Remembering region's 'First to Fall'

·4 min read

Jul. 3—WEST PITTSTON — Benjamin and Stuckley Harding, a pair of brothers killed just days before the onset of the Battle of Wyoming, are laid to rest in a small cemetery right in the middle of West Pittston, where Linden Street and Wyoming Avenue converge.

To mark the anniversary of their deaths and interments, while also shedding a light on some of the rich history present in the Garden Village, the West Pittston Historical Society hosted the inaugural "First to Fall" program inside the cemetery and across the street from it, giving residents a chance to see the Harding brothers' graves while also hearing from two local historians who were able to provide some context to Benjamin and Stuckley's deaths against the backdrop of the American Revolution.

"We're here today to honor the Revolutionary War history of the town, the area that would eventually become West Pittston," said Historical Society president Mary Portelli. "Our purpose is to share that history with the people in our community."

Along the fence on the Wyoming Avenue side of the cemetery, the gravestone for Benjamin and Stuckley has become faded and nearly unreadable with age, as have many of the older stones in the cemetery, which dates back to 1778.

The Harding brothers were the first to be interred in the cemetery, and they are believed to hold another dubious first in local history — the event's name, "First to Fall," denotes the brothers' considered status as the first two victims of what would come to be known as the Wyoming Massacre.

It's a significant bit of local lore that the Historical Society is working hard to spread to those who may be unaware.

"People drive by and they don't really know the history of it," Portelli said. "We want to create a respect for this historic triangle in the middle of our town."

Saturday's program has been in the mix for a couple years now, with COVID-19 putting a halt to the Historical Society's plans for awhile, but a big crowd of interested locals and history buffs turned out to learn the story of the Harding brothers.

Before the scheduled speakers began at 3 p.m., the cemetery gates were open for people to check out the Harding plot, mingle with some members of the 24th Connecticut Militia and take pictures.

While the crowd tended to skew older, there were several children and young adults in attendance, as well.

Nora Havenstrite, 7, came down with her aunt and her grandfather to Saturday's program, and had a fun conversation with one of the militia members inside the cemetery.

Havenstrite nodded in affirmation when asked if she was having fun, and acknowledged that she had no prior knowledge of the Harding family before.

These are the young, bright minds that the Historical Society is trying to enlighten, and to that end they enlisted the help of two local historians, Clark Switzer and Stephen B. Killian, to tell the story of Benjamin and Stuckley.

Switzer, a published author and a teacher at Wyoming Seminary, took a broad look at the Wyoming Valley's activities leading up to July 3, 1778, the date of the Battle of Wyoming.

"It's always good to have an idea of where we were, as opposed to where we were now," Switzer said. "Some people drive by and they see stones, but to some, they are the roots of family."

It was on June 30, 1778 when the Harding brothers, along with several other men stationed at Fort Jenkins, left the fort to go up into Harding to work their properties.

The group was ambushed by a group of Native Americans aligned with the British along the trail, and Benjamin and Stuckley were killed. Their bodies were brought back down to the fort and buried in the nearby graveyard on July 2, 1778, where they remain to this day.

The next day marked the Battle of Wyoming, where over 300 Patriots were killed by a group of Loyalists and their allies from the Iroquois tribe.

Both Switzer and Killian, a lawyer who counts Battle of Wyoming victim Elisha Richards as an ancestor, attested to the battle's wide-reaching impact on the Revolution.

"The massacre here inspired the folks sympathetic to the cause," Switzer said.

"Not only was it significant for the people living here, but it [the battle] also had an impact on the entire Revolution," Killian added.

The idea is to turn Saturday's "First to Fall" program into a yearly event, held to remember the Harding brothers and their families, and all who lost their lives defending the valley during the American Revolution.

"Those buried here are a testimony to resilience and fortitude, to fight for what they held dear," Switzer said.