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by Beverley Straub Watkins

RegentContinuing our genealogy quest, my husband and I were in Montour County, Pennsylvania, to visit the home of my Revolutionary ancestor, Martin Rishel. While there we learned that the Fort McClure Chapter of the DAR in Bloomsburg was having a festival at their Fort McClure site. Regent Vinniedee McHenry Hippenstael greeted me warmly and showed me around the building and the display of gorgeous quilts. This chapter is very fortunate in having such a location for their meetings and in a house owned by them! I was also impressed by the fact that each member provides her own antique chair for meetings it imparts a true feeling of home. Thank you, Vinniedee, for making me so welcome on an impromptu visit!

For those of you who do not know the story of Lieutenant Moses Van Campen, he began his Fort McClureservice in 1777, under Col. John Kelly at Big Island, on the West Branch of the Susquehanna. In March 1778, he was promoted to Lieutenant and ordered by Col. Samuel Hunter to proceed with about twenty men to Fishing Creek and build a fort. In May, when the fort was nearly completed, a large party of Indians attacked the fort, plundering and burning the houses, including his parental home. Indian hostilities increased and the summer of 1778 witnessed the Wyoming massacre.

In 1779, General Sullivan was sent with an army into Wyoming, and the supply provisions were to be deposited in storehouses along the Susquehanna. Moses van Campen was appointed quartermaster and accompanied the army to Tioga Point, reaching it in early August. General  Clinton sent him and another man to the Indian camp, disguised as Indians, to learn what they could about numbers and location. On their return, the general requested that he lead the advance to Chemung, but when they entered the Indian village at daybreak, they found the inhabitants had flown. They followed the trail up the river about two miles to Hogback Hill, where they were ambushed and 16 or 17 men killed or wounded. The Indians were subsequently routed and the patriots returned to camp.

Moses van Campen contracted camp fever and was removed to the fort he had built in 1778, where his father was still living. When he recovered his health, his father asked him if he would go back to their farm about four miles away and help build another, as well as raise some grain. They had been on the farm about four or five days, when on March 30th, they were surprised by a party of ten Indians. His father was pierced with a war spear and scalped; his brother was tomahawked, scalped, and thrown into the fire. His uncle was killed and a little cousin and a man called Peter Pence taken prisoner. They were made to march up Fishing Creek to Hemlock Creek and then to Little Tunkhannock Creek. Van Campen convinced the men that the three of them should attempt to overcome the ten Indians and escape, which they did. They built a raft and set sail for Wyoming and the raft gave way as they made for land. They finally reached Wylusing late in the afternoon and then realized a party of Indians had halted nearby for the night. Moses crept down the side of the hill and saw no one about, so they decided to make off with the Indians’ raft and cross the river, landing on an island and making a fire in a sinkhole for the night. They reached Wyoming the next day. They procured a canoe, descended the river that night, and came to Fort Jenkins. After seeing his mother (who thought he had been killed with his father and brother!), he went on to Sunbury.

In 1781 he was part of a chain of scouts around the frontier settlements from the North to the West Branch of the Susquehanna and it is here in the spring of 1781 that he built a fort on the widow McClure’s plantation, called McClure’s Fort. He later married James McClure's daughter. In the summer of 1781, he was one of the five members of the Grove Party that was selected to reconnoiter. One night, a little below the Sinnemahoning, they encountered a group of Indians entering their campground after they had gone to sleep, firing their guns and raising a war yell.

In December 1781, he was ordered by Gen. Burgoyne to Lancaster and Reading, Berks County. At the end of March 1782, he was ordered to Samuel Wallace’s plantation at Muncy and to rebuild Fort Muncy. Then he was ordered to take 20 or 25 men up the West Branch to Bald Eagle Creek. On the night of April 16, when they were camped, they were attacked by 85 Indians. Nine patriots were killed and the rest were made prisoners. They were stripped of their clothing and when they took off his shirt, they discovered his commission. They were lucky that the chief warrior decided that, instead of executing them, the men must be taken and adopted into the families of those whom they had killed. After five days travel, they came to Caneadia village, where they were forced to run the gauntlet. Next they went to Fort Niagara, where he was delivered up to the British. He was adopted, according to Indian custom, into Colonel Butler’s family to supply the loss of his son, Captain Butler, who had met his death late in the fall of 1781 by the Americans! Then the Indians said that they recognized him, that he had been a prisoner before and had killed his captors. They asked Butler to substitute him for 14 other prisoners. After cross-examination, he was told that he could save his life by joining the British standard. A former schoolmate, a lady who was married to a captain of the Queen’s rangers, came and asked him the same thing. He apparently replied to both of them, give me the stake, the tomahawk, or the knife, before a British commission; liberty or death is our motto."

Four days later, he was sent down Lake Ontario to Carleton Island and on down the St. Lawrence to Montreal. In prison, he and nine others managed to have some brandy conveyed to them to celebrate the 4th of July. The British were so indignant, the ten were taken out, sent to Quebec, down the St. Lawrence to the Isle of New Orleans, where they remained until the end of September. They were put on board a British vessel bound for New York, but when they arrived there was no exchange for them. General Carleton, in command of the British army at New York, paroled them to return home. In March 1783, he was exchanged and joined his company in Northumberland, where he was ordered to march to Wyoming and keep the garrison at Wilkesbarre Fort. He was there until his discharge in November 1783. (Based on the 1847 History of Columbia County, Pa by I.D. Rupp)

Built by Revolutionary Ancestor, Major Jonas Wilder
by Beverley Straub Watkins

Wilder Holton HouseMy ancestor, Major Jonas Wilder, fought in the Revolution and commanded Captain Benjamin Nye’s company and Capt. John Boynton’s company (Colonel Sparhawk’s regiment). At the time, he was living in Templeton, Massachusetts. After the Revolution was over, he decided to settle in Lancaster, New Hampshire on Meadow Lots 19  30. The home that he built in 1780 still stands and is known as The Wilder-Holton House. It is located on the north end of Main Street and was the first two-story frame house in town. It was used as an inn and a meeting place until the church was built.

According to Persis F. Chase, in The Lancaster Sketch Book, 1887 (pp 23-26): "This house was considered at the time it was built a very elegant residence; the finest in the county. It was built by Major Jonas Wilder...on the 22d of February 1732...Major Wilder ... bought a mile square of land extending from the Holton house to Israel’s River. A small house was built for a temporary home, near the riverbank. Remains of this building can still be seen on the Holton meadow, with some land cleared and planted with corn. On the 19th of May, 1780, memorable as the dark day they commenced digging the cellar for the great house, but by eleven o’clock it became so dark that the men were obliged to discontinue the work. The frame of this house was raised on the 26th of July 1780."

MarkerTwo Hundred Years, Lancaster, New Hampshire, 1764-1964, written by the Bicentennial committee, refers to the same events (p. 11): "Times have changed since the well-known Dark Day, May 19, 1780 when Major Jonas Wilder started to dig the cellar hole. It was feared by some that this was the end of the world but when Christendom received a reprieve, however undeserved it might have been, they went on with their work." All the work was done by hand, the nails being wrought on the blacksmith’s anvil. For a number of years this house doubled as a tavern during the week and a church on Sunday. Somewhere it is written that Major Wilder, as a hospitable host, dispensed a drink called flip. In this day and age we would have a good idea what the effect of that would be. There was a rumor that this house was one of the underground stations in the days of slavery and that there was a tunnel running from the cellar to the Connecticut River.

In 1807 this home was sold by Major Jonas Wilder’s son, Artemus Wilder Jr., to Timothy Holton. The home continued in possession of the Holton family until 1965, when was sold by them to the Lancaster Historical Society.


Beverley Straub Watkins

It is well documented that General George Washington used many homes and buildings as a "headquarters" during the American Revolution.  I had the opportunity to visit two of them that were linked with my family during the Revolution.

The Jacob Purdy House was built by Purdy family members, purchased by the Battle ofJacob Purdy House White Plains Monument Committee in 1973, and is now located at 60 Park Avenue in White Plains, New York. It was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1979 because it was General Washington’s headquarters from July 23 to September 16, 1778. Historians also believe it to have been the headquarters before the Chatterton Hill battle of October 1776.

Samuel Purdy, son of patentee Joseph Purdy, purchased the house and 132 acres in 1730. Title see-sawed from Samuel to his son Jacob (who was not the oldest), then back to Samuel, and then to his son Jacob, about 1785. One explanation for this vacillation might be because two of Samuel’s five sons became Loyalists and fled to Canada! Jacob held title until his own death in 1822. The Purdy family continued in possession until the house was sold to Samuel Mott in 1869. There was a historic meeting in the house on September 1, 1778, when 18 generals attended a council of war. Among them were Major Generals Lord Stirling, Horatio Gates, Baron Johann De Kalb, Israel Putnam, and Benjamin Lincoln. The brigadier generals present were Henry Knox, James Clinton, Anthony Wayne, John Nixon, Peter Muhlenberg, Enoch Poor, and William Smallwood!

The Jonathan Hasbrouck House in Newburgh, New York, is a beautiful home, strategicallyJonathan Hasbrouck House located on the Hudson River. It was George Washington’s headquarters from March 31, 1782, until August 1783. The guide said that when the home was commandeered, Mrs. Hasbrouck and her teenage daughters went to live with relatives for the duration. While this home was not built by anyone in my ancestry, it was from here that the Bill of Attainder was issued against Gilbert Purdy; and orders signed to take oxen, wheat, flour, and beef from his widow’s property.

These two visits alone helped me to realize just how much families had been torn apart during that struggle.



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