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Exploration: 6000BC - 1790

375 million years ago – Exposed sedimentary bedrock in the watershed area was laid down in the Late Devonian, about 375 million years ago, through the deposition of fine sand, silt and mud particles along the shore of an ancient sea.  Ancient streams in this area flowed from the Acadian Mountains, to our east, westward toward the sea in the middle of what is today North America.

Over the ages, these sandy and muddy layers were compressed into finely layered sandstone and shale, creating the geological layer known as the Catskill Formation.

1 million years ago to 18,000 years ago Ice Age.  All of northeastern Pennsylvania, including the Tunkhannock Creek Watershed, was glaciated multiple times within the past million years, with sheets of ice up to a mile thick grinding their way over the surface of the land.

The glaciers advanced from north to south, filling valleys in their path with “till” (glacial debris composed of small rocks, gravel and rocky soil).  Much of our surface soils today are from this source.  Indeed, most of the landforms and soils we can see today, the “surficial geology” of our region, is a result of the action of glaciers.

About 18,000 years ago – Glaciers retreated for the last time, marking the end of the Ice Age.

18,000 to 13,000 years ago – As the last glacier retreated and while it was close by to the north, perhaps thousands of years of severe periglacial climatic conditions ensued.  Mechanical weathering driven by freeze-thaw cycles helped to break up exposed outcrops.  Cold conditions prevailed, much as we see today in the northern tundra and at the edge of glaciers.

About 13,000 years ago – Forests first covered the post-glacial landscape.  Forest continued to be the dominant land cover, covering over 90% of what is now Pennsylvania, until the arrival of European settlers about 250 years ago.

Exploration:  6000 BCE (before the Christian era) to 1790 CE (Christian era)
6000 BCE –1500 CENative American inhabitation.  There is archaeological evidence of human habitation in the Tunkhannock Creek watershed area from 4,000 to 7,000 years ago.  Based on evidence of human activity, including numerous artifacts from across the watershed, it is generally agreed that Native American tribes used the Tunkhannock Creek watershed area as a hunting preserve, shared by more than one tribe, but it seems not to have been a long-term settlement site for any tribe.

Native Americans wore paths along watercourses through these hunting grounds.  One was the route from the headwaters of the Lehigh River in southeast Lackawanna County through the Leggetts Creek Notch along present-day Routes 6 and 11, up present day Rt. 407 through the Abingtons and north through Harford to the Great Bend of the Susquehanna River.  Another was the path along present day Rt. 92 from the Susquehanna River along the Tunkhannock Creek to the Great Bend of the Susquehanna River near today’s New York state line.

Native Americans intermittently lived along the main branch of Tunkhannock Creek in the area near present day Nicholson.  Using overhanging rock ledges as shelters, they are believed to have wintered in this region and returned to central New York for the warmer months.  In the 20th century, Hugh and Norman Saxton collected over 2,500 artifacts in the creek floodplain within a mile from their home on State Street in Nicholson.  These include knives, spear points, scrapers and pitted stone tools that they painstakingly identified and dated.

Hugh Saxton discovered, not far from the present site of the Nicholson Viaduct, a rock shelter repeatedly used by Native Americans from 6000 BCE to 1,500 CE.  Seventeen feet long, eight feet high and nine feet from front to back, it offered protection from the elements, both to the men who lived in it and to the artifacts they left behind.  Working with Rev. Robert Webster and Theodore Whitney of the Chenango Chapter, New York Archaeological Association, Hugh Saxton spent five years systematically and scientifically sifting through four feet of soil beneath the rock ledge and in front of the shelter.  The following astounding catalogue of artifacts were removed from this “Indian dirt” (a term commonly given to soil that has been lived on and has a greasy feel):

bullet Four hundred projectile points, dated back to 2000 BCE based on carbon dating studies in New York of points created using the same techniques and style.
bullet Hundreds of pottery shards, some two inches across, dating to the Middle Woodland Period (500 BCE-500 CE)
bullet Twenty thousand pieces of bone, including two polished bone awl tips and hundreds of animal bones, indicating that the Native Americans subsisted on small birds, small mammals, elk, beaver and deer
bullet Four hundred pitted stones – some used as hammer stones to crack chestnuts, walnuts, acorns, etc.  Many stones, dating back to the Middle Archaic Period (4000 BCE - 2000 BCE), may have been used as “boiling stones.”  Before the art of ceramics was developed, primitive people cooked their food within a skin or bark container by placing heated stones in the container
bullet About a hundred stone circles with few or no signs of fire.  These may have been used for a hearth, ceremonies or games, or to support a skin in which to boil meat or grains using boiling stones
bullet A solitary burial of a young girl about 15 years old.  Careful examination of her teeth revealed that she had borne two children

A nearby smaller rock shelter yielded 20 kernels of charred corn, which suggests that some agriculture was being practiced in this valley 900 to 1,000 years ago

Saxton suggested that the Native Americans might have used logs and branches to increase the protective value of the south-facing ledge.  An abundant spring was located about two hundred feet to the northwest and there was ample game in the area.  In spite of these advantages, the number of artifacts at the site suggest that the Native Americans did not live there all year long.  All of the knife and spear points found there are made of chert, or “flint,” which is not locally available but is found in central New York.  The shelter is just off Rt. 92 near an Indian trail that led from the Susquehanna River at Tunkhannock to the Great Bend of the Susquehanna River – a good route to New York for the growing season.

For further information on the Saxton Rock Shelter, see the Chenango Chapter of the New York Archaeological Association’s Bulletin, Vol. 20, No. 2, August 1983.  (Joyce Stone, 1997:  Tunkhannock Creek Conservation Plan)

Another site of pre-Colombian Native American settlement was excavated and studied by archaeologists during the last decades of the twentieth century when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation decided to build a road to bypass downtown Tunkhannock.  This site was named “Harding Flats” and was located near the mouth of Tunkhannock Creek, where it flows into the Susquehanna River.  Here were discovered the remains of campsites, small farming homesteads, and other activity areas dating between 4,000 and 700 years ago.  These remains were found in layers of soil separated by layers of sand and silt that had been deposited during periods of flooding, indicating that it was a site with enough attractions for people to live there in spite of the threat of flooding.  (See “Through a Child’s Eyes” available at the Wyoming County Historical Society)

European Exploration and Settlement

1609 – The Dutch claimed the Pennsylvania region when Henrik Hudson anchored his ship Half Moon in Delaware Bay.  The Dutch established trading posts, but Swedes and Finns made the first permanent settlements, and ownership of the region changed hands frequently.

1662 – King Charles II granted Connecticut the lands in a 73-mile wide strip from Narragansett Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

1681 – King Charles II owed $80,000 to Admiral Sir William Penn who had lent to money to him to restore the Stuarts to the throne of England in 1660.  To settle this debt the king granted to Sir William’s son, William Penn, land in the New World between 40 and 43 degrees north latitude and extending west for 5 degrees.  This land included a part of that already granted to Connecticut.  These overlapping grants, based on an insufficient understanding of the geography of the New World, led to boundary disputes and eventually, to the Yankee-Pennamite Wars in the years between 1769 and 1784.

Since this area was a British colony, the King was declared the owner of all the white pine and white oak in the colony, to be used for the masts and planking of ships built for His Majesty’s Navy.  The forest in this part of North America covered the land from one horizon to the other, and cutting and clearing was the first priority of each settler.  It was a daunting task to remove the trees and stumps and at the same time it was also recognized that the remarkably wide variety of trees, especially the diverse hardwoods, were a valuable resource for the householder for all building needs as well as for the development and construction of many ingenious mechanical devices to help in the hard work of building a farm and a community.

1753 – The Susquehanna Company was organized in Windham, Connecticut.  In 1754 company representatives purchased the land from the Native Americans.  In 1762 the company sent the first settlers into the Wyoming Valley.  They were followed by one hundred and nineteen families.

1769-1783 Yankee Pennamite Wars - Settlers coming west from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island clashed in the northeast Pennsylvania counties with those coming up from the settled areas around Philadelphia.  Properties and crops were burned, local Native Americans tribes were drawn into the fray, and the conflict reached a climax at the Wyoming Massacre, at present day Forty Fort, in 1778 (between 160 and 320 people reported killed).  In 1779 the colonial forces sent General Sullivan on a punitive mission up the north branch of the Susquehanna River to find and destroy Native Americans settlements.  The conflict between the Yankees and the Pennsylvanians was not ended until after the Revolutionary War in 1783. (See 1783 Trenton Decision)

1774 – first survey of northeast Pennsylvania by William Grey.  Paper titles were acquired by George Clymer, signer of the Declaration of Independence and first Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Samuel Meredith, first Treasurer of the United States, and Henry Drinker, first Surveyor General of Pennsylvania.  These lands were resurveyed and warrants were sold to early settlers in the Northern Tier.

US Independence
1776 – Declaration of Independence signed at Philadelphia.
1779 – Sullivan’s March, a punitive expedition ordered to destroy Native Americans settlements after the Wyoming Massacre.  Sullivan’s troops marched 250 miles into what is now north-central Pennsylvania and western New York, destroying at least 40 villages, burning crops, and defeating a combined force of Native Americans and Tories at Newtown, NY, in the sole battle of the campaign

August 3, 1779William Rogers, D.D., a chaplain traveling with General Sullivan’s forces, entered the following in his journal:

“Tunkhannock is a beautiful creek eight poles [132 feet] in breadth.  The place where we crossed it about three quarters of a mile from the Susquehanna, into which it empties, was very rapid.  The path along which we came, and on each side of it as far as we could see, wild grass had grown in abundance.  Some places, owing to the herbage emitted a most fragrant smell, and we frequently had the pleasure of viewing flowers of various hues.  Hazelnuts were ripening for a long tract of country in amazing quantities, and beyond doubt nature has been equally kind in causing these wilds to abound with other things delicious to taste.  Several deer were seen, both by officers and men; one came running close by us.”

Many of Sullivan’s troops were militia from the area near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, already settled in comparison to the wilds of Northern Pennsylvania.  Their descriptions of the flocks of turkeys around their campsite where Tunkhannock Creek flows into the Susquehanna, and their amazement at the girth of the walnut trees throughout the valley, are almost lyric in their enthusiasm and wonder.
1781 – Articles of Confederation adopted by the American colonies
1783 Trenton Decision settled the competing claims of the Pennsylvania and Connecticut colonists to northeastern Pennsylvania.  Connecticut had claimed that their grant gave them title to lands “thence westward” from their coastal settlements; Pennsylvania claimed the lands north of their existing settlements in the regions around Philadelphia to the New York state southern border.  This disagreement had led to disputes, property damage and bloodshed between settlers from each of the competing colonies and had entangled local Native American tribes as well.  This strife, known as the Yankee-Pennamite wars, made this area of northeastern Pennsylvania even more difficult for settlers than the natural challenges of making a home in a forested and trackless wilderness.  The Trenton Decision found in favor of the claim of William Penn’s heirs, but honored the claims of those Yankee settlers already established on the land.  With this decision and the end of the Revolutionary War, settlers flowed into northeastern Pennsylvania.
1784 –Eliphalet Stephens, the first permanent resident of Nicholson, established the Stephens Settlement in the northeast region of Northumberland County.

1786 Luzerne County set off from Northumberland County.

1786 – the Pumpkin Flood on October 5 and 6 brought widespread high water and damage to homesteads in the region.

1787 –Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia; constitution written; ratification by states from November 1787 through June 1788.