1769 — The Pennamite Wars

Early Settlers & the Yankee-Pennamite Wars

The Wyoming Valley was part of the land granted under the Connecticut Charter by King Charles II of England in 1662 to Connecticut for new settlements. On December 28, 1768, the Susquehanna Company in a meeting at Harford, Connecticut made arrangements for the settling the Wyoming Valley lands. Plans were made to divide the territory into five townships, each five miles square. Each township would provide enough land for forty settlers and their families. These five townships were later named Plymouth, Kingston, Hanover, Wilkes-Barre, and Pittston.

When the settlers arrived in Plymouth, they found the land occupied by other settlers from the colony of Pennsylvania. It seemed that King Charles II had granted charters to both Connecticut and Pennsylvania at different times. The King knew very little about America and maps were very poor at that time. Both groups claimed the land. But who was the rightful owner? The Connecticut Charter was granted first in 1662, while the Pennsylvania Charter was not granted until 1681. Fighting soon broke out.

There were two Yankee-Pennamite Wars with the Revolutionary War in between. During the first Yankee-Pennamite War two forts were built by the Yankees, one called Fort Durkee, located on the bank of the Susquehanna River close to the site of Wilkes University today and the other in Kingston, called Forty Fort. It was given this name because the first forty settlers that came from Connecticut built it. The Pennamite's took shelter in a fort located in Wilkes-Barre near the site of General Hospital today. After the major Battle of Nanticoke in 1775 the Connecticut settlers were able to hold and stay in charge of the valley.

Once the Revolutinary War began in 1776, the men of Wyoming Valley were called upon to serve in the Continental Army. Before long 198 men were ready for duty with 40 of that number being from Plymouth. Men from Plymouth fought in the battles of Millstone, Brandywine, Germantown, Boundbrook, and Mud Fort. Benjamin Harvey, a man who had fought in the Yankee-Pennamite War, was found fronzen to death at Valley Forge. While the men of the valley were away, 400 British troops and 500 Indians attacked the Valley. Forty four men led by Asaph Wittlesey tried to defend the women and children at Forty Fort. At the Battle of Wyoming, Colonel Zebulon Butler led 484 men out of the fort to meet the enemy. Home on furlough from the Continental army were Captains Durkee and Ransom. A line of battle was formed. Colonel Zebulon Butler ordered his men to fire and keep firing into the British line. Butler's men advanced, pushing back the British but the American's were swarmed with screaming Indians who had been hiding in the woods waiting to attack. In a few moments Colonel Dorrance and Captains Ransom and Whittlesey were dead. The line was forced to retreat with the Indians right behind them taking scalps. Those who were able to outrun the Indians made their way back to the fort. Many men were captured and put to death. After hearing of the massacre, the women and children hurried out of the valley. On July 4, 1778, British Major, John Butler, demanded the surrender of all forts and ammunition to be given to the Indians. The settlers could not fight in the Revolution anymore. In return for this, Butler promised the settlers that they could return to their homes and live in peace. There was to be no more bloodshed or burning of homes.

After the Revolutionary War, settlers once again moved back to Wyoming Valley. The thirteen colonies were now thirteen states. Both Pennsylvania and Connecticut claimed ownership of the Wyoming Valley. Congress was asked to decide on the legal owner. A court was appointed to decide the case and after forty days, it was decided that Wyoming Valley belonged to Pennsylvania.

The decision by the court did not settle the most important question. Who was to have ownership of the farms and homes in the valley? The Pennsylvania government set up a commission and decided that the Connecticut people should give up their claim to the land and move to western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania sent Justice Alexander Patterson with a band of Rangers to take charge. Patterson and his men were very unjust and took the belongings of some settlers and sent many valley people to jail. Eleven from Plymouth were arrested during one of Patterson's raids on the town. In 1784, his small army drove the settlers out of the valley by force. Without any food or extra clothing, they were forced to walk to the Delaware River. Hunger and hardship took the lives of some people. The Pennsylvania government stepped in and sent Colonel John Armstrong to arrest Patterson and restore order. His first step was to disarm everyone including Patterson and his Rangers. As soon as the weapons were turned in, Armstrong arrested forty-six of the Yankee men, but nothing was done to Patterson. Open war broke out and Connecticut and Vermont sent troops to help the Connecticut settlers. John Franklin began to organize to Yankee men into an army. Armstrong and his men were driven out of the valley and Franklin burned Fort Wyoming. By 1794, all of the fighting was over and Wyoming Valley became part of Luzerne County. The settlers became law-abiding citizens once again and the Yankees from Connecticut were assured that their claim to the land would last forever. The Yankee settlers became Pennsylvanians and John Franklin was one of the first valley men to serve in the new government. He lived in the southern end of Plymouth Township.


was a land company formed (1753) in Connecticut for the purpose of developing the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. A tract of land was purchased from the Indians in 1754, and preparations were made for development. Aid was sought in England and Eliphalet Dyer was sent in an unsuccessful attempt to secure confirmation of the land grant. Colonization from Connecticut was first attempted in 1762–63, but it was 1769 before any definite settlement was made. Soon the settlers were embroiled in troubles with the rival settlers from Pennsylvania, leading to the Pennamite Wars, in which Zebulon Butler led the Connecticut forces.


is an area about 20 mi (30 km) long and 3 to 4 MI (4.8–6.4 km) wide, in Luzerne co., NE Pa., through which flows the Susquehanna River. Wilkes-Barre is the major city of this once-rich anthracite coal region. The valley was the scene of a long contest between Connecticut and Pennsylvania over conflicting land claims based on 17th-century charters. After the Susquehanna Company purchased (1754) land there at the Albany Congress, a temporary settlement of the region in 1762–63 led to the first permanent settlement in 1769 and the building soon after of Forty Fort. The First Pennamite War (1769–71) between the Connecticut and Pennsylvania settlers ensued, but rapid settlement of the area continued. In 1774, Connecticut set up the town of Westmoreland, from which representatives were sent to the Connecticut legislature. During the American Revolution, the valley settlers were attacked (1778) by Loyalist commander John Butler and a party of Tories and Iroquois allies; nearly 400 men, women, and children were killed. The massacre is described in Thomas Campbell's poem, Gertrude of Wyoming (1809). In 1782 a Continental Congress court of arbitration decided to grant the land in favor of Pennsylvania, but the Connecticut settlers refused to leave, and the Second Pennamite War (1784) ensued. Finally, through the Compromise Act of 1799, the Pennsylvania legislature secured a means of settlement with the Connecticut claimants.

Eliphatet Dyer

1721–1807, American jurist, born in Windham, Conn. After serving in the state legislature for several years, Dyer took part in the French and Indian Wars and later was a member of the governor's council (1762–84) and became (1766) an associate judge of Connecticut's superior court. He was one of the organizers of the Susquehanna Company and was an active supporter of the company in its attempts to secure confirmation of its lands in the Wyoming Valley. A Connecticut delegate to the Stamp Act Congress (1765), he was later a member (1774–79; 1780–83) of the Continental. Dyer was chief justice of Connecticut from 1789 until 1793.

Zebulon Butler

1731–95, American colonial leader, born in Ipswich, Mass. After serving in the French and Indian Wars, Butler led a group of Connecticut settlers to the Wyoming Valley in northern Pennsylvania.

He was military leader of the Connecticut settlers in the Pennamite Wars and served as director of the Susquehanna Company. Butler represented (1774–76) the Wyoming Valley in the Connecticut assembly. A colonel in the Revolution, he was defeated (1778) by Loyalists under John Butler and fled to Forty Fort; the Wyoming Valley massacre* followed. Butler escaped and later was military commandant of the region.

*The American Revolution was disastrous for the Iroquois. The confederacy as such refused to take part in the conflict but allowed each tribe to decide for itself, and all the tribes, except the Oneida, joined the British. Samuel Kirkland, a Protestant missionary, was largely responsible for winning over the Oneida, who rallied to the side of the colonists after remaining neutral for two years. Joseph Brant led the Iroquois who remained loyal to the British was the principal leader of the Iroquois troops, and participated with the Tory Rangers in raids in New York and Pennsylvania, particularly the Wyoming Valley massacres. The Continental Congress sent out a punitive expedition under John Sullivan, who in 1779 defeated Butler and his Iroquois allies. After the Revolution, Brant, in contrast to the other two chiefs, remained adamant in his hostility towards the United States.

John Butler

1728–96, Loyalist commander in the American Revolution, born in New London, Conn. He served in the French and Indian Wars and distinguished himself especially by leading the Indians in the successful British attack (1759) under Sir William Johnson against Niagara. Electing the British side after the Revolution broke out, he became a deputy to Guy Johnson at Niagara and worked to keep Indians friendly to the British. In the Saratoga campaign (1777) he and indigenous troops accompanied Gen. Barry St. Leger in the unsuccessful expedition down the Mohawk valley. Later he organized a Loyalist troop called Butler's Rangers, and with them he and his son, Walter Butler, attacked the frontier settlements. John Butler in 1778 raided the Wyoming Valley, defeated Zebulon Butler, took Forty Fort, and then was unable to keep his Indian allies from perpetrating the Wyoming Valley massacre. Later that year Walter Butler and Joseph Brant led a similar raid on Cherry Valley, and this also ended in a massacre. The name of Butler was thereafter anathema to the patriots. John Butler was defeated (1779) by the expedition of Gen. John Sullivan at Newtown near the present Elmira, N.Y.; later in the war Butler joined with Sir John Johnson in frontier raids)

1769 Bibliography