From Our Archives - Queen Esther
Shared by Sandy Chamberlain
Unless you’re new to the Valley area, you’ve no doubt heard of Queen Esther. She was quite a memorable figure in the early history of this area. The stories about her vary. She has been described as kind and agreeable by her neighbors, the Stropes. But to kin of those killed at Wyoming, she was “the most infamous of the Montours, the fiend of Wyoming.” Using information from our archives, I hope to shed a little light on what her life was like. You, the reader, can draw your own conclusions. Esther was born in 1730 to Margaret Montour and Mohawk Chief Katarioniecha, exact birthplace unknown. Esther was one-eighth French, but also had Huron, Oneida, and Mohawk blood. She was probably raised in the Susquehanna Valley. She grew to marry a Munsi chief, Eghohowin. All family members appear to have abandoned the west branch and moved to the north branch of the Susquehanna River after the French and Indian War. Esther and her husband then moved farther up the Chemung River to Assinski, now known as Painted Post. They later moved to the Moravian mission at Old Sheshequin. Living in contact with the missions where the Moravians were seeking to civilize Delaware Indian refugees, Eghohowin and Esther, while not converts, assimilated many of the ways of the Whites. The neighbors, the Strope family, were on familiar terms with Esther and many favors were exchanged. Jane Strope’s description of Esther, preserved by Judge Avery: “She was tall, but slight in form, cheek bones not high, complexion not as dark as that of the Indian, hair black, but soft and fine, unlike the heavy black hair of the squaw, her form erect and commanding, whereas most Indian women were round shouldered and her appearance and manners agreeable.” After her husband’s death in 1772, Esther took control of her husband’s Munsi refugees. She established a village west of Tioga Point where the Chemung River enters the Susquehanna. Five miles of alluvial flats were cleared and converted to pasturage or corn fields. Apple and peach orchards were planted and seventy houses of logs and planks were built in white man fashion. They had fireplaces, instead of smoke holes, while her “castle” had a porch or doorway. This area today is between W. Athens and Milan and there is a marker erected on the east side of route 220, just south of Greens Landing. It reads: TEOGA A WATCH TOWN
THE SOUTH DOOR OF IROQUOIS WAS SITUATED ON THE POINT AT THE MEETING OF THE RIVERS 200 RODS TO THE NORTHEAST
QUEEN ESTHER’S TOWN
OF THE DELAWARE INDIANS WAS 100 RODS TO THE EAST ALONG THE CHEMUNG RIVER BANK BOTH TOWNS WERE DESTROYED BY COL.THOMAS HARTLEY AND HIS TROOPS SEPTEMBER 27TH, 1778 THESE FLATS FOR FIVE MILES KNOWN AS QUEEN ESTHER’S FLATS WERE GRAZING GROUND FOR THEIR HERDS.
The story of Esther is an intriguing one. Two memories emerge. The friendly reminiscences of a white girl captured at Te-a-oga (Athens) and the bitter accusations of the kin of Esther’s reputed victims at Wyoming. Wilkes-Barre historians unite in pronouncing Esther “the most infamous of the Montours, the fiend of Wyoming”. She is accused of dispatching around a dozen white captives at the close of that fateful day, July 3rd, 1778. The day before the Wyoming calamity, Esther’s only son had been killed by whites. Indian custom allowed in some cases, the offer of suitable trade goods, or of a human substitute to replace a lost son, husband or father by adoption. But this was the son of a Chieftain and Indian ethics called for the death of a suitable number of commoners, to wipe out the insult and injury, to attend the murdered man in the netherworld. His death fixed Queen Esther’s reaction. She was forced, both as a mother and a Queen to assume a role she loathed. One recorded incident accredited to her can be corroborated. “I was never so tired in my life, killing so damn many Yankees”. The word “damned” in this context refers to condemned men. They were already marked for death.
One intended victim escaped. His name was Lebbeus Hammond and his story is corroborated by an account left by Colonel John Franklin. A stone maul was the weapon utilized. This was no savage orgy, though a mother’s ire as well as a queen’s regal duty was involved. It was a solemn tribal rite, executed some say, to war chants.
In the Fall of 1778, Colonel Hartley and his men burnt her village in reprisal for Wyoming. A marker in Greens Landing informs the public. Esther and her people abandoned the area prior to Hartley’s arrival.
Esther reportedly moved to a new home after the Revolutionary war, at Canoga, NY (west of Cayuga Lake) and later married an Indian named Steel Trap, or Tom Hill. About 1790 she appeared at the home of Mrs. Hannah Gore Durkee, at Scipio, NY, accompanied by sister Catherine and asked to stay the night. Evidently, she traveled a great deal and was seen many places, including Teaoga, Wysox and as far north as Onandaga, which some feel was her final home, believing she died in Canoga about 1800.
Esther was most certainly caught between two cultures, her Indian background and her assimilation of White ways and customs. There are many stories about Esther being a kind and generous woman vs. the woman at the Wyoming incident. Some say Esther wasn’t there, that maybe it was her sister Catherine. It’s been documented that they looked a great deal alike and that they both had been seen in different places. Because of the conflicting accounts, an Evening Times article, dated September 24, 1962, states a new marker placed at the “Bloody Rock” site, indicates men were killed by a revengeful Indian woman, traditionally, but not certainly identified, as Queen Esther. The original marker, placed in 1897, said flatly Indian Queen Esther, reportedly out of revenge for the death of her son, “slaughtered the brave patriots.”
More information is available in the archives at Tioga Point Museum. Perhaps it can help you come to your own conclusion of the real story. To learn more, please visit!
The Tioga Point Museum is open from 12-8p on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the year. You are invited to come and explore!