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As many in our fair community have noted, genealogy tends to give us insights to historical events we never learned in school. I know I never heard of the Battle of Wyoming until a couple of years ago. While I am quite confident that I still don't understand it, I promised you all a diary. :)

First, a little more historical context. The particular family lines involved in this tale -- Abbott, Fuller, Durkee, and Carey -- all started out in Massachusetts or Plymouth Colonies. By the turn of the 18th century (or a little later), my direct lines had moved to Windham, Connecticut. However, by 1750, it was clear that the poor, rocky soil of their new home was not going to support successful farming for very long. Some enterprising men of the community decided to form the Susquehana Land Company to develop new settlements in Connecticut's fertile Wyoming River Valley, and more particularly the area around present day Wilkes-Barre.

That's right, at that time the area was part of a 1662 grant by King Charles II to Connecticut. Due to poor maps and iroyal inattention to details about the New World, Charles granted the same area to William Penn in 1681. As you might imagine, two colonies claiming rights to the same area caused some serious disputes between the two colonies; though squabbling lasted for decades, the courts in Britain ruled in favor of the Yankees as to land titles in the late 1760s. Meanwhile, hostilities erupted with various Native American over shady land dealings, not to mention the French and Indian War, also prevented the Yankees from actually settling the Valley until about 1769.

My distant kinsman, Maj. John Durkee, (a grandson of William Durgy and Martha Cross) led the first settlers, and is credited with naming Wilkes-Barre. led the settlers to the Valley, and established Fort Durkee. Others of my ancestors went on to establish Forty Fort (named in honor of the original 40 settlers). Included in that group were my 5g-grandfather Eleazer Carey, my 6g-grandfather Stephen Fuller (cousin to Maj. Durkee and also a grandson of William and Martha Durgy), and Stephen's son-in-law, my 5g-grandfather John Abbott.

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This map shows the location of the early forts built by the settlers for protection against Pennamites, members of the Six Nations, and, eventually, the British. More below the fold.

Once the Revolution started, Yankee/Pennamite disputes were temporarily set aside, but now there were animosities between the rebels and the loyalists. During the early years of the war, the major battles were fought elsewhere, and the settlers of the Wyoming Valley went about their normal routines. That all changed in June of 1778, when Maj. John Butler of the British army led his forces, which included members of the Seneca, Iroquois, and others of the Six Nation tribes, advanced on the settlement and demanded captitulation. The local militia were confident that they would be able to hold their own until reinforcements from the regular army could arrive, rejected the British demands. Women, children and men too old for battle entered the fort for safety, while the men of the milita prepared for battle--these included two of Eleazer Carey's sons, Nathan and Samuel, and the 36 year-old father of nine John Abbott. Eleazer's 15-year old son Benjamin (future son-in-law of John Abbott), performed guard duty inside the fort.

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The battle itself took place on July 3, and it was a disaster. From Wikipedia:

The 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 45 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. Some of the victorious Loyalists and Iroquois killed and tortured an unknown number of prisoners and fleeing soldiers. Butler reported that 227 American scalps were taken.

Among the survivors of the battle were my kinsmen Nathan and Samuel Carey, though Samuel was taken prisoner at first by the Iroquois, and then by the British for the remainder of the war (which will have to be the subject of a different diary). John Abbott also survived the battle, and was able to assist his family to comparative safety. After the battle, there was wholesale looting, destruction of homes and farms, and destruction of the frontier forts. Slowly, settlers and militia members made their way back to the area to try to bury the dead and salvage what they could. In mid-August, John Abbott and a young neighbor were working in their fields when they were ambushed and scalped.

Civilians, including Eleazer Carey and his younger sons, and the now widowed Alice Abbott and her nine children walked 300 miles back to Connecticut, suffering great hardships along the way. A couple of years later, young Benjamin retuned to the Wyoming valley and enlisted in the Connecticut militia company his brothers and John Abbott had belonged to, and he his way to Moncasy Island and eventually to safety. Other civilians did not return until after the war, and it took an act of Congress in the 1830s before any received compensation for their losses or the back pay or pensions due to the soldiers.

A more immediate effect of the battle was that it gained sympathy for the rebel cause in Europe. This is an engraving which apparently ran in newspapers in France in Spain of the "disastre di vioming".

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It also became legendary amongst Americans in other colonies, with some long-lasting consequences, and viscious revenge was taken on the orders of Washington himself.


The Iroquois were enraged at the accusations of atrocities which they said they had not committed. This would have tragic consequences at the Cherry Valley massacre later that year. Reports of the massacres of prisoners at Wyoming and attrocities at the Cherry Valley Massacre later that year enraged the American public, and they demanded retribution. In 1779, the Sullivan Expedition commissioned by General Washington methodically destroyed at least forty Iroquois villages throughout upstate New York.
As for those who died in the battle, most were buried in a mass grave in the fall of 1778. In 1858, a monument was erected at the site, which contains a plaque listing both the casualties and survivors. John Abbott is included in the "survivors" list, though he did not survive long. I understand the monument was damaged by lightning a few years ago and funds were being collected for its restoration.

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Now, how about you? What discoveries have you made this week you'd like to share?

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