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John Secord, who had settled up the river near thirty miles above the Valley, was known to harbor suspicious persons, and was suspected of acting as a spy, and giving intelligence to the enemy. Several British prisoners, confined at Lebanon, Conn., had made their escape, viz: Captain Hume, Lieuts. Richardson, Hubbage and Burroughs, with their servants. Having a pilot, they struck the river twenty miles above the Valley, and were supposed to have been directed to, and entertained by Secord, furnished with provisions, and aided in their flight to Niagara.
The committee caused him to be arrested; but he petitioned Congress, complaining of the outrage on his rights, and by their order was liberated. A bold, bad man, he united himself to the enemy, the moment he could more effectually serve them in that manner, than by professing friendship for the Yankees, and acting as a spy upon Wyoming. Two of the Vangorders, Philip and Abraham, were taken by the committee, and sent to Litchfield for trial. Andrew Adams, Esq., was employed to conduct the prosecution, but the issue we have not been able to learn. About the same time eight or ten persons were arrested, and sent to Hartford for trial, but were dismissed.
Doubts have been expressed whether there was not more zeal than discretion in these proceedings. With the faint lights before us it is impossible to form an opinion entirely satisfactory upon the subject. Certain it is, such an influx of strangers was deemed, and not without reason, extraordinary. Some of them it is known immediately opened communications with the enemy. The issue showed that they were all enemies in disguise. We are not prepared to say therefore, that the people were to blame in taking the most energetic measures to remove, or over-awe the more avowedly disaffected, especially when the recommendations of Congress are considered.
John Jenkins, Esq., (the elder) and Captain Solomon Strong, were chosen members of the Legislature to attend at Hartford, in May, with express orders to request the Assembly to demand of the Pennsylvania Government £4,000 for losses sustained by their invasion, and if necessary to pursue the matter before Congress. As no further notice of the subject appears upon the records, and as it is certain no compensation was received, it is presumed that prudential considerations induced the General Assembly to decline interfering.
At a town meeting legally warned and held, in Westmoreland, Wilkesbarre district, August 24, 1776,
“Colonel Butler was chosen moderator for the work of the day.
“ Voted—As the opinion of this meeting, that it now becomes necessary for the inhabitants of this town to erect suitable forts, as a defence against our common enemy."
Recently there had been established by the General Assembly at Westmoreland, the 24th Regiment of Connecticut militia. The meeting voted that the three field officers should be a committee to fix on proper sites for the forts, lay them out, and give directions how they should be built. The Wintermoots, a numerous family, seeming to have extraordinary means at command, had purchased and settled near the head of the Valley upon a spot where a large and pure spring of water gushes out from the high bank, or upper flat. Here they had erected a fortification, known as Wintermoot's fori. This was looked upon with jealousy by the old settlers. A vote was therefore passed, that no forts be built except those which should be designated by the military committee. As it was too late to remedy the evil, the committee resolved to counteract it as far as possible, by causing a fort to be built a mile above Wintermoots, in the neighborhood, and under the supervision of the Jenkins and Harding families, leading men and ardent patriots. It was named Fort Jenkins, (but must not be confounded by the reader with the Fort Jenkins, half way between Wyoming and Sunbury, or Fort Augusta.) Forty Fort was to be strengthened and enlarged. Sites were fixed on in Pittston, Wilkesbarre, Hanover, and Plymouth. And then was adopted the following beautiful vote :
“ That the above said committee, do recommend it to the people to proceed forthwith in building said Forts without either fee or reward from ye town.”
We leave it in its simplicity to speak its own eulogium.
The die was cast. Independence was declared. War assumed throughout the land his sternest aspect, and every day disclosed to Wyoming some new ground of apprehension. The savages, who yet dwelt in the Valley, theretofore peaceable and quiet, now began to assume an insolent carriage, demanding provisions and liquor, with an authoritative air, accompanied by expressions implying threats of vengeance if refused. Justly dreading the ill consequences of a quarrel, the town passed a solemn vote, similar in spirit to one previously adopted, forbidding, under penalty of forty shillings a gill, the sale to an Indian of any spirituous liquors, and also prohibiting the transportation of spirits upon the river above the Valley.
In November, Colonel Butler and Colonel Denison, representatives to the October session of the Assembly, held at New Haven, returned, bringing the good tidings that the town of Westmoreland was erected into a county, and henceforth its organization, civil and military, was complete. Jonathan Fitch, Esq., had received the commission of High Sheriff, and was of course the first person who ever held that responsible office on the North Branch of the Susquehanna.
During the summer Capt. Weisner, from New York, was sent to Wyoming, to enlist part of a rifle company for the continental service. Obadiah Gore, Jr., an active and enterprising man, offered Weisner his influence, received the commission of lieutenant, and raised about twenty men, with whom he marched to head-quarters. Soon after, however, it being deemed proper that, as they were enlisted in Connecticut, they should be credited to her, and not to the New York line of the army, they were transferred, it is believed, to the regiment of Col. Wyllis.
About the same time, Capt. Strong enlisted part of a company, at Wyoming, the number is supposed to have been inconsiderable, not exceeding eight or ten. These being the first enlisted men, took with them the best arms that could be obtained. That a man should have left the Valley, or that a musket or rifle should have been taken, is matter of surprise. But no where throughout the United Colonies, did the spirit of patriotism glow more intensely than in Westmoreland. We make the remark here, and shall repeat it again, that like the generous steed which exerts every sinew, till he falls lifeless under his rider, Wyoming never seemed to know when they had done and suffered enough, if further duty or suffering was demanded by the cause.
Col. Butler, in a letter to a member, complaining that no restitution had been made, as recommended by Congress, of property taken, partly in boats confiscated while trading down the river; and horses, arms, and other articles taken from Wyoming, says :—“Our other property, though valuable, we would not mention at this day, but OUR ARMS WE CANNOT FORBEAR SPEAKING OF, as there are none to be purchased, and we a frontier, and so unanimously willing to defend the United States of America, at the risk of our lives. But Congress must be best acquainted with the disposition of the Indians," etc. Congress being fully apprised of the situation of Westmoreland, determined to interpose and provide for the defence of the town. To this end
“Friday, August 23, 1776.-Resolved, That two companies on the Continental establishment, be raised in the town of Westmoreland, and stationed in proper places for the defence of the inhabitants of said town, and parts adjacent, till further order of Congress; the commissioned officers of the said two companies, to be immediately appointed by Congress.
“ That the pay of the men, to be raised as aforesaid, commence when they are armed and mustered, and that they be liable to serve in any part of the United States, when ordered by Congress.
“That the said troops be enlisted to serve during the war, unless sooner discharged by Congress."
August 26th.--Congress proceeded to the election of sundry officers, when Robert Durkee and Samuel Ransom were elected captains of the two companies ordered to be raised in the town of Westmoreland, James Wells, and Perrin Ross, first lieutenants; Asahel Buck, and Simon Spalding, second lieutenants; Herman Swift and Matthias Hollenback, ensigns of said companies.”
Early in September, information was received of the Resolution of Congress, and rendezvous for the enlistment of men on the terms prescribed, were opened by Capt. Durkee on the east, and by Capt. Ransom on the west side of the river. As the troops raised were by the express pledge of Congress, “ to be stationed in proper places for the defence of the inhabitants,” while, of course, the existing danger should continue, the able bodied men flocked to the standard raised, and in less than sixty days, both companies were full, numbering about eighty-four each.
Washington's army, greatly impaired in numbers and spirit, by their expulsion from Long Island, were now sorely pressed by Gen. Howe. On the 15th of September, New York was taken possession of by the enemy. The battle at White Plains had been fought, and on the 16th of November, Fort Washington surrendered to the British arms, Gen. Howe claiming to have taken twenty-five hundred prisoners. Gloom-almost despondence-overspread the American camp. Howe pushed his advantage with energy. Washington was compelled to retreat, from post to post, through the Jerseys. “ The Commander-in-Chief,” says Marshall, “ found himself at the head of this small force, less than three thousand soldiers, dispirited by their losses and fatigues, retreating, almost naked and bare footed, in the cold of November and December, before a numerous, well appointed and victorious army, through a desponding country, much more disposed to obtain safety by submission than to seek it by manly resistance."
On the 8th of December, Gen. Washington crossed the Delaware, and Congress immediately took measures to retire from Philadelphia to Baltimore. At this moment of peril, they “ Resolved, Thursday December 12th, “That the two companies raised in the town of Westmoreland, be ordered to join Gen. Washington, with all possible expedition.” And the very same day adjourned to meet on the 20th, at Baltimore.
Promptly obeying the order, the two companies hastened their march, and before the close of the month and year, were upon the lines, under the command of their beloved Washington.