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The Discovery of Harvey's Lake

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Benjamin Harvey's
Discovery of the Lake

Chapter 4

Release of Harvey and Discovery of Lake

The seven Plymouth captives were detained at Niagara during the remainder of the winter and through the spring of 1781, being lodged with many other American prisoners, from different parts of the United States, in barracks just outside the walls of the fort. About that time the British authorities in Canada had begun operations to reclaim the crown lands which lay on the southwest bank of Niagara River opposite Fort Niagara. Arrangements had been made to found a settlement there, and the lands were to be cultivated in order to raise supplies of food for the support of the numerous British Loyalists who, driven from their homes throughout the United States, had taken refuge at Niagara. In the spring of 1781 a number of the prisoners at Fort Niagara, including Benjamin Harvey and his companions were taken across the river and made to work on these new lands.

In the latter part of May, 1781, Benjamin Harvey was released on parole by the military authorities at Fort Niagara, who, evidently, were of the opinion that he was too aged either to be made much use of as a prisoner in their hands, or, being back within the American lines, to aid the cause of the Rebels.

When he was turned loose at the fort, and directed to make his way homeward, he was not provided with anything in the way of food or money. He went forth with nothing but the clothes he wore, a hunting knife and a small piece of flint—this last being the article which every man carried to use with a piece of steel to strike fire.

Accompanied by a little dog, which had been his faithful companion for some months, Mr. Harvey started on his homeward journey without delay, traveling on foot southeasterly through the Genesee country and Western Central New York, and then onward till he struck the Chemung, or Tioga River. Here he happened upon an empty canoe, into which he got with his dog without hesitation, and paddled down the river. A few days later, having passed Tioga point and entered the Susquehanna River (80 miles above Wilkes-Barre), he began to realize that he was nearing home.

At this time, there were no settlers located either at Tioga Point, or far a considerable distance down the Susquehanna. Those settlers who, prior to the Revolutionary War, had taken up lands and established homes along the river near Mehoopany, Tunkhannock, and Bowman’s Creeks, had either voluntarily withdrawn from, or been driven out of the country during the years 1776-1778, and had never returned.

View of Harvey's Creek, in West Nanticoke, below Tilbury Knob. HWB, vol. I, p. 55.

On his homeward journey Mr. Harvey reached the mouth of Bowman’s Creek (three or four miles below Secord’s and on the same side of the river), just at nightfall one day, when there were indications of a coming thunder storm. Paddling into the creek he dragged his canoe out of the water, and lay down under it to escape the storm and spend the night. The next morning he discovered all about him evidences of a recent Indian bivouac.

Fearing that if he continued his course down the river he might fall in with a band of predatory savages, he decided to abandon his canoe and make the remainder of his journey on foot. Therefore he went up along the right bank of the creek for some miles, and then turned his steps southward, intending and expecting to strike the trail over which he and his fellow captives had been led six months previously. When night came he had not yet found the trail.

Early the next morning he made a fresh start, and after traveling the whole day he found himself at night at the point from which he had set out in the morning. As the entire region was strange to him, and he had no compass, it was difficult for the fatigues and bewildered old man to decide what course to pursue. Overcome with exhaustion, he soon fell asleep.

On the following morning he started with a better prospect, as he thought, of finding his way out of the woods. All that day he tramped on and on but when night came he had to admit to himself that he hadn’t the remotest idea where he was.

By this time hunger had begun to make loud demands upon his exhausted body. Before leaving the last of the Tioga River settlements through which he passed, he was given a small supply of provisions by some kindly disposed people whose aid he sought; but he had used up this food, and for twenty-four hours had eaten nothing.

After another night’s rest he again started forth to attempt to find his way out of the wilderness. He had not gone far, however, when, from a slightly elevated ridge upon which he paused to look around, he saw through the trees the silvery glimmerings of a sheet of water at no great distance from where he stood. Hope and exultation succeeded to dejection and dismay in the breast of the old man, as he hurried down the decively towards the gladsome sight which met his gaze.

Mr. Harvey soon found himself facing a wide expanse of water and as he stood at its edge and exclaimed “The Susquehanna! The Susquehanna!” the sun rose from behind the hills on the opposite shore, and lighted up a scene which even the half-starved, unsentimental Yankee, standing there lonely and lost was found to admire.

A while later, having reconnoitered the western shore for some distance, Mr. Harvey discovered that this body of water was not the river which he knew so well, but was a large lake, completely environed by high hills whose slopes, extending almost to the water’s edge, were densely covered by a primeval forest. After some consideration he concluded that this unknown lake lay among the mountains which, at a considerable distance directly north of Wyoming Valley, skirted the west bank of the Susquehanna; and that if the lake had an outlet its waters, without doubt, were discharged into the Susquehanna. He determined to search for an outlet forthwith.      

In the course of an hour’s tramp along the shore of the lake, its outlet was found—the outflow forming a copious and rapid stream. Pursuing his way along this stream, Mr. Harvey had traveled a number of miles when he came to the opinion that the region through which he was passing had been visited by him at some previous time. This belief became more positive the farther he went, until, at length he concluded that he was traveling along Harvey’s Creek. All doubts were settled a little later, when he came to the fire-blackened ruins of his mills.  

Hastening up the highway in the direction of Plymouth, he learned from people whom he met that during his absence his daughter Lucy had been living with friends in Wilkes-Barre. Thither he hastened, therefore, and just as the day was closing he was reunited with his daughter, after a separation of almost seven months. It was then the 4th day of July and Mr. Harvey had been more than five weeks in making the journey from Fort Niagara.


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