About Garshom Prince
- Born: 1733 in Connecticut
- Died: 1778 Battle of Wyoming
Gershom Prince was born in Connecticut in 1733. Prior to the Revolutionary War, he served under Captain Robert Durkee of Connecticut in the French and Indian War (1756-1763). It is important to note that, when he served in both wars, northeastern Pennsylvania was a part of Connecticut. In 1662, under the Connecticut Charter, Great Britain’s King Charles II granted land, Wyoming Valley, in what is now Pennsylvania to the colony of Connecticut. In 1768, the Susquehanna Company met at Hartford to make arrangements for Connecticut settlements in Wyoming Valley, which led in, 1769, to the first permanent settlement there by American colonists. However, Charles II had granted the same land to the Pennsylvania colony, not because he was duplicitous, but because the maps of America were not accurate. Between 1769-1771, colonists from Connecticut and Pennsylvania fought over their claims to Wyoming Valley in the First Yankee-Pennamite War. In 1774, Connecticut established the town of Westmoreland in the Valley and as such, sent representatives to the Connecticut legislature. When the fight for American Independence began, the colonists put aside their dispute to participate in the war. After the Revolution, though, the dispute resumed; this time, a Continental Congress Court of Arbitration intervened and decided in Pennsylvania’s favor. Not pleased with this outcome, Connecticut settlers continued to come to Wyoming Valley and those already there refused to leave their homes, culminating in the Second Yankee-Pennamite War in 1784. Finally, the Pennsylvania legislature settled with the Connecticut claimants in the Compromise Act of 1799.
Gershom Prince was among the first of the Connecticut settlers to come to Wyoming Valley and help build the fort near what is now Wilkes-Barre, PA, my hometown. Wilkes-Barre was named for two members of the British Parliament who spoke on behalf of the American colonists, John Wilkes and Isaac Barré the latter of whom was severely wounded in the French and Indian War. The 4th Connecticut Line from Wyoming Valley, Westmoreland County, CT, commanded by Colonel John Durkee, contributed two independent companies and smaller detachments to the Continental Army under Captains Robert Durkee and Samuel Ransom. Gershom Prince was an aide to Captain Durkee and accompanied him on all his campaigns. The 4th Connecticut was organized at Norwich and, in January 1777, joined Washington’s Army in New Jersey where they were engaged at Milstone and Bound Brook. After facing the enemy in an unsuccessful defense of Philadelphia at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, the 4th CT spent a gruesome winter with the Connecticut regiments at Valley Forge. The conditions at Valley Forge were so dismal and horrendous that the Marquis de Lafayette was moved to write, “The unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything; they had neither coats, not hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and legs froze until they were black and some had to be amputated.” Yet, many survived the brutal elements, illness and depravations of Valley Forge, including Captain Robert Durkee and Gershom Prince.
Having survived Valley Forge, though, they faced another deadly challenge. When, in the spring of 1778, rumors of a threatened attack on Wyoming Valley reached the camp at Valley Forge, Captains Durkee and Ransom resigned their commands in order to return to the Valley to protect their families and homes. Gershom Prince was one of a few men to accompany them as they hastened north, on horseback, to alert the fort of the impending attack. Wyoming Valley was vulnerable because all the able-bodied men were in the Continental Army at Valley Forge. A couple months later, under an Act of Congress, June 23, 1778, Durkee and Ransom’s two companies were consolidated to form one and placed under command of Lieutenant Simon Spalding. When Washington broke camp at Valley Forge in June, Spalding’s company was ordered to help defend Wyoming Valley. Unfortunately, Spalding and his troops did not arrive in time.
On July 3, 1778, 360 Americans under command of Colonel Zebulon Butler faced an attack by a combined 900 enemy combatants that included 400 British and Loyalists and 500 Iroquois warriors, all under command of British Colonel John Butler. Outnumbered three-to-one, more than 227 Americans were horrifically killed, compared to only one killed and two wounded on the British side. Two-hundred Wyoming Valley Americans were scalped, others were thrown on beds of coal, and others burned alive when the fort was set ablaze. Gershom Prince, Robert Durkee and Samuel Ransom who’d traveled from Valley Forge to defend their homes, were among those killed.
On the Centennial of the Battle of Wyoming, a monument was erected on the site of the battlefield for those who lost their lives and are buried there. The inscription on the front of the Monument says,
'Near this spot was fought, on the afternoon of Friday, the third day of July 1778, The Battle of Wyoming, in which a small body of patriotic Americans, chiefly the undisciplined, the youthful and the aged, spared by inefficiency from the distant ranks of the Republic, led by Col. Zebulon Butler and Col. Nathan Denison, with a courage that deserved success, boldly met and bravely fought a combined British, Tory and Indian force of thrice their number. Numerical superiority alone gave success to the invader, and widespread havoc, desolation and ruin, marked his savage and bloody footsteps through the Valley.
The inscription on the right and left side of the monument begins, “Dulce and Decorum est Patri Mori,” and lists the names of the slain by rank. The last name listed under the rank “Privates” is “Gershom Prince, colored.”