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1777.--Wyoming Companies, Rivalry— Political jealousy-Town vote-The dreaded
Small Pox--Pestilence spreads--First Student to Yale College-Adonijah StansburyCase curious and troublesome-Indian book debt-Citation for Toryism-Difficulty settled by marriage—Post established to Hartford— Yankee official titles, Tax-Preparations for defence-Lieut. Jenkins, first prisoner-Brave Old Fitzgerald —Companies of Durkee and Ransom-Battle of Millstone-Porter killed --Gen. Washington's letterMud Fort-Lieut. Spalding-Matthewson killed—Wealth and revenue of Westmoreland-Warrant-Excessive burdens on Wyoming—Beautiful resolve.
Lights and shadows alternately brightened and obscured the Wyoming sky during the year 1777. The gloomy aspect of affairs along the sea-board; Burgoyne with his powerful army descending from the north ; the accession of the savage interest to the cause of Great Britain, carrying with it the certainty that the frontier settlements, as in the old French war, would be one long line of conflagration and murder, awakened in the breasts of the Wyoming people, great fears for the general cause, and extreme anxiety for their own safety.
The companies had marched with the utmost alacrity-not a murmur was heard, for every man felt that the case was one of imperious necessity, yet not one of them entertained a doubt, but that the moment affairs below the mountains were restored to a state of tolerable order, the pledge “to be stationed in proper places to defend their homes," would be regarded in good faith, and the soldiers ordered back to the Valley.
Treachery, a trick to entrap them into the service under so fair a pretence, and then to force them away, leaving their homes wholly exposed and unprotected, implied a degree of baseness and cruelty they could not even comprehend, and therefore did not fear. Cheerfully the soldiers marched to their duty, while hope of their speedy return sustained their families at home.
Town meetings were as heretofore, duly holden, and at the spring meeting, John Jenkins and Isaac Tripp, Esqs., were chosen mem
bers to the Assembly, which was to convene in Hartford, in May. Westmoreland being now a county as well as town, a place for the erection of public buildings must be fixed upon, and the old rivalry between Wilkesbarre and Kingston, or, more extensively, between the east and west sides of the river, was, by the magnitude of the subject excited to a pitch that absorbed for a time, almost exclusively, the public attention. An intelligent committee of impartial men was demanded of the Assembly to settle the dispute.
Another matter created no little excitement among the ambitious men. Rumours had reached Wyoming, that the Assembly intended to appoint to some of the more elevated judicial offices, certain persons not inhabitants of the Valley, but chosen from that part of the State east of New York.
Voted, as instructions to Messrs. Jenkins and Tripp. “ If any person that is not an inhabitant of this town, should be nominated for an office in this county, that they immediately remonstrate against it in the most spirited manner, as unconstitutional, and an unprecedented thing in this colony in any former times."
The county town was established at Wilkesbarre, and the officers of the new county were selected from the town of Westmoreland.
Scarce had the summer opened when a new cause of terror and distress was developed in the Valley. The small-pox (how justly this then deadly plague was dreaded, the present generation can form but a faint idea,) made its appearance. One of the most respected citizens returned from Philadelphia, was taken sick with the disease, and died. * Want of the advice and protecting influence of the numerous heads of families, away with the army, was sorely felt. But a town meeting was held, where wise and energetic measures were adopted to obviate to the utmost of human power, the ill effects of the contagion. A pest house was established in each township or district, half a mile from any road, where persons were to resort for inoculation. No one in the settlement was to receive the infection except in one of these houses, nor unless by express warrant from an examining committee. A strict quarantine respecting persons connected with the pest houses was established, and regulations for the careful change of clothes. Physicians were prohibited from inoculating except in the places designated. How many deaths occurred from the contagion is not known, but the means adopted had the most salutary influence in quieting alarm, and preventing the spread of the fatal disorder.
* Jeremiah Ross, father of our late distinguished fellow-citizen, General Wm. Ross.
Throughout the proceedings of this year, schools appear to have engaged more than usual attention. State taxes, to go into the treasury at Hartford, were to be paid, county and town rates were levied, and yet the zeal for instruction was so unabated, that an additional tax of a penny in the pound was laid for free school purposes. Each township was also established as a legal school district, with power to rent the lands“ sequestered by the Susquehanna Company therein, for the use of schools, and also receive of the school committee appointed by their town, their part of the county money, according to their respective rates."
It is also due to the pleasing fact, that it should be distinctly recorded, this year for the first time there was sent from Wyoming, a student to Yale College.
Were we the eulogist, instead of the impartial historian of Wyoming, we might inquire with emphasis, if there before was a people, surrounded by external dangers, pestilence in the midst, a large portion of their natural protectors away in the public service, who ever exhibited so praiseworthy a zeal to diffuse the blessings of education among the rising generation ?
We have before adverted to the fact, that Pennsylvania landholders, masking their true character, came in, purchased a Connecticut right, and then denounced and undervalued the claim as of no validity. This was a mode of attack extremely annoying and difficult to repel. Chapman's mill was in full and successful operation. A person by the name of Adonijah Stansbury, from the State of Delaware, purchased Chapman's interest, and was placed therefore by his business in instant communication with multitudes of people. It became soon apparent that Stansbury was a disguised enemy. Intelligent, plausible, active, he laughed at the pretended Connecticut claim openly as a folly, and derided it more secretly to some as an imposition. The good people had no other mill to grind for them, and the nuisance became insupportable and dangerous. Stansbury had violated no law, but except through the law there was no way to reach him.
Voted at a town meeting, “ that Col. Butler, Col. Denison and Maj. Judd, be a committee, (the high standing of the committee indicates the importance of the subject,) to write to the Connecticut Delegates, and give them a true character of Adonijah Stansbury, and the measures he has heretofore taken for the destruction of this settlement."
Stansbury disregarded the vote. More energetic measures became necessary, and as he owed no man in the town, an Indian, from the Oquago brought suit against him for a sum of money charged as being due on book, growing out of an ancient trade in horses. Active officers, and a willing court, found a heavy balance owing to the Indian. Suits accumulated.* A whole people had taken the law of him, and he found his position too warmly assailed to render it endurable. A young man, true to the Connecticut interest, happily at this moment formed a matrimonial connection with Stansbury's daughter, an amiable lady, and purchased the mill of his father-inlaw, who retired from the settlement. Trifling as the incident in itself may be regarded, it is deemed worthy of preservation as showing that the dispute respecting title, although it slumbered, was still alive, and as indicating the means taken by both parties, to maintain their respective claims, or to annoy their opponents.
A more pleasing matter demands a passing notice. Surrounded by mountains, by a wide spreading wilderness, and by dreary wastes, shut out from all the usual sources of information, a people so inquisitive could not live in those exciting times without the news. Fortunately an old, torn, smoke-dried paper, has fallen into our possession, which shows that the people of Wyoming established a post to Hartford, to go once a fortnight and bring on the papers. A Mr. Prince Bryant was engaged as post-rider for nine months.
* Civil suits were not alone resorted to. The following paper has its interest as casting light upon the mode of proceeding with disaffected persons, as well as its direct reference to the case of Stansbury. "CITATION."
To Adonijah Stansbury, (and two others) all of Westmoreland: You and each of you being suspected of toryism, and subverting the Constitution, and endeavouring to betray the inhabitants of this town into the hands of their enemies, etc.
You and each of you are hereby required without any manner of excuse to make your personal appearance before the committee of inspection for the town of Westmoreland, at the house of Solomon Johnson, Inn-holder in said town, on Wednesday the 3rd of instant, January, at 10 o'clock in the morning, then and there to answer unto divers complaints whereof you are suspected as above; hereof fail not, as you will answer the contrary at the peril of the displeasure of the public.
By order of the Chairman.
ANDERSON DANA, Clerk. To any indifferent person to serve, and return."
On the trial, Garret Brinkerhoor saith, "that some time after Stansbury bought the mills of Chapman, he said he did not intend to pay any more for said mills, and he would go to Pennsylvania and make it appear that Chapman had no right to the lands."
More than fifty subscribers remain to the paper, which evidently must have been more numerous as it is torn in the centre. The sums given varied from one to two dollars each. In the list we find Elijah Shoemaker,
Zebulon Butler. Payment for the papers was of course a separate matter. It may well be questioned, whether there is another instance in the States, of a few settlers, especially as those at Wyoming were situated, establishing at their own expense, a post to bring them the newspapers, from a distance of two hundred and fifty miles !
It has been regarded as an amusing characteristic of the Yankees, that they never failed in ancient times, to give any man the title which he might claim, from the Governor of a colony, down to a Sergeant of a company. A quotation from the Westmoreland records will show that the practice was strictly adhered to by the emigrants from Connecticut.
“ December, 1777, voted, that Capt. William Worden, Ensign Daniel Downing, Lieut. Daniel Gore, Capt. Nathaniel Landon, Capt. Jeremiah Blanchard, Lieut. Aaron Gaylord, Silas Parke, Esq., Isaac Tripp, Esq., Capt. Stephen Harding, Capt. John Franklin, be fence viewers for the ensuing year. The list contains two or three others without titles.
“ December 30, voted by this town, to grant one penny on the pound as an addition to the two penny tax, granted August 6." Three pence on the pound, on an assessment of £20,000 would yield £350, $830. The town also vote to lend the county forty pounds.
During the summer active measures were in progress to place the settlement in the best posture of defence the circumstances of the people would admit. By detachments the people worked on the several forts; built upon a larger scale, and with greater strength, but in the same manner as those of Forts Ogden and Durkee. That at Wilkesbarre occupied the ground on which the Court House now stands. The venerable Maj. Eleazer Blackman 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.