Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Catastrophe at Kittanning: Mystery of Fort Pomfret Castle

Pennsylvania Historical Marker
For Patterson's Fort

I really had no intention of writing about Patterson's Fort. While it's neighboring fort, Bigham's Fort was destroyed during an Indian raid, Patterson's Fort saw very little action (as far as I've ever been able to determine). It was fired upon on March 29, 1756 by a band of Indians and on that same day High Micheltree was captured a few miles south of here. Beyond these two incidents, I haven't found a whole lot of information about the fort.

So what caused me to stop early one morning along the side of Route 3002 (old Route 322) to read the history of the fort as remembered on an old Pennsylvania historical marker? Was it because I was in the area? (Well, yes that was a big reason) Was it because of it historical place in Pennsylvania's history? (Well, that had a little to do with it)

The true reason I stopped that morning was due to its part of a historical mystery.

Where in Pennsylvania was Fort Pomfret Castle? Yes, this was the name of the fort that was to be erected, but seemingly disappeared into the mists of history as fast as it was thought appeared.

In 1751, James Patterson appeared in the Juniata Valley, settling in the area of present day Mexico. James built a log house, known as Patterson's Fort and was a place of refuge. James proceeded to set up a distant target and would show off to any Indian who visited. Word got around that he was an excellent shot and most Indians seemed to avoid him.

But James had more to worry about. When the Penn Family came demanding money for the land he settled on, saying that he settled on it illegally. James refused to pay for the land, claiming that the Penn Family had stolen it from the Indians and he saw nothing wrong with what he was doing. Despite being threatened jail time, he maintained his stance. After serving in the Provincial Army, his account seemed to be settled and he was allowed to return and reclaim the land he had built upon.

In Decemeber of 1755 as a line of defense on the Pennsylvania frontier, Governor Morris gave orders to George Croghan to erect a series of forts. Croghan presented a list and map of forts he recommended. Governor Morris approved them all except one: the fort at Patterson's. Instead, he marked a place along Mahantango roughly twelve miles from the Susquehanna and fifteen miles from Fort Granville. This fort would be named in honor of Lady Juliana Penn, daughter of the Earl of Pomfret and the wife of William Penn.

The exact reason for the change in Croghan's plans is not known. The best guess anyone has made was to help link the planned fort at Shamokin with Fort Granville. Governor Morris was insistent that this was the location where the fort was to be located. His early letters proudly mention the fort and the fact it was on the Mahantango, midway between the Juniata and Susquehanna.

And then the tone of Governor Morris changes and Fort Pomfret Castle is dropped out of the listing of forts. As far as anyone is aware, the fort was never built along the Mahantango, though local legend states a fort was indeed built there. If a fort was built there, then it was more than likely a private block house or reinforced house.

Another view of the marker

So why was the fort never built? Captain William Patterson had everything to do with Fort Pomfret Castle never being erected. Captain Patterson was the son of Captain James Patterson and William had his father's attitude. He already had a stockade erected at his home along the Juniata River - yes, William Patterson also built a fort around his home that was also referred to as Patterson's Fort. The supplies and soldiers he was sent that were to be used to erect Fort Pomfret Castle remained at his fort on the Juniata. Captain Patterson even went as far as calling his fort Fort Pomfret Castle.

Governor Morris remained insistent that the fort on the Mahantango being erected, but by summer of 1756, everyone he gave the order to ignored it. The fort was never going to be built.

After Governor Morris as replaced by Governor William Denny, Colonel Armstrong erected a fort near McDowell's Mills. In his letter to the governor, Armstrong suggested the new fort being called Fort Pomfret Castle. Governor was not amused - he named it Fort Loudoun.

The mystery of Fort Pomfret Castle continued into the early 1900s. Even Henry Shoemaker steps in with his history of the fort. The story of a ghostly white lady who haunts the area of Fort Pomfret Castle. In the story he shares in South Mountain Sketches, he places the fort a few miles north of Liverpool. Shoemaker's Fort Pomfret Castle is located along the Susquehanna River, far away from Governor Morris's desired location and even farther away from the Juniata Valley.

The "fort" as Shoemaker describes it is a large reinforced house. While it was never used as a fort, the family who lived at Fort Pomfret Castle used the building as a hotel that was the center of many parties and social gatherings. It was here that the wealthy would gather to dine and dance.

It was during one of these gatherings that a young lady, who was recently dumped by her boyfriend for another, committed suicide by drinking poison. Her ghost supposedly roamed the old hotel until it had finally was abandoned - after all, who would want to live in the haunted house?

According to Shoemaker, late at night (and for some reason on Thursdays - he doesn't say why, but I imagine his reasoning is maybe this would have been the day of the week she died) her cries can still be heard in the area of the old fort.

I found no ghosts as I stood in the shadow of the blue historical marker that morning. Nor did I find any answers to the location of Fort Pomfret Castle.

As this article was being readied for posting, I received an article about the location of Fort Pomfret Castle in Snyder County, along with an old picture of it. It appears to be an old, privately built blockhouse. At this time I am going to stand with the "official history" as found in the Pennsylvania Archives and the histories I have - Fort Pomfret Castle was never "officially" erected, but that doesn't mean a private fort took the suggested name. Research into this mystery will continue....

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