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Kittanning Expedition (September 8, 1756)

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The Kittanning Expedition, also known as the Armstrong Expedition, was a raid during the French and Indian War that led to the destruction of the American Indian village of Kittanning, which had served as a staging point for attacks by Delaware (Lenape) and Shawnee warriors against European-American colonists in Pennsylvania. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong, this raid deep into hostile territory was the only expedition carried out by Pennsylvania during a brutal backcountry war.

Although it eventually became a worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years' War, the French and Indian War began on the Pennsylvania frontier as a struggle for control of the Ohio Country. With the surrender of George Washington at Fort Necessity in 1754 and Braddock's defeat in 1755, the European-American settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier found themselves without professional military protection, scrambling to organize a defense.

The French-allied Indians who had defeated General Braddock at the Monongahela were primarily from the Great Lakes region to the north. The local Indians, mostly Delaware and Shawnees who had migrated to the area after white colonists had settled their lands to the east, had waited to see who would win the contest?they could not risk siding with the loser. With Fort Duquesne now secured, the victorious French encouraged the Delaware and Shawnee to "take up the hatchet" against those who had taken their land. (The Delawares and Shawnees in the Ohio Country had been displaced from the east by the British colonies.)

Beginning about October 1755, Delaware and Shawnee war parties, often with French cooperation, began raiding the Pennsylvania settlements. Native American warriors generally made no distinction between combatants and noncombatants: women and children were routinely killed and scalped and prisoners were sometimes tortured to death. Although European-Americans also waged war with cruelty, they found Indian warfare particularly brutal and frightening.

Notable among the Indian raiders were the Delaware war leaders Shingas and Captain Jacobs, who both lived at Kittanning. The colonial governments Pennsylvania and Virginia offered rewards for their scalps. After the destruction of Fort Granville (near present-day Lewistown) on 2 August 1756 by a French and Indian war party led by Captain Jacobs, colonial governor John Penn ordered the militia to destroy Kittanning and rescue the prisoners (reportedly as many as 100) who were held there.

The Raid
Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong (whose brother had been killed at Fort Granville) led 300 militiamen on a long march to the village, launching a surprise attack on about 8 September 1756. Many of the Kittanning residents fled, but Captain Jacobs put up a defense, holing up with his wife and family inside their home. When he refused to surrender, the house was set on fire, touching off gunpowder that had been stored inside. The building exploded, and pieces of Indian bodies flew high into the air and landed in a nearby cornfield. After a six-hour battle, the village was destroyed and the Pennsylvanians made a hasty retreat. Historian Fred Anderson notes that equivalent raids by Indians on Pennsylvania villages were usually labeled massacres.

The destruction of Kittanning was hailed as a victory in Pennsylvania, and Armstrong was ever after known as the "Hero of Kittanning." He and his men collected the "scalp bounty" that had been placed on Captain Jacobs. However, the victory had limitations: the attackers suffered more casualties than they inflicted, and most of the villagers escaped, taking with them almost all of the prisoners that had been held in the village. Additionally, the expedition probably aggravated the frontier war; subsequent Indian raids that autumn were fiercer than ever. Despite this, the Kittanning raid shocked the Indians, revealing their vulnerability; a peace faction led by Shingas's brother Tamaqua soon came to the forefront.

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