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The First Execution in Luzerne County

Dozens of criminals have expiated their crimes on the gallows of Luzerne County, but very little is written about Michael Roseberry, who holds the distinction of being the first person executed in Luzerne County. What makes the story of Roseberry's execution in 1779 remarkable is that it was not carried out under state law, but federal military law.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, both British and American forces sought allegiances with the Six Nations of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. The Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca and Onandaga nations ultimately sided with the British, while the Oneida and Tuscarora allied themselves with the American revolutionaries. By June of 1778 it seemed inevitable that a major war involving the now-divided Iroquois would soon break out, and the Continental Congress called for a military expedition (led by General Horatio Gates) that would serve as an unexpected "first strike" against the Seneca.

However, the British had also been plo…

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