Monroe County’s frontier forts: Fort Hyndshaw

Map depicting the site of Fort Hyndshaw near Bushkill.

Part three 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

From December 1755 to January 1756, frontier forts were built in and around present-day Stroudsburg and Shawnee-on-Delaware, but there was a necessity to protect the settlers who lived in the northeastern-most corner of the area.

Benjamin Franklin, who was staying in Bethlehem, recognized the need for another fortress and instructed Capt. James Van Etten to erect one. This outpost, known as Fort Hyndshaw, represented the farthest extent of the northeastern defensive line of Pennsylvania’s forts.

Fort Hyndshaw was in present-day Middle Smithfield Township, just south of the present-day Monroe/Pike County border, near Bushkill Creek. The fort was named for James Hyndshaw, a European colonist who lived nearby.

In a letter dated Jan. 12, 1756, Franklin ordered Van Etten to “proceed immediately to raise a Company of Foot, consisting of 30 able Men, including two Serjeants, with which you are to protect the Inhabitants of Upper Smithfield assisting them while they thresh out and secure their Corn, and scouting from time to time as you judge necessary on the Outside of the Settlements.”

Franklin’s letter continued to include precise instructions for the captain, such as ordering Van Etten to keep a detailed diary, collect intelligence on the enemy, and ensure that provisions were not wasted.

In a particularly bold and graphic order to Van Etten, Franklin writes, “You are to acquaint the Men, that if in their Ranging they meet with, or at any Time attack’d by the Enemy, and kill any of them, Forty Dollars will be allowe’d and paid by the Government for each scalp of an Indian Enemy so killed.”

At the time, the British and colonial governments incorrectly felt that the Indian uprising would be short-lived, so they only required the men to enlist for one month. The government was unable to supply the men, and the enlistees were encouraged to bring their own gun and blanket.

After realizing his error, the governor decided to extend the commitment to one to three years. Van Etten was able to recruit 50 men who pledged to serve under his command, noting in their signed obligation that they engaged themselves “to Serve as Soldiers in his Majesty’s Service, under the command of Captain Vanetta, for the Space of one Month, and whoever of us shall get drunk, desert, or prove cowardly in Time of Action, or disobedient to our Officers, shall forfeit his Pay.”

While no exact date for the completion of the fort is known, it is estimated that Van Etten and his men erected Fort Hyndshaw sometime in late January 1756. It stood about half a mile from the Delaware River, was square in shape and encompassed 4,900 square feet. The area surrounding the fort was “clear all around for 300 yards” to prevent any surprise attack by the Indians.

On June 24, 1756, Commissioner Young traveled to Fort Hyndshaw on “a good Plain Road from Depue’s,” but he noted that many of the structures along the way were “Deserted and the houses Chiefly Burnt.”

Young’s job was to inspect the structure and the men stationed there, as well as to inventory the supplies of the fort and report his findings to his superiors in Philadelphia. Young was greeted by Fort Hyndshaw’s second-in-command, Lt. Hyndshaw, and 25 garrisoned men. Van Etten, along with a group of soldiers, had left the fort the day before Young's visit to investigate reports of Indian activity 18 miles up the Delaware River.

Young found the fort “very slightly stockade” and gave instructions for the troops to better secure the bastions. He also believed that there were insufficient munitions, especially for a fort so far removed from another fort, and he reported that supplies should be sent from Fort Norris (in present-day Kresgeville) and from Easton. Young requested that at least 30 pounds of powder and 90 pounds of lead be sent for immediately.

Following Franklin’s requests, Van Etten kept a daily journal, which gives a well-rounded account of his experience commanding Fort Hyndshaw. In his diary, Van Etten recorded the many activities he and his men carried out while stationed there. A majority of the entries include: reporting on the skirmishes with the Indians; having the soldiers collect and cut firewood; venturing outside of the fort walls for scouting expeditions; guarding settlers as they harvested their crops; and working with the men as they practiced their marching exercises.

Van Etten also discussed the weather and how his men assisted neighbors with their food stores and buried settlers and livestock killed by Indians. In one interesting journal entry, Van Etten reports that he traveled outside the fort to visit a blacksmith in order to commission an instrument for removing a bullet from his horse, which had been shot.

Van Etten’s journal ends abruptly on July 21, 1757, and it is believed that Fort Hyndshaw was abandoned around that time as well. Through the written accounts and records of Young and Van Etten, researchers are able to have a better understanding of the life of a soldier during this period in Pennsylvania'’s history.