Fort Jenkins, Pennsylvania
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Fort Jenkins was erected in the fall of 1777, or the winter and early spring of 1778. From its size inside the stockades, 60×80 feet, we incline to the former date. Mr. Jenkins, the owner of the house around which the stockade was erected, had been a merchant in Philadelphia, of means, and at this time there was quite a number of settlers within three miles whom he might get to assist at a work of this kind.
If built by Colonel Hartley’s men, one would suppose they would have built it larger, to hold Mr. Jenkins’ family, the settlers and their families in an emergency, and at least thirty of themselves, and one would also suppose Col. Hartley would have mentioned it or been credited with its building, as he was with Fort Muncy. It was a stockade enclosing the dwelling of Mr. Jenkins, the proprietor of the land, and from present appearances a second building was included, as cellar depression would indicate, it probably dated with the stockading, and had a lookout place on the roof which was a common thing in those perilous times. It is situated on a high bank, or flat, on the North Branch of the Susquehanna and overlooks the river, about twenty rods distant, as well as the country around, about midway between now the thriving towns of Berwick and Bloomsburg, in Columbia county. The first we hear of Fort Jenkins is from Lieut. Moses Van Campen. When building Fort Wheeler he was attacked by Indians, in the month of May, 1778, and running short of ammunition, he sent two men at night across the country about eight miles to Fort Jenkins; they returned next morning before dawn with an ample supply. (Life of Moses Van Campen, page 51.)
It was the right flanking defense of the line running from here, on the North Branch to the West Branch, at White Deer and thence to Lock Haven; here it was near the Connecticut settlements in Salem township, now Luzerne county. It covered the river and was a place of importance, and in conjunction with Wheeler, on the Fishing creek, covered the settlers within their line to the river, from ordinary raids.
Mr. Jenkins sold the property to James Wilson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who, in turn, sold it to Capt. Frederick Hill, who moved upon it and erected a dwelling on the site of Fort Jenkins, where he built and kept a hotel, and in memory of the old fort named it the Fort Jenkins Hotel. In the old days of stagecoaches it was a well-known hostelry. When he was too old for business his son, Jacob, succeeded him and kept up the reputation of the place, until, by some chance, he became converted among the Methodists, when (having plenty of the sterling material they make good citizens of within him) cut down his sign post, tore out his bar and devoted himself to his farm, which is a fine one and to the rearing of his family in the paths of rectitude and virtue, in which he was very successful. Here was born his son, Charles F. Hill, now of Hazleton, an archaeologist of considerable note in this region of country, to whom we are indebted for gathering and preserving many of the facts connected with Fort Jenkins. On September 9, 1893, I met Mr. C. F. Hill, at the site of the fort.
He pointed out that the farmhouse stood upon the site of the Jenkins house, that the cellar wall was sat on the original foundation; that the well at the farm house was dug inside the oaken palisades, of the fort during the Revolution, being seventy-five feet deep and down into the limestone rock. Also where, when a boy, he recollected seeing the remains of the oak palisades still visible in his time; the place where his father had shown him the Indians who were killed in the vicinity were buried; the ground where the whites, civilians and soldiers, who were killed in tights with Indians or died of disease were buried; some half dozen apple trees yet remaining of the orchard planted by Mr. Jenkins before the Revolution, bearing signs of great age, the orchard planted by his grand-father showing less signs of age. The spot where, in digging the foundation to the present kitchen attached to the present farm house he had found the sunken, tire place and hearth, with bricks about six inches square, unlike anything he had ever seen, supposed they were of English make and had been brought up the river in boats. He also pointed out where an island of five acres, as he remembers it, stood in the river so heavily timbered as to prevent a view from the tort to the other side, of which not a sign now remains, heavy floods having destroyed it effectually; also, where Nathan Beach’s father’s cabin stood, by the North Branch canal, but under the guns of the fort. The canal passes between the site of the fort and river at the foot of the plateau, on which the fort stood. Outside the fort stood the cabin of a family whose name I have dropped; it consisted of at least six persons and is referred to by Col. Hunter under date of 26 May, 1779, writing from Fort Augusta, “there has been no mischief done in this county since the 17th instant; that there was a family of four persons killed and scalped about twenty-seven miles above this, on the North Branch opposite to Fort Jenkins. Suppose there are Indians seen every day one place or another on our frontiers.”
The story of this massacre, as related by Mr. Hill is, the parents sending two of their children, a boy and girl, to the neighborhood of Catawissa, for some necessaries, the children took the path on the hill back of the cabin running parallel with the river. After proceeding some distance they came to the remains of a recent fire, where mussels from the river had been roasted. Becoming alarmed, they turned back for home, and, on arriving at end of hill overlooking their house, they saw it in flames and Indians disappearing from the clearing into the woods. On descending they found their family they had left in health a short time before, killed and scalped and themselves homeless orphans. This occurred directly opposite the fort and almost within reach of the rifles, but concealed from view of the garrison by the forest of the island and shore. Their first notice came with smoke of the burning cabin, the Indians disappearing as rapidly as they came.”
Col. Hunter says, in reference to the removal of Col. Hubley’s regiment toward Wyoming: “This leaves Fort Muncy and Fort Jenkins vacant at this critical time, being harvest time. (Vol. xii, Appendix, p. 381.) Col. Hunter, November 27, proposes to send twenty-five men to Fort Jenkins for the support and protection of the distressed inhabitants.” (p. 381.) ”Col. Ludwig Weltner writes to the Board of War, December 13,1779, in reference to the posture of several forts, on his taking command. I found Fort Muncy, on the West, and Fort Jenkins, on the East branch, with the magazine at Sunbury, to have been the only standing posts that were occupied, (p. 381.)
“April 2, 1780; the savages, the day before yesterday, took seven or eight prisoners about two miles above Fort Jenkins, and, comparing the condition of things with what it was twelve months before, when the forts were well garrisoned, Col. Hunter says, now we have but about thirty men at Fort Jenkins, which was not able to spare enough men out of the garrison to pursue the enemy that carried off the prisoners.” “On the 9th,” Col. Weltner writes from Northumberland and says, “I have manned three material outposts, viz: Fort Jenkins, Fort Montgomery (Fort Rice at Montgomery’s) and Bosley’s Mills. Col. James Potter writes from Sunbury, Sept. 18, 1780, that the enemy burned and destroyed everything in their power and on their going they sent a party and burnt the fort and buildings at Fort Jenkins, which had been evacuated a few days before, on the enemy appearing at Fort Rice.” Nathan Beach, Esq., an old and highly respected as well as widely-known citizen of Luzerne county (in Miner’s History of Wyoming, Appendix, p. 36), says: “In the year 1761) my father removed with his family from the State of New York to the Valley of Wyoming, now Luzerne county, State of Pennsylvania, where he continued to reside within the limits of the said county until the 4th day of July, 1778, the day after the Wyoming Massacre, so called, when the inhabitants, to wit, all those who had escaped the tomahawk and scalping knife fled in every direction to places of security. About the first of August following, I returned with my father and Thomas Dodson to secure our harvest, which we had left in the fields. While we were engaged in securing our harvest as aforesaid, I was taken prisoner by the Indians and Tories; made my escape the day following. In the fall of the same year, 1778, my father and family went to live at Fort Jenkins (Columbia County Fa.). I was there employed with others of the citizens and sent out on scouting parties by Capt Swany (Capt. Isaac Sweeney of Col. Hartley’s Eleventh Pennsylvania regiment), “commander of the fort, and belonging to Col. Hartley’s regiment of the Pennsylvania line. Continued at said fort until about the first of June 1779, during which time had a number of skirmishes with the Indians. In May the Indians, thirty-five in number, made an attack on some families that lived one mile from the fort and took three families prisoners, twenty-two in number. Information having been received at the fort. Ensign Thornbury (Ensign Francis Thornbury of the Lieut. Cols. Company afterwards transferred to Third Pennsylvania) was sent out by the captain in pursuit of the Indians with twenty soldiers, myself and three others of the citizens also went, making twenty-four. We came up with them – a sharp engagement ensued, which lasted about thirty minutes, during which time we had four men killed and five wounded out of the twenty-four. As we were compelled to retreat to the fort, leaving our dead on the ground, the Indians took their scalps. During our engagement with the Indians the prisoners before mentioned made their escape and got safe to the fort. The names of the heads of those families taken prisoners as aforesaid were Bartlet Ramey, Christopher Forrow and Joseph Dewey; the first named, Bartley Ramey, was killed by the Indians. Soon after the aforesaid engagement in June, I entered the boat department, boats having been built at Middletown, Dauphin County, called Continental boats made for the purpose of transporting the baggage, provisions, etc., of Genl. Sullivan’s army, which was on its march to destroy the Indian towns in the lake country, in the State of New York. I steered one of these boats to Tioga Point, where we discharged our loading and 1 returned to Fort Jenkins in August, where I found our family. The Indians still continued to be troublesome; my father thought it advisable to leave the country and go to a place of more safety. We left the Susquehanna, crossed the mountains to Northampton County, in the neighborhood of Bethlehem, this being the fall of 1779. Nathan Beach says our family Record says I was born July 1763, near a place now called Hudson, consequently he was at that time but little past sixteen.” Showing the development of the boys of that period into men under the pressure of the circumstances in which they were placed, his case is not an exceptional one.
Fort Jenkins, built in the fall of 1777 or early spring of 1778, was garrisoned by about thirty men under Col. Hartley. Col. Adam Hubley, Jr., who succeeded him, marched the regiment away, when County Lieut. Col. Hunter furnished a few men who, with the citizens of the neighborhood held the fort until the arrival of Col. Ludwig Weltner with the German Battalion about the latter part of 1779, on their return from the Sullivan campaign. After remaining at Wilkes-Barre on guard for some time, Weltner’s sturdy Germans held the post until the 5th or 6th of September 1780, when, on the attack on Fort Rice by 250 or 300 Tories and Indians, the garrison was withdrawn to go to the support of Fort Rice and Fort Augusta.
On failure to capture the fort, the Tories and Indians broke into smaller parties, overrun the country with tomahawk and fire. One large company moved east by end of the Nob Mountain to the river; finding Fort Jenkins abandoned they set fire to it and to the buildings in the neighborhood on the 9th of September; they commenced to cut down the orchard planted by Mr. Jenkins before the Revolution. It is supposed their attention was called from this by news of the approach of Capt. Klader with a company of Northampton county militia, when they suddenly decamped, crossed the river in the neighborhood of now Berwick, went on to Sugarloaf, in Luzerne county, where they ambuscaded the militia, killed or captured the greater portion of them, broke up the expedition, relieved their Tory friends of fear of capture and expulsion of their families. The Indians are said to have passed up east of Wyoming to their homes in the lake country. Port Jenkins, from the many raids in its neighborhood, shows to have been much in the wav of the Indians.