Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thomas Smiley, Adventures on the Western Frontier

Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania by Jasper Francis Cropsey
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So many times when I am researching an ancestor, I find I am also researching the ancestor's time period.  This has been so true as I have been learning more about my 4GGrandfather, Thomas Smiley.  Thomas, born in 1759, was the grandfather of George W Smiley, the subject of a previous post.  He lived virtually his entire life in the area of Pennsylvania, being there as it changed from being the western frontier of America through the years of the Yankee-Pennamite Wars to statehood and the growth of cities and towns in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia, in 1782, was a bustling city, but 130 miles away in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania was still the frontier.  In April, 1782, Thomas Smiley was living in the Hanover Township section of Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.  A band of Indians had come into the area and captured a Mrs. Franklin and her four children.  Thomas and eight other settlers tracked the Indians for several days in an attempt to rescue the Franklins.  During the morning of the third day, the settlers and Indians exchanged gunfire a number of times.  When the skirmish had ended, the older Franklin children had been rescued.  Sadly, Mrs. Franklin had been killed apparently by the Indians, and the baby had disappeared, never to be seen again.  The townsmen then built a raft and returned by river to Hanover, traveling at night, until they finally returned home.  This account had been related to Joseph Eliot  by Thomas Smiley in 1831; it was later published in the Annual of the Bradford County Historical Society.(1)

A second article in the Society's Annual"Bradford County Pioneers: Men Who First Entered the Wilderness and Carved Out Homes", also mentioned Thomas Smiley.(2)  This time Thomas was listed as an early resident of the Franklin Township in Bradford County, arrived in that area after 1796.

The next recorded adventure for Thomas Smiley concerned his involvement with the Yankee-Pennamite Wars.  This was a series of three wars, both verbal and physical among groups of settlers in northeastern Pennsylvania.  The Yankee-Pennamite Wars occurred between 1769 and 1799.  Both The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut and the Luzerne County (Pennsylvania) web site provide background about this period in Pennsylvania history.  A fascinating blog, "Philadelphia Reflections" summarizes the nature of the conflicts.
The matter boils down to the undisputed fact that King Charles II gave what is now the northern third of Pennsylvania to Connecticut in 1662, and in 1681 the same king gave it to William Penn. Eighty years after that, in 1769, Connecticut moved in, and Pennsylvania threw them out. It all happened twice more, and the Continental Congress became distressed that two of the thirteen colonial allies were fighting each other instead of the British. So it had to be resolved in court, and therefore we all have to get a little education in the fine points of real estate law in order to understand why Pennsylvania won the case. In short, Connecticut claimed that Charles II had cruelly and unjustly reversed himself, while the Penn Proprietorship simply maintained they were nonetheless legally entitled to the property.(3)
During these years, Yankee referred to those who supported Connecticut's claim to the disputed lands, while Pennamite referred to settlers claiming the land due to William Penn's grant.  Thomas Smiley ended up getting caught in the disturbances while attempting to be part of a solution.

In 1799 the Pennsylvania legislature passed an act which would essentially buy tracts of the disputed land from Pennsylvanians then give it to the Connecticut settlers living on the land who would then own it and agree to withdraw from taking part in any further land disputes.  A number of affected Pennsylvanians were not wanting to sell their land.  Thomas, now a minister in the area, offered to be a deputy agent in order to talk with some of the settlers about the sale of their land to the state of Pennsylvania.  As Clement Heverly related in his book History of the Towandas, 1776-1886 ...

July 7th [1801], [Rev. Smiley] obtained the signatures of nearly forty to their relinquishments.  A meeting was held and the "Wild Yankees" determined that the business must be stopped.
Mr. Smiley stopped for the night at Jacob Granteer's then living on the Towanda Creek. The party [of Wild Yankees], learning of [Smiley's] lodging-place,  followed him, broke into his room, compelled him to burn his papers, took him near the creek, poured a bottle of tar over his head and beard, then adding feathers, the leader after giving him a kick told him that he might go, but must leave the country.(4)
A second relating of the story mentioned that it was a group of about 20 men in disguise who pursued Thomas.  Six men were eventually brought before a grand jury for the offence against Thomas but no punishment was given to any of the men.(5)  So there was the Reverend Thomas Smiley, tarred and feathered, being told to leave that part of Pennsylvania.  This all happened because he was trying to be a peacemaker.  The upshot was that Thomas Smiley and his family left that area of Pennsylvania.  Thomas Smiley was later compensated for his sufferings related to this experience when he was granted $250 by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1819.(6) 

The rest of his ministry provided a much more peaceful story.

(1) Hallock, Mrs. H J, "Some Wyalusing Pioneers."  Digital images.  www.hathitrust.org, citing Bradford County Historical Society (PA). Annual. Towanda, PA : The Society, 1906-1917.
(2) Heverly, C F, "Bradford County Pioneers". Digital images. www.hathitrust.org, citing Bradford County Historical Society (PA). Annual. Towanda, PA : The Society, 1906-1917.
(3) Fisher, George R, "The Pennamite Wars: Who Had the Last Word?" http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/topic/43.htm.
(4) Heverly, Clement Ferdinand. History of the Towandas, 1776-1886: Including the Aborigines, Pennamites, And Yankees, Together With Biographical Sketches .... Towanda, PA : Reporter-Journal Print Co, 1886, accessed through www.hathitrust.org.
(5) Bradsby, Henry C.  History of Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  Chicago: S B Nelson, 1891; accessed through www.hathitrustorg.
(6) Craft, David.  History of Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia: L H Everts, 1878; accessed through www.hathitrust.org.

1 comment:

  1. I’m related to Rev. Smiley; this is so exciting!

    Jonna Wagner
    Roseburg, OR