Saturday, October 19, 2019

Fort Rice, Near Turbotville PA

Fort Rice, Turbotville Pa

Thanks to a yearly festival and active heritage society, most of us know about the battle of Fort Freeland, which occurred behind the current day Warrior Run school.  But did you know that it is because of the battle at Fort Freeland that we have, located on a back road in Turbotville,  one of the best preserved Revolutionary war forts still standing?  A fort that saw battle and survived, still standing today.  It is located on private property, can be seen  clearly from the road.  A small stone house, it looks a bit like a spring house, and it was used as a cold cellar for many years long after the war.  But if you look close, you can still see the holes near the roof line, where the rifles could shoot through the walls.  

Compared to the homes of today, one of which towers beside the fort in this photo, the forts were tiny structures.  It's hard for us to imagine, but all of the local families would have come here for protection during the attacks.   There would have been fences and more built around this building, but safety would primarily have been found inside these thick limestone walls.  Fort Rice is the only known revolutionary fortification made of limestone.

John Montgomery lived on current day Fort Rice Road, in 1779 when Fort Freeland was attacked.  He quickly gathered his family, traveled to a neighboring farm to warn them, and everyone headed to Fort Augusta, the only fort in the area with canons, and where everyone fled for safety during these Indian attacks.   The Indians, fighting with and on behalf of the British,  burnt Fort Freeland to the ground, killing all the captains, including those who came from Fort Boone, and continued to burn everything in the area, including John Montgomery's farm and buildings.   Our area was left defenseless.  Capt Rice arrived to fortify the area, and chose the location of the Montgomery farm for the new fort, building it in the fall of 1779 and into 1780.  

In 1780, the area was once again attacked.  This time over 200 Indians attacked the newly built Fort Rice.  They burnt the fields and crops, but the stone fort held.  Col. John Kelley came from across the river, with reinforcements, and the attacks moved to the east, with the sugar loaf massacre and the burning of Fort Jenkins occurring next.

Eventually, peace was declared, Col. Rice left, and Montgomery and his family returned to their land.  With their home and buildings burnt to the ground, all that remained was the stone fort - so they moved in and made it their home, with it becoming known as "Fort Montgomery."  Col. Hunter had written a letter about the battle of Fort Rice, but in doing so, he made a few mistakes about it's location.  Thus, for many years, many believed there was both a Fort Rice, and a Fort Montgomery.  The two Forts are one and the same.  

From the late 1940's into the 1960's, there are many articles about the Fort being a destination on historical tours.  In recent years it's visible only from the road, but it can be clearly seen by passersby, many of whom drive by having no idea that it was once the scene of a revolutionary battle.

On October 24 1782 - "Sergt. Edward Lee killed by Indians near Fort Rice, Robert Carothers Captured"

Carothers and Lee were members of one of Captain Robinson's "Ranging Companies".  

The exact role of the Militia in Pennsylvania is an extremely complex subject.  It's explained well here:
In that explanation, this is included:

"Around this period of time, the SEC authorized the forming of five companies of Rangers, to be outfitted and equipped by the state. These were not militia, nor were they Continental troops, nor Associators, but Independent companies meant to serve a longer tour of duty, made up of volunteers, to patrol the frontier under threat of Indian attacks"

Meginness, in his history of Lycoming County, says:
Their duties were extremely hard, as they had to "range" up and down the valley from Fort Rice to the Great Island, and they were poorly paid, fed, and clothed; and with all their vigilance several lost their lives, notably Edward Lee, sergeant, and Robert Carothers, private, while serving as spies near Fort Rice, October 24, 1782.

Find More Stories & History Of Turbotville Here:
And More Stories, Photos, & History From Other Local Towns Here:
From The Pennsylvania Magazine, October 2012:

Bloodshed on this central Pennsylvania frontier affected all settlers, no
matter their distance from the Continental and British armies; the construction of Fort Rice, the only limestone fortification built, demonstrated
that these people were determined to live in the area despite constant
attack by their enemies.
In order to protect those living on the frontier county of
Northumberland, the German Regiment was sent to Sunbury, a little over
fifty miles north of Harrisburg, to be deployed as a renewed backbone of
defense to local militia. Normally, a regiment sent in to reinforce an area
would be welcomed as a blessing, but when it arrived in October 1779 at
Sunbury’s Fort Augusta, Colonel Samuel Hunter complained that the
German force was too small. This reception caused a strained relationship
between him and the German commander, Colonel Ludwig Weltner.
When the unit had been recruited in 1776, it boasted over 400 members
and had even been referred to by General George Washington as “a large
regiment.” By 1779, after years of desertion and fighting the British and
Native Americans during Sullivan

Despite their small number, the members of the German Regiment
were responsible for reconstructing two forts, built no more than a single
day’s march apart so the forts could support each other against attack.
One of these forts was Fort Rice. Named after Captain William Rice,
who commanded the detachment sent to erect and man the limestone
structure, the fort was seated on the land of John Montgomery, who had
fled after attacks in 1778 burned local homes and fortified structures.
Located two miles outside of present-day Turbotville (approximately a
twenty-five-minute drive south and east of Williamsport), Fort Rice
remains mostly intact to this day.3 Captain Christian Myers, who was stationed at the fort during the spring of 1780, referred to the fort as Fort
Montgomery, after the former property owner, in garrison orders written
in March 1780.4 Rice was constructed out of grey limestone found on the
surrounding farmland. The building stands two-and-a-half stories tall
over a spring that supplied the occupiers with fresh water. Limestone
walls a foot thick, dotted with gun ports, ensured that no small arms could
penetrate and prevented the building from being burned down while
allowing soldiers within to fire on the enemy in safety.5
Work on Fort Rice started in the fall of 1779 and was completed in
early 1780. According to Captain Christian Myers, whose company of
eighteen men was stationed at Fort Rice in early 1780, work on the
defenses continued into March of that year. With spring came renewed
fears of attacks on farms by raiding parties. In October of 1780 the
German Regiment was recalled by General George Washington to rejoin
the main army in New York. Less than three days after the soldiers left
Fort Rice, a British raiding party tried to attack. Colonel Hunter moved
local militia inside the limestone walls to replace the Continental soldiers
who left. The two sides fired on one another for a short time before the
raiders realized the men inside were well equipped to repel an attack and
more militiamen were on the way to flank the enemy combatants.6
Today the fort stands proudly and bears a commemorative marker
placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1912. Fort Rice
is the last piece of standing evidence of the American Revolution in central Pennsylvania. 


William Patterson parented 700 acres of land near present day Turbotville in 1769, naming the land "Paradise".  (Note the nearby present day road of the same name)
Three years later, Patterson exchanged, literally exchanged,  his Paradise for John Montgomery's land in Paxtang, with Montgomery moving to the land named Paradise and Patterson moving to Paxtang.

The Montgomery family was still residing  on this land in 1779 when Fort Freeland was attacked.  Hearing the fire, he sent two of his young sons on horseback to the top of the hill to "learn the cause of the firing".  They returned with the report that Fort Freeland was on fire, and a battle was occurring in the woods nearby. 

Montgomery loaded his family and as many possessions as they could quickly load into a wagon and headed to the farm of William Davis, before heading on to Fort Augusta. 

In a 1923 article for the Pottsville Republican, Frederick Godcharles writes:
"The precaution of Montgomery was intuitive, for the victorious British and Indians soon reached Paradise and burned his home and buildings.

With Fort Freeland destroyed and Montgomery's home in ruins, it was necessary that one of these places be immediately rebuilt and fortified."

A detachment of the German regiment, then in the vicinity, was sent to Paradise under the Command of Captain Rice.   In the fall land winter of 1779-80, Capt. Rice built the new stockade, using limestone that is prevalent in this area.

 "It was built around and enclosed the fine spring at the burned residence of John Montgomery, and remains today a lasting tribute to the excellency of the work of Captain Rice's Pennsylvania Germans" The Frontier Forts Within The North And West Branches of the Susquehanna River By John M. Buckalew.

In 1780 the Fort was attacked.  Col. Samuel Hunter wrote a letter dated September 21 1780, as follows:

"We were alarmed by a large party of the enemy making their appearance in our county on the 6th inst.  They came first to a small fort that Col. Weltners troops had erected on the headwaters of the Chilisquaque, called Fort Rice, about 13 miles from Sunbury. When the German Regiment marched off the enemy attacked the fort about sundown and fired very smartly.  The garrison returned the fire with spirit, which made them withdraw a little off, and in the night they began to set fire to a number of house and stacks of grain, which they consumed. 

 In the meantime our militia had collected to the number of  one hundred men under command of Col. John Kelly who marched to the relief of the Garrison, and arrived there the next day.  The people of the Garrison acquainted Col. Kelly that there must be two hundred and fifty or three hundred of the enemy, which he did not think prudent to engage without being reinforced.  The confusion this put the inhabitant in, it was not easy to collect a party equay to fight the savages.

I immediately sent off an express to Col. Purdy on Juniata whom I heard was marching to the Frontiers of Cumberland County with the militia, he came as quick as possible to our assistance, with one hundred and ten of the militia and about eight volunteers, which was no small reinforcement to us.  Genl. Pottier just coming from camp at this critical time came up to Sunbury and took command of the party that went in quest of the enemy.  But previous to his marching, discharge the Volunteers as he concluded by the information he had received from spys that we had out that the enemy did not exceed one hundred and fifty and that they had withdraws from the inhabitants to some remote place. 

 General Potter however, marched on to the Muncy Hill, but was a little baffled by the information of their route and did not come on their track till the 13th and followed on about 50 miles up Fishing Creek, the road the enemy took, but finding they had got too far ahead returned here the 17th int.  The enemy got but one scalp and one prisoner. "

Frederick Godcharles, in his 1923 article in the Pottsville Republican, noted that Colonel Hunter did not know of the Sugar Loaf Massacre when he wrote this letter.  He also pointed out the following three errors in Capt. Hunters letter: "Fort Rice was at the headwaters of Muddy Run, not Chilisquaque.  2.  The name should be Fort Montgomery, the owner and original builder, Rice was the soldier in charge of the detail 3. Distance is about 17 miles from Sunbury, 4 from Milton

The controversy over the name continued into the early 1950s.  The DAR eventually won the battle, erecting a plaque naming the site Fort Rice, but they did not do so without opposition from those who insist it is Fort Montgomery. (see article below, "Battle fought in 1780 in Turbotville still waged")

As to the numbers attacking Fort Rice, Genl. Potter (Vol. viii, p. 563), says: "Since I wrote the above I am informed by Capt. Robeson that a large body of the enemy crossed the Moncey Hills near one Evses and went up the Moncey Creek so that it is leekly (likely) that the number that was down amounted to 300 men—they carried off a large number of Cattle and Horses."

The Indians headed east from Fort Rice, and burnt Fort Jenkins, which was located between present day Bloomsburg and Berwick.  

Col. Hunters letter continues "We all concluded the enimy had gone off, but on the 18th there was a small party made their appearance on the West Branch about fourteen miles above this place, they killed one man and wounded another, and killed their horses they had in the plow, which plainly shows they have scattered into small parties to Harras the inhabitants, which I am afraid will prevent the people from getting crops put in the ground this fall. When the German Regiment marched off from here I give orders for the Frontiers Companys to embody and keep one-fourth of the men Constantly Reconnoitering. After garrisoning Fort Jenkins, Fort Rice, and Fort Schwartz with twenty men in each of them, this was the only method I could think of encouraging the people as we were left to our own exertions. Only about thirty of Capt. McCoys company of Volunteers from Cumberland County, until the 10th Inst., that two companies of militia came here from the same county in the whole about eighty men. When I received the intelligence of a large party of savages and tories coming against Fort Rice, I give orders to evacuate Fort Jenkins as I did not look upon it to be tenable, which is since burned by the Enimy, and would have shared the same had the men staid there on act. of the Buildings that were adjoining it, &c."

John Montgomery, with his family, returned to his farm once peace was declared, but all of the buildings had been burnt to the ground, with the stone fort now standing in their place.  He moved in and made it his home.  Capt. Rice left the country, and the fort soon became known as Montgomery's fort.    With Capt Hunters letter describing the wrong location for the fort, most did not know that Fort Montgomery and Fort Rice were one and the same.  

 " I visited the place in 1894 ... and secured a picture of probably the best preserved fort of its date in the State. I found it two stories and in attic of four feet or more at the square of the building, could recognize the old port holes in the walls of the second story. The old-fashioned chimney was in the northern end, the spring covered about half the space inside the walls of the lower story. We hung "Old Glory" out of one of the old port holes, I suppose the first time since the close of the Revolution. " The Frontier Forts Within The North And West Branches of the Susquehanna River By John M. Buckalew.

"Fort Rice, At Montgomery's, known in turns by each of these names. Located in Lewis township, Northumberland county, four miles west of Bosley's mills, and two or three miles from site of Fort Freeland."

Milton, Pennsylvania
30 Dec 1910, Fri  •  Page 1 & 8

The Selinsgrove Times Tribune
September 1 1949

The Daily Item June 1976

Sunbury Daily Item, June 2011
Read More:


  1. Fort Freeland and the area were recently a subject of conversation with 85 year old cousins. Was pleased to see these articles which gave such a detailed, concise history of the old Forts. Was delighted to see the name of John Carter mentioned as my father and I visited him in the late 1970's while working on genealogy. Wish I had been able to pick his brain more often.Thank you.

  2. Heather, it’s Murph! Have you ever made a connection between Fort Rice and the Rice family of Turbotville and Milton?

  3. Thanks for all of this info, Frederick William Rice is one of my ancestors, buried in Wooster, OH.

  4. Hi, My name is Douglas Kleckner, My Great Grand Father was Col. Kelly. And my aunt and uncle, the Manges owned it until I believe 1994. I played in it and on their farm many times. I know it well.

  5. Hi, My Great Great relative was Col. Kelly. And my aunt and uncle, the Manges owned that proprty until I believe 1994 or 95. I know that fort very well. I used to play in it and on their farm.

    1. Michelle Menges ElwoodMarch 19, 2023 at 5:21 AM

      Doug, Michelle Menges Elwood here. The farm in which Fort Rice sits on was owned by my grandparents Clair and Grace Menges until Clair’s passing in 2001. A lot of my childhood memories involved that fort and farm. Sad that it is no longer in the family.


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