Trials of Life in the Minisink Valley

In the last post, I talked about Captain Daniel Brodhead (b. 1693) and Hester Wyngart leaving Ulster County, New York in 1738*, to settle in the Lower Minisink Valley of Pennsylvania. They founded Dansbury (named after Daniel and now known as East Stroundsburg), Pennsylvania. It was there he’d purchased one thousand acres of land (I also read that he was given land for his service in the NY militia) along the Analoming Creek (later referred to as Brodhead’s Creek).  It’s hard to imagine moving to a wilderness with young children in tow to face the complete unknown. One can only imagine what they and their impressionable young children thought as they moved towards a place where nothing but adventure and uncertainty awaited them.

Luke Wills Brodhead, mentioned in previous posts, gives a great account of what life was like for early settlers and talks about the Moravian missionaries, Shaw, Bruce, and Mack, who were in the area trying to convert the Indians of the Delaware–the Lenni Lenape. On a side note, if you look on the Find a Grave website for the Moravian Cemetery in Bethlehem, you can come across graves belonging to Indians whom the Moravians converted.

Daniel was very encouraging of the Moravians’ efforts, and let them build a mission on his land. From what I have read, the Indians and early settlers in that region coexisted rather peacefully for a number of years, until slow boiling grievances led to an outbreak in 1755, at which time Daniel defended his property from attack together with his sons and daughter, Ann, and neighbors who had come to seek refuge there. The surrounding countryside was virtually abandoned in lieu of the safer side of the Delaware River– New Jersey. Peace with the Indians ended in the Minisink Valley, and troubles continued for a number of years, pushing those with less fortitude back to safer havens. Only the most determined and heartiest stayed put to defend their new homeland.

One interesting and worthwhile book I’ve discovered is The Reminiscences of George La Bar, the Centenarian of Monroe County, PA., Who Is Still Living In His 107th Year! by A. B. Burrell (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1870).

George, born in 1763, was a descendant of three French Huguenot brothers who settled very early on (1730) in the Minisink Valley. It was their intention to live in wilderness beyond the official frontier. They chose their spot and built a cabin and developed a  good relationship with the Indians. They were somewhat disheartened to discover the Nicholas DePuy home not long thereafter, but decided that having a neighbor of high caliber was not a bad thing, especially when it came to securing provisions and mutual defense (the DePuys owned a mill).

The eventual troubles with the Indians stemmed from the “Great Walk” of 1737 by Edward Marshall (Marshall’s Creek is named for him), an event that left the Indians feeling cheated out of vast hunting grounds. Prior to 1737 there had been a walk to define the purchase of land from the Indians by William Penn. Penn himself took part, and the idea was that the colonists could have whatever land they could define during a walk within a certain time period. Penn walked unhurriedly and the Indians felt satisfied with the outcome. Later Penn’s agents got the Indians to agree to a second walk that would take place over 1.5 days, but this time Penn’s agents advertised for a professional walker, a path was cut out in advance, and a trial run was made. Edward Marshall was hired and promised five hundred acres of land in return (land that he never received, by the way). On the day of the Great Walk in 1737, Marshall set off and the Indians were flabbergasted at his speed–by the end of Day One, he had exceeded the amount of land they expected him to be able to cover for the whole 1.5-day walk by three hours of walking. The Indians were fed up with what they considered to be a scam–and who can blame them? Marshall finished his walk at the river at Lackawaxen, taking advantage of the curve of the Delaware and thus managing to bring the entire Minisink into the Penn Colony. The Indians’ favorite hunting ground was theirs no more, which led to retaliation against the white settlers with the fiercest fighting taking place in 1755. George’s father described to him the scenes of slaughter he witnessed at that time when two hundred Indians attacked a funeral ceremony taking place by the Marshall home, dispersing most of the settlers across the Delaware River. The Indians had killed one of Marshall’s sons in 1747. This time they shot Marshall’s daughter through the chest, but she managed to escape and survive. They took Marshall’s wife with them and after several miles, killed her. Marshall, who was not home at the time, managed to escape the Indian’s wrath and lived to a relatively old age.

There are many interesting passages in this book, and I will probably carry on a bit in my next posts about some of them. To finish this post, I’ll mention two things that stood out for me:

1) Longevity–George lived to be 112 and was chopping wood at 106/107 when the author visited him. He walked everywhere to the end. Chapter 11 onwards give a good glimpse of who George was and what life was like especially in the early days. In addition, George’s father (also named George), after raising a large family and accumulating property in the Mt. Bethel area, decided to sell everything and move–at the ripe old age of 85(!)–to Ohio. George Sr. took his wife with him but left all the kids behind. He hired George Jr. to drive their cart of possessions. It took two weeks over bad roads to get there. George Sr. was pleased with his new home. His wife died when George Sr. was 98. At 100, he remarried! He lived to be 105. So much for my amazement at Daniel Brodhead and Hester Wyngart moving to the PA wilderness in their 40s!!! These early settlers were very hearty people who were, by and large, thoroughly self-reliant.

2) Revolutionary War–while we know the Brodhead sons threw themselves into the war efforts against the English, many of the inhabitants of the Minisink Valley resisted involvement in the cause because they were exhausted from the blood and carnage of the Indian troubles. Some went to New Jersey to avoid what they believed would be a disastrous rout in their Pennsylvania lands, others joined the British, some even joined the Indians to keep out of the reach of authorities wanting them to take an oath of allegiance to the new government. Some were even arrested.

 

*Some sources say 1737, e.g., The Wyoming and Lackawanna Valleys by Hayden, Hand and Jordan (pub. 1906)

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Categories: Brodhead, LaBar, Moravian Cemetery Bethlehem PA, Stroudsburg | Leave a comment

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