an expedition should be sent against the Indians in the West Branch Valley for the purpose of destroying as many of their villages as possible and Colonel Hartley was selected to command the troops. The place of rendezvous was Fort Muncy. Colonel Hartley had hoped to assemble a force of about 400 men but when all had reported by the 18th of September, 1778, he found he had only about half that many of the rank and file.

Having completed his preparations, Colonel Hartley set out on the morning of September 21, carrying two boxes of ammunition and twelve days' rations. Every available man that could be spared for the purpose was taken along. The detachment passed up the river, crossing Loyalsock Creek near where the present borough of Montoursville now stands, and thence to the Sheshequin trail at Millers' Run below the present city of Williamsport and thence by this trail through Bloomingrove to Lycoming Creek below Hepburnville.

The going was hard, frequent swamps and morasses being encountered between Fort Muncy and the Sheshequin trail. The trail was narrow and had to be widened in many places to enable the men and horses to pass. When they reached Lycoming Creek they found themselves in the midst of dense forests, covered with underbrush, and they were compelled in many places to actually cut their way through. They were constantly on the watch, for at any minute they might have encountered a band of Indians large enough to have annihilated them.

After reaching the head of Lycoming Creek, the expedition struck across to the North Branch of the Susquehanna, their objective being Tioga Point, which was one of the principal concentration points of the Iroquois. On the morning of the 26th of September the advance guard of the expedition, composed of nineteen men, met an equal number of Indians and an engagement ensued. The Indians were greatly outnumbered when the main body came up and precipitately fled. The next day the expedition came to a place where a large body of Indians had encamped for the night but were frightened off on the approach of Hartley's men. The Indians were on their way down the valley to attack the settlers but were prevented from carrying out their designs by the timely arrival of Hartley's troops.

No time was lost in hurrying on to Sheshequin, where fifteen prisoners were taken. Upon learning that the Indians had been apprised of his-approach through the treachery of a deserter, Hartley hurried on to Tioga Point. Several of the enemy were seen but they quickly fled. It was after dark when Tioga Point was reached, and as his men were much fatigued, he determined to let them have a good night's rest. In the morning he was informed that the Indians were on the war path and had been advised of his coming and were concentrating on all sides with the purpose of attacking him. He was also told that a number of British had joined the Indians.. He, therefore, decided to proceed at once down the North Branch toward Wyoming. This he did after destroying the fort at Tioga Point and all the huts and dwelling places in the village, including Queen Esther's palace to which Robert Coyenhoven, who accompanied the expedition, was the first to apply the torch. Had Colonel Hartley been in sufficient force he would have attacked the enemy and might have been able to inflict serious damage.

In the morning the little army crossed the river and marched toward Wyalusing. This point was reached in the evening. The pace had been rapid and the troops were much exhausted. The next day they proceeded on their way, constantly harassed on flank and rear by small bodies of Indians. On the day following, the detachment was attacked by a body of about 200 Indians, who were repulsed with heavy loss. Hartley had four men killed and ten wounded in this encounter. After considerable delay the expedition continued its way down the river and reached Fort Augusta at Sunbury on October 5.

Hartley and his men had traversed about three hundred miles in a little over two weeks, driven in fifty head of cattle and captured 28 canoes. His loss had been comparatively small. When the character of the country traversed and the difficulties encountered is considered, this expedition ranks as one of the most remarkable achievements ever accomplished in any war.

Colonel Hartley was accompanied by Captain John Brady, Captain Hawkins Boone, Lieutenant Robert King and Robert Covenhoven, whose knowledge of the Indian character and the topography of the country through which the expedition traveled were of the utmost value to their commander.

In sending in his report of the occurrences during the progress of the invasion of the enemy country, Colonel Hartley also asked for 300 bullets for three pound cannon, 300 cartridges of grape shot, 1,000 flints, six barrels of powder and numerous other articles. From this it will be seen that he did not consider the danger to the settlers as passed and in this he was not mistaken for sporadic attacks continued and one man was killed by the Indians in the very shadow of Fort Muncy.

But the expedition did have an excellent moral effect and for a considerable time the Indians attempted no forays in the valley in force. Their outrages were limited to individual encounters usually perpetrated by creeping up on some unprotected settler and scalping or tomahawking him without warning.

Having become wearied with his labors Colonel Hartley asked to be relieved of his duties and in November his request was granted. He left a portion of the garrison at Fort Muncy and the rest of his troops were assembled at Fort Augusta.

Colonel Hartley was born in Berks County, studied law and was admitted to the bar. At the outbreak of the Revolution he took an active part in the cause of the colonists and soon entered the military service in which he rose to high rank. He rendered distinguished aid to the settlers of the West Branch Valley and they were reluctant to see him leave. He was one of the outstanding figures of the Revolutionary period.

One of the saddest tragedies that ever occurred in the West Branch Valley was perpetrated soon after the settlers returned from the exodus of the Big Runaway. On August 7, 1778,eight soldiers from Fort Muncy were ordered to the mouth of Loyal-sock Creek to guard fourteen cradlers who had gone there to cut grain. In the party were James Brady, son of Captain John Brady, and Peter Smith, who had lost his wife and four children in the massacre at what is now Fourth and Cemetery streets in Williamsport the preceding Jun.

The men stood their guns against a tree and set to work. They had not been engaged long until a party of Indians appeared. All ran for their guns but before they could be reached young Brady was shot down and scalped. He man-aged to make his way to the house of Jerome Van Ness nearby where his wounds were dressed. He was then placed in a canoe and taken to Sunbury, where his mother resided. He was given the best of care but died four days later.

The next spring, April 11, 177, the culminating atrocity of these perilous times was perpetrated when Captain John Brady was killed while on-his way from Fort Muncy to his stockaded home in Muncy.

The Indians had been comparatively quiet during the pre-ceding winter but in the spring they broke loose with redoubled fury.

Brady and his family had returned to the fortified home at Muncy after the Big Runaway and on the fatal day he had gone with Peter Smith to Fort Muncy for some supplies. On their return he was waylaid and shot near the mouth of Wolf Run. Captain John Brady's body was taken to Muncy where funeral services were held and he was buried in the cemetery at Halls.

After her husband's death Mrs. Brady returned to her former home at Shippensburg but afterwards settled in the Buffalo Valley near Lewisburg. In making the trip to her new home she rode all the way on horseback carrying a baby in her arms and leading a cow. This journey was made through a partly unbroken wilderness with the chance of her being beset by lurking savages at any moment.

After the death of Brady the Indians became bolder and again began their cruel work of massacre. But by this time the authorities had become familiar with the conditions in the West Branch Valley and more troops were sent here for the protection of the settlers.

In the meantime rumors had reached the settlement that a strong force of Indians and Tories were on their way from New York state and Colonel William Hepburn, in command at Fort Muncy, sent Robert Covenhoven up Lycoming Creek to ascertain the truth or falsity of the report. Covenhoven made his way up as far as the present Roaring Branch where he discovered that a large force had concentrated and was on its way down the valley. He immediately returned and reported to Colonel Hepburn, who at once ordered the evacuation of Fort Muncy and the whole valley for the second time. The inhabitants proceeded to Sunbury in much the same way as they had the year before but better order was maintained.

The savages, both red and white, came down Lycoming Creek as foreshadowed by Covenhoven, and again laid waste the entire valley. Everything combustible was burned, Fort Muncy included. They were unable to destroy the ramparts which were largely built of clay but everything else became a prey to the torch. Members of several families were killed during this invasion, among them being a son of Abraham Webster of Muncy Valley.

The band of marauders led by a British officer, the notorious Captain John McDonald, and Hiakotoo, a Seneca chief, and husband of Mary Jamison, the captured white woman, proceeded on to Muncy, where they burned Fort Brady. They then continued on to Fort Freeland, which they captured and destroyed on July 28, 1779.

After the second runaway settlers were slow in returning to the West Branch Valley because of an insufficient force of militia to protect them and it was not until the fall of 1779 that they felt secure enough to venture back to their homes and when they did so they found them practically all destroyed. General John Sullivan had completed his successful invasion of the country of the Five Nations and had destroyed most of their villages. The Indians were greatly exasperated thereby and sought to retaliate on the white settlers wherever they might be found.

Strong representations were made to the supreme executive council and the need of adequate protection for the inhabitants was urged. Accordingly Colonel Ludwig Weitner's German regiment of the Continental line was sent to the valley. This regiment consisted of only 120 men of the rank and file and, as some of these had to be kept at Fort Augusta to guard the stores of munitions and supplies, it left an insufficient force to be sent further up the valley. It was impossible to range the country to any considerable extent, but they did the best they could.

The whiter of 1779-1780 was a rigorous one and as the in-habitants were compelled to live in rudely constructed log huts, they suffered greatly. It is true that the great quantity of snow that fell served to keep the Indians at home, but it was also a great drawback to the settlers themselves. Fort Muncy had been so greatly damaged that it was of little use either as a refuge or as a storehouse for supplies. Colonel Weltner strongly advised the rebuilding of Fort Muncy but the work was not undertaken at that time. Upon the withdrawal of Colonel Weitner's regiment in the spring of 1780 small garrisons of men were placed in the forts below the Muncy hills but none above that point, where they were most needed. Shortly afterwards General James Potter was sent to Fort Augusta to command the volunteers, but by this time the Indians had become reasonably quiescent and their services were not needed. Subsequently Captain Thomas Kemplen was sent to the valley after he had recruited a company of volunteers. He was killed by the Indians at the mouth of Muncy Creek, in March, 1781.

The Indians continued their occasional attacks during the winter but on the whole the settlers lived through it in comparative quiet.

It is possible that Fort Muncy was rebuilt under the direction of Captain Thomas Robinson, who was sent there in command of a company of volunteers on March 6, 1781, and was known to have favored its being done. While stationed at the fort, Captain Robinson scoured the country in all directions in search of hostile Indians and did much to inspire confidence in the settlers. He ascended Lycoming Creek as far as Eel-town, near the present 'village of Hepburnville, where at one time an Indian village was located. Captain Robinson remained until the summer of 1781 and then returned to Fort Augusta. He was the last officer to be sent to the valley during the period of the Indian activities. The pioneers of the West Branch of the Susquehanna had suffered greatly and endured much during the early period of their occupancy, but now a better day was dawning. On the thirtieth of November, 1782, news was received of the signing of a treaty of peace between Great Britain and her colonies in which the independence of the latter was acknowledged. This news caused much rejoicing in the infant settlement from the Muncy Hills to the Great Island at Lock Haven. The people could now continue the work of clearing the land and rebuilding their homes without further molestation.

Among those who had aided the inhabitants of the valley in their struggle with the Indians was Colonel Samuel Hunter. He was born in Ireland and came to America in early life. He entered the military service of the colonies and rose to high rank. When the Pennsylvania militia was organized at the beginning of the Revolution, he was chosen colonel of the First Battalion. He served in this responsible position until the close of the war. He died April 24, 1784.

Another distinguished individual who rendered eminent service to the colonies during their formative period was Moses Van Campen. He served as an officer in the militia and afterwards as 'a private in the Continental line. He was born in New Jersey and came with his parents to Pennsylvania. He became an expert woodsman and an unerring shot. In early life the Indians killed his father and burned the family home. From that day young Van Campen vowed vengeance on the red man and well did he keep his vow. One of the most thrilling incidents of his life occurred on the West Branch of the Susquehanna when, on the death of his father, he and a companion, Peter Pence, were taken prisoner by a band of ten Indians. Both were securely bound, but at night, while in camp, Van Campen managed to loosen his bonds and then released Pence. They attacked the sleeping Indians, after Securing their weapons and Van Campen killed five with a tomahawk and Pence killed four. One escaped with a tomahawk in his shoulder. They then released other prisoners and escaped down the river on a raft. Soon afterwards Van Campen joined Captain Robinson's rangers and Pence also saw much service in the Revolutionary War, afterwards settling in what is now Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, where he died.

One of the most daring men of this period was Robert Covenhoven, who was also of New Jersey extraction, but came to the West Branch Valley in his youth and grew to manhood in what is now Lycoming County. He served in the Continental army and was present at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He returned home in the spring of 1777 and devoted himself to the defense of the frontier. He rendered distinguished service to Colonel Hunter and was a member of Colonel Hartley's expedition to Tioga Point. After the close of the Revolutionary War he purchased a tract of land below Jersey Shore to which he gave the name of "Conquest," and where he lived for many. years. He died at the home of his daughter in Northumberland, October 29, 1846, at the ripe old age of nearly ninety-one years.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 97-105, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka-Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929