Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The forests of Monroe County’s Pocono Mountains are widely known for their “flaming foliage” of autumn and their springtime laurel and rhododendron blossoms. In this era of ecological and conservation concerns, those who know the Poconos hope that this natural beauty may be a heritage for unnumbered future generations to enjoy. The Pocono Forestry Association perceives in these woodlands a great variety of social and cultural benefits, and takes the lead in encouraging the present generation to manage the forests wisely and plant new trees so that this fragile natural treasure may not be lost.

It was in 1779 that the Pocono Mountain forests first became a subject of national awareness. They were, in effect. discovered by the American military, launching a campaign against the Indians which would drive through the upper Sus­quehanna Valley and into New York’s Finger Lakes regions. In accordance with Gen. George Washington’s plan, two forces were to assemble at Wyoming (Wilkes-Barre), one mov­ing up the Susquehanna from the vicinity of Sunbury and the second, larger force, led by the overall commander of the ex­pedition, Maj. Gen. John Sullivan, striking northwestward from Easton, following the most direct route for military movements from the Delaware Valley to Wyoming. The Pocono Mountains lay athwart Sullivan’s route, and his troops soon found themselves coping with problems implicit in this mountain wilderness.

In the official correspondence of the officers and in the private diaries of soldiers of all ranks were recorded. candid im­pressions of the region. These were nothing like the-views and visions of the Pocono Forestry Association two hundred years later. Those military operations extended from early April to mid-October, but no one noticed the beauty of the laurel blossoms or the color of the fall foliage. Under the cir­cumstances of unmapped mountains and wartime hazards, the military did not have many happy experiences in the Poconos, nor did they envision a future worth nurturing there.

First of all, it should be conceded that even the settlers of this region had mixed feelings about the forests. This second generation of residents vividly remembered the French and In­dian War when Indians, incited by the French, sprang from nearby forest cover to inflict death and destruction on isolated settlements. Not even the forts erected by the colonial govern­ment nor the mutual support of neighbors could dispel the fears of insecurity. Aside from hostile Indians, the wild beasts of the forest were a continuing menace to farmers. To be sure, however, the woodland resources sustained these pioneers of civilization: the timber provided material for homes, barns and churches; the rich virgin soil, exposed by clearings, nurtured the farmers’ crops. But if this was a land of opportunity, it also was a frontier of great risks. The settlers were on the cut­ting edge of a mysterious wilderness into which the Continen­tal Army was to penetrate boldly in 1779.

There had been little reason to pay any attention to this region until mid-1778, when the Iroquois broke the peace they had negotiated with Continental authorities at Easton in January 1777. A calculated Indian and Tory assault on the set­tlers at Wyoming in the Susquehanna Valley in July 1778 sent many refugees fleeing through the unfamiliar and unmarked Pocono forests to Jacob Stroud’s Fort Penn and points below the mountains. Suddenly, these forests were frightening. From their deep recesses the Indians, aided and abetted by the British, were threatening to expel the frontiersmen from their clearings. Many, including Jacob Stroud, were alarmed that the frontier line might be pushed south of the Blue Mountains. Washington hurriedly outlined short- and long-run measures to restore peace and security in that region; despite its remoteness, it was an important source of provisions for his troops. Safeguarding continued access to these vital supplies was imperative.

The military operations across the Poconos brought Washington, his field officers and the rank-and-file troops into confrontation wth some harsh realities: (1) the lack of roads; (2) the barriers of untouched trees and thick undergrowth; (3) the surprises of swamps, streams and moun­tains in an unmapped and unknown terrain; (4) the absence of settlers; and (5) the menace of skulking savages. Against all of these hazards, the military found few forest blessings. The soldiers who crossed the Poconos in 1779 – some of them several times – confirmed what the frontiersmen had been say­ing about the area. In fact, the soldiers gained a more intimate knowledge than most residents.

The first of the 1779 military movements in the Poconos oc­curred in April. Under orders from General Washington, Brig. Gen. Edward Hand at Minisink (Port Jervis, New York} sent the two regiments of his brigade to Wyoming to set up a base from which a Continental army could conduct a cam­paign up the Susquehanna Valley against the Iroquois Indians. General Hand drafted his troops’ instructions to conform to wilderness realities. The regiments were to march down the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, cross on a ferry at Walpack Bend and head for Jacob Stroud’s Fort Penn. There they would gird themselves for the four-day march through the wilderness to Wyoming. Capt. Alexander Patterson, an assis­tant deputy quartermaster general, was in charge of a stock of emergency military supplies from which Hand’s men obtained twenty-nine axes and “a few camp kettles.”

General Hand knew how Indians scouted and attacked in small parties, turning to advantage their familiarity with the woods and the undergrowth. Therefore, he admonished his regiments about their march from the frontier outpost to Learn’s Tavern (Tannersville) to Wyoming-nearly forty miles. Said Hand:

It will be necessary to make easie marches in order to reconnoitre the country well and examine every thicket & hollow way or swamp before you enter it, which I desire you may be very particular in doing to prevent being sur­prised, led into an ambuscade or attack’d without pre­vious knowledge of the enemy’s being near. You will be particularly attentive to keep the body of the troops com­pact, suffer no stragler on any account, keep a proper ad­vance and rear guard, though not at too great a distance, and also small parties on your flank observing the same caution. Should any enemy appear, you must take care not to advance on them precipitately before you know their numbers, or until you have sufficiently extended your front to prevent being outflanked. By a steddy ad­herence to the above directions you will have little danger to apprehend double your attention as you approach the fort.

Captain Patterson was asked to provide a guide through the poorly marked woods. The only landmark Hand could iden­tify beyond Learn’s Tavern was the Great Swamp. This was one feature of the wilderness – deep in the forest – that had become widely known even to people who had never been in the region. Some New England settlers had traveled the Indian trail that passed through the swamp en route to making their homes on land claimed by Connecticut along the Susquehan­na. These travelers had been so impressed by the extensive swamp that they warned others planning to go that way.

The Indian trail from Big Pocono. near Learn’s Tavern, to Wyoming could not accommodate a military expedition that was to consist of 2,500 troops, 2,000 horses and many wagons, plus some artillery. Certainly the Great Swamp would require special attention by road builders. In May 1779, when General Washington sent several regiments to build a road through the wilderness, he made special reference to the swamp. Other­wise, the geography of the forest was vague to the expedition planners. Aware of his own uncertainty about the terrain, Washington advised Col. Oliver Spencer, director of the road project, to learn “from the inhabitants” of the neighborhood the route “which was most direct and easiest repaired.” Since there were no settlers beyond Learn’s Tavern, Spencer bad to consult people in the vicinity of Brinker’s Mill (Sciota) and Fort Penn. Spencer had a free hand to digress from Washington’s general directions and follow the recommendations of better informed residents.

When General Sullivan went to Easton to take charge of his base of preparations, Washington gave him maps – “the best maps of the country” – which a Col. Charles Stewart had ob­tained in connection with his travels through the region pro­curing supplies as a commissary. Stewart was to be available to explain the countryside represented by the maps, according to the best information he could obtain. On the very day that Washington was penning his letter, Sullivan was writing to Washington that he was drawing information about the moun­tain routes from Captain Patterson at Fort Penn. He had learned that even though Nicholas Scull’s official map of Pennsylvania showed an Indian trail from Easton to Wyom­ing, beyond Learn’s Tavern it was “impassible for wagons.” On the other hand, there was a route, not marked by Scull, “from a little above Pokono Point to Wioming … most commonly used at this time,” presumably by Connecticut set­tlers. This was more likely to be made passable.

Building a military road had to precede any other military movement. Starting at the southern end at Learn’s Tavern, several regiments worked more than a month. At the Wyom­ing end of the project, General Hand sent men into the forest to blaze a trail for the road builders to follow in digressing from the Indian path. He ordered “some trees fallen across the old road where work.men are to leave it.” He consulted some settlers in the vicinity of Wyoming about finding “the best way of bringing a wagon road over the next mountain,” which Hand then had “well marked.”

General Sullivan traveled from Easton to the top of the Poconos on May 29, 1779 to review the road building project. He was pleased that the road was going forward and had pro­gressed through what seemed to be the most difficult part of the swamp. However, he noted with disgust that “those per­sons who pretended to know the country misrepresented mat­ters exceedingly …. We have been obliged to bridge the Tobehannah & several other creeks not laid down in any of our maps.” The Indian path was almost useless as a road route. The road builders could not adhere to the trail for more than a half mile throughout the entire course. Even then, construc­tion was difficult. Sullivan observed: “the road is now cut … through a country the most difficult I ever saw – it is not possible for a country to be thicker with wood among which the laurels are so thick that a man cannot get through them but on his hands and knees.” Yet, “notwithstanding all these difficulties,” Col. Philip Van Cortlandt and Colonel Spencer had built a “very passable” road.

The element of the expedition under Sullivan marched across the Poconos during the period June 19-22, 1779 and returned by the same route in mid-October. These forests were a new experience for all of these people. The two infantry brigades consisted of regiments from New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey. Although the artillery of the force – the 4th Continental Artillery – was a Pennsylvania regiment, its members were unfamiliar with this country. Most of the troops, in fact, came from eastern towns and long-settled com­munities and had never before penetrated a wilderness. It is no wonder that they kept diaries of this experience.

A Baptist chaplain from Philadelphia-Rev. William Rogers-found the trip to be quite an adventure. He noted that the long stretch from Learn’s Tavern to Wyoming was “uninhabited except by wild beasts & roving animals.” There was food – trout at Chowder Camp five miles beyond Learn’s Tavern and rattlesnakes which some of the soldiers killed and cooked. He had the exhilaration of climbing atop Big Pocono. From there he discovered the Delaware Gap, miles to the southeast, while enjoying “a fine prospect of nature’s works – hill upon hill surrounding us.” Rogers was greatly im­pressed with the trees and other plant life. The trees were of “amazing height.” He identified hemlock, birch, pine, sugar maple, ash, locust, poplar and oak. Laurel was abundant-the “largest laurel” he had ever seen (perhaps it was rhododen­dron). He noticed “the ground universally covered with brush by the name of ground oak.” Rogers acknowledged the term “Shades of Death” as an appropriate name for a section of the Great Swamp because of the darkness there.

Sgt. Moses Fellows described this as “rough country,” but also observed that “the land [was) covered with pine, hemlock, spruce, etc.” After crossing “a small river cald Tunkhannah,” he passed the Tobehanna and went through the “Shades of Death.” Sergeant Fellows concluded that “the whole country from Eastown to Wyoming is very poor and barren and I think as never will be settled; it abounds chiefly in deer and rattle snake.” The term “barren” was commonly used to suggest that the land could not sustain permanent set­tlers. Ensign Daniel Gookin said the same thing about the countryside from Wind Gap to Big Pocono – it was “country all mountainous and barren.”

Lt. Col. Henry Dearborn, who would one day become Secretary of War, still later a major general, and ultimately minister to Portugal, was another member of the expedition. He described the Great Swamp as “a horrid rough gloomy country the land cover’d with pine spruce laurel bushes & hemlock.” The “Shades of Death,” he said, was “a very gloomy thick part of the Swamp.”

A surgeon, Ebenezer Elmer, was amazed at the tall trees in the Great Swamp: “In some places the timber is very tall & thick, mostly white pine & hemlock with some birch, maple & locust trees, many of the white pines are 150 feet clear of any limbs.” The lack of drinking water prevented the troops from camping on Locust Hill, so they forged on to a bushy spot by the edge of the swamp which they called “Fatigue Camp.”

Capt. Daniel Livermore of New Hampshire summed up his Pocono Mountain impressions thus: “During the whole of our march from Easton we travelled through the most baren part of the country l ever saw for so far together. Rocky moun­tains, sunken swamps and burning plains the whole of the way.” Livermore was led to believe the swamp was more ex­tensive than it actually was: “by accounts,” he said, “it ex­tends between forty and fifty miles, north and south, and from twelve to twenty in width.”

Even after Sullivan’s force had moved far up the Sus­quehanna Valley, its lifeline stretched precariously back through the Pocono forests to the Easton staging and supply base. Expresses traveled between Easton and Wyoming with a stop at Sciota. Alexander Patterson, storekeeper of army sup­plies at Brinker’s Mill, Sciota (known then as Sullivan’s Stores), wrote to Joseph Reed, President of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council, to report an incident indicative of the hazards of Pocono Mountain travel. James Cook, an ex­press riding from Wyoming, ran into trouble in the Great Swamp section of the road.

[He] was fired upon by the Indians & Tories – between thirty and fifty shot. One shot went through his canteen, one thro his saddle, one thro his hunting shirt, one was shot into his horse. Two Indians or Tories being yet be­fore him, both discharged their pieces at him, threw down their firelocks with a determination to tomahawk him, at which time he, with a bravery peculiar to himself, fired upon them, killed one of them on the spot and wounded the other, notwithstanding he threw his tomahawk at the express, missed him, but cut the horse very deep upon the shoulder. He got hold of Cook, thought to get him from his horse, tore his shirt which is stained much with the Indian’s blood; the horse being fretted by his wound raised upon his hind feet, trampled the Indian or Torie under him, who roared terribly, at which time Cook got clear; the other Indians on seeing him get off raised the whoop as if all Hell was broke loose. He supposes he roade the horse afterwards near four miles but by the loss of blood began to stagger where he alighted, took off his saddle & letters ran about a mile on foot where he fortun­ately found a stray Continental horse, which he mounted & rode to this place . . .

“It is easy to account for his getting the horse,” said Patter­son, “as there are numbers of them astray about the Swamp.”

The military road was also the route of cattle drives to Wyoming. Sullivan informed the president of Congress that he had to procure two-thirds of his cattle from Easton to support his forces, which meant that they were driven through this long road through the dense forests of the Poconos. Other supplies also came over this route. Inasmuch as the army had marched before all of its clothing had arrived in Easton, Sullivan had to request a thousand blankets and five thousand shirts “by the way of Easton, to be sent on to this place [Wyoming].” An­ticipating that the army would need relief supplies when it returned from Indian country to Wyoming, Washington called on the Continental Commissary and the Pennsylvania state government to forward provisions to the Wyoming magazine during the month of September 1779.

Sullivan and his army, having completed their drive through New York state, were back at Wyoming during the second week of October. To facilitate the army’s movement through the mountains, Sullivan sent a detachment ahead to repair the military road which, he explained, should be in the best condi­tion possible “as the horses of the army are very weak and the wagons heavily loaded.” Cattle were to be driven with the army (although a hundred were retained by the garrison re­maining at Fort Wyoming).

Sullivan’s army departed from Wyoming on October 10. On the second day out, the force arrived at “the edge of the Great Swamp 17 miles from Wyoming where we encamped on tolerable good ground.” The next morning the soldiers “entered the great swamp which is a very bad road.” In the middle of the swamp was Locust Hill, at which they arrived at 1:00 P.M. and ate dinner. Just as they emerged from the swamp “a very heavy shower of rain came on which wet us very much.” After marching three miles farther, they en­camped for the night. “A great many horses died in the swamp … and a great many waggon broken to pieces.” At the same time, they met “about 50 waggons in the swamp go­ing to Wyoming.” Some of the northward-bound wagons turned around and took the stranded baggage to Easton while the others continued to Wyoming. It was a great relief for the troops to come upon Learn’s Tavern once again. One soldier welcomed the sight as “the beginning of the settlement of a Christian Country,” and was happy with the land between Sciota and Wind Gap as “a middling good settled counttry.”

The Continental Army had come to grips with the Pocono forests. Through them it built a military highway over which passed a 2,500-man army, much baggage and supplies. To master the situation, the army had to explore the terrain; cope with huge trees, thick underbrush and dark swamps; and bridge unexpected streams. This wilderness road served the army’s immediate purposes, but no one thought it would have any permanent value for regional development.

However impressive were the variety, size and number of trees, none viewed these forests as an attraction for future ex­ploitation and settlement. The troops did not expect to return, and did not do so even though the next three years were mark­ed by occasional Indian raiders who infiltrated these very forests, murdering members of the George Learn family in the open field near Learn’s Tavern and threatening the security of Sciota and Fort Penn.

The soldiers who recorded their observations about these forests expressed no desire to return to this region, to settle or to draw upon the forest resources. Like the settlers of the area, the military saw this as a frontier wilderness and remembered it for its trials and terrors. The Pocono forests made the Con­tinental Army pay a price in hard work, hardships and hazards in 1779; few, if any, even took notice of the flaming foliage of autumn.

 

John C. Appel is a professor emeritus at East Stroudsburg State College, where he taught history for twenty-seven years. He is past president of the Monroe County Historical Society and currently serves as the historian for that organization. In addition to numerous articles and pamphlets, the author has written A Return to the Monroe County Frontier and the History of Monroe County, Pennsylvania, 1725-1776.