Although the first colonial settlement in the Wyoming Valley occurred in 1762, Harvey’s Lake was unknown to the settlers until 1781, when it was discovered by accident. In 1662 King Charles II gave a charter to the Connecticut Colony to certain lands in North America that included the Wyoming Valley. At the same time, King Charles II owed a large debt to Admiral William Penn of the English navy, father of William Penn. In 1681 King Charles II granted William Penn a charter to the Pennsylvania region in repayment of the debt owed to Penn’s father. Inadvertently, the Pennsylvania and Connecticut charters both covered a prized Susquehanna River valley known as Wyoming.
An effort by Connecticut to settle the Wyoming region failed in 1762-1763 because local Indian tribes were warring among themselves. The Connecticut settlement at Mill Creek was attacked by Delawares from outside the region in October 1763. The local Indians also fled the area, and the Wyoming Valley was unoccupied for several years.
In 1768 the Susquehannah Company from Connecticut decided to resettle the region known as Wyoming and to survey the five townships of Wilkes-Barre, Hanover, Pittston, Kingston and Plymouth. But in January 1769 Pennsylvania settlers arrived at Mill Creek at the insistence of the Penn government to counter the Connecticut action. Forty settlers arrived from Connecticut the following month. In the summers of 1769 and 1770, Benjamin Harvey, of New London County, in Connecticut, was employed to transport supplies to the Wyoming settlement. Several of Hervey’s friends and neighbors from Connecticut planned to settle in the Wyoming frontier. Hostility between the Connecticut and Pennsylvania claimants to Wyoming soon erupted into armed conflict. The first Yankee-Pennamite War ended when the Connecticut forces overtook the Pennsylvania defenders at Fort Wyoming in Wilkes-Barre in the summer of 1771. The apparent victory of Connecticut drew additional Yankee settlers to Wyoming. The regional warfare, initially between the conflicting settlements, but later between the American Colonies and England, served as the catalyst for Benjamin Harvey’s discovery of Harvey’s Lake.
Benjamin Harvey’s wife, Elizabeth, had died in Connecticut in December 1771, and a son, Seth, died a week later at age twenty-three. In early 1772, at nearly fifty years of age, Harvey determined to move to Wyoming with his settling friends. He and another son, Benjamin Harvey, Jr., arrived in Wilkes-Barre on May 7, 1772. Land was acquired by Benjamin Harvey in Plymouth for a home. Eventually, Harvey was joined by his two other sons, Elisha and Silas, and two daughters, Lucy and Lois Harvey.
In the fall of 1773 Harvey began to build a sawmill at West Nanticoke on the southwest bank of a stream whose source was unknown. The stream emptied into the river and was known as Falls Creek, although later it was called Harvey’s Creek. Harvey built two log houses by the sawmill near the creek. He also opened a store in Plymouth, which was managed by Benjamin Harvey, Jr.
The growth of Connecticut settlers in Wyoming aroused the Pennsylvania authorities. In late November 1775 the Pennsylvania government sent over six hundred men from Sunbury to Wyoming to challenge the Connecticut settlement. The expedition was under the command of Col. William Plunkett. At this time, Benjamin Harvey, Jr., had been trading in Middletown near Harrisburg. He traveled up river by boat with his merchandise and when he arrived in Sunbury, Harvey was taken prisoner. Plunkett planned to take several confiscated boats up the Susquehanna to Wyoming. Benjamin Harvey, Jr., was ordered to pilot his boat in support of the Plunkett expedition. In the meantime, the Wyoming settlers, aware of an impending attack, sent the local militia to meet Plunkett’s troops near Harvey’s Creek. Among the Connecticut militia to resist Plunkett’s invasion as Christmas approached was Benjamin Harvey, Sr., along with Silas and Elisha Harvey.
Throughout the fighting, Benjamin Harvey Jr., remained a captive. On Christmas Day the Plunkett forces retreated down the river plundering the homes of Connecticut settlers on their way. A month later Benjamin Harvey, Jr., was released by the Pennsylvania forces and he returned home to Wyoming.
The dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut cooled as England, a common enemy, loomed before the American colonies. In the meantime, Benjamin Harvey had built a grist mill on Harvey’s Creek in 1776. When the War of Independence was declared, Benjamin Harvey, Jr., joined Washington’s army and died in the winter of 1777, after exposure to the icy waters of Millstone River near Princeton.
On June 30, 1778, a scouting party warned the Wyoming settlers that the British and Indians were advancing down the river to the Wyoming Valley. At age fifty-six, Harvey was enrolled in the local militia. He was sent south to gain support for Wyoming militia, and he returned to the Valley on July 4, immediately after the July 3rd Wyoming Massacre in Forty Fort, in which his son, Silas Harvey, was killed. In the massacre 300 Wyoming Valley defenders were killed by a force of 700 British Rangers and Native American invaders. Following the massacre the Wyoming settlers abandoned Wyoming.
A few weeks later, however, Benjamin Harvey returned to Wyoming with other settlers. He remained with a local militia detachment. A member of Harvey’s militia troop was Matthias Hollenback, who would later have a prominent role in the history of Harvey’s Lake.
After the Wyoming Massacre, Harvey’s home in Plymouth was burned by the British, but his mills on the creek were left standing. Through the spring of 1779 Harvey remained at the fort in Wilkes-Barre. He then built a new home in Plymouth, but it was too dangerous to operate the mills at Harvey’s Creek, which were in an unprotected area. In September 1780, an Indian party from Fort Niagara, in New York, massacred thirteen settlers in Sugarloaf and followed the Susquehanna to Harvey’s Creek, where they destroyed Harvey’s mill by fire on September 13. The Indians then cut through the mountains on a return flight to New York.
Capture of Benjamin Harvey
On November 19, 1780, nineteen British Rangers and five Indians, under the command of Lt. John Turney, Sr., left Fort Niagara, in New York, for a raiding expedition to the Wyoming Valley. When they reached the Susquehanna, they traveled south by canoe to an area known as Secord, two or three miles above Tunkhannock. From Secord they marched until they arrived at the top of Shawanese mountain above Plymouth. It was the afternoon of Wednesday, December 6, 1780.
In the early evening a group of Wyoming militia and family members were at the home of Benjamin Harvey in Plymouth. Benjamin Harvey, his daughter Lucy, and his son, Elisha, were entertaining George P. Ranson, a member of the Continental Army, and local militiamen, Manasseh Cady, Jonathon Frisbie, James Frisbie and Nathan Bullock, was also at the home.
There was a heavy snow a few days earlier, and during the cold Wednesday evening, the fireplace was ablaze in the living room while the unsuspecting settlers enjoyed hard cider. Suddenly, the group was silenced as knocks fell upon the door. More sharply the knocks rang, and Benjamin Harvey unbarred the door. The Indians rushed inside while the British troops surrounded the home. The marauders bound the Plymouth captives who were told they were prisoners-of-war. During the night the captives were taken to the top of Shawanese mountain. An Indian chief took aside the two women, Lucy Harvey and Lucy Bullock. He painted their faces in Indian style and unbound them. He sent them back to Wyoming with a warning to terrify the Valley.
Lucy Harvey and Lucy Bullock tumbled down the snow-covered mountain through the night forest. When they reached Plymouth, they traveled up-river to the Wilkes-Barre ferry. The ferryman was awakened, and he took the women across the river to Fort Wyoming on the river common. When the commander of Fort Wyoming heard the story of the marauders, he ordered the alarm gun to be fired warning the Valley that captives had been taken. In a short time, a deserter from the British-Indian party, Thomas Connolly, also appeared at the fort. He informed the Wyoming settlers of the route to be used by the British to Niagara.
The next morning twenty-six men under the leadership of Capt. John Franklin marched up the river to Secord. They could not find traces of the raiding party or captives, but they did find the canoes abandoned by the British and Indians. It was hopeless to continue the search in the wilderness. The Wyoming troops took the canoes on a three-day return journey down the river to Fort Wyoming.
Trek to Niagara
In the meantime, the British-Indian party and the captives had marched the entire night and through the following day. They arrived where Mehoopany Creek enters the Susquehanna about fifteen miles above Tunkhannock. The forced march and change in direction was demanded due to the desertion of Thomas Connolly.
Benjamin Harvey, while in good physical condition at six foot three inches, was the oldest captive at fifty-nine, and the march was a strain, as the arms of the captives were bound during the march. There was uncertainty whether Harvey could continue on the march, and Harvey cursed the British and Indians over his harsh treatment. On the morning of Friday, December 8, the British handed Harvey over to the Indians.
The Indians held a war council and afterward bound Harvey to a tree. They fastened his head with thongs so he could not move. The Indian Chief measured fifty feet and called for three young braves. In silence the Chief placed a tomahawk in the hands of each brave and pointed to Harvey’s head. The first brave whooped a tomahawk toward Harvey, but it struck the tree a few inches above Harvey. The second and third braves then hurled their tomahawks, but also missed Harvey. The inept throws infuriated the young braves. They demanded Harvey’s scalp, but the old Chief sensed the Great Spirit protected Harvey and the Chief loosened Harvey from the tree.
The British-Indian party traveled up the bank of the Susquehanna from Mehoopany. They were cold and hungry, and at Tioga Point they killed a horse to feed themselves. They arrived at Fort Niagara the Christmas week of 1780.
The seven Plymouth captives were kept at Niagara throughout the winter and into the spring of 1781. They shared barracks with many other American prisoners. The area was also the new home for British Loyalists who were American colonists in sympathy with the Crown and who sought British protection at Fort Niagara. The British provided farmland to the Loyalists on the Niagara River near the fort, and the American captives, including Benjamin Harvey, were forced to work on the Loyalists’ farms.
Discovery of the Lake
In late May 1781 Benjamin Harvey, an older captive not considered a threat to the British war effort, was released on parole. He left the fort with the clothes he wore, a knife and flint. Some friends provided a little food. Harvey trekked southeast through West Central New York to the Chemung River where he found an abandoned canoe. After a few days on the Chemung, he entered the Susquehanna at Tioga Point. There were no settlers in the area for many miles down the river. The early settlers had been driven out between 1776 and 1778 by British-Indian raids.
When Harvey reached Bowman’s Creek, a few miles south of Secord, a thunderstorm at dusk drove Harvey to shore. The next morning there were Indian camp signs in the area. Harvey thought another capture by Indians was certain if he continued down the Susquehanna. He left the canoe and plunged into the wilderness. He traveled up Bowman’s Creek looking for the trail the British party used to take him to Niagara, but by evening he did not find it. Harvey continued throughout the next day, but found at night that he only traveled a wide circle. After the third day he was lost and out of food. In one version of Harvey’s return trek, it is claimed Harvey was accompanied by a dog which Harvey was compelled to sacrifice to feed himself.
Early on the fourth day Harvey found himself on a ridge, and through the trees there was the shimmering of water. After walking a short distance, Harvey stood on the edge of an expanse of water he thought was the Susquehanna. As Harvey traveled around the western shore, he quickly realized that he found a large lake and not the familiar Susquehanna. He thought the lake would be north of his home and searched for an outlet stream that might flow to the river. After an hour’s tramp, Harvey found the outlet and followed it for several miles. The area looked familiar, and he soon found he was on Harvey’s Creek. He then found his abandoned mills at West Nanticoke.
After reaching the Susquehanna, Harvey went to Plymouth and learned his daughter, Lucy, was living with friends in Wilkes-Barre. He was reunited with Lucy in early July 1781, five weeks after he left Fort Niagara. Well over a year later Benjamin Harvey, with the help of George Washington, was able to secure the release of Elisha Harvey, who returned home to Wyoming on September 10, 1782.
Harvey’s Last Years
The Revolutionary War ended with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 23, 1781. Immediately after the war ended, Benjamin Harvey built a new mill at Harvey’s Creek above the site of his old mill. He also built a new home near the mill in West Nanticoke. The Treaty of Paris with England also ended the proprietary control of Pennsylvania by the Penn family. A new state government immediately asked the Congress to resolve the Pennsylvania-Connecticut claims in the Wyoming Valley. A court was established at Trenton, New Jersey, which ruled on October 31, 1782, that Pennsylvania owned the Wyoming Valley but that the claims of Connecticut settlers to land titles should be honored.
The Connecticut settlers were not satisfied with the Trenton Decree, and in March 1783 Harvey went to Connecticut on behalf of the local settlers to request the Connecticut General Assembly to petition the Congress for another trial of the Wyoming claims, but Connecticut took no action. In October 1783 Alexander Patterson, a civil and military justice ruling Wyoming for the Pennsylvania government, had a number of Connecticut supporters, including Benjamin Harvey, jailed for a short time for defiance of Pennsylvania authority. In the spring of 1784, Connecticut settlers were dispossessed of their homes. A number of the Connecticut men, including Harvey, encamped in the mountains. They organized under Col. John Franklin, a champion of Connecticut title to Wyoming and commander of Harvey’s 24th Regiment during the Revolutionary War. Several of the Connecticut settlers, including Harvey, were again arrested and beaten, after which they were released. The Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania sought to investigate the Wyoming trouble and to arrest Patterson for his lawless administration of Wyoming, but Patterson even defied his own superiors and retained control of Fort Wyoming. On August 8, 1784, Pennsylvania troops were sent to Wyoming by the Supreme Executive Council. The Connecticut men were lured into a surrender on the promise of Patterson’s removal from authority. But the Connecticut supporters were arrested and Benjamin Harvey was jailed in Sunbury for nine days. When no action was taken against Patterson, the Second Yankee-Pennamite War erupted with several battles and casualties. On November 27, 1784, the Pennsylvania troops withdrew from Wyoming, and Fort Wyoming was destroyed by Franklin’s troops on November 30.
Settlers in the region had sought to restore their farms and business firms after the Revolutionary War despite the local conflict. In 1785 Benjamin Harvey built a new grist mill at Harvey’s Creek. He also built a new dam on the stream and, in surveying the region; he again visited the large lake he discovered at the head of the creek. It was late in his life, and Harvey wished to develop his mill. He married Catherine Draper, widow of Maj. Simeon Draper who had served the early Connecticut forces in Wyoming. But soon new political battles would emerge to bedevil Benjamin Harvey.
On September 25, 1786, the Pennsylvania Assembly created Luzerne County, named after Chevalier de la Luzerne, Minister of France to the United States. Timothy Pickering was named a judge for the area to finally settle the Pennsylvania-Connecticut land claims. He soon was entangled with the Connecticut leader, John Franklin, who refused to support any compromise that recognized Pennsylvania authority over Wyoming. Franklin was later arrested and imprisoned in Philadelphia. Pickering was kidnapped in June 1788 by men disguised as Indians. Pickering was taken up river where he was a captive for twenty days. It was hoped the kidnapping would secure the release of Franklin. At the time of the kidnapping Harvey left the area. He was suspected of involvement in the affair, but no proof was evident, and Harvey returned to Plymouth in February 1789. He never admitted or denied support in Pickering’s kidnapping. After Pickering’s release, Franklin was tried in Wilkes-Barre for treason, but the trial was inconclusive and Franklin was released. Pickering eventually resolved the local conflict by confirming the land titles of Connecticut settlers within the framework of Pennsylvania authority over the Wyoming Valley. Pickering was assisted by a Connecticut settler, Matthias Hollenback, who served as a local land agent. In 1792 Pickering left Wilkes-Barre to serve as Postmaster-General under President Washington. Later, he became Secretary of War and Secretary of State under President John Adams.
Harvey was a well-respected citizen of Wyoming. He bought additional lands in Plymouth, Fairmont, Ross and Union Townships. He never owned land at the lake he discovered. The wilderness lake was situated in an unexplored region of Plymouth Township, one of the original settling towns. By the time Harvey died on November 27, 1795, at age seventy-four in West Nanticoke, the lake was commonly known as Harvey’s Lake in recognition of Benjamin Harvey’s discovery. Harvey was buried at the Turner and Wadham Cemetery in Plymouth. In later years the remains of Benjamin Harvey and his wife, Catherine, who died on May 6, 1800, were removed and interred in the Hollenback Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre.