The news given to the Pennsylvania governor and his council of advisers was grim. Chaos and bloodshed reigned in the Lehigh Valley and across the colony.
''During all this Month the Indians have been burning and destroying all before them in the County of Northampton, and have already burnt fifty houses here, murdered above one hundred Persons, and are still continuing their Ravages, Murders, and Devastations, and have actually overrun and laid waste a great part of that County, even as far as within twenty miles of Easton, its chief Town.''
The council secretary read the report, recorded in the Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, at a meeting in Philadelphia on Dec. 29, 1755. It was part of a colony-wide summary of the ''Incursions and Ravages made by the French and Indians to this day.''
As Gov. Robert Hunter Morris and four advisers heard the litany of horrors, Benjamin Franklin huddled in remote Easton with former Gov. James Hamilton and another government representative, Joseph Fox.
They had ridden to the little trading town to determine what had been happening on the northern frontier, along the Blue Mountains, since hostile French and Indians defeated British and colonial troops in western Pennsylvania that summer.
Until November 1755, the French and Indian War hadn't bloodied Northampton County, which included today's Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon and Monroe counties, part of Schuylkill County and a vast area farther north.
First there was the October massacre at Penns Creek to the west. Two weeks later, Delawares and Shawnees nearly wiped out the Scotch-Irish settlements in today's Fulton and Franklin counties, on the Maryland border. After that, Delawares killed or captured settlers along the Swatara Creek in what is now Lebanon County and the Tulpehocken Creek in Berks County.
The threat reached the 300 Moravians of Nazareth on Nov. 21.
''Late in the night came an express messenger from Bethlehem with the order, that in all places good guards should be put out, because the rumour of Indian uprising has come to us worse than before,'' an unidentified Moravian, perhaps a minister, wrote in German in what is called the Nazareth Diary.
The Nov. 24 entry reads, ''To-day marched constantly men with guns on the street and passed here on the road to Bethlehem.''
And that evening, a breeze from the northwest carried the odor of smoke.
''Several brethren and sisters from here and from the other places,'' the entry continues, ''had a foreboding in the night of the hard circumstances, which had come over our brethren and sisters on the Mahony, and one did smell even the burning here because the wind was coming from that direction.''
Two dozen miles away, across the Blue Mountains and along the Mahoning Creek, Moravians ran a farming settlement for Christian Indians Gnadenhuetten, the ''huts of grace.''
The smoke that wafted over the mountains that night came from the burning mill, barn, stable, commissary, chapel and mission house of Gnadenhuetten, now Lehighton.
A dozen Indian warriors in black war paint and carrying muskets, tomahawks and scalping knives had attacked the settlement and killed or captured 11 Moravians. Some burned to death when the raiders torched their house. One man trying to escape was shot, hacked and scalped. A woman taken prisoner was later killed.
''By a special message from Bethlehem,'' the Nazareth diarist wrote on the 25th, ''we were informed of the tragedy and all the places were notified about this and many tears were shed on account of this terrible event.''
The Gnadenhuetten raiders were led by Captain Jachebus, a chief of the Munsees, the ''mountain people'' of the upper Delaware Valley. In killing pious Moravians devoted to helping the Indians, or ''brown hearts,'' they had sent this chilling message:
No whites will be safe.
Building a militia
The provincial government in Philadelphia learned details of the massacre on Nov. 26. William Parsons, who had co-founded Easton and served there as an agent for the Penn family, passed along a letter from Justice of the Peace Timothy Horsfield in Bethlehem.
Horsfield reported that Moravian missionary David Zeisberger had gone to Gnadenhuetten on Nov. 24. ''When he came within sight of the Town he heard the firing of Guns, which he thought to be at ye Mahoney, the place where our Brethren's Farm is.''
Someone called to Zeisberger. ''It was one of our Brethren that escaped from the Mahoney, who told David that the Enemy was at the Mahoney and had killed the most part of our poor White Brethren,'' Horsfield wrote.
The raid came at a time of crisis for Pennsylvania. For months, Gov. Morris, Franklin and others had wrestled with the question of how to protect the frontier. Pacifist Quakers in the Pennsylvania Assembly had always refused to establish a permanent military force a contradiction of their beliefs. Some colonists had armed themselves and banded together.
Now, in the face of this grave Indian threat, the Assembly gave in to Franklin's proposal for an unpaid volunteer force and passed the colony's first Militia Act, which became law Nov. 25.
Two days later, the Assembly created a defense fund, made possible by a compromise Franklin and Assembly colleague Joseph Galloway brokered. The deal exempted William Penn's sons Thomas and Richard from taxes on their land in return for a contribution. Colonists would be taxed.
The law also named Franklin, Hamilton, Fox and four others to an independent commission in charge of the fund. Gov. Morris and the commissioners used the money to start building forts and replacing volunteer militiamen with paid, regularly enlisted troops.
A law passed in 1756 subjected the commonwealth's troops to military discipline. And the year after that, another law made military service compulsory.
'A state of terror'
The military buildup provided no immediate relief to the Lehigh Valley in late 1755. The citizen-soldiers were disorganized, ill-trained, under-supplied and led by inexperienced officers they had chosen from among their ranks.
Almost unchallenged, Indian warriors ranged through woods in New Jersey and from today's Delaware Water Gap to the Alleghenies, killing, looting and burning.
They didn't have the power of overwhelming force. No more than 1,400 pro-French warriors occupied the colony's woods, with only several hundred east of the Susquehanna River. Stealth, speed and the element of surprise gave them the advantage.
Operating in small bands, warriors sought civilian ''targets of opportunity'' the poorly armed or defenseless. They mutilated their victims and left the corpses where settlers could plainly see them. Prisoners often were marched long distances and held in camps. If they weren't executed, they were traded for goods, held for ransom or adopted into a tribe.
''The settlers lived in a state of terror,'' says Daniel Gilbert, professor emeritus of history at Moravian College in Bethlehem. ''The Indians were menaces. Could you defend yourself against them? No, not really.''
Even without rampaging warriors, life in colonial America ''was much more violent and tentative than we realize,'' he says. ''The danger of the Indians was one of a whole series of dangers. If you got to 40, you were doing well.
''People didn't expect that life would be long and glorious,'' Gilbert says. ''They just wanted to survive.''
On Dec. 10, 1755, a half-dozen Delawares attacked Frederick Hoeth's house along the Pohopoco Creek in what is now Towamensing Township, killing him and five others in his family as they ate supper. Moving on to Hoeth's neighbors, they killed or captured the Hartmans, Culvers and McMichaels.
The next morning, the same Indians attacked Daniel Brodhead's plantation on Brodhead's Creek near today's Stroudsburg, but he and his sons barricaded themselves in their house and fought them off in an hours-long gun battle.
Across upper Northampton County, pioneer families felt exposed and helpless, ''in the utmost confusion imaginable, one flying here & the other there for safety,'' according to Horsfield.
Hundreds fled south, leaving their belongings behind. They streamed to Nazareth, Easton and Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley's largest community, swelling its population from a little more than 500 to almost 800 in the months ahead, according to the Moravian Archives.
In March 1756, the Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg noted the plight of refugees after meeting an 88-year-old widow who had abandoned her home in terror. He spoke with her at Juerg Hoot's mill along Cedar Creek, in what is now the Allentown area.
''In her age and weakness she, too, had fled and brought only a small bundle of clothes with her,'' the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America wrote in his journal. ''She wept bitterly because she still had to pass through adversity in her advanced age, but she comforted herself with the Word of God and desired that the dear Lord might call her from this evil world into everlasting peace.''
An anonymous diarist described an Indian raid near today's Strausstown in Berks County, believed to have occurred in 1755 or 1756.
A woman plowing a field was shot through both breasts and scalped, the account begins. Her husband was found dead and scalped in a nearby woods. A neighbor had seen the man earlier, mowing in his meadow with his children around him.
The neighbor surmised the man had heard the shots that killed his wife and tried to run away, carrying his youngest child. ''The man was shot through the body, and the child is one year and a half of age and is scalped, but yet alive, and is put to a Doctor's.
''The other three who were with their father, are taken prisoners; one of them is a boy about ten years old, the other a girl of eight years, and the other a boy of six years. There was a baby whom they found in a ditch, that the water was just to its mouth. It was laying on its back, crying it was taken up, and is like to do well.''
In Easton, William Parsons said Indian attacks had obliterated the farms to the north, placing the town's 150 residents on the edge of the settled countryside and in dire straits. On Dec. 15, 1755, he wrote to Commissioners Franklin and James Hamilton:
''I make bold to trouble you once more, and it is not unlikely that it may be the last time. The settlers on this side of the Mountain all along the River side, are actually removed, and we are now the Frontier of this part of the Country.''
Parsons said people were hurrying to leave town to escape ''the fury of the Enemy, who, there is no reason to doubt are lurking about within sight of us. Pray do something or give some order for our speedy relief, or the whole country will be entirely ruined.''
The Colonial Records include a similar cry from Indian agent and Berks County militia commander Conrad Weiser, who wrote to the governor that ''the Country is in a dismal Condition: Believe me, kind Sir, that it cant hold out long. Consternation, Poverty, Confusion is everywhere.''
A letter written in Easton dated Dec. 20, 1755, had a list of 89 people who had been killed and 40 whose homes were burned in the Stroudsburg area.
''There may be seen horror and desolation,'' the unidentified writer says, ''populous Settlements deserted, Villages laid in Ashes, Men, Women and Children cruelly Massacred.'' Some had wounds ''which look like so many Mouths crying for Vengeance against their Murderers.''
Richard Peters, secretary of the Provincial Council, the governor's advisers, continued in his end-of-December 1755 summary to the council:
''Such shocking Descriptions are given by those who have escaped of the horrid Cruelties and indecencies committed by these merciless Savages on the Bodies of the unhappy wretches who fall into their Barbarous hands,'' Peters read.
The attacks, he went on, have ''struck so great a Pannick and Damp upon the Spirits of the people that hitherto they have not been able to make any considerable resistance or stand against the Indians.''
Franklin takes the lead
With his son, William, as an aide, 49-year-old Benjamin Franklin set out to help the people of Northampton County defend themselves. He arrived in Bethlehem with fellow provincial commissioners James Hamilton and Joseph Fox on Dec. 19, 1755, and marveled at how thoroughly the peace-loving Moravians had girded for battle.
''I was surprised to find it in so good a posture of defense; the destruction of Gnadenhut had made them apprehend danger,'' he wrote in his autobiography.
''The principal buildings were defended by a stockade; they had purchased a quantity of arms and ammunition from New York, and had even plac'd quantities of small paving stones between the windows of their high stone houses, for their women to throw down upon the heads of any Indians that should attempt to force into them. The armed brethren, too, kept watch, and reliev'd as methodically as in any garrison town.''
Franklin saw no need to spend more than a night in Bethlehem. He moved on to Easton, a town in turmoil. Refugees crowded houses, food was almost gone, people drank and squabbled in the streets. Franklin set up patrols, stationed sentries at the end of streets and had the bushes cleared outside of town to give men with muskets a clear line of fire.
While restoring order in Easton and brainstorming about tactics, he even thought about using dogs against the Indians.
''They should be large, strong, and fierce; and every dog led in a slip string, to prevent their tiring themselves by running out and in, and discovering the party by barking at squirrels, etc.,'' Franklin wrote to his friend Conrad Weiser in Berks County. ''In case of meeting a party of the enemy, the dogs are all then to be turned loose and set on. They will confound the enemy a good deal, and be very serviceable.''
It's not known how Weiser reacted, but Franklin apparently didn't pursue the idea. His party, with a cavalry escort, left Easton after 10 days and rode to Reading, where they met with the governor and, on Jan. 3, 1756, heard more bad news from Gnadenhuetten.
On New Year's Day, Indians badly cut up a company of raw militiamen who had gone there after the massacre to build a fort. Some of the soldiers were skating on the Lehigh River. They saw two Indians upstream and went after them, thinking they were easy prey. But the Indians were decoys luring them into an ambush. About 20 militiamen were killed, and the remainder fled through the Lehigh Gap.
Stunned by this breach at a key mountain pass, Gov. Morris gave Franklin blanket authority in Northampton County. Franklin would organize its defenses, give out guns and ammunition, and appoint and dismiss militia officers.
Noting in his autobiography that the governor had asked him to ''take charge of our North-western frontier,'' Franklin wrote, ''I undertook this military business, tho' I did not conceive myself well qualified for it.''
He returned to Bethlehem on Jan. 7, 1756, signed up 560 troops, assembled them into companies under provincial status and prepared to march a detachment to plug the vital Lehigh Gap.
Northeast of the pass, on the day other warriors attacked the militia at Gnadenhuetten, a party of eastern Delawares led by Teedyuscung, who was called their king, moved against farmers in what is now southern Smithfield Township. They shot two men to death and captured two others on the Weeser farm.
The next day, they hit two farms owned by the Hess brothers, killing four men and taking four captive. Later they stabbed and scalped one of their prisoners, Peter Hess, because he was old and couldn't keep up with them on the walk. His son witnessed the killing.
Later in January, Indian warriors burned buildings on a half-dozen farms in Moore Township and killed John Bauman and one of Nicholas Heil's children.
By the end of the month, Indians had overrun Northampton County from Gnadenhuetten as far south as Nazareth.
The German inscription on decorative, cast-iron stove plates for settlers' houses would note: Dis ist das Jahr darin witet der Inchin Schar. 1756. This is the year in which rages the Indian war party.
Behind the Delawares' rage were years of resentment over seeing their land disappear into the white man's hands.
''More and more settlers just keep coming and keep coming, settling on land that [the Indians] feel has been stolen,'' says Michelle LeMaster, assistant professor of history at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. ''The flood doesn't seem to stop. They've gotten more and more frustrated.
''They hope to get back as much of their land as they can and make sure nobody else comes draw a line in the sand and say: No. This far and no farther.''
But success would have been possible only if the Indians had united against their foe, LeMaster says. ''It would have taken picking a central leadership and a central set of goals and expectations and a central command,'' she says. ''They weren't ready for that.''
As attacks on the frontier continued, Gov. Morris' frustration mounted. Settlers' complaints that the government wasn't doing enough to protect them grew more shrill. Poorly performing officers and cowardly, disordered men made the militia almost useless.
From Reading on Jan. 5, the governor vented to his advisers, the Provincial Council, which was separate from the Assembly and whose duties included helping the governor shape policy and look after the public safety:
''The Commissioners [Franklin and Hamilton] have done everything that was proper in the County of Northampton, but the People are not satisfied, nor, by what I can learn from the Commissioners, would they be unless every Man's House was protected by a Fort and a Company of Soldiers, and themselves paid for staying at home and doing nothing.''
Saying he'd heard the county's militiamen lacked courage and discipline, he wrote, ''I am fearful that the whole Country will fall into the Enemy's Hands.''
On Jan. 15, 1756, two days before his 50th birthday, Franklin rode north from Bethlehem with seven wagons and 66 men. Fifty-five troops from Nazareth later joined them. Before they reached Gnadenhuetten, Franklin saw that even adequately armed men weren't necessarily a match for the clever Indians.
''Just before we left Bethlehem, eleven farmers, who had been driven from their plantations by the Indians, came to me requesting a supply of fire-arms, that they might go back and fetch off their cattle,'' Franklin says in his autobiography.
He gave the farmers guns and ammunition, then he and his troops set off. It began to rain after a few miles, and the soldiers couldn't keep their gun locks dry, but the Indians were ''dextrous in contrivances for that purpose,'' he wrote.
Indians attacked the farmers and killed 10 of them. ''The one who escap'd inform'd that his and his companion's guns would not go off, the priming being wet with the rain,'' Franklin wrote.
After reaching Gnadenhuetten, Franklin oversaw construction of Fort Allen. The fort included barracks, a stockade of pointed logs and a well that still exists. It also had two swivel guns, which were smaller than cannons and could turn and move up or down.
Fort Allen stood in East Gnadenhuetten, today's Weissport, across the Lehigh River from the ruined Moravian mission. Franklin was pleased with it. ''This kind of fort ,'' he declared, ''is a sufficient defense against Indians, who have no cannon.''
Troops there would guard the outer reaches of Northampton County, along with men stationed at other Pennsylvania-built forts 15 miles apart Fort Franklin near Snyders, Schuylkill County; Fort Hamilton in Stroudsburg; and Fort Norris between Kresgeville and Gilbert in Monroe County.
Eight secondary posts were set up below the mountains, closer to the settlements. These ''internal Guards,'' as Franklin called them, included Fort Everett outside Lynnport, Fort Lehigh near Petersville and Trucker's Mill at Slatington. Also, settlers built their own stockades and blockhouses sturdy, square, two-story buildings from which they could shoot down on invaders.
The forts, stockades and blockhouses could serve as a refuge for settlers and as bases. The militia could patrol in the gaps between the forts to discourage incursions. Indians could still slip through, but they might not penetrate deeply, knowing troops could cut off their withdrawal.
The provincial commissioners at first disliked the idea of building forts, a measure proposed in November 1755 by surveyor and future militia commander John Armstrong of Carlisle. He envisioned a series of forts down the Susquehanna to the Maryland line. The commissioners saw that plan as purely defensive. They favored taking the fight directly to the Indians.
That didn't sit well with such experts on Indian affairs as trader and government agent George Croghan, who lived near Harris' Ferry, present-day Harrisburg. He believed defending the homeland had to come first, and the way to do that was to build forts.
The commissioners heeded Croghan's advice and took up an expanded version of Armstrong's plan, with forts extending in an arc along the Blue Mountains from the Delaware River west and south to the Maryland line, blocking critical trails in the gaps.
In June 1756, the commissioners explained to Gov. Morris:
''When the Indians first began to Infest our Frontiers, the Commissioners were of Opinion that the best means of Securing our Inhabitants was to carry the warr into the Enemy's Country and hunt them in all their Fishing, Hunting, Planting, & dwelling places.''
But Croghan and other experts advised that a chain of forts be built and the frontier secured ''before we acted Offencively.'' The commissioners agreed.
Settlers and soldiers appreciated well-stocked, adequately manned forts. Midway through 1756, a military inspector gave high marks to Franklin's work in East Gnadenhuetten.
James Young, commissary general of the muster, wrote that Fort Allen ''in this pass through very high hills, is, in my opinion, a very important place. The works are clear all round it for a considerable way, and is very defensible.'' Stored there were 27 muskets, 10 pounds of powder, 60 pounds of lead, 19 axes, 26 hatchets and 43 tomahawks.
But having guns and other weapons didn't guarantee an effective force. Troops had to be skilled at using them, as Young was pleased to find in Easton, where he observed a militia company of ''stout able bodied men; their arms in good order. They fired at a mark 16 out of 21 hit within 9 inches of the centre, at 80 yards distance.''
Northampton County owed its preparedness to Franklin. He had brought order to the region's defenses and, after returning home to Philadelphia, was made colonel of the city's militia.
Franklin succeeded in the Lehigh Valley and wherever else he went because he had a keen mind and a winning personality, says Richard L. Rosen, an associate professor of history at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
''Not only did Franklin possess a broad-based intelligence, but he also had a knack for getting along with all types of people,'' Rosen says. ''He had traveled all over the colonies. He wasn't afraid of anything. He was an excellent networker, especially in what went on in the Lehigh Valley.''
'Amidst such torments'
In February 1756, Pennsylvania had 919 paid colonial troops, 389 in Northampton County.
Still, they could not stop the Indians.
Nor could the Indian confederation called the Six Nations of the Iroquois, which were officially neutral and claimed authority over the Delawares. The Iroquois insulted the Delawares, who had a lesser status among the tribes, calling them ''women.''
''We are men and are determined not to be ruled any longer by you as Women,'' it's recorded that an eastern Delaware spokesman spat back during a March 1756 conference with Iroquois leaders. ''We are determined to cut off all the English except those that may make their Escape from us in Ships; so say no more to us on that Head, lest we cut off your private Parts, and make Women of you, as you have done of us.''
Gov. Morris' fury over raids spilled over in April 1756. Quakers had asked him to negotiate for peace with Teedyuscung's eastern Delawares. He brushed those appeals aside, formally declaring war on the Delawares and offering cash rewards for their scalps and for whites freed from captivity.
Scalping of Indians was already happening with official approval.
''You are to acquaint the men,'' Benjamin Franklin wrote in his instructions to militia Capt. Jon Van Etten on Jan. 12, 1756, ''that if in their ranging they meet with or are at any time attacked by the enemy, and kill any of them, forty dollars will be allowed and paid by the government for each scalp of an Indian enemy.''
In June 1756, New Jersey also set bounties for scalps and declared war on the Delawares.
The next month, Pennsylvania colonial troops built a fort in a strategic place, where the branches of the Susquehanna meet and Indian trails converged. Fort Augusta, at present-day Sunbury, protected downriver settlements and would become the jumping-off point for much of the provincial army.
But even as Fort Augusta rose, the colonists suffered a crushing defeat along the Juniata River near Lewis-
town. French troops and Indians led by the Delaware war chief Captain Jacobs attacked and burned Fort Granville, considered one of the best forts in all of British America.
For the first time, Pennsylvania went on the offensive. It retaliated Sept. 8 when Lt. Col. John Armstrong, the Carlisle surveyor who had proposed a chain of forts, led 300 men in a surprise attack on Kittanning, the Delawares' main base in western Pennsylvania. Armstrong's brother Edward had been killed in the assault on Fort Granville.
Kittanning, in today's Armstrong County, was home to 100 Delaware warriors and an equal number of white prisoners. It also had Indian women and children.
Attacking in the middle of the night, Armstrong's commandos trapped Captain Jacobs in his bark-covered house and torched it. Someone told him to give up or he would burn. ''I eat fire,'' he shouted, then jumped out a window and was gunned down. About 50 other Indians were killed in what the French and Indians considered a massacre.
Seventeen men in Armstrong's regiment died, and only 11 white captives were rescued.
An English woman who remained captive faced a horrifying fate. She had tried to escape and return to the settlements with Armstrong's men, according to two young girls captured during the Penns Creek massacre the previous October and ultimately marched to Kittanning. The girls, Marie le Roy and Barbara Leininger, said this is what happened to the woman:
''She was put to death in an unheard of way. First, they scalped her; next, they laid burning splinters of wood, here and there, upon her body, and then they cut off her ears and fingers, forcing them into her mouth so that she had to swallow them.
''Amidst such torments, this woman lived from nine o'clock in the morning until sunset, when a French officer took compassion on her, and put her out of her misery. When she was dead, the Indians chopped her in two, through the middle, and let her lie until the dogs came and devoured her.''
The girls had their story published in Philadelphia after they escaped in 1759. Next to the Bible, tales like theirs became the best-read stories in the 13 colonies.
Although not a resounding victory, the raid on Kittanning had an electrifying effect on the colonists. Homegrown troops and officers could fight back. Hailed across the commonwealth, the strike lifted spirits in the waning summer of 1756.
Even as that show of force raised hopes for stemming the violence, peace overtures from the eastern Delaware leader Teedyuscung and Gov. Morris had set the stage for what the eminent historian Fred Anderson calls the war's most important diplomatic breakthrough.
It would happen in Easton.
MONDAY: Teedyuscung, king of the Delawares, comes to Easton to make peace in Pennsylvania.
610-770-3784Copyright © 2015, CT Now