Members of the Tunkhannock Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution got a bird’s-eye view of the Battle of Wyoming on Saturday, thanks to a presentation by Mary Jo Elliott.
Elliott, of Springville, is the wife of Russ Elliott, a direct descendant of Joseph Elliott, one of the few survivors of the Battle of Wyoming back in 1778.
“He’s a fourth great-grandfather,” Elliott explained about Joseph Elliott’s connection to her husband.
Dressed in clothing from the colonial period, Elliott peppered her talk with anecdotes and historical information about Joseph’s role in the Revolutionary War and beyond.
She spoke about how Joseph participated in the Battle of Trenton, after which he was personally presented a sword by Gen. George Washington.
“He lost his sword while chasing after some Hessian soldiers,” Elliott explained. “When General Washington found out about it, he went to all the booty they had collected, picked out a sword, and presented it to him.”
Joseph was very proud of the sword, and was to keep it the rest of his life, she said.
Joseph was born in Connecticut and later moved with his family to the Wyoming Valley. They were living at a fort, where the Wilkes-Barre town square is today, when the incidents that led to the Battle of Wyoming occurred.
Elliott said that her talk was based on both a review of Elliott’s Revolutionary War pension application and also from an interview by Charles Miner with Joseph Elliott regarding eyewitness details to what actually happened.
In May 1778, British forces made up of Butler’s Rangers, Seneca Native Americans, and Tories marched from Fort Niagara into the Wyoming Valley. The alarm was raised after several settlers were killed. American forces gathered at Forty Fort, including Joseph, his younger brother Jabez, and their father Henry, then age 66.
The massacre occurred on July 3, Elliott said, because of a miscommunication with the American forces, ordering them to retreat. Instead, the defenders turned and ran, with the British forces in deadly pursuit.
Joseph had just fired his musket, killing one of the Senecas, when he saw his brother and father being pursued by two others.
“They were using war clubs and hatches,” Elliott said about the attackers. “People were dying right and left. He (Joseph) swung his musket in an arc, stepping in front of the Indians. He yelled to Jabez and Henry to run to the fort.”
The two managed to get back to the fort safely, but Joseph was captured. He and another were brought before Queen Esther, leader of the Munsee Delawares tribe, who lived in what is now Athens.
Although Queen Esther had traded with the settlers in Wyoming Valley, a relative had been killed previously, and she vowed revenge on those responsible.
“Cabins were being burned and settlements pillaged,” Elliott explained.
Joseph and about 30 others were taken to the Delaware settlement, where Queen Esther apparently ordered them clubbed to death, one by one. The last two left were Joseph and Lebbeus Hammond, who were each being held in place by two warriors.
“They looked at each other and nodded their heads,” Elliott imagined about what happened when their turn came. “They walked up, pushed a log with their feet, then twisted free and ran.”
Both men were nearly naked, wearing only a long shirt, she said. Hammond managed to hide in a hollow log, while Joseph jumped into the river.
He dived underwater, but a pursuer was waiting when he came up for air.
“He was shot in the shoulder,” Elliott said. “So with one arm he made it to the opposite shore. There he found a horse. He made a bridle out of bark, and put his shirt in the wound. Then he made it back to the fort.”
Joseph was just in time, because the fort was about to be evacuated. Although a doctor patched him up, things were grim for Joseph and the rest because there were few supplies or food.
This turned deadly as the group made its way to Connecticut.
“Some of the women were pregnant and died in child birth,” Elliott explained. “Many of the elderly women also did not make it.”
However, Joseph and his family survived the trip, and would eventually make their way back to the Wyoming Valley. Joseph would live to be 95, but Jabez would die the following year while participating in Sullivan’s March.
“He was the only member of the family who died in the war,” she said.
Elliott said she is a member of the DAR - but not the Tunkhannock chapter- having traced her own lineage to a Jotham Pickering, who served the Patriot cause from Massachusetts and eventually found his way to Susquehanna County.
She and her husband Russ are also members of a living history group which travels the region as the 24th Connecticut Militia Regiment, and they plan to be at this summer’s anniversary of the Battle of Wyoming, according to information at the group’s website at 24thcmr.org/