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Accounts of 1780 Sugarloaf Massacre in Pa. differ, but impact is certain

HAZLETON, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — One of the earliest — and most infamous — events in the history of the Hazleton area took place Sept. 11, 1780, about a mile east of what is now the borough of Conyngham.

Perhaps 10 American Revolutionary soldiers were slain and others captured when their company of 41 was ambushed by a band of Native Americans accompanied by a few Tories.

Historical accounts of the Sugarloaf Massacre differ as to the exact number of soldiers slain.

A monument at the site lists 15 names, but historian Thomas Verenna in research published in 2015 in the online “Journal of the American Revolution,” said the best evidence indicates that 10 members of a militia from Northampton County died in the massacre. A detachment reported burying 10 people, Verenna learned through his research.

He found that at least three soldiers listed as dead had survived. Peter Crum and Geroge Shellhammer, listed as deceased on the monument, collected pensions after the war. Paul Neely, although named as deceased on the monument, was listed on records in 1782 and again in 1792 when he was repaid for material contribution to the war effort. Another soldier named as killed on the monument, Baltzer Snyder, shows up on later rolls, but Verenna is trying to verify his fate.

While the monument names Capt. Daniel Klader the leader of the detachment and a gravestone for Klader is nearby, Verenna doubts that Klader existed. Daniel Klader isn’t mentioned in the service, pension or death records of the survivors who served in the Northampton militia commanded by Capt. Johannes Van Etten.

No mention of Daniel Klader exists until the mid-1860s when John C. Stokes wrote about him in an article in the Hazleton Sentinel newspaper, Verenna didn’t find the original article, but obtained a reprint from 1880.

Verenna said Stokes and others trying to piece together what happened decades after the massacre conflated Daniel Klader with Pvt. Abraham Klader, who was at the massacre, and a Capt. Jacob Klader, who led detachments elsewhere and survived the war.

Second Lt. John Myers who was captured at the massacre but escaped, or 1st Lt. John Fish might have led the group, which was heading toward the Susquehanna River and present-day Berwick and Catawissa.

Their orders were to seek out a number of Tories who were creating problems while siding with England in its effort to end the bold bid for independence by its former colony, the newly formed United States of America.

The toughest part of the company’s journey reportedly was through what was known as “Haselschwamp” — in English, Hazle Swamp — where Hazleton and West Hazleton are now located.

As the men descended the Conyngham Mountain, they came upon a clearing in the forest near a running stream — now known as the Little Nescopeck Creek — which was abounding in wild grapes. They decided to rest and eat.

The soldiers stacked their muskets and rifles, then simply relaxed when they were ambushed.

Verenna said the attackers probably numbered 25 men, including members of various tribes and some Tories.

Six days after the massacre, a burying party of American soldiers led by Lt. Col. Stephen Balliet arrived on the scene.

“We found Ten of our Soldiers Dead, Scalped, Striped Naked, & in a most cruel & Barborous (sic) manner Tomehawked (sic,)” Balliet wrote in his account of the burial party.

A few years after the massacre, two metal pieces of a flintlock rifle or pistol were plowed up, supposedly on or near the monument. The pieces were a barrel and the flintlock mechanisms.

They turned out to be the only documented relics of the Sugarloaf Massacre, and the discovery was mentioned in Henry C. Bradsby’s “History of Luzerne County,” published in 1893.

In 1933, a monument and flagpole were erected on Walnut Avenue in Conyngham by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Wyoming Geological and Historical Society, and the Sugarloaf Massacre Commemorative Committee.

A blue and yellow state historical marker on Route 93 in Conyngham also recounts the massacre but incorrectly notes the county from which the militia hailed.

©2016 the Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pa.)
Visit the Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pa.) at standardspeaker.com
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