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Full text of "Sketches of Fort Presque Isle"

Sketches 



of 



jfort presque Me. 



OUinlfreb Sacfcville^Stoner, 



THE LIBRARY OF 
CONGRESS. 


T «c Copies 


Recotvec 


OCT 


1 


1903 


Copyright EnVy 
CLASS °^ XXc No 


COPY 


8. 



COPYRIGHT 1903 

BY 

WINIFRED SaCKVILLE-StONER. 



5-1 



Uo /»s little f rlenfca, 

©ettruDe Montgomery 

and 

IRicbaro /toontQomerE, 

of Erie, Ipa. 



FORT PRESQUE ISLE-PAST AND PRESENT. 



The ground upon which Presque Isle Block 
House stands has been the scene of many 
stirring events in the history of this country. 
Here, in 1653, the Erie tribe of Indians fought 
their last battle with the Iroquois, who having 
secured fire-arms from the Dutch traders, 
succeeded in wiping the weaker tribe out of 
existence. 

The Chevalier De LaSalle was the first white 
man to set foot upon this soil which he claimed 
for France in 1679, but almost three quarters 
of a century passed before the French made 
any attempt to hold their claim. A fort was 
then built (1753) by order of Marquis Du- 
Quesne, Governor of Canada, who sent out 
three hundred men to establish military posts 
for the protection of the Ohio valley against 
the ever encroaching English. 

The first fortifications built consisted of four 
rough block houses within a log stockade, and 
as the land at this point was in the shape of a 
peninsula, the fort was appropriately named 
Presque Isle. 



In 1760, after a bloody siege of two days, 
the English, assisted by the Indians, who set 
fire to these fortifications no less than fifty 
times, succeeded in capturing this stronghold, 
but there is only one authentic record of their 
occupying their hard gained possession. This 
was in 1764, when General Bradstreet made a 
treaty with the Dela wares and Shawnees. 

The fort was then abandoned and there was 
no further mention made of it until 1794, when 
it was repaired by General Wayne, (known as 
' ' Mad Anthony ' ' on account of his daring in 
battle) who had led the attack at Germantown 
and had won the admiration of both friends 
and enemies by capturing Stony Point, one of 
the strongest British possessions on the 
Hudson. 

In this year he was appointed Major Gen- 
eral of the American army and having been 
sent on an expedition against the Miami 
Indians, he used Fort Presque Isle as his 
headquarters. 

After forcing his red brothers to sue for 
peace, he made a treaty with them in 1795 at 
Greenville, Ohio, and in the following year 
sailed from Detroit for Presque Isle. While 



on the way he was seized with a severe attack 
of acute gout and as there were no remedies 
on ship-board, when he arrived at his destina- 
tion he was in a dying condition and succumbed 
to his long-time enemy on December 15th, 
1796, at the age of fifty-two years. 

At his request he was dressed in his uniform 
and boots and buried in a plain coffin at the 
foot of the block-house flag-staff. Here his 
body rested until 1809 when his daughter, 
Mrs. Atlee, of Chester County, Pennsylvania, 
became seriously ill and feeling that she was 
about to die, expressed a wish that her father's 
bones might be disinterred and re-buried in 
the family burial ground. Her brother, Col. 
Issac Wayne, wishing to grant this dying re- 
quest, drove in a sulky across the state of 
Pennsylvania, which was then a wilderness, 
and on arriving at Presque Isle employed Dr. 
Wallace to superintend the disinterment. But 
when the grave was opened instead of rinding, 
as they expected, only a few bones, they were 
surprised to discover the entire body excepting 
the diseased leg in a petrified state. 

As it was impossible to carry the body in 
this condition across the wilderness, Dr. 



Wallace boiled the remains in an immense 
kettle, carefully scraped the bones and placed 
them in a small box which Col. Wayne carried 
home with him and buried in St. David's 
Episcopal churchyard at Radnor, Delaware 
County, about 14 miles from Philadelphia and 
not far from Paoli. the scene of the massacre 
which General Wayne avenged at Stony Point. 

The other remains and the implements used 
in cleaning the bones were placed in their 
former receptacle and re-buried. 

The kettle was preserved and is now on 
exhibition in the museum of the Erie Public 
Library. 

In the war of 1812 the old block-house was 
used as a rendezvous camp for the soldiers who 
were expected to attack the British should 
Perry be defeated. It was during this war 
that James Byrd was shot as a deserter when 
returning from a visit to his sweetheart, who 
lived near Dunkirk, N, Y. Byrd had over- 
stayed his leave of absence and was hastening 
back to his ship, which was anchored in the 
bay near the block-house, when the men who 
had been sent out to search for him, met him 
only a few yards from the ship and fired 



without allowing time for a word of explana- 
tion. This pathetic incident furnished material 
for a beautiful poem which is familiar to all 
the old residents of Erie. 

Although the block-house was burned to the 
ground by some miserable vandals in 1853, its 
site was easily traceable until 1863 and during 
the civil war some of the home guard camped 
there. 

Following this war for some years the 
historic spot was almost forgotten until 1878, 
when the health officer of Erie, the late Dr. 
Germer, who was an ardent admirer of General 
Wayne, after making careful investigations, 
discovered the site of the old block-house and 
the grave of ' ' Mad ' ' Anthony Wayne was 
once more disturbed. 

The coffin lid and the knives used by Dr. 
Wallace were found in a fair state of preserva- 
tion. These were placed in a glass case and 
hung on the wall of a new block-house, which 
was built with funds appropriated by the state 
legislature through the efforts of Dr. Germer 
and Capt. Welsh. 

This block-house (built in 1880) is supposed 
to be a correct imitation of its historic prede- 



cessor and shelters General Wayne's now 
empty grave, which has been built up with 
stone and marked with its original inscription. 
A Marine Hospital was also built on these 
grounds, but as it proved useless for this pur- 
pose it was finally decided to make it into a 
home for disabled soldiers and sailors, and no 
more appropriate monument could have been 
raised in honor of brave "Mad" Anthony 
Wayne, whose ashes or at least a part of them, 
now rest where his heart ever belonged, near 
to the soldiers and sailors who fought for this 
glorious republic. 




10 



THE PHANTOMS OF FORT PRESQUE ISLE. 



Gertrude Montgomery was the only daugh- 
ter of old fashioned common-place country 
parents and the sister of five ordinary rough- 
and-tumble brothers, but she was not of the 
" old fashioned girl " type, nor was she like 
other girls of her day. 

Gertrude, the dreamer, she might well have 
been called, for from earliest childhood days 
she found her greatest pleasure in sitting in 
quiet nooks by herself or in relating to her 
little friends dreams, which she claimed to be 
scenes in real life and which she conscientiously 
believed to be even as she described them. 

To her parents she was an enigma, and as 
they were of the self-righteous order, who 
have no toleration for sinners, they were often 
horrified to hear their only daughter telling 
tales which they felt were without foundation. 
Therefore they considered it their Christian 
duty to punish Gertrude for these falsehoods, 
and as she was a child of imagination and had 
faith in her dreams, she could not understand 
why she should be punished and naturally 
feared and disliked her parents. 

Her brothers, like other ordinary rude boys, 

thought that a little girl was of no use around 
11 



the house excepting to tease in the old-time 
ways so dear to the youthful masculine heart, 
which takes pleasure in making a small sister's 
back the receptacle for toads, bugs, and other 
noxious things, and considers dolls useful only 
to be scalped. 

As the little dreamer found no sympathy 
amoug her home people she sought the woods 
and flowers for her companions in summer and 
a few well thumbed books served for her only 
amusement in winter, and thus she passed the 
first sixteen years of her life. 

At this time all of her brothers had gone 
from home and she often surprised her mother 
by describing what they were doing at certain 
times, claiming that she had seen them in her 
dreams, and shortly after letters would come 
to verify her statements. 

Mrs. Montgomery told some of the neigh- 
bors about her daughter's strange gift and 
they laughed at such nonsense. But when Dr. 
Cresswell, an eccentric old Englishman who 
spent most of his time in pouring over musty 
books, heard of Gertrude's dreams he became 
very much interested and on his first visit to 
her she felt that at last she was understood. 
The doctor saw that, as a delicate blossom gives 
up all its strength in distilling fragrant perfume, 

12 



so this young girl's mind was cultivated at the 
expense of her body and she dwelt more in the 
realms of far away thought than in the cold 
world of reality. 

This eccentric old gentleman surprised his 
neighbors by declaring Gertrude Montgomery 
to be superior to all those who laughed her to 
scorn. He claimed that she was one of those 
few persons of delicate and over developed 
sentient nerves, who feel both pleasure and 
pain more keenly than mortals of commoner 
cla}' and at times can even separate their spirits 
from the burden of their earthly bodies and 
visit (in spirit) those in whom they are inter- 
ested. 

As a proof of his statement he cited many 
authentic incidents, quoted by reliable writers, 
of mothers who, while on their death beds, 
possessed an intense longing to see their beloved 
children and by some unknown power were 
able to appear before them, and likewise ac- 
counts of sons and daughters who had shown 
themselves to their absent parents, and lovers 
to their sweethearts. Of course the ignorant 
people ridiculed these tales, but the kind old 
doctor ignored their taunts and spent much of 
his time in reading upon psychological subjects 
with the so-called "queer" Gertrude. 

13 



Time passed on and Gertrude grew into 
young womanhood. Then the second war 
with England broke out and her youngest 
brother enlisted in the U. S. Navy. Sitting by 
the fireside in the long evenings she could see 
him at his various posts and on several occa- 
sions when he was in danger she saw that his 
life was saved by a friend who was always 
near his side. 

As Christmas time drew near she dreamed 
that this brother (Charlie) was coming home 
and would bring his friend with him and in a 
few days her mother received the letter which 
she knew would come with the same news. 

Young Montgomery and his chum arrived 
at the old homestead on a dark stormy night 
and as handsome, dashing James Byrd came 
in reach of the bright rays from the fire-light, 
Gertrude knew that she had met the friend of 
her dreams — and her fate. Love came to both 
these 3'ourjg people on their first meeting and 
within three days they were bethrothed. 

For the first time in her life Gertrude felt 
the joy of loving and of being loved, but her 
happiness was of short duration for she was 
soon parted from her lover, who had to return 
to his post of danger. 

And now her dreams came faster and were 

14 



more vivid than before, as her heart followed 
her loved one and she knew what happened to 
him each day even before his letters told her 
the same story. 

Thus the winter passed by and the summer 
came with all its glory and on a beautiful night 
as she sat by her bed room window, she saw 
her beloved approaching her and felt the joy of 
a lover's kiss. Then all was changed — he was 
hastening away from her — returning to his 
ship — there was some mistake — some dreadful 
mistake — the sound of firing and a pale still 
face upturned to the cold rays of the moon. 

As all mortals are prone to try and forget 
sorrow, so Gertrude tried to laugh at this 
horrible dream; but experience had taught her 
to have faith in her visions and she thought 
that this dream had been sent to forewarn her 
lover of some danger. Hastily she wrote him 
a brief note telling him that even if he should 
be near by he must not come to visit her, and 
although it was midnight she crept noiselessly 
down stairs and out to the stable where she 
saddled a horse and rode to the postofhce, five 
miles away, so as to send her all important 
message without delay. 

Then she returned to her lonely room, but 
could not sleep as the horror of this dream 

15 



was upon her, and when early on the follow- 
ing morning she heard the voice of her brother 
Charlie she knew that her vision was true and 
James Byrd could not be far away. Running 
down stairs she threw her arms around her 
brother's neck and begged him to ride hard and 
fast back to the ship and tell Jim not to come 
and see her. 

''Talk about silly girls," impatiently ex- 
claimed her brother, ' ' you are the silliest. I 
thought I was bringing you a nice bit of news 
as Jim has a day's leave of absence and is now 
on the road to see you, but for some insane 
reason you don't want to see him." 

Disregarding his taunts the poor girl fell on 
her knees and pleaded with him to grant her 
request as Jim's life was in danger, but he 
only laughed, and finding him obdurate she 
mounted his horse and rode out to meet her 
lover. The two lovers met only a few miles 
from her home and Byrd was greatly surprised 
to see Gertrude but more astonished when she 
threw her arms about his neck and implored 
him to return at once or he would be shot. 

He tried to quiet her fears and laughed at 
the vision she had seen, but she would not be 
calmed, and after repeated and frantic appeals 
for him to leave her, she fell in a senseless 

16 



heap at his feet. Then it was James Byrd's 
turn to grow wild with apprehension. He, 
who had no fear of the battle, felt terror- 
stricken as he held the pale form of his loved 
one in his arms, and having tried in vain to 
restore her to consciousness, he put her on his 
horse and brought her home. The doctor 
was summoned and after a time succeeded in 
arousing the unconscious girl, but as soon as 
she saw her lover she became almost delirious 
and frantically begged him to leave her. In 
anxiety for her he even forgot his duty and 
was only aroused to a realization of his rashness 
by a whispered warning from Charlie that it 
was now eight o'olock, the hour when he 
should be on shipboard, ready to report 
for duty. 

Kissing his loved one good-bye, he sprang 
on his ho ; se and rode in hot haste towards his 
ship, which was anchored some thirty miles 
away, near the old Presque Isle block-house. 
The last two miles, however, he was compelled 
to make on foot as he had borrowed the horse 
he rode from a farmer and was pledged to 
return it that night. 

Therefore it was almost midnight when the 
lights of the ship were plainly in sight, and 
what a relief to see the ship so close and to 

17 



feel assured that he could relieve his darling's 
mind on the morrow by sending a message 
telling of his safe return. And although he 
knew that he had disobeyed orders and would 
be reprimanded, yet he felt certain that when 
his Captain, who had a kind heart, should 
know the cause of his tardiness, he would 
make his punishment light. 

With these hopes to buoy up his spirits he 
quickened his pace almost into a run and was 
within a few yards of his goal when suddenly 
a posse of men surrounded him on all sides 
and before he could utter a word several shots 
were fired in quick succession and James Byrd 
fell dead — shot as a deserter — his pale face 
upturned to the cold rays of the silent moon 
even as his sweetheart had foreseen. 

As his spirit passed to the world beyond, 
Gertrude knew that the time had come to join 
her beloved one and she crossed the dark 
waters to that land where loving souls meet to 
part no more. 

The spot where Byrd fell, now marked by a 
clump of bushes, is often pointed out by the 
inmates of the "Soldiers and Sailors Home", 
and some of these old veterans claim that on 
clear moonlight nights they can see the forms 
of a sailor lad and a slender maiden walking 
hand in hand. 

18 



Others make sport of such tales, but whether 
or not the spirits of these two unfortunate 
lovers are permitted to wander together upon 
earth we feel that they must be united some- 
where. 

Mortals often murmur against that which 
seems an injustice when one who has ever lived 
uprightly is deprived oi every comfort and joy, 
knowing naught but pain and sorrow, while 
another who defies all laws of God and Nature, 
enjoys health and all of earth's pleasures. 

Why should this be? Where is God's justice? 
Man does not know but he feels assured that 
the just and merciful Father of this universe is 
kind to all of his children and to those who are 
deprived of earthly joy he gives a greater 
capacity for enjoyment in the world to come. 

In that world, we are told, there is no 
marrying or giving in marriage but those who 
have loved each other upon earth with a pure 
heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul love, will surely be 
united in that spiritual bond of love which can 
never be served and which gives far greater 
peace and comfort than earthly love can know. 



19 



1V6 




Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home. 



HERALD, ERIE, PA.