Wild Yankees

Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence along Pennsylvania's Revolutionary Frontier

Paul B. Moyer
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
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    Wild Yankees
    Book Description:

    Northeast Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley was truly a dark and bloody ground, the site of murders, massacres, and pitched battles. The valley's turbulent history was the product of a bitter contest over property and power known as the Wyoming controversy. This dispute, which raged between the mid-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, intersected with conflicts between whites and native peoples over land, a jurisdictional contest between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, violent contention over property among settlers and land speculators, and the social tumult of the American Revolution. In its later stages, the controversy pitted Pennsylvania and its settlers and speculators against "Wild Yankees"-frontier insurgents from New England who contested the state's authority and soil rights.

    In Wild Yankees, Paul B. Moyer argues that a struggle for personal independence waged by thousands of ordinary settlers lay at the root of conflict in northeast Pennsylvania and across the revolutionary-era frontier. The concept and pursuit of independence was not limited to actual war or high politics; it also resonated with ordinary people, such as the Wild Yankees, who pursued their own struggles for autonomy. This battle for independence drew settlers into contention with native peoples, wealthy speculators, governments, and each other over land, the shape of America's postindependence social order, and the meaning of the Revolution. With vivid descriptions of the various levels of this conflict, Moyer shows that the Wyoming controversy illuminates settlement, the daily lives of settlers, and agrarian unrest along the early American frontier.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6172-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XII)
  5. A Note on Terminology
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  7. Introduction: A Farmer’s Revolution
    (pp. 1-12)

    The Wyoming Valley occupies a roughly twenty-mile stretch of the Susquehanna River between the mouths of Nanticoke Creek and the Lackawanna River. “Wyoming” is a corruption of the Delaware word Maughwauwam, which translates into “the large plains.” The name certainly described the wide, fertile flats that bordered each side of the Susquehanna before the land rose into the mountains that boxed in the valley. But this depicts Wyoming in only its strictest geographical sense. In the eighteenth century, people came to use the term to refer to a much larger area of hill and valley country covering Northeast Pennsylvania. By...

  8. Chapter 1 “Among Quarrelsome Yankees, Insidious Indians, and Lonely Wilds”: Natives, Colonists, and the Wyoming Controversy
    (pp. 13-36)

    On July 20, 1775, the Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian prepared to set out from Sunbury, Pennsylvania, up the north branch of the Susquehanna River. Fithian, a New Jersey native, graduate of Princeton, and one-time tutor in the employ of the powerful Virginia planter Robert Carter, had received a license from the Presbytery of Philadelphia the previous December to make missionary tours through western Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. It was on one of these tours that the reverend made his way up the Susquehanna Valley. Fithian, contemplating the road before him, wrote in his diary: “I must now away up this...

  9. Chapter 2 “A Great Many Wrangling Disputes”: Authority, Allegiance, Property, and the Frontier War for Independence
    (pp. 37-64)

    In the summer of 1785, Pennsylvania claimant and Northumberland County magistrate David Mead found himself under siege. His troubles began in the winter when Connecticut claimants started to harass Pennsylvania settlers and force them from their lands. In the spring, this trickle of dispossessions became a flood as Yankees systematically cleared the Wyoming Valley of Pennamite settlers. Mead gathered evidence against the rioters and sent reports to Philadelphia describing the growing crisis but found that he could do little to stop it. In July Mead himself became a target of violence when a group of Connecticut claimants attacked his farmstead....

  10. Chapter 3 “A Dangerous Combination of Villains”: The Social Context of Agrarian Resistance
    (pp. 65-93)

    On the night of June 26, 1788, a band of Yankee insurgents crept into Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, broke into the home of Luzerne county clerk Timothy Pickering, and entered the room where he, his wife Rebecca, and their nine-month-old son slept. Startled awake, Pickering asked who was there, to which he received the curt reply, “get up.” Pickering got out of bed and started to dress; Rebecca left the room and returned with a lit candle. In its dim glow, Pickering saw that the room was “filled with men, armed with guns and hatchets, having their faces blacked and handkerchiefs tied...

  11. Chapter 4 “All the Difficulties of Forming a New Settlement”: Frontier Migration, Land Speculation, and Settler Insurgency
    (pp. 94-119)

    In October 1792, frontier entrepreneur and Pennsylvania land speculator Samuel Wallis led a group of men up Tunkhannock Creek to survey lands claimed by Samuel Meredith and other Philadelphia merchants. Wallis’s survey was interrupted when Wild Yankees lying in ambush fired on his workmen. No one was injured but a musket ball smacked into a tree, narrowly missing two men. Fearing for their lives, the Pennsylvanians retreated to their camp. But their ordeal was not over. After dark, a “party of Armed men with their faces black’d” surrounded the surveyors and “order[ed] themselves as they were about to Attack.” The...

  12. Chapter 5 “A Perfect Union with the People”: Cultures of Resistance along the Revolutionary Frontier
    (pp. 120-147)

    By the summer of 1804, Yankee settlers along Sugar Creek found themselves struggling to shield their community from intruding sheriff’s deputies, surveyors, and land agents. In the spring, they got word that a group of Pennsylvania surveyors were at work near their settlements. Three parties of settlers scoured the woods for the Pennsylvanians but failed to intercept them. A short time later, word spread that Lycoming County magistrate Henry Donnell was in the neighborhood cajoling Connecticut claimants into purchasing Pennsylvania titles and bringing ejectment suits against those who refused. Responding to this threat, Sugar Creek’s Wild Yankees rallied and, after...

  13. Chapter 6 “Poor and Ignorant but Industrious Settlers”: Frontier Development and the Path to Accommodation
    (pp. 148-174)

    The chief agent of the Pennsylvania Landholders’ Association, Robert Rose, made his way to Sugar Creek in July 1803 with the aim of subduing its Wild Yankees. Knowing that the only way to conquer resistance was to break it down one person at a time, he hoped to meet individually with each householder along the creek. The settlers upset this plan when they intercepted Rose and brought him before a gathering of the area’s inhabitants. Luckily for him, the Yankees were more interested in talk than tar and feathers. Rose explained that the Landholders’ Association was willing to let them...

  14. Chapter 7 “Artful Deceivers”: Yankee Notables and the Resolution of the Wyoming Controversy
    (pp. 175-195)

    In rural communities across early America, a few leading inhabitants stood above their neighbors in terms of wealth and social status. In Northeast Pennsylvania, one such man was Bartlett Hinds. A Revolutionary War veteran who often went by the title “Captain,” Hinds was no ordinary frontier settler. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, he came to the Susquehanna Valley in 1800. Once there, he developed a four-hundred-acre tract along Wyalusing Creek that he had purchased from the one-time governor of Connecticut Samuel Huntingdon and, in the capacity of a resident land agent, promoted Huntingdon’s efforts to sell and settle thousands of...

  15. Epilogue: Closing the Revolutionary Frontier
    (pp. 196-200)

    On March 1, 1831, the most notable of Northeast Pennsylvania’s Yankee notables, John Franklin, died in his Athens home at the age of eighty-one. At the time of his death, he possessed a 580-acre farm, a sawmill, a horse, some livestock, and a house. Assessors valued Franklin’s personal property at $316.20. His single most valuable possession was a clock worth $15. Franklin was well off but he was no commercially oriented backcountry entrepreneur. He never became a Freemason, never strayed from the Federalist Party, and until he joined Athens’s Universalist church near the end of his life, stayed true to...

  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 201-210)
  17. Index
    (pp. 211-216)