Battle of Wyoming

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Battle of Wyoming Valley
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Depiction of the battle by Alonzo Chappel, 1858
DateJuly 3, 1778
Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania (in and around present-day Wyoming and Exeter)
Result British-Iroquois victory
 Great Britain
Iroquois Iroquois
 United States
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great BritainJohn Butler
Iroquois Sayenqueraghta
Iroquois Cornplanter
United StatesZebulon Butler
United States Nathan Denisson
United States George Dorrance 
110 Butler's Rangers
464 Iroquois (primarily Seneca, but also Cayuga, Onondaga, Lenape, and Tuscarora)[1]
360 (24th regiment Connecticut militia,
detachment of Continentals,
Wyoming riflemen)
Casualties and losses
3 killed
8 wounded
about 340 killed[2]
5-20 captured

The Battle of Wyoming (also known as the Wyoming Massacre) was an encounter during the American Revolutionary War between American Patriots and Loyalists accompanied by Iroquois raiders that took place in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania on July 3, 1778. More than three hundred Patriots were killed in the battle.

After the battle, settlers claimed that the Iroquois raiders had hunted and killed fleeing Patriots, before using ritual torture against 30-40 who had surrendered, until they died.[3]


British commander John Butler

In 1777, British General John Burgoyne led a campaign to gain control of the Hudson River in the American Revolutionary War. Burgoyne was weakened by loss of time and men after the Battle of Oriskany and was forced to surrender after the Battles of Saratoga in October. News of his surrender prompted France to enter the war as an American ally. Concerned that the French might attempt to retake parts of New France they had lost in the French and Indian War (something they did not know the Franco-American Treaty of Alliance specifically forbade), the British military adopted a defensive strategy in Quebec. They recruited Loyalists and enlisted Indian allies to conduct a frontier war along the northern and western borders of the Thirteen Colonies.[4]

Colonel John Butler recruited a regiment of Loyalists, while Seneca chiefs Sayenqueraghta and Cornplanter recruited primarily Seneca warriors, and Joseph Brant recruited primarily Mohawks for what became a guerrilla war against the American frontier settlers. By April 1778 the Seneca were raiding settlements along the Allegheny and Susquehanna Rivers, and by early June the three groups met at the Indian village of Tioga, New York. Butler and the Seneca decided to attack the Wyoming Valley, while Brant and the Mohawks (who had already raided Cobleskill in May) targeted settlements further north.[5]

American military leaders, including Washington and Lafayette, also sought to recruit Iroquois, primarily as a diversion to keep the British in Quebec busy. These recruitment attempts, however, met with more limited success. The Oneida and Tuscarora were the only tribes of the Six Nations to become Patriot allies.


Wyoming Forts. A-Fort Durkee, B-Fort Wyoming or Wilkesbarre, C-Fort Ogden, D-Kingston Village, E-Forty Fort, G-battleground, H-Fort Jenkins, I-Monocasy Island, J-Pittstown stockades, G-Queen Esther's Rock.[6]

The British forces arrived in the valley on June 30, having alerted the settlers to their approach by killing three men working at an unprotected gristmill on June 28. The next day Colonel Butler sent a surrender demand to the militia at Wintermute's (Wintermoot) fort. Terms were arranged that the defenders, after surrendering the fort with all their arms and stores, would be released on the condition that they not again bear arms during the war. On July 3, however, the British saw that the defenders were gathering in great numbers outside of Forty Fort. William Caldwell was engaged in destroying Jenkin's fort, and with the American militia a mile away, Butler organized an ambush. He ordered Fort Wintermute set on fire, and the Patriots, believing it signified a British retreat, advanced rapidly. Butler told the Seneca to lie flat on the ground so as not to be seen. The militia advanced to within a hundred yards of the British rangers and fired three volleys at them. The Seneca rose to their feet, fired one time, and then charged the militia to engage in hand to hand combat.

Accounts indicate the battle lasted about 45 minutes. An order to reform the Patriot line instead turned into a frantic rout as the inexperienced militiamen panicked and began to run. It became a deadly footrace, from which only about sixty Patriots escaped. The victorious Loyalists and Iroquois killed almost all who were captured, and only 5 prisoners were taken alive. Butler reported that 227 scalps were taken by his Native American allies.[7]

The next morning Colonel Nathan Denison agreed to surrender Forty Fort and two other posts, along with what remained of his militia. Butler paroled them on their promise to take no part in further hostilities. Non-combatants were spared and only a few inhabitants were molested after the forts' surrender.[8]

Colonel Butler wrote: "But what gives me the sincerest satisfaction is that I can, with great truth, assure you that in the destruction of the settlement not a single person was hurt except such as were in arms, to these, in truth, the Indians gave no quarter."[9] An American farmer wrote: "Happily these fierce people, satisfied with the death of those who had opposed them in arms, treated the defenseless ones, the woman and children, with a degree of humanity almost hitherto unparalleled".[10] Nevertheless, Colonel Denison and his men did not honor their parole, and within the year they would participate in attacks on Iroquois villages.

According to one source, 60 Patriot bodies were found on the battlefield and another 36 on the line of the retreat. All were buried in a common grave.[11]


The Butler's Rangers' uniform

Out of 1,000 men available, John Butler reported only two Loyalist Rangers and one Indian killed, and eight Indians wounded. He claimed that his force took 227 scalps, burned 1,000 houses, and drove off 1,000 cattle plus many sheep and hogs. Of the 60 Continentals and 300 militiamen involved, only about 60 escaped the disaster,[12] though Graymont states about 340 killed.[2] The Seneca Indians were angered by the accusations of atrocities they said they had not committed, and at the militia taking arms after being paroled. Later that year, Joseph Brant under the command[13] of Butler[14][15] further retaliated in the Cherry Valley massacre.[16]

Reports of the massacres of prisoners and atrocities at Wyoming infuriated the American public. Afterward, Colonel Thomas Hartley arrived with Hartley's Additional Continental Regiment to defend the valley to try to harvest the crops.[17][18] They were joined by a few militia companies, including that of Captain Denison, who violated his parole to join the force. In September, Hartley and Denison ascended the east branch of the Susquehanna with 130 soldiers, destroying Indian villages as far as Tioga and recovering a large amount of plunder taken during the raid. They skirmished with the hostile Indians and withdrew when they learned that Joseph Brant was assembling a large force at Unadilla.[19]

Fall of Fort Pittston[edit]

Connecticut Continentals (Patriots), led by Captain Jeremiah Blanchard and Lieutenant Timothy Keyes, held and maintained a fort in Pittston (only several miles away from the battlefield). On July 4, 1778 (one day after the Battle of Wyoming), a group of British soldiers took over the fortress and some of it was destroyed. Two years later, the Continentals stormed the fortification and recaptured it. From then on it was under Patriot control until the end of the war in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Today a marker stands at the site where the fort once stood.

Sullivan Expedition[edit]

In summer 1779, the Sullivan Expedition commissioned by General George Washington, methodically destroyed 40 Iroquois villages, and an enormous quantity of stored corn and vegetables throughout upstate New York. The Iroquois never recovered from the damage inflicted by Sullivan's soldiers, and many died of starvation that winter. The tribes allied with the British continued to raid Patriot settlements until the end of the war.[20]


The massacre was depicted by the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell in his 1809 poem "Gertrude of Wyoming". Because of the atrocities involved, Campbell described Joseph Brant as a "monster" in the poem, although it was later determined that Brant was not present.[21] Brant was at Oquaga on the day of the attack.

The western state of Wyoming received its name from the U.S. Congress when it became Wyoming Territory in 1868, much to the puzzlement of its residents.

The battle and massacre is commemorated each year by the Wyoming Commemorative Association, a local non-profit organization, which holds a ceremony on the grounds of the monument dedicated to the battle. The Wyoming Monument is the site of a mass grave containing the bones of many of the victims of the battle and massacre. The commemorative ceremonies began in 1878, to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle and massacre. The principal speaker at the event was President Rutherford B. Hayes.

The annual program has continued each year since then on the grounds. One hundred and seventy-eight names of Patriots killed in the battle are listed on the Wyoming Monument, and the names of about a dozen militia who were killed or died in captivity a day or so prior to the main battle. A possible explanation for the difference between the number of names on the monument (178) and the reported number of scalps taken in the battle (227) is that allegedly numerous civilians (perhaps as many as 200)—instead of surrendering to Colonel Butler—elected to flee and died of exposure in a swamp known as the "Shades of Death" after the battle.[22]

Order of battle[edit]

A historical sketch of the battlefield (one hundred years after the battle).

In the battle:

  • "Regular" Company commanded by Captain Dethie Hewitt  {40-44 men} {Reportedly only 15 of Company survived}.[23][nb 1]
  • Shawnee Company commanded by Captain Asaph Whittlesey  at Forty Fort {44 men}
  • Hanover Company commander Captain Wm McKarrchen ; but commanded by Captain Lazarus Stewart ;Lt Lazarus Stewart Jr {30-40 men}
  • Lower Wilkes-Barre Company commanded by Captain James Bidlack Jr.  at Wilkes-Barre {38 Men}
  • Upper Wilkes-Barre Company commanded by Captain Rezin Geer  at Wilkes-Barre {30 men}
  • Kingston Company commanded by Captain Aholiab Buck  at Forty Fort {44 men}
  • It is also alleged there were about 100 men neither mustered nor enrolled.[11]
  • Connecticut Militia: Lt Elijah Shoemaker ; Lt Asa Stevens ;
  • Pennsylvania Militia: Lt. Daniel Gore {wounded-lost an arm}; Ensign Silas Gore ;
  • Rolls of Durkee's; Ransom's; Spaulding Companies.[24]
    • Independent Company aka Wyoming Valley Company {Consolidated with Ransom Company}-commanded by Captain Robert Durkee  {resigned June 23, 1778}; Lt James Wells  {85 men-not counting Durkee} {5 reported killed at Wyoming}
    • Independent Wyoming Valley Company-commanded by Captain Samuel Ransom ; 1st Lt Perin Ross  {resigned Oct 25, 1777}; 2nd Lt Timothy Pierce  {Pierce also reported part of Spaulding Company}; {58 men-not counting Ransom and Pierce; 4 reported killed at Wyoming. In addition Heitman's register reports Ross killed in Battle}.
  • The following units did not take part in the battle:
    • Consolidated Company from Ransom & Durkee Companies commanded by Captain Simon Spaulding. {1st Lt-became Captain June 24, 1778-d.Jan 24, 1814}; {Note Spaulding company formed under Congress June 23, 1778 reuniting Durkee and Ransom Companies} {92 men; besides Pierce one reported killed; one wounded and scalped; one wounded and 4 sick. Although it had casualties from the Battle, reportedly this company was either 24 miles at Bear Creek or 35 miles at Merwin's the Night of the Battle and helped bury the dead several weeks after the battle. Another source reports this Company with a total of 69 names+1 name erased; that 27 were of Ransom and 30 of Burkee's Companies; and of whom 4 killed at Wyoming.[26]}
    • Pittston Company commanded by Captain Jeremiah Blanchard at Pittston Fort {40 men}
    • Huntington and Salem Company commanded by Captain John Franklin at Home {35 men}

Reenactment of the Battle of Wyoming[edit]

Traditionally on the fourth of July, every year for the past 140 years members of the Wyoming community and Luzerne County Historical Society have organized a ceremony reenacting the Battle.



  1. ^ Allegedly only one name known for this company.[24] There were at least two other names for this unit: Lt. Matthias Hollenback {Survived}[25] and Hugh Forsman.[23]


  1. ^ Nester, p. 201
  2. ^ a b Graymont, p. 171
  3. ^ Baillie, William. "The Wyoming Massacre and Columbia County". Columbia County Historical and Genealogical Society. Archived from the original on April 28, 2003. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  4. ^ Nester, p. 189
  5. ^ Nester, p. 191
  6. ^ Lossing, Benson (1859). The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. p. 353.
  7. ^ Cruikshank, pg. 47
  8. ^ Graymont, p. 172
  9. ^ Cruikshank, p. 49
  10. ^ Commager, p. 1010
  11. ^ a b Jenkins, Steuben (July 3, 1878). Historical Address at the Wyoming Monument (Speech). 100th Anniversary of the Battle and Massacre of Wyoming. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  12. ^ Boatner (1994), p. 1227
  13. ^ Mikaberidze, Alexander (June 25, 2013). "Atrocities, Massacres, and War Crimes: An Encyclopedia [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia". ABC-CLIO. Retrieved July 22, 2017. Though persuaded to remain, Brantd exercised no authority over the raid (nor the regiment).
  14. ^ Halsey, Francis W. (June 1, 2017). The Old New York Frontier: Its Wars With Indians And Tories, Its Missionary Schools, Pioneers And Land Titles, 1614-1800. Kessinger Publishing. p. 242. ISBN 1432637878. Sunday 15th. This day some provision arrived being the first supply after the first attack when we had not a pound for man in garrison, for four or five days, but a trifle of meat. In the afternoon a scout we thought had been taken by them, a serjeant and eight men arrived in safe. By some they took prisoners they let go again; informed they had a number wounded and we saw a number of them fall, so that we have reason to think we killed more of them than they killed of our regiment, though they butchered about 40 women and children that has been found. It came on to storm before the engagement began: first with rain, but for this day past, it has been a thick snow storm.
  15. ^ "Definition of 'regiment'". Collins: Pioneers in dictionary publishing since 1819. Collins 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2017. 1. countable noun: A regiment is a large group of soldiers that is commanded by a colonel.
  16. ^ Graymont, p. 174
  17. ^ Boatner (1994), p. 1226. The author asserts that the unit was the 11th Pennsylvania.
  18. ^ Wright (1989), p. 322. What later became the "new" 11th Pennsylvania was still called Hartley's Additional Regiment until January 1779.
  19. ^ Boatner (1994), p. 1226
  20. ^ Boatner (1994), pp. 1075-1076
  21. ^ Graymont, pg. 162
  22. ^ Richards, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg; Buckalew, John M.; Sheldon Reynolds; Jay Gilfillan Weiser; George Dallas Albert (1896). Report of the Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania. 1. Pennsylvania Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania. p. 1. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  23. ^ a b Hayden, Horace Edwin (1895). The Massacre of Wyoming: The Acts of Congress for the Defense of the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, 1776–1778. Wyoming Historical and Geological Society. p. 57.
  24. ^ a b Hazard, Samuel; Linn, John Blair; Egle, William Henry (1880). Pennsylvania Archives. J. Severns & Company. p. 116. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  25. ^ Murray, Louise Welles (1908). A History of Old Tioga Point and Early Athens, Pennsylvania. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: The Raeder Press. p. 241. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  26. ^ Dean, John Ward; Folsom, George; Shea, John Gilmary; Henry Reed Stiles; Henry Barton Dawson (1862). The Historical Magazine and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History and Biography of America. Henry B. Dawson. p. 1. Retrieved July 2, 2013.


  • Boatner, Mark M. (1966). Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York: D. McKay Co.
  • Boatner, Mark M. III (1994). Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-0578-1.
  • Commager, Henry; Morris, Richard (1958). The Spirit of Seventy-Six.
  • Cruikshank, Ernest (1893). Butler's Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara.
  • Graymont, Barbara (1972). The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-0083-6.
  • Nester, William (2004). The frontier war for American independence. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0077-1.
  • Williams, Glenn F. (2005). Year of the Hangman: George Washington's Campaign Against the Iroquois. Yardley, Pa.: Westholme. ISBN 1-59416-013-9.
  • Wright, Robert K. Jr. (1989). The Continental Army. Washington, D.C.: US Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 60-4.
  • BLACKBURNE, C. (2019). Remembering the Revolutionary War Battle of Wyoming Like it Was Yesterday. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2019].
  • PITCAVAGE, B. (2019). Reenactment of the Battle of Wyoming is a Fourth of July tradition. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2019].

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°15′00″N 75°54′18″W / 41.250°N 75.905°W / 41.250; -75.905