The Mythical Green Massacre Revisited

The Captain Green Massacre Monument, Sugar Valley

Of all the articles I’ve posted, “The Mythical Captain Green Massacre” is one that seems to divide people – did the massacre happen or was it all a figment of the imagination? Historically, the story of Captain Green and his men has become a part of regional lore and in the previous article, I attempted to explain why I did not believe the massacre happened, comparing its known facts. Note: The original article can be found here: Captain Green Massacre.

Earlier this week I got a brief email from Grace R. who wrote about the Captain Green Massacre. “You state you do not believe it happened. Everybody knows that it happened – the monument proves it. Greene Township, where it happened, is named after Captain Greene and his brave men who were brutally murdered by the Indians.”

This email was followed by George H. who wrote: “I think you have your facts mixed up. Greene Township was named after the murdered captain in memory of him and his men. The township was organized in 1840, before Henry Shoemaker recorded it.”

With these two emails in mind, I began looking through my notes. I did not have a date for the formation of Greene Township and looking it up, the township located in the eastern portion of Sugar Valley was listed as being formed in February 1840. That meant that the story of the Captain Green Massacre existed pre-Shoemaker’s version “Green Gap,” in Juniata Memories (1916). Searching through many newspaper archives, the first time the massacre is mentioned is in 1916 – when it is mentioned the monument was going to be dedicated.

Many times in the past, Lou and I have had a debate about the origins of some of Henry Shoemaker’s stories. I personally blame him for creating his own stories and distorting known facts to create a “more exciting version of Central Pennsylvania.” Lou has often suggested that I consider an alternate theory – Shoemaker was a victim of the stories told to him by people known to have been storytellers. The stories recorded by Shoemaker have been exaggerated by the person who told them to Shoemaker.

With this story, Lou appears to be correct – this may possibly be one of those times Shoemaker was a victim of another person’s story.

While I admit this may be the case, Shoemaker’s involvement cannot be overlooked. He wrote the story about the group of men who had supposedly been massacred within Green Gap and also promoted it by having the monument erected and a picnic area created. Note: I find it interesting that the picnic area – though long gone – still appears on many maps.

I found something I had overlooked previously that helped me solidify that the massacre never happened. And it was right in front of me the whole time. Reading through D. S. Maynard’s Historical View of Clinton County (1875) I found information that makes mention of the Green Massacre. Found on pages 164 and 165 is a brief mention about the naming of Greene County in 1840: “The township derived its name from the tradition that a certain Captain Greene, with a party of men was surprised, many years ago in the gap, (since known as Greene’s Gap) by a band of Indians and a number of the men killed. The story of the surprise and murder does not seem to be well authenticated. By some it is said to have never taken place; others claim that the event as stated, actually occurred. Be that as it may the narrative gave the name to the gap and the township.”

Maynard obviously doubts the story of the massacre of Captain Green and his men. Unfortunately, Maynard does not provide any helpful information why he believes the massacre of Captain Green’s men did not happen.

So where did the legend come from?

In his story “Green Gap,” Shoemaker does not reveal the source for this story, but I believe I know where he heard it from. In Eldorado Found (1917), Shoemaker identifies a “Jake” Zimmerman, which is the man Maynard identifies as an old German named Zimmerman who lived near Tea Springs. I believe these are the same name and possibly the person from whom Shoemaker heard the story.

While talking to a friend about the massacre, he gave me another suggestion for the origin of the massacre – The Sugarloaf Massacre. The massacre, which happened in 1780, does have a number of similarities to Shoemaker’s story. Both have a group of men heading in search of a Native American raiding party. Both had a connection with Northumberland County – Green was supposed to have been from Northumberland and the party involved in the Sugarloaf Massacre has been mistakenly referred to in a number of places as being the Northumberland County Militia. Both were ambushed by the raiding party. I have to wonder if this story had been told by settlers and over the retellings, the location had changed to Green’s Gap. Note: More about the Sugarloaf Massacre can be found here: Sugarloaf Massacre.

But when it comes to evidence, there is none. Captain Harry Green does not appear in either the Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File or the Militia Officers Index Cards, 1775-1800 of the Pennsylvania Digital Archives.

With no evidence outside of Shoemaker’s story and Maynard’s brief mention, I retain my initial belief that the massacre never happened. Strangely, Shoemaker sums it up nicely at the start of “Green Gap” – “[Uriah J.] Jones makes no mention of it, nor does [Israel D.] Rupp, or Sherman Day or [John] Meginness.” In fact, no other historian, like Charles Godcharles or Albert Rung, mentions the massacre in any of their writings.

Placing my stance in Maynard’s history, I do not believe the massacre happened. If the massacre was being questioned in 1875, I think we are safe to say a hundred plus years later, that it never happened.

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