Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Penn's Creek Massacre: Part One

Monument for the le Roy Massacre
Along Ridge Road, south of Mifflinburg
I completely missed the monument. To be honest, I drove right past it.

Even though I was driving slowly along Ridge Road searching for the memorial, I had passed it before my father called out that I had just driven by it. The monument was only feet off of the road but was hidden under the two dead shrubs that bordered each side and behind a wall of tall grass and weeds.

Backing up, I found parking in front of a barn on the opposite side of the monument and stepped out. The farmer who was working in the field behind the monument waved as I crossed the road and started clearing away the weeds. The words on the plaque told me I had found the correct stone – this was the memorial for the Penn’s Creek Massacre.

It is hard to imagine that these peaceful, rolling hills between Mifflinburg and New Berlin once ran red with the blood of those who settled on the Pennsylvania frontier. The fields of corn and other crops hide any signs of the violence that once happened here.

This monument not only remembers the le Roy Family who were tragically killed at this location, but it also marks the changing point in Pennsylvania's relationship with the Delaware Indians who had lived among the settlers in peace. The treaty that the Delaware Indians had signed with William Penn had been broken and nothing would be the same between them and the Pennsylvania government again.

The Delaware Indians felt betrayed by the Six Nations who, one year earlier, sold the Susquehanna and Juniata Valley lands that had been their traditional homelands for centuries as a part of the Albany Purchase. The Provincial Government had purchased these lands directly from the Six Nations without any input from the Delaware Indians and was allowing people to settle on those lands.

The le Roy Monument after I cleared away the weeds
The events of the summer of 1755, which ended with the defeat of General Braddock’s army by the combined forces of French soldiers and Indian warriors, would change Indian relations and scar the Pennsylvania frontier, painting it red with blood from both sides. The defeat of General Braddock gave the Delaware Indians a bravery that they had never had before and they would use this momentum to attack the growing settlements in central Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania frontier was mostly unprotected due to Colonel Dunbar (who replaced the deceased General Braddock as the new leader of the Provincial Army) taking the army into "winter quarters," near Philadelphia - yes, they were retreating to "winter quarters" in the middle of summer.

By early October 1755 George Croghan, Indian trader and frontiersman, had warned that a mass of Indians had gathered and were preparing to attack the settlements on the frontier. Croghan was preparing his quarters at Aughwick (present-day Shirleysburg) for the upcoming troubles asking for supplies, especially guns and powder, for the stockade he was erecting.

Less than a week after this warning, the Penn’s Creek Massacre would occur. On October 16, 1755, the German settlers on Penn’s Creek were attacked. Over two days a party of fourteen Delaware Indians swept through the region between present-day New Berlin and Selinsgrove.

The events that happened near the homestead of Jean Jacques le Roy (whose homestead was at the farm near the monument) were later recorded by Barbara Leininger and Marie le Roy after their escape from captivity. It is from their recollections that the details of the massacre fully came to be known.

Early in the morning on October 16, 1755, the hired hand of Jean le Roy heard six shots while in the fields and immediately reported back to Jean what he heard. Around eight that morning, the Indian party arrived at the le Roy home and ambushed Jean near the spring at the house, killing him with their tomahawks. Jean’s son Jacob tried to defend himself but was overpowered and taken captive. Along with Jacob the Indians took Marie (Jean's daughter) and a young girl who had been staying with them prisoner.

The identity of this young girl is not known, but Linn in his book Annals of Buffalo Valley, Pennsylvania hints at an answer. He mentions a girl names Catherine Smith who was recovered during the attack on Kittanning in 1756. While the girl is not on Marie or Barbara’s list of prisoners Linn notes this Catherine was from Shamokin. One of le Roy’s neighbors was an Adam Smith, so it may be she was his daughter - it is not the answer, but it is a possible answer to the unidentified girl.

Once the terrible deed was done, they plundered the house and set it on fire, tossing Jean le Roy's body into it with the two tomahawks still sticking in his bloody head. As this was happening, a neighbor by the name of Bastian was riding past. The raiding party shot and scalped him.

During these horrible activities, two Indians went to the neighboring Leininger homestead. At the home were Barbara and Rachel Leininger, along with their father and brother. The two Indians demanded rum and when told they had none, asked for tobacco. They filled and smoked a pipe before they shot and killed Mr. Leininger then proceeded to tomahawk the brother to death. Barbara and Rachel were taken prisoner. Mrs. Leininger had gone to the mill that day, which saved her life.

In addition to these murders at the le Roy and Leininger homesteads, that evening members of the party brought six scalps and terrorized the captives with them. The next day members of the party left and later returned with more scalps. Between thirteen and sixteen people were killed during the raid and eleven were taken captive. The list of captives I’ve been able to discover are: Marie and Jacob le Roy, Barbara and Rachel Leininger, Marian Wheeler, Hannah Breylinger and her two children (one of her children died at Kittanning), and Peter Lick and his two sons, John and William.

A close up of the plaque
However, as I stood there remembering the tragedy of October 1755, I couldn't help but be overcome with sadness. The massacre that took place here was not a battle between armies - it was not a battle between enemies - it was a slaughter of innocent lives of those who had reached out to become friends with the Delaware Indians. The feeling of terror and despair that the captives must have felt as they watched their family members die and knew that their lives would never be the same again seemed to fill the air.

Barbara and Marie would be taken to Fort Duquesne and then on to the Indian town of Muskingum (near present-day Sharon in Mercer County). On March 16, 1759, the two girls finally managed to escape, eventually arriving at Fort Pitt and they were then returned to Philadelphia. Barbara's sister, Rachel, would become a part of folk history when she was returned home after the end of Pontiac's War.

One thing I want to address about this monument. Many online sources mention the monuments for the massacre near the mouth of Penn’s Creek and state that these monuments mark the location of the le Roy homestead. The marker I sought out that day is at the location of the le Roy homestead and is south of Mifflinburg near the junction of Ridge and Dice Roads. I ask that you use caution if visiting the monument: though it is located along a rural road, there was a lot of traffic on it the day I visited. Please remember that the monument and the farm opposite it are on private property, so please be respectful of your surroundings.

The second part of the Penns Creek Massacre can be found here: Part Two

A side note: Barbara’s sister is referred to in most early accounts as Rachel. I continued to use the name Rachel in this article. However many know Rachel by another name: Regina. Her story will be for another day.

Another side note: while many, including the wording on the memorial, use the English version of his name - John Jacob LeRoy - I opted to use the traditional version of his name, le Roy. In some sources, Jean Jacques le Roy is also referred to as Jacob King in some histories.

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