THE SUSQUEHANNAH COMPANY AFFAIR

One of the most prolonged disputes in eighteenth-century Connecticut was a controversial land scheme. Spurred by the scarcity of good new land in a small colony where large families were the norm, a group met at Windham in July 1753 to organize the Susquehannah Company. Under the Charter of 1662 Connecticut’s western boundary was the Pacific Ocean, thus northern Pennsylvania fell within Connecticut’s grant. The onset of the French and Indian War in 1754 made any attempt at creating new towns in Pennsylvania impractical until the early 1760s. Actual settlement brought immediate opposition from the Penn family and Sir William Johnson (1715-1774), influential Indian agent in upper New York, as well as from conservatives in Connecticut itself. In October 1763 Indians massacred the small group of settlers, bringing a temporary halt to the first venture. That year Eliphalet Dyer (1721-1807), one of the company’s leaders, was sent to London to obtain royal approval for the settlement. Despite energetic efforts, the mission failed.

Meanwhile in Connecticut, conservative Governor Thomas Fitch (c. 1700-1774) committed political suicide by taking an oath to uphold the Stamp Act. William Pitkin (1694-1769), backed by the Sons of Liberty, replaced Fitch as governor. Thus there came into power an administration more friendly to the Susquehannah Company, which by then had won the support of the radical New Lights in eastern Connecticut. Early in 1769 new settlers arrived at Wyoming from Connecticut. In August 1769 those in the newly-established town of Wilkes-Barre on the Susquehanna River petitioned the Connecticut assembly for the formation of a new Connecticut county. The high hopes for the future were destroyed in November 1769 when a large Pennsylvania posse seized the area and forced the settlers to leave.

The accession of Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., (1710-1785) to the governorship in 1769 brought to power an influential and energetic supporter and company member. Although there were many setbacks, new settlements were made and in 1774 the assembly voted to legitimize the township of Westmoreland as a part of Litchfield County. In the fall of 1775 open fighting erupted between Connecticut and Pennsylvania forces. In December 1775 Connecticut Yankees defeated the Pennsylvanians, allowing Connecticut settlers to remain in control of the lands. In October 1776 the assembly transformed the town of Westmoreland into the county of Westmoreland.

The Revolutionary War brought tragedy in July 1778 when a combined British-Indian force killed about 150 settlers and drove out most of the survivors. When American control of the area was regained, Connecticut settlers returned. In 1782 both Pennsylvania and Connecticut agreed to place the matter of sovereignty before a special court, which ruled that the disputed area belonged to Pennsylvania. Although sporadic conflict continued for many years, the Connecticut settlers resigned themselves to living under Pennsylvania’s government, and in 1787 the Pennsylvania legislature confirmed their individual landholdings. Not until the early 1800s did full peace come to the long-disputed area.

For Further Reading:
Boyd, Julian P. and Taylor, Robert J., eds. The Susquehannah Company Papers. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1930-1933; Ithaca. New York, 1968-1971. Warfle, Richard T. Connecticut’s Western Colony: The Susquehannah Affair. Hartford, 1979.