Charles E. Myers. A Connecticut Yankee in Penn’s Woods: The Life and Times of Thoas Bennett. Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Wilkes Univesity Press, 1993.
Connecticut residents entered the Wyoming Valley in 1762. Connecticut and Pennsylvania both had titles to this land from the British King. This led to the Yankee-Pennamite Wars of armed conflicts from 1770 to 1784. While Congress gave title to Pennsylvania, many Connecticut settlers remained. The Connecticut settlers did not obtain clear ownership of their lands until the late 18th century.
One of the Connecticut settlers was Thomas Bennet. The author is a fifth generation descendant of Bennett.
The Connecticut settlers fought Indians, British, and Pennsylvanians. A massacre in Wyoming in 1778 led General George Washington to agree to General John Sullivan’s request that successfully drove the Iroquois and British into northern New York and Canada.
After the Revolutionary War, Congress declared the Wyoming settlements were part of Pennsylvania Congress also began determining how to handle property rights, an issue sensitive to Connecticut settlers who had property in what then became under Pennsylvania governance.
Thomas Bennett and other Connecticut settlers appreciated the rich land and beauty of the area. The Connecticut settlers formed a close community Thomas Bennett was separated from his wife Martha and his children for two years after the 1778 Wyoming Massacre. Martha and a daughter made clothes to survive using flax due to a shortage of wood. The Bennett family returned to rebuild and replant. Thomas Bennett joined the 24th Regiment and the Continental Army.
It is noted that the 1972 flood waters from Hurricane Agnes rose up to but did not reach Thomas Bennett’s grave.
The Bennetts disliked the rigidness of Massachusetts Bay Colony leaders who initially sought religious liberty yet beame less tolerant of different religions. Others of similar minds established towns in Windsor, Hartford, and Westerfield that later joined togehr in forming the Connecticut colony.
In 1662, the King of England, 20 years before a grant was given to William Penn that conflicted with this grant, granted Connecticut land from sea to sea. This included land that today is parts of 14 states reaching California. It is noted that the British government lacked proper maps and may not have been familiar with the colonail areas. The grant to William Penn was repayment on debt owed to Penn’s father.
The Susquehanna Company was formed by 250 men on July 18, 1753. The Connecticut General Assembly approved their buying Wyoming land from the Indians and settling there.
Three men went to Wyoming to examine the land. They were permitted to sell shares along their journey for 2 milled Spanish dollars per share. This alerted neighboring resident Pennsylvanians in Northampton County (which today is Monroe County). and Indians along the Susquehanna River that new settlers would be arriving into the unsettled valley. They also learned the Six Nations claimed the land.
By January 1754 there were 400 men belonging to the Susquehanna Company. They increased membership to 4 Spanish milled dollars per share.
Pennsylvanians were upset. Meetings were held in Albany, N.Y. in June to July, 1754. On July 6, 1754, 20 Indian chiefs representing eery tribe in the Six Nations sold Southwestern Pennsylvania for 400 pounds of New York currency On July 11, 1754, 14 chiefs and sachems deeded the Wyoming Valley to the Susquehanna Company of 753 embers for 2,000 pounds New York currency.
It would later be falsely claimed, according to the author, that the Susquehanna Company transaction was a reckless one. Scrutiny shows those involved were responsible leaders and the Indians received full payment. The Connecticut General Assembly approved petitioning the King to establish a colonial government in the Wyoming Valley.
The Iroquois and their leader King Hendricks declined to sell the Wyoming Valley to anyone Thus, while the Iroquois did not recognize the Six Nations transaction, neither did Pennsylvania have a claim from the Iroquois.
In 1748, Pennsylvanians obtained 12,000 acres around the Wallenpaypack Creek. Pennsylvania settlers arrived there between 1750 and 1760 and made this part of Northampton County.
In 1754, aother company formed in Connecticut, the Delaware Company. Many belonged to both the Susquehanna and Delaware companies. The Delaware Company purchased from the Delaware Indians Coshecton along the Delaware River. This land was near the Pennsylvania settlement along the Wallenpaypack Creek.
France and England engaged in hostilities that erupted in the colonies British settlers fought the French and the Indian allies from 1754 to 1763.
The first 16 Connecticut settlers arrived in Capouse Meadows (today Scranton) in Wyoming in 1762. Chief Teedyuscung, a baptized Christian from an Indian village in what today is Wlkes-Barre, advised the settlers to leave or race death from the Indians. The settlers left.
In July, 79 men joined the 16 returning settlers in arriving in Wyoming.
Pennsylvanians objected to the settlement. England ordered Connecticut to halt these settlements The order arrived after the settlements happened. Connecticut received a second deed from Mohawk sachem affirming the earlier deed. Colonel Dyea appealed the order for Connecticut. A legal opinion was issued in England that the Connecticut Charter was affirmed as it predated the grant to Penn. Pennsylvania would have to prove they had a prior charter, which they did not have.
Indians massacred Connecticut settlers at Mill Creek on October 15, 1763. Most survivors returned to Connecticut.
There was some violence between white settlers due to border disputes between New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Several small scale raids occurred.
In 1768, a great Council of the Indians with sachems from each of the Six Nations sold the land already sold to the Susquehanna and Delaware companies to Thomas Penn and Richard Penn. Several Indians cited they were pressured into making the sale as they knew they had already sold the land to the Connecticut settlers. Pennsylvania then established settlements in the Manor of Stokes.
40 Susquehanna Company settlers arrived and completed settling Wyoming in Jnauary, 1769. 200 more joined them in the spring.
Major John Durkee established a fort for Connecticut settlers. Major Durkee named the area Wilkes-Barre after two members of the British Parliament who supported colonial rights that King George III opposed, John Wikes and Isaac Barre.
Colonel Tubor Francis and a group of Pennsylvanians referred to as Pennaites from Fort Augusta (now Sunbury) arrived and demanded to take control of the fort and houses, or else all would be killed and burned. The Connecticut settlers refused. Francis realized he had insufficient capabilities for a fight. He withdrew his men. A few skirmishes with some wounds occurred in September, 1769.
Governor Penn ordered 20 men with an four ppunder iron cannon to take Fort Durkee. Sheriff Jennings led 200 men from Easton to help drive out the Connecticut settlers Major Durkee was arrested in a surprise raid and jailed in Pennsylvania. The Connecticut settlers surrendered under the condition that 14 could remain to tend to the livestock and crops while legal disputes went forward. A few days later, the Pennamites broke the agreement by burning everything and driving away the horses and cattle.
Ironically, there were some 50 Pennsylvanians from Hanover who had joined the Susquehanna Company. Lazarus Stewart and about 40 people from this Hanover group prepared to go to Wyoming to assist the Connecticut settlers. Eight to te settlers who were among those who surrendered the fort joined with Stewart. Captain Zebulon Butler and Stewart led a retaking of Fort Durkee and drove out the Pennamites. A Pennamite force led by Captain Nathan Ogden remained in the area. In April, Major Durkee arrived with reinforcements and convinced Ogden and his forces to leave the area.
For several months afterwards, the Connecticut settlers destroyed several Pennamite properties and forced Pennamites away from the area. The Connecticut settlers created five towhships, Nanticoke (now Hanover), Pittstown (now Pittston), the Forty (now Kingston), and Plymouth. 238 names were listed as proprietors in these five townships. The proprietors randomly drew for housing lots and for meadow and field lots,
Pennamies attacked Fort Durkee. 140 men formed a possee led by Nathan Ogden..Amos Ogden an Captain Dick from EAston captured Connecticut settler work parties. This was accomplished with little violence. Fort Durkee was seized with some wounded but no deaths. Captain William Gallup wrote that the Pennsylvanians beat him brutally,gave him only coarse bread and water for 20 daysm and then released him without trial.
The author notes Governor Penn was unpopular and that there was much support among Pennsylvanians for the Connecticut settlers.
Nathan Ogden had 20 men kept at the fort. The Pennamites assumed the Connecticut settlers had left for good.
Lazarus Stewart evaded Pennamite arrest. He led a group of about 30 known as the Paxtang Boys who retook Fort Durkee from the Pennamites.
Pennsylvania issued arrest writs for Lazarus Stewart and 12 others for seizing Fort Durkee. A posse of 100 men was sent. Nathan Ogden was killed in the clash. Most affidavits attested Lazarus Stewart killed him.
The Pennamites retook Fort Durkee who then destroyed it. Several Connecticut leaders were arrested.
In April 1771 the Susquehanna Company paid 34 pounds to bail out Major Durkee and four pounds each for for others.
Pennsylvania had 30 men occupy Wyoming.
Pennsylvanians surveyed land which confused land titles for decades. Titles were given to prominent Pennsylvanians who never lived there. Fort Washington grew while Fort Durkee was torn down.
Captain Zebulo Butler, after release from jail in April, 1771, brought 60 Connecticut men returning to Wyoming. 82 Pennsylvanians took refuge inside Fort Wyoming. The Connecticut men surrounded the Fort for about four days. Under Colonel Asher Clayton, the Fort was surrendered. It was agreed all Pennsylvanians would leave within two weeks.
From 1771 to 1776, many Connecticut settlers moved to Wyoming. Townships were created, fortifications established, plus laws and taxes created. A representative of each community was elected to a Committee of Settlers. A meeting of proprietors heard appeals and made revisions of court orders. Each township had a common court and a constable. The settlers had a school system 62 years before Pennsylvania created schools.
In 1773 the Committee of Settlers was changed to a Board of Directors. A Sheriff was elected.
Congregationalism and its puritanical lifestyle dominated the lives of Connecticut settlers.
The first road was created in 1770. It ran nine miles from Pittston to Plymouth and Kingston and exists today. Other roads followed.
A grist mill, saw mill, and ferry were created.
The Connecticut General Assembly selected three commissioners to negotiate with Governor Penn in hopes of resolving issues Penn refused to recognize any Connecticut claim.
In 1774, Connecticut formally established the settlement as Westmoreland. Pennsylvania responded with a March 7, 1774 proclamation requiring the residents to adhere to Pennsylvania laws.
Westmoreland prepared a military defense. The Connecticut Assembly authorized them to create the Twenty-fourth Regiment, commanded by Colonel Zebulon Butler with Lt. Col. Nathan Denison as second in command.
All males 16 to 50 were legally in the militia and must drill and muster Anyone over 45 could decline to serve. Among those exempt from serving were physicians, surgeons, attorney, Upper House Assembly members, school masters, grist mill operators, and Justices of the Peace. Each soldier was required to have a working firelock with a barrel at least three and a half feet long or another firearm a commissioned officer found as satisfactory, a cartridge box, a pound of powder, four pounds of bullets, ad 12 flints. There was a three shilling fine for not having all this.
Most made their own gun powder from salt peter, obtained from the white decayed matter in animal waste that is properly washed, boiled, and reboiled and then kept dry.
The soldiers wore identifying badges. There were no uniforms although ore likely they wore their frontiersmen clothing.
In 1775, several men led by Col. William Plunkett from Sunbury, Pa captured several Connecticut residents, took their livesotck property, and brought them to jail
Plunnkett then obtained 600 to 700 men as a Posse Comitatus, a civil unit, and joined the Northumberland County Sheriff. They marched against about 250 Connecticut settlers. The Connecticut settlers took a strategic position in a valley. The Pennamites suffered casualties and they fell apart in confusion. Plunkett withdrew his troops with no Pennamite shooting back.
At midnight, the Pennamites returned with a small cannon in a boat. Connecticut settlers known as Yankees, fired into the boat killing one and wounding others. The Pennamites withdrew.
the Pennamites attacked the right flank, a maneuver Col. Butler anticipated. A day long battle caused casualties on both sides until Plunkett retreated.
Westmoreland settlers agreed with Connecticut’s declaration of independence from England. they agreed to create an agreement with Pennsylvania for the common goal of defeating the British. Tories were arrested.
In 1776, about 2,900 lived in Westmoreland. Two companies were established for the Revolutionary Way with Robert Durkee and Samuel Ranson as their Captains and Colonel Zebulon Butler as 24th Regiment commander. The soldiers often faced short supplies and some had no gun powder.
A stockade was created around the house of John Jenkins o counter any Pennamite attack. A Fort was built at Pittston although it was not finished until 1778. A blockhouse already exised in Plymouth, Hanover, and two others nearby.
In 1777, the British formed a rangers corps of men who were familiar with Indian customs and could speak with the Indians. John Butler, who was born in New London, Ct. and was a career British officer, led this Rangers Corps. The Indian ally leader was Joseph Brant.
Wyoming was one of the most populated settlements not along the coast It made for an attractive British target.
Major Butler led an atack of 350 Senecas, 250 British, and 100 various types of Indians. They captured the forts and armaments.
A Private, Lazarus Stewart, urged for action and claimed Lt. Col. Zebulon Butler was a coward for not advancing. Captain Milkerachan resigned and Stewart took command.
The British and Indians ambushed, killing Stewart and 300 others were dead or missig Some were tortured first 302 were reported killed versus two British Rangers and one Indian killed All forts were destroyed.
There are scholars who argue Congress was aware of the Indians preparing for an attack yet did nothing to defend Wyoming. They argue Congress should receive some blame for the massacre.
Many Yankees fled to Stroudsburg.. The Stroudsburg residents were friendly to Connecticut settlers.
In July, 1778, there were 113 who returned to Wyoming under Lt. Col. Zebulon Buler. Animals were recapured. Some were used for food as crops had been destroyed. A new fort was built.
In August to December, 1778, Indians killed 23 settlers and captured five.
On March 23, 177, there was an attempt by about 250 Indians that was repelled with cannon and small arms fire with no serious casualties to settlers.
General Washington used Wyoming as a base in attacking Iroquois. Most there were Connecticut settlers. THis would be an important in Connecticut settlers land claims later on.
It is estimated that 40 Indians towns were destroyed. Only one Indian town remained near Genessee Castle.
Indian raids continued form 1780 to 1783.
Congress created a Court of Commissioners that heard the dispute of Wyoming. A trail lasted 41 days. The Court decided the lad belonged to Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania troops arrived at Wlkes-Barre. They insisted the Connecticut settlersleave by May 1784. Widows of Indian attacks had an additional year to leave. They wre allowed to move to waste land if they voluntarily gave up their land. The troops burned homes, robbed property, drove cattle away, and subjected women “to a lawless soldiery”.”
Lt. Col. Zebulon Butler was arrested for high treason. He was held three days and released.
Eleven Connecticut soldiers were required to be in “cold filth and ire for several days and then dismissed without a trial.”
Colonel John Franklin persuasively convinced the Pennsylvania Assembly to remove their troops.
Four detachments from Pennsylvania went to destroy Yankee homes. They attacked the port yet had to retreat. The Pennsylvania required a meeting. The Yankees attending the meeting were arrested, which caused Col. Franklin to never again trust Pennsylvanians.
A Council of Censuses elected under Pennsylvania Constitutional requirement, criticized the Pennsylvania General Assembly for its activities against the Connecticut settlers. The Censures Council report helped drive public sympathy for the Yankees.
Yankees attacked those Pennamites that remained at Fort Dickson. After several days of fightings with casualties on both sides, the Yankees withdrew. Two Yankees were killed.
130 Pennamites surrounded Yankees at Fort Defence. Raids were conducted on both sides. Yankees destroyed Fort Dickson to end the war.
The issues of who owned the Wyoming Valley land remained.More Connecticut settlers arrived many having purchase half shares.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly created Luzerne County for the Wyoming Valley after the Frenh Minister to the U.S. Le Chevalier de la Luzerne. 146 residents signed allegiance to Pennsylvania and were eligible to vote. Col. Franklin was elected to the General Assembly but declined the offer, reaffirming his commitment to creating a new state rather than being part of Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly recognized all Connecticut land claims before the Trenton Decree which they determined as ending Connecticut claims. This divided the settlers between those seeking separation from Pennsylvania and those accepting the Pennsylvania recognition of their land titles.
The Pennsylvania legislature passed the Compromising Act in April, 1799 to ascertain all land claims in the 40,000 acres of land in question. Ultimately, most Connecticut setters required certification of their land titles.