The everyday activities of the Bedford County Militia, like those of military units down through history, would have been rather mundane and uneventful most of the time. Looking backward through eyes which have not experienced the exact situations and events, we have a tendency to compress time and events into short paragraphs of time which start and end with noteworthy incidents. The Revolutionary War is seldom put into the perspective that it lasted a period of eight years, most of which were quite uneventful; most people think of it simply as a series of events starting with the battles at Concord and Lexington, through the winter at Valley Forge, and ending with Yorktown. We tend to believe that every patriot soldier spent his every waking moment in bloody, hand to hand combat with the "redcoats". Most of us want to believe that our own patriot ancestors talked (at least once) with George Washington. The fact of the matter is that such beliefs are simply not always correct. The Continental Line soldier would have seen his share of battles, but when we read pension applications we find that the highest number of battles any single soldier engaged in might have been ten. Noting that most of the Revolutionary War battles lasted only a few days, we can conjecture that a soldier who did participate in ten battles would have seen perhaps fifty days of actual fighting, at the most, during the eight years of the war. The rest of the time was spent in marching from one location to another and then spending time in bivuoac. The Militia soldier would have had an even more prosaic time of it; his time would have been spent mostly on lookout duty and perhaps some guard duty at a local fortified building. It is because of the fact that the Bedford County Militiaman's life was, in general, uneventful that the Engagement of Frankstown stands as the singularly important Revolutionary War event for the Blair County region.
The Engagement of Frankstown was the only actual engagement of the Revolutionary War to occur in the region which would become Blair County. Although some recent historians have become tangled up in semantics, and have argued that the Frankstown incident was not a true "battle", that is what it was referred to by certain of the actual participants. Despite that fact that the two parties involved may not have formed battle lines per se, the elements of a battle existed.
On the 12th of June, in the year 1781 George Ashman, the Bedford County Lieutenant, sent a letter to Joseph Reed, the President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. In that letter he stated:
"Sir, I have to inform you thatt on Sunday the third of this instant a party of rangers under Captain Boyd eight in number, with twenty-five Volunteers under Capt. Moore and Lieut. Smith of the Militia of this County had an Engagement with a party of Indians (said to be numerous) within three Miles of Frankstown where Seventy-five of the Cumberland militia was station'd, commanded by Captn. Jas. Young, sum of the party running into the Garrison acquainting Capt. Young of what happened he Issued out a party Immediately and Brought in Seven more five of whome are wounded and two made there escape to Bedford, Eight Kil'd and scalpt, Capt. Boyd, Captn. Moore, and Captn. Dunlap with six others are missing, Captn. Young expecting from the enemys numbers that his garrison would be surrounded sent express to me Immediately, but before I could colleckt as many volunteers as was sufficient to march to Frankstown with the Enemy had return'd over Alligany hill, the warters being high occation'd by heavy rains they could not be pursu'd, this County at this time is in a Deplorable sittuation a number of Familys are flying a way daily ever since the late damage was dun, I can assure youre Excellency that if Immediate assistance is not sent to this County that the whole of the fronteire Inhabitants will move of in a few days. Colo. Abm. Smith of Cumberland has Just Inform'd me that he has no orders to send us any more militia from Cumberland County to our assistance which I am much surpris'd to heare, I shall move my family to Maryland in a few days as I am convinc'd that not any one settlement is able to make any stand against such numbers of the Enemy. If your Excellency should please to order us any assistance less than three Hundred will be of but little reliefe to this County, ammunition we have not any, the Cumberland militia will be Discharg'd in two days. It is dreadful to think what the consequence of leaving such a number of helpless Inhabitants may be to the Crueltys of a savage Enemy.
Please to send me by the first opportunity Three hundred pounds as I cannot possably doe the business without money, you may Depend that nothing shall be wanting in me to serve my Cuntry as far as my abilities.
I have the Honor to be, Your Excellencys most obedient Humble Servant, George Ashman Lieut. Bedfd. Cty."
The story of the Engagement of Frankstown has been told in previous volumes. U.J. Jones in his History of the Juniata Valley gave a first-person account of the event, despite the fact that he wrote his version seventy-some years after the fact. He stated that the information given by George Ashman in his letter to Joseph Reed was full of errors - that "It would appear that even a man holding an official station is liable to gross mistakes". Jones claimed that he based his first-person narrative on the information given to him by persons living at the time of his writing "who lived at the time of the occurrence". Floyd G. Hoenstine, in his Soldiers of Blair County Pennsylvania, stated that, as a result of his own research, he could give an account of the engagement which did not necessarily agree with either Ashman's or Jones' versions. Unfortunately, he does not supply the reader with source references. The two original county histories which should have included an article on this incident - the History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania and the History of Huntingdon & Blair Co's, Pennsylvania - make no mention of it, with the exception of the transcription of George Ashman's letter to Joseph Reed in the Bedford history. One other source is available to the researcher: The Life Of Horatio Jones, by George H. Harris. This biographical sketch, subtitled: The True Story of Hoc-Sa-Go-Wah Prisoner, Pioneer and Interpreter, was published in the year 1903 by the Buffalo Historical Society. Assuming that there was probably some element of truth in all of the various available references (i.e. Ashman's, Jones' and Hoenstine's), we will attempt to reconstruct the basic story of this incident.
The exact location of the "Frankstown garrison" is in question. U.J.Jones stated that the fort on Michael Fetter's property, about a mile west of the present-day borough of Hollidaysburg, was the one known as the Frankstown garrison, and that it was a stockaded structure. Hoenstine proposed the idea that the Frankstown garrison would have been in the general vicinity of the Fetter property, but that it wasn't the Fetter barn. He claimed that some of the pension applications noted that a completely different structure, a blockhouse, had been constructed circa 1780 to 1782. Whether it was Michael Fetter's own barn or a new structure built for the purpose of a regional fort is inconsequential in view of the fact that both were supposedly in close proximity. Because the garrison fort in any case stood upon grounds owned by Michael Fetter, we'll refer to it as the Fetter fort.
The site of the engagement was just a little over two miles northwest of the Fetter fort. In the present-day township of Allegheny, the stream called Sugar Run flows southeastward with its mouth joining the Mill Run flowing southward. The general vicinity of the mouth of Sugar Run is occupied by the town of Canan (or Canan Station). The name of Frankstown applied to this area in the year 1781 in terms of it being part of Frankstown Township (which, until 1785, made up the whole of Blair County). The Sugar Run enters into present-day Blair County from present-day Cambria County through the Sugar Run Gap in the Allegheny Mountain range. Although not lying on the Kittanning Indian Trail itself, the site of the engagement lay on a minor Indian trail which led to the Kittanning Trail.
The region making up Frankstown Township within Bedford County had been the site of a number of Indian incursions during the previous three or four years. Evidence of this comes from the letters sent to the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania from 1777 onward requesting financial and military aid. Practically every letter noted that because of the Indian menace, a great number of the residents had fled from the county. In George Woods and Thomas Smith's letter of March 4, 1777, it was strongly implied that Cumberland would again become the frontier county if aid was not soon in coming. Unfortunately, tax assessment returns are no longer extant in the Bedford County Court House for the years 1776 through 1778 to tell us which of the early settlers remained in the region; it is possible that they have become lost over the years. Perhaps the assessments were never taken because of the danger of travelling in the wooded valleys and hills which made up the township. The 1779 Frankstown Township Tax Assessment does give us some indication of the extent to which the region suffered from settlers moving away. Of the roughly 163 residents listed, 79 (or nearly half of the total resident population) of them are recorded as "absant" or "vacant land" implying that the residents had left the area. In some cases it might be inferred that the male head of the household was absent because of serving in the militia or continental line. But that cannot be assumed to have been the case for all.
Just prior to the 3rd of June, 1781 (Hoenstine stated that word was received in Bedford on the 1st of that month) a band of Indians, believed to have been from the Seneca tribe, had attacked the white settlements and had killed two men. A woman was taken captive during this raid. The Indian party had gone back into or across the Allegheny Mountains from whence they had come. In his Soldiers of Blair County Pennsylvania, Hoenstine proposed that Captain John Boyd was at Bedford when the word arrived of the recent Indian incursion, and that he asked for volunteers to go with members of his own company of Bedford County Rangers. Hoenstine noted that this company starting out from Bedford was later joined, on the way, by Captains Richard Dunlap, Samuel Moore, and _____ McDaniel, Lieutenants John Cook, George Smith, and Harry Woods, and Privates James Henry, Horatio Jones, Patrick McDonald, Adam Wimer, Hugh Means, James Moore and Zadock Casteel. Jones in his History of the Juniata Valley stated that a force of volunteers led by Captain Samuel Moore and Lieutenant George Smith had started out at the Frankstown garrison and were joined by the rangers from Bedford when they met at the then-abandoned Holliday's Fort (in the vicinity of Gaysport). The Frankstown garrison was being manned by the 8th Company of the Cumberland County Militia under Captain Thomas Askey (and possibly also by a company under Colonel ______ Albright and Captain James Young), they had been sent to Standing Stone earlier that spring and then reassigned to the Frankstown garrison. Apparently none of the Cumberland County Militia joined in the expedition to seek out the Indians. U.J.Jones listed a number of local residents who joined the group even though they were not enlisted at the time. These local residents included: James Somerville, ______ Coleman (possibly Thomas), ______ Coleman (possibly Michael or his brother Macarn), ______ Holliday (possibly Samuel), ______ Holliday (possibly William), ______ Jones, ______ Jones (two brothers), ______ Gray (possibly Absolom), ______ Beatty (possibly Edward), Michall Wallock and Edward Milegin.
The 3rd of June, 1781 fell on a Sunday as noted in George Ashman's letter, and in the morning of that day the party of rangers set out to search for the Indians who had made the recent attack on the white settlement. This activity was probably nothing out of the ordinary for the rangers; despite the fact that we might want to make the incident out to be more dramatic than it actually was, the activity of setting out into the wooded region to scout and search for the Indians was the rangers' job. Jones stated that the party planned to travel through the Kittanning Gap and then along an old State road to Pittsburgh and then back by way of Bedford. Perhaps they had planned such a long scouting, or maybe they intended just to range through the Allegheny Mountains to make sure that the Indians who had made the recent incursion had left the area. In either case, they did not make it very far before they were ambushed by the Indian party.
At a point close to the mouth of Sugar Run, as the rangers were marching forward along the trail, the body of Indians sprang up from behind the bushes that hid them. It can be assumed that the Indians let out a loud war-whoop in order to surprise the rangers, because that was a generally accepted Indian practice of surprise. Apparently, the rangers were taken so completely by surprise that they failed to return any fire, but simply, in their confusion, turned and fled. Jones, in his account, stated that the only shot fired by any of the Bedford County rangers was that by Harry Woods, who shot at an Indian who approached him, James Somerville and Michael Wallock with an uplifted tomahawk as Somerville stopped to tie a moccasin which had become undone and hindered his escape. Jones stated that fifteen men of the rangers party were killed in the volley of gunfire that accompanied the Indians' surprise. The listing given by Hoenstine trims the number down to thirteen. Two of the individuals who were included in Hoenstine's list died after the engagement, and so the number of rangers who were immediately killed during the ambush was probably closer to eleven. About five individuals were wounded in the engagement, but made it to safety. Hoenstine gives the names of seven men who were captured by the Indians.
According to the version of this story passed down to us by U.J. Jones, Captain Young, with a party of militiamen, went out to help gather up the wounded men after the first survivor, one of the Jones brothers, reached the fort. On the following morning (Monday, June 4, 1781) Captain Young led another group to the site of the engagement to bury the dead. On Tuesday a group of nearly a hundred men gathered and set out in pursuit of the Indians, but they did not catch up to the Senecas who were well on their way across the Alleghenies.
The Indians, Senecas from the headwaters of the Genesse River in New York state, headed toward the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. One of the captives, a man by the name of Ross, was tortured by the Indians who burned him with firebrands until he died; this occurred in the vicinity of the mouth of the Sinnemahoning Creek. According to a statement made by Henry Dugan in his pension application, he and Captain Boyd received hard treatment, but they achieved their freedom and made their way to New York on Christmas Day, 1782. Boyd, himself, was purportedly saved by an old squaw who claimed him in place of her own son who was lost in battle.
From the information presented in the foregoing, as derived primarily from the accounts published by U.J. Jones, Floyd G. Hoenstine and the George Ashman letter, one might be led to assume that the occurrence near Frankstown in early June, 1781 was simply an Indian incursion, much like so many other raids during that time. The only thing that appears to differ between this occurrence and the ones which took place in the late 1770s is that this time the local militia made a more concerted effort to try to hunt down the raiding warriors. In fact, proceeding only on the foregoing information, the June, 1781 Frankstown incident appears quite similar to the one that occurred only a year before on 16 August, 1780 in the Woodcock Valley in which Captain Phillips and a party of Rangers were massacred while on a scouting expedition. But things are not necessarily always what they seem to be. There is the very real possibility that the occurrence at Frankstown in the summer of 1781 was the result of a British directed maneuver.
The following information, derived from The Life Of Horatio Jones, presents a narrative of the Frankstown incident that is similar to the others, while providing possible answers to some difficult questions surrounding the occurrence, such as why the Indian ambush occurred in the first place.
Fort Niagara on the Lake Ontario was held by the British throughout the War, and it was from there in 1778 that Colonel John Butler led a party of four hundred Tories and nearly five hundred Seneca Indians into the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. It was also from Fort Niagara that Colonel Butler sent a Captain Nelles with a party of British and Tory soldiers in the spring of 1781 to attempt to disrupt the passage of Patriots between the Susquehanna and Ohio Rivers.
The British troops made their way to the Seneca villages located along the east bank of the Genesee River in western New York. Captain Nelles did not care to proceed on an expedition at that time of year, and so the troops set up a temporary camp near the Seneca village of Gah-an-o-deo (known by the English name of Caneadea). The Captain's son, Lieutenant Robert Nelles was given command of a party of the troops and directed to rally some of the Seneca Indians to participate in the expedition. The platoon of British troops was joined by roughly a hundred Indian warriors and some squaws. Among them, and leading the Indians were Gah-nee-songo, an Indian chief whom the British called Shongo, and Do-ne-ho-ga-weh, a notable sachem who had adopted the English name of Hudson from a white friend and whom the white settlers had nicknamed "John". Hudson's son, Hay-en-de-seh, was also among the warriors heading southward. The group left the Genesee camp during the first part of May. They followed the Niagara Trail southward into the Chautauqua Valley to the Canisteo. Following that stream, they came to the Tioga, which they followed till they reached Pine Creek (i.e. the Tiadaughton) which empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. From the West Branch the party followed forest trails southward and made camp at a point about two days' journey from the town of Bedford. The squaws would remain at this camp with the troops' baggage while the warriors and British troops could scout around to ascertain the strength of the local fortifications.
Shongo led a band of warriors down the valley formed by the Allegheny and Brush Mountain ranges where they discovered the garrison at Fetter's Fort. When their curiosity was satisfied, the band made their way to join Hudson who had travelled to the vicinity of Hart's Log and set up a temporary camp there. The Indians had found that the rangers were scouting the area, and so left that campsite. They hoped to lure a large body of the garrison to leave the safety of the fortified buildings and so be more easily ambushed and slaughtered. They chose a spot just northwest of the Fetter lands on which the garrison was stationed. The local scouts did, indeed, find the recently abandoned campsite and returned to Fort Fetter to inform the rest of the garrison.
The narrative of the sequence of events that took place on the foggy morning of June 3rd, as given in the Horatio Jones biography, is similar to that of the other accounts already presented, but there are some points to be mentioned which clarify or augment the foregoing. The Bedford Rangers, under the direction of Captain John Boyd, were finishing up in getting ready to leave Fetter's on Saturday, the 2nd, when two scouts arrived with the news of the finding of an Indian encampment near Hart's Log. The rangers had planned to spend the following day, Sunday the 3rd, at Fetter's and then set out on their expedition to find the Indians who had supposedly killed the two white men and taken the one woman captive just a few days prior. The two scouts estimated that there were upwards of thirty warriors in the Indian party. The Bedford rangers asked Colonel Albright of the Cumberland County Militia to take command of the expedition, and also requested that a detail of the Cumberland Militia be permitted to accompany them. Colonel Albright refused both requests.
Boyd and the Bedford rangers were anxious to track down the Indian party before they could get across the Allegheny Mountain range. Although the band of native warriors who had committed the recent murders and taken the woman captive had probably already crossed back to the western side of the Alleghenies by the time the two scouts reported sighting the Harts Log campsite, Boyd and his rangers no doubt assumed otherwise. They might easily have assumed that the Indians who had abandoned their campsite were the same ones who had made the earlier incursion, and had simply not left the area yet. The Indians which made raiding incursions into this region tended to enter from the west beyond the Allegheny Mountain range. Boyd might have assumed that such was the case with this raiding party - that they had headed eastward to the vicinity of Hart's Log and might have moved further east of that region and would soon return westward on their way back to cross over the Alleghenies. The plan to head toward the Kittaning Gap in the Allegheny Mountain made more sense now; the rangers hoped to head the Indian party off at that Kittaning Trail pass and possibly recover the captive woman.
The account of the actual encounter given in the Horatio Jones narrative does not differ much from those given in the others, therefore it will not be necessary to repeat it in its entirety. It should be noted, though, that in the Horatio Jones narrative, the episode in which Lieutenant Harry Woods, Michall Wallock and James Somerville were making their escape and Somerville's moccasin came loose is treated with a bit more detail. U.J. Jones had emphasized that when Somerville stopped momentarily to tie the moccasin which had come undone, and the Indian chasing him and Wallock had raised his tomahawk to strike him, that Woods fired his rifle at the Indian; it being the only shot actually fired in the engagement. The Horatio Jones account states that Woods had fired his rifle in the excitement of the ambush, and that as the three Bedford County men fled across the river and were running up what became known as O'Friel's Ridge, it was "John Hudson"s son, Hay-en-de-seh, who was chasing them. When Somerville stopped to tie his moccasin, the son of Hudson raised his tomahawk to strike him, and Woods instinctively raised his rifle toward the Indian despite the fact that the gun was empty. Hey-en-de-seh ducked behind a tree for shelter, but soon recognized Woods, and called out to him that his intention was not to do them any harm. It would appear that Woods also recognized the Indian as the son of the Seneca chief who had saved his own father from torture when he was captured in 1756. According to the narrative, the Woods family had often been visited by Do-ne-ho-ga-weh, or rather "John Hudson", and his sons at their Bedford County home. Woods dropped his gun and likewise Hay-en-de-seh "made no further demonstration of hostility". He allowed the rangers to pass and make their escape across the ridge.
Both, U.J. Jones and Hoenstine pointed out that following the initial volley of musket fire from the Indians, the Bedford County rangers panicked and fled in all directions without firing a single shot in return. Although the Horatio Jones version notes that the rangers were thrown into a state of confusion by the ambush, the narrative does not make such an all-encompassing assumption of panic and abandon on the part of the Bedford County defenders. In regard to Horatio's own experience, it states that he was marching along proudly when the ambush occurred. He was immediately deafened by the firing and nearly blinded by the smoke of the muskets. Before he knew fully what was happening, he found that he had been carried into the river that the rangers were walking alongside of by the sudden rush of those who were trying to flee for cover. The narrative simply states that "the rattle of musketry..." filled the air; whether that was only the Indians' musketry is not specified.
As the conflict came to an end, the Indians set to work at scalping the dead rangers. They also stripped the bodies and then left them lying scattered about. They made an extra effort at concealing the remains of the Indians warriors who had been killed.
An interesting sentence is then included in the Horatio Jones narrative, which doesn't appear in the other accounts. "During this time the British and Indians scrutinized the prisoners ..." The allusion to British participation in the incursion is again made.
The editor's note attached to the end of The Life Of Horatio Jones alludes to the fact that Horatio could not, until late in his life, write his own name. He was an adept interpreter of the Indian language, but was unschooled for the most part otherwise. The majority of the information used as reference material for the writing of The Life Of Horatio Jones came from the Honorable B.F. Angel who had come to know Mr. Jones about the year 1831, and who would become a close friend until Jones' death in 1836 at the age of seventy-two years. We cannot therefore conclude, positively, that the British were definitely behind the Indian incursion into Frankstown Township of Bedford County, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1781. But the circumstances of the existence of the narrative lends currency to the idea of a British connection to the engagement. Certain things must be taken into consideration when the veracity of the Horatio Jones narrative is being questioned: first, if the narrative is, in fact, faithful to the witness of Jones, it may be assumed that he learned of the Indian's side of the story while in captivity among them. The British connection would certainly have been known and familiar to the Indians themselves. The lack of such a similar reference to the British in the narratives developed at Frankstown by the survivors of the ambush is perfectly normal; the Bedford County rangers who were not captured by the Indians would logically not have been privy to the Seneca's information. Secondly, the account goes on to note how Jones was received into the Indian community because of his age and athletic prowess. None of the other captives were adopted into the Indian tribe like Horatio was. The other captives, such as Captain Boyd, while allowed to remain alive by virtue of their potential monetary worth in a future trade, would not have necessarily been taken into their confidence. Thirdly, although the account presented to us by U.J. Jones does not include any reference to a British participation, it does not make an attempt to deny such. The reason for the omission of mention of a British connection might be that the individuals who related their recollections (of what they had been previously told by their ancestors) to U.J. Jones (as noted in the first point) simply did not know the Indian side of the story. Of all the accounts available to our research, the one presented to us in The Life Of Horatio Jones is the closest one to being an eyewitness account, and must be granted some measure of credibility.
Assuming the Engagement of Frankstown was indeed a British directed maneuver, the result of the June, 1781 raid, had it succeeded, might have been quite different and disastrous to not only this region of Pennsylvania, but to the Patriot effort. Despite the generally accepted assumption that the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown was the absolute end of the Revolutionary War, the fact of the matter is that the threat of war did not end exactly in October of 1781. The British continued to occupy New York City until November of 1783. They likewise held major outposts in the western frontier past 1783, such as Fort Detroit, which was garrisoned by British troops throughout the duration of the War and until the year 1796. The British couldn't quite come to grips with the idea that they would loose possession of the colonies. The War of 1812 was the culmination of the British reluctancy to truly accept the independence of the United States.
If the British had succeeded in disrupting communications and travel between Pittsburgh and the eastern counties of Pennsylvania in the summer of 1781, a more concerted effort might have been directed by the British toward achieving what they had attempted previously in 1777 with the invasion of Pennsylvania. In that year they had planned to divide the colonies by driving a wedge into Pennsylvania. By severing the communications and trade between New England and the southern colonies, the British had hoped to destroy the unity between the rather different regions. It is entirely plausible to speculate that had the Engagement of Frankstown resulted in the annihilation of a larger militia force, the British might have been encouraged to attempt other, similar raids into the Pennsylvania, New York and Virginian frontiers.