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Volume 1: The First Three Generations of Aaron Stark's Descendants in New England
Chapter 13: Christopher Stark Family In Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania
  Part 4: The Third Generation; Children of William Stark (Senior)

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Chapter 13

Christopher Stark Family In Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania

Author's Comment:  Much of this history of the Wyoming Valley Massacre uses excerpts from, "History: Local Part III - Luzerne County, PA; Lackawanna County, PA; Wyoming County, PA." The Stark Family participation in the Wyoming Valley settlement and subsequent massacre comes from, "The Aaron Stark Family, Seven Generations", by Charles R. Stark, published in 1927 and the Helen Stark Article in the Stark Family Association Newsletter, 1927, entitled, "Christopher Stark's Migration to New York and Pennsylvania."

 

On November 5, 1768, the British government signed the Fort Stanwich Treaty, which established a diagonal line across Pennsylvania and opened up territory east of the line for settlement which included the Wyoming Valley. On the same day, the representatives of the "Six Indian Nations" deeded all of the land in the province to Thomas and Richard Penn. Pennsylvania interpreted this to mean all of the land including the Wyoming Valley. The Connecticut Susquehanna Company was determined to occupy the region and sent forty men to the area. They arrived February 6, 1769 and were promptly arrested for trespass by Sheriff Jenning of Northampton County, Pennsylvania and Captain Amos Ogden who had established a trading post at Mill Creek. They were placed in the Easton jail, but some escaped while the rest were released on bail.

 

 

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 In June of 1769, Thomas Walsworth, brother-in-law of Christopher Stark, Sr., was among two hundred and sixty men to arrive with Major John Durkee. They erected Fort Durkee on the eastern bank of the Susquehanna and named their town Wilkes-Barre. A Pennsylvania force led by Colonel Turbutt Francis invaded the Wyoming Valley in July with considerable fanfare demanding the surrender of Fort Durkee. The Yankees declined the Colonel's courteous offer and the good Colonel returned to Pennsylvania with silent drums and trailing banners. By September 12, 1769, Christopher, Jr., Aaron, James, and William had arrived at the Fort. In November, Sheriff Jennings and Captain Ogden, with a large force of Pennsylvanians, captured Major Durkee and drove the Connecticut Yankees from the valley and destroyed the settlement.

Members of the Stark family regrouped in Dutchess County to plan their next move. Captain Zebulon Butler assumed command of the Yankees in January of 1770 and recruited Lazarus Steward and the Paxtang Rangers to the Yankee cause. He compensated the Rangers with the grant of Hanover Township. The Paxtang Rangers had been outlawed by Pennsylvania and with prices on their heads had openly defied Pennsylvania authority for years. The Rangers arrived in the Valley in February of 1770 and drove the Pennamites from the Valley. Christopher Stark, Jr. and his brother Aaron returned to the Valley again in June of 1770 to again take possession of the families shares of land.

Captain Ogden regained temporary possession of his trading post but was forced to surrender in April. Construction then began on the celebrated Forty Fort in Kingston Township west of the Susquehanna. Captain Ogden returned in the fall with a large force and captured Fort Durkee. At this change of fortunes in the settlement, Christopher Stark, Jr. returned to Dutchess County to the Beekman Patent and made no further attempts to settle in the Wyoming Valley. The Yankees recaptured Fort Durkee in January of 1771 and the Pennamites then erected Fort Wyoming nearby. The Yankees then laid siege to Fort Wyoming in July and the First Yankee-Pennamite War ended on August 20, 1771, with the capitulation of Fort Wyoming.

In September of 1771, James Stark wrote from Pawling Precinct (Pawling was set-off from Beekman's Precinct in 1768) to Captain Zebulon Butler, commanding the Yankee forces in the Valley, "I have hired the bearer thereof, Timothy Pearce, to go on the same right for two months. At the end of two months, I will come and take possession of it myself." On October 23, Aaron Stark arrived to claim his share and October 31, James Stark arrived to claim his share. Early in 1772, James returned to Dutchess County to collect his family, brother Daniel, father Christopher, Sr. and mother Joanna. They returned to the Valley in early spring of 1772. Pawling Precinct deed records show William Stark sold 200 acres (Half share in the Susquehanna Company) to his father-in-law, Henry Carey, May 20, 1773. By the end of 1772, the families of Aaron Stark and James Stark had taken up residence in the Wyoming Valley along with their brother Daniel, father Christopher Stark, Sr. and mother Joanna Walworth.  In June of 1773, William Stark and his family along with his in-laws had moved to the Valley.

After fifteen years of blood letting, destruction and rebuilding of settlements, Indian massacres, and exodus and return, the Yankees of Connecticut were finally in control of the region. They now turned their attention to clearing the land and building small farms, building new forts and strengthening old ones and beginning to create communities and fit places for people to live. Little by little, the settlers began to venture further from the stockades believing the questions between them and Pennsylvania had been permanently resolved.

From 1772 to 1774 the settlers lived in relative peace, not being a part of Connecticut or Pennsylvania. The Connecticut authorities, not supporting the Susquehanna Company settlers during the final three years of conflict between the Yankees and Pennamites, now seemed to conclude the people had proved their ability to hold the Wyoming Valley and backed them in their ownership of land in the valley. Connecticut passed an act in January, 1774, which created the town of Westmoreland, which extended from the 41st degree of North Latitude to the New York line and from the Delaware River to fifteen miles west of the Susquehanna River which was then annexed to Litchfield County, Connecticut. Within this town, the districts of Wilkes-Barre, Hanover, Plymouth, Kingston, Pittston, North, Lackaway, and East were created. In 1774, the total inhabitants of Westmoreland were counted at 1,922 men, women, and children and considered large enough to become a separate county. It subsequently became the county of Westmoreland, Connecticut defined as embracing 60 x 120 miles.

The four years of peace was broken, in December 1775, when Colonel Plunkett invaded Westmoreland with six hundred Pennsylvania militia. Colonel Zebulon Butler posted his regiment behind a natural rampart of rocks above Nanticoke Falls on the west side of the river. The Paxtang Rangers, granted Hanover for their help during the earlier hostilities, occupied the east side and protected the Yankee flank. Plunkett advanced on the morning of December 25 and thus began the Battle of Rampart Rocks. The battle raged all Christmas day. The Pennamites suffered severe casualties and broke and fled shortly before dark. Yankee losses were slight. But, by now the Revolutionary War had begun and several actions had already occurred by December of 1775. The battle of Lexington had taken place in August and Bunker Hill was fought in June. Yet, here we find Connecticut and Pennsylvania renewing hostilities over the Wyoming Valley. Soon after this , these differences were put aside for the good of the colonies, but would resume again after the war.

 

 

 

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For those researching the Christopher Stark, Sr. family, the creation of Westmoreland County is important in understanding the organization of Connecticut participants in the Revolutionary War. While the Wyoming Valley is today within the bounds of the State of Pennsylvania, fighting men living in this area before the Revolutionary War were considered members of the Connecticut militia. Therefore, many members of Christopher, Sr.'s family will show on the rolls of the Connecticut Militia, not the Pennsylvania Militia.

The settlements were becoming alarmed, for they had received word the British, under Col. John Butler (his command was mostly Canadians and Indians) was at Oswego, and now the people of the valley were convinced the savages were in alliance with the British. On August 23, 1776, the United States Congress, at the urgent request of Col. Zebulon Butler, resolved to station two companies at Westmoreland for the defense of the inhabitants. Robert Durkee and Samuel Ransom were elected Captains of these companies and given the authority to recruit soldiers from Westmoreland County. James Stark joined Captain Samuel Ransom's company September 17, 1776. Their purpose was to defend Westmoreland County from Indian attacks and the British.

However, as history tells us, Washington was retreating after the British General Howe captured New York. His 3,000 men were forced to keep moving through New Jersey and crossed the Delaware River December 8th causing Congress to immediately take measures to move from Philadelphia to Baltimore. Before moving however, the Congress "resolved" on December 12, that the two companies raised in the town of Westmoreland, be ordered to join George Washington, with all possible expedition. Ransom and Durkee promptly obeyed and were with Washington by the end of 1776, leaving Westmoreland defenseless. These companies were placed under the command of General Dickinson and first saw battle January 27, 1777, at the battle of Millstone. July 20, 1777, James Stark died in camp from a small pox epidemic which struck the command. His body was returned to Westmoreland and he was buried at the Upper Wilkes-Barre Township in the old burying ground. 

In 1777, Christopher Stark, Sr. died of natural causes. His will dated 1777, provides for his son, James to receive his homestead with the proviso that he should take care not only of his mother, but of his grandmother, also. James had an oldest son named James, Jr. born December 12, 1760. Could this be the James named in the will and he is to provide for his mother, Elizabeth Carey, and grandmother, Joanna Walworth? It is related by Carey descendants that James, Jr.'s grandmother Carey was deceased several years prior to 1777. Because Jame, Sr. and Christopher, Sr. died so close in time, this is perhaps the James mentioned in the will.

Signs of an invasion from the North into the Valley became apparent and Congress, on March 17, 1778, authorized Westmoreland County, Connecticut to raise a company for the defense of the town. Aaron Stark, his son Aaron, Jr., William, and Daniel, were recruited and joined this company . By May, the settlements were frantic and appealed to Congress to return their men to the defense of the valley, but the authorities continued to hold these men to support General Washington.

Col. Zebulon Butler assumed command of the Westmoreland defenders at Forty Fort June 29, after British Col. John Butler invaded the Valley on that day. The British troops, consisting of about 250 of Butlers Rangers and an equal number of Indians quickly captured Fort Jenkins and then Fort Wintermoot. Under the command of Col. Zebulon Butler at Forty Fort were 230 enrolled men, seventy old people, boys, civil magistrates, and other volunteers, the bulk of able bodied fighting men having been sent to reinforce General Washington. Among the defenders at Forty Fort were Aaron Stark, son of Christopher Stark, Sr., his son of the same name, Daniel Stark, the youngest son of Christopher, Sr., and James Stark, Jr. oldest son of James Stark, Sr. and Elizabeth Carey.

Early on the morning of July 3, Col. John Butler sent messengers to Forty Fort demanding a surrender. Col. Zebulon Butler immediately called a council of war and asked if he should parley with the enemy for delay until reinforcements should arrive. Many believed they could execute a surprise attack on the British troops who had bivouacked at Fort Wintermoot. The latter strategy prevailed. This would prove to be a fatal error in judgment.

The forces of Brant and Col. John Butler were at Wintermoot's Fort, opposite Pittston. The little band, on the afternoon of July 3rd, numbering about 350 of the sturdiest remaining settlers, under the command of Colonel Zebulon Butler, left the fort amid the prayers of dear and devoted kindred. Old men, whose hands were tremulous and unsteady; young ones, unskilled in years--marched side by side to the place of conflict. Among the 350 were Aaron Stark, Sr. his son Aaron Stark, Jr. and Daniel Stark. So great the emergency at this time, so much to be won or lost by the coming battle, that none remained in the fort save women and children.

Moving rapidly up the west bank of the river, the Yankee Colonel Z. Butler cautiously led his forces within half a mile of Wintermoot's. Here he halted a few minutes, and sent forward two volunteers to reconnoiter the position and strength of the enemy. They were promptly fired upon by the British for their Indian Scouts had already apprised them of the Yankees departure from Forty Fort. The British Colonel J. Butler promptly formed his forces into line of battle; the Provincials and Tories being placed in front toward the river, while to his right was concealed a large number of Indians.

About four in the afternoon the battle began; Col. Z. Butler ordered his men to fire, and at each discharge to advance a step. As the Yankees advanced, pouring in their platoon fires with great vivacity, the British line gave way. At this time, the Indians engaged the Connecticut Troops from their left flank. For half an hour the battle raged with each side giving and taking fire from the other. However, it became apparent the Connecticut force was vastly out numbered. Orders were given by the Connecticut forces for one Company to wheel back, so as to form an angle with the main line, and thus present their front instead of flank to the Indians on their left. On the attempt the savages rushed in with horrid yells. Utter confusion now prevailed on the left. Seeing the disorder, and his own men beginning to give way, Col. Z. Butler threw himself between the fires of the opposing ranks and rode up and down the line in the most reckless exposure. "Don't leave me, my children, and the victory is ours." But it was too late. 

 

 

 

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When it was seen that defeat had come, the confusion became general. Some fought bravely in the hopeless conflict, others fled in wild disorder down the valley toward Forty Fort or Wilkes-Barre without their guns, pursued by Indians whose belts were soon reeking with warm scalps. Another group of Indians moved in behind the fleeing forces, cutting off their retreat to Forty Fort. All was lost and the fleeing Connecticut men were forced to run for the river, in hopes of reaching Wilkes-Barre Fort on the other side.

A group of men including Aaron, Sr., Aaron, Jr. and Daniel, ran for their lives and hid in driftwood along the banks of the river. The Indians searched and towards night fall, found Aaron, Sr. and Daniel. They were tomahawked and scalped before the eyes of Aaron, Jr. who remained concealed and was not detected by the Indians. Aaron, Jr. then fled to the home of his grandfather, Christopher Stark, Sr. before eventually escaping the battle and making it back to Dutchess County.

Aaron, Sr.'s wife had taken refuge at Forty Fort. After the Fort was taken by the British, she along with some other women and children were allowed to leave unmolested and they made their way back to Dutchess County, she with five of her children. On the night of July 3rd, William Stark and his family made their way to Wilkes-Barre Fort from which they along with others, started for the Delaware River and finally back to Dutchess County.

James Stark's widow, Elizabeth Carey, on hearing about the massacre, took her small children with her into the corn fields and hid. After the Indians had passed she made her way back to her home to find all of the buildings destroyed. She gathered what belongings she could find and made her way on foot to Dutchess County. When she arrived at her sister's home, she was a picture of misery and destitution. She never rallied from the death of her husband a year earlier and then the massacre which destroyed her home. She passed away August 12, 1778, probably her spirit broken, another belated victim of the massacre. Elizabeth Carey's oldest son James was serving in Captain Simon Spalding's Company and received a musket ball in one of his legs and was one of the last to leave the Valley, eventually arriving safely in Dutchess County.

The massacre had finally dislodged the Christopher Stark, Sr. family from the Wyoming Valley. After so many attempts to settle, the painful memories and horrors of that day were too much for this family to attempt to return to the Valley. Only William and his family would return for awhile, but then leave by 1790 and return to Orange County, New York. Most surviving members of the family would settle in or near Dutchess County until the end of the Revolutionary War.

Print depicting the Wyoming Valley Massacre was painted in 1857 by Alonzo Chappell.

 

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Other than that work created by other acknowledged contributors or sources, the articles and genealogical data presented in this publication were derived from the research of Clovis LaFleur; Copyright 2007. All rights are reserved. The use of any material on these pages by others will be discouraged if the named contributors, sources, or Clovis LaFleur have not been acknowledged.

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This publication and the data presented is the work of Clovis LaFleur. However, some of the content presented has been derived from the research and publicly available information of others and may not have been verified. You are responsible for the validation of all data and sources reported and should not presume the material presented is correct or complete.

 

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