Massy White


The following is taken from The Whiskey Rebellion by Thomas P. Slaughter, 1986, by Oxford University Press:

Massy White was born in Somerset County, New Jersey, on March 18, 1770. After the war for Independence, her father, Edward White, acquired rights to land in western Pennsylvania for his service with the Continental Army, and the family moved to this undeveloped property near Redstone Old Fort (later called Brownsville) on the banks of the Monongahela River. There Massy met John Harbison and, when she was seventeen, married him against her father's wishes. Some time in 1789 the Harbisons moved to the headwaters of Chartier's Creek, in Allegheny County. They lived about twenty-five miles from Pittsburgh, the nearest town, but within 200 yards of Reed's Block House, a well- guarded military establishment. Massy's husband was a scout for the army.

One night, when Massy's husband was away from home, two other scouts lodged in the Harbison's cabin. The men rose shortly before dawn and left the hut, leaving the door unsecured. Mrs. Harbison and her three children were still fast asleep. They awoke when a pair of Indians pulled Massy, by her feet, from the bed. The house was full of Indians armed with guns and tomahawks. Massy's first impulses were to embrace her infant and then grab a second petticoat to put on over the thin one she had on. An Indian tore the slip from her hands as part of his booty, while his companions ravaged the house for other items of interest.

Massy tried to alert soldiers in the fort, but she was captured, gagged, and claimed by a warrior as his squaw. Several Indians asserted the same right before one enforced his possession with an impressive display of ferocity. A group then attacked the blockhouse-killing one soldier and wounding another-while the rest began their escape.

The Indians pushed Massy along in front of them with the infant still in her arms and her five-year-old son at her side. The three-year-old stood by the fire crying bitterly. The warriors attempted to drag the boy along but he refused and began to wail pitifully. In response an Indian picked up the youngster by his feet and swung him against the door- frame, splattering blood, skull fragments, and brains on the ground. The Indians scalped the boy, stabbed him repeatedly, and only then abandoned the corpse.

Massy screamed and fell into a swoon at the sight of her butchered child. Her captors raised her from the ground and slapped her about the head and face until she regained consciousness. They then marched off with Massy, her infant, and her other son in tow. Later, the Indians would also murder the five-year-old. The child sobbed continuously; his mother believed that he was mourning his dead brother. Fearful that the youngster's crying would lead to their capture by white soldiers, two Indians took the boy aside, tomahawked, and scalped him. Again, Massy fell to the ground, senseless, with the infant still in her arms.

Eventually Massy Harbison escaped to tell the tale of her captivity. She recounted in horrid detail the murders of her children at the hands of thirty-two Indians, two of whom were white men painted and garbed as savages. She recognized several of the warriors - two she knew to be Senecas and two Munsees - as frequent travelers in the area. She reported on life among her captors, and her escape and six-day flight. Finally, she was united with her husband, with whom she moved to Bull Creek in 1794 and disappeared from the historical record.

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