Trekking North – Randy riles the Red Coats
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final report of Randy Watts, who much like a group of captured settlers from 1779, were taken by British and Native Americans from Fort Freeland to the latter’s stronghold at Fort Niagara, New York.
TURBOTVILLE Randy Watts spent just two nights sleeping indoors. The remainder of his 16-day hike was beneath a tent carried in his backpack. For bathing, Conesus Lake and Lake Ontario were nature’s bath tubs. He purveyed eateries and from well-wishers, was sometimes the recipient of food and drink.
The journeyman noted the contrast between his recent trek and a previous hike on the Appalachian Trail, “This time,” Randy said, “I chose to experience history in an unusual way. In addition to being in the area’s Fort Freeland, prisoners were taken to upstate New York, and part of my mission was to challenge people along the way. Did they know the heritage of their communities? What had sustained their area, and how was a positive spirit being kept, if true?”
Randy listed churches as contributing to pride and a good spirit. The first Sunday the hiker attended services at a Baptist Church along the Loyalsock. The following sabbath, in awe of its architecture and rose windows Randy said, “Everybody ought to visit the Presbyterian Church in Bath, New York. Here during both services, I was given the microphone to tell the people about my journey.” On the third Sunday the pastor mentioned the traveler in his prayer at the Wesleyan Church in Somerset, NY.
The adventurer noted, “I like challenges that sustain physical and mental fitness, and hiking is great therapy for the mind. For me to see Fort Niagara for the first time, just like the patriots from Fort Freeland, I wanted to sense a deeper feeling of what it was during those early times.”
To recount what the prisoners experienced, Randy said, “They knew the hike would be harsh as well as the imprisonment. They had hope of someday being reunited as families. I emphasize how hope is such an important factor of daily living and being joyful, if all works out.”
At a New York State Park named Four-Mile Creek, Randy waited for his family to arrive from Montoursville. To make memories and instill family history, he wanted to enter Fort Niagara accompanied by granddaughters, nine-year-old Jane and four-year-old Ruby Watts.
A sentiment that Randy verbalized was, “My granddaughters have come to convince me to go home with them, and that their love for me is greater than the ‘I Love NY’ experiences, especially the areas at the Finger Lakes and western New York, the Lake Ontario shore line and the history of the area.”
In hypothetical and humorous thought, Randy imagined saying to the guards, “I have come in search of the Fort Freeland prisoners. I expect you Red Coats will try to get me to express allegiance to the King of England, however, I support the Revolution.” Considering what listeners and readers might think, he jokingly added, “Yes, I may have to deal with an insanity issue!”
As to the prisoners of long ago, Randy said, “They too had hope of someday being reunited with loved ones. Captured but escaping the day of the battle on the warm summer day of July 28, 1779 were Samuel Brady, Peter Vincent and Francis Watts. A partial list of others who had not eluded the enemy included Captain Arthur Taggert and Thomas Taggert. The latter died in captivity on Jan 16, 1780.
More men were referenced from the book “Fields of Honor: The Battle of Fort Freeland” by Roger Swartz. It adds to the list of those surviving: John Dough, James Durham, Michael Freeland, Samuel Gould (Sergeant), William Miles, Henry Williams, Peter Williams, Isaac Wilson and Thomas Smith.
Apart from those killed (among them Randy’s fifth great-grandfather John Watts) two men deemed too aged to be dangerous, were sent with the women and children to Fort Augusta at Sunbury.
In present time, the Watts family viewed the stockade where prisons had a six-week incarceration, after which they were put in leg irons on ships bound for Montreal. It would be three years and the conclusion of the war, when they sailed up the St. Lawrence River as part of a prisoner exchange. By boat, they went southward to New Jersey, then home.
Randy expanded on the post-war reunion of Captain John Lytle and his wife who at first did not recognize him. “She’d been left with several children and had a farm hand in her employ. After a time and with the intention to marry, the helper made up a letter convincing her the husband was dead. Upon hearing of the eminent arrival of the Captain, the farm hand fled never to be seen again. Following a time of conversation, the Lytle’s reconciled.”
Remarking on outcomes for the remaining freed, Randy said, “Many sought opportunities in western Pennsylvania and did well financially in real estate and establishing fee roads, while others mined salt for delivery to Pittsburgh.”
With the hike ended and as promised, revealing the amount of coins discovered was seven pennies and two quarters, one of which was glued to the macadam. “Someone had a sense of humor,” Randy said.
Contemplating what more adventures might lie ahead, Randy is unsure. He mulled over the idea of possibly riding to upstate New York for a return walk home, or perhaps pedal the distance by bike. “As I’m nearly 70-years old, I will need some recovery time,” he said.
The public is invited to enjoy laughs, history and thoughts on hiking when Randy shares his experiences via a power point program. The event will be held Sunday, September 16 at 2 p.m. at the Warrior Run Church.
On October 6 and 7, Heritage Days will be held on the Fort Freeland site behind the Warrior Run High School. By then, Randy will have changed from his hiking attire and take on his usual Rag Man persona, telling stories while wandering about with his cart. You are invited to follow Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society events by going to freelandfarm.org.