How Forty Fort Borough was founded…
King Charles II of England created a situation which resulted in years of suffering and bloodshed when he granted the same land to the colonies of both Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
The settlers of Connecticut had received glowing reports from explorers and missionaries of a beautiful and fertile valley in Pennsylvania.
Although the claim was granted to Connecticut in 1662, it was not until 1769 that Connecticut through the Susquehanna Company, sent forty men to the valley. They were told to hold the land against the Indians and the Pennsylvanians. Upon arriving in the area, those early pioneers gazed from the hilltop upon a fertile valley below (now Wyoming Valley) and felt their long trip had not been in vain.
When the settlers reached the valley, they found the region claimed by the heirs of William Penn. The land was laid out as a manor, consisting of 20,000 acres, located on the northwest side of the Susquehanna River. John Jennings was sheriff of Northanpton County within which the disputed territory lay. It was he who was responsible for the arrest of three members of the original forty at the meeting at Ogden’s Trading Post (in north Wilkes-Barre.) This meeting had been arranged to negotiate some form of peaceful settlement. Upon their arrival at the meeting, Jennings had them arrested for intrusion and trespassing, and the three were taken to jail in Easton. In a short time a Mr Ledlie, a merchant from Easton, furnished bail. In the meantime the remaining thirty-seven settlers, hearing of the arrest, had followed their friends over the mountain but retreated to the vicinity of Stroudsburg.. Once free, the three joined their fellow settlers, and all returned to the valley. Sheriff Jennings, with a posse, met them on their arrival and promptly arrested the group. A second trip was made over the mountain to Easton where bail was again furnished by Mr. Ledlie. After trudging two hundred and forty miles through snow and over rough terrain, these hardy pioneers still thought the valley a beautiful place in which to live.
This event led to the Yankee-Pennamite Wars which caused much bloodshed and suffering on both sides. Although the Connecticut settlement was destroyed three times during the conflicts, the war ended with the Connecticut forces in control of the valley.
By 1775 many Pennsylvanians were interested in the area, as the original manor had been subdivided and some plots sold. The persons now financially involved equipped an army of 700 men, and, under the leadership of Colonel Plunkett, proceeded to the valley with orders to oust the Connecticut Yankees. When Colonel Zebulon Butler heard of their advance, he fortified his troops at a strategic point along the river. After the Connecticut forces twice drove back Plunkett’s army, the Pennsylvanians retired. The defenders from Connecticut had won by conquest that which they considered their right, and they settled down to reap the harvest.
After nearly three years of comparative peace and prosperity, the settlers of Forty Fort and of the surrounding countryside were subjected to barbarous treatment by the British and Indians. In the meantime many of the able men of the settlements had joined Washington’s army. With the retreat of that army across New Jersey, these men were far from home. When news of the terror facing the settlers reached the soldiers, about 100 of them returned home in time to aid in the defense of the valley. On July 3, 1778, the Battle of Wyoming took place. The settlers, led by Colonel Nathan Denison, were greatly outnumbered by the combined British and Indian forces but marched north in an attempt to protect their homes and property. The result was disastrous for the men from Connecticut; the following day a massacre of the captives took place.
The negotiations for the surrender were carried on within the walls of Forty Fort. Here gathered the remnants of the defending forces under Denison; Major John Butler represented the British and the Indians. A promise was made to the settlers that they would be free from scalping and pillaging; in spite of this, for two months after the surrender of the fort the Indians burned houses and barns of the Yankees.
Four times within nine years the settlement of the valley was destroyed. Each time those settlers who had escaped returned to salvage what remained of their crops and to build anew their fortunes. Through these years of turmoil families often lacked bread, shivered with cold, trembled with fear of the torch and the tomahawk. But out of these hardships was forged a character with such faith, courage, and determination that no obstacle was too great to overcome. The fortitude with which all the early settlers endured the trials and tribulations of founding our nation clearly demonstrates those qualities which made America great.
At the close of the Revolutionary War in 1779, General Sullivan marched north through the Susquehanna and Genesee Valleys. He destroyed the Indian settlements and drove their inhabitants forever from the region. Pennsylvania petioned Congress to appoint a comission to settle the dispute over the land. The commission selected from the different states, handed down a decision that the State of Connecticut had no right to the land; however, this decision did not affect the individuals who had purchased property from the Susquehanna Company. Thus, out of virgin territory was carved a settlement on April 3, 1886 was incorporated as the borough of Forty Fort whose population at that time was between 800 and 900. On April 25, 1896, the court divided the borough into three wards.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, when Forty Fort consisted of scattered homes and acres of farmland, the borough was developed into a pleasasnt, largely residential community with a number of thriving businesses. The Susquehanna River, through the years, has periodically overflowed the banks, causing destruction in some areas of Wyoming Valley. Forty Fort has been spared major damage until the flood of June of 1972, as a result of Tropical Storm Agnes,the rising river swept over and through the restraining barriers; this flooding brought to Forty Fort the tragedy of ravaged homes, stores, churches, banks, and schools. It was then that the citizens of the community showed the resourcefulness, courage, and faith of their forefathers as they worked endlessly, with generous help from peoople far and near, to restore Forty Fort to a borough of which they could be proud.
Forty Fort, so named for the original forty settlers, was begun in the summer of 1770. It was located on the river bank near a “copious spring of water, known as the Great Springs.” Opinions differ, but authorities lead us to believe that it enclosed an acre or more of land. The walls were of logs, and these were set upright in a trench five feet deep. The logs extended twelve feet above the surface of the ground and were sharpened at the top. The joints and crevices of the upright logs were protected by another tier of logs planted and secured in like manner, thus forming a double wall. Within the fort, barracks or huts were built along the walls for shelter for the occupants. The roofs of these buildings served as a platform from which the garrison could defend the fort. The space in the center was used as a parade ground.
The enclosure was rectangular with gateways at both the north and the south ends. At the four corners small sentry towers rose a few feet above the top of the walls. The strong-flowing spring at the edge of the river, below the structure, supplied the fort with water. Safe access to the spring was made possible by a sunken passageway leading from within the fort.
At the river end of fort street a stone brought from Kingston mountain marks the approximate site of this historic place. The marker, with a bronze plaque, was placed there by the Wyoming Valley Chapter or the Daughters of the American Revolution October 19, 1900.