Ole Larson's Folks

Martha Bennett (m. Myers, 1763- 1851)

Early Life

Martha Bennett (m. Myers, 1763- 1851, my 4th great-grandmother), is a featured character in several histories, including “Families of the Wyoming Valley…” Even more so her father, Thomas Bennett, one of the very first settlers in that place.

Mrs. Myers was born in Scituate, Rhode Island, January 15, 1763. The same year in which Martha Bennett or Mrs. Myers was born a settlement of Connecticut people was commenced in Wyoming, and Mr. Bennett rented a valuable property in Rhode Island, and removed to the Delaware, near Stroudsburg.

This refers to the Delaware river valley, about 50 miles east of the Wyoming valley (which is on the Susquehanna river). The language implies that the entire family, including infant Martha, “removed” there. Their intention was to settle in the latter locality, but the project was abandoned due to “surly” Indians. The family temporarily retreated eastward, to Goshen, New York, where they rented a farm for the next six years. During that period, the father several times

… set his sons at work upon the farm, and took his gun, his axe, and hoe and visited the much coveted valley.

In 1769, he helped a band of forty settlers build the eponymous Forty Fort. The following year, he was arrested at a nearby location, along with leaders of a new group of settlers building another fortification. As previously intimated, it was not only the Indians who objected to these Yankee settlements. The Pennamites had a competing claim to the land. At this juncture, Thomas Bennett and his companions

… were all taken into custody by John Jennings, sheriff of Northampton county, Pennsylvania.

On the way to jail, Thomas managed to escape, and returned to his family in western New York. Undaunted by these setbacks, with “courage equal to the dangers,” he gathered his family and modest belongings, and on horseback and pack train (as there was no wagon road), they proceeded to the Wyoming valley in the autumn of 1770. Martha Bennett was at this time seven years of age. When they reached eastern Pennsylvania,

The country now presented a striking contrast with the picture of Wyoming which was formed in the imaginations of Mr. Bennett’s family. The grasshoppers had destroyed all the vegetation, and the aspect was one of utter desolation.

In the Delaware valley, they stayed with a supportive Quaker named Wires, who accompanied them on towards Wyoming. A few hours shy of their destination, they stopped for a meal.

Mrs. Bennett was boiling some chocolate over a fire made by the side of a log. She seemed unusually sad. ” I don’t know,” said she, “what I am about to meet. I think something pretty heavy.” It was not long before several men came up from Wyoming — one bleeding from a wound made on his head by a club—and reported that the Pennamites had taken possession of the fort, and were resolved upon driving off all the New England settlers.

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 during the following winter, of violent Indian raids in the frontier settlements to the north.

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.

The Battle of Wyoming

sions were high in the summer of 1778. Most of the men of the Wyoming valley were with the Patriot army, fighting under General Washington many miles away. It had been a very bad year for the Revolutionary forces, but the tide was turning.  On June 18th, the British abandoned Philadelphia, ending an 8-month occupation. It is unknown whether news of this development had reached Wyoming by the beginning of July, as a combined force of nearly a thousand British regulars, Loyalists, and Indians, under Colonel John Butler, prepared to attack the settlers. We join the text of “Families of the Wyoming Valley…” as it quotes the very words of Martha Bennett Myers:

“In June, 1778, about two weeks before the battle, we had seven head of horses stray away. The boys going in pursuit of them asked me to go with them and pick cherries. We had not gone far into the woods before the boys saw some young hickories broken and twisted in a peculiar manner. One of them exclaimed, ‘Oh, the Indians! The Indians have taken away the horses.’  This turned out to be the fact. Upon our return we learned that the Indians had been at Peter Harris’s, above Scofield’s. Soon after the two Hardings were killed; and now we, with the settlers generally, moved into the fort. It was crowded full.”

On July 3 an Indian on horseback was seen at the mouth of Shoemaker’s creek, within sight of the fort. Upon finding that he was noticed he galloped off. Colonel John Butler now sent orders to the people in the fort to surrender, which were promptly refused.

Inside the fort were a few officers on furlough from the Revolutionary army, including another Colonel Butler (Zebulon), which confuses the narrative somewhat. The total number of militiamen present, which basically included all men not to old to walk, and all boys old enough to use a weapon, was around 400.

The question was now mooted whether they should go out and fight the enemy on the plains above, or keep within the fort until re-enforcements should arrive. Captain Spaulding was coming on with an efficient, well-trained company, and Captain Franklin was on his way from Huntington with a company of volunteers, and it was the opinion of Colonels [Zebulon] Butler and Denison that it was best to delay until the recruits should arrive. Captains Lazarus Stewart and William McKarrachan headed the party which were for marching out of the fort at once and meeting the foe.

A vigorous and heated discussion followed. When it was over,

In this case, as in many others, hot-headed and reckless men prevailed against sober counsels. The little army formed and set out in the line of march in high spirits, with fifes and drums playing and colors flying. Mr. Bennett was one of the “old men” who volunteered to defend the country. He, however, was so certain that the little army were about to be drawn into a snare and cut off, that he declared he would go with them no further than “Tuttle’s Creek,” the distance of one mile or a little more, and he carried out his purpose.

Thomas Bennett turned back, but his son Solomon continued on. Listening to the rifle shots from a distance, Thomas knew he had been right. The Indians waited in hiding while the militia marched past toward the British line, then  when they were beyond any possible retreat, sprang up and crushed them mercilessly.

The day after the battle (Ironically, July 4) , Solomon Bennett returned to his father’s cabin and told of his escape, then father and son, along with brother Andrew, fled at once to Stroudsberg, in the Delaware Valley. In the aftermath of the battle, the Indians collected their British bounty on 227 scalps.


“Massacre of Wyoming” by Alonzo Chapel, 1858

Returning to our selected narrative,

Something more than a week after the battle the houses throughout the settlement were fired. The smoke arose from all quarters at the same time. Soon after this the widows of Timothy Pierce and John Murphy (their maiden name was Gore) with Ellis and Hannah Pierce — maiden ladies—requested Mrs. Bennett to visit the battle-ground with them to see if they could identify the bodies of Pierce and Murphy. They found the bodies of the slain broiling in the hot sun, but so changed that they could not distinguish one from another. The husbands of the two young widows, and three brothers—Silas, Asa, and George Gore—lay upon the ensanguined field, but the heart-broken visitors had not even the poor satisfaction of identifying their remains.

Nineteenth-century accounts include a story, later discredited, of the natives descending on the fort after the battle, late at night, and murdering the remaining men and boys.

Leaving the Valley

After the massacre of July 1778, and subsequent harassment from the natives, nearly all of the surviving settlers fled the Wyoming valley. These of course included a large number of widows and fatherless children. Especially crowded with miserable refugees was the 100 miles of wilderness track leading to Stroudsburg, where Thomas Bennett and his sons had fled the day after the battle. Martha Bennett first traveled to Sunbury (PA) to secure some replacement clothes. While she was away, Mrs. Bennett and her youngest daughter took the opportunity to remove to Stroudsburg with one of the last parties to leave Wyoming. In Sunbury, according to “Families of the Wyoming Valley…

It was soon rumored [correctly] that the Indians and Tories had again visited Wyoming, and all the settlers had left. A company commenced making preparations to go across the mountains to Stroudsburg, and Miss Bennett accepted an invitation to go with them. All the means of conveyance they had was a small cart drawn by a yoke of steers. There were some small children in the company, who were allowed to ride when they were tired, but as for the rest they all walked. Their journey was of the distance of about one hundred miles through the wilderness, and crossing the high ridges which lie between the Susquehanna and the Delaware.

The Misses Bennett and Marshall with three other girls outstripped the rest of the company, and saw nothing of them during the day. They became hungry and turned aside and picked berries to satisfy the demands of nature. The path was exceedingly rough, and Miss Bennett’s shoes gave out in consequence of the constant contact with stubs and sharp stones, and her feet were so injured as to leave blood behind them. “But,” says she, ” we made ourselves as happy as possible, amusing ourselves with singing songs and telling stories.” They were constantly annoyed with fears of “the Indians,” knowing that those dreadful scourges of the country [sic] might chance to cross their path at any moment.

After several days, they arrived at Stroudsburg.

Miss Bennett there met her mother and sister, who had come over the mountains with Major Pierce and his family, but was greatly disappointed in not finding her father and brothers. Her brother Solomon had been to Middletown in pursuit of her, had returned that day, and set out immediately with Colonel Butler and Captain Spaulding for Wyoming. Mrs. Myers said, in relation to the events of that day: “One disappointment followed another in quick succession, and I seemed almost left without hope.”

Mrs. Bennett and her daughters did not remain long in Stroudsburg, but went to Goshen [NY], and early in the spring to Bethlehem [PA], where Mrs. Bennett’s brother, Samuel Jackson, resided, then to Litchfield, Nobletown, and Caanan, where they remained among their friends. In the fall Solomon Bennett came on with a horse to bring his mother and two sisters back to their loved and much desired Wyoming ; and finally Mr. Bennett’s family, after two years’ separation, were together again.

However, their troubles were far from over. In addition to the difficulty of re-starting their farming and home-building practically from scratch, the danger of Indian raids loomed as large as ever.

There were now about thirty families in the settlement. Mr. Bennett could procure no land to work under cover of the fort, and finally resolved to make an attempt to work his own land above Forty Fort. On March 27, 1780, he commenced plowing within the “Ox-bow,” a bend in the creek on the flats. His team consisted of a yoke of oxen and a horse. The boy Andrew rode upon the horse. When they came to the bend in the creek the horse seemed shy. Mr. Bennett said: “I fear all is not right. I think we will go around once more.”

When they came again to the same point four Indians sprang from the bushes, and one seized Mr. Bennett and another took Andrew from the horse. The Indians hurried off their prisoners, and soon came up with two more Indians, having Lebbeus Hammond as a prisoner. Mr. Bennett exclaimed, “Hammond, are you here?” With downcast look Hammond answered, “Yes.”

When Mr. Bennett left home he told his wife that if he did not return by sundown she might conclude some harm had befallen him. Soon after sundown Mrs. Bennett gave the information at the fort that her husband and son had not returned, and desired that a party might be sent out in search of them. Mr. Hammond’s wife was also alarmed on account of his failing to return as expected. Mrs. Bennett and her remaining children were now left in a state of most cruel suspense for the space of six or seven days.

…In the midst of the gloom and despondency of the families of Mr. Bennett and Mr. Hammond, and the general impression that the prisoners would never return, three emaciated, limping, reeling figures were seen directing their course toward the fort at Wilkcs-Barre. Who could they be ? As they came near it was discovered that they were ” the Bennetts and Hammond.”

Their appearance almost seemed like a resurrection from the dead. The mystery was soon explained; they had arisen upon their captors at Meshoppen and cut them to pieces, and had found their way back to the embraces of their families and friends. Their feet had been badly frozen, and the consequences were most painful. When the excitement of their flight was over they scarcely had a spark of life left. Good nursing soon restored their physical strength, and Mr. Hammond and Andrew Bennett were able to get about in a few weeks ; but Mr. Bennett’s feet were so dreadfully injured by the frost that several of his toes came off at the first joint, and he was obliged to walk with crutches for more than a year, during most of which time he suffered indescribably, and required much attention.

There follows a graphic 2-page blow-by-blow of how these two men and a boy rose up on six Iroquois braves as they slept, killing four of them with axes and rifle butts, and chasing the last two off, wounded.

For the next several years, the Bennett farm prospered. But more trouble was on the way, in the form of natural disaster, more imprisonment, and more outright warfare with the Pennamites.

The Bennets Return

Although the Revolutionary War dragged on until 1783, by 1779 the tide had turned for the Patriots, and General George Washington was now in the driver’s seat. In that year, Washington ordered the Sullivan Campaign against the Iroquois nations to “not merely overrun, but destroy,” the British-Indian alliance.

By the end of the War for Independence, Washington’s Continental Army, and more than 300,000 white settlers who inhabited Pennsylvania, had forced the Indians to move farther west into Ohio. Between 1770 and 1780 the Native American population in Pennsylvania declined from about 5,000 to only 1,000 (statistics from this site). So, the ratio of Whites to Indians had reached 300 to one, including cities like Philadelphia and Bethlehem. Pretty fast work, as ethnic cleansing goes. Let’s not get into just how the “savages” were “forced” to leave.

As a result, after the capture and escape of Thomas and Andrew Bennett, the danger from Indian attacks soon abated. As told in “Families of the Wyoming Valley…

In the spring of 1781 Mr. Bennett, his son Solomon, and old Mr. Stevens each built a small log house on the flats, near where Mr. Bennett’s home stood before the massacre. They raised fine crops, and had abundance until another calamity overtook them, which was the ice flood in the spring of 1784. Mr. Bennett’s house was taken down the stream some distance and lodged against some trees near the creek, and they lost seven head of young cattle. Mr. Bennett now hastily put up a temporary cabin, constructed of boards and blankets. Mrs. Myers said : “For seven weeks we lived all but out of doors, doing our cooking by a log before our miserable cabin. After this we occupied our new, double log house, and by slow degrees was improved so as to be comfortable.”

They had not quite recovered from this disaster of nature, when their old enemies, the Pennamites, returned in force. A Congressional court had determined in 1782 that the the disputed territory should come under the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania. Geographically, it was a logical decision, since other parts of Pennsylvania, and a large area of New York, separated the Wyoming valley from Connecticut’s western boundary.  The Yankee settlers for the most part accepted this jurisdictional decision, but held firm in their determination to stay on the land they had settled. Their right to do so was apparently not specifically addressed in the court’s order, nor in the Articles of Confederation then in force in the soon-to-be United States. Thus, in the summer of 1784,

Mr. Bennett had just removed his family into his new house, while it was without chimney or chinking, when the old troubles between the two classes of settlers were revived. Armstrong and Van Horn, under the authority of the legislative council of Pennsylvania, had come on with a company of armed men, took possession of the fort at Wilkes-Barre, and proceeded to drive the New England people from the country by force and arms. Many families were driven from their houses; among them the widows Shoemaker and Lee, near neighbors of Mr. Bennett.

As for the widows,

In vain did they plead that their husbands had been slain by the tories and Indians, and they were helpless and defenseless widows, and they could not leave their homes and take a long journey through the wilderness. Go they must, and they made the best of the necessity. They left a portion of their goods with Mrs. Bennett, and were taken to Wilkes-Barre, and thence with Lawrence Myers, Giles Slocum, and many others, were hurried on towards “the swamp.” At Capouse (Scranton) Myers and Slocum escaped; but the great mass of the persecuted people had no remedy but to submit to their fate.

While it does not say so, Thomas Bennett must also have been taken away at this time, as in the next paragraph, he escapes.

Mr. Miner says: “About five hundred men, women, and children, with scarce provisions to sustain life, plodded their weary way, mostly on foot, the roads being impassable for wagons ; mothers, carrying their infants, literally waded streams, the water reaching to their arm-pits, and at night slept on the naked earth, the heavens their canopy, with scarce clothes to cover them.” Mr. Bennett and Colonel Denison escaped and went up the river to Wyalusing.

As for Martha and her mother, they were not so easily dislodged.

Mrs. Bennett stuck by the “stuff.” She had never yet left the valley for the Pennamites, and she had made up her mind that she never would. She was not left, however, in the possession of her home without an effort to drive her away. Mrs. Myers says: “Van Horn and his posse came up, having pressed a Mr. Roberts with his team to carry off our goods. Van Horn ordered mother to clear out, but she finally replied that she was in her own house, and she would not leave it for him or anybody else. He ordered Andrew and me to put things upon the wagon, a service which we refused to render. Some of the men went out to the corn house, where there was a quantity of corn; but mother seized a hoe, and, presenting herself before the door, declared that she would knock the first man down who touched an ear of corn. They looked astonished and left her.”

With this remarkable anecdote from the lips of my fourth great-grandmother, the narrative turns from the Bennetts to other families of the valley. The Pennamite Wars continued at some level until 1787-88, when the U.S. constitution was ratified, and the U.S. army intervened to protect the newly established rights of the settlers. About this time, Martha Bennett married Philip Myers, and the rest, as they say, is (our family’s) history.

Thomas Bennet In-Depth

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Cousin Gail Myers sent me another hugely important source on fourth great-grandma Martha Bennet Myers and her father, Thomas.CoverCharles Myers, a retired physician and distant cousin, published this book in 1993. Charles is a descendant of Philip Myers’ daughter Harriet, who married her cousin Madison Myers – son of Philip’s brother Michael – thus perpetuating the Myers surname in this maternal line. The book is very thoroughly researched, citing dozens of sources, carefully placing Bennet’s life and the history of the Wyoming settlement into a broader historical context.

Note that in this piece, Thomas’ surname is spelled with one “t.” Apparently, Thomas himself changed the spelling. However, in keeping with common 19th-century practice, the earlier sources I have been quoting paid no attention to that detail.

The work puts a great deal of flesh on the bones of the more genealogically oriented “Families of the Wyoming Valley …” which was my most extensive resource up until now. If you were fascinated by the quotes I posted in the series on Philip Myers, and on Thomas and Martha Bennett,  I highly recommend this volume. It must be out of print, as copies (mainly used) are widely available but rather expensive online. However, it should be available at your local library, either in their own collection or by inter-library loan. Look for some brief quotes here in the near future.

I hope you have found interest in this story, even if the Myers’ and Bennetts do not happen to be your ancestors, as they are mine. Another compelling story from the Wyoming Valley is that of the “lost sister,” Frances Slocum.