Monday, May 2, 2011

Captain Dennis Leary's Continental Marines And The Neiman Massacre, 1780

A Continental Marine
It is nearly sunset, August 27, 1780, on what is destined to be the site of Pottsville. If we could be transported back to this date and time and place, about all we would recognize would be topographical, contours of our hills and mountains and the course of the Schuylkill River, which was then vastly different from the narrow, black stream of today. It was wider, deeper, and crystal clear and bordered by giant trees and overhanging rhododendron. The stream narrows as it rushes through the gap in Sharp Mountain.
Would we, on a summer evening 231 years ago see any signs of a man and his works on the site that is now Pottsville? From old records and maps we can reconstruct the scene fairly well. Leading up from the south through the mountain gap, we see a road, or rather a large path on the eastern side of the river. It will be hard to follow through the forest, but we shall endeavor to trace its course. We know that the Kings Highway, that was built in 1770 when the land was under English rule and that it started at the saw mill of one Ellis Hughes which was situated in a ravine back of the present County Home situated in a ravine near Schuylkill Haven.

The saw mill was the terminus for the road coming from Philadelphia to the settlements north of the Blue Mountain, prior to 1770. Tracing the road through the eastern side of the Gap, we see that it fords the Schuylkill about where the old Philips and Jones factory once stood, and then it went up the eastern side of Norwegian creek and up the valley to Fishbach, near North Center St. then up to Bulls Head. To its terminus many miles away at the forks of the Susquehanna, were Sunbury is located. There has been much controversy about where the Kings Highway surveyed by Benjamin Lightfoot.
Now, near the ford across the Schuylkill and about 50 yards west of the site of the Pottsville Hospital, a cabin in a clearing might be seen, with nearby what appeared to be a young Orchard. On the bank of Norwegian Creek, about 100 yards from its mouth and about the point where the Washington St. Bridge use to stands. A small water powered saw mill was visible, perhaps, There near the saw mill lived a man and his family, Henry Neiman, the first white settlers that lived on the now site of Pottsville.

Two Living Historians As Continental Marines, How Leary's men looked.
Today we know that Neiman settled here between 1770-1780, when Balzar Gehr, Major General of the Militia in Berks County, obtained a warrant to cut timber and build a saw mill on the site that is now Pottsville. He engaged Neiman to operate the mill and provided him with 200 young apple trees which Neiman was to plant and care for. We have no reco9rd of anyone else living on the site of present day Pottsville on this August Sunday in 1780. I am sure Neiman had some help to work the saw mill, but there names are all lost to history.

Where the Neiman Massacre took place on Mauch Chunk St. Pottsville. Near Pottsville Hospital

Down the Gap, between Sharp and Second Mountain and on the west side of the river across from where the old A&P, or unemployment office is. once stood was a military post. We have no record of what it looked like but its situation is well authenticated. Probably there was a few cabins and shelters and perhaps a stockade surrender the post,. Assigned there were 80 Continental Marines under the command of Captain Dennis Leary. Along with the Marines were a few wood cutters assigned to cut down pine trees, which in this valley crew straight and tall suitable for masts on sailing ships. The felled trees were trimmed and then rafted down the Schuylkill River, to Philadelphia where they were used to refit ships of our French Allies. At this time wee were at war with England.

Area where the Marines had A Fort.

The Marines were stationed here for two reasons, to guard the workers cutting the trees by day and the stock pile of felled trees by night, for the Indians and Tories allies of the British would try to notch the trees rendering them use less for masts on ships. The other reason was to hold and patrol the gap in the Schuylkill against any actions by the Tories and Indians wanting to check the Schuylkill. Sharp Mountain formed part of the frontier of our new Republic. Imagine, all of Pennsylvania north of this gap was in the hands of the British and their Indian allies. As far as we know there were no settlers north of where Neiman lived.
Neiman felt safe enough, only a few miles away from the Marine post. He worked the little saw mill, tended his little orchard and raised his family.
Then the long August twilight was drawing to an end over the Neiman cabin located in the wilderness. Looking down at the military post you would see a detachment of Marines wearing green coats with white facings, with a high leather collar to protect them from saber strikes of the neck, hence the name Marines still carry “Leathernecks”.
The patrol was setting out to protect the recently felled trees.
Then musket fire is heard to the Northeast of the post, five or six marines rush out of the post and up the road through the gap.

Looking toward the gap

What happened next is well documented in the written report of Captain Dennis Leary. On September 1, 1780, he wrote his commanding officer that on the preceding Sunday after sundown, he was alarmed by the sound of musket fir4e near his post at the gap of the Schuylkill River, and that he and four of his men rushed to the house of one Henry Neiman about a mile from the Post. They found Neiman and two of his children dead. One child a little girl was reported as missing carried away by the Indians. A party of Indians had been seen on the King’s Highway the day before this massacre, but although Captain Leary sent out a detachment of 50 men who scoured the woods for two days no trace of the Indians was found. Captain Leary immediately buried the bodies of Neiman and his two children where he found them, and for all anyone knows they may still be buried and sleeping under Mauch Chunk St., which was the site of the Neiman Family. Actually located near the wall of were the Pottsville Hospital parking lot meets Mauch Chunk St.
Contrary to their usual custom the Indians did not burn the Neiman cabin which stood for many years and was occupied at one time by the father of Jeremiah Reed, the first white male child born on the site of Pottsville.
In his report to his commanding officer, Captain Leary appealed to his commanding officer for more men to defend the post where he was stationed. It is curious to note that no mention is made in anyway of the reports or records of the wife of Neiman, whether she was away from the cabin at the time of the massacre, whether she was captured by the Indians or whether she died before the massacre, we will probably never know. This then is the story of the Neiman massacre at Pottsville, based upon a careful study of existing records.


Anonymous said...

In the records you mentioned, are there descriptions of the uniform of the Continental Marines (from one of the living historians in the picture you posted)? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Within the records you mentioned, are there description of the uniforms the Continental Marines wore (from one of the living historians in the picture you posted)? Thank you.