Discovery of the Lake
The story of Benjamin Harvey and the discovery of Harvey’s Lake in 1781 is from A History of Wilkes-Barre, copyrighted in 1909, by the noted Wyoming Valley historian, Oscar Jewell Harvey. The material is not edited and it retains the character of language 100 years ago.
During the early war years of the American Revolution two militia companies guarded the Wyoming Valley under the leadership of Col. Zebulon Butler. During 1776-1777, however, the Wyoming militia had to leave the Wyoming frontier to assist Washington who had been forced to flee to Valley Forge after defeats to the British army and their Indian allies.
Oscar Jewell Harvey (1851-1922) was a ninth generation descendent of Benjamin Harvey. An 1871 graduate of Lafayette College, he taught at Wyoming Seminary and became a lawyer in 1875. He lost an election as Mayor of Wilkes-Barre, entered federal service in Washington D.C., but is best known as the author of the four volume History of Wilkes-Barre (1907-1909) completed in 1927 by Ernest G. Smith, a Wilkes-Barre newspaper publisher who married into the Harvey family.
Photo: HWB, vol. II, frontespiece
The unprotected Wyoming frontier fell to prey to marauding British troops and Indians. Under the leadership of Major John Butler, for the British government, bounties were offered for American scalps. Wyoming was in danger and the Wyoming militia under Zebulon Butler’s leadership was sent home. Before the home militia arrived in the Valley, however, the British and Indians, on July 3, 1778, massacred Wyoming’s unprotected old and young in the Battle of Wyoming.
In response to the Wyoming Massacre the Sullivan Expedition was sent by Washington through Wyoming to New York.
Sullivan’s army of 3300 destroyed the Iroquois Confederacy. By 1780 about 150 families had returned to the ravaged Valley.
Benjamin Harvey was born in Lyme, Connecticut, on July 28, 1722. An early settler in the Valley, he had built a saw and corn mill on Harvey’s Creek in 1776. He was on duty with the local militia outside the Valley during the Wyoming Massacre, but he lost a son, Silas, in the Wyoming Battle.
After the massacre Harvey left the area, with other fleeing settlers, but he returned to the Valley in August, 1778. His home near Harvey’s Creek had been burned by the marauders but his mills on the creek were standing. He purchased land in Plymouth in order to be nearer protected areas.
On the land there stood a log home and barn which had escaped the torch of invaders. In 1780 his capture by British and Indian raiders and his eventual release led to the discovery of Harvey’s Lake.
Benjamin Harvey died in Plymouth on November 27, 1795. He is buried in Hollenback Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre.
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Webnote: Additional information on Benjamin Harvey may be found in O.J. Harvey’s History of Wilkes-Barre (1927), Vol. III, at p. 1260-1261 and related pages. This work is available at the Osterhout Library and the Luzerne County Historical Society.
There is no surviving documentation to support O.J. Harvey’s account of Benjamin Harvey’s discovery of the Lake. O.J. Harvey published a similar Lake discovery account in his The Harvey Book (1899) which can vary in detail from the account here (including Benjamin Harvey eating his pet dog on the homeward trek from Niagara). O.J. Harvey’s account is likely an embellished family tradition true in all larger aspects but the precise details may be at issue but unanswerable given the absence of alternative historical evidence.
Many of the illustrations also are adapated from that work. Citations in the illustrations are abreviated as HWB with the appropriate volume and page number.