At the end of March, 1782, John Hupp Sr., his wife Ann Rowe Hupp and their four children, Jacob Miller, Sr. and his children, the children of Edward Gaither, and elderly widower Mathias Ault took refuge inside Miller's Blockhouse in Washington County, Pennsylvania during Indian raids in that area. On March 31, Easter Sunday, John Hupp, Sr. and Jacob Miller, Sr. left the safety of the blockhouse to search for a horse that had gone missing during the night. Within minutes of their departure, those inside the blockhouse heard shooting followed by hair-raising war whoops. After attacking and killing Miller and Hupp, Shawnee warriors surrounded the blockhouse and attacked, believing the women, children, and elderly inside would surrender. The warriors had not figured on the courage of Ann Rowe Hupp.
|Replica of an 18th century blockhouse (front of building)|
Knowing her husband and neighbor had most likely just been killed, Ann Rowe Hupp, in shock, still managed to calm the terrified children and elderly Mr. Mathias and convince them to assist her in defending the blockhouse, using several guns that were available. While the children and Mr. Mathias loaded rifles, Ann shot through the loopholes, firing on all sides of the blockhouse to create the illusion of a large force inside the building. Ann, with help from the others, put up a spirited fight. The Shawnees who surrounded the structure fought equally as hard. Toward evening, the firing ceased and by morning, the Indians withdrew.
During the late-18th century in remote areas of America's colonies, roving bands of Indians attacked colonists. In need of shelter during these raids, groups of neighboring settlers frequently worked together to build blockhouses, sturdy fortified structures that provided refuge for their families and themselves. These buildings also allowed those inside to put up a strong resistance against an assaulting enemy. When raiding Native Americans were sighted in an area, an alarm was raised which sent people running to the blockhouse for protection.
Blockhouses could be of any size, but were typically square, two-storied timbered structures with an overhanging second floor that allowed the occupants to defend the area below. Additionally, the upper floor enabled the occupants to view the surrounding area as well as the enemy. A sturdy door on the ground level, barred on the inside, prevented entry while loopholes on all four walls of both floors provided openings for the settlers to shoot at the attackers. The thick timbered walls made it impossible for bullets to penetrate although well-aimed bullets could enter the interior through the loopholes.
|Regularly spaced loopholes were cut into all sides of a blockhouse|
The first-floor loopholes were placed high enough on the walls to prevent the enemy from inserting his gun and shooting inside. Defenders stood on a ledge built underneath the loopholes, elevating themselves in order to shoot through the portholes. The narrow openings provided the defender with the ability to aim his or her gun in any direction while shielding them from the enemy.
|First-floor interior with loopholes placed high on the wall.|
Defenders stood on the ledge and shot through the openings.
Blockhouses were sometimes surrounded by a wooden stockade, adding further security during attacks. These defensive structures were often built near a water source for those times when settlers found themselves enduring a lengthy siege.
|A stockade contributed an additional layer of defense.|
Thanks to Ann Rowe Hupp's ability to take command of a life-threatening situation while under severe emotional duress, everyone inside Miller's Blockhouse survived.
An excellent example of an 18th century blockhouse stands along the Army Heritage Trail at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Visitors can enter the blockhouse (seen in this article's photographs) and look through the first floor loopholes, getting a feel for what it was like to to be inside a defensive structure.
Photographs ©2017 Cynthia Howerter
Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter grew up playing in Fort Rice, a Revolutionary War fort owned by family members, and lived on land in Pennsylvania once called home by 18th century Oneida Chief Shikellamy. Hunting arrowheads and riding horses at break-neck speed across farm fields while pretending to flee from British-allied Indians provided exciting childhood experiences for Cynthia and set the stage for a life-long love of all things historical. A descendant of a Revolutionary War officer and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), history flows through Cynthia's veins.
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Click here for more information about the Army Heritage Trail's exhibits.