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700 College Pl
Williamsport, PA, 17701
United States

Biography

Robert King was born in Derry County, Ireland, August 2, 1753[1] to Mr. King and Widow King.[2] However, at the start of the eighteenth century, the harsh economic conditions in Ireland pushed a series of migrations to Pennsylvania. The majority of Scotch-Irish began seeking land west of the Susquehanna as the eastern lands became heavily populated.[3] After the French and Indian war, many settlers, most of whom were Scotch-Irish, settled along the frontier claiming the territory along the West Branches of the Susquehanna as their own.[4] In search of new territory, many settlers living on the frontier removed themselves deep into the "wilderness" hoping not to deal with the provincial land offices that they deemed just as unscrupulous as the landlords in Ireland. Nevertheless, these thousands of Scotch-Irish settlers began to occupy areas of Indian lands sparking animosity between the settlers and the natives. Robert and his three brother experienced these land disputes first hand in Pine Creek, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania in 1773.

The first Stanwix Treaty, proposed in 1768, extended the legitimate line of colonial settlement previously made by the Proclamation of 1763.[5]  The Indians agreed to sell Thomas and William Penn, proprietors of the colony, territory along the Susquehanna. Not only did this “New Purchase”[6] grant land to veterans of the French and Indian War, but also became a spot of interest to the Scotch-Irish immigrants. The boundary of the treaty extended from the West Branches of the Susquehanna to the Tiadaghton Creek.[7] The Indians however, interpreted Tiadaghton Creek as Lycoming Creek and white settlers believed it to be Pine Creek making the land in between the two creeks “disputed Indian” lands. Since the Indians and the white settlers had two different viewpoints, many settlers viewed the  land as "free territory" from 1768-1784. This area is also known as “Fair-Play” territory occupying the townships of Piatt, Porter, Old Lycoming, Watson and Woodward located in present day Lycoming County.[8]

For 16 years, the number of squatters increased along the frontier pushing for a sense of order within the Fair Play community. The Fair Play territory could not legally arbitrate land disputes that occurred frequently throughout the area. Without local government, King and the other settlers banded together to form their own self-government known as the “Fair Play System.”[9] Through this system, the Fair Play Men settled land disputes, adjudicated the guilt or innocence of suspected criminals, and meted out their own brand of punishment. Each year in the month of March, settlers within the Fair Play Territory elected three commissioners who carried out the duties of their self-rule. If one were to disobey the laws established by the Fair Play Men, the person or “squatter” was shipped down the river in a canoe and asked not to return.[10]

 Prior to the Revolutionary War, King and his three brothers each acquired 200 hundred acres of land in Piatt Township, Lycoming County and settled there for about one year.[11] He squatted on these “Indian Lands” outside the western jurisdiction of Pennsylvania and thus beyond the boundaries of the law. Unhappy with the desolate land the Pine Creek provided him, King relocated and squatted on “hill land” near Larry’s Creek in Piatt Township, Lycoming County.[12] Poor soil left King empty handed when it came to farming, but thriving when it came to the endless amounts of timber. Making the best out of the land, King and his brothers “made up in quantity as they lacked quality.”[13] King later removed himself to Lycoming Township, built a cabin on the land, and remained there until he entered the service of the Revolutionary War.[14]

In the fall of 1777, thirty-four year old King volunteered as a militiaman while living in Lycoming Township and remained in service until the fall of 1778.[15] He served under Colonel Henry Antes, builder of Fort Antes, located near Jersey Shore, Lycoming County[16] and Simon Coole, who served as Captain in the Third Battalion of the Sixth Company in the Northumberland County Militia.[17] King marched with Colonel Antes to Fort Antes, which served as a refuge for the Fair Play Men and the inhabitants located along the river,[18] until the sacking of Lycoming in July of 1778.[19] While at Fort Antes, King received orders from Colonel Hunter, who was a member of the Committees of Safety of Northumberland County and an officer at Fort Augusta,[20] to vacate the fort as British Loyalists and British allied Native Americans were in the area.[21]

That July, in what was known as the “Big Runaway,” King and other members of his company removed the women and children from the area and sent them on rafts down the Susquehanna to Fort Augusta.[22] He remained in the town of Northumberland for a total of six weeks until he was ordered to march to the Big Island, located near present day Lock Haven, to take the cattle away from the Indians.[23] Not only did the company take cattle, but also a great number of horses and sheep that hey later took back to Northumberland.[24] King was vital to the protection of the inhabitant’s property along the Susquehanna and although King was driven away from his home from the vengeance of the Indians during the “Big Runaway,” he was not engaged in any battles or skirmishes with the Indians like most frontier soldiers were.

Although King served in the Revolutionary War for about one year and was vital to the evacuation of women and children during the “Big Runaway,” it did little for him economically as most of his land was destroyed. After the war, he returned to his farm in Lycoming Township (now Mifflin) and worked as a landless laborer. According to the 1786 tax lists of Lycoming Township, Northumberland County, Robert King only owned one horse and one cattle to be taxed 3 shillings, well below the average tax of the town.[25]

Seven years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, the brutal hostility between white settlers and the Indians continued. On September 1, 1790, the Provincial Council met in Philadelphia and Thomas Mifflin, presented a message to the General Assembly concerning the murder of two friendly Indians in what is now Lycoming County.[26] On August 31, 1790, it was brought before the court that Benjamin Walker, Henry Walker, Joseph Walker, and Samuel Doyle, residents of Pine Creek, “barbarously” murdered two friendly Indians belonging to the Seneca nation, and actions are being taken to capture the murderers.[27] The Council stated,

It is the utmost importance to the lives of the good people of this State, and a due execution of the laws, that the perpetrators of a crime so horrid, should be brought to condign and exemplary punishment: We have therefore thought proper to issue this proclamation, hereby engaging that the public reward of eight hundred dollars shall be paid to any persons who shall apprehend and secure the said Benjamin Walker, Henry Walker, Joseph Walker, and Samuel Doyle, or two hundred dollars for each and every one of them, to be paid on their conviction for the said offense.[28]

Robert King, having knowledge of the area of Pine Creek, and who was ordered by the Council, was sent to the Indian country to deliver a speech and copies of a proclamation issued by the Council for the arrest of the murders.[29] Not only did copies of the proclamation get sent to the Seneca Indian Nation, but were dispersed throughout the whole county. King returned before the Council with several speeches from the Chiefs of the Seneca nation that stated,

We conceive it to be of great importance to the welfare of the good people of this State, that measures should immediately be taken for quieting the minds of the Indians. We, therefore request a conference with a committee of the General Assembly this morning on this subject.[30]         

That morning, King attended the conference held with the General Assembly to supply information concerning the incident. It was agreed in conference that a reward of 100 pounds would be given to the family of the Indians and also a reward of 50 pounds to whoever arrested the murderers and secured them in the jail at Lancaster.[31] In October, Samuel Doyle, one of the alleged murderers, was captured and put in the jail at Lancaster. The Walkers however, were never brought to justice for their crime. Doyle was never convicted for accompanying the Walkers in the killing of the two Indians and the judges of the Court of the Oyer and Terminer deemed Doyle “not guilty.” At the end of the trial, King was awarded 75 pounds for delivering messages back and forth to the Seneca Nation and the Council meeting in Philadelphia. Following his return from Philadelphia, he returned to his farm, married Susanna Pierson in 1792, and together, had nine children. [32]

 Having lived in Northumberland County, now present day Lycoming County for 60 years, Robert at the age 80 appeared in the Court of Common Pleas to apply for a pension for his service in the Revolutionary War.[33] He was denied approval of his pension for not serving in military capacity having only protected the property of the inhabitants of the West Branch of the Susquehanna. King lived to be 94 years of age making him the last surviving Revolutionary War veteran in Lycoming County. He died on March 29, 1848 and was buried in West Wildwood Cemetery located in Williamsport, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.

Maggie Slawson                                                                                                         

Lycoming College

           

Endnotes

 

[1] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.

[2] John F. Meginness, History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (Chicago, Illinois: Brown, Runk and Company Publishers, 1892), 1153.

[3] Philip Klein, “A Seed of a Nation,” in a History of Pennsylvania (University Park, Pennsylvania: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973), 45.

[4] Ibid.

[5] George D. Wolf, “Fair Play Settlers,” in The Fair Play settlers of the West Branch Valley, 1769-1784: A Study of Frontier Ethnography (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1969), 21.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Marshall Reid Anspach, “The Fair Play System,” Historical Sketched of the Bench and Bar of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, 1795-1960 (Williamsport, Pennsylvania: Lycoming Law Association, 1961).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Meginness, History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, 193.

[10] Ibid.

[11] William Henry Egle, Notes and Queries: Historical, Biographical, and Genealogical: Relating Chiefly to the Interior Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: State Printer, 1883), Fourth Series, Vol., 1, 179.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.

[15] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.  

[16] Henry Mechior Muhlenberg Richards, Report of the Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: State Printer, 1896), 394-395.

 [17] “Revolutionary War Militia Overview.” Revolutionary War Overview, Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/revolutionary_war_militia_overview/4125/northumberland_co_revolutionary_war_militia/435891.

[18] John F. Meginness, Otzinachson: A History of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna (Williamsport, Pennsylvania: Gazette and Bulletin Printing House, 1889), 217-230.

[19]  Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.

[20] Meginness, History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, 188-189.

[21] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.

[22] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.

[23] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.

[24] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.

[25] Tax Records, Northumberland County, 1786, in Pennsylvania Archives ed. William Henry Egle (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: State Printer, 1897), 19:709.

[26] Minutes of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, From its Organization to the Termination of the Revolution in Pennsylvania Archives ed. Samuel Hazard (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: State Printer, 1853), Vol., 16, 397-442.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Egle, Notes and Queries: Historical, Biographical, and Genealogical: Relating Chiefly to the Interior of Pennsylvania, Fourth Series, Vol., 1, 179-180.

[33] Robert King, June 2, 1832, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, R5965.


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