In 1777, after a British Army surrendered at Saratoga in upstate New York, Loyalists and their Iroquois allies in the region turned to hit-and-run tactics, raiding American Patriot settlements as well as the villages of American-allied Iroquois. Based at Fort Niagara, these raids were led by commanders such as British Colonel John Butler, Mohawk chief Captain Joseph Brant and Seneca chief Cornplanter.
Late in June, Col. Denison was informed by scouts that a force of approximately 700 Tories, Rangers and Indians under the command of Maj. John Butler and Chief Sayenqueraghta of the Seneca were gathering near Pittston at Fort Wintermute. With this news the alarm was sounded. Appeals for help were sent to Gen. George Washington, who sent troops, and to John Franklin in Huntington. The families quickly moved to the forts. The 24th Regiment gathered in Forty Fort and there decided to meet the enemy as far from the fort as possible in order to save their homes and crops. According to the inscription on the Wyoming Monument this group is described as being "chiefly the undisciplined, the youthful, and the aged". Many of these so called soldiers were farmers. Their only interest was in driving off the savages so they could return to their farming. "The urge, of peaceful necessities, overcame the danger of precipitate action, in the minds of these simple men."
In addition, Capt. Hewitt's Continental Company, the Kingston Company commanded by Capt. Buck were prepared to do battle. Much of the 1st and 2nd Alarm List Companies under Lt. Lebbeus Tubbs and Flavius Waterman in addition to the Upper Wilkes-Barre Company of Capt. Rezin Gere were also prepared to defend the settlement.
On July 2, early in the morning, the British commander sent under a flag of truce, and under escort of an Indian and a Ranger, a message delivered by Daniel Ingersol who had been captured at Fort Wintermute. Ingersol was not allowed to utter a word out of their hearing to either Col. Butler or Col. Denison. Their demand for surrender was refused. Toward noon, the beating drums down the lower Kingston road, announced the approach of reinforcements from Hanover, with Lazarus Stewart at their head. Lt. John Jenkins, Jr. was left in command of the Fort. With him were a few old men including the settlement's minister. Rev. Jacob Johnson's daughter, Lydia, was married to Col. Zebulon Butler. Others at the fort included Captain Obadiah Gore, Cpt. Wiliam Gallup and Thomas Bennet.
The militia, in the New England way of doing things, met in a sort of town meeting to debate the advantages and disavantages of an immediate attack. They pointed out that Captain Spaulding, with what remained of the companies of Durkee and Ransom, were en route, less than 100 miles away. In a few days, more help might come from Fort Jenkins and even Fort Augusta. Earlier in the day, Zebulon Butler had sent Isaac Baldwin with a message to the Board of War at Philadelphia. They hoped for a large group of Continental soldiers within a short time. They argued that the true number of the enemy had not been calculated. There were evidenlty large numbers of the Seneca who were well experienced in warfare.
But, the passionate words of Luzarus Stewart overcame the warnings of the more cautious. His enthusiasm was reinforced by the younger and more adventurous among the group. It has been said that Lazarus Stewart charged Zebulon Butler with cowardice; threatening to lead the others against the Indians, if Butler refused to give the order to advance.
On July 3, at 2:00 P.M. some 375 men marched out of Forty Fort to the fife and drum's "St. Patrick's Day in the Morning". It is reported that they carried the "stars and stripes", our new national flag, for the first time. Col. Zebulon Butler who was on leave from the Continental Army at the time, led the small army. Col. Nathan Denison was second-in-command. The men marched up what is now Wyoming Avenue. They stopped at a bridge which crossed Abraham's Creek. "In fact, Thomas Bennet boldly declared, they were marching into a snare and that they would be destroyed; and he left them at Abraham's Creek and returned to the fort." Another halt was made at Swetland's Hill. This time scouts reported the enemy was in full retreat. Here Butler, Dorrance and Denison wanted to hold the line until reinforcements arrived from Washington and John Franklin. But Lazarus Stewart prevailed. After 4:00 P.M., they marched on toward Exeter flats and defeat. There were only 174, including Butler and Denison, who escaped with their lives. Almost all who were captured were cruelly tortured and killed by the Indians. Samuel Finch managed to survive and later testified to his experience in his pension application.
When the British Butler saw the colonists forming a battle line, he set fire to Fort Wintermute and ordered the same be done to Fort Jenkins. Upon seeing the thick black smoke, the soldiers believed the enemy were retreating. As Butler had intended, the colonists were deceived and advanced more quickly.
Butler had removed his uniform and the insignia of his rank. He tied a black handkerchief around his head to identify himself, then waited with his Rangers for the battle to begin. The engagement lasted about 30 minutes from the first gunshot to end. The massacre which followed lasted 12 hours, until daybreak the next morning.
The Americans advanced to within 600 feet of the British line when they began to fire. The Rangers being regular and trained soldiers remained quietly on the ground until the Americans were within 300 feet of them. The Indians then began to engage the colonists on the right. Captain Hewitt's Company had driven back this group; but not until Lt. Daniel Gore was wounded and Cpt. Robert Drake mortally wounded. The American right advanced more rapidly. The Rangers rose from the ground soon after the Indians began the attack on the American left. The Rangers withdrew a short distance and returned fire. The colonists mistook this for retreat. It was for this reason that the right got some thirty rods in front of the left. The soldiers to the left, in closest contact with the swamp, were suddenly attacked by the Senecas.
Outflanked, Col. Denison ordered Cpt. Whittlesey to wheel back and form an angle to the main line. He hoped this would protect the left flank. "The western line was rolled up, and forced back on the center by the Indians in the rear; and the farmer boys, unaccustomed to the blood curdling yelps of the savage warriors, were thrown into an indescribable confusion and panic." The officers commands had been mistaken for the order to retreat. The fleeing soldiers of the left wing took with them the center as well as the right wing. Col. Dorrance tried to stop the panic, but was shot down and captured. Neither Col. Butler nor Denison could stop the flight of their men. Garrett was killed and
Hewitt held his part of the line. His men made a slight retreat and returned fire. Seeing the panic by the other line, an officer is quoted as telling Hewitt "The day is lost, see the Indians are sixty rods in our rear, shall we retreat"---"I'll be damned if I do" was his answer. "Drummer strike up," he cried, as he vainly strove to rally his men. Just then a bullet struck him dead, and the last of the crumbling line gave way in a pandemonium of flight." Reports from those who survived indicate that few men were killed in the actual battle.
The massacre which followed the capture became legend. Initially, Queen Ester Montour was reported to have danced around the rock by firelight and bashed out the brains of her captors. Queen Esther, it is said, was infuriated by the death of her own son a few days earlier by a settler named Zebulon Marcy. Later, other claimed it was her sister or another Indian woman. What is known is that this massacre epitomized to the colonists the savagery of the Indians. This event led to reprisals against the Six Nations the following year.
Those killed at the battle and massacre:
? Ackke, A. Atherton, Jabez Atherton, Christopher Avery, Jabez Beers, A. Benedict, James Bidlack, Jr., Jeremiah Bigford, Samuel Bigford, David Bixby, Elias Bixby, Stoddart Bowen, John Boyd, Enos Brockway, John Brown, Thomas Brown, Ahoiab Buck, Henry Buck, William Buck, Joseph Budd, Amos Bullock, Henry Bush, John Caldwell, Joseph Carey, Josiah Carman, Isaac Campbell, Christopher Cartright, Joel Church, James Cofferin, William Cofferin, Samuel Cole, Isaac Campbell, ? Campbell, Kingsley Comstock, Robert Comstock, three brothers Cook, Anson Cory, Jenks Cory, Rufus Cory, Christopher Courtright, John Courtright, Joseph Crocker, Samuel Crocker, Anderson Dana, Jabez Darling, Conrad Davenport, D. Denton, James Divine, George Dorrance, George Downing, Levi Dunn, William Dunn, Robert Durkee, ? Dutcher, Thomas Faxon, Benjamin Finch, Daniel Finch, John Finch, Elisha Fish, Cornelius Fitchett, Eliphalet Follet, Thomas Foxen, John Franklin, Stephen Fuller, Thomas Fuller, ? Gardner, Johnathan Waite Garret, Aaron Gaylord, Rezin Geer, Asa Gore, George Gore, Silas Gore, ? Green, William Hammond, Silas Harvey, Benjamin Hatch, Cyphrian Hebard, Detrick Hewitt, Levi Hicks, Titus Hinman, James Hopkins, Nathaniel Howard, John Hutchins, Samuel Hutchinson, Elijah Inman, Israel Inman, Samuel Jackson, Robert Jameson, Joseph Jennings, Henry Johnson, Joshua Landon, Daniel Lawrence, William Lawrence, Francis Ledyard, William Lester, James Lock, Conrad Lowe, Jacob Lowe, C. McCartee, Robert McIntire, William McKarrachen, Alexander McMillan, Nicolas Manvil, Job Marshall, New Mathewson, Andrew Millard, A. Meeleman, John Murphy, Joseph Ogden, Johnathan Otis, Abel Palmer, Silas Parke, William Parker, Henry Pencil, Noah Pettibone, Jr., John Pierce, Timothy Pierce, Gershom Prince, Samuel Ransom, William Reynolds, Elisha Richards, Elias Roberts, Enos Rockway, Timothy Rose, Jeremiah Ross, Jr., Perrin Ross, Timothy Ross, Constant Searles, Abel Seeley, Abram Shaw, James Shaw, Joseph Shaw, Elijah Shoemaker, Darius Spafford, James Spencer, Joshia Spencer, Levi Spencer, Eleazer Sprague, Aaron Stark, Daniel Stark, Joseph Staples, Reuben Staples, Asa Stevens, Rufus Stevens, James Stevenson, Lazarus Stewart, Lazarus Stewart, Jr., Nailer Sweed, Ichabod Tuttle, Abram Vangorder, John Van Wee, Nathan Wade, John Ward, Elihu Waters, Flavius Waterman, Bartholomew Weeks, Jonathan Weeks, Philip Weeks, James Wells, Peter Wheeler, William White, Joseph Whitlesey, Stephen Whiton, James Wigton, Essen Wilcox, Azibah Williams, Elihu Williams, Jr., John Williams, Rufus Williams, John Wilson, Parker Wilson, William Woodringer, Ozias Yale.
On July 4, Maj. John Butler for the British and Col. Nathan Denison for the Americans signed the articles of capitualtion, which were drawn up by the hand of Rev. Jacob Johnson. The terms of capitulation were fair, given the situation. The settlers were to lay down their arms and the fort was to be demolished. The settlers were to be permitted to occupy their farms without molestation of their persons. The Indians immediately violated the agreement by plundering the possessions of the settlers. No one in the fort was harmed, but when Maj. Butler withdrew his troops, the settlers began to flee from the valley. This departure was hastened by bands of Indians who stayed behind, destroying homes and threatening lives.
After the battle Col. Zebulon Butler and the remainder of Capt. Hewitt's company, about 15 men left the Valley to avoid being made prisoners of war. The women and children of the upper Lackawanna valley fled toward the upper settlements on the Delaware. Those of Pittston and Wilkesbarre fled over the mountains and swamps to the lower settlments. Those from Hanover, Plymouth and Newport tried to make their escape to Fort Augusta. Spaulding who was coming with his company to help defend the valley, met some of these fugitives on the mountains and returned to Stroudsburg.
Countless men women and children suffered in the flight after the massacre. Some became lost in the swamps and were never heard from again. Some such as Hannah Rogers, died of exhaustion. Hannah died and her body was placed under a fallen log. Her epitaph was written in charcoal: "Here rest the remains of HANNAH, wife of Josiah Rogers, who died while fleeing from the Indians after the massacre at Wyoming". Countless other families lost loved ones and were unable to lie them to rest in a suitable fashion.
Rev. Jacob Johnson took his family and grandson, Zebulon Johnson Butler and returned to Groton, Ct. Here he remained 3 years before returning to the Wyoming valley.
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.