Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sugarloaf Massacre

Monument for the Sugarloaf Massacre
Let me tell you a story that happened on the Pennsylvania frontier in 1780. it is a story that I thought I knew well and it goes like this....

It starts in early September when a group of militia were patrolling the frontier searching for raiding Indians and Tories. The men were a part of Captain Van Etten’s militia led by Captain Daniel Klader. They were camping along the Little Nescopeck Creek when they were ambushed by a group of Indians led by Seneca Chief Roland Montour. In the chaos, fourteen men were killed and a number of them taken captive.

However, I made the mistake of letting a good story get in the way of the truth and the more I researched this incident the more I realized I didn't know the story like I thought I did.

But, that story was what first brought me to the monument located along Walnut Road, just east of the community of Conyngham.

“So where exactly are you planning on parking?” mom asked as I came to a halt in front of the monument. It had been a couple years since I first visited the monument and had returned on a recent trip through the region to take pictures of the memorial.

“Right here,” I replied as I put the four-ways on and jumped out of the vehicle. Walnut Road, which the monument stands next to, didn’t seem very busy during this visit and I silently hoped that traffic stayed away until I was finished.  The plaque on the marker states:

Near this spot occurred
The Sugarloaf Massacre
On September 11, 1780 a detachment of
Captain John Van Etten's Company
Northampton County Militia
Resting at the spring was
Surprised by a band of Indians
And Tories led by Seneca Chief
Roland Montour

Beneath these words is a listing of fifteen names of the men who were victims of the massacre.

In the woods behind the monument is a grave marker for a Captain Daniel Klader. The simple stone is inscribed “Daniel Klader, Captain, Van Etten’s Co., Northampton Co. Militia, Died 1780.” The first time I visited the location, I followed a path to the nearby stone. The last two visits (once in the summer and once in the early fall) I was unable to locate the stone due to the undergrowth.

I first came across a mention of the Sugarloaf Massacre while doing research for other massacres that occurred within the state. It was only a small snippet of information which I recorded and set aside. A couple years later, I ran across that bit of information and began researching the history of the massacre, preparing to visit the location where it occurred.

What I didn’t know at the time, but was soon about to discover, was the information I first discovered about the massacre was incorrect.

The plaque on the monument
Searching through the regional histories, I found more information. The only correct detail in the original tidbit that I had found was the period of time leading up to the massacre.

In September 1780 a large band of Indians descended the Wyoming Valley before crossing into present-day Sugar Loaf Township. This raiding party is believed to be the same one that attacked Fort Rice (near present-day Turbotville) on September 6. A side note: I found a couple sources claiming that a group of Tories were also with the raiding party, but most of the sources I have at hand state it was an Indian raiding party. I cannot verify which one is correct..

Also in early September, a group of militia moved into the region. This group of militia was made up of thirty-one men. Another side note: the total number of the militia seems to be in debate. Like many of the details of the massacre this number may or may not be correct. Sources list the total number of men in the group as being anywhere from thirty-one to forty-one in strength: the most common number tends to be thirty-one men.

The sources all agree that on September 11, 1780, the group of militia were ambushed and defeated along the banks of the Little Nescopeck Creek. Lieutenant Myers was among the captured and managed to escape two days later.

While discovering what little has been recorded about the Sugarloaf Massacre, I found myself with a handful of questions to which I cannot find a definite answer.

The first question that arises is who was Captain Daniel Klader? I’ve only come across two histories that mention Klader and a handful of newspaper articles. It appears that Captain Daniel Klader mysteriously appears in one of the retellings of the massacre.

I searched through the "Pennsylvania State Archives Digital Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File" and failed to find him. I did find a Jacob Clader who commanded a later group of Northampton Militia. I believe that one of the men who told the story mistakenly identified Jacob as Daniel and claimed that he was killed during the massacre. This mistake continued to be handed down with each telling and was never corrected until it became a part of regional lore.

If Daniel did not exist, then who was in charge of the group of militia? Sipe records in Indian Wars of Pennsylvania the man being in charge of the group was a Lieutenant Myers who was from Fort Allen. In Stone’s The Poetry and History of Wyoming, he records portions of Lieutenant John Jenkins who also states that Myers was in charge of the group of thirty-three men. Looking through the "Pennsylvania State Archives Digital Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File," I found that there was a John Moyer, who was part of the Northampton Militia and while no rank is listed, I believe that this is the Lieutenant Myers mentioned in the histories.

Commemorating the 207th anniversary of
The Sugarloaf Massacre
Enevelope part of my personal collection
The next question that comes to mind is who was all killed in the massacre? Searching through the state archives digital "Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File" I came up with two names listed as killed at the Sugarloaf Massacre, but actually had survived.

The first is Peter Crum (also spelled Croom). On his file card it is recorded that he served through early 1781 as a substitute. During the chaos of the attack he more than likely fled the scene and in returning to civilization went back to his normal life -- not back to the militia.

I also found a Peter Shelhamer in the files as surviving the massacre, but was unable to discover anything more about him.

I couldn’t help but question those responsible for the massacre. I have already questioned who made up the raiding party, but I had to now question who was leading the party. The plaque states that Roland Montour was responsible for the raiding party. Apart from the information on the plaque, I found no other early references stating he was leading (or even a part of) the raiding party.

As I stood there reading the plaque on the monument, I came to fully realize that this was no mere snippet of history, but an important piece of Pennsylvania's history as it reflected the violence that was occurring in the wilds of Pennsylvania at the time.

This was just one of the conflicts that was occurring in the region that had reached its apex with the Great Runaway in 1778, along with the butchering of 226 people in what is now known as the Wyoming Massacre (also in 1780) at present day Wilkes-Barre. These men had been deployed into an area still suffering from the horrific events of that massacre to bring peace to a violent region.

In my mind's eye I could see the dense growth that the militiamen had to make their way through so long ago; they had finally found a nice clearing in which to rest along the Little Nescopeck Creek. The searching for the raiding party had taken its toll upon them as they traveled and for one instant, they allowed their guard to drop as they rested. It was at that moment the raiding party discovered the militia and ambushed them. In the chaos, the men fled, tossing aside their weapons and packs to lighten their load as they fled. The dead were scalped and left where they fell, while they tied the hands of those men they captured.

The monument is located along Walnut Street in Conyngham. There is very little parking at the marker, so use caution.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker for
The Sugarloaf Massacre
And to add even more confusion to the Sugarloaf Massacre. The Pennsylvania Historical Marker lacated along Route 93 has information on it that is wrong (and yes they Historical Commission is aware of it but due to finances probably will never replace it with the correct information). The marker states that the unit attacked was from Northumberland County rather than Northampton County.

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