Historical Markers
Battle of Wyoming Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

Battle of Wyoming

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
US 11 in Wyoming at monument

Dedication Date:
June 1952

Behind the Marker

The Battle of Wyoming and the massacre that followed, in July 1778, has been called the "surpassing horror of the American Revolution" because of the brutal and horrific acts committed by Iroquois Confederation warriors and their British and Loyalist allies against the Connecticut Yankees who had settled Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley. Both of these bloody events were part of a larger land dispute among Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Native American claimants. That they occurred during the American Revolution reflects the explosive influence of Pennsylvania's internal revolution on the struggle for independence from Great Britain.

After the success of the Pennsylvania forces against New Englanders in the "First Yankee-Pennamite War" of 1769-1771, Connecticut settlers continued to filter into the Wyoming Valley. Another series of sharp skirmishes in the upper Susquehanna Valley followed during the next few years with modest casualties and no clear-cut winners or losers. The hostilities culminated on Christmas day, 1775, at the Battle of Rampart Rocks near present-day West Nanticoke, where the Yankees defeated a Pennamite force of 600 men. The victory spurred the Connecticut General Assembly to establish Westmoreland County, which soon grew to 3,000 residents.
Oil on canvas painting of a battle scene between Native Americans and soldiers
"Massacre at Wyoming," by Alonzo Chappel, 1858.

Low-grade warfare continued in the Wyoming Valley through the early spring of 1776. With the War for American Independence threatening to spill over into Pennsylvania's borders, the Continental Congress, in mid-April, 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 militia and two companies, which joined the Connecticut Line of the Continental Army. Some of the Pennsylvania settlers also favored American independence. But many of the Pennamites thought that Britain was more likely to favor their claims over the Yankees if they fought on the Redcoat side. Complicating matters were the Iroquois of western New York, who agreed to fight for the British in the hope that by doing so they would regain their own control of the Wyoming Valley.

Supported by the British Rangers of Capt. John Butler, Iroquois leaders began planning to terrorize the Wyoming settlers. They found willing allies in the displaced Pennsylvania land claimants now living north of Wyoming. As these forces mobilized, in the late spring of 1778, Col. Zebulon Butler, a leading Connecticut settler and Continental Army officer, assumed command of more than 386 Yankee militiamen who gathered to protect their community.

On July 1st, John Butler's force of about 1,000 regular British troops, Loyalist irregulars, and Indians, marched into the Wyoming Valley and seized control of Yankee forts Wintermoot and Jenkins, on the western banks of the Susquehanna River just above Wilkes-Barre.

The next morning the combined Indian-Loyalist force of 500 marched south and demanded the surrender of Forty Fort. Col. Zebulon Butler and other senior officers urged caution, debating whether to stay in the fort and await reinforcements, or to move out and confront the raiders in the open field. With Washington and the Continental Army en route to New Jersey in July of 1778, there was little hope for immediate support. The longer the officers debated, the more the younger militiamen pressed for an attack, accusing them of cowardice.

Like other New England militiamen, who had a reputation for assertive and democratic behavior, the Connecticut Yankees understood their terms of enlistment literally as "contracts" that had to be complied with in detail or else the contract was invalid. They enlisted in order to fight, not to wait for an attack. Realizing this, the officers yielded to their demand for an assault. It was a fatal mistake.

Shortly before noon on July 3rd, Butler and his 386 militiamen marched out of Forty Fort to do battle with the British-Iroquois-Pennamite invasion force. While marching to Fort Wintermoot to launch their attack, the troops were spotted by an Indian foraging party. Informing British Col. John Butler that the Yankees were within a mile of his position, Butler ordered the fort "to be set on fire so that the enemy will be deceived into believing that they had retreated." Butler then proceeded to organize his line of battle in the surrounding woods.

At approximately 3:00 p.m., Butler and his Yankee militia arrived at Wintermoot, which was now aflame. But the Yankee officer was not fooled, and taunted the invaders as he deployed his men for the battle. "Come out, ye villainous Tories!" he cried. "Come out and show your heads if ye dare, marker to the brave Continental Sons of Liberty!"

When the British Rangers and their Pennamite and Iroquois allies ignored his demand, Butler gave the order to attack, and his militiamen marched forward to deliver their first volley. Three volleys they fired, with no resistance from the enemy, who were still laying low in the forest. When the Yankees came within 100 yards of their position, though, the Iroquois warriors sprang from the woods. Supported by the firepower of the British Rangers and Pennamites, the Indians outflanked the Yankee forces, who retreated in confusion. Within thirty minutes, the Battle of Wyoming had ended and the "Wyoming Massacre" had begun.

The Iroquois flanking parties cut off the Yankee retreat to Forty Fort and placed them in a bloody crossfire from both the British Rangers and Pennamites. For the rest of the day, Connecticut militiamen were tortured, slain, and in some cases scalped. Many Yankees "plunged themselves into the Susquehanna River with the hope of escaping, only to be pierced with the lances of the Indians." By dawn, the following morning, their "carcasses floated down river, infesting the banks of the Susquehanna." Only sixty of the Yankee militiamen who marched into battle survived. The Iroquois took the scalps of 227 slain Yankees, in spite of the British order to "respect their remains."

The Wyoming Valley was largely depopulated of white settlers after the summer of 1778. The massacre became an important propaganda tool for the patriot cause, forcing Gen. George Washington to appoint markerMaj. Gen. John Sullivan to lead a huge and carefully planned campaign against the Iroquois on the Pennsylvania and New York frontier in the autumn of 1779. The success of that campaign resulted in the Iroquois ceding their lands in Pennsylvania and western New York to the United States under the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. While the Wyoming Valley land dispute between Connecticut and Pennsylvania would linger into the early nineteenth century, the northern frontier had been secured from further invasion.
Back to Top