While the American armies were battling for freedom with the English forces in the Eastern States during the Revolutionary struggle, the pioneers on the western borders of Pennsylvania and Virginia were engaged in a fierce and bloody warfare with the hostile Indians, who were instigated in their depredations by British emissaries. England's success with the Indians was so marked that Congress determined to strike an effective blow against the allies.
Early in the spring of 1778, preparations were commenced to take the British post at Detroit; 3,000 troops were to be raised for this purpose; 1,500 men were to assemble at Fort Pitt and descend the Ohio at Fort Randolph at the junction of the Big Kenawha River with the Ohio, and there meet 1,500 Virginian troops who were to descend the Big Kenawha. From Fort Randolph the united forces were to strike the Indian towns and capture Detroit. The latter detachment was never levied, probably on account of the urgent need of troops in the East. Gen. Lachlan Mcintosh was placed in command of the expedition, and with 500 men he crossed the mountains and reached Fort Pitt' in the spring of 1778. Thence he advanced twenty-eight miles below Pittsburgh and erected Fort Mcintosh near the mouth of Big Beaver. The summer was spent in this work, in opening roads, etc., and at a council with the Delaware*, held at Pittsburgh, consent was obtained to march through their country. On the 4th of November, the General received intelligence that the savages would oppose his progress to Detroit at Sugar Creek, a few miles below Tuscarawas. The design on Detroit had been relinquished by this time, and an attack upon the Wyandots and other Indians at Sandusky contemplated Gen. Mcintosh, early in November, 1778, set out upon the march from Fort Mcintosh with 1,000 men. At the end of two weeks, he reached the Tuscarawas, a distance of seventy miles, and was there met only by some friendly Goschachgunk Delawares and Moravian Indians, who informed him that the Chippewas and Ottawas had refused to join the other Indians, and the threatened opposition of the leagued Indians at this point had been abandoned. Soon after a letter reached Gen. Mcintosh from Col. Campbell, who had been left in command of Fort Mcintosh, with the information that the supplies confidently expected had not yet arrived, and that there was little to expect that winter. Further penetration into the Indian country was thus rendered impossible, and in preference to returning to the Ohio without having accomplished anything,. Gen. Mcintosh built Fort Laurens on the Tuscarawas (named in honor of the then President of Congress, Henry Laurens), about a mile south of the present village of Bolivar, and after its completion left a garrison of 150 men under Col. John Gibson, to hold it until the next season, and serve to check Indian expeditions to the frontier, and with the main body of the troops he returned to Fort Mcintosh. The garrison was as great as the almost exhausted supplies of the army would permit.
The Indians soon became aware of the existence of Fort Laurens, and invested it, though for a time unseen and unknown to the soldiers. Their first hostile demonstration "was executed with cunning and success," says Col. Stone in his life of Brant. "The horses of the garrison were allowed to forage for themselves upon herbage among the prairie grass in the immediate vicinity of the fort, wearing bells, that they might be the more easily found if straying too far. It happened one morning in January that the horses had all disappeared, but the bells were heard at no great distance. They had been stolen by the Indians and conveyed away. The bells, however, had been taken off and jingled as a decoy, the Indians forming an ambuscade in the tall prairie grass. Sixteen men were sent in pursuit of the horses, and fourteen were killed and two taken prisoners; of these latter, one returned at the end of the war, the other was never heard of." Gen. Benjamin Biggs, a Captain in the fort, being Officer of the Day, had requested leave to go out with the fatigue party which fell into the ambuscade, but fortunately Col. Gibson refused the permission, his duties requiring his presence in the fort.
Rev. Philip Doddridge, in his "Notes," gives perhaps the most satisfactory of several accounts of the siege of Fort Laurens, and, after relating the above surprise and slaughter, continues:
"In the evening of the day of the ambuscade, the whole Indian army, in full war dress and paint, marched in single file through a prairie in view of the fort. Their number as counted from one of the bastions was 847.* They then took up their encampment on an elevated piece of ground at a small distance from the fort, on the opposite side of the river. From this camp they frequently held conversations with the people of our garrison. In these conversations they seemed to deplore the long continuance of the war and hoped for peace, but were much exasperated at the Americans for attempting to penetrate so far into their country. This great body of Indians continued the investment of the fort as long as they could obtain subsistence, which was about six weeks.
"An old Indian of the name of John Thompson, who was with the American army in the fort, frequently went out among the Indians during their stay at their encampment, with the mutual consent of both parties. A short time
* Col. Morgan, Indian agent in 1779, was told by Delaware chiefs that the Indian army investing Fort Laurens in January, 1779, numbered but ISO, composed of Wyandots, Shawnees, Mingoes and Munceys, and four (scalawag) Delawares, with John Montour and his brother. De Schweinitz says In his "Life of Zeisburger" that in the beginning of 1779 an army of several hundred Shawnees, Wyandots and Mingoes passed through Lichtenaw on their way to besiege Fort Laurens.
before the Indians left the place, they sent word to Col. Gibson by the Indian that they -were desirous of peace, and if he would sond them a barrel of flour they would send in their proposals the next day, but, although the Colonel complied with their request, they marched off without fulfilling their engagement.
'"The commander, supposing the whole number of Indians had gone off, gave permission to Col. Clark, of the Pennsylvania line, to escort the invalids, to the number of eleven or twelve, to Fort Mcintosh. The whole number of this detachment was fifteen. The wary Indians had left a party behind for the purpose of doing mischief. These attacked this party of invalids and their escort about three miles from the fort, and killed the whole of them, with the exception of four, among whom was the Captain, who ran back to the fort. On the same day, a detachment went out from the fort, brought in the dead and buried them with the honors of war in front of the fort gate.
"In three or four days after this disaster, a relief of 700 men, under Gen. Mcintosh, arrived at the fort with a supply of provisions, a great part of which was lost by an untoward accident. When the relief Jiad reached within a hundred yards of the fort, the garrison gave them a salute of a general discharge of musketry, at the report of which the pack-horses took fright, broke loose, and scattered the provisions in every direction through the woods, so that the greater part of it could never be recovered.
"Among other transactions which took place about this time was that of gathering up the remains of the fourteen men who had fallen in the ambuscade during the winter, for interment, and which could not be done during the investment of the place by the Indians. They were found mostly devoured by the wolves. The fatigue party dug a pit large enough to contain the remains of all of them, and, after depositing them in the pit, merely covering them with a little earth, with a view to have revenge on the wolves for devouring their companions, they covered the pit with slender sticks, rotten wood and bits of bark, not of sufficient strength to bear the weight of a wolf. On the top of this covering they placed a piece of meat as a bait for the wolves. The next morning seven of them were found in the pit; they were shot, and the pit filled up.
"For about two weeks before the relief arrived, the garrison had been put on the short allowance of half a pound of sour flour and an equal weight of offensive meat for every two days. The greater part of the last week they had nothing to subsist on but such roots as they could find in the woods and prairies, and raw hides. Two men lost their lives by eating wild parsnip roots by mistake. Four more nearly shared the same fate, but were saved by medical aid.
"On the evening of the arrival of the relief, two days' rations were issued to each man in the fort. These rations were intended as their allowance during their march to Fort Mcintosh, but many of the men, supposing them to have been back rations, ate up the whole of their allowance before the next morning. In consequence of this imprudence in eating immoderately, after such extreme starvation from the want of provisions, about forty of the men became faint and sick during the first day's march. On the second day, however, the sufferers were met by a great number of their friends from the settlements to which they belonged, by whom they were amply supplied with provisions."
Another account of the first ambuscade, quoted by Dr. S. P. Hildreth in Silliman's journal, is as follows: "During the cold weather, while the Indians were lying about the fort, although none had been seen for a few days, a party of seventeen men went out for the purpose of carrying in fire-*wood, which the army had cut before they left the place, about forty or fifty rods from the fort. Near the bank of the river was an ancient mound, behind which lay a quantity of wood. A party had been out for several preceding mornings and brought in wood, supposing the Indians would not be watching the fort in such cold weather. But on that fatal morning the Indians had concealed themselves behind the monnd, and as the soldiers passed round on one side of the mound a party of the Indians came round on the other, and inclosed the wood party so that not one escaped."
Maj. Frederick Varnum succeeded Col. Gibson in command of Fort Laurens, and so remained until the abandonment of the works. Gen. McIntosh was succeeded by Col. Gibson, and he in turn by Col. Brodhead. The supplies left at Fort Laurens did not last long, and the garrison under Maj. Varnum soon experienced the pangs of hunger. Col. Brodhead wrote to Gen. George Morgan, May 22, 1779, that he "had got a small supply of salt meat at Carlisle, and sent it to Fort Laurens, otherwise the fort would have had to be abandoned at once." May 30, following,he wrote '' that Moses Killbuck had just come in from Fort Laurens and told him that the garrison was without food, and the men so low from starvation that many could not keep their feet."
In June, 1779, the fort was threatened by about 190 Indians and a few British soldiers, said to be under the leadership of Simon Girty, but the enemy, happily, moved off toward the Ohio without making the attack. Col. Brodhead wrote under date of August 4, 1779, that he had just learned of two soldiers being killed at Fort Laurena Heckewelder's narrative makes mention of the following loss of a soldier: "A Mr. Sample, Commissary at Fort Laurens, went with a detachment of men to Goshocking [Coshocton] for the purpose of purchasing from the friendly Delawares, their grain and other articles. He pitched his tent opposite the village, leaving one of his men to take care of the camp and horses, and had scarcely crossed he river, which lay between his camp and the town, when the soldier left in charge was killed and scalped by some hostile Delawares, who fled with the horses. The next morning another soldier, returning from the Moravian village of Lichtenau, was fired at from a corn-field adjoining the path, had his arm broken and was pursued almost to the town before he could be relieved." "In the summer of 1779,'' says Taylor's History of Ohio, "Fort Laurens was threatened with another siege by forty Shawnees, twenty Mingoes and twenty Delawares, but by the interference of the friendly Delaware chiefs, they were persuaded to abandon the siege without firing a gun. It is worthy of notice that while there were only four Delawares (as distinguished from Munceys) at the attack in January, twenty were present on the last occasion, thus indicating that the influence of Capt. Pipe and the war party of the tribe was on the increase."
Harassed and besieged by Indians, and having few supplies and no means of obtaining more, the garrison was kept in constant straits. The further retention of the fort was inexpedient, if not impossible. It was situated in the midst of the enemy's country, seventy miles distant from the nearest post. The extreme western division of the American army at Fort Pitt had not the "sinews of war" to prosecute a vigorous campaign, or supply the outposts with a sufficient quantity of provisions. The remnant of the garrison left Fort Laurens early in August, 1779, and made its way as rapidly as possible to Fort Pitt, first destroying all unnecessary baggage. The fort was left intact, but was never afterward occupied as a fort. It was seen in 1782 by a young man named Carpenter, in making his escape from the Indians up the Tuscarawas Valley. He had been captured in Washington County, Penn., and taken to one of the Indian camps on the Muskingum.
The fort was located one mile south of Bolivar, on the east bank of the Tuscarawas River, on an alluvial plain elevated about twenty feet above the water of the Tuscarawas. Charles Whittlesey surveyed the fort grounds in January, 1850, and in a letter to Mr. C. H. Mitohener, said: "When I made the accompanying plan of Fort Laurens in January, 1850, that part of the parapet in the cultivated ground was nearly obliterated, but the outline was traceable. The two eastern bastions were very much destroyed by the construction of the Ohio Canal, but the southern curtain, and most of the southwestern bastion, was then quite perfect along the edge of the woods. Here the base of the parapet was seven feet broad, its height four and a half feet, and the depth of the ditch two and one-half feet, with a breadth of eight feet. It was a regularly laid out work, though small, and was probably picketed along the inner edge of the ditch, connecting the earthwork and stockade." It covered about half an acre, and the parapet walls were covered with pickets made of the split halves of the largest trunks of trees. Portions of the earthwork can yet be pointed out.
The site of the ancient Indian town, Tuscarawas, was in close proximity to Fort Laurens, and it was here that Col. Bouquet, in 1764, built a stockade tort. The Indian town had been abandoned shortly before, and Col. Bouquet found more than one hundred lodges or houses still standing.
|Title||The history of Tuscarawas County, Ohio: containing a history of the county; its townships, towns, churches, schools, etc; general and local statistics; military record; portraits of early settlers and prominent men; history of the Northwest Territory; history of Ohio; miscellaneous matters, etc ...|
|Authors||John Brainard Mansfield, Warner, Beers & Co., Chicago, pub|
|Publisher||Warner, Beers, 1884|
|Original from||Harvard University|
|Digitized||Oct 8, 2008|
Note: Joe Rinehart edited a few names whee misspelled due too scanning.