Historical Markers
Fort Wyoming Historical Marker
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Fort Wyoming

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
River St., near South St., Wilkes-Barre

Dedication Date:
October 13, 1947

Behind the Marker

Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley became the scene of an intense inter-colonial struggle in 1769 when settlers from Connecticut, which had claimed the northern third of the colony in its 1662 charter, began a protracted battle against Pennsylvania settlers over title to the land. The two sides suspended their Yankee-Pennamite Wars during the Revolutionary War when British Rangers allied with the Iroquois nation presented a new threat to the Connecticut settlers who dominated the region at the time. But the American victory over the British at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, renewed the Yankee- Pennamite hostilities, which were not resolved until the mid-1780s. Fort Wyoming was a Pennamite - as the Pennsylvania settlers were called - stronghold in this on-going land dispute.
Oil on canvas painting of a battle scene between Native Americans and soldiers
"Massacre at Wyoming," by Alonzo Chappel, 1858.

Eager to protect their northern lands from Connecticut settlement, the Penn family, in the spring of 1769, sent civil and military authorities under the direction of Capt. Amos Ogden, Sheriff John Jennings, and Charles Stewart into the Wyoming Valley. There, at the confluence of Mill Creek and the Susquehanna River, the group built Fort Ogden and opened a trading post. Three weeks later, a group of forty Connecticut Yankees led by Maj. John Durkee arrived in the same area. To discourage Yankee settlement, Sheriff Jennings arrested Durkee and sent him to Easton for trial. Within weeks he was released on bail and returned later to the valley later that spring to be elected president by the more than 200 Yankees who had settled there.

During the summer months, the Connecticut settlers began to lay out a township along the Susquehanna River similar to the ones that their Puritan ancestors had constructed in New England. The Yankees established five townships, each five miles square, which they divided into forty shares, each of which was to be granted to the first forty settlers in each of these townships. They also constructed Fort Durkee on the east bank of the river below present-day Wilkes-Barre.

Angered by the growing Yankee presence, an army of 200 Pennamites under the command of Sheriff Jennings, in November, 1769, routed the Connecticut settlers and took control of markerFort Durkee. But the nearly 3,000 Connecticut settlers refused to give up the land. On April 2, 1770, Yankee Capt. Zebulon Butler joined forces with a group of Lancaster County Scots-Irishmen who opposed to Pennsylvania's provincial government and hoping to secure land in the upper Susquehanna Valley, recaptured Fort Durkee.

For the next five years, the New Englanders carried out a low-grade war of harassment and property destruction against the Pennamites, who constructed their own defense, Fort Wyoming, within eyesight and shooting distance of Fort Durkee. The hostilities culminated at the Battle of Rampart Rocks near present-day West Nanticoke, where the Yankees defeated a Pennamite force of 600 on Christmas day 1775. This victory, six months after the first great battle between American and British troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill, spurred the Connecticut General Assembly to incorporate the region into their own state as Westmoreland County.

On April 15, 1776, with the War for American Independence threatening to spill over into Pennsylvania's borders, the Continental Congress appealed to both Yankees and Pennamites to cease their hostilities and "join their brethren in America in the common cause of defending their liberty." Westmoreland County immediately raised a Pennsylvania militia and two companies, which joined the Connecticut Line of the Continental Army.

The Pennamites, on the other hand, were divided in their allegiances. Those who believed that their claim to land in the Wyoming Valley would be upheld by a future American court fought for the patriot side. Those who believed that the British courts were more likely to support their claims fought on the Redcoat side. Complicating matters further were the Iroquois, whom white settlers had already dispossessed of their lands in northeastern Pennsylvania. Anxious to regain their influence in the Wyoming Valley, the Iroquois agreed to fight for the British. The animosities of these three groups culminated in the markerBattle of Wyoming in July 1778.

After the Continental Army's final victory at Yorktown in 1781, the Pennamite Wars resumed. Pennsylvania's Supreme Executive council petitioned Congress, in 1782, to address the question of jurisdiction. After a long session at Trenton, a federal panel decided that the area belonged to Pennsylvania and thus the Connecticut residents had "no right to the land in controversy." Shortly after, Westmoreland was incorporated into Northumberland County and the Yankee settlers were ordered to surrender their lands to Pennsylvania.

Refusing to accept Congress's ruling, the Yankees, led by markerCol. John Franklin, went to war against a Pennsylvania militia led by Alexander Patterson, a Northampton County Justice of the Peace. By May 1784, Patterson's troops had forced the evacuation of the Yankee residents over a sixty-mile trek to the Delaware River. Shortly after, the Pennsylvania Assembly dispatched Col. Timothy Pickering to the Wyoming Valley to settle the disputed land claims.

On Pickering's recommendation, Pennsylvania retained ownership of the land, but honored Yankee titles issued before the Trenton decree. Connecticut settlers were so overjoyed with the arrangement that they celebrated by torching Fort Wyoming. To ensure peace in the region, the Pennsylvania Assembly, on September 23, 1786, carved a new county out of the existing Northumberland County for the benefit of both Pennsylvania and Connecticut settlers. With the creation of Luzerne County, named in honor of Chevalier de la Luzerne, the French minister to the United States during the American Revolution, the Yankee-Pennamite Wars were finally ended.
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