A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley was a focus of British military strategy during the American Revolution because its three thousand residents constituted the largest population center on the Susquehanna River. The British believed that by eliminating this stronghold of American patriotism they could dominate the frontier. Major John Butler
organized a force of two hundred and fifty British and Tory soldiers, Butler’s Rangers, and about twice as many Native Americans and mounted an invasion, in 1778, to rout the Americans living in the valley.

Most of the valley’s inhabitants gathered in Forty Fort, on the west bank of the river, under the command of Colonels Nathan Denison and Zebulon Butler. On July 3, 1778, Major John Butler demanded unconditional surrender of the valley. Rather than await reinforcements, the Americans, numbering less than four hundred, marched into battle near Wyoming, about five miles north­east of the Luzerne County seat of Wilkes-­Barre. The Battle of Wyoming was brief and bloody, an easy victory for the British. On the night of the battle, the Native Americans committed a number of unspeakable atrocities, including unmitigated torture and death by beating. Although a defeat for the American side, exaggerated reports of the “massacre” helped galvanize determination to defeat the British and precipitated George Washington’s order, in 1779, to General John Sullivan to punish Native Americans for their involvement.

For nearly three months, the bodies of the slain American patriots lay where they fell. It was not until October 22 that a contingent was dispatched to the valley to bury the dead. The remains of eighty-three bodies were buried in a common grave, the location of which became lost over the years.

Beginning as early as 1809, a series of attempts to erect a monument near the battlefield failed – until prominent business leader William Swetland offered a reward for the discovery of the mass burial site. Phillip Jackson found it in 1832 and on the battle’s fifty-fifth anniversary the following year, the bones were exhumed and placed in dry goods boxes and temporarily warehoused in Swet­land’s store.

In 1833, a vault was built, followed by the beginning of the construction of a shaft, or obelisk. Plagued by continuing financial woes, construction was not completed until October 1843, a full decade since the cornerstone had been laid. Much of the funding was raised by the Ladies’ Luzerne Monumental Asso­ciation, which had been formed in 1841.

The Wyoming Monument – which some scholars contend was designed by noted Philadelphia architect Thomas Ustick Walter – was entered in the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and military significance. The memorial consists of a pedestal, or plinth, and an Egyptian Revival style obelisk of dark gray cut stone, laid in blocks measuring twelve to fifteen inches in width, and surrounded by cast iron fencing installed after extensive landscaping in 1864. the monument rises nearly sixty-three feet above its park-like setting and contains plaques that summarize the battle’s key events and list fallen heroes and survivors. The Egyptian Revival style of the day, considered a fitting expression of tribute, as well as highly suitable for cemetery art and public monuments, emerged in the United States as interest in Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaigns in Egypt, archaeological discoveries at the tombs of the pharaohs, and the Romantic Movement intensified.

 

Recent Additions to the National Register of Historic Places

Ann Cunningham Evans House
Caernarvon Township, Lancaster County
May 9, 2002

Willow Mill Complex
Richboro, Bucks County
May 9, 2002

Fulton Building
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
May LO, 2002

Wyoming Monument
Wyoming, Luzerne County
May 13, 2002

Cuttalossa Valley Historic District
Solebury Township, Bucks County
June 27, 2002

H.J. Heinz Company
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
July 10, 2002

William Cree House
Jefferson Township, Greene County
July 15, 2002

Robert Parkinson Farm
Morris Township, Washington County
July 15, 2002

 

The editor is indebted to the research of Robert A. Janosov, of Sheatown, Luzerne County, his­torian, author, and college professor, who nominated the memorial, on behalf of the Wyoming Monument Association, for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.