THE bloody incidents narrated in the preceding chapter cast a pall of gloom over the infant settlements, and terrorized the inhabitants. Accounts of the ravages of the Indians, which were almost daily sent to the Supreme Executive Council, had a slight effect at last on that body, and they were making some efforts to relieve the people. May 30, 1778, Colonel Hunter informed Vice-President, Bryan that seventy rifles forwarded to him were on the way between Harris's Ferry and Fort Augusta, but none of the ammunition which he was so sorely in need of had reached the former place. The quantity of powder and lead allotted for this county he thought was very small, when the number able to bear arms was considered. He closed his appeal by saying: "If the people were relieved of the panic they were struck with last Monday, after hearing of the ravages of the Indians on Loyalsock, they would be able to make a better defense. It was really distressing to see the women and children from all quarters running to places the men had appointed to make a stand. The people have all assembled at particular places and are making little forts to leave their families in, while they go out to meet and repel the foe."
When Colonel Hunter dispatched this message he had not heard the worst, for he quickly forwarded another on the 31st of May, in which he said: "We are really in a melancholy situation in this county. The back inhabitants have all evacuated their habitations and assembled in different places. All above Muncy to
Lycoming are at Samuel Wallis's, and the people of Muncy have gathered at Captain Brady's. All above Lycoming are at Antes's mill, and the mouth of Bald Eagle creek." The latter designation was meant for Harris's Fort.
This letter was addressed to Capt. John Hambright, who was then a member of the Supreme Executive Council, and as he had previously been a resident of the county and was familiar with every point mentioned, Colonel Hunter was particular in noting localities for his information. Continuing, he observed: "A panic prevails in this county. It is really distressing to see the inhabitants flying away and leaving their all, especially the Jersey people, who came here last winter and spring. Not one stays, but sets off to the Jerseys again. The people in general are so discouraged that I am afraid we will not be able to make proper stands against the enemy, unless we get more assistance from some other quarter."
It was not strange, perhaps, after what had occurred, that such a condition existed. The people had every reason to be discouraged. But it seems they were determined to make one more effort. The Colonel says: " There were a number of the inhabitants with me today to consult in regard to petitioning Congress for some companies to be stationed here and properly supported; for, as the generality of the settlers are poor, they can not subsist long in case they are obliged to keep so many of the militia on duty, as there are at this time three classes, which take the chief of all the arms, so that there is not enough left to supply them that guard the women and children." The people had very likely, become tired of appealing to the Supreme Executive Council through the county lieutenant, or they would not have been considering the propriety of addressing Congress. This was a last move to arouse the government to speedy action in their behalf. Colonel Hunter closed his letter with these words: "John Weitzel sets off today [May 31] to forward the arms that are allowed to come here, and to endeavor to get more arms, ammunition, and flints. Camp kettles are very much wanted, if such things can be had. I expect you will endeavor all you can to get some money from Council for Mr. Weitzel to purchase provisions, otherwise we will be all undone."
The next day (June 1st) the heart of Colonel Hunter was gladdenedfor he wrote Vice-President Bryan acknowledging the receipt of £l,500 in cash by the hands of John Harris, Jr., of Loyalsock, "for purchasing provisions." "In case the Board of War," he added, "has not made provisions in another way, the money shall be put to the use proposed by Council." He complained, however, of the non-arrival of arms which had been promised from Northampton, and then observed that there had been 250 weight of gunpowder ieceived, "with four or five hundred weight of lead, but no flints!" Flour and wheat, he thought, could be purchased in Lancaster county. And if they succeeded in obtaining it there, it would have to be transported up the river by batteaux, poled by stalwart men, which was a slow process. He complained of the rainy condition of the weather, which greatly interfered with military movements and the comfort of the people. He also remarked that more arms and ammunition, exclusive of what had been received and ordered, "would be very necessary to quiet the minds of the people, as there are a great many more that will use arms in their defence than we have enrolled in the militia, especially men above the age of fifty-three and under eighteen will do to be stationed at such little forts as. they are erecting for the preservation of the women and children." He admitted that it was "very hard to have all the county doing military duty and no labor going on, which must be the ruin of this poor infant county if it continues any time." At the date of this writing he had not heard of any serious trouble up the river since the 24th of May, but added that Indians were frequently seen across the rivet "opposite Antes's mill and at the Great Island."
When the massacre of the 10th of June became noised about the excitement among the people was, greatly increased and a panic was almost precipitated. Wiser counsels, however, prevailed and they determined to hold on a little longer and wait for help. In the meantime the proposition to petition Congress was not abandoned, for on the 2d of June Colonel Hunter wrote Vice-President Bryan informing him of what was contemplated by the people, and the declaration of their inability to defend themselves without aid from abroad. The chief motive for getting up this petition, (says Hunter) was for the purpose of quieting the minds of the people, as they were apprehensive of a severe stroke from the Indians about the time of harvest, which would take all the militia of the county to guard against the savages, and cause them to lose their crops. The "appeal" was a long document and was signed almost altogether by persons living below Muncy Hills, where there was comparatively little danger.
That some feeling existed between the upper and lower sections of the county is evident, for on the 10th of June, the day of the Williamsport massacre, another petition was forwarded to the Executive Council praying for aid, which reflects upon the inability of Colonel Hunter to procure assistance for this part of the county. It is apparent that this was not the petition to which he made reference in his letter of the 2d of June. The insinuation in his letter that the motive for preparing that petition was to quiet the people, was cruel to say the least. From the language used he was insincere, or did not exert his best efforts to secure aid. The inhabitants above the Muncy Hills evidently understood his true position when they almost to a man signed the second memorial and did not fail to hint therein what they thought of him as county lieutenant. This petition is dated at Muncy, and a study of the names will show that they nearly all belonged to the section now embraced within the limits of Lycoming county. There were, a few from below who sympathized with them and did not hesitate to unite in their stirring appeal. This last petition, with the names of the signers; is given, in full:
Muncy, June 10, 1778.
To the Honorable the Supreme Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania:
The remonstrance of sundry the distressed inhabitants of the county of Northumberland inhabiting the West Branch of the River Susquehanna above Muncy Hills, humbly sheweth:
That the repeated depredations and horrid murders lately committed upon the innocent and peaceable inhabitants amongst us within a few weeks past is truly alarming. The melancholy event of the 31st of May upon Loyalsock creek obliged us to leave our homes and livings, and to assemble together in large bodies in order to protect our wives and infant children from becoming the victims of savage fury; in full faith and confidence that we should shortly meet with such succor as would enable us, to make a vigorous stand, that we have since frequently applied to the lieutenant of the county for aid, who, after using his best endeavors has not been able to furnish us with more than seventy-three troops of the militia of this county to cover a frontier of at least forty miles in length. This supply we apprehend to be of very little use, especially as their times will be out in the midst of harvest, and should anything more happen in the meanwhile, we are convinced that it will be impossible to call out the militia of this county at any rate; that those considerations, together with the very alarming event of the murder and captivity of thirteen of our near neighbors and most intimate acquaintances this day has drove the majority of us to desperation, and to pray that you in your wisdom will not only order to our immediate relief such standing forces as will be equal to our necessity; but that you will order such magazines and stores of provisions to be provided as will convince the good people of this place that such troops are to be stationed amongst them during the war. Nothing short of your immediate assurance of this, we are convinced, will induce the people to run the farther risk of being obliged to move away at a more unfavorable season.
Therefore in consideration of the premises, we beg leave to submit ourselves and families to your care and protection, not doubting but you will order us such relief as to you in your wisdom may seem meet.
The petition was signed by Nimrod Pennington, Samuel Gordon, Joseph Arbour, Joseph Hogeland, Joseph Webster, John Hollingsworth, Benjamin Burt, Peter Jones, Charles Bignall, Nathaniel Barber, Albert Polhamus, John Stryker, Samuel Carpenter, Samuel Wallis, Mordecai McKinney, Andrew Culbertson, Robert Robb, James White, Henry Scott, Joseph J. Wallis, Amariah Sutton, William Hall, Richard Sutton, Joseph Carpenter, Amos Hogeland, Erasmus Persh, Adam Weaver, Zachariah Jeig, Andrew Platt, John Sutton, Thomas McWhorter, Henry McWhorter, Israel Parshall, David Wortman, Andrew Ross, Abraham Lafever, Albert Covenhoven, Matthew Bleakley, William Ellis, Samuel Harris, Jr., John Carpenter, Joseph Gounon, Thomas Keen, Daniel Green, Joseph Sutton, John Glendining, Isaac Hall,. Enos Lundy, Samuel Harris, John Harris, John Robb, Andrew Wortman, James Hinds, Barnet Stryker, John Covenhoven, Cornelius Low, Timothy Treascey, Henry Pittinger, William Hepburn, Paul Ricketts, Cornelius Vanende, Robert McWhorter, Ezra Green, Comfort Wanerer, Daniel Perine, Cornelius Love, Pictern Yekof, Timothy Smith, John Ferney, Jonathan Benjamin, Daniel Green, Henry Cymore, William Snodgrass, Michael Coons, Cornelius Low, Peter Smith, William Hammond, David Berry, Peter Burns, Peter Carter, William Jones, John Buckalow, Ebenezer Green, Garordis Townsend, Frederick Blow, Benjamin Green, Claudius Boatman, John Scudder, Michael Coriell, Thomas Hunt, William Hamilton, Henry Silverthorn, James Uark, Edward Reardon, Fleming Wilson, Nathaniel Landon, Joseph Beckars, Jacob McKinney, Oaky Stevenson, Samuel Brady, James Brady, James Patton, Jerome Vanest, Jacob Houk, Paulus Sheep, Caleb Knap, Joshua Ran, Powel Sheep, Solomon, John Hall, Patrick Murdock, William Leacock, Charles Richards , Lieutenant, James Hamilton, John Hampton, Jacob Lawrenson, Ephraim Wortman, James Hampton, John White, Arthur Moore, Jonathan Hampton, Jacob Lameson, William Wilson, Thomas Newman, Jr., Joseph Newman, Robert Guy, Robert Wilson, tanner, Jonathan Hamil, Thomas Newman, Sr., Oliver Silverthorn, Thomas Oliver, Joshua White, George Silverthorn, Henry Starrett, James Giles, George Jordan, Michael Schmidt, David Austin, Joseph Hall, William Watson, John Morris, Thomas Lobdell, and Samuel Armstrong.
This petition had some weight with, the Supreme Executive Council and the Board of War, as the subsequent action of those bodies will, show. But with the enemy at the door it was hard for the inhabitants to wait for assistance; and time seemed long to them.
On the 14th of June, four days after the bloody occurrences of the 10th, Colonel
Hunter officially informed Vice-President Bryan of what had taken place on the West Branch. Communication with Antes's mill was then cut off. "This affair," he remarked, "hath hurt us much," meaning the slaughter on Loyalsock and Lycoming creeks.
AN ACT OF PERFIDY.
There is one particular incident connected with this Indian invasion which should not be overlooked. Job Chilloway, the friendly Indian, early gave notice to the whites of the conspiracy and contemplated invasion of the valley, and warned them to be prepared and on their guard. In the early spring of this year (1778) an Indian suddenly appeared on the opposite side of the river from Rood's Fort, at Lock Haven, and made anxious signs for some one to ferry him across. Colonel Long, who was stationed there with a small body of militia, was suspicious and feared he might be a decoy. He continued making signs for a ferryman and seemed to be honestly disposed. Still the commander hesitated. To show that his intentions were good he waded as far into the river as he could and appealed for assistance. One of the women at the fort, (supposed to be Mrs. Reed,) noticing the hesitancy of the Colonel, jumped into a canoe, paddled over the river, and brought the Indian across. He proved to be a friendly Indian, and had traveled a long distance over mountains and streams to warn the settlers that a hostile band of savages was preparing to make a descent on the valley from the north for the purpose of murder and pillage. He was greatly exhausted by his long and perilous journey, and when he had delivered his message he repaired to a quiet place, lay down, and was soon buried in a profound slumber.
A number of the militia at Reed's were engaged in shooting at a mark. Among them was a man named De Witt, who was slightly intoxicated. As he was loading his rifle he remarked to his companions that he would make the bullet he was putting in kill an Indian. Little attention was paid to his remark at the time, He made his word good, however; for, instead of firing at the mark, he leveled his rifle at the head of the sleeping Indian and shot him dead! Those who know of his errand of mercy were horrified at the deed. A baser act of ingratitude could not well be committed. The cool blooded murder, for such it really was, was unprovoked and cowardly in the extreme. The witnesses were so exasperated over the inhuman act that they threatened to lynch De Witt. This alarmed and sobered him, when conscience told him what a deed of perfidy he had committed, and realizing his danger, he took to his heels and fled. No efforts were made to stop him, and he was never heard of again. Probably retributive justice quickly overtook him and he fell by the remorseless tomahawk.
The hostile band of which the friendly Indian had given notice came. It consisted of twelve or fourteen savages, and terribly did they do their work at Loyalsock, Thomson's, and Lycoming. They fled by the way of the Sheshequin path up Lycoming creek, and onto Fort Niagara, "the headquarters of all that was barbarous, unrelenting, and cruel," where they demanded and received their reward, in the shape of British gold, for the bloody scalps they turned over as trophies of their raid!
The atrocious act of De Witt barely attracted the attention of one of the general officers. On the 17th of June, Brig. Gen. James Potter, writing to George Stewart, said that Colonel Long had forwarded to him an account of the assaults on Loyalsock and Lycoming, and then added that a few days before he had an Indian prisoner who "had come down from Sinnemahoning, and given him information of the approach of twelve Indians who did the murder." "I intended," added Colonel Long, "to have sent him down to Colonel Hunter in order to satisfy him, but an evil disposed person belonging to a lower garrison shot him as he was sleeping in the guard house." He does not say whether he disapproved of the act, or took advantage of the information given him by the Indian, who was basely murdered after apprising him of the danger in store for the settlers, but concluded his letter by saying: "We are informed that the northern Indians are determined to destroy both branches the Susquehanna settlements] this month."
Had Colonel Long evinced any disposition to act quickly on the important information brought him from the wilds of Sinnemahoning, the calamity which befell the settlers below might have been averted, as the hostile band had to pass almost in sight of his post. A vigilant commander would have sent out scouts and made some effort to discover the whereabouts of the foe.
DILATORY POLICY CONTINUED.
Time wore away and little progress was made in the feeble efforts to protect the inhabitants of the West Branch. Council, under date of Lancaster, June 21st, informed General Roberdeau that they continued to have distressing accounts from Northumberland. The company of 100 men allowed by the Board of War for the defense of the frontier was found to be insufficient, and the levy being restrained to the county, added little to the defense. "Fearing the whole settlement will give way," continues the writer in behalf of Council, "orders have just been issued for another such corps exactly, to be raised in Lancaster county under six months enlistment, for which it will be well that you procure approbation and the issue of rations."
Two days later, Gen. John Armstrong, writing from Carlisle to Vice-President Bryan, informed him that he had strong hopes that Congress would soon take up the question as to what was the best plan for protecting the frontier, and he begged to offer some suggestions. That Indian depredations were increasing the General was satisfied, and it was his opinion if some of their towns or places of rendezvous could be reached and destroyed some effective service would be rendered. If something was not speedily done to repel the savages, "Carlisle must be the frontier in the space of one month." He believed that in order to carry out this plan successfully, "not less than three different bodies of men should march at once, or near the same time; one from Sunbury, to proceed up the Susquehanna, and two of greater force from Pittsburg up the Allegheny river." These forces, he believed, would divert the attention of the Indians and prevent them from collecting in large bodies, when their harboring places could be attacked and destroyed.
The dilatory and temporizing policy of the Supreme Executive Council was well calculated to bring about the very condition foreshadowed by the petitioners. The outlook was growing more gloomy from day to day. Harvest was ready to cut and Indians were lying in wait to assail the husbandmen the moment they should leave their temporary places of defense and enter their fields. The savage knew the time to strike.
"THE BIG RUNAWAY."
The blow came at last. A strong force of Indians, Tories, and British attacked the settlers at Wyoming in the afternoon of July 3, 1778, defeated them with heavy loss, and closed the carnage of the day by a dreadful massacre in the evening. This was the culmination of the plan to exterminate the settlements in the valleys of both branches of the Susquehanna. The battle of Wyoming struck terror into the settlements on the North Branch and a general flight commenced. All who could get away fled precipitately.
When the news reached Colonel Hunter he was greatly alarmed, and fearing for the safety of the people on the West Branch, especially those living west of the Muncy Hills, sent word to Colonel Hepburn to order them to abandon the country and fly to Fort Augusta. He did this, he claimed, because there was an insufficient force of militia to afford adequate protection in case of a combined attack like that at Wyoming. Congress had done nothing to provide him with men and means to guard the frontier, and in the hour of peril there was but one alternative left him.
Colonel Hepburn obeyed orders promptly. Messengers were dispatched to the, points where the people were collected to warn them to fly. Some trouble was. experienced in getting a messenger to carry the news to Antes and Horn's Forts, the farthest outlying posts up the river. Finally Robert Covenhoven, and a young millwright in the employ of Andrew Culbertson volunteered to carry the orders. Covenhoven was brave and true, and knew the habits of the Indians thoroughly. The mission was dangerous, but the messengers quailed not. They crossed the, river., ascended Bald Eagle mountain, and traveled along the summit until they came to the gap opposite Antes Fort, when they, cautiously descended. Covenhoven knew that Indians would not be found on the mountain. From that elevation he would have a good view of the valley, and could quickly detect Indians if they should be moving on any of the paths. When they came in sight of the fort it was evening. As they cautiously approached the report of a rifle rang upon their ears and they were momentarily alarmed and thought they had been fired on. Investigation showed that the shot had been fired by a lurking Indian at a young woman who had incautiously gone outside to milk a cow. She was uninjured, but greatly terrified, as the ball passed through her clothes.
The orders were passed on to Horn’s as speedily as possible, and the work of preparing for the exodus commenced. Canoes, rafts, and all manner of floats were, hastily collected and loaded with household effects and provisions, when the women and children were placed on board and the motley fleet started down the river. In many instances household utensils and articles of value that could not be carried away were buried by the owners, and when they returned a few years afterwards they were found in, fair condition. As the fleets moved down the stream they were convoyed by companies of men armed with their trusty rifles, who marched along the, shore, and in supporting distance of each other.
Covenhoven hurriedly returned to Wallis's and assisted his own family to get, away. The excitement which prevailed among the people at this time is simply indescribable.
Many drove away their stock and hurried them down the river by the public road. Fear lent wings to every one in their flight. The retreat was marked by confusion, constant alarms, and terror. Indians were imagined to lurk in every bush. No one considered himself safe, but expected to be set upon and scalped at every turn in the river or the road. Covenhoven accompanied his father's family to Sunbury and then hurried back with a keel-boat to secure their household furniture. As he was rounding a point in the river above Lewisburg he met the main fleet descending from the forts above. "Such a sight," he says, "he never saw in his life. Boats, canoes, bog troughs, rafts hastily made of dry sticks every sort of floating article had been put in requisition and where crowded with women, children, and plunder there were several hundred people in all. Whenever arty obstruction occurred at a shoal or riffle, the women would leap out and put their shoulders, not indeed to the wheel, but to the flat-boat or raft, and launch it again in deep water."
Mrs. Hannah Miller, a daughter of Samuel Wallis, who died at Muncy in 1858, and who fled with her father's family, related this exciting incident: "During the night a number of families were with them on a flat-boat. They had placed boxes or chests along the sides of the craft, leaving a space in the center where the beds were made for the women and children. While a German woman was engaged doing something about the boat, she laid her baby on one of the boxes. It rolled off, and landing among the other children commenced crying loudly. This alarmed all the mothers and they had a hard time to prevent their babies from crying. They feared that such a noise might attract the attention of Indians lurking along the shore.
Had it not been for the armed force that marched along the shores to protect the women and children in the floats, the Indians very likely would have attacked them at the most dangerous points, and caused great havoc. In a day or two the valley was abandoned and homes and ripening harvests left to the mercy of the foe. Those in the rear could see the sky reddened at night by the lurid glare caused by burning houses and barns. The scene was one of appalling grandeur, and the impression made on the minds of those who witnessed it especially the young was so vivid and deep that it never was effaced, but like some hideous spectre of evil, was always before them to haunt their memories!
This remarkable and exciting event, which stands without a parallel in the annals of pioneer times, is what is known in history as the "Big Runaway"! It marks an epoch in the early development of this valley, on account of the temporizing policy which brought it about, that has never yet been fully explained, by State historians.
On the 4th of July, a few days before the fugitives began to arrive at Sunbury, Colonel Hunter dispatched a messenger to Vice-President Bryan, informing him that he had "intelligence of the most alarming and serious consequence," and he feared that "Wyoming will not long be able to oppose the rapid progress of the enemy." "In that case," he continued, "we can not say when the [Indians] will stop, and Lancaster county must soon tell their ravages."
Wyoming had then fallen, but he did not know it. But a few days elapsed, however, until advance couriers began to arrive and the stories they told of disaster and carnage were of the most exciting and exaggerated character. The startling intelligence alarmed and almost distracted the doughty commander of Fort Augusta, and it was not long till he had dispatched a messenger to Colonel Hepburn to issue orders to the people to evacuate the West Branch valley.
Five days later, (July 9, 1778) he had sufficiently recovered from the state of excitement into which he had been thrown, to issue a proclamation to the commanders of militia in Berks county, in which he informed them of the "distressed situation of, this county .... The inhabitants of the West Branch have suffered almost as much as Wyoming, though not at one time, therefore not so severely felt; however, both branches are almost evacuated, and from all appearances the towns of Northumberland and Sunbury will be the frontiers in less than twenty-four hours." But being a little bit encouraged, he paused to notify them that "the inhabitants of both towns, with a few of the fugitives from the upper parts of the county, seem determined to make a stand, but how long they can do it is very precarious, and indeed without assistance from other counties their stand will be very short, in which case you and other counties must experience the calamities we now feel by being the frontier." Dropping into a reflective mood the Colonel concluded: "Nothing but a firm reliance on Divine Providence, and the virtue of our neighbors, induces the few to stand that remain in the two towns, and if they are not very speedily reinforced they must give way, but will have this consolation that they have stood in defense of their liberty and country as long as they could, and that the want of assistance alone obliges them to retreat. In justice to the county, [Northumberland] I must bear testimony that the States never applied to it in vain. The whole State must know that we have reduced ourselves to our present feeble condition by our readiness to turn out upon all occasions when called upon in defense of the common cause. Should we now fall for want of assistance, let the neighboring counties reconcile to themselves, if they can, the breach of brotherly love, charity, and every other virtue which adorns and advances the human species above the brute creation." Such a severe arraignment, as well as reflection on the purity of the motives of his neighbors, was not calculated to make them feel very warmly towards him, much less to strain a point to aid him.
He closed his "proclamation" by saying: "I will not attempt to point out particular cruelties or barbarities that have been practiced on our unhappy inhabitants, but assure you that for the number, history affords, in no instance, more heathenish, cruelty or savage barbarity than has been exhibited in this county. I shall only add that a few hundred men, timely sent to Sunbury, to act in conjunction with the people who mean to stand there, or proceed further up the country, as occasion may require, will, in all human probability, save numbers of lives, and prevent the depredations threatened by the savages on other counties. I should be glad, gentlemen, to hear from some of you as soon as possible, that we may know what assistance we are to expect from your county."
There is nothing on record to show that these militia officers, who were so chided in this proclamation, ever did anything to assist Colonel Hunter in the hour of his extremity. Less letter writing might have redounded more to his credit as a county lieutenant.
William Maclay, who was at Paxtang on the 12th of July, the same day that Colonel Hunter wrote his letter to the Berks county officers, addressed one to Timothy Matlack, secretary of the Supreme Executive Council, informing him that he "left Sunbury and almost his whole property, on Wednesday." He had fled with his family by water. "I never in my life" he says, "saw such scenes of distress. The river, and the roads leading down it, were covered with men, women, and children flying for their lives, many without any property at all, and none who had not left the greatest part behind. In short, Northumberland county is broken up. Colonel Hunter only remained, using his utmost endeavors to rally some of the inhabitants, and to make a stand, however short, against the enemy. I left him with very few, I can not speak with certainty as to numbers, but am confident when I left him he had not one hundred men on whom he could depend."
Mr. Maclay was one of the representative men of the county and had but recently retired from the office of prothonotary. The scenes of distress and misery which he describes must have been harrowing indeed. The panic seemed to be universal. -None remained behind but those who could not get away, or those whom stern duty compelled to stay. He was disposed to defend Colonel Hunter, notwithstanding his hasty order to fly was the cause of the panic on the West Branch. He says: "Something, my dear sir, must be done to restore confidence to the desponding and flying multitude, and to make them face the enemy. Depend on it, the country will be lost without some measures. For God's sake, for the sake of the country, let Colonel Hunter be reinforced at Sunbury-send him but a single company, if yon can not. do more." Among the fugitives then at Paxtang was Mrs. Hunter, wife of the commander of Fort Augusta. She had accompanied Mr. Maclay and family.
"The miserable example of the Wyoming people," observes Mr. Maclay, "who have come down absolutely naked among us, has operated strongly, and the cry has been, ‘Lot us move while we may, and lot us carry off some of our effects along with us.’ It was to no purpose that Colonel Hunter issued orders for assembling the militia, and the whole county broke loose." His sympathies were greatly stirred when he remarked that " something in the way of charity ought to be done for the many miserable objects that crowd the banks of this river, especially those who fled from Wyoming." He admitted that they were a people he did not love very warmly at one time, but now he did most "sincerely pity their distress." As the women and children " are now removed out of Northumberland county," he believed that the men would cheerfully return with the first troops sent up the river. One of the causes, Mr. Maclay thought, of the great panic, was the impression that prevailed among the people that no relief would be sent here. This opinion grow out of the inactivity of the authorities. Appeal after appeal had been made for assistance and still none came. Letter after letter had been written by men prominent in the valley to members of Congress, the Board of War, and the Council, setting forth the condition of affairs here, and yet no decisive steps were taken for their relief.
After all these fruitless attempts to got some assurance of aid, the people were in a fit condition to take alarm on the slightest opportunity. Colonel Hunter gave the word, and, lo! the "Big-Runaway," and the desolation of the fairest portion of Lycoming county.
Copious extracts have been made from letters and official documents to give the reader a clear insight into the causes operating to bring about this extraordinary condition of affairs. Few have had the opportunity to examine the records in order to got at the merits of the case, and as the exciting and bloody events of that period form the very foundation of our county history, it has been deemed best to put them in intelligible form for the benefit of those who have always been puzzled to know the reasons for the "Big Runaway."
Colonel Hunter was a prolific letter writer. After his famous letter to the Berks county militia colonels he set about preparing one for the Supreme Executive Council, which was in the form of an official report of the flight, as well as another stirring appeal for help. It is simply a repetition of what has already been given.
THE AUTHORITIES ACT.
Now that the British were retreating through New Jersey, and Washington had already punished them at Monmouth, he was, in a condition to spare some of his forces to pursue their savage allies who were assailing his rear. The skies were brighter in the front, and as a consequence the authorities were more encouraged than they had been for a long time. There was yet hope for the flying settlers, although their excited condition had not yet sufficiently subsided to enable them to realize that all was, perhaps, not yet lost. A consultation between the Supreme Executive Council and the Board of War on the 14th of July, resulted in an understanding as to a plan for immediate defensive operations, which was promptly approved by Congress. Acting upon the plan of General Armstrong, it was agreed that a detachment of Colonel Hartley's regiment should march from New Jersey to Easton, where it would unite, with other forces; the remainder of his regiment, then in Philadelphia, was to march immediately to Sunbury and join two companies lately raised at Wyoming. Colonel Brodhead’s regiment was to be ordered to Standing Stone, (now Huntingdon). But it was found "necessary to add to these Continental troops a considerable body of Militia." It was therefore determined by Council "to order to Sunbury 300 militia from the bounty of Northumberland, 400 from the county of Lancaster, and 150 from the county of Berks; to the Standing Stone, 300 from the county of Cumberland, and 200 from the county of York; to Easton, from the county of Northampton, 300 men, and from the county of Berks, 150 men."
With these forces it was thought the enemy could be sufficiently crippled and driven back to enable the settlers to return and gather their harvests, while thus protected; and that, perhaps, he would not be able to return and do any further damage. Colonel Hunter was therefore notified to exert himself to got his quota of men for this county in the field immediately. It was expected that he had enough guns in his hands to arm them, and he was informed that ammunition and provisions would be supplied to his order by the Board of War.
When these operations were determined upon the panic among the people still continued. Bertram Galbraith, writing from Lancaster, July 14th, to the Council, says: "On Sunday morning last the banks of the Susquehanna, from Middletown up to the Blue mountain, were entirely clad with the inhabitants of Northumberland county who had moved off, as well as many in the river in boats, canoes and rafts. Indeed, the inhabitants of Wiconisco valley, about twenty-five miles above Harris's Ferry, in this county [then Berks] were moving on Sunday last, and the people lower down were thinking to follow!"
Timothy Pickering, of the Board of War, informed Council on the 16th of July that General McIntosh, hearing of the ravages of the Indians at Wyoming, had ordered Colonel Brodhead with his regiment up the Susquehanna. Gen. J. P. De Haas, in the meantime, had written to the Board of War from Lebanon, stating that he would immediately proceed to Sunbury with a sufficient force to oppose the invaders, and he requested instructions. On the 16th Colonel Pickering, "in the name of the Board of War;" informed Council that General De Haas had offered his services in leading out a body, of volunteers against the Indians. Council applauded the action of the General, and wished to give him their "utmost confidence." In a word they were rejoiced "to find an officer of weight and experience stepping forth in the defense of the country."
The same day Timothy Matlack, a member of Council, acknowledged the receipt of a letter from the Board of War informing Council of their action, and acquiescing in the proposition to send Colonel Brodhead's regiment to the support of the people, "as there was too much reason to apprehend that the regular force would not, under the present dreadful apprehensions of danger, be sufficient to encourage the militia to exert themselves in a vigorous defense." Col. Bertram Galbraith, of Lancaster county, had received orders to call out his quota of militia, but the Committee had some doubts of the success of the plan of General De Haas to "raise volunteers on the present occasion," and in their opinion it would "not be advisable for him to interfere with the legal mode of calling out the militia." If, however, he could, contrary to the expectations of the Committee, " raise a body of volunteers," it would certainly meet with their "approbation and thanks."
In a circular letter of instructions issued to county lieutenants the same day (July 16th) it appears that Council were acting with great promptness. Lieutenants were officially informed that Colonel Brodhead's regiment, then on the march to Pittsburg, was ordered to Standing Stone; that part of Colonel Hartley's regiment, consisting of 100 men, was then on the march to Sunbury via, Lancaster and Harris's Ferry, to be joined by the two companies raised at Wyoming. The remainder of Colonel Hartley's regiment, about eighty men, was moving from New Jersey to Easton, where they would unite with other reinforcements. Colonel Hartley's regiment was furnished with " thirty rounds of cartridges a man, I and had with them, besides this quantity, 10,000 spare cartridges.
Council impressed upon county lieutenants the fact that as the Indians were moving rapidly down the river, it would behoove them to act with equal celerity to meet and repel them, and thereby encourage the people to proceed to their abandoned homes, while thus protected, "to reap their harvests in safety." As the Committee was in the act of closing the circular, intelligence was received that Colonel McIntosh, who had command in the western part of the State, having become alarmed at the movements of the Indians, had "ordered Colonel Brodhead's regiment up the Susquehanna river."
On the 20th of July the Board of War informed Council that their reports from the frontiers were still of the most alarming nature. The Board claimed that it had done everything in its power to hasten the movement of troops, and until they were informed what was wanted in the way of supplies, they could do nothing more. This duty devolved on Council. The Board was also informed that there were 12,000 stands of arms belonging to the State at Allentown, and it was presumed if not already done-Council had made requisition for the quantity require to arm the militia. On their request the Board stood ready to "direct the commissary general of military stores to issue such quantities of ammunition" as they thought would be required for this expedition.
HUNTER SEVERELY CRITICIZED.
Colonel Hunter's precipitate action in ordering the evacuation, of the valley, and thereby making the "Big Runaway" possible, has always been a subject for severe criticism. Many settlers found fault with him oil that account, and they never forgave him. It was argued that if he had been less profuse in bluster and promise, and had taken a different course to instill confidence in the minds of the people, and refrained from issuing the order to fly, the militia and inhabitants were strong, enough to have easily resisted the enemy and held them at bay until reinforcements arrived. This course would have spared the people great, losses and an untold amount of suffering and misery. It is true the action of Council, was tardy and vacillating, but with all that, proper encouragement and a, determined effort, such as usually grows out of confidence, might have resulted in averting the calamity. Samuel Wallis was one who believed Colonel Hunter acted with undue haste in this matter. He was represented to have been almost frantic with excitement on the first alarm, and when Wallis reached Sunbury in obedience to Hunter's order, he found that he not only had sent his own family down the river and shipped his effects from Fort Augusta, but was all ready himself to fly on further alarm. The wonder is he did not lead the flying column to Paxtang! Had it not been for the swift movement of Colonel Brodhead, Wallis believed that not ten families would have remained in the county, as there was no abatement in the panic. He (Wallis),was extremely anxious to have some regular troops sent up the river, as he had but little confidence in, the militia, Concerning them he, thus wrote:
Such confusion has already happened by trusting to the militia here, that I can and do declare for myself, that I will not stay a Single moment longer than I can help after being assured that we are to be protected by them only. We were amused some time ago by a resolve of Congress for raising 100 six-months men in this county, and Colonel Hunter was pleased to assure the Council that the men would be readily raised, when he at the same time knew, and was pleased to declare, in private conversation, that it was impossible to raise 100 men amongst people so much confused and alarmed. This kind of conduct from Colonel Hunter, as well as a number of our other leading men, has brought us to the pass you now find us, and unless some speedy interposition in our behalf, I do again with great confidence assure you that we shall be no longer a people in this county.
From the tenor of this letter it is plain that he did not have an exalted opinion of either the judgment or bravery of Colonel Hunter, whom he held largely responsible for the terribly depressing state of affairs which then prevailed.
Gen. James Potter, who had been absent on military duty, returned to his place in Penn's Valley, July 25, 1778. He immediately wrote the authorities that many farmers had returned to reap their harvests, and advocated prompt assistance. General Potter estimated the loss to this county by the Big Runaway at £40,000!