The Black Boys

  Indian tribes in the region had been making raids upon the white settlers on the frontier over the past few years, and the intensity of the raids had increased during the early part of 1769. Certain of the traders working in this part of the Province of Pennsylvania were supplying the Indian marauders with the goods, including powder and lead, which they needed to continue their raiding forays. Many of this region's settlers were greatly angered over this activity because they felt it would enable the Indians to make even more attacks on them. They appealed to the Cumberland County authority at Carlisle to put a stop to it. The British soldiers who had previously occupied Fort Bedford were no longer in this region ~ having evacuated the fort and returned to eastern Pennsylvania in 1766 at the conclusion of Pontiac's Rebellion ~ and therefore were not available to do anything to safeguard them. 'Captain' James Smith called together a group of settlers under the name of the Black Boys to carry out their own form of 'protection': namely to attack and destroy the trader's packtrains. [The name "Black Boys" had been adopted by the vigilante group which had, in 1765, banded together to attack Fort Loudoun. Fort Loudoun was, in 1765 still garrisoned by British troops. The attack was intended to secure the freedom of a group of criminals who had been lawfully arrested for being suspected of attacking and destroying a trader's shipment of goods to the Indians. James Smith, who styled himself as a 'Captain' led a group of local men to free the captured criminals; they blackened their faces with soot in order to conceal their identities and thus acquired the name of the Black Boys. Camping outside of the fort, the group captured as many soldiers as they could in the area and then traded them for the imprisoned criminals.]

  In the summer of 1769 a group of Cumberland County residents attacked another packtrain and succeeded in destroying a large quantity of lead and gunpowder, but they wound up being captured and thrust into imprisonment in the still standing, but empty, Fort Bedford by men working for the Bedford Township Justice of the Peace. 'Captain' Smith, hearing that there were similarly imprisoned culprits being held at Fort Bedford, gathered together eighteen of his original Black Boys and made preparations to free those held in the fort. The small party made their way to Fort Bedford despite being informed that the authorities of Cumberland County were aware of the plan. Smith and his vigilantes arrived outside of the fort during a summer night in 1769 and concealed themselves near the gate. As dawn was breaking, Smith and his Black Boys made a dash through it, hidden partly by the early morning mist and took possession of the arms which were routinely stacked upon one spot in the fort's yard. While a local blacksmith was brought to free the prisoners from their legirons, the Black Boys kept watch over the two men tasked with guarding the prisoners.

   The incident was claimed by James Smith that Fort Bedford was the first on record in which a British fort was attacked and captured by American Rebels. But that claim was only found in the personal autobiography written by James Smith about thirty years after the incident. The Cumberland County court never heard of the incident, nor did any public document mention it. In effect, James Smith and his Black Boys illegally freed lawfully imprisoned criminals and stole some muskets out of a previously British fort that had been evacuated by the British three years earlier.

   The tale and the claim that James Smith and his Black Boys captured Fort Bedford ~ the first British fort to fall to rebels in the Revolutionary War became a local legend, despite the fact that it was all untrue. The fictitious account certainly has provided reenactors with subject matter over the years.