Fort Horn, Clinton County, Pennsylvania
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Fort Horn was erected on a high flat extending out to the river and commanding a good view of the river up and down, as well as the north side of the river; is about midway between Pine and McElhattan Stations on the P. & E. R. R., west of Fort Antes. It was a place of refuge for those hardy settlers on the Indian lands on the north side of the river, as well as the residents on the Pennsylvania lands on which it was built. The river lands on the north side were outside the purchase of 1768, from the Lycoming creek up the river westward. These settlers were adventurous, hardy, brave. When I say they were mostly Scotch-Irish it will be understood they were also law abiding. As they were outside the limits of the laws of the Province, they had formed a code of their own and administered it impartially. In troublous times now upon these communities they all stood shoulder to shoulder, proving the saying that blood is thicker than water.
A few soldiers are said to have been stationed here and the settlers on both sides the river joined them in scouting duty, sending word to those below of approaching danger; several light skirmishes took place between the men of the fort and the Indians, in which several lives were lost. On an alarm, the inhabitants of the north side placed their families in canoes and paddled to Antes, Horn and Reid’s forts; when danger passed over their families would return.
Accompanied by John F. Meginness, the historian, J. H. MacMinn, a great-grandson of Col. Antes, and quite an antiquarian, we visited the sites of these upper West Branch forts. A Mr. Quiggle, of Pine, accompanied us to Fort Horn. The old gentleman pointed out to us the depression where, in his younger days, had stood up the remains of the stockades. The P. & E. R. R. at this point has cut away about one-half the ground enclosed by the fort.
This stockaded fortification was situated on a commanding point of land on the West Branch of the Susquehanna river, in what is now the township of Wayne, Clinton county, one mile west of the post village of Pine. At this point the river describes a great bend, affording a commanding view for about one mile up and down the stream from the elevation or point on which Samuel Horn chose to erect his stockade. Looking across the river to the north, which, at this point flows to the east, a magnificent view of the rich, alluvial valley is afforded; in the rear, not more than one-fourth of a mile away, is the dark and somber range of the Bald Eagle Mountain, varying in altitude from five to seven hundred feet.
At the time Samuel Horn settled here the river was the Indian boundary line, according to the provisions of the treaty of 1768, therefore, he was on the northern boundary of the Province of Pennsylvania. From the point where he built his cabin he could look over the Indian possessions for miles and plainly see the cabins of a dozen or more sturdy Scotch. Irish squatters on the “forbidden land.” The tract on which Horn settled was warranted in the name of John L. Webster in 1709. Since that time it has passed through a number of hands, and is now owned by a Mr. Quiggle, whose ancestors were among the early settlers in this part of Wayne Township.
Horn, when the Indians became threatening in 1777, with the assistance of his neighbors, enclosed his primitive log dwelling with stockades, and it became a rallying point as well as a haven of safety, in the perilous times, which followed. The line of stockades can be pretty clearly traced to this day by the depression in the ground and the vegetation and underbrush. The enclosure probably embraced a quarter of an acre, thereby affording ample room lor a number of families. A small stream of pure mountain water ran along the western side of the enclosure, and it is probable that there was a way constructed so that it could be reached from within with safety from the prowling foe. When the Philadelphia and Erie railroad was built the line cut through the northern end of what has been the stockaded enclosure, and the discolored earth showed very plainly where the timber had decayed.
Horn’s Fort and the others of the upper West Branch were recognized by the authorities as defensive positions, and most of them, if not all, furnished with troops, either militia or Continental, when troops could be procured for that purpose; when not garrisoned by militia, these forts on this flank, were held by the inhabitants of the Province of the south side of the river, assisted by their neighbors of the Indian lands of the north side.
Colonel Antes was furnished militia to strengthen Antes Fort whenever Colonel Hunter, the commander of Northumberland County, could procure them. Moses Van Campen tells us Colonel Kelly’s regiment of militia garrisoned Fort Reid, at now Lock Haven, a few miles above Horn’s, the most of the summer of 1777.
Tradition says that Horn’s was a defensive work of no mean importance at that time, and was of great value to the pioneers who had pushed their way up the river in the advance guard, as it were. There was but one defensive work (Reid’s) a few miles west, and as it was on the extreme limits of the frontier there a company of county militia was stationed for some time. Its location was admirably chosen. In all that region no more eligible position could have been formed. Standing on its ramparts, the eye swept the river right and left and the Indian lands to the north, for several miles. As the current bore immediately under its lea an Indian canoe could scarcely have glided past in the night without having been detected by a vigilant sentinel.
One of the most remarkable incidents of Revolutionary times – an incident which stands, so far as known, without its counter part in the history of the struggle of any people for liberty and independence, occurred within sight of Horn’s fort, but across the river on the Indian land. This was what is known as the “Pine Creek Declaration of Independence.” The question of the colonies throwing off the yoke of Great Britain and setting up business for themselves, had been much discussed, both in and out of Congress. The hardy Scotch Irish settlers on both sides of the river, in the vicinity of Horns, bore little love for the mother country. The majority of them had been forced to leave their native land and to seek a home where they would be free from religious oppression – where they could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. They were all patriots in the broadest sense of the term, and a Loyalist or Tory would not have been tolerated in their midst. They yearned for independence, and when the discussion of the subject waxed warm they resolved on calling a public meeting to give formal expression to their views. Accordingly, on the 4th day of July, 1T7G, the meeting, assembled on the Pine creek plains and a resolution was passed, declaring themselves free and independent of Great Britian. The remarkable feature of this meeting was that the Pine creek resolution was passed on the same day that a similar resolution was passed by the Continental Congress sitting in Philadelphia, more than two hundred miles away, and between whom there could be no communication for concert of action. It was, indeed, a remarkable coincidence – remarkable in the fact that the Continental Congress and the squatter sovereigns on the West Branch should declare for freedom and independence about the same time.
It is regretted that no written record of the meeting was preserved, showing who the officers were and giving the names of all those present. All that is known is what has been handed down by tradition. The following names of the participants have been preserved: Thomas, Francis and John Clark, Alexander Donaldson, William Campbell, Alexander Hamilton, John Jackson, Adam Carson, Henry McCracken, Adam DeWitt, Robert Love and Hugh Nichols. The meeting might have been held at the cabins of either John Jackson or Alexander Hamilton, as both were representative and patriotic men of the period. Several of these men afterwards perished at the hands of the savages; others fought in the Revolutionary Army and assisted in achieving the Independence which they had resolved the country should have.
The majority of these men lived across the river from the fort on the Indian land, and they all received patents for the land they had preempted after the treaty and purchase of 1784, in consideration of their loyalty, patriotism and devotion to the struggling colonies. The name of Samuel Horn is not found among those that have been handed down to us, but it may be safely inferred that the man who was sufficiently patriotic to build a stockade fort for the protection of the neighborhood in which these men lived, was a sympathizer, if not a participant, in the Pine creek movement for independence.
There is nothing on record to show that the fort was ever supplied with small cannon. Its only armament was muskets and rifles in the hands of the hardy settlers when they had collected there in times of danger. That the savages regarded it with displeasure, and sought more than one opportunity to attack the occupants, there is abundant proof. They prowled about in small bands or laid concealed in the surrounding thickets ready to shoot down and scalp any thoughtless occupant who might venture a few hundred yards from the enclosure. Among the thrilling escapes that have been preserved is that of the young woman named Ann Carson, just before the flight known in history as the Big Runaway. She ventured out of the fort one day and was fired upon by a concealed savage. The bullet cut through the folds of her dress, making fourteen holes in its flight, but left her uninjured. About the same time another young woman named Jane Anesley, while engaged in milking a cow one evening outside the enclosure, was fired at by a lurking Indian several times. One bullet passed through her dress, grazing her body so closely that she felt the stinging sensation so severely that she was sure she was shot.
At the time Colonel Hunter sent up word from Fort Augusta for the settlers to abandon the valley and flee to places of safety down the river, as he was informed that a large body of savages was preparing to descend from the Seneca country to devastate the valley and wipe out the settlements, that fearless scout and intrepid soldier, Robert Covenhoven, bore the unwelcome news from Fort Muncy to Antes Fort and had a messenger dispatched from the latter place to warn the inmates of Fort Horn that they must fly if they valued their lives. The meager records informs us that all the settlers within a radius of several miles were collected at Horn’s and that a great state of excitement prevailed. Those living on the Indian lands across the river were gathered at the fort, anxiously awaiting news from below. Judging from the extent of the settlements at the time, a hundred or more fugitives must have been collected there.
The order to evacuate the fort was received with feelings of alarm, well nigh bordering on despair. The frenzied settlers at once set about making preparations to abandon their humble homes, their growing crops – for it was in early June – and fly. Many of them buried chinaware and other household effects that they could not well carry with them in places that they could recognize if they were ever permitted to return.
Soon after receiving Colonel Hunter’s message four men, Robert Fleming, Robert Donaldson, James McMichael and John Hamilton started down the river in canoes for Antes Fort to secure a flat in which to transport their families below. They were squatters on the Indian land across the river from Horn’s and they knew that the savages had a grudge against them for trespassing on their territory, and that they would fare badly if they fell in their hands. The dread of impending danger had driven them across the river with their families to seek the protection of the fort.
They reached Antes Fort in safety, engaged a flat and started on their return. But the eye of the wily savage was on them. They had pushed their canoes up through the Pine creek riffles, when they pushed over to the south side of the river for the purpose of resting and to wait for other parties who were following them with the flat. At this point the mountain comes down almost to the edge of the river, and at that time it presented an exceedingly wild and forbidding appearance. As they were about to land, and not suspecting danger, they were suddenly fired on by a small band of savages concealed in the bushes. Donaldson jumped out of his canoe, rushed up the bank and cried to the others, “Come on, boys.” Hamilton saw the Indians rise up, and at the same time noticed the blood spurting from a wound in Donaldson’s back as he was trying to reload his gun. He soon fell from exhaustion and died. Fleming and McMichael were also killed. Hamilton, who was untouched, gave his canoe a powerful shove into the stream and, jumping into the water fell flat on the other side. Then, holding the canoe with one hand between the Indians and himself, he managed to paddle across the river with the other. Several bullets flew around his frail craft, but he escaped without a scratch. When he landed his woolen clothes were so heavy, from being saturated with water, as to impede his flight. He, therefore, stripped himself of everything but his shirt and ran swiftly up the river. His route was by the Indian path to the Great Island. He ran for life. Fear lent wings to his flight. The flutter of a bird stimulated him to increase his speed, and if a bush came in his way he cleared it with a bound. In this way he ran for nearly three miles, passing the place where his father had settled, until he came opposite Horn’s fort, when he was discovered and a canoe was sent to rescue him.
The men in the flat being behind and hearing the firing and, divining the cause, hurriedly pushed to the north shore, below the mouth of Pine creek, which they hurriedly forded and ran up the path, which Hamilton had so swiftly traveled. James Jackson, who was one of the party on the flat, found a horse pasturing on the Pine creek clearing which he caught, mounted and rode up to the point opposite Horn’s fort, when he was discovered and brought over in a canoe. The other men made their way to the fort and escaped.
An armed body of men, as soon as the news was received at Horn’s, made their way down to the place of ambush. Here the dead and scalped bodies of Donaldson. McMichael and Fleming were found, but the Indians had departed. They knew that they would be punished and hurried away as quickly as possible. The rescuing party secured the three dead bodies of their neighbors and carried them to Antes Fort, where they were buried in the little graveyard, which had been started outside of the enclosure. Nearly all of the men left families, and the cruel manner in which they had been slain caused great excitement at the fort, as well as intense grief on the part of their wives and children. It was a sad day at Horn’s. But no time was to be lost. Activity was the demand of the hour. The savages were emerging from the forests on every hand bent on murder and pillage, and the settlers collected at the fort saw that if they were to escape their relentless fury they must fly at once.
The same day the bloody affair occurred at Pine creek, a party of men were driving a lot of cattle down the river from the vicinity of the Great Island – the thickest part of the settlement on the Indian land – when they were fired on by a small body of skulking savages, almost in sight of Fort Horn. The whites, who were well armed, returned the fire, when an Indian was observed to fall and was quickly removed by his companions. This mishap seemed to strike terror into the ranks of the survivors and they fled precipitately into the forest, abandoning a lot of plunder, consisting largely of blankets, which fell into the bands of the whites. A member of the cattle party named Samuel Fleming, was shot through the shoulder and severely wounded. The Fleming family was one of the earliest to settle in this neighborhood, and as the head thereof had several sons, it is probable that Samuel was a brother of Robert, who was killed in the ambuscade at Pine Creek,
The firing was heard at Horn’s and added to the alarm of the women and children assembled there, which only subsided when they found the party approaching on the other side of the river with their cattle. Fleming was ferried over to the fort, where he had his wound dressed. The cattle drivers continued on down the river in search of a place of greater security for their stock.
Such were some of the incidents preceding the Big Runaway in the latter part of June, 1778, when all of that part of the valley of the West Branch, west of the Muncy hills, was abandoned by the white settlers to escape the fury of the savages. The stockade forts, like the humble log cabins, were dismantled and burned, so far as the remorseless foe was capable of carrying out their intentions.
A description of the Big Runaway. which has no parallel in frontier history, is not out of place in this connection. The best account is found in Sherman Day’s Historical Collections of Pennsylvania, p. 451. Mr. Day obtained it from the lips of Covenhoven himself in 1842, more than fifty years ago, when the thrilling incidents were comparatively fresh in his mind. After delivering the order of Colonel Hunter to the commander of Antes Fort, and seeing that the message was conveyed to Horn’s, Covenhoven hastily returned to Fort Muncy and removed his wife to Sun bury for safety. He then started up the river in a keelboat for the purpose of securing his scanty household furniture and to aid the panic stricken inhabitants to escape. Day reports his story in these thrilling words:
“As he was rounding a point above Derrstown (now Lewisburg) he met the whole convoy from all the forts above (Muncy, Antes, Horn’s and Reid’s) and such a sight he never saw in his life. Boats, canoes, hog troughs, rafts hastily made of dry sticks – every sort of floating article had been put in requisition and were crowded with women and children and ‘plunder’ – there were several hundred people in all. Whenever any obstruction occurred at a shoal or riffle, the women would leap out and put their shoulders, not, indeed, to the wheel, but to the flat boat or raft, and launch it again into deep water. The men of the settlement came down in single file on each side of the river to guard the women and children. The whole convoy arrived safely at Sunbury, leaving the entire line of farms along the West Branch to the ravages of the Indians. They did not penetrate in any force near Sunbury, their attention having been soon after diverted to the memorable descent on Wyoming. * * * After Covenhoven had got his bedding and furniture in his boat at Loyalsock, and was proceeding down the river just below Fort Menninger (at the mouth of White Deer creek), he saw a woman on the shore fleeing from an Indian. She jumped down the riverbank and fell, perhaps, wounded by his gun. The Indian scalped her, but in his haste neglected to tomahawk her. She survived the scalping, was picked up by the men from the fort (Freeland) and lived on Warrior run until about the year 1840. Her name was Mrs. Durham.”
Strange as it may seem, nothing has been preserved to show who Samuel Horn was, whence he came or whither he went after abandoning his fort. Neither do the records show that he ever warranted any land in that vicinity. That he had a family is reasonably certain, else it is not likely he would have gone to the trouble and expense of building a stockade around his cabin for protection and the protection of his neighbors, who made it a rallying point in time of great danger. All that has been preserved about him is what has been handed down in the form of tradition. It is probable that he never returned after the Big Runaway, but settled in some of the lower counties. His name, however, has been perpetuated in connection with the fort, and, although one hundred and sixteen years have rolled away since he hurriedly bade it adieu forever, the site where it stood is still proudly pointed out by the people in the neighborhood, who hold his name in grateful remembrance.
This report would be incomplete if no further reference was made to the fearless scout – Robert Covenhoven – who bore the last message up the river warning the settlers to fly to Fort Augusta to escape the wrath of the red-handed Ishmaelites who were bearing down on them from the north incited to commit the most atrocious deeds by the promise of British gold.
Who was Robert Covenhoven? He was of Hollandish descent, and came with his father’s family from Monmouth County, New Jersey, where he was born December 7, 1755, and settled near the mouth of Loyalsock creek in 1772. A number of relatives accompanied them. Our subject – the name has since been corrupted in Crownover – was first employed as a hunter and axeman by the surveyors, and early became acquainted with the paths of the wilderness and inured to the dangers and hardships of pioneer life. This knowledge and service eminently fitted him to perform the duties of a scout, and as he was fearless, strong and sagacious and well acquainted with the wiles of the Indian, he became very successful in his dangerous calling.
On the breaking out of the Revolution he joined Washington’s army and participated in the battles of Trenton and Princeton. In the spring of 1777 he was sent to his home on the West Branch to aid in protecting the frontiers, and few men in those stirring times endured greater hardships or had more hairbreadth escapes. He married Miss Mercy Kelsey Cutter (also a native of New Jersey), February 22, 1778, so that it will be seen that she was little more than a bride at the time of the Big Runaway.
To give a history of his life in full would require the space of a moderate sized volume. He was the principal guide for Colonel Hartley when he made his famous expedition up Lycoming creek in September 1778, by direction of Congress for the purpose of chastising the Indians at Tioga Point (now Athens), and was the first man to apply the torch to the wigwam of Queen Esther at the Point.
He had a brother killed in a fight with Indians on Loyalsock, near where his father settled, and had another taken prisoner. He was himself chased for some distance along the creek, dodging up and down the bank alternately, that his savage pursuers might get no aim at him. Doubtless, his swiftness of foot and power of endurance saved him. He escaped to Fort Muncy and gave an account of the tight. On the close of the war he purchased a farm in Level Corner, Lycoming County, almost in sight of Antes Fort, and settled down to the quiet pursuits of agriculture.
He had a family of five sons and three daughters, all of whom are deceased. His wife died November 27, 1843, aged 88 years, 10 months and 8 days, and was buried in a cemetery on what is now West Fourth Street, Williamsport. Her grave has been obliterated by a church, which stands on the spot where it was made.
When the veteran grew old and was borne down by the weight of years, he went to stay with a daughter who lived near Northumberland. There he died October 29, 1846, at the ripe and mellow age of 90 years, 10 months and 22 days, and was laid at rest in the old Presbyterian graveyard in the borough of Northumberland. A plain marble headstone marks his grave, and the inscription, now almost illegible, tells who he was and what he did to help achieve our independence. For years the old burial ground where his ashes repose has been a common, and cattle graze on its green sward in summer time, pigs root among fallen tombstones and listless vandals amuse themselves by defacing memorial tablets reared by loving hands to perpetuate the name of a father or mother. The old patriot left a request in his will to be buried by the side of his wife, but his executor failed to carry it out, and from appearances his humble grave will soon be obliterated, the corroding tooth of time will soon destroy his plain marble tablet, and his numerous descendants will no longer be able to tell where his bones were laid.