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Matthias Hollenback in Chemung County, New York

in Chemung County, New York

Matthias Hollenback,
A Short Biography

matthias hollenbackExcerpt from The Wyoming Valley In 1892
By S. R. SMITH, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The Scranton Republican Print, 1892

MATTHIAS HOLLENBACK'S family emigrated from Edelfingen, Wurtemberg, Germany in 1717. He was born February 17, 1752, at or near Jonestown, in Lancaster (now Lebanon) County, Pennsylvania, and was the second son of John Hollenback believed to be a native of Virginia and Eleanor Jones, a lady of Welsh parentage. His education was limited to a few weeks tuition in a common school. He immigrated to Wyoming Valley about the latter part of the year 1769, with a party of young men from his native county, for the purpose of settling under the Connecticut laws; and at once embarked in trade in a small way.

On the l7th of October 1775, he was commissioned an Ensign in the 24th Regiment of Connecticut colonial Militia. On the 26th of August 1776, he was appointed by Congress to serve as an Ensign in Captain Durkee's Company of Wyoming minutemen, for local defense. The Wyoming companies were, not long afterward, drawn into co-operation with the main Revolutionary army; and Hollenback served eighteen months, being engaged in the battles at Millstone, Bound Brook, Mud Fort, Brandywine and Germantown. His daring conduct at Millstone was specially commended.

Early in June 1778, representations of imminent danger to their homes caused the resignation of the commissioned officers of the Wyoming companies, and their return to Wyoming with a portion of their men, Hollenback among the number. They came just in time to die. As the fatal day approached, scouts were sent up the Susquehanna to reconnoiter the approach of the enemy. At Exeter, fifteen miles above Wilkesbarre, Hollenback and one companion found the bodies of the two young Hardings, freshly murdered and scalped by the savages. These they placed in a canoe and brought down the river. The foe was now known to be near at hand, and the settlers were roused for self-defense. The greater part of the Wyoming minute-men being still in the main army, the defense devolved mainly upon the aged, the young and the undisciplined, poorly armed and equipped: yet they went forth with a constant mind, and the most of them sealed their devotion with their blood.

The story of the day of July 30, 1778, is well known. Ensign Hollenback fought upon the right wing; and says the historian Miner, "Fear was a stranger to his bosom. I have heard several say who recognized him in the battle that a braver soldier never marched out to meet an enemy." When the day was lost and the rout became general, he escaped to the river. Resting for an hour on the eastern bank, under cover of the forest and the darkness, he pressed on to Wilkesbarre, reaching home about one o'clock in the morning of July 4th. After some hurried consultation and preparations, by four o'clock he was in the saddle and on the way to Bear Creek, where he met Captain Spalding with his company, and urged him to press on to the relief of the fort at Wilkesbarre. That officer declining the risk, with a few men whom he induced to join him, Hollenback started on the return. On regaining the verge of the valley, however, he found that he was too late, the town and his own house being in flames and the fort already in possession of the savages. He now devoted his exertions to the relief of the fugitives, and supplying them with bread in their flight to the Delaware; in which his untiring energy evoked the gratitude of many sufferers. After tranquility was restored, he was of the party who returned to the valley and battlefield, and attended to the burial of the slain, whose bones now lie under the monument at Wyoming.

He now again embarked in trade; marrying one of the widows of the battle, by whom he had three daughters and a son, the late G. M. Hollenback. The house and store, which he then erected, and in which he laid the foundations of an ample fortune, is still (1874) shown on Main Street, in the city of Wilkesbarre. In the year 1791 [correct year was 1783], he established the first trading post at Newtown—now Elmira, New York—upon the occasion of Colonel Pickering's treaty with the Indians at that place. About six years before, or somewhat earlier, he established stores at Tioga Point (now Athens, Pennsylvania), Wysox and elsewhere.

All the goods for his numerous stores were brought in wagons from Philadelphia to Middletown, and then "pushed" up the Susquehanna in Durham boats; which, returning, brought down the various articles of barter, furs, produce, etc., received from the settlers and Indians in exchange for goods. As his ventures prospered, he extended his operations with wonderful vigor. At each of his trading posts he acquired land, and carried on also the cultivation of the soil. Clearly foreseeing the progress of the country, he invested his earnings in the purchase of farms and unseated lands, thus becoming ultimately one of the largest landholders in the valley of the Susquehanna. Upon hearing of peace with England, in 1782, he gathered and took to Niagara a drove of cattle, for the purpose of supplying the garrisons there. But so prompt were his movements, that he preceded by some weeks the official news of peace, and was held as a prisoner by the British garrison.

His life was often in imminent peril. A few years after the war, when the renowned chief Red Jacket passed through Wyoming on his way to Philadelphia, he paid Hollenback a friendly visit, accompanied by his braves; the host's surviving daughter, now in her eighty-seventh year, still remembers the visit and the courtesy of the noble savage.

In July 1788, Hollenback was present at the Treaty of Buffalo, between the Six Nations and the State of Massachusetts, represented by Oliver Phelps. At the same treaty were present also Colonel John Butler, the British leader at Wyoming, and Capt. Joseph Brant, the celebrated Mohawk leader. In 1787, Hollenback was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel by Benjamin Franklin, President of the Supreme Executive Council; two later commissions are dated 1792 and 1793. In 1787, he was also commissioned Justice of the Peace and of the Court of Common Pleas; and in 1791, upon the adoption of the new State Constitution, an Associate Judge, which position he filled with honor and respect throughout the remainder of his life, a period of thirty-eight years.

He died on the 18th of February 1829, aged seventy-seven years, leaving to his children a large estate and an honorable name. In person he was of the middle stature, with a compact and vigorous frame, capable of the extremes of exertion and exposure. His habits were simple and abstemious, and his dress plain, but worn with a careful regard for personal neatness.

Click to find where Matthias Hollenback is buried in the Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

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