Monday, December 27, 2010

Captain Phillips' Monument

Memorial to Captain Phillips' Rangers, Saxton
Too often, as we travel to and fro, we miss the memorials and markers that are hidden along the highways and byways of the state. Many of the markers have fallen into dispair and many more have been lost to history. Looking through a number of books written about the state in the 1960s and then comparing them to today's travel guides, many of the memorials that brought tourists into the area are long gone.

The memorial to Captain Phillips' Rangers is one of those memorials that has not fallen into disrepair. Something about the tragic history of this place calls people to this location. Since it was erected in 1926, countless visitors have stopped to pay tribute to the ten men who were killed here by Indians in 1780.

In the summer of 1780, one of the most infamous acts of violence on the Pennsylvania frontier occurred in the woods above present-day Saxton. The capture and torture of Captain William Phillip's Rangers was just one of many acts of violence that happened between the advancing American frontier and the natives of the region.

On July 15, 1780, Captain Phillips and his Rangers, under the direction of Colonel John Piper, who was in charge of Fort Bedford and the region around the fort, set out to search for a group of Indians who had been terrorizing the area. Captain William Phillips had lived near present-day Williamsburg and was charged by Colonel Piper to protect the settlements around Williamsburg from the hostiles.

Captain Phillips' Rangers entered the Woodcock Valley, searching the area around Morrison Cove for the hostile Indians that had been spotted. They found the area deserted; the homesteads had been abandoned in fear of attack. The day passed without incident and they took up shelter that night in the home that had been built by Frederick Hester. The peace they had known that day would soon come crashing down as darkness claimed the land.

As the sun peaked over the distant mountains, the group of Rangers were surprised to discover that the homestead was surrounded by a group of Indians. An eerie silence must have descended upon the land as both sides waited to see what actions the other would take. The group of sixty plus Indians fired upon them and the Rangers returned fire, killing two of the Indians instantly and wounding a number of them.

In the end, with his Rangers being greatly outnumbered and the house having been set aflame, Captain Phillips surrendered his men. The Indians captured Captain Phillips, his son, and the rest of the Rangers, tied their hands together and lead them away. They only went a short way when the Indians tied the men to trees and started torturing them; the ten Rangers were finally killed and Captain Phillips and his son were taken prisoner to Detroit.

On July 17, the remains of the Rangers were discovered tied to trees; they had been scalped and each of the Rangers had three to five arrows sticking out of their bodies. Their remains were freed and buried nearby. Captain Phillips and his son were later freed and returned to the area; William would regret his actions for years, blaming himself for the deaths of his fellow Rangers. He is buried in a small cemetery south of Williamsburg.

Growing up, I had heard about the memorial and knew all about the massacre with it being a part of the region's history. One hot, humid day I set out with Mike in search of the monument so I, too, could pay my respect to the victims of the massacre.

I had often thought that finding the memorial would be hard, but it was one of the easier ones I discovered while cruising the highways of our state. Located off of Route 26 near Saxton, signs point the way to the memorial. A short drive up a narrow lane had the monument soon into view. As we approached, the skies began to darken as if they too were mourning the loss of the Rangers so long ago.

The monument was erected where the Rangers had fallen. Approaching the monument one cannot help but feel the sorrow of long ago as it still lingers in the air. To the left of the monument is the stone placed long ago to mark the burial location of the fallen Rangers, while on the center pillar is a listing of the Rangers who perished in the massacre.

The listing on the monument of those killed here are as follows:
M. Davis
T. Gaitrell (Thomas)
D. Kelley (Daniel)
G. Morris
P. Saunders (Philip)
T. Saunders (Thomas)
A. Shelly
R. Shirley (Richard)
H. Skelly (Hugh)
P. Skelly (Philip)

We paid our respects as the skies opened and rain fell. In only silence and respect, we left the area to the lingering ghosts of the past.

The monument is not hard to find. It is along Route 26 near Saxton and is well marked; directly across Route 26 from the lane leading to the memorial is a Pennsylvania Historical Marker for the massacre. A short drive up a paved lane will bring you to the site. The house where the Rangers took shelter for the night was approximately one-half mile east of the memorial, which would place it near the junction of Route 26 and the lane leading to the memorial.


  1. In the last couple of weeks, I've received a number of emails about the final resting place of Captain William Phillips. Rather than sending out numerous emails, I'm going to address it here.

    The information I have involving his resting place comes from "The History of the Massacre of Captain William Phillips Rangers." This is the address given C. Hale Sipe (a Pennsylvania historian and author) at the rededication ceremony in May 1933. In his address he states: "Captain Phillips and his son were taken to Detroit. Likely the Indians thought that by sparing their lives, they would receive a larger reward from the British for the capture of an officer than for a mere scalp, which would indicate whether it was the scalp of an officer, or of a private. The Captain and his son returned home about the close of the Revolutionary War. The fate of his men preyed heavily on his mind for the rest of his life. This defender of the Pennsylvania Frontier is buried in a cemetery about two miles south of Williamsburg."

    I've found two other Captain Philips in history living at the same time. One was from Virginia and the other was living in Kentucky. Interestingly enough, the one in Kentucky was also in charge of a group of Rangers.

    While I cannot say with one hundred percent "this is what happened" at this point I need to rely upon the sources at hand, which puts his death and burial in Pennsylvania.

  2. Norman, Thanks for your interest in historical sites. I've just discovered that I am a descendent from William Phillips. Great article and picture. -Jim Welch

  3. I know this is an old post, but I feel obliged to tell you this in case someone else happens upon it.

    I am a descendent of Capt. Phillips and he did not die in Pennsylvania. He died in Green County (now Taylor) Kentucky. After the death of his son Elijah, he moved to Kentucky. My best records put his move in the late 1700s. He lived to be about 96 and owned land on Robinson Creek, Green Co., Ky. I have his son's (William Phillips Jr.) last will and testament. I have no doubt this is the same Captain Phillips that moved from Pennsylvania and fought with the rangers. Unfortunately, Green County did not keep records of deaths and burials at this time and the land he owned, so far as I can tell is now covered by water (the Green River Lake in Campbellsville, Ky), so I haven't had any luck tracking down a grave. I feel confident that I will continue to find pieces of evidence of his life as I search, though.