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The Clopton Chronicles

A Project of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society

 

 

 

Sweet Be the Sleep of Those Who Prefer

Liberty to Slavery

 

 

Regarding

 

Jerimiah Coleman &

His Brother, Jesse

 

 

 

By John Henry Knowlton, J_H_Knowlton@email.msn.com [1]

 

 

The terrified refugees of the Wyoming Valley settlements arriving in Poughkeepsie on the 20th of July 1778 had a traumatic tale of terror to tell.  Their settlements had been attacked and they had narrowly escaped with their own lives.  They had left the bodies of their loved ones lying where they were killed by the savages that had attacked their lovely valley.  This is their story. 

 

 

A Charter from the King

 

By 1776 the residents of the Valley had become

a large supplier to the Continental Army of George Washington.

This did not go unnoticed by the British commanders in New York.

 

The Colony of Connecticut received a charter from King Charles II in 1662 to colonize the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans.  On December 28, 1768 a meeting was held in Hartford, Connecticut to arrange for settling the Wyoming Valley[2] by the Susquehanna Company. Arrangements were made to buy the valley from the Iroquois.   However, when the first settlers from Connecticut arrived at Plymouth in 1769, they found settlers from Pennsylvania already occupied some of the land.  It seems that the royal government had not paid attention to the boundaries of the Connecticut charter and issued a charter in 1681 to Pennsylvania with overlapping areas of territory.  Words lead to acts of hostility, and the result was a war between the Connecticut Yankees and the Pennsylvania Pennamites.  This was the First Pennamite War. The first group of Yankee settlers was lead by Zebulon Butler, a veteran ranger of the French & Iroquois War.[3]  The Pennamites were driven out of the valley and the Connecticut Yankees settled down to building their farms.  The original Yankee settlers were quickly reinforced by a second group of settlers. However, the Pennamites would not forget this insult.

Within the third group of Yankee settlers were Clopton descendents Jerimiah Coleman and his brother Jesse.[4]  They arrived about 1772.[5]  The Coleman brothers established farms at Plymouth in Luzerne County.  Gilbert Denton and his daughter Elizabeth Denton[6] arrived about the same time or shortly after the Coleman brothers.  Gilbert Denton was  intent upon building a mill in Plymouth.  Jerimiah and Elizabeth were married in 1776.   Other settlers poured into the valley until, by 1775, there were nearly 5,000 people in the Wyoming Valley.

The Valley had rich farmland that produced an abundance of grains and cattle.  They exported their products to the east over the mountains to New Jersey.  By 1776 the residents of the Valley had become a large supplier to the Continental Army of George Washington.  This did not go unnoticed by the British commanders in New York.

 

 

 

The area shown in reverse color was claimed by both

Connecticut and Pennsylvania.  The area circled in red

Is the Wyoming Valley

 

 

Off to War

 

Jesse was left by himself

and spent the winter of 1778

at Valley Forge with General Washington's army.

 

 

The Iroquois[7] who had sold them the valley began to show up in increasing numbers.  Several outlying farms had been attacked further to the west and the settlers of the Wyoming Valley began to get concerned about their safety.  Tories[8] among the settlers told them they would pay dearly for supporting the Revolution.  The Yankees petitioned Congress asking permission to form two companies of militia to defend their valley from attack of the British and their Iroquois allies.  The Congress authorized two companies to be formed for local defense on August 26,1776.[9]

Before long both companies had been filled with men from the settlements who had joined under the condition that the companies were for local defense only.  Jerimiah and Jesse Coleman joined Captain Robert Durkee’s 1st Independent Company along with 80 other men from Plymouth.  Later that year, on December 12, 1776, orders arrived instructing the two companies to report immediately for duty with the 4th Connecticut Regiment in General Washington's army in New Jersey.  There was some grumbling, but they all obeyed and marched out of the Valley with the promise that they would be released to come back if the Valley was threatened.

Early that spring, on March 6, 1777,  Elizabeth gave birth to a son whom she would name Jerimiah Coleman, after her husband.  The child would become the third Jerimiah Coleman in the line.  Disease was a major problem in the army that summer, and in 1777, Jerimiah succumbed to smallpox at Morristown., New Jersey.[10]  Jerimiah may have never seen his young son.  Tragedy struck again when his brother, Jesse, also died at Morristown of smallpox.

 

 

The Friendly Iroquois

 

Suspecting something was afoot,

they took one the Iroquois aside

and gave him liquor until he was drunk.

 

 

In the Valley the citizens were becoming alarmed at their lack of defenses again.  They petitioned Congress to return their two companies.  It was denied.  They formed militia companies at each of the settlements in the Wyoming Valley and requested permission to build forts from Congress.  Permission was granted and they began building forts at Plymouth, Wilkes-Barre, Pittston, Jenkins, and the biggest at Wyoming itself, called Forty Fort, which was centrally located.  They also sent out regular scouting patrols.

In the spring of 1778, in northern New York at Fort Niagara, British Colonel Guy Johnson ordered Major John Butler to take his loyalist Tories, referred to as Butler’s Rangers,[11]  and their Iroquois allies, and disrupt the Wyoming Valley to stop the flow of supplies eastward.

Iroquois began to appear in the Valley claiming that they simply wanted to trade.  Suspecting something was afoot, they took one of the Iroquois aside and gave him liquor until he was drunk.  He then divulged the plans to attack the settlements that summer.

 

 

To Arms!

 

It was a day of alarm, excitement and terror;

a day of preparation, running to and fro,

fleeing and seeking shelter

from impending wrath and death

 

 

The alarmed residents of the once peaceful valley began sending out regular scouting patrols to detect the presence of any approaching hostile force.  Starting in late June these scouts came under fire whenever they went up river to the northwest.  Captain Hewitt[12] went upriver with a scouting party from his company at Forty Fort on the 26th of June and returned on the 30th with word that he had run into a large war party upriver.

In the meantime a group of twelve Yankees from the Fort Jenkins garrison, not knowing of the scouting party's discovery, went upriver to tend their farm fields and were attacked.  Four were killed immediately and four were captured and tortured to death that night by the Iroquois.[13]  The remainder escaped downriver to warn the settlements.  On the 2nd of July the mainly Tory garrison of Fort Wintermoot threw open the gates to the war party.  The war party that Hewitt had discovered consisted 400 of Butler's Rangers[14] and about 700 Senecas of the Iroquois nation.

 

 

 

 

Major Butler had traveled from Fort Niagara and picked up the Iroquois allies on the way. Fort Wintermoot now became their headquarters for the attack on the Wyoming Valley.

The next day Major Butler sent Captain William Caldwell, one of his company commanders, to take Fort Jenkins.  Fort Jenkins garrison had been depleted by the previous fight upriver and had no way to resist an attack. They surrendered honorably.

News of the fall of Wintermoot caused the settlers to gather at Forty Fort with all the forces they could muster and with their women and children.  "It was a day of alarm, excitement and terror; a day of preparation, running to and fro, fleeing and seeking shelter from impending wrath and death."[15]

Forty Fort was four miles from Fort Jenkins and was the largest fort in the Valley.  Settlers also gathered at the forts at Pittston, Wilkes-Barre, and Plymouth.  There were 78 men at Wilkes-Barre and 44 men at Pittston. Elizabeth Coleman and little Jerimiah gathered with the other frightened women and children of Plymouth at the small fort on "garrison hill" in Plymouth called Shawnee Fort.[16]  The remainder had come to Forty Fort.  Colonel Nathan Dennison was in command of the fort and the 24th Connecticut Regiment gathered there.  Colonel Zebulon Butler, of the 4th Connecticut, was home on leave from his regiment and assumed overall command of all the settlers.

Gilbert Denton reported for duty along with the rest of the Plymouth company commanded by Capt. Asaph Whittlesey.  He had joined his fellow settlers militia company from Plymouth as a private.  Captains Ransom and Durkee, who had resigned from their commands  of the two independent companies that were attached to the 4th Connecticut of the Continental Army to return home to defend their valley, joined as privates also but were still referred to by their Captains rank. One must remember that officers in the militia were elected by their men and these two were now joining different companies.    In one company prior to the battle the company commander resigned and a private was elected to command the company in a disagreement over whether they should attack or defend.

 

 

We’ll Catch ‘em by Surprise

 

All through its dark shadows, the Iroquois and Tories,

like beasts of prey, prowled along the line of flight,

hunting out those who had concealed themselves,

slaying them on the spot, and tearing off their scalps,

or capturing and reserving them for torture.

 

 

Major Butler sent a messenger to Forty Fort under a flag of truce with a demand for their surrender and the surrender of all war materials in the fort,  plus the surrender of the entire company of Capt. Hewitt to Major Butler as prisoners.  Stalling for time until reinforcements could arrive, the demand was refused by Col. Denison, then in command “but the refusal was accompanied with a suggestion that he would like time and opportunity to consult with Col. Butler and other officers, who were not then present."[17][

Each time a white flag was sent out from the fort it was fired upon by Butler's men.  Within the fort Dennison and others wanted to wait for reinforcements that were on the way.  Another group called them cowards for hiding in the fort while they could see their homes being burned.

They could see parties of Iroquois scattered across the valley.  They thought that if they could catch them when they were scattered they could defeat the main force at Fort Wintermoot.  On July 3rd the 24th Regiment marched northward out of Forty Fort hoping to catch them by surprise. They advanced cautiously, stopping occasionally to scout ahead.  Ahead they saw the smoke from Fort Wintermoot that the British had set afire.

The militia deployed into battle line and began their advance toward the burning fort.  They did not know they were advancing into a semicircular ambush set up by Major Butler and his officers.  Shots began ringing out along the battle line and fire was returned as the militia advanced.

A halt was called as the fire had become intense.  For forty-five minutes the opposing sides kept up a heavy fire.  Then on the left Colonel Zebulon Butler noticed that the enemy was beginning to encircle the flank.  Gilbert Denton was with these men.  A repositioning of the line was ordered with the idea that the line would pivot back from left to right.  The officers lost control of the inexperienced militia.  Confusion lead to panic and panic lead to a route of the entire line.  Small pockets of veterans such as Gilbert Denton and others tried to stand their ground. The Iroquois had seen the backward movement begin and charged with all their fury into the line.

This caused further panic and the line disintegrated. The veterans who stood and fought like Gilbert Denton, Ransom and Durkee were overrun and killed instantly, if they were lucky, or taken prisoner, if they were not.

 

 

 

 

"The men fled generally back to the fort [Forty Fort] on the route they had marched out, or to the river, pursued closely by the British, Iroquois and Tories.  It would be difficult to tell which took most delight in shooting and cutting down the fugitives.  No quarter was granted.  All were [in]discriminately slaughtered, wherever found.  Men seemed transformed into demons.  It was a dreadful hour."[18]

"Many other fugitives were … lured to shore, by promises of quarter or safety, and … slain, too many to be recounted on this occasion."[19]  "Night came, but it did not put an end to the work of death.  All through its dark shadows, the Iroquois and Tories, like beasts of prey, prowled along the line of flight, hunting out those who had concealed themselves, slaying them on the spot, and tearing off their scalps, or capturing and reserving them for torture."[20]

Of the 434 defenders who marched out that afternoon, only 173 made it back to Forty Fort alive.  Gilbert Denton was not one of them.  He is buried with the others in a mass grave under the battle monument.

 

 

 

 

The unfortunate who were taken prisoner were tortured to death around and in the fires of the Iroquois that night.  The garrison at Pittston saw fires across the river that night and went down to their side of the river to see what was happening.  They witnessed their neighbors being tortured[21] to death by the Iroquois.

 

 

Surrender or Die

 

 They were met with scenes or horror.

They set about burying the dead

and began to rebuild their homes.

But they would get their revenge. 

 

 

The next day Major Butler sent a messenger to Forty Fort with the demand that they would either surrender the fort to him, or he would attack and kill everyone in it.  He said they could leave immediately.  His terms were accepted.  The settlers began walking east toward New Jersey.[22]

This was called the "great runaway" as groups set off downriver in rafts or over the mountains to New Jersey. Elizabeth Coleman and her infant, Jerimiah, went downriver with the rest of the women and children from Plymouth.

Of those going over the mountains, stragglers were killed by Iroquois who were following close behind.  As they neared the top of the mountains east of the valley the reinforcements arrived and drove back the Iroquois and acted as a rear guard.  There are no exact records of how many died in the Valley in those four days.  Estimates run from 400 to 500.  Thousands ran for their lives to the east and south.

The two companies from the Valley, including Jesse Coleman, who were serving at Valley Forge had been released by General Washington on June 15th but were enroute when the battle and massacre took place.[23]

They were met with scenes or horror.  They set about burying the dead and began to rebuild their homes.  But they would get their revenge.  The following year, the men marched north with General Sullivan to attack and destroy the villages of the Senecas who had participated in the Massacre.  The Iroquois villages were burned and the inhabitants driven north into Canada.

The settlers would return to reoccupy their land, Elizabeth would return with young Jerimiah.  Jerimiah would farm the land.  Later in his life young Jerimiah would fight in the War of 1812, perhaps to avenge his father and grandfather.  Then he moved to the Wellsburg area in Chemung County, New York. Elizabeth went with him and was laid to rest there in November of 1830. Jerimiah would marry Hannah Comfort and raise eleven children, one of whom he would name Elizabeth.  Jerimiah died on December 12th, 1850, peacefully surrounded by his family far from the nightmare of 1778.  

After the war a Pennsylvanian named Justice Alexander Patterson would come north with a band of rangers to evict the Connecticut settlers.  Several families were cruelly evicted in mid winter and forced to walk across the mountains into New Jersey.

In one attempted eviction there was a skirmish in which several of the settlers were killed or injured.  The veterans rose up in the Second Pennamite War and drove the Pennsylvanian, Patterson, from the Valley.  Help was sent in the form of militia from Connecticut and Vermont.  The matter of ownership went to Congress to decide.  Congress found for the Pennsylvanians but also found that the settlers could keep the land for which they had shed so much blood.

 

 

 

        1.  Jerimiah5 Coleman, Sr.  (William4, William3, William2, William1)1 was born 1728 in Littleworth, Ulster County, New York, and died April 8, 1800.  He married Sarah Collins 1748.  She was born 1728, and died March 20, 1817.

       

Children of Jerimiah Coleman and Sarah Collins are:

        2                 i.    Jerimiah6 Coleman, Jr.1, born 1757; died Aft. February 10, 1777 in Morristown, New Jersey of Smallpox while serving with General Washington's army2.  He married Elizabeth Denton 1776 in Plymouth, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania; born 1753 in Goshen, Orange County, New York; died November 24, 1830 in New York, probably, and buried November 1830 at Wellsburg, Chemung County, New York.

        3                ii.    Anna Coleman, born 1749.

        4               iii.    Jesse Coleman, born Abt. 1751; died in Morristown, New Jersey of Smallpox while serving with General Washington's army3.  Evidently he had a son because a Jesse Coleman, following the war, in 1794, is listed as farming on land owned by his father.

        5               iv.    Rachel Coleman, born 1753.

        6                v.    Phenihas Coleman, born Abt. 1755.

        7               vi.    Millescant Coleman, born Abt. 1759.

        8              vii.    Sarah Coleman, born Abt. 1762.

        9             viii.    Ruth Coleman, born Abt. 1762.

 

Endnotes

 

1.  John Henry Knowlton, Jr. provided the information regarding this family unless otherwise noted.

2.  He signed a receipt for bounty money dated February 10, 1777.

3.  Sons of the American Revolution, Papers of Roger E. Shaver.

 

 

 

Endnotes

 

1.  John Henry Knowlton, Jr. provided the information regarding this family unless otherwise noted.

2.        He received bounty land on February 10, 1777 at Somerset, New Jersey.

 

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[1]Sweet Be the Sleep of Those Who Prefer Liberty to Slavery, is an excerpt from The Clopton Chronicles, the Ancestors and Descendants of Sir Thomas Clopton, Knight & Dame Katherine Mylde, and is the property of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society which holds the copyright on this material.  Permission is granted to quote or reprint articles for noncommercial use provided credit is given to the CFGS and to the author.  Prior written permission must be obtained from the Society for commercial use.

John Henry Knowlton is a member of The Clopton Family Genealogical Society & Clopton Family Archives and serves on the Society’s Editorial Advisory Board.  He is a descendant of the Cloptons through his Southwell line by both marriages of Katherine Mylde, her first to Thomas Clopton, Knt. and secondly, William deTendring, Knt.  He is the great-great-great-great-grandson of Jerimiah Coleman and his wife, Elizabeth Denton.

Special thanks to Tom Mundie, Tom Shade, and Jeff Smith, of the 24th Connecticut Regiment of Militia Regiment Home page; Tammy Lamb, Luzerne Pennsylvania County GenWeb Page; Sue Montgomery Cook, Webmistress, the Denton Family; Alan Shields; Major Alan D. Woolley, Webmaster, Crown Forces in America 1775-1783; and, the Valley Forge National Historical Park and the National Park Service

[2]he Wyoming Valley is north of Philadelphia and southwest of Scranton,  and was organized into five townships:   Plymouth, Kingston, Hanover, Wilkes-Barre, and Pittston.  The Valley is very beautiful and is in the heart of the Pocono Mountains.

[3]The rangers were frontiersmen organized to fight the style of war that was practiced on the frontier of the day.  The most famous of these units was Major Robert Roger's Rangers. 

[4]Town History of Plymouth, Marge Gray, Luzerne County Genweb Tammy Lamb, webmaster, http://www.rootsweb.com/~paluzern/index.html

The Coleman brothers are descendants of the ancient Cloptons through Alicia Clopton, of Kentwell Hall, and her husband, John Harleston, armiger, of Shimpling, County Suffolk by Ensign Thomas Mapes of Olney, County Buckinghamshire, England and Southold, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, and his wife, Sarah Purrier of Olney and Southold.  The sons of Jerimiah Coleman, II, and his wife, Sarah Collins, an abbreviated genealogy follows.

[5] Records relating to him at Pittston Township.  He moved to Plymouth in 1773.  Several WHGS Proceedings books tell of him building a house in 1773 on the banks of Coleman’s Creek which was later renamed Ransom’s Creek.  This creek is where Gilbert Denton built his mill.

[6]For more information on the Denton family visit the Denton Family page at http://www.acun.com/dentons/index.html Daniel Denton's last will and testament is located there in transcript.  Elizabeth was the daughter of French and Iroquois War veteran Lt. Gilbert Denton and granddaughter of Judge Daniel Denton of Orange County, New York.

[7]The Iroquois Confederation supported the English against the French and now remained loyal to the English as allies.  They had already fought at the Battle of Oriskany the year before.

[8]Tories were colonists who remained loyal to King George III and England.

[9]The Congress had previously authorized the formation of the 24th Connecticut Regiment in the Wyoming Valley in May of 1775.  The two new companies were to be Independent Companies attached to the 24th CT.  For more information on the 24th Ct look at the re-enactor web site located at http://www.spiritof76.net/24thct/ 

[10] A photograph of a receipt for bounty money, dated 1777, is in the possession of John Henry Knowlton.  It is signed by all of Durkee’s men, including Jerimiah and his brother, Jesse, and Daniel Denton, after the skirmish at Millstone River.

[11]Visit the web site of the re-enactor Butler's Rangers at http://www.iaw.on.ca/~awoolley/brang/brang.html  There your will find details regarding the rangers and their history.  Major Butler was the cousin of Colonel Zebulon Butler, who had left the valley to command the 4th Connecticut.  John Butler was the son of an English officer and he was a rabid Loyalist Tory.  He had taken part in the defeat of the American army at Oriskany the previous year.  He was an experienced and cunning commander.

                On 6 August 1777 the 800 men of the Tryon County New York Militia, lead by General Herkimer, were ambushed by Johnson's and Butler's Tories and the Iroquois Iroquois of Chief Joseph Brandt. In an all day long fierce wilderness battle both sides took a severe beating.  The Militia withdrew and the British claimed victory.  But in the British absence from the siege of Fort Stanwick, the garrison sallied forth and seized everything in the British camp leaving the returning victorious British force without the where-with-all to remain.  The Iroquois became discouraged and left.  The British had to withdraw, unable to take Fort Stanwix.

[12]Captain Hewitt commanded the only company of the Continental Army in the valley.  His men would leave Forty Fort after the battle with Colonel Zebulon Butler and head east to avoid capture by Major Butler's Rangers.  The rangers especially wanted them as prisoners.

[13]weet be the sleep of those who prefer liberty to slavery  was the inscription placed on the grave of the fallen farmers, who were also members of the garrison of Fort Jenkins.

[14]Butler's Rangers were equally split with 200 being Tories and 200 British Provincial troops.

[15]Historical Address at the Wyoming Monument 3d of July 1878 on the 100th Anniversary of the Battle and Massacre of Wyoming by Stueben Jenkins of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

[16]Plymouth was also called Shawnee Flats because it had been a village of that Indian tribe before it was abandoned by the tribe. 

[17]Historical Address, p. 15  See footnote 14 above.

[18]Historical Address, p. 15

[19]Historical Address, p. 15

[20]Historical Address , p. 15

[21]The Iroquois favorite method of torture was death by fire.  Prisoners were forced to run naked through a fire,  were tied up and burned, were held down in the fire with forked branches.  In one incident an Iroquois women nicknamed Queen Esther gathered 16 prisoners around a large rock and then proceeded to bash their brains out with a large club. 

[22]The Continental Army survivors of the battle had already left along with many of the others.  They had received word that Major Butler wanted them as prisoners and they knew what happened to Butler's prisoners. 

[23]The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.--vol. 12, Camp near Coryels, June 22, 1778 " From the apprehensions of the Public, of an Iroquois war in the western department, and the earnest applications of General McIntosh for Troops, I was induced the 15th of the month to detach Durkee's and Ransom's companies for that command. I am told by Lieut. Buck that they are halted at Lancaster. As they are detached from this Army, Congress will be pleased to order their service, wherever they think it will be the most material; Nor have I any thing to offer against Lieut. Colo. Zebulon Butler's remaining where he is and taking the…"