Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Destruction of Kittanning: Part Two

Monument for the Indian town of Kittanning
Corner of Market and North Water Streets
Please note: This is the second of three articles about the Battle of Kittanning. The first part can be .found here:Part One.

The town was preparing for a festival the day Zech and I arrived in Kittanning. Parking in town was non-existent as we drove around searching for a place that was close to my intended goal. Most of the parking spaces were filled with vendors preparing for the events of the weekend but the traffic and crowds were not going to deter me from the place I came to visit.

I finally managed to find a place and Zech hopped out with a quarter for the meter as I grabbed my camera and made sure that the batteries were still good. After all, I had no desire to walk the three blocks to the monument, in what was easily the hottest day of the year so far, to discover my batteries were dead.

"I have a problem," Zech said as he stared at the meter.

"Not working?" I asked.

"It won't take the quarter." I stared at him in disbelief.

'Great,' I thought. 'I found the only parking meter in town that doesn't work.'

"Get in and we'll find another spot," I sighed.

"No, no," Zech replied quickly. "It doesn't take quarters...you got a dime or nickel?"

Resolving the issue, we were soon making our way through the vendors who were setting up for the festival. I could see the large monument from a distance and soon we were crossing North Water Street and were standing at the monument for the Indian town of Kittanning.

On a large slab of rock is a plaque honoring the Indian town of Kittanning. Erected on September 8, 1926, the marker remembers the importance of the Indian village located here and its destruction by Colonel Armstrong and his troops.

As I stood before the memorial to the Indian town, my mind returned once again to the morning of September 8, 1756.

The surprise attack on the residents of Kittanning was a success for Colonel Armstrong. One of the dreaded Indian Chiefs of the Pennsylvania frontier, Captain Jacobs, was dead. He was shot down with his family as they tried to flee their burning home.

Chaos was reigning as the battle raged on. Despite the success of the plan, Colonel John Armstrong was wounded. His troops were in complete confusion due to lack of sleep and exhaustion from the long march. The Indians living here were in complete confusion due to lack of sleep and surprise. Smoke filled the air from Captain Jacob's burning cabin.

Not content with victory, Captain Armstrong ordered that all of the homes in Kittanning be burned to the ground. He wanted the total destruction of the Indian village as his revenge for his brother's death at Fort Granville.

While the fighting was occurring in the village, Captain Hugh Mercer had command of the hillside overlooking the river flats. While it is not exactly known where Captain Mercer was located, I would imagine this spot was somewhere close to the present-day courthouse in Kittanning. Wounded early in the battle (he was shot in the arm), Captain Mercer and his men remained on the high ground.

From this vantage point, Captain Mercer was able to see Indians led by Shingas crossing the river in an attempt to cut off any escape. Word was sent to Colonel Armstrong about the warriors crossing the river, but Armstrong refused to leave the burning village. Though worried about the approaching reinforcements, Colonel Armstrong was not content with leaving until more homes were burned. His later estimate was thirty homes were set on fire that morning.

And then, to add more chaos to an already chaotic scene, Captain Jacobs' house exploded.

The gunpowder stored within it literally blew the roof off of the building, killing those still inside the burning house and wounding those close to the explosion. According to some reports, the explosion was so loud it was heard at Fort Duquesne which was located almost forty miles downriver. From the other buildings there came smaller explosions as the gunpowder exploded and loaded weapons fired due to the fire's heat.

A number of the rescued prisoners claimed that there was enough powder and weapons stored that the Indians would have been able to wage a ten year war with the colonists. The captives also revealed that two battalions of Frenchmen were to join Captain Jacobs the next morning in order to attack Fort Shirley.

While this information must have worried Colonel Armstrong, one piece of information had to worry him the most. The previous evening, a group of twenty-four warriors had left heading toward Fort Shirley to do some spying. These were the Indians they had stumbled upon the evening before - Lieutenant Hogg was ill prepared for what was happening six miles from here with his own attack.

By the time the village was engulfed in flames, Colonel Armstrong made his way to Captain Mercer's spot to have his wound tended. Once it was treated, he gave the order and the troops began a long, chaotic retreat to safer areas and to help Lieutenant Hogg and his men.


The plaque on the Kittanning monument
Arriving at the place he left Lieutenant James Hogg, Colonel Armstrong was dismayed to discover the plan for a surprise attack on the group of sleeping Indians had failed. His dismay turned to disappointment and anger as he discovered a number of his men, men who should have been participating in the attack on Kittanning, standing around waiting for the rest of fighters to arrive. 

Leaving behind anything that was not necessary, they marched back to civilization and safety. Well, that was the way Colonel Armstrong reported in his letter to Governor Denny sent from Fort Lyttleton. However, I cannot imagine that the group marched back. It was a full panic as the group fled for their lives. Though Colonel Armstrong does not record it, I cannot help but think that they were shot at along the way by the Indians of Shingas' village.

In Colonel Armstrong's letter to Governor Denny, he admits he was no idea of how many of the enemy had fallen during the attack, though he believed that between thirty and forty Indians were killed. Conflicting reports record that the Indians only lost a handful of warriors that day. At the start of their "march" back, he claimed they had a dozen scalps, though some of the scalps had been lost along the way.

After the burning of Kittanning, captives on the western shores of the Allegheny witnessed the cruel torture of an Englishman who had tried to escape with Colonel Armstrong. The man was recaptured and returned three days after the destruction of the town. After torturing the man with different types of fire torture, they ended his agony by pouring hot lead down his throat.

The attack on Kittanning did not stop Indian raids on the frontier, but it did have an effect on the Indians living in Western Pennsylvania. Though Kittanning would be used occasionally by Indians in the future, the town was abandoned. Most of the Indians who survived the attack moved west of Fort Duquesne, preferring to keep the French fort between them and the English.

"So Kittanning was completely destroyed?" Zech asked bringing me back to the present day.

"Most of it. Colonel Armstrong had burned the buildings, but the threat of Shingas' men caused him to retreat before he set the cornfields on fire. But the mission was deemed a success by Colonel Armstrong and also by the Provincial Government."

The memorial for Kittanning and the Colonel Armstrong's attack stands at the corner of Market Street and North Water Street, at the place where Route 422 turns and crosses the Allegheny River, There is a small park along the river for relaxation.

Notes about the aftermath of the Battle of Kittanning: Colonel Armstrong would one day have a Pennsylvania county named in his honor with Kittanning being its county seat. Captains Hugh Mercer and James Potter would eventually have counties named after them for their service in the Revolutionary War.

Colonel Armstrong would also be rewarded with a special medal struck in his honor for his actions at Kittanning.

Another point of interest involves Indian Chief Shingas: After the events of 1756, Shingas seems to have had a change of attitude and way of life. Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary who went to the Pennsylvania frontier to attempt peace, recorded that Shingas was a great warrior and was very kind to those he had taken prisoner. He is noted by a number of missionaries during this time period for the peaceful way he treated his prisoners.

Shingas attended a number of peace treaties, including the Lancaster Treaty of 1762. This treaty discussed the return of English prisoners and the claim of lost Delaware lands. The Delawares would renew their peace with the English settlers.

Shingas was last recorded in July 1763 when he and Turtle Heart participated in the Siege of Fort Pitt. On July 26, 1763 the two of them had approached Fort Pitt under a flag of truce and talked to Captain Ecuyer and requested he withdraw the troops from the fort. Soon after the events of that day, Shingas disappears into history.

The destruction of Kittanning will concludes with the Battle of Blanket Hill, which can be found here: Battle of Blanket Hill..

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