New London County History Notes: Col. Zebulon Butler (Lyme, Conn.)
Col.Zebulon Butler unknown to most even in these parts played an important role in the early years of the United States as a soldier in one of the most notorious events of the American Revolution perhaps only topped by the treason of Benedict Arnold and the capture of Major John Andre.
Southeastern Connecticut has many stories still to be told and the story of Zebulon Butler is one of them.
Col. Zebulon Butler
Birth1731, Lyme, Connecticut (Northern East Lyme)
Death28 Jul 1795, Wilkes Barre, Pa.
Father John Butler
Mother Hannah Perkins
Born on a small farm in modern day Northern East Lyme near the Butlertown area bordering Old Lyme, Lyme and Montville the Butlers like many families from eastern Connecticut migrated to the Susquehannah area of Pennsylvania as farmable land in eastern Connecticut became expensive and the explosive population growth had forced many families to seek other area to support their families. Many in the late 1760s moved to New Hampshire, some to upstate New York and many more to Pennsylvania and the Susquehannah region.
Butler it was noted had fine penmanship and his parents were well respected members of the community. Zebulon was noted for the distinguishing traits of activity, energy, a high sense of honor, a courage moral and professional, that, when duty called, knew no fear.
During the French & Indian War 1756-1763 Butler enlisted in the militia and served in the war throughout the duration.
At the start of the Revolutionary War he immediately enlisted and was given the commission as Lt.Colonel in the Connecticut Line in Pennsylvania. By 1778 he was appointed full Colonel in the Connecticut Line replacing now deceased Charles Webb.
Wyoming Valley Massacre
The British forces under New Londonīs Col. John Butler and his Rangers (Tories) arrived in the valley on June 30, having alerted the settlers to their approach by killing three men working at an unprotected gristmill on June 28.
The next day Colonel Butler sent a surrender summons to the militia at Wintermute's fort. Terms were arranged that the defenders, after surrendering the fort with all their arms and stores, would be released on the condition that they would not again bear arms during the war as this was common practice during the colonial wars. On July 3, the British saw that the defenders were gathering in great numbers outside of Forty Fort.
The Americans under Col.Zebulon Butler were still a mile away, when Col. John Butler and his tories set up an ambush and directed that Fort Wintermute be set on fire. The Americans, thinking this was a retreat, advanced rapidly. Butler instructed the Seneca to lie flat on the ground to avoid being seen. The Americans advanced to within one hundred yards of the rangers and fired three times. The Seneca came out of their positions, fired a volley, and attacked the Americans in close combat.
Accounts indicate that the moment of contact was followed by a sharp battle lasting about 45 minutes. An order to reposition the Patriot line turned into a frantic rout when the inexperienced Patriot militia panicked. This ended the battle and triggered the Iroquois hunt for survivors. Only sixty of the Americans managed to escape, and only five were taken prisoner. Some of the victorious Loyalists and Iroquois killed and tortured an unknown number of prisoners and fleeing soldiers. Tory John Butler reported that 227 American scalps were taken.
Colonel Dennison surrendered Forty Fort and two other forts along with the remaining soldiers the next morning. The Americans were paroled on the condition that they refrain from hostilities for the remainder of the war. These soldiers were not harmed. Colonel Dennison (Also of Lyme, Ct.) and the militia did not honor the terms of their parole, and they were under arms within the year, participating in later attacks on Iroquois villages returning the favor.
Most non-combatants were spared and almost no inhabitants were injured or molested after the surrender of the forts it is recorded.
Colonel Butler wrote: "But what gives me the sincerest satisfaction is that I can, with great truth, assure you that in the destruction of the settlement not a single person was hurt except such as were in arms, to these, in truth, the Indians gave no quarter."An American farmer wrote: "Happily these fierce people, satisfied with the death of those who had opposed them in arms, treated the defenseless ones, the woman and children, with a degree of humanity almost hitherto unparalleled".
According to one source, 60 bodies were found on the battlefield and another 36 were found on the line of retreat. All were buried in a common grave.
Some have contradicted the number of casualties but it has been accepted that as the ambush was happening the few continentals and Indian fighters (backwoodsmen) stayed and followed orders but the militia panicked and ran creating chaos and eventual the ground for slaughter. Of the 360 men in the battle 340 were killed and 20 captures. Among them Col.Zebulon Butler. Less than one year later Gen. George Washington ordered the destruction of more than 40 Iraquois villages in New York state effectively ending their participation in the American Revolution.
After the war Colonel Butler served with honour to the close of the contest, and when the army was disbanded, returned to his residence in Wilkes Barre, PA, where he passed the remainder of his life, the prudent but steady supporter of the rights of the settlers, looking confidently to the justice of Pennsylvania to settle the existing controversy by an equitable compromise. Such was the estimation in which he was held that in 1787, on the establishment of Luzerne he received from the Supreme Executive Council the honorable appointment of lieutenant of the county, which he held until the office was abrogated by the new constitution of 1790.
On the 28th of July, 1795, aged 64 years, this gallant soldier and estimable citizen resigned his breath to God who gave it, and his remains were interred in the graveyard in Wilkes Barre.
In honor of those who fell at Wyoming the State of Wyoming was given its name in 1890.
The 1990s film Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day Lewis used the massacre as the inspiration for one of its scenes toward the end of the film when British and American colonial forces were slaughtered by Huron Indians in the field.
Col.John Butler has a statue of himself in Ottawa, Canada for his service to King & Country.