Fort Antes, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
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Fort Antes was erected by Lieut. Col. Henry Antes in 1778, about opposite Jersey Shore on the east side of Nippenose creek, and on the higher plateau overlooking it, and also the river. It was defended by Col. Antes, its builder, until ordered to vacate it by Col. Samuel Hunter, at the time the military authorities considered it unsafe to attempt to defend these forts.
Col. Hunter sent word to Col. Hepburn, then commanding at Fort Muncy to order all above him on the river to abandon the country and retire below. Meginness’ Otizinachson says, “Col. Hepburn had some difficulty in getting a messenger to carry the order up to Col. Antes, so panic stricken were the people on account of the ravages of the Indians. At length, Robert Covenhoven and a young millwright in the employ of Andrew Culbertson, volunteered their services and started on the dangerous mission. They crossed the river and ascended Bald Eagle Mountain and kept along the summit till they came to the gap opposite Antes’ Fort. They then cautiously descended at the head of Nippenose Bottom and proceeded to the fort. It was in the evening and as they neared the fort the report of a rifle rang out upon their ears. A girl had gone outside to milk a cow, and an Indian lying in ambush fired upon her. The ball, fortunately, passed through her clothes and she escaped unhurt. The orders were passed on up to Horn’s Fort and preparations made for the flight.”
Fort Antes was a refuge for the Indian land or Fair Play men, as well as for those on the south side of the river. Col. Antes was a man of prominence in Northumberland County, in civil as well as military life. He was a justice of the peace and twice sheriff of Northumberland County. He was buried in a small graveyard near the fort he defended ably and abandoned with great reluctance at the command of his superior officer. Near Fort Antes we were shown the scalping knife, old hint lock pistol and pocket compass of the famous scout, guide and Indian fighter of the West Branch, Robert Covenhoven. The knife has nine notches filed in the back, to represent the number of Indians it has scalped.
Meginness says, “The most important defensive work, after leaving Fort Muncy and traveling westward by the river about twenty-five miles was what was known among the early settlers at Antes’ Fort, because it was built by Col. John Henry Antes. It was located on a high bluff overlooking the river and Indian land to the west, at the head of Long Island, in what is now Nippenose Township, Lycoming County. Although every trace of the fort has long since disappeared, and the ground on which it stood is plowed and cultivated annually, its name is perpetuated by the little village and station on the Philadelphia and Erie railroad, about a mile eastward, called Antes Fort.”
The builder of this stockade, which played an important part during the Indian troubles preceding the Big Runaway, was one of the earliest pioneers to effect a permanent settlement here. It is believed that he was induced to locate lands and settle here by Conrad Weiser, and that he came as early as 1772. He picked out a mill site near the month of the creek, which still bears his name, erected a primitive dwelling place and settled. At that time the surroundings must have been exceedingly wild. The creek, which is the outlet for the waters of Nippenose Valley, flows through a canon in the Bald Eagle Mountain, which, at this day, possesses much of its native wilderness. Behind him rose the mountain, covered from base to summit with its dark evergreen foliage of pine and hemlock, whilst a swamp, with almost impenetrable thickets of briars, tangled vines and underbrush, came up to within a few yards of where he built his cabin.
Perhaps as early as 1773 he commenced the erection of a gristmill. It was the most advanced improvement of its kind up the river, and proved a great boon to the settlers for miles beyond. To show the straightened circumstances of the inhabitants it may be mentioned that while the work of building the mill was going on coarse flour was made by grinding wheat and corn in a large iron coffee mill, and the bran was removed by a hair sieve. Tradition says that one person was kept turning the mill all the time to keep a supply of flour for the sustenance of the workmen.
It cannot be positively stated when the stockade was built, but it must have been in the summer of 1777, when the Indians became demonstrative and troublesome on the frontier. The site selected for the fort was on the hill overlooking the mill, which was within rifle shot. It was constructed according to the usual plan, by sinking vertically heavy timbers in a trench dug four or five feet deep, when the earth was tilled in around them.
These stockades were from ten to twelve feet high, and notched at the top for musketry. No record has been left to show the extent of the enclosure, but it must have covered fully a quarter of an acre, as a militia company was stationed there for several months. Whether the fort was ever supplied with small cannon or not is unknown, but a tradition has existed that it was, because a cannon ball was once found near the riverbank, under the hill. It might have been carried there by some collector of Revolutionary relics. But as Fort Muncy had one or two, it is not improbable that one of these was dragged up to Antes’ Fort to menace the savages when they appeared on the opposite side of the river.
Being active, vigilant and well informed for his time, John Henry Antes was appointed a justice of the peace for this part of Northumberland County on the 29th of July 1775, by the court then held at Fort Augusta. He filled the office until the breaking out of Indian hostilities. On the 24th of January 1775, he was appointed captain of a company of fifty-eight militiamen in the Second battalion under Col. James Potter, for the defense of the frontier, and he commanded a company in Col. William Plunket’s regiment when he made his ill-timed raid on the Connecticut settlers at Wyoming.
After returning from the “raid” up the North Branch, he was commissioned a captain of foot in the Second battalion of Associators, April 18, 1776. In a little more than a year he was commissioned lieutenant colonel (May 1777) of the Fourth battalion of the militia of Northumberland County, by the Supreme Executive Council, sitting at Philadelphia. His commission was beautifully written on parchment and signed by Thomas Wharton, Jr., president, and Timothy Matlack, secretary. It is still preserved by his descendants as a precious relic. On the 30th of July, 1777, he took the oath of allegiance” and straightway entered on a more active career in the defense of the frontier against the savages, who were daily growing more bold and aggressive. It was about this time that he had a garrison at Antes’ Fort and kept a vigilant outlook for the foe, who could come within sight of the fortification on their own land. Scouting parties were frequently sent out for the purpose of keeping communication open with Fort Muncy, and to watch the great Indian path running up Lycoming creek, down which scalping parties frequently came to ravage the settlements.
The winter of 1777-78 was rendered distressing by the frequent inroads of the savages, and it was necessary to observe the greatest vigilance to guard against surprise. On the 23d of December a man was tomahawked and scalped near the mouth of Pine creek, almost within sight of the fort; and of the 1st of January another met the same fate further up the river. This month Colonel Antes visited Fort Augusta to consult with Colonel Hunter as to what had best be done. The result of the conference was that three classes of Col. Cookson Long’s battalion were ordered to report to Colonel Antes. The men composing these commands mostly lived on the West Branch and were good riflemen. The inhabitants, in view of the increasing danger, did not deem it prudent to allow any more militia to leave the country to join Washington’s army, and so informed Colonel Hunter.
The scarcity of arms and ammunition was another drawback to a vigorous defense. Colonel Hunter was constantly clamoring for arms, but the authorities were so hard pressed that they could not meet his demands. The British were making a supreme effort both in the front and rear of Washington. Indians and Tories were directed to descend on the frontiers of Northumberland County, from Fort Niagara to destroy the settlements and show no mercy to men, women and children. Colonel Antes had command of the frontier forces, with head-quarters at his stockade, and ranging parties were kept constantly in the field. Colonel Hunter stated that Colonel Antes was the only field officer he was allowed, and he found it almost impossible to defend the extensive frontier with the small force at his command.
A body of Indians numbering eleven were discovered skulking in the woods above the Great Island, and as it was evident that they were bent on mischief, they were promptly pursued by a portion of Colonel Antes’ command. As a light snow had fallen they were easily tracked and soon overtaken. A slight skirmish ensued, when two Indians were killed. This caused the remaining nine to quickly take to the woods and escape. But, notwithstanding the vigilance of the scouting parties, small bands of Indians would suddenly appear in unlocked for places and do much damage.
The inhabitants complained that if no militia were stationed above Fort Muncy they would be forced to abandon their homes. This made it more responsible for Colonel Antes, and he was kept on the alert night and day. His stockade fort was the centre of military operations for months, and its value as a defensive point cannot be overestimated in those perilous times.
In June 1777, an exciting and tragic affair occurred within sight of Fort Antes, which shows the constant danger to which the occupants were subjected. It was on a Sunday morning, when four men, Zephaniah Miller, Abel Cady, James Armstrong and Isaac Bouser, accompanied by two women, left the fort and crossed the river in canoes to the Indian land for the purpose of milking several cows which were pasturing there. The four men went along as a guard. One of the cows wore a bell but they found that she was further back from the shore than the others. Cady, Armstrong and Miller thoughtlessly started to drive her in to be milked. It never occurred to them that Indians might be lurking in the bushes and that the cow might be kept back as a decoy. Soon after entering the bushes they were fired upon by the concealed foe, and Miller and Cady fell, severely wounded. With the agility of cats they were pounced upon by the Indians and scalped, when they as quickly disappeared in the thickets. Armstrong was wounded in the back of the head, but succeeded in getting away. When the shots were fired, Bouser and the women, who were in the rear, ran to the riverbank and concealed themselves.
The sudden firing alarmed the garrison at the fort, but a number of militiamen, friends of the party attacked, seized their guns and hurried across the river. Colonel Antes stoutly remonstrated against their going, fearing that it might be a decoy to draw the force away, when the fort would be assailed from the rear, but the men were so anxious to get a shot at the skulking savages that they could not be restrained, although aware that it was a breach of military discipline.
When the rescuing party reached the shore they soon found Cady and Miller where they fell, scalped, weltering in their blood, and presenting a horrible spectacle. Cady was still breathing, but unable to speak. He was picked up and carried to the riverbank, where his wife, who was one of the milking party, met him. He reached out his hand to her as a sign of recognition and almost immediately expired. Armstrong was taken to the fort, where he lingered in great agony till Monday night following, when he died.
The loss of these three men through the wily methods of the savages, caused a feeling of sadness among those collected in the fort, and showed them very plainly that their safety depended on vigilance. The pursuing party moved swiftly and soon came in sight of the Indians who, on seeing that they were discovered, turned and fired, but did no execution. They then dashed into a swamp, which then existed under what is now the hill on which the Jersey Shore cemetery is situated. Deeming it unsafe to enter the tangled thickets of the swamp, the pursuing party returned. They fired several times at the retreating foe and thought they did some execution, as marks of blood were seen on their trail as if they had dragged away their killed or wounded.
One of the strange characters who was a frequent visitor to Antes Fort in those gloomy days was “Job Chilloway,” a friendly Indian of the Delaware tribe. He had been converted by the Moravians and remained steadfast in the faith. Having associated much with the whites he became very friendly, and by many good acts won their confidence and respect. He was much employed as a scout by the military authorities and his fidelity was frequently proven by dangerous missions to gain information of the movement of the savages. He had a wide acquaintance among the Indians, as well as a thorough knowledge of the country, its mountains, streams and paths, and, therefore, was enabled to acquire information that proved of great value to the whites. At times he was suspected by the Indians of giving information, but through his artlessness and keenness of perception, he always managed to disabuse their minds of suspicion and escaped when others would have failed, hi a word, he was a first class Indian detective, whose sense of gratitude never allowed him to prove recreant to his trust, and those who had befriended him, which was something remarkable in the nature and character of an aborigine. Through life he proved himself a “good Indian.” and when he died near Fort Erie, Canada, September 22, 1792, he received Christian burial at the hands of his Moravian friends. He had learned to speak English well and understood several Indian dialects. He was the first to appraise the whites that the Indians were preparing to descend on the valley in force, and warned them to be prepared to resist the invaders.
Some interesting anecdotes illustrative of the character of this remarkable Indian, have been preserved, one of which may be related in this connection. One day, when the times were perilous, he was visiting at Antes Fort. As he was moving about outside the stockade, and ever on the alert for danger, he discovered a sentinel leaning against a tree asleep. Slipping up behind the tree he quickly threw his arms around it, and, grasping the sentinel, held him so that he could not see who had hold of him. The sentinel was badly frightened at his predicament and struggled to release himself, but in vain. At last he discovered that it was Job who had him pinioned, when he begged him not to tell Colonel Antes, who might punish him severely for such a grave offense. Job promised not to report him, but reminded him that if it bad been an enemy that seized him he might have been killed. “Yes,” replied the sentinel, “I might have been caught by an Indian and killed before I knew who my assailant was.” “It was an Indian that caught you,” replied Job, with a grin, “but he was your friend.”
This affair so much amused Job that he would burst into a fit of laughter whenever he thought of it. His frequent outbursts of merriment finally attracted the attention of Colonel Antes, and he asked what was the cause of it, but he refused to tell for a long time. At last he informed the Colonel that something serious had happened to one of his men, but he had pledged his word not to tell on him. But Job intimated to the Colonel that he might detect the guilty man by his countenance when the company was on parade. The Colonel scrutinized the countenance of his men sharply when they were paraded, which caused the guilty man to confess what occurred to him. The circumstance and the manner of its revealment through the suggestion of the Indian, so amused him that he did not punish the man, but admonished him not to be caught that way again.
In the early summer of 1778 another affair of an entirely different character occurred at the fort, which shows the prowling nature of the savages and how close they would venture to get a shot at a white person and possibly secure a scalp.
When Colonel Hunter sent word to the commanding officer at Fort Muncy that it would be necessary for the inhabitants living above the Muncy hills to abandon their homes and rendezvous at Fort Augusta, if they valued their lives, and dispatched messengers with the warning to Antes Fort and Horn’s Fort, some trouble was experienced in finding messengers who were willing to take the risk of traveling twenty-five miles up the valley, which was then infested by savages. Finally, Robert Covenhoven, the daring scout, and a young man employed at Culbertson’s mill, volunteered to undertake the dangerous mission. The name of the young man, unfortunately for the benefit of history, has not been preserved, but the probabilities are that he did not go, because Covenhoven preferred, when on a dangerous mission, to go alone. We are led to this conclusion by the statement that Covenhoven started at once and stayed that night with a man named Andrew Armstrong, who had settled at a big spring a short distance east of the present village of Liuden. This was about sixteen miles west of Fort Muncy and, therefore, a good stage for the first part of the journey. It is of record that he warned Armstrong of the impending danger and advised him to leave. He refused, and, in a few days afterwards, was taken prisoner, carried into captivity and never heard of again.
The next day Covenhoven did not take the risk of traveling up the valley to Antes Fort, but, crossing the river, ascended Bald Eagle mountain, and traveled along the level plateau on the summit. He knew that the Indians were not likely to be found there, as they preferred lying in ambush along the path in the valley to surprise incautious travelers. Then, again, he could look down into the valley and discover signs of Indians, if any were about. The only point of danger was in descending to cross one or two canons, which intervened before debouching near the fort. He made the journey successfully, and, in the evening as he was cautiously creeping through the bushes and when within a few hundred yards of the fort, he was startled by the sharp report of a rifle.
His first impression was that he had been discovered and fired upon by an Indian concealed in the bushes, but finding himself uninjured he made a dash for the fort, which he reached in safety and delivered the message of Colonel Hunter to Colonel Antes to evacuate the place within a week.
Investigation showed that the shot had been fired by an Indian at a young woman who had gone outside the fort to milk a cow. The Indian had stealthily crawled up until he got in range and fired. The young woman was badly frightened, as she had made a narrow escape. The bullet passed through the folds of her dress without touching her person. Milking cows in those days outside of a fort was a dangerous experiment, and several narrow escapes are recorded.
As soon as the shot was fired a body of armed men rushed out of the fort and scoured the surrounding neighborhood for some distance, but the venturesome redskin could not be found. He had probably taken refuge in the swamp, about a quarter of a mile southwest of the fort – a favorite hiding place with the Indians.
It does not appear that Covenhoven continued to Horn’s fort – another messenger evidently having conveyed the news there – as we are informed that he immediately returned to Fort Muncy. The brief record of the times does not tell us how he returned, but as an Indian lurked in nearly every thicket, we are left to infer that he made his way back by the mountain route, as it was the safest. In a few days afterwards we hear of him removing his wife to Fort Augusta for safety, and then returning to assist the panic-stricken inhabitants in their flight down the river in what was known as the Big Runaway.
In less than a month after the flight armed bodies of men were hurried up the valley from Fort Augusta and posted at Fort Muncy, whence scouting parties were sent out to see what damage had been done. They found the cabins and barns of the settlers burned and their crops greatly damaged. In about a month many settlers were induced to return and gather what they could of their crops under the protection of armed men.
An advance scouting party hurried up the river as far as Antes Fort. They found the mill and outbuildings burned and the embers yet smoking, showing that the savages had just been there before them. The air was tainted with the aroma of roasting wheat, and everything destructible attested the work of the vandals. Antes Fort, however, was still tenable; the savages were unable to burn the stout oaken timbers, which formed the stockade, and they were not disposed to undertake the hard labor of cutting them down or pulling them out of the earth, where they had been so firmly implanted. Everything else that could be destroyed was rendered useless.
Colonel Antes and family fled with the rest of the fugitives in obedience to the orders of Colonel Hunter, but he was among the first to return to look after his property. It does not appear that any militia were stationed at the fort again for any length of time, although it is probable that it was made a rallying point until all danger was over. On the restoration of peace it was allowed to fall into decay, and it soon became a ruin, which for many years was pointed out by the old settlers as a spot of great historic interest, on account of its association with the thrilling days of the revolutionary period.
Colonel Antes, soon after the return of peace rebuilt his mill and for years it was the only one in that section of the valley to supply the settlers with flour, who came with their grist’s as far away as thirty or forty miles, and in some instances further. A mill still stands on the site today, although it is the third since the first.
This remarkable man, who played such a conspicuous part in the early history of the valley in both a military and civil capacity, was born October 8, 1736, near Pottstown, Montgomery County. His ancestors came from Crefeld on the Rhine, and in this country they occupied high positions in the Dutch Reformed Church. His parents had eleven children, all of whom were ardent patriots and the males were distinguished for their military services in Revolutionary times.
Colonel Antes was chosen sheriff of Northumberland County in 1782, and commissioned on the 18th of October. He was re-elected in 1783, and served a second term. His first wife – Anna Maria Paulin – died in March 1767, leaving five children. By his second wife, Sophia Snyder, he had eight children. Colonel Antes had an elder brother, Philip Frederick, who married Barbara Tyson in 1755. Their youngest daughter, Catharine, married Simon Snyder about 1796. He became governor of Pennsylvania in 1808, and served until 1817 – three terms.
The Colonel was an active and busy man. He acquired considerable land on Antes creek and made many improvements. He died May 18, 1820, aged 83 years, 9 months and 5 days, and was buried in the graveyard near his famous fortification. This burial ground was started by those who were killed by the Indians. Here Donaldson (see sketch of Horn’s Fort), McMichael and Fleming were buried, and here Cady, Miller and Armstrong were laid at rest. Since that time – one hundred and seventeen years ago – scores of old and young have found a place of sepulture in its sacred soil, and burials are still made there.
No stone marks the grave of the old hero and patriot, Col. John Henry Antes, although the spot is pointed out by some of his descendants where he was laid three-quarters of a century ago. Considering what he did in a military capacity alone, the trials he passed through, the hardships he endured and the foundation he assisted in laying for the higher civilization, which followed him, the time has arrived for the erection of a suitable monument to perpetuate his name and fame. Marble, granite, brass and bronze testimonials have been reared over the graves of those who did less for posterity; here lies one who is eminently deserving of an appropriate block of granite, indicative of his rugged character and sublime patriotism. Shall it be done or must his memory be allowed to perish?