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Incidents of the Big Runaway

The late esteemed Robert Robb, born in 1816, and grandson of the prominent pioneer, Robert Robb – his grandfather being one of the very first persons to settle in the valley when the land was made available for settlement, after the final purchase from the Indians at Fort Stanwix, in November, 1768 – informed me that when he was a boy old folks were yet living who remembered and often mentioned Job Chilloway, the Delaware Indian, who was such a useful and faithful friend of the first white settlers of the valley. Job, it seemed, knew every foot of this section of the country, and was at first often of service as a guide and interpreter. When, after the purchase, the agents of the Penns were ordered to select a portion of the best lands for the personal emolument of the Proprietaries, as reservations, Job led them to the Muncy Valley as the finest location on the West Branch. The draft of the first survey, made in December, 1768, designates the tract of 1,615 acres, with allowance of 6 percent, known as Muncy Manor, of which the Borough of Muncy is now the principal part, as "Job's Discovery." Meginness, in his Biographical Annals, has given an interesting account of Job, and "Betsy," his handsome squaw, to which in this late day but few incidents can be added.

Among the earliest settlers in the valley was Joseph Jacob Wallis, a half-brother of Samuel Wallis, the noted land proprietor, who settled on and improved the rich and extensive river bottom lands known later as the "Hall's Farms." Joseph located and built a hut some distance up Wolf Run, on land afterwards owned by John Adlum (see Now and Then, Vol. 3, pp. 49 and 129), and now belonging to the heirs of Frank Ort. Here is where J. Lukens Wallis, son of Joseph Jacob, came into the world, November 14th, 1773, the first white boy born in the Muncy Valley. When the boy was old enough to be weaned one of the friendly squaws who still lingered, or for several years often visited the valley, carried him to her wigwam and took motherly care of him until he became reconciled to a different kind and way of taking nourishment. It would be of interest to know what his infant menu consisted of, but we may conclude that it did not include Farina, Meilin's Food, or anything just in that line.

Early in the Spring of 1778, when J. Lukens Wallis was only a little more than four years old, the Indians begun to be very troublesome and threatening, being urged on to hostility by the British, with whom the Colonies were then struggling in a desperate war, and were doubtless also actuated by the hope that they might possibly again possess their beloved hunting grounds. They rushed into the fray as if they would help King George annihilate the harassed colonists. Great excitement followed, as the ominous war-whoop of the bloodthirsty and unpitying savages began to resound through the forests, and the settlers everywhere began to seek safety by flight. Job Chilloway's frequent service to the whites as both guide and spy had become so well known to his tribe that he, too, had to fly with the whites to save his own life and scalp. This stampede is now known in the history of the West Branch Valley as the Big Runway.

One night Joseph Jacob Wallis and his wife were aroused from their sleep by a friendly Indian, who urged them to lose no time in leaving the valley, as the infuriated Indians were moving towards the valley to kill, and scalp and burn. Wallis was alarmed, but he did not see how he could at once get away with his family. The Indian had left his canoe concealed at the mouth of Wolf Run, and he kindly insisted that Wallis should take it and make haste to get to Sunbury. It has been inferred that the Indian was the ever – faithful Job Chilloway, as he was a good friend of the Wallises.

Less fortunate were George Gortner and Thomas Hunt, who, during the terrible era of the Big Runaway, fell under the tomahawk of the Indians, on Muncy Creek, near Shoemaker's Grist Mill; only two weeks after James Brady was killed, August 8th, a short distance above Loyalsock Creek, while helping a party of reapers cut Peter Smith's grain, the unhappy man whose wife and four children had been murdered by the merciless savages only a short time before. The late Charles Shoemaker, who was born and always lived near the mill, used to relate that Hunt was buried on the ridge just west of the creek, that his grave was for many years marked by a large sandstone bowlder, and that the road from Muncy along the cemetery to the creek passes over the spot. It was not safe at that time to venture far outside of either Fort Brady or Fort Muncy. Meginness relates that three militiamen ventured out of Fort Muncy without permission to dig some potatoes and were immediately attacked while within sight of the garrison. In this happy day of peace and security no one can fully realize the terrors and sorrows of that dark period.

It was about the time that Hunt and Gortner were killed that Abraham Webster lost his four children. His son Abraham was killed, and son Joseph and two daughters were taken prisoners. Joseph returned after being in captivity twelve years. The youngest of the girls was drowned in Seneca Lake by an impatient squaw, and the fate of the other was never learned.

And the era of gloom and terror did not end with the year. The Big Runaway was continued and concluded in 1779. The West Branch was destined to be completely depopulated for a time. Capt. John Brady was killed on the 11th day of April, only eight months after the death of his son James. Small bands of savages seemed to be forever hovering about. Through scouts — one of them the daring Robert Covenhoven – it was learned that the Indians, urged on by British and Tories, were planning to invade the valley with a force strong enough to exterminate the remaining settlers. In July a force of 300 British and Indians came swooping down the West Branch on a raid of devastation and murder. Fort Muncy was deserted, and the invaders only had the satisfaction of burning it. The garrison had just been withdrawn, in consequence of the massacre at Wyoming on the 3d of July, and to strengthen the force of General Sullivan, who was about to invade the territory of the Six Nations. Fort Brady had also been abandoned, and shared the same fate. Henry Shoemaker—grandfather of the late Charles Shoemaker above mentioned—buried the gearings of his grist mill, but the mill itself also went up in smoke.

On the 28th of July Fort Freeland, on the Warrior Run, was captured. As there were only twenty-one men to defend the fort, and there were so many women and children to suffer if it should be carried by assault, it was wisely concluded to accept the terms of capitulation offered by the British commander, Captain John McDonald. The men bearing arms were taken to Niagara as prisoners of war, and fifty-two women and children, and four old men, were allowed to make their way to Sunbury. The firing before the surrender was heard at Boone's Fort, on Muddy Run, between Watsontown and Milton. Captain Boone with thirty-three good men reached the scene after the surrender, and, bent on rescuing their friends, boldly attacked and shot down many of the besiegers, while they were feasting; but when he and half of his men were killed the rest had to scatter and fly to save themselves. The settlers of the lower end of the valley had been warned of the coming of the hostile horde, but they fancied that the reports were exaggerated. After this disaster the remaining colonists made haste to get to Fort Augusta.

  • Gernerd, J. M. M., The Muncy Valley: Snap-Shots of Scenery, Geology and History, 1909, Press of the Gazette and Bulletin, Williamsport PA
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