The Battle of Wyoming was an encounter during the Revolutionary War between Patriots and Loyalists accompanied by Iroquois raiders that took place in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania on July 3, 1778. 340 Patriots were killed in the battle out of a total force of about 400 with the Iroquois raiders hunting down fleeing Patriots. On the British and Iroquois side, 3 killed, 8 wounded.
Exaggerated and fabricated reports of the massacres of prisoners and atrocities at Wyoming infuriated the American public leading to tragic consequences for the Iroquois.
The Blackman Family Adventure
Elisha Blackman moved from Connecticut to Wilkes-Barre in June 1772 and purchased a lot in the “Third Division” of the township. He is listed in the Wilkes-Barre tax-lists for 1776, *77 and ’78. In May, 1777, he was established and commissioned Ensign of the *’2d Alarm List Company in the 24th (or Westmoreland) Regiment of Connecticut Militia.”
Teenage son Eleazer aided in strengthening the defenses of Fort Wilkes-Barre—by hauling logs with an ox-team, and digging in the trenches. He said says: “I was then a boy of about thirteen, but was called on to work in the fortifications. With spade and pick I could not do much, but I could drive oxen and haul logs.” Every sinew from childhood to old age was thus put in requisition.”
During the battle of Wyoming, Elisha Sr was garrisoned at Fort Wilkes-Barre.
“Capt. William Hooker Smith and Ensign Elisha Blackman, Sr., of the 2d Alarm List Company, with a handfnl of their men, served as a garrison; while James Bidlack, Sr., of Plymouth, Captain of the 1st Alarm List Company, in command of a very small number of his men, performed a similar duty at Shawnee Fort in Plymouth.”
The next morning (July 4th) Ensign Blackman said to his wife: “Take the children and make the best of your way to a place of safety; we must stay and defend the fort.” The family set out by the “Warrior Path.” taking with them two horses; but in their alarm and distress took no provisions. They got on their way a scanty supply of huckleberries, but on the third day, having reached the German settlements in Northampton County, they were kindly cared for and supplied with proper food. They finally arrived at their old home in Connecticut.
Late in the morning of July 4th Ensign Blackman was joined at the fort by his son Elisha Jr, who had escaped from the battlefield, and in the afternoon they set out on foot for Fort Penn. Ensign Blackman’s house and barn and their contents were totally destroyed when Wilkes-Barre was burnt by the Indians. He also lost his oxen and other stock, with the exception of two cows.
His son, Elisha Blackman Jr. took part in the battle of Wyoming as a private in the “Lower Wilkes-Barre Company,” commanded by Capt. James Bidlack, Jr. [38 men]. In the hardest part of the battle he saw his brother-in-law, Darius Spafford, fall mortally wounded, and he became so intent on avenging his death that it was some time before he discovered that the Americans were losing ground. In the flight from the field he and a companion headed for the river. Indians chased them and called to them to surrender, assuring them that they would not be hurt. Blackman did not surrender, but his companion did, only to have his skull immediately split open with a tomahawk.
Blackman strained every nerve to escape, and did so by swimming to Monocanock Island—with the bullets fired by the pursuing savages whistling about his head. He remained in hiding on the island until after nightfall, and then made his way to Forty Fort. The next morning he set out for Wilkes-Barre, and, as previously mentioned, reached the fort here shortly before noon. Miner says (“Wyoming,” Appendix, page 33) that only eight members of Captain Bidlack s company escaped from the battle-ground on July 3, 1778: Ensign Daniel Downing, Serg’t Jabez Fish, Serg’t Phineas Spafford, Elisha Blackman, Jr., Samuel Carey, M. Mullen, Thomas Porter, drummer, and one other.
The two Elishas made their way to Fort Penn in due time, but later they both returned to Wilkes Barre and were in service there as early, at least, as August 9, 1778, in the detachment of militia commanded by Lieut. Col. Zebulon Butler. Some time later in 1778, or perhaps early in 1779,
Ensign Elisha Blackman joined his wife and children in Connecticut, where, in April, 1780, he was one of the signers of a memorial presented to the General Assembly of Connecticut by certain Wyoming refugees who were then temporarily residing in Connecticut. ) In 1787 Elisha Blackman returned to Wilkes-Barre, whither his sons had preceded him in 1786, and here he lived until his death, Sep 10, 1804.
After the battle, settlers spread rumors that the Iroquois raiders had hunted and killed fleeing Patriots before using ritual torture against thirty to forty who had surrendered, until they died
In 1629 King Charles II of England gave Connecticut the land between the 41st and 42nd parallels of latitude and west to the “south sea.” This grant included the Connecticut Western Reserve was land claimed by Connecticut from 1662 to 1800 in the Northwest Territory in what is now mostly part of Northeast Ohio.
In 1681 King Charles gave the same parallels west of the Delaware River to William Penn. So this land was claimed by both states, by Connecticut, as its western reserve, and by Pennsylvania. To perfect its claim, a state had to have a charter from the king, purchase the land from the Indians, and its citizens had to establish possession. Both states formed land companies. The land companies sold land to people in their respective states who wished to settle on the land. The same land was, therefore, sold to different people.
Among the Connecticut settlers in the Wyoming Valley were some Scotch and Dutch families from the Mohawk Valley. About thirty of them, suspected of being Tories, were arrested at the beginning of the war, and sent to Connecticut for trial. They were released for want of evidence, returned to the Mohawk, joined the Tory partisan corps of Johnson and Butler, and waited for a chance of vengeance on their persecutors. According to the Tory, Richard McGinnis, the Wyoming Battle and Massacre were retribution for the Americans having rounded up and sent the Tory men Connecticut prisons, and leaving their families homeless.
“Several persons who were suspected of Tory sentiments had been arrested and sent to Connecticut by the Committees of Inspection and in the autumn of this year  several scouting parties were sent by the same committee up the river and between thirty and forty Tories were arrested, some of them taken with arms in their hands. A conspiracy among them to bring the Tioga Indians on the settlement was broken up by the arrest of these Tories.”
“The most suspicious….were arrested and sent to Connecticut.”
In 1777, British General John Burgoyne led a campaign to gain control of the Hudson River in the American Revolutionary War. Burgoyne was forced to surrender after the Battles of Saratoga in October, and news of his surrender prompted France to enter the war as an American ally. Concerned that the French might attempt to retake parts of New France that had been lost in the French and Indian War (something they did not know the treaty specifically forbade), the British adopted a defensive stance in Quebec, and recruited Loyalists and Indians to engage in a frontier war along the northern and western borders of the Thirteen Colonies.
Colonel John Butler recruited a regiment of Loyalists for the effort, while Seneca chiefs Sayenqueraghta and Cornplanter recruited primarily Senecas and Joseph Brant recruited primarily Mohawks for what essentially became a guerrilla war against frontier settlers. By April 1778 the Seneca were raiding settlements on the Allegheny and Susquehanna Rivers, and by early June these three groups met at the Indian village of Tioga, New York, where Butler and the Senecas decided to attack the Wyoming Valley while Brant and the Mohawks (who had already raided Cobleskill in May) went after communities further north.
American military leaders, including Washington and Lafayette, also attempted to recruit Iroquois, primarily as a diversion to keep the British in Quebec busy. Their recruitment attempts met with more limited success, with Oneidas and Tuscaroras declaring their support (since the Seneca, Mohawk, and other western Iroquois were now their enemies).
Two full companies, out of 3,000 inhabitants, had been raised in the valley for the Continental army, and its only defenders were old men, brave women, teenagers, and a handful of trained soldiers. These, 400 in number were led by Colonel Zebulon Butler (no relation), assisted by Colonel Denison, Lieutenant-colonel Dorrance, and Major Garratt,.
The Battle of WyomingThe British arrived in the valley on June 30, having alerted the settlers to their approach by killing three men working at an unprotected gristmill on June 28. The next day Colonel Butler sent a surrender summons to the militia forces at Wintermute’s (Wintermoot) fort. Terms were arranged that the defenders, after surrendering the fort with all their arms and stores, would be released on the condition that they would not again bear arms during the war. On July 3, the British saw that the defenders were gathering in great numbers outside of Forty Fort.
William Caldwell was destroying Jenkin’s fort, and when the Americans were still a mile away Butler set up an ambush and directed that Fort Wintermute be set on fire. The Americans, thinking this was a retreat, advanced rapidly. Butler instructed the Seneca to lie flat on the ground to avoid observation. The Americans advanced to within one hundred yards of the rangers and fired three times. The Seneca came out of their positions, fired a volley, and attacked the Americans in close combat.
Accounts indicate that the moment of contact was followed by a sharp battle lasting about forty-five minutes. An order to reposition the Patriot line turned into a frantic rout when the inexperienced Patriot militia panicked. This ended the battle and triggered the Iroquois hunt for survivors. Only sixty of the Americans managed to escape, and only five were taken prisoner. Butler reported that 227 American scalps were taken.
Colonel Dennison surrendered Forty Fort and two other forts along with the remaining soldiers the next morning. The Americans were paroled with the condition that they not engage in hostilities for the remainder of the war. These soldiers were not harmed. Colonel Dennison and the militia did not honor the terms of their parole, and they were under arms within the year and later attacked Iroquois villages.
There was no substantial killing of non-combatants and almost no inhabitants were injured or molested after the surrender. John Butler wrote :
“But what gives me the sincerest satisfaction is that I can, with great truth, assure you that in the destruction of the settlement not a single person was hurt except such as were in arms, to these, in truth, the Indians gave no quarter.”
An American farmer wrote:
“Happily these fierce people, satisfied with the death of those who had opposed them in arms, treated the defenseless ones, the woman and children, with a degree of humanity almost hitherto unparalleled”.
According to one source, 60 bodies were found on the battlefield and another 36 were found on the line of retreat and all were buried in a common grave. According to another source 73 bodies were also buried in one hole.
“Copy of a letter from Major John Butler to Lieutenant Colonel Bolton dated Lacuwanack 8 July 1778”
On the 30th of June I arrived with about 500 Rangers and Indians at Wioming, and encamped on an eminence which overlooks the greatest part of the settlement, from whence I sent out parties to discover the situation, and strength of the Enemy, who brought in eight Prisoners, and scalps: Two loyalists who came into my camp informed me that the Rebels could muster about 800 men, who were all assembled in their Forts.
July 1st. I marched to the distance of half a mile of Wintermonts Fort and sent in Lieutenant Turney with a Flag to demand imediate possession of it, which was soon agreed to. A flag was next sent to Jenkins’ Fort which surrendered on nearly the same conditions as Wintermonts both which are enclosed. I next summoned Forty fort the Commandant of which refused the conditions I sent him.
July 3d parties were sent out to collect cattle, who informed me that the Rebels were preparing to attack me. This pleased the Indians highly, who observed they should be upon an equal footing with them in the woods;
at Two o’Clock we discovered the Rebels upon their march in number about four or five hundred. Between 4 & 5 o’Clock they were advanced within a mine of us; finding them determined, I ordered the Forts to be sett on fire, which deceived the Enemy into an opinion that we had retreated:
We then posted ourselves in a fine open wood, and for our greater safety lay flat upon the ground, waiting their approach. When they were within 200 yards of us, they began firing; we still continued upon the ground without returning their Fire till they had fired three Vollies: by this time they had advanced within 100 yards of us, and being quite near enough Suingerachton ordered his Indians who were upon the right to begin the attack upon our part; which was imediately well seconded by the Rangers on the left.
Our fire was so close, and well directed, that the affair was soon over, not lasting above half an hour, from the time they gave us the first fire till their flight. In this action were taken 227 Scalps and only five prisoners. The Indians were so exasperated with their loss last year near Fort Stanwix, that it was with the greatest difficulty I could save the lives of those few.
Colonel Denniston who came next day with a Minister, and four others to treat for the remainder of the settlement of Westmoreland assures me, that they have lost one Colonel two Majors, seven Captains, Thirteen Lieutenants, Eleven Ensigns, and two hundred and Sixty Eight Privates. On our side are killed one Indian, two Rangers, and Eight Indians wounded. In this incursion we have taken and destroyed eight pallisaded Forts, and burned about 1000 Dwelling Houses, all their Mills &c., we have also killed and drove off about 1000 head of horned Cattle, and sheep and swine in great numbers. But what gives us the sincerest satisfaction is, that I can with great ___ assure you that in the destruction of this settlement not a single person has been hurt of the Inhabitants, but such as were in arms, to those indeed the Indians gave no Quarter.
I have also the pleasure to inform you that the Officers and Rangers behaved during this short action highly to my satisfaction, and have always supported themselves through hunger, and fatague with great chearfullness.
I have this day sent a party of men to the Delaware to destroy a small settlement there, and to bring off prisoners. In two or three days I shall send out other parties for the same purpose if I can supply my self with Provisions, I shall harrass the adjacent country, and prevent them from getting in their harvest.
The settlement of Schohary or the Minisinks will be my next objects, both of which abound in Corn, and Cattle the destruction of which cannot fail of greatly distressing the Rebels. I have not yet been able to hear any thing of the expresses I sent to the Generals Howe & Clinton, but as I sent them by ten different routes, I am in hopes that some of them will be able to make their way to them and return.
In a few days I do myself the honour of writing to you more fully and send you a Journal of my proceeding since I left Niagara.
I am Sir, with respect,
Your most obedient & very humble Serv’t
(signed) John Butler
The battle caused a panic on the frontier, and settlers in the surrounding counties fled. About 1,000 homes and all of the forts in the area were burned in the days following the battle.
The Iroquois were enraged at the accusations of atrocities which they said they had not committed, as well as at the militia taking arms after being paroled. This would have tragic consequences at the Cherry Valley Massacre later that year. Reports of the massacres of prisoners and atrocities at Wyoming and atrocities at Cherry Valley enraged the American public.
The Wyoming militia led by Denisson and others, violated their parole and later that year under Colonel Hartley ascended the Susquehanna as far as Tioga, destroying Tioga and area Loyalist farms. In 1779, the Sullivan Expedition commissioned by General George Washington methodically destroyed at least forty Iroquois villages throughout upstate New York.
The Sullivan Expedition, was an American campaign led by Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton against Loyalists (“Tories”) and the four nations of the Iroquois who had sided with the British in the American Revolutionary War.
The expedition occurred during the summer of 1779, beginning June 18 when the army marched from Easton, Pennsylvania, to October 3 when it abandoned Fort Sullivan, built at Tioga, to return to New Jersey, and only had one major battle, at Newtown along the Chemung River in western New York, in which about 1,000 Iroquois and Loyalists were decisively defeated by an army of 3,200 Continental soldiers.
Sullivan’s army then carried out a scorched earth campaign, methodically destroying at least forty Iroquois villages throughout the Finger Lakes region of western New York, to put an end to Iroquois and Loyalist attacks against American settlements as had occurred the previous year. The devastation created great hardships for the thousands of Iroquois refugees outside Fort Niagara for the harsh winter of 1779-80, and many starved or froze to death. The survivors fled to British regions in Canada and the Niagara Falls and Buffalo areas.
How States Got Their Names
The massacre was depicted by the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell in his 1809 poem Gertrude of Wyoming. Because of the atrocities involved, Campbell described Joseph Brant as a “monster” in the poem, although it was later determined that he was not present,but was at Oquaga on the day of the attack.
The western state of Wyoming received its name from the U.S. Congress when it joined the Union in 1890, much to the puzzlement of its residents. Ohio Congressman J. M. Ashley suggested the name supposedly because he liked the poem by Campbell.
Back to the Blackman Family
Elisha Blackman was born 19 Sep 1717 Lebanon, CT. His parents were Elisha Blackman and Susanna Higley. He married 22 Mar 1753 in Norwich, CT to Lucy Polley (b. 16 May 1722 Norwich, CT – d. 10 Sep 1804 Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne, PA) Her parents were Mattew POLLEY and Hannah [__?__] Lucy first married 4 Mar 1743/44 Norwich, CT to Ebenezer Smith (1724 -1754) and had two children. Elisha died 10 Sep 1804 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
During the French and Indian War Elisha Blackman served as a private in the Colonial army in three campaigns,
- From April 10 to October 18, 1755, in the 3d Company (Robert Dcnison of New London, Captain) in the 1st Regiment of Connecticut troops, commanded by Phincas Lyman,
- From April 8 till November 23, 1756, in the 1st, or Colonel’s, Company, in the 4th Regiment of Connecticut troops, commanded by Col. Andrew Wr.rd, Jr., of Guilford.
- From March 24 till November 14, 1762, in the 10th Company (Azel Fitch of Lebanon. Captain) in the 2d Regiment of Connecticut troops, commanded by Col. Nathan Whiting. (See “Connecticut Historical Society’s Collections,” IX : 10, 144, 340.)
Elisha Blackman came to Wyoming for the first time in June, 1772, and in the following October, at Wilkes-Barre, he signed this petition.
“To the Honourable the General Assembly of the Colony of Connecticut To be Holden at Newhaven on the second Thursday in October A. D. 1772.
“The Memorial of us the subscribers Inhabitants of Wyoming on Susquehannah and within the Colony of Connecticut Humbly Sheweth that we being Destitute of the advantages of Civil Authority which lays us under many Disadvantages by Reason of our setlers being very numerous and consequently some unruly Persons among us who commit Disorders to the great Disturbance of the Inhabitants—which to Prevent we Pray your Honours to take into your wise consideration our unhappy and Distress’d condition and either Incorporate us into a County and appoint us Proper. Authority; or annex us to some one of the Counties or in some other way grant us Relief as your Honours in your wisdom shall Think Proper—(we would Humbly suggest that some thing of this kind would not only tend to suppress vice and Immoralitys among us but Promote virtue and be a means to spread the gospel through these western parts) and your Memorialists as in Duty bound shall ever Pray.
“Dated in Wilksbarre on Susquehannah October ye 3d 1772
Children of Lucy and Elisha
iii. Lucy Blackman b. 7 Sep 1755 Lebanon, CT; m. Titus Darrow.
iv. Lovina Blackman b. 7 Sep 1757; m. Darius Spafford, who was killed in the battle of Wyoming. Receiving a death wound, he fell into the arms of his brother Phineas, by whose side he fought. “Brother,” said he, “I am mortally hurt; take care of Lavina.”
v. Elisha Blackman b. 4 Apr 1760 Lebanon, CT; m. 10 Jan 1788, to Anna Hurlbut (b. 5 Jan 1763) Anna’s parents were Deacon John Hurlbut and Abigail Avery. (His obituary was published in the Republican Farmer and Democratic Journal of Dec 10 1845.) During the last ten years of his life he was a United States pensioner.
Elisha Blackman, Jr. came to Wilkes-Barre in 1773, at the age of thirteen, with the other members of his father’s family.
He returned to Wilkes-Barre in Aug 1778, and was in service here as a militia-man under the command of Lieut. Colonel Butler. In the Sullivan Expedition of 1779 he served in the Wyoming militia company commanded by Capt. John Franklin.
Later in that year, or early in 1780, Elisha joined his parents and the other members of their family in Connecticut.
Early in 1781 Elisha Blackman, Jr., enlisted as a private in the company of Capt. Selah Benton of Stratford, in the 5th Regiment, Connecticut Line, commanded by Lieut. Col. Isaac Sherman,and served till the latter part of June, 1782. He was honorably discharged from the service at Fishkill, New York, and thence he went to the home of his parents in Lebanon. There he subsequently learned the trade of a tanner and currier, and in 1786, in company with his brothers Ichabod and Eleazar, he returned to Wilkes-Barre. The three brothers built a log house on the lot of their father—on South Main Street, between the present Academy and Sullivan Streets. [There’s a small shopping center there now]
Elisha Blackman, Jr.. was commissioned First Lieutenant of the Light Infantry Company attached to the “1st Regiment of Militia in Luzerne County,*’ commanded by Lieut. Col. Matthias Hollenback. In 1791 Lieutenant Blackman bought a tract of land in Hanover Township, to which he removed and which he cleared up and converted into a farm. His wife died there January 6, 1828. There he resided until his death, which occurred December 5, 1845. (His obituary was published in the Republican Farmer and Democratic Journal of December 10, 1845.) During the last ten years of his life he was a United States pensioner.
vi. Ichabod Blackman b. 24 Mar 1762 Lebanon, CT. d. Apr 1798, he was accidentally drowned in the Susquehanna River while crossing it in a canoe near the mouth of Sugar Creek, on a very dark night.
Ichabod was eleven years old when he came with his parents and the other members of their family to Wilkes-Barre. At the time of the irruption of the Tories and Indians into Wyoming Valley Ichabod Blackman was 17 years old, and, being within the age limit fixed by the militia laws of Connecticut, was an enrolled member of the 24th Regiment. With his father and elder brother, Elisha, Jr., he took part in the military expedition from Forty Fort to Sutton’s Creek, July 1, 1778, as described on page 990. Whether or not Ichabod took part in the battle of Wyoming is not now known. It is-quite probable that he was one of the garrison at Fort Wilkes-Barre. He fled from the Valley with his mother, sisters and younger brother, and, making his way with them to Connecticut, remained there until 1786, when he returned to Wilkes-Barre. The same year he was married at Goshen, New York, to Elizabeth Franklin (born at Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1760), daughter of Arnold Franklin of Hanover Township in Wyoming Valley.
In 1700 Ichabod Blackman removed with his wife and child from Wilkes-Barre to Sheshequin, where he settled on, and cleared up, a large tract of land now owned by one of his descendants. In the month of April, 1798, he was accidentally drowned in the Susquehanna River while crossing it in a canoe near the mouth of Sugar Creek, on a very dark night. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth (who was subsequently married to Timothy Winship).
viii. Eleazar Blackman b. 31 May 1765 Lebanon, CT; m. 7 Oct 1786, at Wilkes-Barre, to Clorinda Hyde, daughter of John Hyde, originally of New London County, Connecticut, but then an inhabitant of Wilkes-Barre, residing on Lot No. 29 of the “Second Division” of the township. Major Blackman died at his home 10 Sep 1843, and was buried two days later with the honors of Free Masonry.
Eleazar was eight years old when he came with his parents to Wilkes-Barre. In the Spring of 1778, as a boy of thirteen, he aided in strengthening the defenses of Fort Wilkes-Barre—by hauling logs with an ox-team, and digging in the trenches. He said says: “I was then a boy of about thirteen, but was called on to work in the fortifications. With spade and pick I could not do much, but I could drive oxen and haul logs.” Every sinew from childhood to old age was thus put in requisition.”
After the battle of July 3d he fled from the Valley with his mother, sisters and brother, as previously related, and proceeded to Lebanon, Connecticut, where he remained until his return to Wilkes-Barre in 1780. (Some years later he removed to Hanover Township.)
Eleazar Blackman settled in Wilkes-Barre. “In the progress of the settlement and opening up of the country be mingled actively in the business of life, held public stations—both civil and military— and during his entire life enjoyed the respect and esteem of all who knew him.” In 1788 he was a private in the “Troop of Light Dragoons” raised and commanded by Capt. John Paul Schott. In 1790 he was a private in the company of Light Infantry (commanded by his brother, Lieut. Elisha Blackman, Jr.) attached to the “1st Regiment of Militia in Luzerne County,” commanded by Lieut. Col. Matthias Hollenback. In September, 1800, he was elected and commissioned Captain of the “First Troop of Horse,” 2d Brigade, 8th Division, Pennsylvania Militia. This position he held for a number of years, and in 1812 he attained the rank of Major in the militia. From 1801 till 1803 he was one of the Commissioners of Luzerne County; and from 1808 till 1810 Treasurer of the County. He was made a Free Mason in Lodge No. 61, F. and A. M., Wilkes-Barre, November 2, 1795, and was Secretary of the Lodge in 1797, Senior Warden in 1798, ’99, 1800, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’13, ’14, ’16 and ’16, Treasurer in 1806, and Worshipful Master in 1804 and 1809.
Major Blackman, for many years prior to his death, lived on his farm in Wilkes-Barre near the Hanover Township line and not far from the foot of the mountain. Prior to 1830 he opened up a “coal-bed” on this farm, and thenceforward, for a number of years, he carried on in a small way the business of coal-mining in addition to his farming operations. In time this coal-bed became known as the “Blackman Mine, and years later—when the operations -had become more extensive—the mine was known as the “Franklin.”
Epilogue – Setting the Record Straight
There were many lurid and erroneous reports about the Battle of Wyoming and its aftermath. For example:
“They then proceeded to the only remaining fortt called WilkeHwroujth, which, in hopes of obtaining mercy, was surrendered without resistance, or without even demanding any conditions. Here the tragedy was renewed with aggravated horrors. They found here about seventy of that sort of militia who are engaged by the different Provinces merely for the guard and defence of their respective frontiers, and who are not called to any other service. With these, as objects of particular enmity, the slaughter was begun, and they were butchered with every possible circumstance of the most deliberate, wanton and savage cruelty. The remainder of the men, with the women and children, not demanding so much particular attention, were shut up as before in the houses, which being set on fire, they perished all together in the flames.
On December 20, 1820, it appeared in the National Gazelle, and a copy of that issue of the paper falling into the hands of Gen. Lord Butler of Wilkes-Barre, eldest son of Col. Zebulon Butler, then deceased, he wrote to the editor of the National Gazette a letter, to which the written and signed statements of three survivors of the battle of Wyoming were appended. These communications were not designed to form a full historical relation of the events of July 3d and 4th, 1778, but were intended, simply, to point out and correct the errors in Botta’s history, and to remove the false and injurious impressions which such an account was calculated to make upon the public mind with reference to the principal actors in the events described. General Butler’s communication and the accompanying statements were not only printed in full in the National Gazette, but were reprinted in other newspapers, and they read as follows:
“The account as given in the extract is, perhaps, the most incorrect narrative of events that ever found its way into the history of any transaction ever before published, and particularly of one so highly interesting. Indeed, there is scarcely a solitary truth in the whole extract. Most of the circumstances are wholly fabrications; and others are so misrepresented and distorted as hardly to be recognized. That a true estimate may be put upon it, I will point out some of its most prominent deviations from truth and fact.
“In the first place, Col. Zebulon Butler, at the time spoken of, had not the command of the ‘ whole colony,’ as stated in the extract. He was a [Lieutenant] Colonel in Washington’s army, but, happening to be in this part of the country on a furlough, he was requested to give his assistance, and take the command of the men in case it should be necessary to fight. Further, it is not true that Zebulon Butler was a cousin of John, the commander of the enemy’s forces. There was no relationship subsisting between them, [so] of course the influence which the writer of the extract would seem to draw from that circumstance, must fail. It is not true that Col. Zebulon Butler was drawn out of the fort by the ‘lavish promises’ of his enemy ‘that, if he would consent to a parley in the open field, the siege would be raised, and every thing accommodated.’ Nor is it true that he [Col. Zebulon Butler] marched out for that purpose, and ‘ from motives of caution took with him four hundred men, well armed.’ The fact is, the only conference he marched out to was a battle; the only parley he expected was the point of the bayonet.
“The whole number of men under his [Zebulon Butler’s] command that day was about 30-50, and it has since been ascertained that the enemy’s force amounted to from 1,000 to 1,500. The battle was fought sooner than Colonel Butler wished. He advised delay, hoping to ascertain the force, position and intentions of the enemy; [hoping] that succours would arrive, and that he then would be able to meet the enemy to more advantage. But as he had no right to the submission of either the officers or their men—except what they voluntarily paid him—he was obliged to forego his own opinion, and consent to lead them on. Another circumstance obliged him to take this course. There were some brave men among them, but who were as rash and imprudent as they were brave, who were determined to fight that day, or leave the fort and return to their homes.
“It is not a fact that Colonel Butler and his men were enticed into the ‘ dismal solitudes ‘ and ‘thick forests ‘ by a ‘ flag,’ and there ‘completely surrounded’ by the enemy. All that is said in the extract about the ‘ unfortunate American ‘ being ‘ without suspicion of the peril he was in,’ continuing ‘to press forward,’ &c, and 1 being awakened but too soon from this dream of security,’ &c, is false! So far from the Americans having been ‘surprised’ by the British and Indians—had it not been for the imprudence of a few men (sent forward as an advance guard) in firing upon some Indians whom they discovered setting fire to a house, the enemy themselves would in all probability have been taken by surprise, and obliged to engage under many disadvantages.
“The Americans, instead of forming into ‘a compact column,’ fought in a line, on the left of which there was a marsh. The British and Indians, being more than twice as numerous as the Americans, endeavored to outflank them by going around and through this marsh. Colonel Denison, who was a Colonel of the militia, and properly the commander of the ‘whole colony,’ and who had taken charge of the left wing, perceiving the intentions-of the enemy, took prompt measures to defeat their expectations, and gave the necessary orders to effect it. It was in the execution of these orders that the confusion began! And though Colonel Denison, and the other officers on that wing, did all that men could do to prevent it, the left wing gave way. The right wing was at this time beating the enemy back and advancing upon them.
“Col. [Zebulon] Butler, who had continued on horseback throughout the day, finding that the right was doing well, left it and rode towards the left. When he got a little more than half-way down the line he discovered the men were retreating, and that he was between the two lines, near the advancing line of the enemy. The rout soon became general, notwithstanding the extraordinary efforts of the officers, most of whom were killed in their attempts to rally the men, and bring them again to the charge. It is not true that ‘about sixty men escaped,’ and with Zebulon Butler made their way good to ‘ a redoubt on the opposite bank of the Susquehanna;’ for Colonel Butler, when he found it impossible to rally the scattered troops, instead of seeking his own safety by leaving the field instantly, collected four or five men, made them retain their arms and keep together. These he ordered to fire when any of the enemy approached, and by this means brought them safe to the fort at Kingston.
“As it was impossible to defend this fort [Forty Fort], all the men having been killed in the battle except about forty or fifty (not more than ten or twelve of whom came to the fort), he proceeded to Wilkesbarre, which is about two miles distant, and on the opposite side of the river. Colonel Denison having had a conference with the enemy, next morning sent Col. Zebulon Butler word that they [the enemy] would give no quarter to Continental officers or soldiers. He [Colonel Butler] then hastened into Northampton County. Colonel Denison well knew that the fort in Kingston could not be defended with any prospect of success. He therefore did not make the attempt, but obtained what terms he could from the enemy, and surrendered. There were but few men left, and the fort was crowded with women and children.
“It is not true that Colonel Denison ‘surrendered at discretion,’ nor is it true that the savages ‘enclosed the men, women and childien promiscuously in the houses and barracks, to which they set fire, and consumed all within.’ True they robbed and plundered, contrary to the articles of capitulation, but they killed no one. Finally, it is not a fact that at Wilkesbarre the ‘soldiers of the garrison,’ were (as stated in the extract) ‘put to death;’ nor were the ‘men, women and children burned, as before, in the barracks and houses.’ The British and Indians did not come to Wilkesbarre until the second day after the battle, and then they found the fort and town entirely abandoned. They plundered and burnt every house, except two or three small ones, but there was not an individual killed.
“To perpetuate truth is, or ought to be, the object of history; at all events, history should never be made the vehicle of falsehood. If it be deemed of sufficient interest and importance to the public that any account of the battle of Wyoming should be registered, it certainly is of importance that that account should be correct and authentic. That a true narrative of that transaction may be incorporated into history, is one reason why I have noticed the extract. But it is also due to the memory of Col. Zebulon Butler, and to the feelings of his numerous descendants, that the odium which the account in the extract has so unjustly heaped upon his character should be removed. To do this the more effectually, I add a brief abstract of his military career. * * * *
“Upon the breaking out of the American Revolution, he entered the service of his country in the army under Washington; was a Lieutenant Colonel,and at the close of the war commanded one of the best regiments in the whole army. Colonel Butler was the personal friend of General Washington. I have seen letters from the General to him after the close of the war, written in very friendly terms, proving that Washington, at least, had full confidence in his capacity, integrity and patriotism. It is indeed strange, that after so long a service in both British and American armies, he never before was discovered to have been a coward and a traitor, if he really were such. And yet perhaps this need not be wondered at, when even the brave, the intrepid Putnam has, since his death, been accused of cowardice!
“A desire to be strictly and critically correct in my statement of facts, has unavoidably occasioned some delay in forwarding my letter to you. What I have stated are facts—you may rely on their accuracy. For your satisfaction on this head, however, I send you the certificates of Judge Hollenback and others (who were in the battle) corroborating and substantiating my allegations. Certificates to the same effect might have been obtained from all the survivors of that day’s disasters, who yet live in this part of the country, but it was not tho’t necessary. It is my intention, at some future period, to send you an authentic narrative of the battle of Wyoming, embracing the transactions of several weeks, and perhaps months, both previous and subsequent, which if it should meet your approbation, you will be at liberty to publish.
“I am Vours, &c, [Signed] “Lord Butler.” “Wilkesbarre, Dec. 20, 1820.
Elisha Blackman Jr. certified the above letter as follows:
“I do certify that I was in the battle of Wyoming, fought on the 3d day of July, 1778, and that I am well acquainted with the facts as they took place on that day, and subsequently. I have read the account published in the National Gazette of the 6th insl., and know that most of the circumstances related, and especially the material ones, are absolutely false. I have read, also, the above letter of Lord Butler, Esq., and from personal knowledge, as well as from the information obtained at the time, know the facts therein stated to be correct. I also certify that I was stationed about the centre of the line [of battle], and saw Col. Zebulon Butler, about the time the retreat commenced, riding from the right to the left, between the two contending lines, and saw him turn his horse, ride after his men, and endeavor to stop them. I never heard, until I saw the account above referred to, any blame imputed to Col. Zebulon Butler for his conduct on that, or any other occasion. [Signed] “Elisha Blackman.*”
“December 26, 1820.