Blair County Forts
This fort, erected within what are now the boundary lines of Blair county, Pennsylvania, came into the list of frontier defences in the year 1777. It was built not far from where the town of Hollidaysburg now stands, being somewhat to the southwest of that borough, and its location seems to have been on the banks or near to the banks of a creek flowing northward, which creek discharges its waters into what is called the Frankstown branch of the Juniata river. It is near McCahan's mill and was used for local purposes. Its location was not far distant from where appear on the Historical Map of Pennsylvania, the Indian path starting at the town of Bedford, running north, past Hollidaysburg, Fort Lowry, crossing the Juniata at or near Anderson's Fort and thence on northward into Centre county to where Milesburg now stands. This fort was a blockhouse used for local purposes. It appears nowhere from any of the Provincial records that it was authorized to have been built; nevertheless, it served its purpose and like all the others of like importance, it is entitled to its appropriate place, along with the rest of the unauthorized forts. Mr. Jones relates, in his Juniata Valley, that in the fall of 1777 Fetter's Fort was occupied with some twenty-five men capable of bearing arms, belonging to the Frankstown district. Among those were both the Coleman's, their own and a number of other settler's families. The Indians who had murdered the Dunkards, it appears, met about a mile east of Kittanning Point, where they encamped, in order to await the arrival of scattered forces. Thomas and Michael Coleman and Michael Wallack had left Fetter's Fort in the morning for the purpose of hunting deer. During the day snow fell to the depth of some three or four inches and in coming down the Gap, Coleman and his party crossed the Indian trail and discovered fresh tracks. It was soon determined to follow them, ascertain their force and then repair to the fort and give the alarm. They had followed the trail scarcely half a mile before they saw the blaze of the fire and the dusky outlines of the savages seated around the it. Their number, of course, could not be made out, but they conjectured that there must be in the neighborhood of thirty, but in order to get a crack at them, Thomas Coleman made his companions promise not to reveal their actual strength to the men in the fort. The available force, amounting to sixteen men, loaded their rifles and started in pursuit of the savages. By the time they reached the encampment it had grown quite cold and the night was considerable advanced, still some ten or twelve Indians were seated around the fire. They cautiously approached the men and with silence, the command was given. When within sixty yards a halt was called. The Indians appeared to be engaged in mixing paint and the others were talking. Their rifles were all leaning against a large tree and Thos. Coleman conceived the bold design of approaching the tree and securing their arms before attacking them. The achievement would have been a brilliant one, but the undertaking was deemed so hazardous that not a man would agree to second him in so reckless and daring an enterprise. When the word was given it was agreed that they should all fire and that each man should single out a particular savage to fire at. Aim was taken, the word was given, some three or four of the savages fell and those who were sitting around the fire, as well as those who were lying upon the ground instantly sprang to their feet and ran to the tree where their rifles stood. The boys did not even have time to reload their guns before they ran away. It appears that Wallack and Holliday were the only ones left to obey Coleman's orders. The number of the savages being large, they became frightened and ran to the fort. From this time on Coleman assumed command at the fort and was one of the principal men in this locality in resisting the Indians. This encounter with the Indians created alarm through the sparsely settled country. People from the neighborhood gathered their families into the fort under the firm impression that they were to be harassed by savage warfare, not only during the winter, but as long as the Revolutionary struggle was to continue. This cloud of war soon passed by and the people betook themselves again to their houses, before the holidays of 1777, where they remained without molestation. During these alarms and troubles which followed in the course of the war, Adam Holliday took a conspicuous part in defending the frontiers. He aided in erecting Fetter's Fort and afterwards expended his means into turning Titus' stable into a fort. This war fort was located on a flat nearly opposite the second lot below Hollidaysburg, and the two served as a place of refuge for all the settlers of what was then merely called the upper end of Frankstown district. He also, with his own money, purchased provisions and through his exertions arms and ammunitions were brought from the eastern counties. His courage and energy inspired the settlers to make a stand at a time when they were on the very point of flying to Cumberland county. In December, 1777, he visited Philadelphia, for the purpose of securing a part of the funds appropriated to the defence of the frontier. The following letter to President Wharton was given to him by Col. John Piper, of Bedford county: Bedford County, December 19th, 1777. "Sir: Permit me, Sir, to recommend to you for counsel and directions, the bearer Mr. Holliday an inhabitant of Frankstown, one of the frontier settlements of our county, who has at his own risk been extremely active in assembling the people of that settlement together and in purchasing provisions to serve the militia who came to their assistance. As there was no person appointed, either to purchase provisions or to serve them out, necessity obliged the bearer, with the assistance of some neighbors, to purchase a considerable quantity of provisions for that purpose, by which the inhabitants have been enabled to make a stand. His request is that he may be supplied with cash, not only to discharge the debts already contracted, but likewise to enable him to lay up a store for future demand. I beg leave, Sir, to refer to the bearer, for further information, in hopes you will provide for their further support. Their situation requires immediate assistance." The mission of Mr. Holliday was successful. He returned with sufficient means to recruit the fort with provisions and ammunition, and continued to be an active, energetic frontiersman during all the Indian troubles.
This fort was erected about the beginning of the Revolutionary period. Its date is not exactly given, but sufficient to say that there were a number of forts erected for the protection of settlers, known as blockhouses or stockades, in about 1777. The only data we have as to its location, is that it was at Peter Titus' place, about one mile below Hollidaysburg, which was a barn and was afterwards transferred into a fort. Adam Holliday was among the first settlers of this section. He came from the Conecocheague settlement in Franklin county, and whose name has been perpetuated by the town (Hollidaysburg). His farm was situated just southwest of the railroad bridge, near the town. He and others came here about the commencement of the Revolutionary war and endured the fullest extent of the privations and sufferings incident to a wilderness still inhabited by the red men. Stockade forts were built to protect the inhabitants in case of invasion. Mr. Holliday, however, on one occasion had not availed himself of the fort, and was engaged in the labors of the field when savages appeared suddenly. The family took flight, Mr. H. jumping on a horse with his two young children, John and James. His elder son Pat and daughter Jeannette were killed while running from the enemy. It is related that about the beginning of the year 1779, the Indians along the frontier, emboldened by numerous successful depredations, came into Bedford county within the boundaries of which Holliday's Fort then was. They came in such large bands that many of the inhabitants fled to the eastern counties. The Hollidays, however, and some few others, tarried in the hope that the Executive Council would render them aid. The following petition, signed by William Holliday and others, will give the reader some idea of the distress suffered by the pioneers. It was dated May 29th, 1779. "To the Honorable President and Council: "The Indians being now in the county, the frontier inhabitants being generally fled, leaves the few that remain in such a distressed condition that Pen can hardly describe, nor your Honours can only have a faint idea of, nor can it be conceived properly by any but such as are the subjects thereof, but while we suffer in part of the county that is most frontier, the inhabitants of the interior part of this county live at ease and safety. And we humbly conceive that by some immediate instruction, from Council, to call them that are less exposed to our relief we shall be able under God to repulse our enemies and put it in the power of the distressed inhabitants to reap the fruits of their industry. There fore we humbly pray, you will grant us such relief in the premises as you, in your wisdom see meet. And your petitioners shall pray, etc. N. B.__There is a quantity of lead in the mines (now Sinking Valley) in this county council may procure for the use of said county, which will save carriage and supply our wants with that article. Which we cannot exist without at this place, and our flints are altogether expended, therefore we beg council would furnish us with those necessaries as they, in their wisdom see cause. P. S. -Please to supply us with powder to answer lead." This petition was not speedily answered the fort was evacuated soon after. The Council, no doubt, did all they could to give these people support; but the tardy action of the militia gave the savages confidence and drove the few remaining settlers almost into despair. Relief finally came, but not sufficient to prevent the Indian depredations. After all this, when forbearance ceased to be a virtue, the people of the neighborhood moved their families to Fort Roberdeau, in Sinking Valley, and Fetter's Fort, and formed themselves into scouting parties, and by these means protected themselves so as to gather their crops. After remaining at Fort Roberdeau for a period, Mr. Holliday returned to his land for the purpose of gathering the crops. while on his way, he was brutally attacked by the savages, some of his family killed and he made a narrow escape himself. After he reached the fort, being worn out with the fatigue of the exciting journey, without hat or shoes, his clothes in tatters, his body lacerated and bleeding, he failed to recognize either the fort or the sentinel on duty. The loss of his children was a sad blow to him. Mr. Holliday lived to a good old age and died at his residence on the banks of the river in 1801. He left two children, John and a daughter married to William Reynolds. John married the daughter of Lazarus Lowrey of Frankstown.
This blockhouse or private fort was built in the winter of 1778 or the spring of 1779 in Canoe Valley, three miles south west of Water Street, in Catharine township, this county, on the site of where the German Reformed Church now stands. It was a small fort erected simply as a defence for the settlers. Water Street was so called from the circumstance of the road in early days, passing through the gap in the mountain, literally in a stream of water. It was on a path leading from Fort Bedford, northward to the Juniata river, where Petersburg now stands. It was erected upon Lowrey's farm. Captain Simonton was, by unanimous consent elected commander. These local forts were erected in what was termed the second period of the Indian troubles, as compared with the first period when Forts Shirley, Granville, Lyttleton, etc., were erected. During the year 1779, and part of 1780, the settlers were divided as to their time between working their farms and protecting their forts. The settlers of that neighborhood were frequently alarmed by Indian depredations, which sent the people to their forts in great haste, but as soon as quiet had been restored they again returned to their farms. It is reported that there were some few neighbors who would fort at this place, probably due and owing to the fact that there was some animosity existing between them. Among the neighbors in this particular settlement was Matthew Dean, a very influential citizen. Capt. Simonton, who had command of this fort, frequently visited the house of Mr. Dean, where they spent the evening in conversation. At which time the Captain informed him that it had been reported that there was a considerable band of Indians in Sinking Valley and that he was fearful of their committing outrage, but Dean not being fearful, thought there was no cause for alarm. The result was that upon his going to work the next morning in his cornfield it was not long until he discovered his house to be on fire, which was done presumably by the Indians lurking about, and upon going over to it, he found Mrs. Simonton there, she having come over, and when she reached the place she saw a little girl about eight years of age lying upon the steps scalped. The news of this affair reached the fort and in a very short time the entire neighborhood was alarmed. A strong force headed by the Beattys, started in pursuit of the savages, but could not find them. A remarkable coincidence concerning the settlers of this section, is that of the Beattys there were seven brothers, seven brothers of the Kriders, seven of the Ricketts and seven of the Moores, constituting the most formidable force of active and daring frontiersmen to be found between Standing Stone and the base of the mountains. It is said of the Beattys that they were regular flowers of the forest, who never would fort during all the troubles and they cared no more for an Indian than they did for a bear. They lived in a cabin about a mile west of Water Street. It is further said that the Indians knew the Beattys and feared them; for more daring and reckless, hardy young fellows never existed in the valley. It is stated that in the burning of Mr. Dean's house, Mrs. Dean and her three children were burned; also a son of Captain Simonton. In a letter dated Columbia, Pa., August 20, 1894, written by Samuel Evans, a great grandson of Col. Alexander Lowrey, we have the following concerning the subject: "I notice in the Press a list of Indian forts prior to 1783. I see no mention of Lowrey's Fort, which stood along the north bank of the Juniata, not far from Williamsburg. James Lowrey and Daniel Lowrey owned large tracts of land at and around Frankstown, below Hollidaysburg prior to the Revolution. They were Indian traders, as early as 1740. Lazarus Lowrey, son of Col. Alex Lowrey, Indian trader of this neighborhood inherited all or nearly all of James and Daniel Lowrey's land from his father Alexander, who was a brother of James and Daniel. Lazarus Lowrey was living on this land during the Revolutionary War. I do not know whether the fort was built by Daniel or Lazarus, or by the children of the two former. There are still some of the Lowrey descendants at Hollidaysburg, (Esquire Garber) and at Hopewell, Bedford county, Pa. I believe the mill and all the land at Frankstown has passed out of the family name."
This was another one of the many fortifications built in Blair county at or about the time of the erection of Fort Roberdeau, many of them being private enterprises and this was one of them. We find that Jacob Roller, a frontier man of more than average hardihood, energy and daring, was for many years, during the revolutionary period, a very prominent figure in the locality of Hollidaysburg and surrounding vicinity, and it was he who erected this fort or stockade, for the defence of his family and his neighbors from the Indians. This may have been a fort, but we are inclined to the belief that it was a stockade, the same as existed at Water Street and used as a retreat by the French Tories and their allies, the Indians, from their headquarters at Punxsutawney. This fort or stockade must have been contemporaneous with or later than Fort Roberdeau, for there could have been no defences in Sinking Valley prior thereto, as General Roberdeau had to take a military force with him. It is stated that there is an original petition in existence from the people in the Juniata region asking protection from the savages, which was read in the Pennsylvania Assembly, February 14th, 1781, and which contains the name of Jacob Roller and other names, still familiar in Sinking Valley and in all parts of the county. When they sought protection then, they probably undertook to protect themselves by building the forts and stockades that figure in our early history. These forts were of the Revolutionary period, rather than of any anterior one. Mr. Jones, in his History of the Juniata Valley, refers to this fort. He also refers to an encounter by Roller with the Indians in which he came out the victor and the savages dreaded him very much on account of his well known and successful fighting proclivities. Indeed, he was in continual quarrel with the redskins and his name a terror to them. The time of Roller's death is not positively known; Mr. Maguire thought it was in the fall of 1781. From after discovered evidence, three Indians came down from the mountain, avoiding the fort of Jacob Roller, which was located at the head of Sinking Valley, and passed on down through the Valley to the house of Rebault, whom they tomahawked and scalped. He further speaks of Jacob Roller, Jr., being killed while at his father's fort. So eminent an authority as Mr. Jones should have weight in statements concerning these matters. We have also introduced information about this fort gathered from personal sources in the neighborhood of its alleged erection.
This fort bears the name of a distinguished Pennsylvanian. It was erected in the year 1778, in what is known as the Sinking Spring Valley. It stands in the northeastern section of this county, in Tyrone township, and was called the Lead Mine Fort. It was several miles above Arch Spring and west of the site of Byer's Mill. The fact is, it was not built for the purpose of defence against the Indians, but for the protection of those engaged in the work of mining lead. However, the country seemed to have been settled to some extent and on account of its better fortification and being garrisoned by a body of men with arms and ammunition, it afforded greater safety to those seeking refuge there. We find from a letter of General Daniel Roberdeau, dated Carlisle, April 17, 1778, who appears was then on his way to work some lead mines to supply with the great scarcity of lead to the public, and at this time a member of Congress, of which body he asked and obtained leave of absence for the purpose. He states: "I find the State is guarding against the incursions of the savages. This confirmed by pre-conceived intention of erecting a stockade in the neighborhood of the mine, I am about to work, if I could stir up the inhabitants to give their labor in furnishing an asylum for their families, in case of danger, and prevent the evacuation of the country. Mr. Carothers being convinced of the necessity of the work for the above detailed purpose, offered one company of the militia which he expected would consist of about forty men under my command to co-operate in so righteous a business. I intend to build such a fort, as with sufficient provisions under the smile of providence would enable me to defend it against any number of Indians that may might presume to invest it. It is very important that the intended stockade should be reasonably be furnished with provisions. My landing is at Water Street, on Juniata, but I could unnoticed, receive any supply from Standing Stone." It appears that General Roberdeau had been on a tour of inspection before. In a contribution to the writer from Mr. Lytle, of Huntingdon, we have the following: "Fort Roberdeau was built during the latter period, meaning the period after such forts as Shirley, Granville, etc., were erected. This was in 1777. On the 23rd of April, in that year, General Daniel Roberdeau, after whom the fort was named, wrote a letter from Standing Stone, now Huntingdon, to Lieut. Carothers, at Carlisle, in which he says: "With ten men here under the command of Lieut. Cluggage, in continental service, until the first of December next, I intend to move forward as soon as the arms, ammunition and other things come forward to afford an escort to Sinking Valley Springs, where I shall be glad to meet as great a number of militia, as you will station there to enable me to erect a stockade to secure the works so necessary to the public service and give confidence to frontier inhabitants by affording an asylum for their women and children." From this it is evident that General Roberdeau was then on his way to Sinking Valley, and the works he speaks of were the lead mines, and in this connection it may be stated that there was a fort used by the settlers prior to the establishment of this one. It was called Roller's Fort. For without this there could have been no defence for the settlers prior to the establishment of Fort Roberdeau. General Roberdeau wrote from Sinking Valley to the Council on the 27th of April, as follows: "I have little more time to refer you to the enclosed examination, taken in great haste, but correct, as it respects the testimony. The confiscation of the effects of the disaffected, in these parts is very irregular, and the brutality offered to the wives and children of some of them, as I have been informed in taking from them even their wearing apparel is shocking. I am happy to inform you that very late discovery of a new vein promises the most ample supply, but I am very deficient in workmen. Mr. Glenn is with me to direct the making and burning of bricks, and is to come up to build a furnace, by which time I expect to be in such forwardness as to afford an ample supply to the army. The want of provisions, I dread, is hard to be got; therefore, I beg leave to refer you to a hint on this subject in my letter retards [sic] the building a stockade, to give confidence to the inhabitants who were al on the wing before I reached this. I sent Richard Weston under guard to Carlisle jail to await your orders. He is conducted by Lieut. John Means, of the militia. The inhabitants are hunting the other insurgents and hope they will all be taken, but wish any other the trouble of examining them, as my hands are full." Little is known to us about this fort, or where or when it was erected. This is stated in a letter from General Potter, dated Penns Valley, May 19, 1777. Three forts are spoken of in this Valley as having together but one lieutenant and fifteen men as a guard. He says: "I cannot help being surprised that there has been no militia sent to that part of Bedford county, that joins us, neither to Frankstown, nor to Standing Stone except that small company of Buchanan's battalion that would not go to Fort Roberdeau." General Roberdeau's stay at the mines must have been brief. The next we hear of him is in his letter, dated York, on the 30th day of May of the same year. The directions of affairs at the mines are probably left in the hands of Lowrey and Cluggage. It is altogether uncertain how long the mines were carried on by the government, but not longer probably than till the fall of 1779. What the yield of lead was we are unable to discover. In one place in the records we find an order, forwarded to one of the sub-lieutenants of the county for five hundred pounds and we also learn at different times that quantities were issued to the militia. There must have been some arrangement existing between the government and Roberdeau for taking out this lead. In a letter written to Vice President Bryan, for pay due him, he says: "My last engagement in the lead works has proved a moth to my circulating path and obliged me to make free with a friend in borrowing." On the 6th of August, 779, Capt. Thomas Cluggage dates a letter from Fort Roberdeau and says: "This morning I arrived at this post, bringing with me what men I could collect on the way. I think from the accounts of my brother that the number of the enemy in these parts must be large," and adds in a P.S. "This moment there is twelve men arrived and with them and with what can be spared from this garrison, I will immediately march to Morrison's Cove." In another letter dated at this fort, October 10, 1779, Captain Cluggage says: " My company has been reviewed and passed muster. Three officers and forty-three rank and file, one of the latter killed or taken." We presume therefore, that this was Fort Roberdeau, built on account of the lead mines and named after them in Sinking Valley Spring. It has been referred to that there was an attempt made to procure lead from these mines, during the Revolution. After Roberdeau's project had fallen to the ground in consequence of the scarcity of the ore and the great expense of mining and melting it, the miners who had been taken there, attempted for a while to carry on operations themselves. their close proximity to the Indians, the several incursions into the valley by them in search of plunder and scalps, made these foreign miners, unused to border life, quit and seek refuge in the east. The fort was evacuated by the government militia. Nevertheless, it was still a place of refuge and was used by the settlers of Sinking Valley and Bald Eagle, up to the close of the war. The writer here appends the following interesting letter dated Marshalltown, Iowa, August 26th, 1894, and written by John H. Keatley, commandant of the Iowa Soldiers' Home, who says: "At about seven miles west of Union Furnace on the Pennsylvania Railroad, in Sinking Valley, are the remains of old Fort Roberdeau, built during the Revolutionary War, by General Roberdeau, under authority of the Continental Congress. In 1866 I had a set of the Secret Journal of that Congress and found the resolution authorizing the building of the Fort for the protection of the lead miners who were mining lead for the use of the Revolutionary forces. The lead was carried down the Juniata river in canoes. In 1880, I was at the site of the Fort where a part of the brick powder magazine was still standing on the farm once owned by Frederick Ramey and almost in front of one of the houses in a field. I brought one of the bricks west with me. It is in the upper end of the Valley, and nearby is quite a quantity of lead or zinc slag from the melting furnace."
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