The Penn’s Creek Massacre: Part One

DSCN3228
Monument remembering the Penn’s Creek Massacre, Mifflinburg

I completely missed the monument. To be honest, I drove right past it.

Even though I was driving slowly along Ridge Road I was past it before my father called out that I had just gone by it. Although the monument was only feet off the road, it was hidden under the two dead shrubs that bordered it and behind a wall of tall grass and weeds.

Backing up, I parked in front of the barn opposite the monument and stepped out. The farmer, who was running a tractor in the field behind the monument, waved as I crossed the road and started clearing away the weeds. I quickly discovered the monument I was searching for – this was the memorial for the Penn’s Creek Massacre.

It is hard to imagine that these peaceful, rolling hills between Mifflinburg and New Berlin once ran red with the blood of those who had settled on the Pennsylvania frontier. The fields of corn and other crops hide any signs of the violence that once happened here.

While this monument memorializes the le Roy Family who were tragically killed at this location, it serves as a marker for the changing point in Pennsylvania’s relationship with the Delaware Indians, who once lived among the settlers in peace. The massacre that happened here would be the start of a year-long bloody conflict between the Delaware and colonists. Note: Many, including the wording on the memorial, use the English version of his name – John Jacob LeRoy – I opted to use the traditional version of his name, Jean Jacques le Roy, who is also referred to as Jacob King in many sources.

The tension between the Delaware, the colonists and the Iroquois had been building for years before the Penn’s Creek massacre. The final blow to the relationship happened the year before. In 1754, the Six Nations agreed to sell the lands of the Susquehanna and Juniata Valleys to the Pennsylvania Provincial Government without any input from the Delaware, who claimed these lands as traditionally being theirs. The Delaware lands were given away without them receiving any compensation.

The events of the summer of 1755, which ended with the defeat of General Braddock’s army by the combined forces of French soldiers and Indian warriors, would change Indian relations and scar the Pennsylvania frontier, painting it red with blood from both sides. The defeat of General Braddock gave the Delaware momentum to drive the settlers out of their lands and they began to attack settlements on the Pennsylvania frontier, which was mostly unprotected due to Colonel Dunbar (who replaced the deceased General Braddock as the new leader of the Provincial Army) taking the army into “winter quarters,” near Philadelphia in the middle of summer.

By early October 1755 George Croghan, a trader and frontiersman, had warned the provincial government of a planned attack on the settlements on the frontier. Croghan was preparing his quarters at Aughwick (present-day Shirleysburg) for the upcoming troubles and asked for supplies, especially guns and powder, for the stockade he was erecting to protect his interests and also families living in the region.

On October 16, 1755, less than a week after Croghan’s warnings, the German settlers on Penn’s Creek were attacked. Over two days a party consisting of at least fourteen Delaware swept through the region between present-day New Berlin and Selinsgrove.

The events that happened at the homestead of Jean Jacques le Roy – whose homestead was at the farm near where the monument is erected – later recorded by Barbara Leininger and Marie le Roy after their escape from captivity. It is from their recollections that the details of the massacre were revealed.

Very early on the morning on October 16, 1755, the hired hand of Jean le Roy heard six shots while in the fields and immediately reported back to Jean what he heard. Around eight that morning, the party of Delaware arrived at the le Roy home. They ambushed Jean at the spring near the house, killing him by striking him with their tomahawks. Jean’s son, Jacob, tried to defend himself but was overpowered and taken captive. Along with Jacob the Delaware took Marie, Jean’s daughter, and a young girl who had been staying with them prisoner.

Note: I have not been able to positively identify the young girl, but there are two possibilities. The first comes from Linn’s Annals of Buffalo Valley, Pennsylvania. Linn mentions a girl named Catherine Smith who was recovered during the attack on Kittanning in 1756. While Catherine is not included on either Marie or Barbara’s list of prisoners, Linn notes Catherine was from Shamokin. There was a Smith family living near the le Roy homestead, so the unidentified girl may have been Catherine. The second possibility was Marian Wheeler, which has been spelled Villars in some lists. Interestingly, in The Narrative of Marie le Roy and Barbara Leininger, the unidentified girl is referred to as a young girl staying with the le Roy family and never by name.

Once the terrible deed was done, the warriors plundered the house and set it on fire, tossing Jean le Roy’s body into it with the two tomahawks still sticking in his bloody head. As this was happening, a neighbor by the name of Bastian was riding past. The raiding party shot and scalped him.

During these horrible activities, two members of the raiding party went to the neighboring Leininger homestead. At the home were Barbara and Rachel Leininger, along with their father and brother. The two Delaware warriors demanded rum and when told they had none, asked for tobacco, which was given to them. They filled and smoked a pipe before they shot and killed Mr. Leininger and then tomahawked the brother to death. Barbara and Rachel were taken prisoner. Mrs. Leininger had gone to the mill that day, which saved her life.

In addition to these murders at the le Roy and Leininger homesteads, that evening members of the party brought six scalps and terrorized the captives with them. The next day members of the party left and later returned with more scalps. The exact number of people killed is not known though most sources have settled on fourteen victims, but the numbers vary from thirteen to sixteen people were killed during the raid, and at least twelve were taken captive. The list of captives I’ve been able to discover are: Marie and Jacob le Roy, Barbara and Rachel Leininger, Marian Wheeler, Hannah Breylinger and her two children (one of her children died at Kittanning), Catharine Smith, and Peter Lick and his two sons, John and William.

However, as I stood there remembering the tragedy of October 1755, I couldn’t help but be overcome with sadness. The massacre that took place here was not a battle between armies – it was not a battle between enemies – it was a slaughter of innocent lives of those who had reached out to become friends with the Delaware. The feeling of terror and despair that the captives must have felt as they watched their family members die and knew their lives would never be the same again seemed to fill the air.

Barbara and Marie would be taken to Fort Duquesne and then on to the Indian town of Muskingum (near present-day Sharon in Mercer County). On March 16, 1759, the two girls finally managed to escape, eventually arriving at Fort Pitt and they were then returned to Philadelphia. Barbara’s sister, Rachel, would become a part of folk history when she was returned home after the end of Pontiac’s War, but hers is a story for another day.

Note: I do want to address a piece of information about this memorial that is incorrect in many articles I’ve read. This monument, located along Ridge Road between New Berlin and Mifflinburg, is the one marking the le Roy homestead. For some unknown reason, many places state the two memorials for the massacre, which are located near the mouth of Penn’s Creek, mark the location of the le Roy homestead. This is not the case. However, they do remember another part of the Penn’s Creek massacre.

To be continued in The Penn’s Creek Massacre: Part Two

One thought on “The Penn’s Creek Massacre: Part One

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s