History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Chapter Five, Benton's History of Herkimer County
V. 1772 To 1783.
Events Preceding the Revolution-Tryon County-Territorial Divisions of White Settlements before the War-General Congress in 1774-Provincial Convention in 1775-Second General Congress in 1775-Committees of Safety-Meeting of in Tryon County-Conduct of Guy Johnson-Indian Council at German Flats-Gloomy Prospects-Sir John Johnson-Declaration of Independence-Preparations of the Enemy-General Schuyler and Herkimer-Vigilance of the Foe-Fort Schuyler Invested by St. Leger-Herkimer' Proclamation-Tryon County Militia assemble at German Flats-Herkimer Marches to the Relief of Fort Schuyler-Col. Gansevoort-St. Leger's Forces-Insubordinate Conduct of Herkimer' Officers-Battle of Oriskany-Willett's Sortie-Sir John Johnson's Effort to Detach the Inhabitants from the Patriot Cause-Walter N. Butler Captured-Arnold arrives at Fort Dayton-His proclamation-Honjost Schuyler's Mission and Success-Situation of the Valley in the Winter of 1777, 1778-Andrus-Town destroyed by Brant-Retaliation on Young's Settlement-German Flats destroyed by Brant-The Liberty Pole-William Dygert-Fate of the Palatines-Mills burnt at Little Falls-Alexander Ellice-Enemy's visit to Rhiemensnyder's Bush-Mount Family in Jerseyfield-Sir John Johnson's Retreat-Destruction of Fort Schuyler-Solomon Woodworth-John Christian Shell-Donald McDonald-Defeat of Ross-Death of W. N. Butler-Losses and Suffering of the Enemy-Willett's Return from Pursuing the Enemy-Resolution of British Commons-Failure of the Expedition against Oswego-Close of the War-Conciliatory Proposals of Peace.
Upon the organization, of Tryon County, the territory was divided into four large districts of country, although each contained but a comparatively small number of inhabitants. These districts were subdivided into smaller precincts. The Mohawk district was the easternmost, and lay in that part of the county directly under the influence of the Johnson family; the Canajoharie lay above the Mohawk on the south side of the river, and embraced all the territory south and as far west as the Little falls; the Palatine district embraced all the country on the north side of the river between the Little falls and Mohawk district; and the German Flats and Kingsland districts included all the territories ad settlement, on both sides of the river westward of the Palatine and Canajoharie districts. These comprised the territorial divisions.
In those days, the exciting events that formed the topic of conversation among the colonists, on the seaboard and the eastern provinces, were slow to reaching the secluded valley of the upper Mohawk. The Johnson family, controlled a district of country lying between it and Albany, and it was not without some hazard, that any one friendly to the colonists could venture to convey intelligence of an unfriendly bearing to the mother country into the upper districts.
A congress, composed of delegates from most of the colonies, met at Philadelphia, in September, 1774. In April, 1775, a provincial convention met at New York, and chose delegates to the second congress, which convened in May following at Philadelphia; and, on the 22d May, 1775, a provincial congress assembled at New York, at which necessary measures were taken to defend the country. This body delegated their powers, for one month, to a committee of safety, consisting of three members, from the city, and one from each of the other counties.
It may be superfluous to remark that these organizations were voluntary; but deriving all their authority from the people, these bodies claimed to exercise, and did exercise all necessary power, for the protection of their constituents, on the disruption of the royal governments. Local committees of safety were appointed, in all the districts of Tryon county, in accordance with the recommendations of the general and provincial congresses. The committees of the Palatines and Canajoharie districts seem to have taken the initiative in these affairs and were active and zealous in their patriotic efforts to present to their countrymen the true grounds of difference between the colonies and the mother country.
The Committee of the Palatine district, on 21st of May, 1775, in a letter sent by express to the Albany committee, say: "We have just sent an express to the German Flats, and Kingsland districts, desiring them to unite with us, and give us their assistance; which districts, or at least a great majority of them, we are credibly informed, are very hearty in the present struggle for American liberty." Mr. Campbell, in his Annuals of Tryon County, says the first united meeting of the committee, for the whole county, was held on the 2d day of June, 1775, and gives the following names of members from the several districts.
From the Palatine district: Christopher P. Yates, John Frey, Andrew Fink, Andrew Reibor, Peter Waggoner, Daniel McDougal, Jacob Klock, George Ecker, Jun., Harmanus Van Slyck, Christopher W. Fox, Anthony Van Veghten;
From the Canajoharie district: Nicholas Herkimer, Ebenezer Cox, William Seeber, John Moore, Samuel Campbell, Samuel Clyde, Thomas Henry, John. Pickard;
From the Kingsland and German Flats districts: Edward Wall, William Petry, John Petry, Augustine Hess, Frederick Orendorf, George Wentz, Michael Ittig, Frederick Fox, George Herkimer, Duncan McDougal, Frederick Helmer, and John Frink;
From the Mohawk district: John Morlett, John Bliven, Abraham Van Horne, Adam Fonda, Frederick Fisher, Sampson Simmons, William Schuyler, Volkert Veeder, James McMaster and Daniel Lane; In all, 41.
From the Mohawk district had hitherto been hindered from meeting with the delegates from the other districts, by the Johnsons. Guy Johnson, finding the people of the valley resolute in their determination, and becoming more united, as correct information was circulated between them of the true state of the controversy between, the colonies and mother country, had made up his mind to quit the country and retire to Canada. Under the pretense of holding a council with the Indians, he had left Guy Park, with his family and dependents, and stopped at. Mr. Thompson's on Cosby's Manor, a few miles above German Flats, where this committee addressed to him a spirited, but firm and temperate letter, in which they placed before him their views of the controversy between the two countries; disabused themselves of "false and malicious" charges that had been injuriously circulated against them, and announced their resolution of standing by the country until all grievances were redressed. They besought him, as superintendent of the Indians, "to dissuade them from interfering in the dispute with the mother country and the colonies." This letter was communicated to Johnson by Edward Wall and Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, who waited upon him at Cosby's, Manor. The answer to the committee's letter, dated Cosby's Manor, June 6th, 1775, was characteristic of a man who had resolved on what he would do; but, in view of the great interests be had at stake in the country, and the critical position of Sir John Johnson, whom he had left behind, its asperity was very much softened. Col. Johnson went to Fort Stanwix, from the Manor, thence to Ontario and Oswego, and after holding council with the Indiana of the Six Nations, and attaching them firmly to the interests of the English, by his promises and rewards, finally retired to Montreal, where he continued, during the war, to discharge the duties of his agency, with a fidelity to his government that inflicted upon his former neighbors unutterable sorrows and sore desolations.
The whole country was unprepared for the crisis then fast approaching --destitute of arms, and without munitions of war-- Public treasury, nor organized governments-no trained soldiery, or equipped navy; and without officers versed in the science of war. Three millions of people, scattered over a wide extent of country, reaching from Maine, to Georgia, and from the Atlantic ocean to the Allegheny mountains, are seen preparing for a contest in arms, with the most powerful and wealthy nation in the civilized world; and who but the descendants of the resolute Anglo-Saxon race could thus resolve and thus achieve a nation's freedom? No one of the twelve colonies afforded as many and influential adherents to the royal ease as New York; and in on other were the severities, that particularly characterized the border warfare of the times, more effectually inflicted, for years in succession, than upon her northern and western frontiers; the inhabitants of the upper and lower Mohawk valleys often drinking deep of the bitter cup.
The colonists, fully aware of their position, and of the exposed condition of the inland border settlements to Indian warfare, took early measures to dissuade the five nations, inhabiting western New York, from taking any part in the approaching contest between them and the mother country. A council was held at German Flats, on the 28th of June, 1775, with the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, who were met by the inhabitants of the district, and a deputation from Albany, which resulted in a pledge of neutrality by most of the Indians present.
About this time, the supplies of provisions intended for Col Guy Johnson's journey had been stopped at Mr. Thompson's, Cosby's Manor, by the inhabitants of the Kingsland district, and by a note or memorandum of a council held between the inhabitants and Oneidas, July 1st, 1775, in which the reasons for doing so were fully explained, it seems that the Indians were dissatisfied, claimed the stores were intended for the Five Nations, who might suffer by being deprived of them, and insisted that Col. Johnson's designs were not then known, but when they were found out they would assemble and consider about them. The provisions were sent forward to Johnson, then at Fort Stanwix.
On the 15th and 16th of August, 1,775, a preliminary council was held, at German Flats, attended by Messrs. Turbot, Francis, and Volkert P. Douw, on behalf of the Indian commissioners of the northern department, and several sachems of the St. Nations, and among them was Little Abraham of the Mohawks. The object of this meeting was to induce the Six Nations to send deputies to Albany to meet the American commissioners, where it was proposed "to kindle up a great council-fire." The people of the valley were even then suspicious of the Indians, and gave indications of a resolution which some indications of a resolution which created apprehensions among the Indians that they might be molested on their journey. They mentioned this to Col. Francis, who promised them the road should "be open for them to go to Albany."
The council at Albany commenced on the 23d, and closed on the 31st of August. And although the Indians had been kindly treated, furnished plentifully with provisions, during the three weeks occupied at German Flats and Albany, and on their departure manifesting much good will, being bountifully supplied with presents, still this was the last time the council-fire was opened with the Six Nations until after the close of the war. The result of the conference, although not fully attended by an but the Oneidas and the lower Mohawk clan, was for a time beneficial to the country. The engagements of peace and neutrality, then made, relieved the frontier inhabitants from apprehensions of immediate danger. It was not many months, however, before the great body of the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas gave undoubted indications of attachment to the royal cause.
The state of affairs in Tryon county strongly admonished the county committee of safety to prepare for coming events; that body therefore organized the militia of the county into four battalions, one in each district, and transmitted the return, through Nicholas Herkimer, the chairman, on the 26th August, 1775, to the general committee of safety, in session in the city of New York, during the recess of the provincial congress. This return was laid before the general committee, on the 6th of September following, and approved. To conform to the regulations established by the continental congress, the nomination of four additional majors and four quartermaster, one for each battalion, was called for. The names of only the field officers of the first three battalions are here given.
battalion, Canajoharie district-Nicholas Herkheimer, Colonel; Ebenezer Cox,
lieutenant-colonel; Robert Wells, major; Samuel Clyde, adjutant.
Second battalion, Palatine district-Jacob Clock, colonel; Peter Waggoner, lieutenant-colonel; Harmanus Van Slyck, major; Anthony V. Vechten, adjutant.
Third battalion, Mohawk district-- Frederick Fisher, colonel; Adam Fonda, lieutenant-colonel; John Bliven, major; Robert Yates, adjutant.
Fourth battalion, German Flats and Kingsland-Hanyoost Herkheimer, colonel; Peter Bellinger, lieutenant-colonel; Hanyoost Shoemaker, major; John Demooth, adjutant.
1st company-John Eisenlord, captain; John Keyser, 1st lieutenant; Adam Bellinger, 2d lieutenant; John Smiht, ensign.
2d company-John Petry, captain; Hanyoost Mx. Petry, 1st lieutenant; Hanyoost H. Petry, 2d lieutenant; William Empir, ensign.
3d company- Daniel Petry, captain; Peter Volts, 1st lieutenant; Marx Raspach, 2d lieutenant; George Helmer, ensign.
4th company-Frederick Bellinger, captain; Henry Herter, 1st lieutenant; John Demooth, 2d lieutenant; Peter Ja. Weaver, ensign.
5th company-Peter Bellinger, captain; Jacob Baschawn,1st lieutenant; Nicholas Staring, 2d lieutenant; John P. Bellinger, ensign.
6th company-Hanyoost Herkheimer, captain; Frederick Ahrendorf, 1st lieutenant; Tinus Clapsaddle, 2d lieutenant.
7th company-Rudolph Shoemaker, captain; Deiterick Stale, 1st lieutenant; Frederick Shoemaker, 2d lieutenant.
8th company-George Herkheimer, captain; Frederick Fox, 1st lieutenant; Archibald Armstrong, 2d lieutenant; Hanyoost Tygert, ensign.
9th company-William Tygert, captain; Jacob Volts, 1st lieutenant; George Wents, 2d lieutenant; Frederick Frank, ensign.
The county committee, at this time, seeing the necessity of having some tribunal for the determination of petty disputes and controversies, in civil matters, to the amount of twelve and a half dollars, adopted a resolution, investing its members with a sort of civil jurisdiction, and sent it to the provincial congress for approval. The general committee of safety in reply to it say:
"The congress of this colony have hitherto avoided interfering in the administration of justice in civil matters, or arresting the cognizance from the officers of justice. We cannot, therefore, approve of the resolve by you entered into, respecting the trial of civil causes in your country, and find it highly expedient to recommend its repeal."
This was a serious detriment to the inhabitants of this remote part of the colony, where there were only a few officers of justice, and those few being strongly attached to the interests of the crown, felt no inclination to hold the scales of justice even, between a loyalist and a man he deemed a rebel.
It was for a time doubtful, whether some marked demonstration unfavorable to the cause of the twelve provinces, would not be made in the colony of New York. The intrigues of the artful and menaces of power were not vainly exerted and unfelt, and disaffection appeared openly in the provincial congress. The Tryon county committee of safety, were at this time a noble body of men. Enthusiastically devoted to the interests of their constituents, and the cause of the colonists; their zeal was untiring, and they faltered not in the important work before them. Supported by a great majority of the inhabitants of the valley, they exercised all the powers of government, for the time, executive, legislative and judicial, and all their proceedings were cheerfully acquiesced in, except by those attached to the royal cause. Sir John Johnson, was still at Johnstown, surrounded by his adherents, who he had organized and armed, waiting a favorable moment to strike a bold and effectual blow against treason and disloyalty, which he failed to achieve; and finally fled into Canada in the spring of 1776, when he was commissioned a colonel in the British service, and raised a regiment composed of men who accompanied him, which was known as the Royal Greens.
No event of much interest has been noticed as having transpired within the territory of the present county of Herkimer, during the year 1776. The Declaration of Independence was solemnly adopted on the 4th of July, an event not originally anticipated by the great mass of the colonists; and immediately proclaimed to the world, after a state of was had existed fifteen months; a conflict for a redress of grievances, and not for the dismemberment of an empire. The attitude thus assumed was solemn, and the aspects of the future were ominous of woe to the inhabitants of the western frontiers; but the Palatines of the German Flats who still survived, and their descendants, quailed not before the coming storm. Their delegates in the county committee had the year before assented to the principle of separation, and they were not now backward in the cause, but with their brethren in the lower Mohawk valley, welcomed the act which was to separate them and their country from kingly power. The British ministry were by no means idle. An aggregate of 55,000 men, it was contemplated, Should compose the invading forces, at the different approachable points, and with these the colonists were to be crushed at a blow.
Congress directed General Schuyler, who then commanded the northern department, to repair and strengthen Fort Stanwix, afterwards known as Fort Schuyler, and important post, and to erect other fortifications in the Mohawk valley. Colonel Dayton, then stationed at German Flats with a detachment of regular troops, was charged with the works at Fort Stanwix, in which the Tryon county militia participated, but he seems to have made slow progress in completing the defenses, as they were incomplete when invested by St. Leger the following year.
The interview between General Herkimer and Capt. Joseph Brant, a Mohawk sachem, at Unadilla, in July, 1777, will be noticed in another place, that interview partaking more of personal character then of local historical interest. The important event of this year must receive a passing notice.
was the year, by proud oppression driven,
When transatlantic liberty arose;
Not in the sunshine and the smile of heaven,
But rapt in whirlwinds and begirt with woes."
The untiring vigilance of the emissaries of the crown began to unfold itself about midsummer of this year. The news of the approach of the British armies and their savage allies on the northern and western frontiers of the state, had been industriously circulated throughout the whole country, and the Mohawk valley was by no means neglected. The people there were alarmed and became depressed and desponding. They had cheerfully seconded all the movements of the colonists, in asserting their rights against the encroachments of the crown, and their situation was one of exposure and hazard. Protected from the inroads of the enemy only by light parties of regulars which could afford but little security against the marauding Tories and their savage allies, they were incessantly harassed by alarms, burdened with service, and worn down by fatigues; who can feel surprise that the patriotic should despond and the weak falter: Or why should a people so beset with foes within and without be suspected of loyalty to the cause to the support of which they had so recently pledged their olives, fortunes and honor? The first outburst of patriotic sentiment had doubtless stifled a lurking aspiration for the success of the royal cause, which now began to show itself in open disaffection to an alarming extent as the crisis approached; but it may with truth be said, that few, very few, if any of the inhabitants of the upper valley of the Mohawk, were found disloyal to the cause, or unwilling to put their shoulders to the wheel at their country's call.
Fort Schuyler was invested by Colonel St. Leger, on the 3d of August, 1777, with a force of seventeen hundred men, composed of British, Hessians, Johnson's Greens, Canadians and Indians. It would be out of place to notice particularly the events of this siege, or the disasters that befell the besiegers.
Notice of the assembling of the hostile forces at Oswego, for the purpose of invasions, contemporaneously with the approach of General Burgoyne by the way of Lake Champlain from the north, had been communicated by the Oneida Indians, to Col. Gansevoort, at Fort Schuyler, and the provincial authorities in Tryon county, and at Albany; and steps were immediately taken to meet the approaching crisis and drive back the invaders. General Herkimer, who commanded the Tryon county militia, issued a spirited and patriotic proclamation tot he people of the county, on the 17th of July, 1777, notifying them of the assembling of the enemy at Oswego, and of their destination and objects, and calling on the male population en masse, to repair to the field, at a moment's warning, armed and equipped, to meet the invading forces.
Those in health between the ages of 16 and 60, were required to take the field, and those above 60, as well as the invalids, were directed to assemble, armed at proper places, for the defense of the women and children. The members of the county committee of safety, and the exempts from military duty, were invited to repair to the place to be appointed to join in repulsing the common enemy.
The whole American force at Fort Schuyler, when invested by the enemy, was seven hundred and fifty men. Col. Gansevoort was joined by Lieutenant Col. Mellon, of Col. Weston's regiment, with two hundred men, and two batteaux loads of provisions, and military stores, on the 2d day of August. The deficiency of ammunition for the cannon was very great-being an inadequate supply for a protracted siege at a frontier post.
As soon as the approach of St. Leger to Fort Schuyler was known in Tryon county, General Herkimer ordered the militia of his brigade to the rendezvous at Fort Dayton (then called German Flats). This defense was erected in the western part of Herkimer village, and the General soon found himself at the head of about nine hundred men, composed of the three militia regiments commanded by Colonels Klock, Cox, Vischer and some others, with volunteers of officers and men from various parts of the country. The published accounts of forces collected under General Herkimer on this occasion, do not designate the localities from which the several regiments were drawn; enough is known, however, to warrant the assertion, that the militia of the German Flats and Kingsland district were attached to the regiment commanded by Col. Peter Bellinger, whose lieut. Colonel was Frederick Bellinger; major, Enos Klepsattle. The militia of these districts participated in the battle of Oriskany. The alacrity and zeal evinced on this occasions should have entirely eradicated all impressions unfavorable to the patriotic devotion of the inhabitants of the valley, growing out of the expression of despondency in the early part of the year. Surely after this, no one could complain of German disloyalty to the cause of the colonists. General Herkimer left Fort Dayton on the 4th of August, and encamped near the Oriskany on the 5th, crossing the Mohawk river at old Fort Schuyler (now Utica) on the march up. At this point the General expressed his doubts of the expediency of a forward movement, until reinforcements should arrive, or the prearranged signal should be given by Col. Gansevoort from the fort. An express, Adam Helmer with two other men, had been dispatched to the fort, informing the commandant of the General's approach, and to arrange measures of cooperation. The messengers did not reach the fort until ten or eleven o'clock in the morning of the 6th. Three successive discharges of heavy ordinance was the signal agreed on, announcing the arrival of the express; the reports of which, it was assumed, could be heard at Herkimer's encampment, eight miles distant from the fort. Recriminatory and insubordinate language was used on the occasion, and the General was denounced to his face as a Tory and coward; who replied, that their safety was in his hands, and he desired to avoid all difficulties that could not be surmounted by bravery and good conduct. On this occasion the General told some of his subordinates, who had been rather noisy and liberal in their accusations of his fidelity and courage, that they would be the first to run on the approach of the enemy; which was soon verified to the very letter.
All previous accounts had fixed St. Leger's forces at 2000 strong, nearly half of which were Indians led by Brant, a brave, active and artful Mohawk sachem. Herkimer knew this, and he no doubt believed, as well he might, that a force superior to his own, could be sent against him, which would select its own battlefield, without in any way interfering with the investment of the fort. But noisy insubordination prevailed, and precipitated the little band of patriots into the jaws of death. Smarting under the repeated accusations heaped upon him, and irritated no doubt, the General gave orders to take up the line or march, which was received with cheers by the men, who proceeded rapidly on their way, two deep, having thrown out the usual advanced and flanking parties.
At 10 o'clock, on the 6th, the main body of troops passed over a causeway on a marshy ravine, the advance having commenced an ascent of the westerly slope, when a well directed fire from the enemy, in front and on both flanks, accompanied with the dismal Indian war-whoop, unfolded to the American general that his division had become involved in an almost inextricable ambuscade. Retreat was impossible, for the causeway over the marsh was already blocked up with teams; and the rear guard, just commencing the descent of the eastern declivity, commanded by one of the officers who in the morning had taunted his general with cowardice, turned a fled on the first fire of the enemy. But light did not save them from the fate that awaited their comrades on the west side of the ravine; the enemy, knowing well the ground, had gained the rear, and shot down the fugitives as they ran away from their companions. As might well be expected, the suddenness of the attack and the intensity of the enemy's ire, not only produced great disorder among the provincials, but annihilation seemed almost inevitable for a time.
In this disorder, the conflict raged about half an hour, when the Americans forming themselves into circular squads, the more effectually to repel the attacks of the enemy, who were steadily approaching on all sides; and, from this moment, resistance became more effective. The enemy then charged with bayonet, but they were met by brave hearts and strong arms, and thus the battle raged, until the parties were compelled to desist, by a heavy shower of rain, which raged with great fury more than an hour. The enemy sought the best shelter they could find, at a good distance from the provincials, when the latter, under the directions of their general, occupied a favorable piece of ground, and then so formed themselves as to be able to repel an attack from any quarter. The fight was renewed, but the Indians, suffering severely by the deadly fire of the militia, began to give ground, when a detachment of Johnson's Greens, composed chiefly of loyalists who had fled from Tryon county, were brought into action face to face with many of their former neighbors. Then mutual hate and revenge raged with unspeakable intensity between the combatants, and the conflict now became, if possible, more a death struggle than ever.
In the meantime, while the battle was the most fierce, a firing was heard in the direction of the fort; no unwelcome sound, as may well be supposed, to the handful of surviving provincials, nor very gratifying to the enemy. During the conflict at the Oriskany, a well conducted sortie from the fort, under the command of Col. Willett, was made upon the forces under St. Leger, for the purpose of drawing the enemy's attention to the preservation of their camp in that direction. This was well understood by the provincials, and in it they saw great hopes of deliverance. This was not a fight suited to the taste of savages, who found their numbers fast diminishing, nor could such a contest be long maintained with much hope of survivorship, by either party. "Oonah," the retreating cry of the Indians, was heard in the distance, and their flight commenced with a salute of shouts and bullets from the surviving provincials. The Greens and Rangers soon followed the example of their illustrious allies, by a precipitate retreat, abandoning their dead and wounded, and the deeply crimsoned battlefield, in the undisputed possession of the Tryon county militia. Was this a victory, or a defeat of the provincials? By the laws of war, they are the victors who remain masters of the battleground. The American report gave the number of provincial militia killed, two hundred, besides the wounded and prisoners. The British accounts state the killed at four hundred, and two hundred prisoners, making in all six hundred, besides the wounded. No in modern warfare, and in the severest battles, the wounded are more than tow to one of the killed, say nothing about prisoners. The British accounts do not claim there was over one thousand militia on the march at this time to raise the siege of Fort Schuyler. Surely four hundred killed, eight hundred wounded and two hundred prisoner, out of one thousand, is making said havoc in the fighting line. But this is not so; and St. Leger, when he gave this statement of killed and prisoners to Gen. Burgoyne, was indulging not a little in the M. deBelletre vein.
The battle was a severe one. The severest, perhaps, for the number engaged, that took place during the whole revolutionary war. And from the character of the combatants, the surprise, and the disadvantages under which the provincials labored during the whole six hours conflict, the proportion of killed to the wounded must have been greatly beyond what ordinarily occurs in the hardest actions, where firearms are used as the principal weapon of assault and defense.
Leaving the personal incidents of this disaster to be noticed in another place, the events of the year, subsequent to the battle of Oriskany, must now be considered. Failing to induce Col. Gansevoort to surrender Fort Schuyler on any of the terms offered by col. St. Leger, an effort was made by Sire John Johnson, and Cols. Claus and John Butler, to detach the inhabitants of the valley from the patriot cause, and for this purpose emissaries were sent below with incendiary proclamations, to induce the timid, terrified and disaffected people to abandon the cause of the country, and to join the British forces under St. Leger. Col. Weston was at Fort Dayton, with his regiment, during the siege of Fort Schuyler, and learning that a secret meeting of Tories was to be held at Mr. Shoemaker's, a loyalist residing a mile or two distant, Weston sent a party of men, who surprised and captured lieut. Walter N. Butler, of St. Leger's army, and twenty-eight soldiers and Indians, who had come clandestinely to the German Flats on a mission from Sir. John and others. Butler was tried by a court martial as a spy, and received sentence of death, but was reprieved, sent to Albany a prisoner, where he was detained some time, and finally making his escape, afterwards exhibited his kindly feeling to the land of his birth by becoming on of its severest scourges. Humanity has no tears to shed over the subsequent fate of this man, nor can the pretense that he came "on a truce to the inhabitants of the country," be of any avail whatever. H came on a secret mission and in a clandestine manner, and was taken in the very act of attempting to alienate the inhabitants from their allegiance to the country, and his reprieve by the American general was an act of grace, favored by many influential person, who had previously known him at Albany.
General Arnold arrived at Fort Dayton a short time before the 21st of August, at which point troops were assembling with a view of proceeding to the relief of Fort Schuyler, sill beleaguered by St. Leger's forces, and to counteract the effect of the incendiary efforts of Johnson, Claus and John Butler, and American general on the 20th of August, issued a proclamation stating that "whereas a certain Barry St. Leger, a Brigadier-General in the service of George of Great Britain, at the head of a banditti of robbers, murderers and traitors, composed of savages of America and more savage Britons (among whom is the noted Sire John Johnson, John Butler and Daniel Claus), have lately appeared in the frontiers of this state, and threatened ruin and destruction to all the inhabitants of the United States," urging in the inhabitants to continue their fidelity to the common cause, offering pardon to all those who may have been misled by the artifice and misrepresentation of the enemy, if they would in ten days come in a lay down their arms, but denouncing "the just vengeance of heaven and of this exasperated country" against all who should persist in their wicked courses. On the 23d of August Gen. Arnold left Fort Dayton, determined to hazard a battle with forces inferior to the enemy before Fort Schuyler, rather than have the garrison surrender, and had proceeded half a day's march, when he was met by an express from Col. Gansevoort, with cheering news that the siege had been raised; but the cause of this sudden movement on the part of the enemy was wholly unknown to the gallant Colonel and his brave garrison; no so however with Arnold.
Hanyost Schuyler was the instrument made use of to scatter the besieging forces surrounding Fort Schuyler, and send them helter-skelter back to Canada in double quick time. The home of this strange and singular being, was near the upper Mohawk Indian castle in the present town of Danube, where he resided with his mother and brother Nicholas, and hence in early life had much intercourse with the Indians. He is described as coarse and ignorant, and but little removed from idiocy, and still possessing shrewdness enough to be made the instrument of accomplishing an important object. Hanyost was somewhat tainted with loyalty, and had been captured at Shoemaker's with Walter N. Butler, and others' he was tried by a court martial and sentenced to death. Hi mother and brother, on hearing this sad new, of course hastened to headquarters to intercede for his life. For a time their efforts were unavailing, but finally it was proposed he should repair to St. Leger's camp with a friendly Oneida Indian, and so manage to alarm the enemy as to produce an abandonment of the siege.
Hanyost gladly embraced the alternative, leaving his brother as a hostage for the faithful execution of his mission; being assured that Nicholas should die if he faltered in the enterprise. Schuyler having procured sundry shots through his garments, that he might show he had run for dear life, departed with his Indian comrade for the enemy's camp. They had arranged between them to approach St. Leger's position from opposite directions, and were not to appear acquainted with each other, if they should meet. This affair was wisely planned, and most skillfully and adroitly executed. The instrument was well chosen. He was well known as a loyalist, and the parties to whom he first addressed himself were no unwilling auditors, no in an unfavorable mood to be deeply impressed and even awed by his ambiguous language and mysterious manner. The native American Indians, like the followers of Mahomet, were ever inspired with a peculiar respect and even reverence for idiots and lunatics. Fraternal regard strongly prompted Hanyost to apply all his energies and to leave no effort untried to secure the complete success of his mission, and relieve his brother from the fate that was hanging over him. He was completely successful, and having followed the retreating enemy to Wood Creek, he there left them, and returned to Fort Schuyler the same evening, and gave Col. Gansevoort the first intimation of Arnold's approach. It was not until Schuyler's arrival at the fort, that its commandant was able to solve the problem of St. Leger's sudden departure and precipitate flight.
Hanyost returned to the German Flats where he brother was released from confinement, to the great gratification of his mother and relatives, but he was too strongly imbued with sentiments of loyalism, to resist giving a permanent adherence to the interests of the crown, and in the fall of the same year wen to Canada and remained there until the close of the war, when he returned to the Mohawk valley, where he died about forty-five years since.
The project of sending Schuyler in advance to announce Gen. Arnold's approach to the besieging forces, has been attributed to that officer. Such an idea however is not characteristic of the man. The forces on the march were not equal to the enemy then before Fort Schuyler, in point of numbers, but they were chiefly composed of continental light troops, endured to service and accustomed to obey, and the patriotic militia of the country had again rallied to the defense of their homes and families, eager for the strife and determined on revenge. Under such circumstances, knowing the strength of the garrison, and being, without doubt, well advised of the position and numbers of the enemy, the American forces all told were a match for their opponents in the neighborhood of the fort, and it was by no means likely St. Leger would again attempt to interrupt the approach of the provincials by offering battle on any other field, and by dividing the strength hazard the safety of his camp in another sortie. Reflections somewhat like these would be presented to the mind of the American commander, who was brave and intemperately rash, and who would delight in scourging the men he had denounced as a "banditti of robbers, murderers and traitors," and therefore would be less likely to suggest a stratagem to avoid a battle than some one possessing a different temperament. The probability is that this project did not originate with Arnold, although on reflection, while impatiently waiting at Fort Dayton for reinforcements and supplies, he acquiesced in the measure, at the same time, perhaps, doubting its success.
Nothing further occurred during the residue of the year 1777, within the present confines of the county, worthy of particular notice. Death had visited almost every dwelling in the upper valley, and mourning and lamentations were heard in every hamlet; but hope cheered the survivors, and the alliance with France, brought to a successful issue by the favorable aspect of American affairs at the close of the year, caused universal rejoicing throughout the whole country.
Unmolested by the enemy in the fall of 1777, and the spring of 1778, the inhabitants had planted their fields, expecting to reap an abundant harvest in due season; but in this they were sorely disappointed. Fort Schuyler, an important post, commanding the western entrance, by water communication, to the Mohawk valley, was thirty miles distant from the principal settlements at the German Flats, and presented no barrier against sudden eruptions of the enemy, who could easily avoid that fortress, and fall upon the inhabitants below, from almost every direction; and during the summer of this year the work of devastation was vigorously prosecuted.
1778-The following appointments were this day made by the governor and council,
to the regiment of local militia in the German Flats and Kingsland districts:
Field officers and regimental staff--Peter Bellinger, colonel; Frederick Bellinger, lieutenant-colonel; George Demoth, adjutant; Rudolph Steel, quartermaster.
Michael Ittig, captain; Jacob Baulcom, 1st lieutenant; Frederick Frank, 2d lieutenant; John F. Bellinger, ensign.
Jacob Small, captain; George F. Helmer, 2d lieutenant; Jacob D. Petrie, ensign.
Henry Staring, captain; Theobald Baker, 1st lieutenant; Jacob G. Klock 2d lieutenant.
Frederick Getman, captain; Jacob Meyer 2d lieutenant; John Meyer, ensign.
Henry Eckler, captain; Conrad Orendorff, 1st lieutenant; Timothy Frank 2d lieutenant; Adam A. Staring, ensign.
The nine companies organized in August, 1775, were reduced to seven in about eighteen months of active war. The most of this loss was sustained at Oriskany. The names of Herkimer, and Shoemaker have entirely disappeared from the rolls, and the Petries have but one representative left.
The Mohawk chief, Brant, with a small party of Indians, attacked a settlement of seven families, called Andrustown, in the present town of Warren, in the month of July, plundered the inhabitants, burned up all the buildings, killed four persons, among whom was an aged man by the name of Bell, and his two sons. One other man perished in the flames of his own house. The rest of the inhabitants were carried away captives, and all the property that could be removed was taken by the Indians.
This achievement was perpetrated for the purposes of the plunder, as Brant was then collecting a large force at Oghkwaga, or Unadilla, for a more important and far more serious expedition, in its effects, which he led in the following month. Brant wanted provisions, and took this method of replenishing his stock. The Indians made a hasty retreat, and were not overtaken, although pursued by a party of Americans from the German Flats. After reaching the scene of desolation, the provincials interred the dead, and with several friendly Indians followed the marauding party as far as the Little lakes, in the south part of Warren, when finding the object of their pursuit beyond their reach, they gave up the chase. There were a few white families at the lakes, called Young's settlement, and the principal man was Young, the patentee, to whom the lands had been granted by the crown in 1752. This man was a Tory in feeling, but was not known to have committed any open acts of violence against the country. His nearest neighbor sympathized with him; and when the Americans found these people had been spared by Brant and his party, they plundered and burned their houses, in retaliation for the destruction of Andrustown. John Frank, then one of the committee of safety of Tryon county, from the German Flats district, and long known in this country as Judge Frank, was one of the party who went in pursuit of Brant.
The Palatine settlements at the German Flats were doomed to suffer again under the scourge of Indian warfare, about the last of August or the first of September of this year. At this period there were tow stockaded defenses called forts, midway these settlements east and west. Fort Herkimer, near the south bank of the Mohawk river, containing the stone church and the stone mansion of the Herkimer family, and some other buildings, was surrounded by a ditch; and Fort Dayton, on a somewhat elevated spot of ground in the westerly part of Herkimer village, a few rods from the site of the present court house. Fort Herkimer, so called, was enclosed with a ditch and stockades during the French was in 1756, and Fort Dayton was constructed a year or two previous to the time now under considerations. These defenses, and other of like construction, erected in the Mohawk valley, were intended to be used as places of refuge for the inhabitants, in cases of sudden incursions by the enemy in their plundering and murdering expeditions, and to store public property when necessary. They were a sufficient defense against the Tories and Indians, who were never encumbered with arms heavier than the musket and rifle, and, with few exceptions, their armaments were small, consisting of cannon used in firing signal guns to warn the distant inhabitants of some impending danger. The first liberty pole erected in the valley was raised at Fort Herkimer, in the spring of 1775, and was cur down by White, sheriff of Tryon county, who came from Johnstown with a body of militia for that purpose; and it was probably afterwards burned by this common hangman.
There were then about seventy dwelling houses on both sides of the river in the neighborhood of these forts, besides barns, other outbuildings and mills, with a large population for the number of dwellings. The earth had yielded an abundant harvest and the crops had been mostly secured. Brant's long stay at the Unadilla without striking a blow on some one of the exposed points of the frontier, excited a suspicion among the inhabitants that he might be meditation an attack upon them, and a party of four men were sent to watch his movements, who falling in with the enemy three of them were killed, and the fourth, John Helmer, saved himself by flight, and returning to the Flats about sundown, gave notice that Brant with a large force was approaching and would be down on the settlements in a short time. Forts Dayton and Herkimer now became the asylums for the terror-stricken inhabitants, to which men, women and children fled for safety, taking with them their most valuable effects, such as could be moved; but their corps, cattle and buildings were abandoned of course, to the disposal and tender mercies of the enemy. There were many among them in whose recollections the scenes of 1757 and 1758 were vividly fresh, and the apprehension of the ruin that awaited them must have been painfully severe.
Brant, at the head of three hundred Tories and one hundred and fifty-two Indians, approached the confines of the settlements just at nightfall, but the weather being unpropitious and the night dark, he made a halt near Shoemaker's, his Tory friend, and remained there with his forces until morning, unconscious that his approach had been notified to the inhabitants in time to allow them to escape. The untiring vigilance of the chief set him early afoot, and in the gray of the morning the whole valley was illuminated by an almost simultaneous blaze of houses, barns, stacks and barracks of hay and grain and other combustible materials. A sorrowful sight, to the people in the forts, who saw their houses and other buildings, with the produce of the season's labor, entirely consumed by fire. But this was not all, nor did the destroyer here stay his hand. As soon as it was light enough to discern objects at a distance, the Tories and Indians collected all the stock that could be found, and everything that could be gathered was driven or carried away.
Almon's Remembrancer states that there were 63 dwelling houses, 57 barns, 3 gristmills and 2 sawmills burnt, with most of the furniture and grain kept therein; 235 horses, 220 horned-cattle, 260 sheep and 93 oxen taken and carried away. Only two person lost their lives in this affair. The Indians were compelled to be content with their plunder, such as it was; they-got neither scalps nor prisoners this time, nor did they make any attack upon the forts. Son after the enemy left the valley with their booty, a party of between three and four hundred militia followed in pursuit as far as the Unadilla, but this expedition was fruitless, except in finding and burying the bodies of the three scouts who went out with Helmer to watch the movements of Brant.
Shortly after the events above narrated, William Dygert, who had been taken prisoner by Brant on Fall hill some time in July or August, was recaptured by the Oneida and Tuscarora In Indians and restored to his friends. This aggression at the German Flats did not long go unpunished, and a severe retribution soon overtook the Indians by the invasion and destruction of two of their chief towns, Unadilla and Oghwkaga, the particulars of which do not come within the scope of this work.
Mavor, vicar of Hurley, in Berkshire, England, said there was no race of people on earth save the Anglo-Saxon, who to maintain and carry out a principle of civil government, would submit to the ravages, devastations and destruction of property, and bear the consequent destitution of all the necessities of life, inflicted by the British armies during the revolutionary war.
Is not the fate of the Palatines somewhat remarkable? Twice during the latter half of the seventeenth century the houses of their ancestors, on another continent, had been visited by the severest calamities of cruel and exterminating war, when the whole surviving population were driven by a ruthless soldiery into the fields and forests to perish by want or exposure; and when a few thousand of the survivors landed in this country most of them were compelled to endure twelve years of serfdom under a corrupt and peculating colonial government, and finally when seated by the kind hearted and benevolent Burnet at the German Flats, their land of promise, and the ultima thule of all their hopes, they were twice doomed in the last half of the eighteenth century to see their fair fields laid waste, their dwellings and crops destroyed, their flocks and herds driven away to slaughter and themselves reduced to destitution and want. And on one of these occasions many of them were slain, but more were dragged into captivity. Surely this last visitation must have been extremely severe; but severe as it was no thought of submission to the crown obtruded itself upon their minds.
Although the lower portions of the Mohawk valley, and the white settlements south and east, were repeatedly visited by the enemy subsequent to the destruction of the German Flats in September, 1778, and the year 1779, the Palatine or German Flats settlements in the upper section of the valley seem to have been exempted from invasion for more than eighteen months, and the whole valley proper was comparatively quiet during the winter of 1780.
On the 3d of April, 1780, a party of about sixty Tories and Indians fell upon the settlements in Rheimensynder's bush, a few miles north of the Little Falls, and burnt a gristmill in that place. A Tory by the name of Casselman was with this party. They came and returned by the way of Jerseyfield. They took John Garter and his son John prisoners at the mill, and captured three men in the road, one of whom was Joseph Newman; at the same time, or on the same day, John Windecker, Henry Shaver, George Adle, Cobus Van Slyke and one Youker or Uker, with several others, were taken at Windecker's father's house, some distance north of the mill. The enemy carried off nineteen prisoners, twelve of whom, collected in one house, surrendered to less than half their number of straggling Indians without making any resistance or an effort to escape. All these prisoners returned at the close of the war, except John Garter, who died in Canada, and George Adle, who escaped either on the way out or soon after he got to Canada and returned before. John Garter and a man named Espley, another prisoner, preferring colonial freedom, beset as it then was with privations and dangers, to Canadian prison, agreed to make an effort to escape, and hired an Indian to pilot them through the wilderness; but understanding they intended to blow up the magazine before they left, or making that a pretense for his conduct, he disclosed their intentions to the British officers, when Garter and Espley were punished severely for their temerity. Espley got back, but Garter died in consequence of the severity of the punishment inflicted upon him.
There was a blockhouse in this settlement called Rheimensnyder's Fort to which the inhabitants resorted at night for safety and protection. When the Indians made their appearance on this occasion many of the inhabitants fled to the woods, or otherwise secreted themselves. The objects of this expedition seem to have been accomplished by burning the mill and the capture of a few prisoners.
After this visit in April, the inhabitants in that part of the country, except two or three Tory families in Salisbury, abandoned their farms and retired into the lower valley. Except the retreat of Sir John Johnson through the country, near the close of the year, after the battle at Klock's field, and the arrival of Gen. Van Rensselaer at Fort Herkimer soon after, in pursuit of the Greens and Rangers, whom he was very careful not to overtake, there is no other event worthy of notice. Johnson's sable allies having deserted him and taken to their heels, and the gallant knight having left his greens and Rangers to take care of themselves as best they could, he did not feel that it would be very prudent to mark the progress of his retreat with the usual burnings and slaughter which hitherto betokened his visits to the valley.
The events of 1781 now claim the reader's attention. The destruction of Fort Schuyler by flood and fire, in the month of May, led to the abandonment of that post and the withdrawal of the garrison to the German Flats. The works had been materially injured by a heavy flow of water produced by long and incessant rains, and on the 13th of May a fire broke out at midday, which rendered the place indefensible. The fire was attributed to design and that suspicion was never removed.
While Great Britain held her sway over the provinces, controlled that western Indians and desired to command the fur trade, defensive positions at the carrying place from the Mohawk river to Wood creek were no doubt important. Old Fort Stanwix when first built was almost in the heart of the Indian country, and commanded the approaches by water from Canada by the way of Oswego; but during the revolutionary was it was too far advanced into the wilderness to afford any protection to the white settlements below, against the predatory system of warfare carried on by the enemy. That post was easily avoided whenever the enemy came over by the way of Oswego, by passing to the south of it form the Onondaga and Oneida lakes. Most of the expeditions, however, sent against the Mohawk valley, came by way of the Unadilla, that being the most available point to strike the settlements in that valley, the Schoharie creek, or on the west banks of the Hudson. Several small parties, however, approached the settlements on the Mohawk by the way of Black river.
Mr. Solomon Woodworth, commissioned May 11th , 1780, a lieutenant in Col. John Harper's regiment of New York levies, was afterwards, on the 8th March, 1781, appointed 1st lieutenant in Col. Fisher's regiment of Tryon county militia, "In the place of William Lard taken by or deserted to the enemy." I do not find any record of Mr. Woolworth's appointment as a captain. Acting under one of the above appointments, he, with a company of forty rangers, was stationed at Fort Dayton, for the purpose of scouring and traversing the wilderness country north of the German Flats. Woodworth was a brave man. Once during the war he was taken prisoner, but made his escape, and returned suffering very considerable hardships; at another time he defended a blockhouse north of Johnstown, and single-handed drove away the enemy. Lieut. Woodworth left Fort Dayton with his company to reconnoiter the Royal Grant. Having proceeded a few hours on the march, an Indian was discovered who was immediately fired upon, when the rangers found themselves involved in an inextricable ambuscade, and completely surrounded by an Indian force double their own numbers. The conflict that followed was severe and sanguinary, as might well have been expected from the character of the combatants engaged, and a hand to hand fight left but fifteen of the Americans, who escaped to tell the sad fate of their brethren. Some of this party were taken prisoners, but Woodworth and about half of his men were killed on the spot.
This fatal encounter took place about three miles north of Herkimer village, on the east side of the West Canada creek, in a deep ravine, where now may be seen the mound of earth, under rest the remains of the gallant Woodworth and his brave companions. The killed, it appears, were all collected and buried in one common grave, unshrouded and uncoffined, with no monument to tell where rest the brave but unfortunate defenders of American liberty.
On the 6th of August, a German settlement called Shell's Bush, three or four miles north of Fort Dayton, was visited by a party of these formidable asserters of the rights of the crown. Donald McDonald, a Scotch refugee from Johnstown, with a party of about sixty Indians and Tories, with whom was Empie and Cassleman, two famous traitors, the latter being the same man who was with the party that attacked Rheimensnyder's bush in April, 1780, made their appearance in the Shell settlement in the afternoon of the above day, when most of the inhabitants had retired to Fort Dayton, for protection. Some indications of this hostile movement must have been previously discovered, or the inhabitants would not have sought the protection of the fort. There was, however, one man, John Christian Shell, the husband of a brave and resolute wife, and the father of six sons, who determined to brave out the storm, let come what would. He had a strong blockhouse on his farm, well constructed for purposes of defense against marauding parties of Tories and Indians; and he resolved to fight rather than run. The first story of logs had no openings except a doorway or entrance, well protected by a massive door, and loopholes through which the besieged could fire upon their assailants. The floor of the second story projected over the lower part of the building, and had apertures in the projecting floor, affording ample means of annoying the enemy who might approach the building to fire it or break open the door below. Shell had a good supply of arms and ammunition to stand an ordinary siege. When the enemy made their appearance, Shell and his sons were in the field at work, but his two youngest, being twins only eight years old, were so far off he could not save them when he retired to his blockhouse, and they were taken and carried to Canada. Having gained his castle and secured the entrance, Shell and his little garrison were resolute and alert, and kept up a spirited fight from two o'clock until dark. Some of the incidents are worthy of particular notice. Shell's wife was active in loading the pieces fired by her husband and four sons. McDonald several times attempted to set fire to the building, but failed. His men were several times compelled to retreat, in consequence of the galling fire received from the party in the blockhouse, McDonald made an effort to force the door with a crowbar, but was wounded in the leg while so engaged, and none of his party being near enough to rescue him, Shell did not hesitate a moment to unbar the door and drag the wounded Tory leader into his fortress. This capture not only secured Shell against being burnt out by the enemy, but afforded an ample supply of ammunition to the little garrison, whose stock was becoming rather short. To save his life, McDonald gave up his cartridges to be used against his followers. A short respite took place between the belligerents, but the enemy returned and made a vigorous effort to take the blockhouse by assault. They came up to the walls and thrust the muzzles of their pieces through the loopholes, when Madam Shell by a blow upon five of them with an axe, rendered them useless; this being followed by several deliberate shots from the little garrison, compelled the assailants to retire to a respectful distance. Just at dark, Shell practiced a little stratagem which induced the enemy to suppose that troops were approaching from Fort Dayton, whereupon they fled to the woods, taking with them Shell's two little sons. After providing for the Tory commander in the best manner they could, the family started for the fort, which they reached in safety. Some of McDonald's Indians visited him, after the family went away, but finding he could not be removed, they left him to the mercy of the Americans, with the message to Shell that the welfare of his little boys depended on the treatment bestowed on McDonald. The wounded prisoner was taken to the fort the next day, when his leg was amputated. The enemy's loss on the ground was quite severe, eleven killed and six wounded. The little boys, on their return after the war, stated that nine out of twelve wounded which the enemy started with, died before they reached Canada.
In the following year Shell and two of his sons, being at work in the field not far from his blockhouse, were fired upon by a party of Indians secreted in a wheat field, and he was dangerously wounded. The sons remained with their father until a party from the fort came to their relief. One of the sons was, however, shot dead and the other wounded, before the guard arrived. John Christian Shell did not long survive his wounds, and thus closed the life of a brave and resolute man and a pure and devout Christian. During the short cessation in the attack on the blockhouse, Shell addressed his Maker in a hymn of deliverance from peril, used by the early German reformers.
The Shellsbush settlement is on what is usually called Gens Purchase, embracing perhaps some portion of the Royal Grant, and it will be observed that the name of Shell, Schel or Shaul does not occur among the patentees of Burnet field, nor is the name found in the list of Palatines remaining in New York, or taken to Livingston Manor, of the first two companies that emigrated. Enough is still know of him to authorize the conclusion that he was a German Lutheran, and he or his ancestors may have come over with the third body of immigrants in 1722, or at a later period. The singularly rude and unharmonious account of Shell's conflict with the Tories and Indians, contained in Campbell's Annals of Tryon county, has contributed very much to keep that event fresh in the recollection of the descendants of his German neighbors.
After the defeat of the expedition led by Major Ross, aided by Walter N. Butler, and which fell upon the lower valley on the 24th of October, like an avalanche of lava, burning and destroying every thing in its course, the enemy retreated in a northerly direction through Jerseyfield. Col. Willett having ordered the destruction of their batteaux, left at the Oneida lake, arrived at the German Flats by forced marches, in order to intercept Ross's retreat on the west Canada creek, unless he should return to Buck's island on the St. Lawrence river. On the morning of the 29th Willett with four hundred of his best troops with sixty Oneida warriors, provisioned for five days, stared in a northerly direction from Fort Dayton along the West Canada creek. The first day's march of the Americans through a snow storm was severe, and at night they camped in a thick forest on the Royal Grant. Here Col. Willett, having ascertained during the night, by means of his scouts, the locality, position and force of the enemy, remained until the next morning when he started well prepared to give battle to the foe, determined to inflict a justly merited and suitable chastisement upon the marauders; but Ross being equally alert, and quite as anxious to avoid the action as his opponent was to bring it on, and being well advised of the proximity of his antagonist, was in full retreat as early as the Americans had started in the pursuit, and it was not until afternoon that Willett came up with a party of the enemy's rear. A smart skirmish ensued, when several of the enemy were killed and taken prisoners, among the latter was a Tory, Lieutenant John Rykeman, and the remainder fled. The Americans overtook the main body of Ross's party soon after, when a running fight was kept up between the pursuers and pursued until the latter crossed the creek late in the day. Butler succeeded in rallying his men and made a stand on the west bank, when a brisk action took place between the parties on opposite sides of the creek, during which the enemy had about twenty men killed, and among them was Walter N. Butler. The death of this officer was followed by the immediate and confused flight of his men, and Willett pursued his terror stricken foes until compelled to desist by darkness and the fatigue of his men, who had been on foot all day and more than half the time fighting. The enemy continued the retreat all night and marched thirty miles before they made a halt.
Col. Willett says, "strange as it may appear, it is nevertheless true, that notwithstanding the enemy had been four days in the wilderness, with only half a pound of horseflesh per man per day, yet in this famished condition they trotted thirty miles before they stopped. Many of them, indeed, fell a sacrifice to such treatment." The British had six hundred and seventy men in this expedition, which closed the active offensive operations of the enemy at the north for the year.
Walter N. Butler's Death
According to the most authentic tradition we now have of Butler's death, derived from Major Thornton, late of Schenectady, who was a captain under Col Willett, in the pursuit of Ross and Butler, on their retreat from Johnstown, there seems to be a somewhat different version given to this affair, than that heretofore published. Thornton stated that Ross and Butler, with their party, encamped on Butler's ridge in the town of Norway, on the night before the Americans overtook them, having traversed the forest from Mayfield the day before, That Col. Willett was fearful the enemy had escaped him in consequence of his having made the detour to Fort Dayton, or that they might have gone a more northern route than the one usually taken, to reach the Black river or Oneida lake. A light autumnal snow had fallen during the night. Thornton was sent out from Willett's encampment as early in the morning as objects were visible, with a few men, and among them was an artilleryman, for the purpose of reconnoitering and finding the enemy's trail, if there was one to be found. The party separated into files of two for the purpose of examination, moving towards the West Canada creek. The artilleryman was with Capt. Thornton, and they had been sometime afoot without discovering any traces of the enemy, when they began to fear they were not on the right course; they continued on, however, until they reached Butler's ridge, when, from their examinations, they were satisfied there had been an encampment the night before, although the snow on the ground rendered the question somewhat doubtful. Having communicated this fact to Col. Willett, Thornton and his companion struck what they supposed was the enemy's trail, and continued their course in pursuit, little expecting to find the enemy near at hand. It was not long, however, before they heard voices, and looking in the direction of this noise they saw a small scouting party, who had probably been on the lookout for Willett, coming up in a direction partly from their rear. Thornton and his comrade avoided this party by hiding in the underbrush. After this scout had passed them long enough to allow an advance with safety, as they believed, they struck the fresh trail and continued the pursuit cautiously, expecting every moment to be overtaken by Willett's advanced guard in force.
The artilleryman was soon killed, by a volley from a thicket in advance; and when hit by the ball he jumped two or three feet into the air. Willett's forces followed the enemy to the creek, the southerly bank being covered with large hemlock trees and a thick undergrowth. A heavy, dense fog hung over the creek, when the American advance got into it for the purpose of crossing, which being suddenly lifted by the wind, exposed them to the enemy on the opposite bank, who gave them so warm and unlooked-for a reception that they retired momentarily up the creek bank, behind the trees and into the bush, having some of the party killed and wounded. The fog again settled upon the creek and the parties fired four or five rounds, each at the other, quite at random, as they could not see across the stream at the time. The enemy's fire slackened, and the Americans then went over and found Butler and five of the enemy dead on the bank of the creek. Thornton stated he was among the first who reached the opposite ban, but an Indian was the first of the party who when to the spot where Butler lay dead, near a tree, and looking at him a moment turned and told Thornton who it was. Thornton examined the lifeless body; the hat, with a gold band around it, was then on the head; he pulled it off, saw the bullet hole in the head, and no other wound or fracture about it. When Thornton started on the expedition he wore a thin pair of summer pantaloons, which were pretty much gone when he reached the creek. The Indians pulled off Butler's pants at Thornton's request, and the latter put them on. Major Thornton was confident no one knew or could tell who it was that killed Butler, he being dead before any of his pursuers found him.
The enemy were pursued by Col. Willett, until hunger and want of provisions compelled him to retrace his steps. On their return to the creek crossing, our people heard the cry of a child near the wayside; some of them went in search of it and found a female infant near a large fallen elm tree, which had been abandoned by its stricken and toil-worn mother to a far different fate from that which awaited it. The child was brought away from its cold and comfortless cradle by some hungered and weary rebel, whose heart may have been sorely riven more than once by the hand of its father. Thornton also stated that Willett's forces had a smart brush with the enemy at Black Creek, in the pursuit out.
After Willett's forces re-crossed the Canada creek, they turned off in the direction of Mount's place in Jerseyfield, to bury some of their dead. At this time the party had a British sub-officer, a prisoner, who seems to have been abandoned to the tender mercies of the Indians. This man was a Tory and had formerly lived in the valley. Anticipating his fate, he inquired of the American officers whether they intended to allow the Indians to massacre him. No direct answer was given to the inquiry, and the officer disappeared before the troops reached Fort Dayton.
This relation of the manner Butler was killed, corresponds with that given by Col. Willett in his official account of the affair. It is fully corroborated by several traditional statements handed down from persons who were on the spot, and who saw and knew all about it. In every published account I have seen, from that of Marshall, in his Life of Washington, down to our own times, no two of them correspond in the precise statement of facts. Col. Willett could not have had any motive in withholding a full and true relation of the facts attending Butler's death. If he had been wounded and afterwards dispatched, when discovered, by one of Willett's men, or an Indian, why should not that fact have been officially stated by the commander of the expedition? He had inquired into the matter; it was a subject too important to be omitted. When, therefore, the Colonel says, "he was shot dead, at once, having no time to implore for mercy," we are called upon to pause a little before we pronounce the statement untrue. But, to use a legal phrase, how stand the impeaching witnesses? One says that Butler, in fleeing from his pursuers, swam his horse across the stream, and then turning round to them on the opposite bank, defied them. An Indian discharged his rifle at him and he fell wounded. The Indian then swam to the opposite bank, found Butler alive and able to supplicate for mercy, but who answered the supplication by burying his tomahawk in Butler's brains. This relation assumes the improbable facts that Butler was entirely along and unattended by any of his men, otherwise, if only wounded and capable of speech, having a horse at hand, he could and would have been carried a long distance into the wood, while the Indians, axe in hand, was swimming across the stream. Another says he was sorely wounded while standing behind a tree watching a brisk engagement between the hostile parties, on opposite sides of the creek, and that when he fell, his troops fled in great confusion, leaving him uncared for, whether dead or alive, when they had full time to remove him, and ample means at hand to do it. The Indian then crossed the creek and finding Butler alive, shot him again, through the eye. An Indian never loses a charge of powder and ball, when his tomahawk, his never-failing ad favorite weapon, will answer his purpose. And yet another says the enemy had passed the creek, when Butler stopped, dismounted from his horse, and was in the act of drinking water from a tin cup, in full view from the opposite ban, when he was fired at by two of his enemy and fell. The Indian, a Mohawk immediately crossed the creek, and finding Butler wounded, only, ended his life with a tomahawk. Now let us consider a moment. Was it not quite remarkable that the commanding officer of an expedition, who had been three days straining every nerve to elude the pursuit of a superior, active and vigilant foe, and whose rear guard had been skirmishing nearly the whole day with his enemy's advance, should loiter in his way, suffer all his men to proceed on their route without him; nay, more, that he should deliberately dismount and drink a tin cup of water, exposed to full view of his pursuing enemy on the left bank of the creek. But opposed to this, is Col. Willett's official declaration, that Butler "was shot dead, at once, having no time to implore for mercy," when this last account makes him present when Butler was scalped; and when he, Willett must have been informed, if it was true, that Butler, in the first instance, had only been wounded and afterwards tomahawked.
I have already given quite as much space to the subject as its importance will justify. Many persons had expressed a desire to know which of the several accounts describing the manner and circumstances of Butler's death was the more probable or true one. This is, whether he was shot dead in the first instance, and nothing was known of her person until the body was afterwards examined, or whether he was first identified across the stream, then fired at, wounded, deserted by his followers, and finally shot in the eye or tomahawked. The scalping part of the tragedy was probably performed in the best style of Indian execution.
I have elaborated Maj. Thornton's statement, and in the main fact, it seems to accord with the official report. Although the memory of the man has been and is still regarded in our county with deep and unalleviated horror, there are many who would still like to be informed of the truth of history.
The route taken by Maj. Ross and the survivors of this cruel expedition, after leaving the West Canada creek, is spoken of by Stone as in the direction of Oneida lake, where the batteaux had been left when the expedition came from Canada, while other writers assume that Ross proceeded to the Genesee country. It is not probably that he would have attempted the latter route in the destitute condition of his men. H reached Granadier island in about eight days after leaving the creek, in a most pitiable condition, having suffered everything but death by exposure and want of food.
Thus ended the career of Walter N. Butler, a man of enterprising boldness, but whose heart was a compound of ferocious hate, insatiable cruelty, and unappeasable revenge. Even Brant himself denounced him as more unrelenting than the savages themselves. It certainly can no excite surprise and wonder that the news of his death should have produced on universal shout of job along the whole Mohawk valley. The miserable man met a fate he but too well deserved, and retributive justice was not robbed of a proper subject.
The losses of the enemy during this expedition were very severe, and the sufferings of the survivors in traversing eighty miles of wilderness, without food or blankets, in cold and dreary weather, were intense. Willett abandoned the pursuit and returned to Fort Dayton, having lost only one man. The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, and other unpropitious events during the year, had produced an apathetic feeling on the part of the enemy.
In June, 1782, a party of the enemy, Tories and Indians as usual, appeared at the Little falls for the sole purpose of destroying a gristmill at that place, for they do not seem to have achieved any other valorous exploit that way. The grist mill on the falls of the Mohawk became quite important to the inhabitants of the upper valley, as well as to the garrisons of Forts Herkimer and Dayton, after the destruction of those at German Flats, by Brant, a year and a half before. The enemy came upon the party at the flouring mill at night, and accomplished their designs without much difficulty. * At any rate, only a few shots were fired, and one man, Daniel Petri, was killed. When the Indians entered the mill, the occupants attempted to escape the best way they could. Two of them, Cox and Skinner, secreted themselves in the raceway, under the waterwheel, and escaped death and captivity; but two others, Christian Edick and Frederick Getman, jumped into the raceway, above the mill, and there endeavored to conceal themselves, but the burning mill disclosed their hiding place and they were taken prisoners. After burning the mill the enemy retired, taking with them several prisoners!
The upper Mohawk valley was not again visited by any serious calamity during the remainder of the contest. The war had not entirely ceased in the other quarters, but there was a general subsiding of hostilities, as if by common consent, and the mother country had sickened of the effort to whip her rebellious children into submission. Towards the close of the year the British commander-in-chief directed that no more Indian expeditions at the north should be sent out, and those already on foot were recalled. The house of commons passed a resolution, soon after the news of the surrender of Cornwallis had reached England, declaring "that the house would consider as enemies to his majesty and the country, all who should advise or attempt the further prosecution of offensive war on the continent of North America." In conformity to the pacific sentiments expressed in the above resolution, if a ministerial change should take place, the American people might reasonably expect an entire change in the policy hitherto pursued towards them. The principal historical events of the war will be closed with this chapter, and the compiler, in common with many others, who like him have heard the oftentimes repeated traditional tale of the suffering inflicted upon the frontier settlements of the valley, must express his deep regret that some one had not written out a particular history of the revolutionary transactions within the country, while most of the surviving actors and eye witnesses were living.
In February, 1783, the forces under the command of Col. Willett, were concentrated at Fort Herkimer, the undeveloped object being to surprise and capture the British fortress at Oswego. The expedition failed in consequence of the small number of troops employed, and the want of a proper armament to besiege the place, attended with the unfortunate occurrence of the Indian guide having, when within a few miles of the fort, lost his way, and conducted this little band into a deep forest covered with snow, instead of directing his course to the place of destination. Colonel Willett returned to Albany in time to hear the gladsome news of peace proclaimed, and to rejoice with his emancipated countrymen in that welcome event.
Here closed the great drama of the revolution, which, for almost six years, had presented to the inhabitants of this frontier, little else than one continued scene of desolation, and blood. The enemy were too keen and indefatigable to leave a single out-laying hamlet unvisited at some period during the war, and probably not one in fifty escaped destruction by fire. In the winter and spring of 1780 the inhabitants whose dwellings were not within the protection of forts and blockhouses defended by provincial troops were compelled to abandon their farms and seek shelter within the armed defenses, so fierce and exterminating had the Indian warfare become in retaliation of the exploit of the American during Sullivan's expedition in 1779.
In 1781 it was supposed that one third of the population of the whole Mohawk valley had gone over to the enemy, and another third had been killed or driven from the country, and that among those who remained were two thousand orphan children and three hundred widows. The people of the upper valley suffered severely during the war and from the militia organizations before and after the war it would seem they lost nearly half their men capable of bearing arms during that period. But it is not true that one third of the population of the upper valley abandoned their country and its cause and went over to the enemy, nor is it probable that even one in twenty of them espoused the interests of the crown.
My desire to record in this book an historical fact, which illustrates, in a eminent degree, the spirit and bearing of the leading men of the revolution, induces me to append it to this otherwise long chapter, although it transpired at an early period of the war.
Soon after the confirmation of the treaty of alliance and commerce between the United State and France was received in England in 1778, the ministry acting under the authority of recent acts of parliament, sent out commissioners to America to negotiate respecting the difficulties between the two countries, and fully empowered them:
"To consent to a cessation of hostilities both by sea and land.
"To restore free intercourse, to revive mutual affection, and renew the common benefits of naturalization through the several parts of this empire.
"To extend every freedom to trade that our respective interests can require.
"To agree that no military forces shall be kept up in the different states of North America, without the consent of the general congress or particular assemblies.
"To concur in measures calculated to discharge the debts of America, and to raise the credit and value of the paper circulation.
"To perpetuate our union by a reciprocal deputation of an agent or agents from the different states, who shall have the privilege of a seat and voice in the parliament of Great Britain; or, if sent from Britain, in that case, to have a seat and voice in the assemblies of the different states to which they may be deputed respectively, in order to attend to the several interests of those by whom they are deputed.
"To establish the power of the respective legislatures in each particular state, to settle its revenue, its civil and military establishment, and to exercise a perfect freedom of legislation and internal government, so that the British states, throughout North American, acing with us in peace and war, under one common sovereign, may have the irrevocable enjoyment of every privilege that is short of a total separation of interests, or consistent with that union of force, on which the safety of our common religion and liberty depends."
These terms were not acceptable to congress, no was that body in the least inclined to negotiate on any terms of conciliation with the mother country in the then aspect of affairs. Having thus far single-handed and alone stood up against all adversities and weathered the storms of war, congress and the people, with the aid of the French alliance, now fancied the haven of peace to be full in view. Mr. Laurens, in reply to certain inquiries put to him on the subject, said the Americans would not enter into the consideration of a treaty of peace, without a direct and open acknowledgment of the independence of the states, or the withdrawal of the British fleets and armies. The terms offered in these propositions look very much like a total abandonment of all the antecedent arrogant pretensions of the crown, and to present the case of a mere nominal connection with and not subjection to the head of the British empire. If the hopes of America were elated by the auspicious events which had happened, the fears of Britain checked her vaulting ambition and drove her to propose an accommodation, which, if offered three years sooner, might have produced a reconciliation.
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