Ole Larson's Folks

(continued from previous post)

We left off the story of the Bennett family in September, 1770, as they were taking a mid-day meal before completing the final leg of their journey to the Wyoming valley. Their rest was interrupted by a party of men, one of them injured, who were fleeing the valley after being attacked by the Pennamites, partisans of Pennsylvania colony who were determined to drive away all Yankee  (New England) settlers. Quoting again from “Families of the Wyoming Valley…

A consultation was now held upon the proper course to be pursued. Mr. Bennett was a man of cool courage, and he had made up his mind to try his fortunes upon the fertile soil of Wyoming, and he was not to be turned aside from that purpose by anything but stern, invincible necessity. He was bent upon going on. But what would he do with his family? Mrs. Bennett, who was not easily intimidated, said: “If it were not for the children I would go along.” “Friend Wires” said: “leave the children with me; I will take care of them.” Stimulated by the courage of Mr. Bennett and his wife, two men who had fled from the country resolved to return and try their luck again.

The Bennett family did fulfill their plan, settling on land adjacent to Forty Fort, but the years that followed were filled with conflicts and dangers. The Yankee-Pennamite wars raged on, with the advantage shifting often from one side to the other. Thomas Bennett and other leaders were repeatedly thrown into jail, but their perseverance was equal to the challenges.  Although not part of the organized militia, Bennett was a key asset of the Yankees, providing intelligence and support, often at the risk of his own life. In 1775, the largest attack of all by the Pennamite army was repulsed. This ended the first phase of the “Pennamite Wars.” There would be other armed conflicts a decade later, but this was the last concerted attempt by the government of Pennsylvania to evict the New England settlers.

All this time, the Indian tribes of the area had been relatively quiet. Perhaps not out of indifference, but of strategy; standing by as their two enemies weakened each other in mutual combat. There then intervened the Revolutionary War. By this time, Mr. Bennett’s daughter

.. Martha began to develop extraordinary skill at house work, and great power of endurance.

In the fall of 1777, an enigmatic Indian woman named Queen Esther, with about a dozen companions, camped for two weeks nearby to the Bennetts’ home. Esther Montour, as she was also known, was said to be related by blood or marriage to most of the Five Nations. This referred to the so-called Irriquois Confederacy, consisting of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca tribes. In addition, she was a descendant of “several marriages” between White and Indian, as her surname suggests.

In her earlier years, Queen Esther and her relatives were often used as translators in negotiations with the government. But by the Revolutionary period, the tribes had erupted into open hostility. This was not only because of their recruitment by the Tories and the ten dollars in gold offered for each Yankee scalp brought in. More significant by far was the ongoing policy of  ethnic cleansing and genocide imposed on the natives by Whites and their governments.

But I digress. Turning back to the text at hand,

Mrs. Bennett, accompanied by Martha, visited the queen’s camp and had considerable conversation with her. She asked her if it was true that the Indians were coming to kill us all. She shook her head and shed tears. Her head was gray, and she seemed to be  old.

No other details of their “considerable” conversation are given, which seems odd, given that Queen Esther, by most accounts of her, spoke  more than a little English. The text moves on to rumors and reports reaching Wyoming, of violent Indian raids in the frontier settlements to the north during the following winter.

Another editorial comment: The text, as expected, does not report on raids and atrocities committed by Whites during the same period. When reported at all in the literature, those acts are characterized as courageous defense of our right (as Christians?) to fulfill our Manifest Destiny. Out of all the 18th-19th century accounts of the Wyoming Massacre that I have read (at least four or five), only one mentions, in two words with no elaboration, “grave wrongs” against the Indians prior to the event.

Next: the horrible summer of 1778.

Martha and Thomas Bennett, part I
Martha and Thomas Bennett, Part III