Monroe County’s frontier forts: Fort DePue

Map depicting the site of Fort DePue in Shawnee-on-Delaware

Part two of a four-part series highlighting the history of the four frontier forts that were built in Monroe County from 1755 to 1756 at the command of Benjamin Franklin.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

The first European colonist to settle permanently in this area was Nicholas DePue (also spelled DePuy, DePui, Depew), who purchased 3,000 acres of land in present-day Shawnee-on-Delaware.

DePue, a French Huguenot, was born in Rochester, N.Y., and traveled to this area in 1727. He was inspired by the fertile ground along the Delaware River, and he spent two years cultivating the land and building a log home before moving his wife and 10 children down from New York.

It has been well-recorded that Nicholas DePue lived peacefully with the native inhabitants, as he fairly purchased his 3,000 acres directly from the Minisink Indians. The DePue family and the Native Americans often traded together, and some of the Indians even worked on DePue’s farm and sought shelter in his home. The government, however, did not recognize the land purchase with the Indians, and DePue had to again purchase the land from the heirs of William Penn in 1733.

Between the time of 1733 and 1755, the northeastern region of Pennsylvania became filled with unrest and strife. Tensions had been rising between the native inhabitants and the thousands of European settlers who were moving into the area, and the interactions between the two groups became greatly strained.

This uneasy feeling between the native peoples and early settlers eventually made its way to DePue’s farm. By this time (1755), Samuel DePue, one of Nicholas’s son’s, replaced the log homestead with a large stone home. Because of its prime location near a reliable water source, one of Benjamin Franklin’s first acts in reaction to the growing hostilities between natives and settlers was to insist that the DePue’s homestead be occupied by a military force.

In December 1755, Capt. Isaac Wayne, who traveled northward from Chester County with his men, was temporarily stationed at DePue’s until Capt. Nicholas Weatherholt was placed in command. Weatherholt quickly ordered a stockade fence to be placed around DePue’s home.

At 8 a.m. on June 24, 1756, Commissary James Young traveled from Fort Hamilton in Stroudsburg to visit Fort DePue in order to complete a full inspection of the fort and report its condition to his superiors in Philadelphia. When Young arrived at Fort DePue, Captain Weatherholt was not prepared for the inspection. Young, not wanting to waste time, immediately left and traveled 10 miles further northward to Fort Hyndshaw. He completed his inspection of Fort Hyndshaw and returned to Fort DePue at 7 p.m. that same evening.

Young found Capt. Weatherholt and his muster rolls to be well prepared. Young was satisfied with Weatherholt, his 26 men, and the fort, but the inspector was not impressed with Samuel DePue’s son who was at home with “a Son of M’r Broadhead.”

According to Young, these two young men, “express’d themselves as if they thought the Province was oblig’d to them for allowing this Party to be in their house, allso made use of very arrogant Expressions of the Commissioners, and the People of Phil’a in General; they seem to make a meer merchandize of the People stationed here, selling rum at 8d p’r Gill.”

The attitude of Samuel and the rest of the DePue family likely stemmed from their underlying animosity for the government. After all, DePue had to purchase his land twice in a six-year time period, and now the family home was occupied by soldiers.

Fort DePue was built in the shape of a square and had swivel guns attached at each corner. A spring that had also been enclosed by the walls of the fort provided fresh water for both people and animals. As far as munitions, Fort DePue had “13 G’d Muskets, 3 Cartooch Boxes, 50 lb of powder, 125 lb of lead, no flints, a great Quanity of Beaff, 8 Mo. Provisions for a Comp’y, but no flour.”

The only concern Young had for the fort was the structure that was “much exposed to a high hill.” Because Fort DePue was well-supplied, Franklin declared Fort DePue a “commissary base” for all of the other forts located in the area.

There is one historical record which supports Fort DePue’s role as a commissary base. On April 25, 1757, Capt. Van Etten, who oversaw Fort Hyndshaw in present-day Bushkill, sent Sgt. Leonard Dunn and two other men to pick up provisions from Fort DePue. Within three miles of Fort DePue, the three men were attacked Indians. The sergeant was shot and killed while the two men fled back to Fort Hyndshaw.

Capt. Van Etten and seven men traveled southward toward Fort DePue and the scene of the attack, where they came across Sgt. Dunn’s remains. He had not only been shot, but he had been scalped and disemboweled as well. The men took Sgt. Dunn’s body by wagon to Fort DePue where he received a “Christian burial.”

The fort remained active, and in 1758, it was again inspected, this time by James Byrd. Mr. Byrd reported that Fort DePue contained “a very fine Plantation, situate upon the River Delaware … with a pretty good Stockade here & 4 Sweevells mounted & good accommodations for soldiers.”

Weatherholt remained in command at Fort DePue until January 1, 1758, when he was replaced by Capt. Garraway. Sometime in the spring of 1758, all troops were withdrawn from Fort DePue. It is recorded that there was a small group of soldiers that was sent back to DePue in 1760. More soldiers were posted there in 1763 when it was rumored that the Indians were preparing to renew hostilities with the colonists, but those rumors never came to fruition. After serving as a fortified supply base, DePue’s farmland and homestead returned to working as a peaceful farm.