History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Mohawk Valley Indian Notes
This County in the Early Days
Recorder-Democrat, a semiweekly. June 21, 1927
(Note: the first part of the article deals with a business meeting and is left out of this article. Peter Nelson, assistant state historian of Albany was the speaker at the annual meeting of the Montgomery County Historical society held at Fort Johnson.)
In 1777, stated Mr. Nelson, the United States was very small indeed, and the relative importance of the states was very different from what it is today. We think of New York as the Empire State, and containing one-tenth of the population of the United States. In 1777 it was only seventh or eighth in population among the thirteen states. Within the lands of this state held by the Americans there was a population of about 140,000, about 6 percent of the United States in that year. But its population does not measure its importance. New York sat astride of the north-south line desired by the English and of the line through New England, and made possible rapid communication between the forces of the northeast, the center and the south.
The significance of the Hudson valley-Champlain line of communication has never been fully realized. Plans to send troops south to Albany, more troops north to Albany and a third down through the lake and river line from the west were to culminate in the meeting of the three at Albany. When they reached there the entire state would be under British sway, making it impossible for New England or the south to continue their revolt. It was a magnificent scheme, and if it had worked the Revolutionary War would have ended much sooner.
New York constituted a large part of the frontier. That frontier was very important in connection with the success of the Revolution. It was held by a small number of people. Tryon county, which occupied a large part of this frontier, and included Montgomery and Fulton counties, part of Schoharie and west of the Saratoga line, contained about 10,000 people. This frontier suffered more than the cities suffered. It saw the greater part of the British, Tory and Indian raids. Along this frontier 12,000 farms were abandoned, it is said. Two-third of the population of these frontier communities died or fled, and of the survivors 300 were widows and 2,000 were orphans. Much of this suffering was within the bounds of the present Montgomery County.
The Johnson influences were very powerful in the county. In this county one of the very early liberty poles was erected. The Johnsons were concerned in this and suffered in the consequences which ensured. The patriotic influence in Tryon and Albany counties soon brought about a different balance and sons of the Johnsons were obliged to flee nearly to Canada. In 1776, one of the largest armies at that time being gathered under an American general, and ever gathered in the limits of the present county, went to Johnson Hall to take John Johnson. 1777 was the critical year as far as this part of the colonies was concerned. In 1778 the west part of the valley suffered raids from the Indians. 1779 was the scene of the mustering of the army which became part of General Sullivan's army. In October came the great raid which Sir John Johnson led, sweeping through this area. It was at this time that Fonda was burned. It was also the scene of the meeting of Colonel John Brown's forces with the enemy in the battle of Stone Arabia.
Mr. Nelson spoke of the history of John Brown, and of his realization that the character of Benedict Arnold was not such as to render safe an implicit trust in him. Mr. Nelson also called attention to the service which Arnold rendered to the colonies before he turned traitor to the cause. Colonel Brown performed another valuable service in 1777 when he met Burgoyne's army, not succeeding in breaking the lines of communication, but releasing many American prisoners of war at Ticonderoga, and then making an attack on two British companies at Lake George. In that battle he fell, on the soil of Montgomery County.
In 1781 there was constant warfare in this county and in August Major Ross and Walter Butler led the last expedition into the valley and were met in the battle of Johnstown. Walter Butler was killed at Canada Creek. In this year Willett started from Fort Plain to Oswego for military purposes.
The inhabitants hereabouts, as the war closed, had lost practically everything, except near the forts the county was largely a wilderness. With the necessity of feeding the Continental troops and supplying them, the people of this neighborhood had a most difficult time. The Tryon County population was on the verge of famine, and demanded protection from Indian attacks in order that it might raise its crops. All praise to those strong men and women who remained in the valley and fought through to the end.
The greatest contribution of the valley of which we all think first is of course the event in 1777. The defeat of Clinton to the south few people knew or think about. The battle of Saratoga was critically necessary to the American cause. But helping to bring it about was the defeat to the third element. St. Leger's force came down the valley and was met at Oriskany Creek. There have been times in our history when it was not troops but the embodied citizenry of the localities who were responsible for important victories. Montgomery County is part of the old Tryon County from which the men came who turned the tide in that most bloody battle in the Revolution. About 200 men from this county registered. The records through the valley of men who served in that battle should be authentically proved as soon as possible. This should apply also to the securing and preserving of the names and records of all people in the valley who served under arms and in civil capacities.
In closing his address Mr. Nelson spoke of a series of revolutionary anniversaries to be held through the summer. July 30 there will be a civil celebration to commemorate the time when Governor Clinton took the oath of office. August 6 there will be a celebration at Oriskany and Rome. There will be another celebration on the battlefields of Saratoga October 8, in commemoration of the second battle of Saratoga. Members from Montgomery County on the regional committee for this section of the state, named by the executive committee on the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution, are Harry V. Bush, Cornelius Van Horne (deceased), Nelson Greene, Daniel Martin, Mrs. Alice Hadley Putnam, Thomas E. Mildowny, Mr. Fred R. Greene and Assemblyman Rufus Richtmyer.
Mr. Nelson spoke of a certain amount of money which is to be used for historic markers and signs demanded in the appropriation last year. The Colonial, Revolutionary and early state periods are to be taken into consideration. Other states are much better marked historically than is New York. We should not look upon history as a game or sport, declared Mr. Nelson. The local community center should be the basis for our interest in history, and it should begin with the children, who will later magnify larger events by what happened in their vicinity.
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