Fort Norris

Memorial for Fort Norris stands along Route 209

I had left the monument remembering the Wechquetank Moravian Mission at Gilbert and headed westward om Route 209 towards Lehighton. I had gone a short distance when I spotted the granite marker on the southside of the road and if it had not been for the familiar blue Pennsylvania State Historical Marker, I would have missed the granite monument altogether. Pulling into the lot next to the memorials, I drove the length of the lot and parked as close to them as I could. Note: more about the Moravian mission can be found here: Wechquetank.

Walking over to the two markers located just west of Kresgeville, I noted they were both for a fort that once stood nearby – Fort Norris. The fort, which was located about a mile to the southeast of the markers, plays an important part of the westward expansion on the Pennsylvania frontier.

Fort Norris was one of four provincial forts built in what was then a part of Northampton County – where it once stood is now within the borders of Monroe County – under the direction of James Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, who selected the spot where the fort was to be erected. It would be constructed on the northern edge of Blue Mountain along the Pohopoco Creek.

The frontier fort was named in honor of Isaac Norris, who was the Speaker of the Assembly and a Provincial Commissioner. Note: Norris’ legacy lives on to this very day, though many do not realize his contribution to the state’s history. In 1751, Norris commissioned a bell to be made for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Pennsylvania Charter. This bell still exists in Philadelphia and is visited by thousands daily who know it as The Liberty Bell.

Fort Norris was one in a chain of four official forts erected along the northern side of the Blue Mountain. These forts were spread from present-day Stroudsburg in Monroe County to Snyders in Schuylkill County. The forts were Fort Hamilton (Stroudsburg), Fort Norris (Kresgeville), Fort Allen (Weissport), and Fort Franklin (Snyders).

Built in February 1756, Fort Norris would be abandoned a little over a year later. Erected at a mid-point between the two existing forts of Fort Hamilton and Fort Allen, the construction of it was overseen by Captain Trump from Fort Hamilton and Captains Orndt and Hayes from Fort Allen.

Fort Norris was erected in the midst of a clearing that covered an area of roughly 6,400 square feet and allowed those stationed within the fort to have the ability to see a distance around them. While the fort was built at a location that allowed soldiers to see any dangers, the location held a deeper meaning to the settlers. It was erected near the spot along Pohopoco Creek where Frederick Hoeth had settled. Hoeth – also spelled Hoethe and Hueth in some reports – along with his wife and a number of their children, were the victims of a massacre on December 10, 1755. What is known about the attack by five Native American raiders comes from Michael Hute, who managed to escape.

Frederick was killed immediately in the attack while the survivors sought safety in the family house. In an attempt to drive the family out of the house, it and the other buildings on the property were set on fire. Mrs. Hoeth, who had sought shelter in the bake house, remained inside until she could stand the heat no longer. She managed to escape the blaze and jumped into the creek. Sadly her burns were too severe and she died from them. Of the Hoeth children, three of the children perished in the fire, one was killed as she tried to escape, and three daughters were carried into captivity.

Michael reported that one of the attackers was killed and one was wounded.

Of the three taken into captivity, Marianna, who is also referred to as Maria, would eventually return from captivity. She would return to Bethlehem, bringing with her a young son, Frederick, named after her father. Frederick died shortly after his baptism. Marianna would pass at the tender age of thirty-five. Another of the sisters would marry a Frenchman while the third disappeared into history.

Note: The exact number of those killed in the massacre is not clear. Sources vary with there being as few as four and as many as eight. There is mention of another woman who was wounded in the first volley of shots that felled Frederick Hoeth, but her fate is not clear. George Heiss, who survived the massacre, returned the following day to search for victims and survivors. He reported that they discovered an unidentified man – who may have been a boy from a neighboring farm – was among those killed.

Fort Norris was built upon the spot of this tragedy. The fort was originally commanded by Captain Jacob Orndt whose biggest worry was not an attack, but was mutiny. In August of 1756, a detachment of men serving under Lieutenant Miller were stationed at Trucker’s Mill, which is also referred to as Druker’s Mill at present-day Slatington, mutinied. When Lieutenant Miller was supposed to turn over his post to another, he refused and threatened to kill anyone who tried to make him give up command of the fort. In response, Captain Wetterholt arrived at Trucker’s Mill on August 15 and subdued Lieutenant Miller and turned him over to Captain Orndt for punishment.

Soon after the events at Druker’s Mill, another minor mutiny occurred at Fort Norris. Those stationed at Fort Norris were not regularly paid and faced an inadequate food supply. On August 26, 1756, these two issues caused one of the sentries to take action as he refused to do his job. This refusal was supported by a number of his fellow soldiers. It was short-lived with the promise of regular pay and better food.

In its short existence the fort would see a number of changes in leadership, but after the Easton Conference in the summer of 1757, the fate of Fort Norris was sealed. It, like a number of forts across the state, would be abandoned and on September 27, 1757, when Governor Denny gave the order to evacuate the fort.

The fort fell into decay and in 1787, when surveys were being done in the region, no trace of the fort could be found – time had erased all remains of the fort.

I finished reading the marker and scanned my surroundings. Looking to the southeast, I knew Fort Norris had to be in the general area of the Wechquetank marker, but time had erased all evidence of the fort – only the two historical markers along Route 209 stand to remember the short life of the fort that once stood nearby.

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