The Sugarloaf Massacre

Memorial to the Sugarloaf Massacre

“So where exactly are you planning to park?” my mother asked as I came to a halt in front of the monument.

“Right here,” I replied as I turned on the hazard lights and jumped out of the vehicle. The monument is located along Walnut Avenue at the eastern edge of Conyngham and at the moment the road didn’t seem very busy. As i walked over to the monument, I silently hoped that traffic stayed away until I was finished.

I paused in front of the monument to read the plaque: “Near this spot occurred / The Sugarloaf Massacre / On September 11, 1780 a detachment of / Captain John Van Etten’s Company / Northampton County Militia / Resting at the spring was / Surprised by a band of Indians / And Tories led by Seneca Chief / Roland Montour.” Beneath these words was a listing of fifteen men who were victims of the massacre. Just a short distance behind the memorial stands a lone tombstone. The simple stone is inscribed “Daniel Klader, Captain, Van Etten’s Co., Northampton Co. Militia, Died 1780.”

The events leading to the massacre began in early September 1780 when a large band of Seneca warriors and Tories descended the Wyoming Valley and entered present-day Sugar Loaf Township. This raiding party is believed to be the same one which attacked Fort Rice, near present-day Turbotville. After attacking Fort Rice, this group began the journey back into the Wyoming valley.

As the raiding party moved eastward, another group was also entering the region from the southeast. This was a group of Northamption Militia who arrived in the valley searching for the raiding party.

On September 11, 1780, as the militia members rested along the Little Nescopeck Creek, they were ambushed by the Senaca raiding party. In the chaos, the men fled, tossing aside their weapons and packs to lighten their load as they sought safety. The dead were scalped and left where they fell, while any survivors were taken captive. Among these captives was Lieutenant Myers, who managed to escape two days later.

As I stood there reading the plaque, I found myself asking a lot of questions about it – questions I have not found satisfactory answers.

Note: what follows are observations that early sources and the information recorded on the memorial do not agree.

The first question and the most important one is “Who was Captain Daniel Klader?” I searched through the “Pennsylvania State Archives Digital Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File” and failed to find him listed. Rereading the histories, I discovered that Captain Daniel Klader does not appear in any of the earliest reports.

Although I could not find a Daniel Klader, I did find a Jacob Clader, who was a member of the Northampton Militia. However, the Jacob Clader listed in the “Pennsylvania State Archives Digital Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File” first appears to enter the official records in the autumn of 1781 – the year after the massacre. In 1782, Jacob Clader did serve as a Captain under Lieutenant Colonrl Nicholas Kern in the Northampton Militia. My personal belief is Daniel and Jacob were the same man and at some point in the retelling of the massacre Clader was inadvertently inserted into the story.

If my assumption is correct and Daniel did not exist, then who was in charge of the group of militia? In Indian Wars of Pennsylvania, Sipe records the man being in charge of the group was Lieutenant Myers, who was from Fort Allen. In Stone’s The Poetry and History of Wyoming, he records that Lieutenant John Jenkins stated Lieutenant Myers was in charge of the group of thirty-three men. Looking through the “Pennsylvania State Archives Digital Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File,” I found a John Moyer, who was part of the Northampton Militia and while no rank is listed, I believe that this is the Lieutenant Myers mentioned in the histories.

Another question involves the list of victims on the monument – is the list of men killed correct? Searching through the state archives, I discovered two names listed on the memorial as victims of the Sugarloaf Massacre, are listed as survivors. The first is Peter Crum, also spelled Croom. On his file card it is recorded that he served through early 1781 as a substitute. During the chaos of the attack he more than likely fled the scene and in returning to civilization went back to his normal life. I also found a Peter Shelhamer in the files as surviving the massacre, but was unable to discover anything more about him.

The final question I have is who was responsible for the massacre? The plaque states that Roland Montour was responsible for the raiding party. Apart from the information on the plaque, I found no other early references stating he was leading – or even a part of – the raiding party.

And to add even more confusion to the Sugarloaf Massacre, the Pennsylvania Historical Marker located along Route 93 has information on it that is wrong. The marker states that the unit attacked was from Northumberland County rather than Northampton County.

Despite the lingering questions about the exact details that have been muddled over the years, the fact is a number of Northampton Militiamen lost their lives here on September 11, 1780 when attacked by the raiding Seneca party.

With the sun beginning to fade, I finished paying my respects to those who rest along the Nescopeck Creek and left them to slumber as the sounds of crickets filled the air.

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