Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Intern's Corner: July in the Revolution

Wyoming Valley Massacre, July 3-4, 1778
By Mark Relation, DLAR Intern

          A 25 mile long stretch of the Susquehanna River below the mouth of the Lackawanna, the Wyoming Valley was home to much tension throughout the colonial period.  Claimed by Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and local Iroquois, debates sometimes turned bloody as the three groups vied for control of the area.  In the years leading up to the Revolution, both Connecticut and Pennsylvania settlers rallied for the most part behind the Patriot cause.  However, hopes of ending conflict in the Wyoming Valley were soon dashed when, starting in around 1774, a significant number of loyalist families began to arrive from the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys in western New York. 

          In response, the Patriot settlers began to move against the Loyalists, arresting many suspected Loyalists and sending them off to mines or prisons in Connecticut.  However, open fighting did not break out in the region until 1778, when British Colonel John Butler led a mixed force of roughly 1,000 Loyalists and Native Americans from Ft. Niagara to raid across New York and Pennsylvania and to provide support for local oppressed Loyalists, moving to occupy Wintermoot Fort in the Wyoming Valley.  In response, the Patriots mustered some 300 militia under off duty Colonel Zebulon Butler and gathered at Forty Fort (named for the 40 original pioneer families to settle the area). 

          Boldly deciding to take the offensive, Zebulon Butler moved from Forty Fort to attack John Butler’s troops in an attempt to draw them away from their homes and crops.  Feigning retreat, John Butler set fire to Wintermoot Fort and drew the Patriots into an open field as they rushed after the Loyalists in a disorganized mass, hoping to run down their fleeing foe.  Once the Patriots were in position, John Butler sprung his trap, enveloping the disordered Patriots and drove them back to the Susquehanna.  The Patriots fell for John Butler’s trap perfectly, and were completely destroyed.  Many attempted to flee across the river, but most were caught and cut down by pursuing Iroquois.  While exact casualty rates are difficult to gauge, John Butler reported killing 227 Patriots while losing just 3 men.  Whatever the exact figures may be, what is clear is that it was a complete victory for the Loyalists, with only 60 Patriot militiamen surviving as a fighting force in the area. 

          Following the battle, the Loyalists were able to raid and plunder the area unimpeded, destroying 8 forts and 1,000 houses, and capturing 1,000 cattle and a number of sheep and pigs.  The Wyoming Valley settlers also agreed to demolish their forts, restore the property of Loyalists, end their persecutions, and never to take up arms again for the remainder of the War.  While the Loyalists celebrated this as a great victory, the Patriots quickly spread the news of the “massacre” done at their hands.  John Butler reported that “not a single person was hurt, except such as were in arms,” but the Patriots exaggerated the story until reports suggested no survivors in the whole valley as a result of the Loyalist rampage. 

          On July 8th, John Butler withdrew from the area, and a Patriot relief force from Connecticut arrived in early August and began a series of revenge campaigns against Native American villages.  These raids, while unsuccessful in capturing those Natives responsible for the “massacre,” did manage to recover some of the loot and animals taken, and the Valley remained in Patriot hands for the remainder of the War.

Blanco, Richard L., and Paul J. Sanborn. The American Revolution: 1775-1783 : An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993. Print. p. 1801-1803.

Selesky, Harold E. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Detroit: Scribner, Thomson Gale, 2006. Print.  p. 1286-1288.

Chappel, Alonzo.  Wyoming Valley Massacre.  1858.

No comments:

Post a Comment