The Kittanning Expedition, also known as the Armstrong Expedition or the Battle of Kittanning, was a raid during the French and Indian War that led to the destruction of the American Indian village of Kittanning, which had served as a staging point for attacks by Delaware (Lenape) warriors against colonists in the British Province of Pennsylvania. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong, this raid deep into hostile territory was the only major expedition carried out by Pennsylvania militia during a brutal backcountry war. Early on September 8, 1756 they launched a surprise attack on the Indian village.
Although it eventually became a worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years' War, the French and Indian War began on the Pennsylvania frontier as a struggle for control of the Ohio Country. With the surrender of George Washington at Fort Necessity in 1754 and Braddock's defeat in 1755, the settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier were without professional military protection, and scrambled to organize a defense.
The French-allied Indians who had defeated General Edward Braddock at the Monongahela were primarily from the Great Lakes region to the north. The local Indians, mostly Delaware and Shawnee who had migrated to the area after white colonists had settled their lands to the east, had waited to see who would win the contest—they could not risk siding with the loser. With Fort Duquesne now secured, the victorious French encouraged the Delaware and Shawnee to "take up the hatchet" against those who had taken their land.
Beginning about October 1755, Delaware and Shawnee war parties, often with French cooperation, began raiding settlements in Pennsylvania. Although European-Americans also waged war with cruelty, they found Indian warfare particularly brutal and frightening. Notable among the Indian raiders were the Delaware war leaders Shingas and Captain Jacobs, both of whom lived at Kittanning. The colonial governments of Pennsylvania and Virginia offered rewards for their scalps. Captain Jacobs was on an expedition led by Louis Coulon de Villiers that descended on Fort Granville (near present-day Lewistown) on the morning of August 2, 1756. The attackers were held off, but the garrison commander was killed, and his second in command surrendered the garrison, including the women and children, the next morning. The commander's brother, Lieutenant Colonel John Armstrong, immediately organized an expedition against Kittanning in response.
Armstrong led 300 Pennsylvania militiamen from Fort Shirley on August 31. By September 7, the column had reached the vicinity of Kittanning. Signs of a small Indian camp prompted Colonel Armstrong to detach a dozen men under Lieutenant James Hogg to monitor it while the column moved on toward the village. The next morning Armstrong launched a surprise attack on the village. Many of the Kittanning residents fled, but Captain Jacobs put up a defense, holing up with his wife and family inside their home. When he refused to surrender, his house and others were set on fire, touching off gunpowder that had been stored inside. Some buildings exploded, and pieces of Indian bodies flew high into the air and landed in a nearby cornfield. Captain Jacobs was killed and scalped after jumping from his home in an attempt to escape the flames. The battle ended when the entire village was engulfed in flames. Prisoners informed Armstrong that a party of 24 men had left the day before in advance of another planned raid. This news caused Armstrong some concern over the fate of Lieutenant Hoge, so he precipitately ordered a withdrawal. They were met after several miles by a mortally-wounded Hoge, who reported that his force had been attacked by a larger Indian force. Some of his men had immediately fled, and most of the rest had been killed. By September 13, Armstrong and his remaining force had returned to Fort Lowden.
According to Armstrong's report, he took 11 scalps and freed 11 prisoners, mostly women and children. He estimated that his men killed between 30 and 40 Indians. Many of the white captives were ferried across the Allegheny River in canoes, then taken by foot over trails into Ohio where they assimulated into the tribes. Many were not rescued until Henry Bouquet brought them back from Ohio to Pennsylvania in 1764.
Historian Fred Anderson notes that equivalent raids by Indians on Pennsylvania villages were usually labeled massacres, and that the Indians considered the raid to be one. The destruction of Kittanning was hailed as a victory in Pennsylvania, and Armstrong was known afterwards as the "Hero of Kittanning". He and his men collected the "scalp bounty" that had been placed on Captain Jacobs. However, the victory had limitations: the attackers suffered more casualties than they inflicted, and most of the villagers escaped, taking with them almost all of the prisoners that had been held in the village. The expedition also probably aggravated the frontier war; subsequent Indian raids that autumn were fiercer than ever. The Kittanning raid revealed to the village's inhabitants their vulnerability, and many moved to more secure areas. A peace faction led by Shingas's brother Tamaqua soon came to the forefront. Tamaqua eventually made peace with Pennsylvania in the Treaty of Easton, which enabled the British under General John Forbes to successfully mount an expedition in 1758 that drove the French from Fort Duquesne.