Military history

CHAPTER 55

Yankees Invade Wyoming— and Pay the Price

SPRING 1763

SINCE 1754, when John Henry Lydius and Timothy Woodbridge had tried to acquire the Iroquois Confederacy’s claim to five million acres in Pennsylvania, the Susquehannah Company’s membership had greatly expanded, particularly among the farmers of eastern Connecticut. In part this resulted from the sheer land-hunger of families in this, the poorest part of a populous colony; in part it came from the relatively low cost of stock (as little as eight pounds Connecticut currency per share, with half-shares available). But in large part, too, the company prospered because Connecticut’s government made no effort to discourage it, and indeed gave all but formal blessing to its operations. Because the Charter of 1662 had fixed Connecticut’s western boundary at the Pacific, and because that patent preceded the establishment of the Pennsylvania proprietary by nearly twenty years, Connecticut’s government could in fact maintain it had the right to erect townships within Pennsylvania, and that claim (however zany on its face) was better grounded in law than that any Benning Wentworth could make for his New Hampshire grants. But if low entry costs made the enterprise popular and legal technicalities made it plausible, wartime developments rendered it frankly bizarre. The Susquehannah Company’s supposed purchase included the 2,500,000-acre tract that Governor Denny had promised Teedyuscung as a reserve for the eastern Delawares at the 1757 Treaty of Easton. Promised, but not guaranteed: the following year’s Easton conference, at which the western Delawares had made their peace with the British, had blurred Teedyuscung’s right to the Wyoming Valley by making it subject to the approval of the Iroquois Confederacy—and presumably to the assent of the Penn family as well.

The war, of course, had rendered the occupation of the Wyoming Valley theoretical for all but Teedyuscung’s people, but it was not long after hostilities had ceased in middle Pennsylvania that the first Connecticut Yankees made their appearance. In the autumn of 1760, three justices of the peace and the sheriff of Northampton County, acting on a complaint from Teedyuscung, found that twenty settlers associated with the Susquehannah Company had established a village on the west bank of the Delaware, at Cushitunk. The New Englanders made no effort to conceal that they were the vanguard of a much larger number of migrants who were to follow in the spring. They were unconcerned with Pennsylvanian opposition because, as they assured the investigators, majorities in both houses of the Connecticut Assembly warmly supported their enterprise. This invasion—there was no other adequate term for it—triggered a quick proclamation from Governor James Hamilton, forbidding unauthorized settlement on Pennsylvania lands and warning of Indian retaliation; occasioned an exchange of official correspondence between Hamilton and Governor Thomas Fitch, who claimed that Connecticut had no official connection to a company with more than a thousand shareholders, including many of the colony’s most influential political figures; and scared the Penn family into asking the Board of Trade and the Privy Council to block further Susquehannah Company activity.1

None of this activity blunted the spearhead of Yankee colonization. By the end of 1760, Connecticut surveyors had laid off three townships along the Delaware, millwrights had built a sawmill and a gristmill, and settlers had settled into cabins to wait out the winter. The following year, while in Britain the attorney general and the solicitor general assured the Penns that Connecticut’s charter gave “no Colour of Right to Claim the Tract of Land in Question,” at Cushitunk the settlers—by this time, scores of them—built houses, constructed and armed a stout blockhouse, and began work on the road that would cross the mountains to the broad Wyoming plain.2

It took the Yankee axmen until the fall of 1762 to cut their way through the sixty miles of hills, forest, and swamp that separated the valleys of the Delaware and the Susquehanna. When in mid-September the advance party of about 120 armed pioneers finally reached their destination on Lechawanock (Lackawanna) Creek, seven or eight miles up the valley from Teedyuscung’s town, they found only a few Delawares on hand—by no means enough to keep them from cutting tons of hay, raising three blockhouses, building three miles of road along the river, and making other preparations for the larger numbers of settlers who, they said, would follow. Significantly, Teedyuscung was not among the half-dozen warriors who turned out to warn the Connecticut men off. Indeed, at the time they arrived he had no idea that invaders had even entered Wyoming, because he was off trying to deal with threats that seemed more immediate—and those proceeded from Philadelphia and Onondaga.3

Except for a short time in July and early August, the Delaware king was absent from his settlement from late May through September, trying by diplomacy to preserve his people’s claim to the promised reservation. Nothing that summer had favored him or his people. Even before he left the valley, an epidemic of dysentery carried off his wife, Elisabeth, her sister, and her sister’s husband, an important counselor. Teedyuscung suspected that they had been poisoned, by witchcraft; and both fear and grief probably contributed to the drunkenness that made him such a poor advocate for his people at the summer’s two conferences. At the first of these, at Easton in June, Sir William Johnson presided over a quasi-judicial inquiry into the validity of the Walking Purchase. This investigation fulfilled the promise, made at the Easton negotiations of 1757 and 1758, that a representative of the Crown would determine whether the Penn family and the Iroquois had conspired to defraud the Delawares of their lands in eastern Pennsylvania at the time of the Walking Purchase. If Johnson found fraud, he could recommend that the eastern Delawares receive compensation in the form of the permanent title to the Wyoming Valley. Unfortunately for the Delawares, Johnson not only habitually favored Iroquois claims to overlordship, but saw great political utility in strengthening his connections with the Penn family. Teedyuscung made these formidable obstacles insurmountable by drinking heavily throughout the conference.4

The chief’s erratic behavior in presenting his case made it relatively easy for the lawyers who represented the Penn family to discredit him before Johnson, whose basic hostility to the Delawares was obvious from the start. Eventually Israel Pemberton of the Friendly Association— present, as at every Easton conference since 1756, to support the Indians—found the proceedings so blatantly unfair that he lost his temper and tried to intervene on Teedyuscung’s behalf. Accusations flew and anger flared; Johnson drew his sword and threatened to run the Quaker through; and in the end, Pemberton succeeded only in adding the humiliation of the Friendly Association to the defeat of the Delawares’ hopes. On June 27, Teedyuscung settled for what he could get, agreeing to “bury under Ground all Controversies about Land . . . and to Sign a Release for all the Lands in Dispute,” in return for a gift of two hundred pounds in goods and four hundred pounds in cash.5

The route back to Wyoming was a via dolorosa to a man who understood that he had little chance of gaining a clear title to the valley at the summer’s second conference, a peace congress between representatives of the Pennsylvania government and the Ohio Indians. Nonetheless he assembled his warriors into an entourage that would support him in his last effort to plead for a reservation and left the valley in early August. By the twelfth his delegation had reached Lancaster, where they met Governor Hamilton, Tamaqua and other leaders from the Ohio Country, and representatives of the Six Nations who had come to confirm the treaty as the “uncles” of the Delawares and Shawnees. Predictably enough, neither the Iroquois nor Hamilton felt inclined to give the Delaware king what he asked. Nothing compelled them to do so. Teedyuscung’s uncles and Governor Hamilton instead urged him to stand fast against all intruders from Connecticut, while offering nothing concrete—least of all an inalienable title—to help him. The Iroquois chiefs seemed most interested in ceding tracts of land on the lower Susquehanna, which did nothing to reassure Teedyuscung that the upper reaches of the valley would not be next. Bitterly accusing the whites of trying to poison his delegation, as he believed his wife and others had been poisoned in the spring, Teedyuscung left Lancaster with presents—a hundred pounds in cash and four hundred pounds in trade goods—but without satisfaction. His dream of a secure homeland, born in the war that had briefly given him leverage against both the Iroquois and the Penns, lay dead in the ashes of the Lancaster council fire.6

Bitter as his disappointment was, what awaited Teedyuscung at home was worse. He could hardly have been pleased to find the entire Iroquois delegation from Lancaster encamped at Wyoming when he returned at the end of September, but when they told him why they had come, it must have seemed as if the events of the summer had only been the prelude to something far worse. Thomas King, the Oneida chief who headed the Iroquois group, explained that a week earlier, on their way back to New York, they had encountered settlers from the Susquehannah Company. He and his men had ordered them out of the valley on pain of death, and the Yankees had left. But everywhere Teedyuscung looked along Lechawanock Creek, he found evidence that they intended to return.7

King told Teedyuscung to wait for instructions from the Six Nations and then made his way home, leaving the situation in considerable doubt. When 150 or so of the Connecticut men returned to the valley a few days later, bringing “all sorts of Tools as well for Building as Husbandry” and announcing that they intended to start erecting houses, Teedyuscung threatened to carry them before the governor of Pennsylvania for punishment. But the Yankees only laughed at him, cached their tools in the woods, and left vowing to bring back 3,000 settlers in the spring. Other parties followed, carrying more implements, including a great blade and the tools necessary to build a sawmill—which, they told Teedyuscung, they intended to locate on the Susquehanna about a mile from his house. As before, each group hid its supplies and left, its members saying “the very same things to [Teedyuscung] that the others had Said,” assuring him that there was no way to stop them. Finally, in November, Teedyuscung traveled to Philadelphia to ask the governor for help. Hamilton encouraged him to stand fast, warned him not to shed the “Blood of the White People,” and suggested that he consult the Six Nations. In the meantime, the governor said, he would ask the proper British authorities to intervene and stop the Connecticut scheme.8

None of this helped Teedyuscung, who needed more than advice if he hoped to stand off hordes of heavily armed New Englanders in the spring. When he returned to Wyoming, therefore, he sent a war belt and a message to the Ohio Country. If the government of Pennsylvania would not defend his people, and the Iroquois could not be trusted to refrain from selling the ground out from under him, perhaps his kinsmen the western Delawares would offer the support he needed. He had cause for hope in this, for at Lancaster the Ohio delegates had been so offended by the Pennsylvanians’ behavior that they actually discarded the presents they had been given on their way home. Tamaqua, who for four years had been the leading advocate of accommodation among the western Delawares, had lost status as a result of the conference, his place taken by a more militant chief called Newcomer. Although no record survives of the reply Newcomer and the other Ohio chiefs made to Teedyuscung’s pleas for support, they evidently gave the Delaware king enough assurances that he was able to withstand strong pressures from within his group to abandon Wyoming. He and his warriors settled in to await the Yankees’ return. 9

But when Connecticut men and their families came back in the spring of 1763, they met no resistance, for by the time they arrived, the Delaware king was dead and his people had scattered to the winds. On the night of April 19, while Teedyuscung lay drunk and asleep, arsonists set fire to his cabin and the others in his settlement. Mingo Senecas were visiting the town when the fires broke out and supplied the liquor that insured Teedyuscung’s sleep would be his last. Whether they acted on behalf of the Susquehannah Company or the Six Nations, or even whether they started the fires, can never be known. What cannot be denied, however, is that the Susquehannah Company realized an immediate benefit from the tragedy. No warriors were there to keep the Yankee intruders from planting in Delaware cornfields, turning livestock out into the meadowlands along the river, building houses in the deserted and burned-out Indian towns, and constructing fortifications to preserve their hold on the valley.

Yet they would not hold it long. When during the summer news reached the valley that a great Indian uprising had broken out in the west, most of the New Englanders withdrew, and the expected influx of settlers—the more than seven hundred men and families who had made ready to migrate from Connecticut—never materialized. By the fall only thirty or forty stubborn farmers remained at Wyoming, confident that the blockhouse would protect them until they could bring in the year’s corn harvest. Their confidence was misplaced. On October 15, Teedyuscung’s son, Captain Bull, appeared at the head of a Delaware war party. They made short work of the settlers’ defenses, killing ten of the Yankees and driving the rest upriver into captivity, at Wyalusing. When a company of Pennsylvania provincials arrived a couple of days later, they could read the story in the ruins. “Nine men and a woman,” they reported, “had been most cruelly butchered[.] The woman was roasted, and had two Hinges in her Hands, supposed to be put in red hot, and several of the men had Awls thrust into their Eyes, and Spears, arrows, Pitchforks, &c sticking in their Bodies.” All the victims had been scalped, but an “immense quantity” of corn stood unharmed in the fields nearby. Hastily burying the dead, the Pennsylvania soldiers burned the undamaged buildings, torched the corn crop to keep the Indians from returning to harvest it, and retreated to safer territory.10 Five years would pass before Susquehannah Company settlers would return to the bloodstained plains of Wyoming.

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