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The Discovery of Harvey's Lake

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Benjamin Harvey's
Discovery of the Lake

Chapter 3

Map of region, showing relative positions of Fort Niagara (where the Niagara River meets Lake Onatario) and Wilkes-Barre, on the north branch of the Susequhanna River. Detail of 1825 MAP OF THE ROUTES IN NEW YORK, NEW ENGLAND & PENNSYLVANIA, DRAWN FOR THE NORTHERN TRAVELLER, D.S. Throop

The Trek to Niagara

Colonel Wright, in his “Historical Sketches of Plymouth,” says:

After spending (at Mehoopany) the cold and chilly night of December as they best could, in the morning the Indians held a council of war as to what was to be done with old Mr. Harvey. The value of his scalp in the British market preponderated the scale against his life. The savages bound him to a tree with thongs, and fastened his head in a position that he could move neither to the right nor to the left. The old chief then measured off the ground some three rods, called the three young braves, and, placing a tomahawk in the hand of each and stepping aside, pointed his finger to the head of the old man.  All this done in silence and without the least emotion depicted upon their stoic countenances.

The first one hurled his tomahawk—after giving two or three flourishes in the air—with a piercing whoop. It fastened itself in the tree, five or six inches above the old man’s head. The second and third made the same effort, but with life effect. The whole Indian party now became furious; the young warriors, for their want of skill in this, probably, their first effort, and the older ones from some other impulse. An angry scene ensued and they came nearly to blows. The old chief approached the victim and unloosened his bonds.

The old gentleman, in giving an account of this episode, said that as each tomahawk came whizzing though the air it seemed as though it could not but spilt his head in two. That so far as he could understand from the Indian dispute—having some knowledge of their language, though imperfect—the old chief took the ground that the Great Spirit had interfered and prevented his death; while the others imputed it wholly to the unpracticed hands of the young braves, and that the Great Spirit had no hand in the matter. The stubborn will of the old sachem prevailed, however, and though in minority, his counsel in the affair decided the issue.

Very soon after this occurrence the party moved down the Mehoopany to the Susquehanna, then up river into New York and on to Fort Niagara by the most expeditious route. Miner (in his history) says:

On their way they suffered much from cold and hunger, but at Tioga Point they killed a horse, and then fared sumptuously. It is wonderful that cold, toil, hunger, and anguish of mind had not arrested the current of life, and left them a prey to the wolves. Their sufferings in that inclement season, bound, loaded, and driven several hundred miles through the wilderness to Canada, no pen can describe.

While Lieutenant Turney and his command and their captives were in “Camp 40 miles from Genesse, December 14, 1780, “Turney wrote to Brigadier General H. Watson Powell at Fort Niagara, and sent him by an express, the following letter (now printed for the first time):

I have the honor to inform you that on the 6th…I arrived near Wilksbury Fort, situated at ye upper end of the Shawnese Flats, where I found some inhabitants under the protection of the fort. On the first night after my arrival I ordered my men to surround three of ye houses; who, forcing their way into them, brought off seven prisoners, and I was lucky enough to prevail upon the Indians to leave the women and children behind unhurt. I then determined upon securing my retreat as fast as possible, for ye ground being covered with snow, and the garrison consisting of 300 men, exclusive of 30 more in another fort on the opposite side of ye river. I was apprehensive of being pursued and, perhaps, obliged to leave my prisoners behind. Should my proceedings meet with your approbation I shall think myself amply rewarded for any little trouble or fatigue I may have had in ye execution.

I am thus far on my return to Niagara, and as I have now no resource left for provisions—having killed my horses—I bet you will be so kind as to send a fresh supply to meet me on the road. My party, in other respects—notwithstanding with fatigue—are in good spirits, and I have ye pleasure of observing to you that they have shown ye greatest zeal for His Majesty’s service; and indeed, from ye whole of their conduct, have proved themselves worthy of any assistance you may think proper to send them.

At Fort Niagara, under the date of December 27, 1780, Colonel (formerly major) John Bulter wrote to Captain Mathews as follows:

Lieutenants Turney and Wimple returned from the frontiers of Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna a few days ago, where they had been on a scout with 20 rangers. They surprised a fortified house in the night and took in it seven men. By one of the prisoners having an order from Colonel Butler, of the Rebels (which was found on him), directing that he should be furnished with horses, etc., and be forwarded with all dispatch, I am led to believe he was entrusted with letters, which he must of destroyed. The prisoners inform us the crops were very fine the last season in that part of the country. An express from New York for His Excellency, General Haldimand, joined them. His dispatches, I am told, go with this opportunity.

At Fort Niagara, under the date of December 28, 1780, Brigadier General Powell wrote to General Haldimand the following letter (now printed for the first time):

I take the opportunity of transmitting by Mr. Lando, who is charged with dispatches to Your Excellency, the report of Lieutenant Turney’s scout. As Mr. Turney’s family is in Canada, I have given him leave to pay them a visit, and if you should have occasion to send an express to these posts, I can recommend him as a very proper person to be entrusted with it. He will wait at Montreal for your orders. I have given Mr. Lando 10 pounds Halifax to defray his own and his company’s Mr. Drake, expenses here, and to carry him to Montreal.


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