Nestled on a long curve on the Allegheny river roughly 40 miles northeast of Pittsburgh is the town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania. The town’s name come from the name of a Leni Lenape (Delaware) village that was established on the same land in 1730. This village would be the site of a small but memorable battle in the late summer of 1756. The battle gets little mention in the grand campaign of the French and Indian war, but has some importance in the attempt to control the waterways of what is now Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Kittanning, as it is referred to in history books was part of the Armstrong Expedition, the namesake Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong was sent forth in response to multiple British losses in the French and Indian War. The French capture of the Forks of the Ohio (Fort Duquesne) essentially gave the French control of the Allegheny River. Raids by the Leni Lenape and other native peoples had killed many British soldiers and militia in the region and taken captive women and children, taking and killing livestock as well.
The Pennsylvania colonial government was angered to see settlers deserting its western frontier due to the raids and French encroachment. Pennsylvania have a large Quaker representation in the colonial government tended to reserve any use of militia as a purely defensive posture. This posture ended when Fort Granville was attacked in July of 1756 (Near Lewistown, Mifflin County PA). The militia at the fort to protect settlers in the area was manned by on 24 soldiers, the rest of the garrison had traveled to Juniata county to help protect settlers there, during the harvest. Lieutenant Edward Armstrong, John Armstrong’s brother, was left in charge of the 24 man garrison at Fort Granville. The fort was attacked by Leni Lenape and French soldiers believed to have come from Kit-han-nee.
The Lieutenant Governor Robert Hunter Morris, was greatly angered by the continued attacks on settlers and the attack on Fort Granville. Morris enlisted John Armstrong to end the attacks with a raid on Kit-han-nee. A former captive from Kit-han-nee, John Baker advised Armstrong on the defenses and build of the village. Baker also accompanied Armstrong as a guide. At Kit-han-nee was also believed to be Shingas and Tewea (Captain Jacobs) who were believed to be some of the leaders in the Granville attack. After the attack, a reward was placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette for the heads (literally) of Shingas and “Captain Jacobs.” After a nine day march to the west, Armstrong and his 300 man unit arrived on the hills east of Kit-han-nee.
On the morning of September 8th, Armstrong attacked the village, taking the Delaware by surprise. In the disarray inside the town, Captain Jacobs rallied Delaware warriors to fight back and fire upon the Pennsylvania Militia, using their cabins as cover. As the Delaware began to shoot back Armstrong was struck by a bullet and a number of his men were struck and killed. Armstrong realized that continuing to fire upon the Delaware who were well covered was futile. As he was taken for medical attention after being shot in the shoulder, he ordered that the village be burned. As the village began to burn, many of the Delaware began to flee and were shot and killed by the Pennsylvania Militia. As they ran, Jacobs and his wife and children were killed. There were also multiple explosions due to the fact that the French had delivered gun powder to the town days before.
When Armstrong received intelligence that a large group of Delaware along with French soldiers were approaching from the west, he ordered the Militia to retreat, as they returned to where they had camped the night before, they came across members of Lieutenant James Hoggs Detachment. Hogg and his men had been ordered to attack a Delaware encampment that had been spotted the previous evening. Hogg and his men were to begin the attack at roughly the same tie the attack began on the village. Hogg’s detachment had found a much larger detachment than was expected. Hogg and five others were killed in the attack and the retreating men, met in confusion of Armstrong’s men retreating from the attack on the village. The fleeing Pennsylvania Militia did not even take the time to recover the items from their encampment from the night before the battle. It took four to ten days for all of the militia soldiers to return to Fort Littleton.
Upon his report to the Lieutenant Governor, Armstrong reported seventeen of his mean dead, thirteen wounded, and nineteen missing. Armstrong also reported that it was difficult to know how many Delaware had been killed. Armstrong estimated that there were no less than 30 to 40 killed. Armstrong’s managed to also free several captives from the village, though a few of them were lost in the hasty retreat.
Armstrong was greeted as a hero upon his return to Philadelphia. Armstrong was given 600 pounds for the bringing Captain Jacobs head back to Philadelphia with him and was also given a commemorative medal for his attack on Kit-han-nee. A fort would be built at the site of the battle and called Fort Armstrong. In 1800, Pennsylvania created a new county which today encompasses Kittanning, the county would be named for Armstrong as well.
Barr, Daniel P. “Victory at Kittanning? Reevaluating the Impact of Armstrong’s Raid on the Seven Years’ War in Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 131, no. 1 (2007): 5-32. Accessed January 18, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20093915.