|Ranger on the Northwest Frontier |
In the long ago, the prophet Jeremiah observed, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” And certainly the massacres and atrocities committed by both the Native Americans and the European settlers in the late eighteenth century were sufficient testimony to the dark heart of man.
However, our purpose here is not to examine the great sweep of history, but to look at the struggles of individuals who were simply caught up in these perilous times. What were their lives like? How did they respond to the danger around them?
Now, the French and Indian War had ended with a victory for the English in 1763, and brothers Thomas and Benjamin Applegate had felt the tug to move from their home in New Jersey to the northwest frontier in search of farmland.
|The Ohio Country|
(Pennsylvania on east side)
According to a family history published in the Elizabeth [PA] Herald in 1888, “In the central portion of Forward township [in Westmoreland County] is a locality known for a hundred years or thereabouts as the ‘Jersey Settlement.’ This is the oldest settlement within the limits of the township, and dates from the year 1766. In that year Thomas, William, Daniel, Samuel, and Benjamin Applegate, James and Walter Wall, all originally from Monmouth County, New Jersey crossed the mountains and settles [sic] here upon lands still largely owned by their descendants. They left their wives and children behind at their old homes. These two families were connected by intermarriage.”[ii] Other members of this family also appear in the census records for Allegheny County in 1790 and the early 1800s.
|Proclamation of 1763|
As English colonists, some of the Applegates (including Thomas and Richard) had fought for the Crown during the French and Indian Wars and were none too happy when King George III signed the Proclamation of 1763 in which, after winning territory from the French, colonists would not be allowed to settle west of the Allegheny Mountains. Many say the king was trying to improve relations with the Indians who had been allied with the French for so many years, but, as a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the British Crown, the colonists felt the king was deliberately keeping them east of the mountains in order to have a firmer grip on their actions.[iii] By the time of the proclamation, some colonists had already settled in western Pennsylvania, and others, who felt they had earned the right to move into the area they had helped win, soon followed.
|Fort Burd, Later |
The Applegates and the Walls were among these settlers. Probably following the road made by the army of General Braddock during the French and Indian Wars, they reached the Monongahela at or near Redstone. Now, Redstone was the site of what is known as the Redstone Old Fort, which had been built by Col. James Burd’s men in late 1759.[iv] This is significant to our story because Richard Applegate, brother to Thomas and Benjamin, had fought with Burd’s 1st Pennsylvania regiment during the French and Indian Wars back in 1754, when Burd had still been a major.
In November 1768, the British re-negotiated the boundary set out in the 1763 Proclamation. This agreement, called the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, is sometimes referred to as the Purchase of 1768 inasmuch as the Indians were paid £10,460 7s. 3d. sterling (in gifts and cash) as part of the deal. According to this agreement, the western border was pushed considerably farther to the west, and it must have been this optimistic turn of events that made the Applegates and Walls feel secure enough to send for their wives and children to join them, which we know happened in the fall of 1768. The following spring, the women and children did finally make their way west to join their husbands and fathers. Then, in May, 1776, as the thirteen colonies seemed headed to war with the Crown, the British sealed a deal at Fort Niagara, New York, by which most of the Iroquois Confederacy agreed to join them in war against the Americans. As a result, these tribes “spread terror, devastation and death throughout the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania.” At the same time, some of the western tribes, “through the influence of the British at Detroit, took the British side, and raided the frontiers of Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.” In October, Sir Henry Hamilton, the British officer in command at Detroit, began organizing the king’s Indian allies for operations against the western frontier the following spring. Offering rewards for scalps, Hamilton sent out war parties against the frontiers of Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania in early June of 1777. By the end of July, he had “sent out fifteen war parties, consisting of 30 white men and 289 Indians, an average of 21 in each band.” [v] The Rev. John Heckewelder, an American
missionary active in the region at the time, stated in his History of the Indian Nations that Colonel Hamilton’s instructions were “to kill all the rebels.” A Wyandot chief responded by stating that surely the order was not intended to apply to women and children, to which Hamilton replied, “Kill all; destroy all; nits breed lice.”[vi] Now, during the Revolution, George Washington had determined that frontier security was to be a local responsibility, so to that end, some of the Applegates and Walls joined the Pennsylvania Rangers to defend the western frontier against Hamilton’s marauders. Rangers were “full-time soldiers employed by the colonial governments to ‘range’ between fixed frontier fortifications as a reconnaissance system to provide early warning of hostile raids. In offensive operations, they became scouts and guides, locating targets (such as villages) for task forces drawn from the militia or other colonial troops.” [vii] From 1778 to 1783, Benjamin Applegate served as a Ranger in Westmoreland County under Captain Thomas Moore. He was 51 years old when this service began. Thomas Applegate may have been prevented by age and health from serving, but his son Hezekiah Applegate served under Captain Philip Rogers.To show the kind of danger these men were facing, let me here recount the story of Colonel William Crawford of Westmoreland County, the same county where the Applegates had settled. In fact, Garrett Wall Applegate, son of Benjamin Applegate, served with Crawford for a time.[viii] On June 10, 1782, Crawford and ten others were taken captive by a band of Indians. As John N. Bucher recorded in History of Westmoreland County: "His cruel death has been written of a great deal, and is perhaps, of all outrages committed by the Indians, the one which will dwell longest in the memory of civilized people. He was tied to a tree and burning wood placed near him so as to lengthen his torture. The squaws cut his ears and nose off, and heaped burning coals on his head and back. For three hours he endured this agony, when at last the brave but exhausted Colonel sank into a most welcome death. Simon Girty superintended this barbarous affair. Dr. [John] Knight witnessed it, and knew that he was to be saved for similar exhibition in another locality a night or two following. When being taken there he escaped, and after twenty- two days of wandering reached Fort McIntosh, and thence returned to his home."[ix]The Simon Girty mentioned in this narrative was born into a colonist family but had been taken
captive by the Indians as a boy and raised among them. Eventually freed, he served as a translator for the British during the French and Indian War. At the beginning of the Revolution, he initially served on the American side, but turned traitor and took up with the British once again. His home, which was called Girty’s Run, was on the Allegheny River in what is today Milvale, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which made him a neighbor to Benjamin Applegate, who was living in Elizabeth township, Westmoreland County [Westmoreland County originally comprised Allegheny County]. Today some look upon him as a champion of the Indians against the encroachments of the whites, but during his life he was considered a man almost deranged in his cruelties and one of the most infamous turncoats of the war. It is enough for us to note that Girty was just one more wild card in the frontier violence of the American Revolution. According to the obituary of Captain Thomas Moore, the Pennsylvania Rangers in his command “took part in the defense of Fort Pitt against the savages.”[x] Moore’s lieutenant was a man named Benjamin Harrison, who was given command of the Westmoreland Rangers in 1782.[xi]
|Iroquois Joseph Brant |
Outdoorsmen of western Pennsylvania today have kept alive the legend of these rangers. One notes
that they “quite often looked as much like Indians as they did Europeans, often wearing Native clothes and sometimes painting themselves.” Another states, “The rangers were all scouts, volunteers mostly, that would patrol the wilderness around settlements whenever Indian uprising occurred. All were exceptional woodsmen, the likes of Samuel Brady, Simon Kenton, and Lewis Wetzel. Hopefully they could prevent small Indian raids before they happened or warn the settlements of pending attacks when they couldn't. All were exceptional marksmen and trackers, and had the ability to live off the land with nothing more then the clothing on their back and the necessaries in their possible bag. A rare breed and I'm sure that quite a few of them left this world at the fire stake or without their hair.”[xii] While the men were away, the women and children would have been dependent on each other for their sustenance and protection. My guess is that, living in such dangerous times, most of them would have been able to handle a weapon. One cannot help but notice that Rebecca Wall Applegate, Benjamin’s wife and sister of Walter and James Wall, died at age 51 in May 1781, which was during the time that Benjamin was serving with the Rangers. I have not come across anything yet that indicates the cause of her death. Whether she died as the result of one the very Indian depredations that the men were so devotedly trying to prevent or whether she died of disease while her husband was away, one feels equally saddened and painfully aware of what our pioneer mothers endured on the frontier.
When the war was over, Benjamin and his family settled permanently in Elizabeth township in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, where, at the age of 98, he passed from this life on May 31, 1823. He is buried in the Applegate Family Cemetery in Allegheny County. Benjamin’s son James took a westerly route to Ohio, where James’s son Andrew also resided. Andrew’s son, Uriah Samson, went west to Pottawatomie County, Kansas, sometime in the 1870s and was the ancestor of Helen Applegate, who married German immigrant Adam Jager in about 1914.
Benjamin’s older brother, Thomas Applegate, died in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, in about 1790. His son Hezekiah became a Baptist minister and settled in Scott County, Indiana, where he passed away in 1828. Hezekiah’s daughter Mary moved south into Tennessee with her husband, Burwell “Burrell” Burchett. The two eventually settled in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and are the ancestors of the Cunninghams of Claiborne County.
[i] The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania. http://www.archive.org/stream/indianwarsofpenn00sipe/indianwarsofpenn00sipe_djvu.txt
[ii] “The Jersey Settlement.” http://www.uh.edu/~jbutler/gean/jerseysettlement.html
[iii] “The Proclamation of 1763.” http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/proc63.htm
[iv] Report of the Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania. http://www.usgwarchives.net/pa/1pa/1picts/frontierforts/ff32.html
[v] The Indian Wars of Pennsylvania.
[vi] History, Manners, and Customs of the Indians Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=EoqFU50BYaAC&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA338
[vii] “Rangers in Colonial and Revolutionary America.” http://freepages.military.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~douglas/Creeds_Histories/rgrhistory2.html
[viii] Friends of Fort Laurens. http://www.friendsoffortlaurens.org/Biographies_/Applegate__Pvt_Garrett__Garret_.pdf
[ix] History of Westmoreland County. http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/historyproject/vol1/chap11.html
[x] Find A Grave Memorial #5061854. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5061854
[xi] Francis, Robert E. A Biography of COL John Hinkson: Pennsylvania and Kentucky Frontiersman. http://www.frontierfolk.net/ramsha_research/jhinksonbio.html ; Rosters of Officers and Staff 8th Pennsylvania, September 1778-January 1783. http://www.bchistory.org/beavercounty/BAHF/FortMc.Carver/Carver.Roster.html
[xii] HuntingPA.com. http://www.huntingpa.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=2655874 [Edited for typos]