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March to the Frontier

General McIntosh left Valley Forge in late May with the 13th Virginia Regiment, headed for Fort Pitt. Colonel Brodhead left Valley Forge in late June with the Pennsylvania 8th Regiment, heading through Lancaster and on to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The troops received new uniforms and footwear including customary hunting shirts and leggings. By this time most had received muskets as a result of General Wayne’s insistence that it was preferred to the rifle. There were a few sharpshooters however that retained the rifle as the weapon of choice. The refreshed troops were prepared for an expedition to reduce Detroit.

During Colonel Brodhead’s march through Pennsylvania, 700 Iroquois Indians and 400 British troops attacked settlers on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River north of Brodhead’s position. He was diverted to Wyoming (Western Pennsylvania) settlements along the Susquehanna River. When he arrived, thirty settlers were killed or captured, panicking those remaining to seek refuge in Sunbury, Carlisle, and York. Sunbury was at the junction of the west and north branch of the Susquehanna River. Brodhead was given orders to drive out the enemy and bring sufficient safety to the area to encourage settlers to return. The raiders could not carry off all the booty and what was left was burned including the crops. On July 12, 1778 the 8th Regiment arrived into the area with 340 men. Joseph Hancock would witness the enormous destruction that caused the widespread panic among the settlers. It would have stiffened his resolve to seek justice in the ongoing war between Indian and settler. The potential brutality of the ongoing Indian conflicts would certainly weigh heavy on his settlement plans after leaving the army.

Brodhead immediately took action to interdict any further Indian incursions. At Sunbury near Fort Augusta, Brodhead found 100 brave local volunteers who had stayed to defend what was left of their properties. He immediately sent out details to scout the area and rid it of roving bands of Native Americans. The large force of British, along with their Iroquois allies, was determined to head back to their villages with their white captives and stolen goods. The attack on the North Branch brought total ruin. On the West Branch however, the crops had not been burned and many cabins were left standing. The placement of detachments at principal centers provided enough incentive for the settlers to return and harvest their crops. The 11th Pennsylvania Regiment relieved Brodhead by the end of July 1778, at which time he resumed his original orders to report to Fort Pitt.

As it turned out, the Susquehanna Region was the home to the Brady family. John Brady was colonel of the 12th Pennsylvania and was wounded at Brandywine. He was honorably discharged, and had returned home. His son Samuel Brady was a lieutenant in the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment. The situation allowed for a family reunion, the first the family had been together in 3 years. Shortly after leaving for Fort Pitt with the 8th Regiment, Samuel was informed that his brother was scalped by the Indians and died after 5 days of delirium. Not long after his father was killed by Indians. These personal loses inured an animosity against the Native Americans that would motivate Samuel to become one of the most skilled and notorious Indian fighters in the region. He would eventually kill one of the two Indian warriors involved in his father’s death.

Colonel Brodhead succeeded General McIntosh in command of the Western Department in 1779. He promoted Samuel Brady to Captain and made him the head of an elite troop of rangers that would perform interdiction of the Indian raiding parties, rescue operations, and reconnaissance missions. He developed a reputation as a frontiersman and Indian hunter equal to or exceeding Daniel Boone and Simon Keaton, celebrated folk heroes of the time. When he accepted the assignment from Brodhead, at his request, he was given wide latitude over troop strength for any mission, how the rangers would conduct operations, and most importantly, absolute authority over ranger selection. The skill requirements would exceed most of the troops personal potential for endurance, marksmanship, and adoption of Indian warrior skills. There were very few who could meet his high standards, although many volunteered. Whether Joseph Hancock volunteered to become a ranger is not clear. Brady generally operated with as few rangers as possible to minimize detection by the Indians and reduce the risk of mistakes that could endanger his life. However, his exploits would have been well known and celebrated by every member of the 8th Pennsylvania and 13th Virginia Regiments as well as the settlers. It is certain that all soldiers in the Pennsylvania 8th and Virginia 13th learned from and adapted the skills taught and exemplified by Samuel Brady. Although Captain Brady ran an elite core of men, other troops assigned to Brodhead were assigned to interdiction operations. These skills would serve Joseph Hancock well the future.

After he was relieved by the 11th Pennsylvania, Brodhead marched to Carlisle Pennsylvania. There he rested his troops for a week, resuming his march in mid August. They were to travel through Bedford County, an area from which many of the troops had been recruited. There were many joyful reunions as parents, siblings, and girlfriends stood along the route of Brodhead’s march, waiting to see loved ones. Whether Mary (Bush) Hancock was there to greet her son is unknown but had she been she would have been proud and very fortunate. Many were not fortunate, as three hundred of those that had joined the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment in 1776 did not return to the defense of the frontier. With Brodhead in command, the troops took an unhurried pace, reaching the mountains in approximately two weeks and arriving at Fort Pitt on September 10, 1778. The late departure from Valley Forge, the diversion to the Susquehanna, and the amble to Fort Pitt were symptomatic of many other diversions, complications, and missed deadlines that increased the risk of McIntosh executing a successful campaign against Detroit.