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Bait and Switch

By Daniel Hubbard | July 14, 2013

I state the utmost force of the wild Yankees, as they are called, at 200 men

They “came to her house and threatened to set fire to it. Being afraid for her life” she fled. When she returned “she found the roof tore off and the house plundered.”

They “told me that my half hour was expired & I must march. I begged for time to move my things off.” They “told me I should have none & immediately threw my things out of the house and marched me off with a guard to the river. I begged of them to let me have my cows, which they utterly refus’d…

…asked me if there were any men in the house or about it. I told him there were not. He then ask’d me to open the door. I told him I would not, he then told me he would soon find a way to open it, and broke it open.” He “then asked me to open all the Chests. I told him I would open none for him nor no other person, he then Broke open the Chests and Plunder’d them of all the most valuable effects…

…shot at her ; the Ball missed her but went thro’ the thigh of her Dog that was walking close by her side…

Those are brutal and frightening stories of encounters with troops during the American Civil War. Except that isn’t what they are at all. They did take place in America, in Pennsylvania to be precise, but they have nothing to do with Confederates plundering during the Gettysburg Campaign. It was a civil war of sorts that was being described but the man who spoke of “wild Yankees” wasn’t a Georgian or Virginian, he was a Pennsylvanian. It wasn’t 1864; it was 1784. It was the Second Pennamite-Yankee War.

When we think of researching military records, we think of the big wars that we learned about in school. If you are American that means the Revolution, the War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, the American Civil War… There were other, smaller wars, footnotes of violence, that lie hidden in our history and they too produced records. These small conflicts didn’t shake whole societies like the bigger ones often did. If your ancestors were caught in the middle of them, not knowing what would happen next or how far it would spread, their lives were changed nonetheless. For them, the fact that we leave them out of the history books would have been irrelevant.

There were Indian wars and slave insurrections that are still remembered because they form parts of great currents of American history. The other little wars are largely forgotten.


One of my own ancestors was involved in Shays Rebellion (Western Massachusetts, 1786-7). The records of his involvement are sketchy and he probably did not fight himself but he expressed his sympathy for the rebels and after their defeat needed to confess the error of his ways. It is actually one of the more famous little wars in American history having been one of the triggers for replacing the Articles of Confederation with a new constitution.

The Whiskey Rebellion (Western Pennsylvania, 1791-1794) resulted in the raising of an army larger than the Continental Army had been during the Revolution. There were not enough volunteers, so a draft was instituted, which resulted in armed draft resistance in some areas of Virginia and rioting in Maryland that required 800 men to suppress.

Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion are probably the best known of America’s little wars because they did leave their mark in the early days after the Revolution. There have been many other “small” rebellions. Here are three that don’t get much press-

  • Leisler’s Rebellion- from 1689-1691 southern New York was governed by rebels without the authority of the British monarchy. Leisler, the rebel governor, was put to death.
  • Cary’s Rebellion- in 1711 the Lords Proprietors of Carolina decided to replace Thomas Cary as Deputy Governor of northern Carolina. Because of already inflamed religious divisions between Dissenters and Anglicans and because of an irregularity in the appointment of the new deputy governor, a rebellion broke out. It at one point even involved a small rebel warship. When Virginia militia and Royal Marines intervened the rebellion disintegrated.
  • Dorr Rebellion- 1841-1842 property requirements on voting had disenfranchised so many that voting was restricted to 40% of white men in Rhode Island by 1840. A rival constitution for the state was written, twin elections produced two state governments and rebels tried to storm the arsenal in Providence.

Civil Wars

There have been a few minor wars between states and colonies as well. Some of them killed fewer people that what lies behind the average endnote in a book about 1864 but they were real to people at the time. Here are a few of those-

  • Cresap’s War- 1730-1738 was fought over the Pennsylvania-Maryland boundary. When Cresap himself was brought to Philadelphia as a prisoner, he proclaimed that he found it to be the most beautiful city in all of Maryland. This went far enough that it was only ended by a peace agreement in London in 1738.
  • The Toledo War- 1835-1836 fought over Toledo and a strip of land running from Lake Erie to Indiana along the Ohio-Michigan line. The western three fourths of the Upper Peninsula were given to Michigan in exchange for giving up its claim to Toledo.
  • The Honey War- 1837-1839 a border dispute between first Wisconsin Territory then later Iowa Territory on the one hand and Missouri on the other. Both sides sent militias to the disputed area and managed to briefly mobilize over a thousand men each but there was no fighting. One Iowa sheriff arrested a Missouri sheriff who was trying to collect taxes along the border and some Missourians cut down three prized trees full of honey that were owned by Iowa settlers. The border was not finally settled until the Supreme Court weighed in during 1849.

The Pennamite-Yankee Wars that started this post were fought in the Wyoming Valley of Northeastern Pennsylvania from 1769 to 1799. There were battles between settlers granted land under the claim of Connecticut to the area (upheld by the British before the Revolution) and the settlers granted the same land by Pennsylvania (upheld by the Continental Congress after the Revolution). The Pennsylvanians quoted above (from the published Pennsylvania Archives) were complaining about the same tactics that they had used to clear the Connecticut settlers from the land only recently. There were skirmishes and even small sieges. It wasn’t unknown for prisoners to be held in appalling conditions, shut up without ventilation and wallowing in their own filth for days. Timothy Pickering, future Postmaster General, Secretary of War and Secretary of State was briefly kidnapped. Some of the Green Mountain Boys arrived to help the Connecticut settlers. By some reckoning they were at that time the national army of the Republic of Vermont (1777-1791) after they successfully broke away from New York in their own, earlier, border war. Ethan Allen even vowed that given that he had created Vermont, he could break the Wyoming Valley away from Pennsylvania.

Our ancestors didn’t always live the comprehensible history that we remember from school. We may forget such things as we “clean up” history to make it easier to learn but the records that we family historians use haven’t forgotten. They still exist, waiting to be explored.

What ancestors of yours might have experience one of these little wars and lie waiting to be discovered in militia musters, depositions and court records?

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