Monroe County’s frontier forts: Fort Norris

Map depicting location of Fort Norris near Kresgeville.

Last 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

Fort Norris was located in the western reaches of what is now Monroe County; it was named for Isaac Norris, a prominent Philadelphia Quaker who served as speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly.

Norris was the man who in 1751 commissioned a bell to be made from a London manufacturer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Charter. Norris also chose an excerpt from Leviticus 25:10 of the King James Bible to be inscribed on the bell. The excerpt was to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” and the bell came to be known as the Liberty Bell.

Benjamin Franklin traveled to the area where Fort Norris was to be located to choose personally its precise spot. The fort was to be positioned centrally between Fort Hamilton in present-day Stroudsburg to the east and Fort Allen in present day Weissport, Carbon County, to the west.

Franklin chose three captains to oversee the building of Fort Norris. Captain Trump was sent from Fort Hamilton and captains Orndt and Hayes were sent from Fort Allen. It was Franklin’s hope that this new fort could be built in “a week or ten Days, weather favouring” and that the completion of Fort Norris would finish the line of forts defending Pennsylvania’s frontier.

The construction of Fort Norris was not only viewed as a necessity, but its location was also symbolic. Near the site where the fort was to be built, 11 members of the Hoeth family had been attacked and murdered by native Americans.

Two survivors of the attack escaped to Easton, where they recalled their experience. Michael Hute, one of the survivors, gave a deposition of the day’s events to Justice of the Peace William Parsons on December 12, 1755.

The 21-year-old Hute was sworn in and recalled that at “6 of the Clock, Afternoon, a Company of Indians about 5 in Number attacked the House of Frederick Heath about 12 miles Eastward from Gnadenhutten on Pocho Pocho Creek. That the family being at Supper the Indians shot into the House & wounded a Woman; at the next shot they killed Frederick Hoeth himself & shot several times more, whereupon all ran out of the House that could. The Indians immediately set fire to the House, Mill and Stables.”

Hute’s testimony continues on to describe the gruesome murders and bodily mutilations of Mrs. Hoeth and others who perished in the attack. Following release of this detailed account, the members of the Hoeth family were viewed as martyrs by local English colonists. The building of Fort Norris was a symbol to the memory of the members of the Hoeth family and the dangers of living on the Pennsylvania frontier.

Fort Norris was completed in February 1756 and was 6,400 square feet in size. It was located roughly one mile southeast of present-day Kresgeville “on the Frable farm at a place where the ground begins to rise toward the hill.”

On June 23, 1756, Commissary Young visited the fort to report on the status of the structure as well as on the provision of supplies and the men who were stationed at the site. Of all four forts that had been erected at that time in present-day Monroe County, Fort Norris received the highest review and most positive remarks.

When Young arrived at Fort Norris, he found a sergeant commanding 21 men; the captain was away in Philadelphia retrieving the pay for the garrisoned men.

Young reported that the fort “stands in a Valley ab’t midway between the North mountain, and the Tuscorory, 6 miles from Each on the high Road towards the Minisink. …” Young continued to report that Fort Norris had “4 half Bastions all very Completely Staccaded, and finished and very Defenceable, the Woods are Clear 400 y’ds Round it, on the Bastions are two Sweevle Guns mount’d, within is a good Barrack, a Guard Room, Store Room, and kitchin also a Good Well.”

As for supplies, Fort Norris boasted “13 g’d Muskets, 3 burst Do, 16 very bad Do, 32 Cartooch boxes, 100 lb Powder, 300 lb Lead, 112 Blankets, 39 Axes, 3 Broad Do, 80 Tamhacks, 6 Shovels, 2 Grub Hoes, 5 Spades, 5 Drawing Knives, 9 Chisels, 3 Adses, 3 Hand Saws, 2 Augurs, 2 Splitting Knives.”

It was to Captain Orndt’s credit that Fort Norris received such positive remarks. Orndt was known to be an excellent commander with a well-organized nature. He was held in high esteem by the government as a very capable officer, so it was not a surprise that he was asked to take command of Fort Norris after its completion. Interestingly, in 1756, a Lieutenant Miller was removed from the neighboring Fort Allen because of his bad conduct and placed at Fort Norris under Captain Orndt so he would be “in the hands of a real soldier.”

Perhaps because Orndt was such an outstanding captain, he was removed from Fort Norris on October 8, 1756 and sent to oversee the much larger Fort Allen. Captain Reynolds was assigned to replace Captain Orndt at Fort Norris; Reynolds was himself replaced seven months later by Lieutenant Engell, who remained until the fort was abandoned in 1758.

The numerous brutal Indian attacks and subsequent colonial retaliation beginning in 1755 set the stage for the creation of the frontier forts that were placed throughout the Blue Mountain region, four of which were erected in current Monroe County. Written histories of the forts and the circumstances that lead to their construction are one-sided, composed from the perspective of colonials as they interacted with natives. It is clear, by today’s standards, that injustices were committed by both the settlers and the native inhabitants, and it was not until members of the Six Nations met in Easton for the “Great Compromise” that the hostilities on both sides were ended.

The once great frontier forts, built at the direction and under the supervision of Benjamin Franklin, have become a chapter in Pennsylvania’s history. Once Fort Norris, and the other three Monroe County forts — Fort Hyndshaw, Fort DePue and Fort Hamilton — were abandoned, they began to disappear from the landscape. The once formidable walled structures that were surrounded by deforested land, became overgrown and were eventually reclaimed by nature.

mage 1: Historical Marker for Fort Norris stands along Route 209 near Polk Elementary School.
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