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New evidence results in plaque placed at Fort Freeland

By Staff | Oct 14, 2016

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Randy Watts, president of the Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society, noted descendants of persons massacred in 1779 at both Fort Freeland and the nearby McKnight farm. The dedication of the plaque for the latter site took place Sunday, October 2 during the society's 35th annual Heritage Days near the Hower-Slote farm house near Turbotville.

TURBOTVILLE – After 35 years of gatherings at the Hower-Slote farm by the Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society, more history of happenings in the immediate area has come to light.

In introducing this year’s added event of placing a plaque noting the massacre at the McKnight farm, president Randy Watts said, “Between 1775 and 1788, pain and sacrifice extended to the Susquehanna Valley. Interred in the grounds at the nearby Presbyterian Cemetery are 74 Revolutionary War soldiers and 10 from Fort Freeland.”

When groups of families opened the new frontier, they knew not what lie ahead. The territory in what is now Lewis Township, Northumberland County near Turbotville, endured a period of unrest during the mid to late 1770’s. Militias were sent in an attempt to secure safety for the settlers.

By April 26, 1779, when Indians attacked the McKnight farm, the Tories and Iroquois had already made raids on Muncy and Fort Augusta. The McKnight ambush was a prelude to the battle at Fort Freeland the following July.

Of the participants in this saga, descendants of three families with fatalities highlighted on the newly placed plaque, were in attendance during the dedication ceremony at noon on Sunday, October 2. Many traveled great distances to represent George Levergut, Jacob Gift and Michael Lepley.

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Fatalities of the April 26, 1779 ambush at the McKnight farm near present day Turbotville included Jacob Gift, Michael Lepley, George Levengut, Henry Conrad, George Herrold and William and Elizabeth McCormick McKnight. The plaque was dedicated during Heritage Days hosted by the Warrior-Run Fort Freeland Heritage Society.

Arriving from Brunswick, Maine, speaker Barbara Levergood explained that during those precarious times, the settlers had taken refuse at Fort Freeland. However, come milking time, militia went with the farmers bringing cows from the pasture. As the chore was being done, an attack of about 30 Iroquois surprised the settlers.

“Killed was 31-year-old George Levengut, Sr., husband of Anna Maria Werner, father of Jacob age 4, John age 2, and six-month old George Junior,” said Barbara a descendant of second son John.

Continuing, the speaker said, “About two years later, the widow fled to Canada, taking a horse, bridle, saddle and her youngest son.”

For a widow with three sons on the frontier, prospects could not have been good.

The sons left behind were taken into the household of their uncle Jacob Levengut. When the time came for the distribution of her husband’s property, items Anna had taken, were held against her. The division of the late Levergut’s estate was divided equally between the widow and their three sons.

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary The somber sounds of taps were played by Sarah Cotner, a member of the Warrior Run High School band, at the closing of a plaque placement ceremony last weekend near the high school. The names of seven persons perishing near the site in 1779 brought descendants from Maine and Canada.

The researcher from Maine had heard an ancestor was killed by Indians during the Revolution, but where to look. “In a triangulated search, I went back to the militia list and found the outcome of others including the Lepley pension records. These were lists of fellow residents of Northampton County. now Lehigh,” Barbara said.

Through internet search, cousins in Canada located Barbara’s research. Roy Levergood, descends from George Junior, and Don Lypps Gall, from the widow’s second marriage. Both Canadians attended the plaque marking where Gall said, “Anna Maria is my heroine, had she not left this area and remarried, I wouldn’t be here.”

Barbara said that, “Last year I was in touch with the society asking for a tour and was assigned Rich Nornhold. I gave him a copy of my research memo. I must also thank president Randy Watts for locating the McKnight farm site. This was a day filled with connecting with the other families, sharing and preserving our memories. Today, the coming together of my Levergood family closes the circle of a far flung family.”

Robert Gift of Paxtonville, Snyder County, presenter for the Gift family, spoke of the lot or enlistment of Johan Jacob Gift whose name was drawn for militia service. To his father the eldest son said, “You stay and care for the family,” and having already served an enlistment, the 28-year-old also said, “I know the hardships of a soldier’s life.”

And so, advancing with the militia to the Fort Freeland area, Jacob Gift became one of the fatalities. Four years later, the Gift family moved to Northumberland County, to a place within what is now Snyder County. Gift said, “A family member has the deed recorded on a sheep skin.”

Gift also told of a man whose musket was found broken in half lying on his mutilated body. Another died when a tomahawk caught him mid air when jumping 12 feet across a stream. “All were hurriedly buried in a trench,” he said.

In addition to Robert, Gift family representatives came from Selinsgrove and Honeoye, New York. “It was a proud day for me. A couple times I became emotional during my speech. I’ve been coming here since 2010 when I shared my information with folks here,” Gift said.

Among the seven slain was Michael Lepley, age 41, who left a wife and several children. Members of the Lepley family included Raymond W. Lepley of Liberty along with some 20 members from Cogan Station and Williamsport.

Led by President Watts, attendees joined in singing patriotic songs.The ceremony concluded with the somber sounds of TAPS, played by Sarah Cotner, and drum rolls by Chris Emerey, members of the Warrior Run High School Band.