Monday, September 12, 2016

Bigham's Fort

State Historical Marker just east of Port Royal
At junction of Routes 74 and 3002
Only a handful of vehicles were in the lot as I pulled into the parking area for the Juniata Junction Restaurant, located at the junction of Routes 74 and State Route 3002 (old Route 322), just east of Port Royal. The smell of bacon drifted in the air, making me regret the fact I had stopped earlier for breakfast. I took a couple pictures of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Bigham's Fort, which stands near the parking lot's entrance. 

While the state historical markers fascinate me, I turned my attention westward. I had known about this marker for years, but had only recently discovered another monument that exists near the spot where Bigham's Fort once stood. The directions I had in hand stated that the stone marker stood along Route 75 about “four or five miles” west of Port Royal. Almost fourteen miles later I arrived at the marker located a couple miles east of the community of Honey Grove.

Parking at the end of a farm lane, I stepped out of the vehicle and took in the beauty of the rolling farmlands of the Tuscarora Valley. Standing among a small grove of pines next to the lane is the stone memorial for Fort Bigham, which is also referred to as the Fort at Tuscarora and Bingham's Fort in some of the early writings and records of the state.

In the grand scheme of Pennsylvania's history, the block house and small stockade should have been listed among the "forgotten" forts. The simple fort was erected on Samuel Bigham's lands by himself, his neighbors John and James Gray, and Robert Hoag (also recorded as Hogg in some accounts) close to the Tuscarora Path that followed the valley. The exact year they erected the fort is not known, but many assume it was built in 1754, although a couple sources claim it existed as early as 1749.

I've read that the fort was also located along the Trader's Path, which is a path that I cannot seem to locate. At first I thought that maybe it was an alternate name for the Tuscarora Path, but after reading and rereading the early histories of the region, I believe that the Trader's Path was the path used by settlers to travel over the mountains and into Carlisle. This would be the same path that John Gray and Francis Innis were traveling along on the day the fort was burned. So possibly the fort was located near the junction of these two paths.

The attack that occurred on June 11, 1756, secured Bigham's Fort a place in Pennsylvania’s history when the place of refuge for the settlers became a bloody piece of land.

Stone memorial along Route 74
About 14 miles west of Port Royal
When the McCord's Fort fell in April of 1756, it placed doubts and fears in the hearts of the settlers. If this fort could fall, then it was possible for any structure to fall to the raiding Indians.

The Provincial Government's policy in dealing with the Delawares and Shawnees was also changing in the early months of 1756. The Pennsylvania Government passed the Scalp Act in April 1756. The Scalp Act was approved with the blessings of the Six Nations.

The reality of the Scalp Act is enough to send shivers down my spine. The government was offering $150 for every male Indian prisoner aged twelve or older and $130 for every female or male Indian under the age of twelve. A reward of $130 was offered for every scalp belonging to an Indian male aged twelve or older and $50 for every female Indian. For the settlers, it did not matter if the Indian was friend or foe - any Indian in their sight was worth money.

The Scalp Act only caused the tensions and the warring between the Indian and the settlers to intensify. The raids on the settlements increased.

On June 11, 1756, Bigham’s Fort became the next fort would fall on the Pennsylvania frontier. On the day of the attack, John Gray and Francis Innis were returning to their homes in the valley after going to Carlisle for salt. As they were descending the Tuscarora Mountain, John Gray's horse spooked when a bear crossed their path, throwing John from the saddle before running off. While John tried to recapture and calm his horse, Francis Innis, eager to see his wife, continued on without waiting for John.

After two hours of searching for and then calming his horse, John was finally on his way home. His bad luck was the only thing that saved his life that day. King Beaver, the Delaware chief, had led a raid into the Lower Juniata and Tuscarora Valleys that terrible morning. John had to have seen the smoke filling the sky as he approached the fort. By the time he arrived there, the last of the fort had been consumed by fire.

The marker for Fort Bigham
John searched the remains of the fort to see if any of the remains were those of his family. He would discover that his family was not among the dead, but his wife Hannah and daughter Jane (age three) were taken captive. Nor did John discover his friend Francis or his family.

In all twenty-two people were killed or taken captive during the raid. The home of Alexander McAllister was also burned and his cattle and horses were driven off. Alexander and his wife were listed among the missing.

All of the prisoners were taken to Kittanning and from there they were taken to Fort Duquesne. After arriving at Fort Duquesne the prisoners were parceled out and most were adopted by Indians. George Woods was given to an Indian known as John Hutson. George would later purchase his freedom and would return to the Juniata Valley.

An interesting note: George would later help lay out Pittsburgh in 1784 – Wood Street was named in his honor.

Francis and his wife were sold to the French and taken to Montreal. On the way northward in the December of 1756, the youngest of their three children became sick. The Indians who were taking them to Canada broke a hole in the ice of a river and pushed the child under. While prisoners in Montreal another child, James, was born. Francis and his wife were released by the French and returned to their home in the Juniata Valley. Their children remained among the Indians until the autumn of 1764 when they were returned home to their parents.

Hannah Gray was captured and despite her husband's attempts was not able to return home until nearly to four years after her abduction. At the end of Pontiac's War, she hoped that her missing daughter would be among the children returned, however she was not. The fate of Jane Gray is a mystery to this day. She may have died among the Indians. She may have died on the journey home. She may have stayed with the Indian family that raised her.

When the children were returned by Colonel Bouquet, Hannah searched among the children, and not finding her daughter, took a girl who was about her daughter's age -- a child no one else would claim her as their own. Hannah's good intentions and actions resulted in one of the most famous property cases in early America and possibly history. The court case was Frederick et al. versus Gray or, as it is more commonly known - The Gray Property Case.

John's will left half of the farm to Hannah and half to Jane if she ever returned from the wilds. If there was no heir, then the estate went to John's sister. In 1789, the heirs of John's sister went to court to claim John's farm, which covered between three and four hundred acres of prime farmland in the Juniata Valley. For more than fifty years the sister's heirs and the captive's heirs fought over the land until the courts finally decided to rule in favor of the sister's heirs.

History on the memorial
I could not even start to imagine the pain John Gray felt the day he discovered the devastation that occurred here; to never know if his family was alive or dead had to place a pain in his heart and had to rip his soul to pieces. John would later march to Kittanning with the Armstrong Expedition, but would fail to find his wife or daughter. By the time his wife, Hannah, had managed to return home, he had already died - some say it was from a broken heart.

Fort Bigham would be rebuilt in 1760 and named Fort Bingham. It would be attacked and destroyed again a few years later.

I want to add an interesting note: all sources I’ve found state that the fort was destroyed for the second time in 1763, but for some reason the marker that the site states it happened in 1766, which I believe is a wrong date.

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