Sunday, November 25, 2007

The French And Indian War

The French and Indian War is one of the most interesting conflicts that America has ever been involved in. Here in Schuylkill County we had a few interesting incidents during the course of the war from 1758-1764 period. At the time this area was under British Control. It later would become part of Berks County. It is amazing when you drive over the Blue Mountain on route 183 and gaze off in the distance. That view isn't to far from what the settlers and the soldiers who ranged the area saw.
I wrote this story a few years ago using info I gained from the records of Pennsylvania and sources in the Historical Society.


Pennsylvania has many beautiful rolling mountains stretching for many miles. One of the most picturesque is the long length of the Blue Mountain that stretches from Hamburg in the east to the Swatara gap as it parallels Interstate 78.
On one of my many work commutes down and back this interstate from Orwigsburg to New Cumberland. It came to mind that during the French and Indian War 1755-1763 this stretch of the Blue Mountain would play a very significant part. Anything north of the Blue Mountain was the frontier in the mid seventeen hundreds and only a very few hardy and brave settlers had the courage to live and to work the land.
Making my turn off the interstate and driving north on Route 419/183, the view makes one think of what it must have been like to have lived then. As one crests the summit of the Blue an awe inspiring view north, east and west presents itself, this land was known as the frontier in 1755 and today is known as our own Schuylkill County.
In 1754 twenty-eight names appeared on the tax lists as living in the Swatara region (near Pine Grove) north of the Blue Mountain. There were also a few squatters whose names would not appear on the list but were working the land just the same. These 28 and several squatters were effected by the French and Indian War.
The troubles that were brewing between England and France were far from the minds of the settlers who were farming this area. If the settlers went to the east and followed the Schuylkill River south they came to Reading, a well-established town where supplies and goods were purchased. Reading had been in existence since 1748. Almost all of the English colonies were established along the eastern seaboard, but the English were expanding rapidly westward and claiming the right to this territory. France, on the other hand, established her colonies in Canada to the north and Louisiana in the south and all the land that lay in the Mississippi and Ohio River basins. The English were on an ever expanding movement toward the west so naturally there was going to be some confrontation with their long time enemies, the French.
The Indians, mainly the Delaware known as the Leni Lanape, who lived in the area toward the Susquehanna River were usually a peaceful tribe. As trouble brewed, they sided with the French and so the scenario for a conflict was set.
As the situation between the English and French deteriorated in the fall of 1755, a series of events unfolded in the Schuylkill region. On October 15, 1755 Indians stealthily moved into the area known as Penns Creek near present day Selinsgrove and attacked and murdered the settlers living there. The body of John Leroy, was found near his cabin with two tomahawks planted in his forehead. His two children, Jacob and Mary, were taken captive. The Indians also took Rachel and Barbara Leininger and shot another neighbor whom they also scalped.
The Penns Creek massacre accomplished what the Indians wanted. The settlers were terrified and fled there settlements near the Susquehanna. Word of the massacre quickly reached the settlers living in the Schuylkill area. Fear spread that the Indians would come down the Susquehanna River to the Lebanon valley and then head east toward Reading. Within ten days of the massacre, nearly everyone living north of the Blue Mountain fled south over the mountain into the safety of the settlements near present day Womelsdorf.
But not all of the settlers left their farms. Here and there some brave and fearless pioneers stayed behind not willing to give up their land so easily. Living on a farm near the Swatara River, Adam Rees and his wife Anna Margaretha Seemr who had just recently married were making a go at farming about two miles west of Pine Grove. About one quarter of a mile away was Rees’ neighbor, Henry Hartman, Hartman was clearing the land of rocks and boulders near his log home in preparation for the next growing season. He was adamant that he would make a stand against the Indians and armed himself for safety. Also, about three miles east of these two farms George Bressler who owned over one hundred acres of good, fertile farmland on the south side of the Swatara, lived with his wife, the former Anna Eva Dollinger. Not far from Bressler’s the German Han’s Peter Grafe lived on his farm with his wife and two sons. These four stout hearted families were the only settlers who remained behind and stood ground against the Indians in the Swatara region.
Over in the Schuylkill River region several men remained behind with their families not fearing the Indians. One of these men, who lived about two miles east of present day Friedensburg on Long Run, was John George Schiffler. He owned a well built house on a few acres of fertile farm land.
The Indians over hundreds of years had established pathways for traveling their lands. One of the main pathways the Indians used started in Shamokin, present day Sunbury and traversed southeastward between the forks of the Susquehanna and the tidewaters of the Delaware. This path started at the mouth of the Mahanoy Creek, came across the country to the southeast, passed through Klingerstown Gap on the Mahantongo Mountain and continued in the same direction to the foot of the Broad Mountain a mile south of Hegins. It climbed the mountain and followed a straight path to the gap made by the Swatara on Second Mountain about three miles north of Pine Grove, came down the mountain on Sharp Mountain near Lorberry and Rausch Creek, went over the mountain east of Pine Grove and crossed the lower Swatara near Stanhope and climbed the Blue mountain on the road between Pine Grove and Bethel. This path was called the Shamokin Road.
The Indian war parties used the Shamokin Road to their advantage. They followed it as far as they could without being spotted and then headed off into the wilderness. For about two days, they scouted in and around the valley between the Blue and Second Mountain. These small war parties of Delaware Indians numbering not more than 20 braves, once friendly and allied with the English, now sought revenge.
On the night of October 28, 1755 Peter Grafe, his wife and two sons were inside their cabin when they were alerted by the barking of their dog. The sound of strange calls echoed in the woods surrounding their homestead. Out of the dark came a piercing war hoop. Warriors wearing deer skin jackets reaching below their knees and deer skin leggings their faces painted with black streaks symbolizing death and war, their hair cropped into a scalp lock. Carrying tomahawks, war clubs and rifles made their attack. Their method of attack was simple quick surprise, destroy the buildings by burning, seize as many prisoners as can be had, kill the others then retreat back into the forest as quickly as they came were hallmarks of the Indian attacks.
Peter Grafe surprised by the attack, fired back at the Indians attacking his home but was over come by their sudden onslaught. The terrified Grafe family tried to flee their home and seek the safety of the one of their neighbors. But the Delaware were too quick. They overcame the group and killed Grafe’s wife and two sons. Somehow Peter Grafe made his escape and sought safety with his neighbor George Schiffler. Schiffler sent this documented letter to Conrad Weiser, his friend, in Wolmolsdorff.

October 29, 1755
Last night they {Indians} killed the wife of Peter Grafe and both his sons and would have
murdered him but he escaped and came to us and is said { but we are not certain}
that the people living next to him are killed. We are few in number are gathered
at the house of George Scheffler to save ourselves our wives and children.
We poor children pray you as our father for assistance. We are in the greatest
Danger because we dare not move either forward or backwards nor go out
To bury the bodies of the dead. We commit the matter to you and expect
Assistance before the mischief if greater. The place where the dead bodies
Lay is two miles below Wilber Gambers at the Waters of the Swatara.

Wilber Gambers’ land was on the hill north of the Lower Little Swatara river about four miles east of Pine Grove.
Two days later on October 30, Adam Rees was in his home with his wife when he heard three shots fired in the direction of Henry Hartman’s farm. Rees grabbed his gun and took off at a run toward Hartman’s. As he called for Hartman he received no answer. He reconnoitered the area but found no Indians. Entering the open door of Hartman’s house Rees found him lying on the floor dead and scalped. One might imagine the horror of an Indian attack. The piercing war hoops Indians surrounding the house, as they break in the doors and windows they shoot you or split your head with a blow from a tomahawk or war club. Scalping was brutal striking two or three blows. The Indian quickly grabs his knife and makes an incision around the hair from the upper part of the forehead to the back of the neck. He puts his foot on the shoulder of the victim, who is facing down, and quickly pulls the hair off from back to front. If the victims are still alive the is unbearable. The attacker fastens the bloody scalp to his belt and quickly retreats back to the forest.
Returning from the Hartman farm, Adam Rees got his wife and they both hurried down through the Swatara Gap and reported the murder to Adam Reed, a justice of the Peace in Hanover Township. On the 31st of October they both returned to the Hartman Farm to bury Henry Hartman. Staying and protecting his farm cost Henry Hartman his life.
Rees also went to the farm of William Parsons who lived in Bethel Township on the south side of the mountain in Berks County. Parsons owned land on the north side of the mountain near the Rees and Hartman farm. After burying Hartman, Parsons, Rees and a few farmers set out on the Shamokin Road in search of the marauding Indians. At the top of the Blue Mountain, they meet some other men who were returning south. The men told of seeing two murdered men on the Shamokin road where it passes through a rock glen near George Bresslers’ farm. Bressler stated he heard the screams of the victims. Parsons found the two bodies about three hundred feet from each other and buried them both in the same grave. One of the men had a daughter with him who was missing. The man whose daughter was missing was Baltzer Shefer who had fled with his family from their farm above the Blue Mountain. Baltzer and his daughter met their fate when they were trying to go home and retrieve some items. There is no record ever of the daughter ever returning home. The other victim was George Eberhard, who lived somewhere north of the Blue. In a later report it was said that Eberhard’s wife and five children were also killed with him. One of Eberhard’s daughters returned home from captivity two years later.
By November 1, 1755 no white man or woman was living in the Swatara region above the Blue. The Pennsylvania authorities made no attempt to protect this region until forts were built in 1756. No fort was ever built to protect the Swatara region above the Blue Mountain. With no settlers in the area the Indians had free access to the area and were able to hide and make their lighting quick attacks into the Schuylkill region.
In November of 1755, the Supply Act was passed in Pennsylvania. The act authorized that a series of forts should be built by the local population to serve and protect the people living near them. In the Schuylkill and Berks County area six forts were built. Fort Lebanon, near present day Auburn was built in late November 1755. It was a stockade 100 feet. by 100 Feet. with bastions. Inside the fort were a barracks, storehouse and two smaller buildings that could house refugees during an emergency. Over the Blue mountain was Fort Northkill located north of Shartlesville. It was used as an outpost for Fort Lebanon. Northkill consisted of a small log house with stockade about 32 feet. by 32 feet. Also along this line was Fort Franklin built in 1756 near Snyders in eastern Schuylkill County, Fort Henry two miles north of Bethel, Fort Swatara NW of Lickdale and Fort Manada near Manada Gap in Dauphin County completed the line. Despite the presence of these forts the Indian attacks still continued.
Fort Lebanon had the duty of protecting the settlers near the Schuylkill River and toward the west along the Blue Mountain and Second Mountain. By January 25, 1756 provincial troops comprised of local militia manned the fort under the command of Capt. Jacob Morgan. According to the description of the fort written in 1756 the Fort was 100 foot square, with 14 ft. stockades, a 30x20 house with store room, a good spring within and a magazine 12 foot square. It was located on barren land and not surrounded by much timber. The fort was assigned to protect close to 100 people. On June 21, 1756 Commissary James Young made a tour of the fort and wrote in his report:

We set out for Fort Lebanon from Fort Northkill, all the way from Northkill
To Lebanon is an exceedingly bad road, very stony and mountainous.
About 6 miles from Northkill we crossed the mountain and where met by
Capt. Morgan’s Lieutenant with 10 men. Ranging in the woods between the
Mountain and Fort Lebanon we past two plantations, the rest of the country is
Chiefly barren hills. At noon we came to Fort Lebanon, which is situated in a plain,
On one side is a plantation, on the other a Barren Pretty clear of woods al around, only
A few trees about 50 yards from the fort, which I desired to be cut down.

According to Capt. Morgan’s journal he sent soldiers out in the woods four or five times a week and also placed guards around the farmers as they were farming. Fifteen men were to stay in Fort Lebanon at all times while eight men would protect the farmers at harvest time and 10 men would range constantly eastward and westward looking for Indians. Fort Lebanon was very important for the settlers north of the Blue and also those south of it. It commanded the Schuylkill Gap in the Blue Mountain. Here is a typical report filed by Capt. Morgan that happened in the Schuylkill County on November 4, 1756:

Yesterday morning at break of day, on of ye neighbors discovered a fire at a
Distance from him; he went to ye top of another mountain to take a better
Observation, and made a full discovery of fire, and supposed it to be about 7 miles
Off, at the house of John Finisher, he came and informed me of it. I immediately
Detached a party of 10 men, ( we being but 22 in the Fort) to the place where
They saw the fire, at the said Finsher house, it being nigh Schuylkill, and the men
Anxious to see if the enemy if there, they ran through the water and the bushes and the
Fire, where to their disappointment saw none of them, but the house, barn, and all
Outhouse all in flames. They saw a great many tracks and followed them, came back
To the house of Philip Culmore, thinking to send an alarm to the other inhabitants
To be on their guard, but instead found Culmore’s wife and daughter and son-in-law

All just killed and scalped: there is also missing from the same house, Martin Fell’s
Wife and child about 1 year old, and another boy of 7 years of age. The scout divided into
Two parties, one to the other houses and the other to the Fort, to inform me
I immediately went out on scout again, but could not make any discovery, but
Brought all the families to the Fort, where now I believe we are upwards of 60
Women and children.

At the same time as this incident was happening Lieutenant Humpries who was stationed at Fort Northkill over the Blue Mountain came upon 20 Indians at the home of Nicholas Long, where they had killed 2 old men and taken another captive and probably would have killed the family had not the soldiers fired upon them and wounded seriously two or three as they ran off making a hallowing noise. After all was said and done 3 persons were scalped and killed, 3 were missing and suspected of being captured all within a mile of Fort Lebanon. This war party was probably the same one that raided the in Schuylkill Region.
For many months Captain Morgan would send out patrols to range along the Blue Mountain, and up on the Second Mountain. They would receive many reports of Indians; they would find many moccasin tracts but no Indians. Many people were attacked by these murdering war parties.
Along with Fort Lebanon (Schuylkill County) and Fort Northkill (Berks County) sitting along the crest of the Blue mountain off of route 183 and about ¼ mile west on the Appalachian trail is a maker for Fort Dietrich Snyder, a small outpost that was manned by Captain Morgan’s soldiers and was a watch point for Indian movements in the area. The Fort actually was a one story log house owned by Dietrich Snyder located close to main path over the mountain and commanded an excellent view of the valley below were the smoke from burning farms could easily have been seen Indian attacks would continue in well into 1758 near Fort Lebanon.
The question always asked by the settlers was, were did the Indians go after their attacks? Many times there was nothing more than a moccasin track in the ground that led nowhere. In 1756 Capt. Morgan sent out a detachment of men under the command of one Ensign Harry to the Gap at the Schuylkill River on Second Mountain, near present day Mt. Carbon, the soldiers climbed the mountain, actually the route the soldiers took would have them climbing up the mountain on what is today Mt. Carbons main street. Cresting the mountain the soldiers headed west toward the valley in Indian Run near the present day Pottsville Indian Run reservoir. On the eastern end of this valley they found the encampment of the Indians here they found 2 coats, one spear, one scalping knife, some vermilion and 800 black wampum. The soldiers set up an ambush in the area but apparently the Indians had discovered them and fled to a new area. This area was known to the soldiers as the Red Hole.
Many changes have taken place in Schuylkill County since the beginning of the French And Indian War in 1755, but you can still get a feel for what the area did look like and how the people who lived and fought the Indians made a way of life here. So if you have the time go up on the Blue Mountain take a walk along the Appalachian Trail and look down on old Schuylkill and see the beauty that brought these people to the area. And think of the time when Indian war parties roamed the area and how it was for your families safety depended upon your bravery and abilities as a frontiersman.

The Red Hole: George Wheeler
The French And Indian War in Pa. 1753-1763: Louis M. Waddell/ Bruce Bomberger.
Pennsylvania Archives.ii

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi! I think we are related to the Miller men who were over the mountains right after this time. I believe this account you have put together was a great picture for me! Thank you for your time and energy and for sharing.