War Between Connecticut and Pennsylvania
John Fiske

The chronic quarrel between Connecticut and Pennsylvania over the valley of Wyoming was decided in the autumn of 1782 by a special federal court, appointed in accordance with the articles of confederation. The prize was adjudged to Pennsylvania, and the government of Connecticut submitted as gracefully as possible. But new troubles were in store for the inhabitants of that beautiful region. The traces of the massacre of 1778 had disappeared, the houses had been rebuilt, new settlers had come in, and the pretty villages had taken on their old look of contentment and thrift, when in the spring of 1784 there came an accumulation of disasters. During a very cold winter great quantities of snow had fallen, and lay piled in huge masses on the mountain sides, until in March a sudden thaw set in. The Susquehanna rose, and overflowed the valley, and great blocks of ice drifted here and there, carrying death and destruction with them. Houses, barns, and fences were swept away, the cattle were drowned, the fruit trees broken down, the stores of food destroyed, and over the whole valley there lay a stratum of gravel and pebbles.

The people were starving with cold and hunger, and President Dickinson urged the legislature to send prompt relief to the sufferers. But the hearts of the members were as flint, and their talk was incredibly wicked. Not a penny would they give to help the accursed Yankees. It served them right. If they had stayed in Connecticut, where they belonged, they would have kept out of harm's way. And with a blasphemy thinly veiled in phrases of pious unction, the desolation of the valley was said to have been contrived by the Deity with the express object of punishing these trespassers. But the cruelty of the Pennsylvania legislature was not confined to words. A scheme was devised for driving out the settlers and partitioning their lands among a company of speculators. A force of militia was sent to Wyoming, commanded by a truculent creature named Patterson. The ostensible purpose was to assist in restoring order in the valley, but the behaviour of the soldiers was such as would have disgraced a horde of barbarians. They stole what they could find, dealt out blows to the men and insults to the women, until their violence was met with violence in return. Then Patterson sent a letter to President Dickinson, accusing the farmers of sedition, and hinting that extreme measures were necessary. Having thus, as he thought, prepared the way, he attacked the settlement, turned some five hundred people out-of-doors, and burned their houses to the ground. The wretched victims, many of them tender women, or infirm old men, or little children, were driven into the wilderness at the point of the bayonet, and told to find their way to Connecticut without further delay.

Heart-rending scenes ensued. Many died of exhaustion, or furnished food for wolves. But this was more than the Pennsylvaina legislature had intended. Patterson's zeal had carried him too far. He was recalled, and the sheriff of Northumberland County was sent, with a posse of men, to protect the settlers. Patterson disobeyed, however, and withdrawing his men to a fortified lair in the mountains, kept up a guerilla warfare. All the Connecticut men in the neighbouring country flew to arms. Men were killed on both sides, and presently Patterson was besieged. A regiment of soldiers was then sent from Philadelphia, under Colonel Armstrong, who had formerly been on Gates's staff, the author of the incendiary Newburgh address. On arriving in the valley, Armstrong held a parley with the Connecticut men, and persuaded them to lay down their arms; assuring them on his honour that they should meet with no ill treatment, and that their enemy, Patterson, should be disarmed also. Having thus fallen into this soldier's clutches, they were forthwith treated as prisoners. Seventy-six of them were handcuffed and sent under guard, some to Easton and some to Northumberland where they were thrown into jail.

Great was the indignation in New England when these deeds were heard of. The matter had become very serious. A war between Connecticut and Pennsylvania might easily grow out of it. But the danger was averted through a very singular feature in the Pennsylvania constitution. In order to hold its legislature in check, Pennsylvania had a council of censors, which was assembled once in seven years in order to inquire whether the state had been properly governed during the interval. Soon after the troubles in Wyoming the regular meeing of the censors was held, and the conduct of Armstrong and Patterson was unreservedly condemned. A hot controversy ensued between the legislature and the censors, and as the people set great store by the latter peculiar institution, public sympathy was gradually awakened for the sufferers. The wickedness of the affair began to dawn upon people's minds, and they were ashamed of what had been done. Patterson and Armstrong were frowned down, the legislature disavowed their acts, and it was ordered that full reparation should be made to the persecuted settlers of Wyoming.


The Critical Period of American History 1783-1789 by John Fiske, pages 147-151
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, 1888