Massacre of the Dean Family in the Autumn of 1780

June 4, 2016

Massacre of the Dean Family in the Autumn of 1780

On a Sunday night in the autumn of 1780, the Dean family was visited by Captain Simonton and his family. At the time, Simonton and his family were the closest neighbors to the Dean family, living at a home along the Juniata on the "river road", near Canoe Valley, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. While visiting, Captain Simonton gave news of hostile Native Americans being in the area. So he recommended that the Deans head to Lowry's Fort, which existed near modern day Fox Run and Goodman Roads in Alexandria. Matthew Dean's family consisted of eight children at this time and the sooner they got ready to evacuate, the better. Mr. Dean chose not to leave for the fort though and dismissed the sighting as just rumor. When the Simontons were getting ready to leave, his son stopped his parents to ask if he could stay overnight at the Dean's place. His parents gave in and Mrs. Simonton promised to visit the next day.


Fox Run Road (Also, Bing StreetSide view)

The next morning, Mr. Dean takes two of his sons and two of his oldest daughters out to their cornfields to prepare the fields for spring and sow some rye. Once done with the planting, Mr. Dean went into the woods to hunt wild pigeon for food. Not long after, he saw smoke in the distance coming from the direction of his home and hurried out of the woods. His four children also followed quickly along with him. Along the way, they met up with Mrs. Simonton, as she was arriving, and she followed them to the home with the five Deans. They all arrived at the Dean home to find that all of the children and his wife were dead. The home was also lit on fire by the raiding Native Americans. In the yard, one of Mr. Dean's young daughters was found scalped. The home had burned for a while and only the burned remains of the Dean family's members were left. The Simonton boy was nowhere to be found though. A search party, following the trail of the Native American individuals, was headed by the eight Beatty boys and included many other men from other local families.

Native American Testimony

Captain Simonton traveled to Minor's Mill that day and only heard the news once he arrived back at Water Street. Hearing the news, he quickly took off to the Dean's as they were pulling remains of the Dean family from the home. Hearing the news of his missing son he, along with everyone else, suspected that his son was taken into captivity. In response, Simonton offered up a  ransom or reward for his return or recovery. The amount he offered was 100 pounds. He attended a few treaty meetings, including ones at Miami Valley and Chillicothe, Ohio. The captives he saw at these treaties, none of them were his son. The many searches for his son, by the search parties, also came up empty handed. After a while, he lost hope and gave up the search.

Decades passed, during the War of 1812, three of Simonton's other sons were with Captain Moses Canan's military company and working with Senecas (who were neutral) there in Cattaraugus County, NY. A white man was spotted by some of the other men in the company, living comfortably with the Seneca, with a wife. Being curious, they asked about his past and wondered if he was from the Juniata. They asked him with him replying, "I think I am." He also told them that his name was John Sims. The Army soldiers then asked him if he wanted to see his brothers, telling him that they were nearby, and John said that he would. He then began to cry and it was clear that he was the missing brother. While still talking with the soldiers, his wife arrived, looking displeased, and quickly took him away. After that, they never saw him again throughout their whole time stationed at Cattaraugus.

On the rest of the family, the elder, Captain Simonton, died before his sons arrived back from war. and one of Dean's daughters, one of the ones working in the field at the time of the massacre, married a member of the Caldwell family. His sons surviving sons were also married and had quite large families.

Suggested Reading and Sources:

History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania By J. Simpson Africa, Page 321
History of the Early Settlement of the Juniata Valley by Uriah James Jones, Chapter XXIX, Page 301
Dean Families of South-central Pennsylvania, About 1780 to 1810