History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Celebrations of the State of New York
Prepared pursuant to a Concurrent Resolution
of the Legislature of 1878 and Chapter 391 of the Laws of 1879
By Allen C. Beach, Secretary of State.
Weed, Parsons & Co. Printers 1879.
Speeches from the centennial celebration of the Battle of Oriskany.
HISTORICAL ADDRESS BY HON. ELLIS H. ROBERTS.
The fault attaches to each of us, that the share of the valley of the Mohawk in the events which gave birth and form to the American republic, is not better understood. Our prosperity has been so steady and so broad that we have looked forward rather than backward. Other States, other parts of the country, have been recalling the scenes which render their soil classic, and from the end of the century summoning back the men and the deeds of its beginning. A duty long neglected falls upon those whose lot is cast here in Central New York. These hills and these valleys in perennial eloquence proclaim the story of prowess and of activity. To translate from them, to gather the scattered threads of chronicle and tradition, to hold the place that has been fairly won by the Mohawk valley, is a task which has yet been only partially done. Some time or other it will be fulfilled, for achievements have a voice which mankind delights to hear. The privilege of this hour is to revive the memories and to celebrate the heroism of the Battle of Oriskany. Without any thing of narrow local pride, with calm eye and steady judgment, not ashamed to praise, where praise was earned, nor unwilling to admit weakness where weakness existed, let us recall that deadly fight, and measure its significance and its relations to the continental strife in which our republic was born.
THE SITUATION BEFORE THE BATTLE.
For in the autumn of 1777, it was clear that the American colonies were fighting not for rights under the British crown, but for free and separate life. The passionate outbursts of 1775 had discharged their thunder and lightning. The guns of Lexington had echoed round the world. The brilliant truths of the Declaration had for a year blazed over the battlefields of the infant nation. They had been hallowed by defeat; for Montgomery had fallen at Quebec, Sullivan had met with disasters at Flatbush, the British occupied New York, and Washington had retreated through the Jerseys, abandoning Long Island and the Lower Hudson. Sir Guy Carleton had swept over Lake Champlain, fortunately not holding his conquest, and Burgoyne had captured the noted stronghold Ticonderoga. But the nation had also tasted victory. In the dread December days of 1776, Washington had checked the tide of despair by his gallant assault at Trenton, and General Howe had been forced to concentrate his army against Philadelphia. Boston had seen its last of the soldiers of George the Third. Better than all, the States were everywhere asserting their vitality. Far off Tennessee, indignant at his use of Indians in war, had taken sides against the British king. Georgia had promised if Britain destroyed her towns, that her people would retire into the forests. The splendid defense of Fort Moultrie had saved Charleston, and proved South Carolina's zeal for the republic which it was afterward to assail. Virginia had furnished many of the civil leaders and the commander-in-chief to the republic, and had formally struck the British flag which had floated over its State house. If Maryland hesitated, New Jersey joined hands with Pennsylvania and New York and all New England had pledged itself to the contest which had begun. In New York as well as in other States, a State constitution had been adopted, and George Clinton had been inaugurated as Governor at the close of that disastrous July. The tide of battle surged wildest in that critical summer in Northern New York. So in trying hours, the blood courses most swiftly at the heart. Great results were expected. The British fleet sailed up the Hudson. A British general, favorite of the muses, and in after years notably fortunate, (General Burgoyne before the war sat in Parliament. He was agreeable and clever as a dramatic poet. He became commander-in-chief of the British forces in Ireland.) came down Lake Champlain to meet it at Albany. A column formidable in its elements and led by a commander chosen by the king for the purpose, was to come from the north and west to complete the irresistible triad. Tory bands were ravaging the country southward in Schoharie and toward Kingston. Cause of alarm there was to the patriots; ground of confidence to the invaders. The war hung on the events in this field; and the scales of destiny inclined to the side of the king.
The combatants had learned to understand each other. The burning words of Junius had long rankled in the British mind. Burke's magnificent plea for conciliation had borne no fruit. Chatham had two years before "rejoiced that America had resisted," and told the ministers they could not conquer America, and cripple as he was, he cried out: "I might as soon think of driving the colonies before me with this crutch; "but in the next spring he still clung to the hope that Britain would yet prevent separation. The insolence of Lord North had shattered the unanimity which King George boasted the Declaration had produced, and Fox had said if the dilemma were between conquering and abandoning America, he was for abandoning America. The citizens of London had appealed to the King to stop the "Unnatural and unfortunate war." General Howe had already written to his brother (April 2, 1777.) "My hope of terminating the war this year are vanished." In Britain, wise men had learned that the war would be desperate. In America the magnitude of the contest was felt. The alliance of France had been diligently sought, and LaFayette had arrived and been appointed major-general, while Kalb's offer had not been accepted. More than one general had been tried and found wanting in capacity, and the jealousies of the camp were working mischief. The financial burdens weighted heavily, and paper money had begun it downward career. Criticism of Washington's slowness was heard, and speculators were making profit of the country's necessities. Bounties had been offered and the draft employed for raising troops. The loyalists were making the most of the hardships. The land was rocking in "times that try men's souls." The earlier part of the military campaign of 1777 had not been propitious to the patriots. The darkness rested especially on New York. Burgoyne had penetrated from Canada to the Hudson with a loss of only two hundred men. Clinton from the bay threatened to advance up the river, as he finally did, but fortunately not at the critical moment. The success of the corps moving inland from Oswego would shatter the center of the American position.
THE OBJECT OF THE CAMPAIGN OF 1777.
The fight was for the continent. The strategy embraced the lines from Boston to the mouth of the Chesapeake, from Montreal even to Charleston. Montgomery's invasion of Canada, although St. John's and Montreal were taken, failed before Quebec, and the retreat of the American forces gave Burgoyne the base for his comprehensive campaign. Howe had been compelled to give up New England, which contained nearly one-third of the population and strength of the colonies. The center of attack and of defense was the line of New York and Philadelphia. From their foothold at New York, on the one hand, and Montreal on the other, the British commanders aimed to grind the patriots of the Mohawk valley between the upper and nether mill stones. The design was to cut New England off from the other States, and to seize the country between the Hudson and Lake Ontario as the vantage ground for sweeping and decisive operations. This was the purpose of the wedge which Burgoyne south to drive through the heart of the Union. In the beginning of that fateful August, Howe held all the country about New York, including the islands, and the Hudson up to Peekskill; the British forces also commanded the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, and their southern shores, finding no opposition north of the Mohawk and Saratoga lake. The junction of Howe and Burgoyne would have rendered their armies masters of the key to the military position. This strip of country from the Highlands of the Hudson to the head of the Mohawk was the sole shield against such concentration of British power. Once lost it would become a sword to cut the patriots into fragments. They possessed it by no certain tenure. Two months later Governor Clinton and General Putnam lost their positions on the Hudson. Thus far Burgoyne's march had been one of conquest. His capture of Ticonderoga had startled the land. The frontier fort at the head of the Mohawk was to cost him the column on whose march he counted so much.
FORT STANWIX AND ITS GARRISON.
Fort Stanwix (known in this campaign to the patriots as Fort Schuyler) was built in 1758 against the French. The next year, the French met with those disasters which in 1760 gave Canada to the English, and thereafter Fort Stanwix served only for purposes of Indian trade, and as a protection to the carry between the Mohawk and Wood Creek. It had been a favorite place for peaceful meeting with the Indians. Naturally it had lost its military strength, and when in April, 1777, Colonel Gansevoort occupied it with the third regiment of the New York line, it was sadly out of repair. The plans for its reconstruction were yet in progress when St. Leger appeared before it. But care and labor had been so effectual that the broken walls had been restored, and the ruins which the invader came to overrun had given place to defenses too strong for his attack. Col. Peter Gansevoort, who was in command, was a native of Albany, now twenty-eight years of age. He had been with Montgomery before Quebec, and there won his rank as colonel. His conduct here was admirable. The courage of youth did not prevent on his part a wisdom worthy of much riper years. With him as Lieutenant-Colonel was Marinus Willett, a native of New York city, aged thirty-seven, trained in the French war and the invasion of Canada, a dashing soldier, ready for any adventure, and shrewd in all the ways of border war. He had been in the expedition for which the fort had been erected, and now helped to save it. The Chaplain of the garrison was Samuel Kirkland, that sainted missionary to the Six Nations, to whom Central New York is so much indebted in every way. He was probably absent at the time, on service for the Congress, for he was trusted and employed on important missions by the patriot leaders.
The garrison consisted of seven hundred and fifty men. It was composed of Gansevoort's own regiment, the Third New York, with two hundred men under Lieutenant-Colonel Mellon of Colonel Wesson's regiment of the Massachusetts line. Colonel Mellon had fortunately arrived with a convoy of boats filled with supplies, on the second of August, when the enemy's fires were already in sight only a mile away. This was the force with which Gansevoort was to hold the fort.
The British advance appeared on the second of August. The investiture was complete on the fourth. The siege was vigorously prosecuted on the fifth, but the cannon "had not the least effect on the sod-work of the fort," and "the royals had only the power of teasing."
ST. LEGER'S INVASION.
The corps before Fort Stanwix was formidable in every element of military strength. The expedition with which it was charged was deemed by the war secretary at Whitehall of the first consequence, and it had received as marked attention as any army which King George ever let loose upon the colonists. For its leader Lieutenant-Colonel Barry St. Leger had been chosen by the king himself, on Burgoyne's nomination. He deserved the confidence, if we judge by his advance, by his precautions, by his stratagem at Oriskany, and the conduct of the siege, up to the panic at the rumor that Arnold was coming. In the regular army of England he became an ensign in 1756, and coming to America the next year he had served in the French war, and learned the habits of the Indians, and of border warfare. In some local sense, perhaps as commanding this corps, he was styled a brigadier. His regular rank was Lieutenant-Colonel of the thirty-fourth regiment. In those days of trained soldiers it was a marked distinction to be chosen to select an independent corps on important service. A wise commander, fitted for border war, his order of march bespeaks him. Skillful in affairs, and scholarly in accomplishments, his writing prove him. Prompt, tenacious, fertile in resources, attentive to detail, while master of the whole plan, he would not fail where another could have won. Inferior to Se. Leger in rank, but superior to him in natural powers and personal magnetism, was Joseph Brant -- Thayendanegea -- chief of the Mohawks. He had been active in arraying the six Nations on the side of King George, and only the Oneidas and Tuscaroras had refused to follow his lead. He was not thirty-five years of age; in figure the ideal Indian, tall and spare and lithe and quick; with all the genius of his tribe, and the training gained in Connecticut schools, and in the family of Sir William Johnson; he had been a lion in London, and flattered at British headquarters in Montreal. Among the Indians he was preeminent, and in any circle he would have been conspicuous.
As St. Leger represented the regular army of King George, and Brant the Indian allies, Sir John Johnson led the regiments which had been organized from the settlers in the Mohawk Valley. He had inherited from his father, Sir William, the largest estate held on the continent by any individual, William Penn excepted. He had early taken sides with the king against the colonists, and having entered into a compact with the patriots to preserve peace and remain at Johnstown, he had violated his promise, and fled to Canada. He came now with a sense of personal wrong, to recover his possessions and to resume the almost royal sway which he had exercised. He at this time held a commission as colonel in the British army, to raise and command forces raised among the royalists of the valley. Besides these was Butler, -- John Butler, a brother-in-law of Johnson; lieutenant-colonel by rank, rich and influential in the valley, familiar with the Indians and a favorite of them, shrewd and daring and savage, already the father of that son Walter, who was to be the scourge of the settlers, and with him to render ferocious and bloody the border war. He came from Niagara, and was now in command of Tory rangers.
The forces were like the leaders. It has been the custom to represent St. Leger's army as a "Motley crowd." On the contrary it was a picked force, especially designated by orders from headquarters in Britain. He enumerates his "artillery, the thirty-fourth and the King's regiment, with the Hessian riflemen and the whole corps of Indians," with him, while his advance, consisting of a detachment under Lieutenant Bird, had gone before, and "the rest of the army, led by Sir John Johnson," was a day's march in the rear. Johnson's whole regiment was with him, together with Butler's Tory rangers, with at least one company of Canadians. The country from Schoharie, westward, had been scoured of royalists to add to this column. For such an expedition, the force could not have been better chosen. The pet name of the "King's regiment" is significant. The artillery was such as could be carried by boat, and adapted to the sort of war before it. It had been especially designated from Whitehall. The Hana Chaseurs were trained and skillful soldiers. The Indians were the terror of the land. The Six Nations had joined the expedition in full force except the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras. With the latter tribes the influence of Samuel Kirkland had overborne that of the Johnsons, and the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras where by their peaceful attitude more than by hostility useful to Congress to the end. The statement that two thousand Canadians accompanied St. Leger as axemen is no doubt an exaggeration; but, exclusive of such helper s and of noncombatants, the corps counted not less than seventeen hundred fighting men. King George could not then have sent a column better fitted for its task, or better equipped, or abler led, or more intent on achieving all that was imposed upon it. Leaving Montreal, it stated on the nineteenth of July from Buck Island, its rendezvous at the entrance of Lake Ontario. It had reached Fort Stanwix without the loss of a man, as if on a summer's picnic. It had come through in good season. Its chief never doubted that he would make quick work with the Fort. He had even cautioned Lieutenant Bird who led the advance, lest he should rise the seizure with his unaided detachment. When his full force appeared, his faith was sure that the fort would "fall without a single shot." So confident was he that he sent a dispatch to Burgoyne on the fifth of August, assuring him that the fort would be his directly, and they would speedily meet as victors at Albany. General Schuyler had in an official letter expressed a like fear.
THE PATRIOT RISING IN TRYON COUNTY.
St. Leger was therefore surprised as well as annoyed by the news that the settlers on the Mohawk had been aroused, and were marching in haste to relieve the fort. He found that his path to join Burgoyne was to be contested. He watched by skillful scouts the gathering of the patriots; their quick and somewhat irregular assembling; he knew of their march from Fort Dayton, and their halt at Oriskany. Brant told him that they advanced, as brave, untrained militia, without throwing out skirmishers, and with Indian guild the Mohawk chose the pass in which an ambush should be set for them. The British commander guarded the way for several miles from his position by scouts within speaking distance of each other. He knew the importance of his movement, and he was guilty of no neglect.
From his camp at Fort Stanwix St. Leger saw all, and directed all. Sir John Johnson led the force thrown out to meet the patriots, with Butler as his second, but Brant was its controlling head. The Indians were most numerous: "the whole corps, " a "Large body," St. Leger testifies. And with the Indians he reports were "some troops." The presence of Johnson, and of Butler, as well as of Claus and Watts, of Captains Wilson, Hare and McDonald, the chief royalists of the valley, proves that their followers were in the fight. Butler refers to the New Yorkers whom we know as Johnson's Greens, and the Rangers, as in the engagement in large numbers. St. Leger was under the absolute necessity of preventing the patriot force from attaching his successfully. He could not do less than send every available man out to meet it. Quite certainly the choicest of the army were taken from the dull duty of the siege for this critical operation. They left camp at night and lay above and around the ravine at Oriskany, in the early morning of the sixth of August. They numbered not less than twelve hundred men under chosen cover.
GENERAL HERKIMER'S RALLY.
The coming of St. Leger had been known for weeks. Burgoyne had left Montreal in June, and the expedition by way of Lake Ontario, as the experience of a hundred years prophesied, would respond to his advance. Colonel Gansevoort had appealed to the Committee of Safety for Tryon county, for help. Its chairman was Nicholas Herchkeimer, (known to us as Herkimer,) who had been appointed a brigadier-general by congress in the preceding autumn. (His commission by the New York convention bears the date of September 5, 1776.) His family was large, and it was divided in the contest. A brother was captain with sire John Johnson, and a brother-in-law was one of the chief of the loyalists. He was now forty-eight years of age, short, slender, of dark complexion, with black hair and bright eyes. He had German pluck and leadership, but he had also German caution and deliberation. He foresaw the danger, and had given warning to General Schuyler at Albany. On the seventeenth of July had had issued a proclamation, announcing that the enemy, two thousand strong, was at Oswego, and that as soon as he could approach, every male person being in health, and between sixteen and sixty years of age, should immediately be ready to march against him. Tryon county had strong appeals for help also from cherry Valley and Unadilla; General Herkimer had been southward at the close of June to check operations of the Tories and Indians under Brant; and Frederick Sammons had been sent on a scouting expedition to the Black river country, to test the rumors that an invasion from Canada was to be made from that direction. The danger from these directions delayed and obstructed recruiting for the column against St. Leger. The stress was great, and Herkimer was bound to keep watch south and north as well as west. He waited only to learn where need was greatest, and he went thither. On the thirtieth of July, a letter from Thomas Spencer, a half-breed Oneida, read on its way to General Schuyler, made known the advance of St. Leger. Herkimer's order was promptly issued, and soon brought in eight hundred men. They were nearly all by blood Germans and low Dutch, with a few of other nationalities. The roster, so far as can now be collected, indicates the presence of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, and French blood, but these are exceptions, and the majority of the force was beyond question German. They gathered from their farms and clearings, carrying their equipments with them. They met at Fort Dayton, near the mouth of the West Canada Creek. This post was held at the time by a part of colonel Wesson's Massachusetts regiment, also represented in the garrison at Fort Stanwix. The little army was divided into four regiments or battalions. The first, which Herkimer had once commanded, was now led by Colonel Ebenezer Cox, and was from the district of Canajoharie; of the second, from Palatine, Jacob Klock was colonel; the third was under Colonel Frederick Visscher, and came from Mohawk; the fourth, gathered from German flats and Kingsland, Peter Bellinger commanded.
GENERAL HERKIMER'S ADVANCE.
Counsels were divided whether they should await further accessions, or hasten to Fort Stanwix Prudence prompted delay. St. Leger's force was more than double that of Herkimer; it might be divided, and while one-half occupied the patriot column, the Indians under Tory lead might hurry down the valley, gathering reinforcements while they ravaged the homes of the patriots. The blow might come from Unadilla, where Brant had been as late as the early part of that very July. Herkimer, at Fort Dayton, was in position to turn in either direction. But the way of the Mohawk was the natural and traditional warpath. The patriots looked to Fort Stanwix as their defense. They started on the fourth, crossed the Mohawk where is not Utica, and reached Whitestown on the fifth. Here it was probably that a band of Oneida Indians joined the column. From this point or before Herkimer sent an express to Colonel Gansevoort arranging cooperation. He was to move forward when three cannon signaled that aid was ready. The signal was not heard; the messenger had been delayed. His chief advisors, including Colonel Cox and Paris, the latter a member of the Committee of Safety, urged quicker movement. Fort Stanwix might fall while they were delaying, and the foe could then turn upon them. Herkimer was taunted as a coward and a Tory. His German phlegm was stirred. He warned his impatient advisers that they would be the first in the face of the enemy to flee. He gave the order "march on!" Apprised of the ambuscade, his courage which had been assailed prevented the necessary precautions.
He led his little band on. If he had before been cautious, now he was audacious. His course lay on the south side of the river, avoiding its bends, where the country loses the general level which the rude road sought to follow, when it could be found. For three or four miles hills rose upon valleys, with occasional gullies. The trickling springs and the spring freshets had cut more than one ravine where even in the summer, the water still moistened the earth. These run toward the river, from southerly toward the north. Corduroy roads had been constructed over the marches. For this was the line of such travel as sought Fore Stanwix and the river otherwise than by boat. Herkimer had come to one of the deepest of these ravines, ten or twelve rods wide, running narrower up to the hills at the south, and broadening toward the Mohawk into the flat bottom land. Where the forests were thick, where the rude roadway ran down into the march, and the ravine closed like a pocket, he pressed his way. Not in soldierly order, not watching against the enemy, but in rough haste, the eight hundred marched. They reached the ravine at ten in the morning. The advance had gained the higher ground. Then as so often, the woods became alive. Black eyes flashed from behind every tree. Rifles blazed from a thousand unexpected coverts. The Indians rushed out hatchet in hand, decked in paint and feather. The brave band was checked. It was cut in two. The assailants aimed first of all to seize the supply train. Colonel Visscher, who commanded its rear guard, showed his courage before and after and doubtless fought well here, as the best informed descendants of other heroes of the battle believe. But his regiment, driven northward toward the river, was cut up or in great part captured with the supplies and ammunition. In the ravine and just west of it, Herkimer rallied those who stood with him. Back to back, shoulder to shoulder, they faced the foe. Where shelter could be had two stood tighter, so that one might fire while the other loaded. Often the fight grew closer, and the knife ended the personal contest. Eye to eye, hand to hand, this was a fight of men. Nerve and brawn and muscle were the price of life. Rifle and knife, spear and tomahawk, were the only weapons, or the clubbed butt of the rifle. It was not a test of science, not a weighing of enginery, not a measure of caliber not an exhibition of choices mechanism. Men stood against death, and death struck at them with the simplest implements. Homer sings of chariots and shields. Here were not such helps, no such defenses. Fort or earthworms, barricades or abattis, there were none. The British force had chosen its ground. Two to one it must have been against the band which stood and fought in that pass, forever glorious. Herkimer, early wounded and his horse shot under him, sat on his saddle beneath a beech tree, just where the hill rises at the west a little north of the center of the ravine, calmly smoking a pipe while ordering the battle. He was urged to retire from so much danger; his reply is the eloquence of a hero: "I will face the enemy."
The ground tells the story of the fight. General Herkimer was with the advance, which had crossed the ravine. His column stretched out for nearly half a mile. Its head was a hundred rods or more west of the ravine, his rear guard reached as far east of it. The firing began from the hills into the gulf. Herkimer closed his line on its center, and in reaching that point his white horse was shot under him. The flag staff today on the hill marks his position. Then, as today, the hills curved like a cimeter, from the west to the east on the north side of the river. Fort Stanwix could not be seen, but it lay in the plain just beyond the gap in the hills, six miles distant. The Mohawk, from the mouth of the Oriskany, curves northward, so that here it is as far away in a right line, perhaps a mile in each case. The bottoms were marshy, as they yet are where the trees exclude the sun. Now the New York Central Railroad and the Erie Canal mark the general direction of the march of the patriots from their starting place hither. Then forests of beech and birch and maple and hemlock covered the land where now orchards and rich meadows extend, and grain fields are ripening for the harvest. Even the forests are gone, and the Mohawk and the hills and the ravine and "Battle Brook," are the sole witnesses to confirm the traditions which have come down to us. The elms which fling their plumes to the sky are young successors to the knightly warriors who were once masters here. Through the forests Herkimer, from his elevation, could catch the general outlines of the battle. Some of his advance had fallen at the farthest point to which they had marched. Upon their left the enemy had appeared in force, and had closed up from the southward, and on the east side of the ravine. The patriots had been pushed to the north side of the road, away from the line which the corduroy still marks in the ravine,and those who fled sought the river. Skeletons have been found in the smaller ravine about two hundred rods west, and at the mouth of the Oriskany, an extent of a mile and a half; and gun barrels and other relics along the line of the Erie Canal, and down toward the river. These are witnesses of the battle. They mark the center here. Here gathered the brave militia without uniforms, in the garb of farmers, for their firesides and their homes, and the republic just born which was to be. Against them here, in the ravine, pursuing and capturing the rear guard on the east of the ravine or down in it, and thence toward the river, rushed from the forests, uniformed and well equipped, Johnson's Greens, in their gay color, the German Chasseurs, Europe's best soldiers, with picked men of British and Canadian regiments, and the Indian warriors decked in the equipments with which they made war brilliant. Some of this scene Herkimer saw; some of it extent of space and thickness of forest hid from his eye. But here he faced the enemy, and here he ordered the battle.
During the carnage a storm of wind and rain and lightning brought a respite. Old men preserve the tradition that in the path by which the enemy came a broad windfall was cut, and was seen for long years afterward. The elements caused only a short lull. In came at the thick of the strife a detachment of Johnsons' Greens; and they sought to appear reinforcements for the patriots. They paid dearly for the fraud, for thirty were quickly killed. Captain Gardenier slew three with his spear, one after the other. Captain Dillenback, assailed by three, brained one, shot the second and bayoneted the third. Henry Thompson grew faint with hunger, sat down on the body of a dead soldier, ate his lunch, and refreshed, resumed the fight. William Merckley, mortally wounded, to a friend offering to asset him, said: "Take care of yourself, leave me to my fate." Such men could not be whipped. The Indians, finding they were losing many, became suspicious that their allies wished to destroy them, and fired on them, giving unexpected aid to the patriot band. Tradition relates that an Oneida maid, only fifteen years old, daughter of a chief, fought on the side of the patriots, firing her rifle, and shouting her battle cry. The Indians raised the cry of retreat, "Oonah! Oonah!" Johnson heard the firing of a sortie from the fort. The British fell back, after five hours of desperate fight. Herkimer and his gallant men held the ground.
The sortie from Fort Stanwix, which Herkimer expected, was made as soon as his messengers arrived. They were delayed, and yet got through at a critical moment. Colonel Willett made a sally at the head of two hundred and fifty men, totally routed two of the enemy's encampments,and captured their contents, including five British flags. The exploit did not cost a single patriot life, while at least six of the enemy were killed and four made prisoners. It aided to force the British retreat from Oriskany. The captured flags were floated beneath the stars and stripes, fashioned in the fort from cloaks and shirts; and here for the first time the flag of the republic was raised in victory over British colors.
The slaughter at Oriskany was terrible. St. Leger claims that four hundred of Herkimer's men were killed and two hundred captures, leaving only two hundred to escape. No such number of prisoners was ever accounted for. The Americans admitted two hundred killed, one fourth of the whole army. St. Leger places the number of Indians killed, at thirty, and the like number wounded, including favorite chiefs and confidential warriors. It was doubtless greater, for the Senecas alone lost thirty-six killed, and in all the tribes twice as many must have been killed. St. Leger makes no account of any of his whites killed or wounded. Butler, however, mentions of New Yorkers (Johnson's Greens) killed, Captain McDonald; Captain Watts dangerously wounded and one sabaltern. Of the Tory Rangers Captains Wilson and Hare (their chiefs after Butler) were killed. With such loss of officers, the death list of privates must have been considerable. The Greens alone lost thirty. In Britain it was believed as many of the British were killed by the Indians as by the militia. The loss of British and Indians must have approached a hundred and fifty killed. Eyewitnesses were found who estimated it as great as that of the Americans. The patriot dead included Colonel Cox, and his Lieutenant-Colonel Hunt, Majors Eisenlord, Van Slyck, Klapsattle and Belvin; and Captains Diefendorf, Crouse, Bowman, Dillenback, Davis, Pettingill, Helmer, Graves and Fox; with no less than four member of the Tryon county Committee of Safety, who were present as volunteers. They were Isaac Paris, Samuel Billington, John Dygert and Jacob Snell. Spencer, the Oneida, who gave the warning to the patriots, was also among the killed. The heads of the patriot organization in the valley were swept off. Herkimer's glory is that out of such slaughter he snatched the substance of victory. In no other battle of the revolution did the ration of deaths rise so high. At Waterloo, the French loss was not in so large a ration to the number engaged, as was Herkimer's at Oriskany; no did the allies suffer as much on that bloody field.
Frightful barbarities were wreaked on the bodies of the dead, and on the prisoners who fell into the hands of the Indians. The patriots held the field at the close of the fight, and were able to carry off their wounded. Among these was the brave and sturdy Herkimer, who was taken on a litter of boughs to his home, and after suffering the amputation of his leg, died on the sixteenth of August like a Christian hero. Of the dead some at least lay unburied until eighteen days later. Arnold's column rendered to them that last service.
After the battle, Colonel Samuel Campbell, afterward conspicuous in Otsego county, became senior officer, and organized the shattered patriots, leading them in good order back to Fort Dayton. The night of the fight they bivouacked at Utica. Terrible as their losses had been, only sixteen days later Governor Clinton positively ordered them to join General Arnold on his expedition with one-half of each regiment. In his desperation, Sir John Johnson "proposed to march down the country with about two hundred men," and Claus would have added Indians; but St. Leger disapproved of the suggestion. Only a raid could have been possible. The fighting capacity of St. Leger's army was exhausted at Oriskany, and he knew it.
St. Leger's advance was checked. His junction with Burgoyne was prevented. The rising of royalists in the valley did not occur. He claimed indeed the "completest victory" at Oriskany. He notified the garrison that Burgoyne was victorious at Albany, and demanded peremptorily the surrender of the fort; threatening that prolonged resistance would result in general massacre at the hands of the enraged Indians. Johnson, Claus and Butler issued an address to the inhabitants of Tryon county, urging them to submit, because "surrounded by victorious armies." Colonel Gansevoort treated the summons as and insult, and held his post with sturdy steadiness." The people of the valley sided with congress against the King. For sixteen days after Oriskany, St. Leger lay before Fort Stanwix, and heard more and more clearly the rumblings of fresh resistance from the valley.
THE RELIEF UNDER ARNOLD'S LEAD.
Colonel Willett who led the gallant sortie, accompanied by Major Stockwell, risked no less danger on a mission through thickets and hidden foes, to inform General Schuyler at Albany of the situation. In a council of officers, bitter opposition arose to Schuyler's proposal to send relief to Fort Stanwix, on the plea that it would weaken the army at Albany, the more important position. Schuyler was equal to the occasion, acting promptly, and with great energy. "Gentlemen," said he, "I take the responsibility upon myself. Where is the brigadier who will command the relief? I shall beat up for volunteers tomorrow." Benedict Arnold, then unstained by treason, promptly offered to lead the army. On the next day, August ninth, eight hundred volunteers were enrolled, chiefly of General Lauren's Massachusetts brigade. General Israel Putnam ordered the regiments of Colonels Cortlandt and Livingston from Peekskill to join the relief "against those worse than infernals." Arnold was to take supplies wherever he could get them, and especially not to offend the already unfriendly Mohawks. Schuyler enjoined upon him also "as the inhabitants of Tryon county were chiefly Germans, it might be well to praise their bravery at Oriskany, and ask their gallant aid in the enterprise." Arnold reached Fort Dayton, and on the twentieth of August issued as commander-in-chief of the army of the United States of America on the Mohawk river, a characteristic proclamation, denouncing St. Leger as "a leader of a banditti of robbers, murderers and traitors, composed of savages of America and more savage Britons." The militia joined him in great numbers. On the twenty-second, Arnold pushed forward, and on the twenty-fourth he arrived at Fort Stanwix. St. Leger had raised the siege and precipitately fled.
St. Leger had been frightened by rumors of the rapid advance of Arnold's army. Arnold had taken pains to fill the air with them. He had sent to St. Leger's camp a half-witted royalist, Hon. Yost Schuyler, to exaggerate his numbers and his speed. The Indians in camp were restive and kept tract of the army of relief. They badgered St. Leger to retreat, and threatened to abandon him. The raised the alarm, "they are coming!" and for the numbers of the patriots approaching, they pointed to the leaves of the forest.
ST. LEGER'S FLIGHT.
On the twenty-second of August, while Arnold was yet at Utica, St. Leger fled. The Indians were weary; they had lost goods by Willett's sortie; they saw no chance for spoils. Their chiefs killed at Oriskany beckoned them away. The began to abandon the ground, and to spoil the camp of their allies. St. Leger deemed his danger from them, if he refused to follow if he refused to follow their counsels, greater than from the enemy. He hurried his wounded and prisoners forward; he left his tents, with most of his artillery and stores, spoils to the garrison. His men threw away their packs in their flight. He quarreled with Johnson, and the Indians had to make peace between them. St. Leger indeed was helpless. The flight became a disgraceful rout. The Indians butchered alike prisoners and British who could not keep up, or become separated from the column. St. Leger's expedition, as one of the latest became one of the most striking illustrations to the British of the risks and terrors of an Indian alliance.
The siege of Fort Stanwix was raised. The logic of the Battle of Oriskany was consummated. The whole story has been much neglected, and the best authorities on the subject are British. The battle is one of a series of events which constitute a chain of history as picturesque, as exciting, as heroic, as important, as ennoble any part of this or any other land.
THE WEIGHT AND MEASURE OF THE BATTLE.
Oriskany it is our duty to weigh and measure. Wherein was the stand of Greeks at Thermopylae braver than this march of Herkimer into the ravine? Wherein have Norse Vikings shown sturdier stuff in flight? Tell me when panoplied crusader ever made more light of death than those unnamed farmers of the Mohawk. Cite from verse of ancient or modern poet the élan of truer courage, the steadiness of sterner determination, the consecration of more glowing patriotism than held the pass at Oriskany.
THE STRATEGY HISTORIC.
The strategy of the British campaign of 1777 was comprehensive, and it was traditional. With Canada hostile to the country south of it, the plan of Burgoyne was as natural as it is for a pugilist to strike with both flats. Fronting southward, indeed the blow by Lake Champlain the Canadian forces deliver with their left fist; the route by Lake Ontario through Oswego inland, invites the blow of the right hand. As early as 1687 the French government received from Canada a memorial which recommends: "The Iroquois must be attacked in two directions. The first, and principal attack must be on the Seneca nation, on the borders of Lake Ontario; the second by the river Richelieu and Lake Champlain, in the direction of the Mohawks." The French authorities never abandoned this purpose until they were driven from the continent. Frontenac wrote his name in fire and blood in the way Burgoyne sought to travel. The cooperations of the fleet at the mouth of the Hudson, was proposed by Mons. Callierres in 1689. Montcalm led the French by these paths in 1756, when De Lery penetrated to Fort bull, at the carry near the Mohawk, and the English power yielded up Champlain and Lake George to the invaders. Holding the southern shores of Lake Ontario, it was from Lake Champlain, with cooperation by a force brought up the St. Lawrence, that the English dealt the return attack in 1759, when Wolfe fell before Quebec. At Ticonderoga and Crown Point, on the path to the Hudson, and at Niagara on Lake Ontario, the French power in American breathed its last.
In October, 1776, Sir Guy Carleton had swept over Lake Champlain, and taken Crown Point, and only waited for another season to carry his conquests southward. It was, perhaps, because in London Burgoyne criticized the neglect to send a corps by way of Oswego, through the Mohawk valley, to assist in the campaign, that he, instead of Carleton, led the invasion which ended so disastrously for Britain.
But the British government had earlier precedents than these for choosing these routes for the campaign of 1777. The French migration came by them into the wilderness which is now New York, and it was by them that, at intervals for a hundred years, the Iroquois and their allies carried terror to the walls of Montreal and Quebec. The campaigns of the war of 1812 renewed the traditions of the military importance of the line of Lake Ontario. What took place at Oswego and Plattsburgh, and McDonough's victory perpetuate the series of contests in this historic field. The key to the heart of the original union lies in the heights from which flow the Mohawk and the Hudson.
ST. LEGER'S EXPEDITION A VITAL PART.
In the original plan, St. Leger's expeditions stated as a "diversion," both by Burgoyne and in the official letter of Lord George Germaine, the secretary of state for war. The command was given to St. Leger from Whitehall, on Burgoyne's nomination, so that it was an independent expedition. The troops were in like manner selected, because much depended on the movement. Upon his success, as it proved, the campaign hung. When Burgoyne explained his failure, he laid much stress on the defeat of St. Leger, and one of the chief points to account for his own slowness, is: "the time entitled me to expect Lieutenant Colonel St. Leger's corps would be arrived at Ticonderoga, and secret means had been long concerted to enable him to make an effort to join me, with probability of success." And because St. Leger "had been obliged to retreat," he assigns as removing "the first plausible motive in favor of hazardous battle," when he was near Saratoga. In the campaign of 1777, the expedition to the Mohawk was one of the two wings without which success was impossible, which once clipped, crippled everything. The battle of Bennington was brought on by a British movement, having two objects in view; first, to obtain supplies, and second, to create a diversion to aid St. Leger. Every historian who writes of Burgoyne's operations treats the expedition to the Mohawk as in a military sense a vital element in them.
EFFECT OF ORISKANY ON THE VALLEY AND THE INDIANS.
But we get a faint view of the purpose of the expedition, and of the significance of Oriskany, if we look only at military considerations. Its moral influence was great and far reaching. Sir John Johnson boasted that the Tories were as five to one in the Mohawk valley,and when he came at the head of a British army, they would rise of the king. Through Johnson and Brant, the design was fostered of holding the Six Nations closely to the royal cause, and thus crushing out the whole patriot influence west of the Hudson. Both purposes were shrewd, and had fair grounds. The patriots knew of these dangers. In the summons which had aroused Tryon county, they had been told: "one resolute blow would secure the friendship of the Six Nations." The Committee of Safety knew the efforts it cost to maintain the authority of Congress. Herkimer fought at Oriskany against a Tory rising at Johnstown, against the complete enlistment of the Iroquois with the British. His victory is measured only when we remember that no Tory rising ever disgraced the Mohawk valley, and that from that hour the Indians were a source of terror and of weakness to the forces of King George.
EFFECT ON THE COUNTRY.
The effect of Oriskany on the Americans was electric. Washington said "Herkimer first reversed the gloomy scene" of the campaign. General Gates wrote of "the severe blow General Herkimer gave Johnson and the scalpers under his command." General Schuyler, in replying to General Herkimer's report, said: "The gallantry of you and the few men that stood with you and repulsed such a superior number of savages, reflects great honor upon you." Governor George Clinton expressed "the highest sense of the loyalty, valor and bravery of the militia of Tryon county, manifested in the victory gained by them under the command of their late worthy General Herkimer, for which, as the chief magistrate of the free and independent State of New York, they have my most hearty thanks."
The defense of Fort Stanwix led John Adams to declare that "Ganesvoort has proved that it is possible to hold a post," and the Oneida Spencer had warned the Tryon patriots not to make a Ticonderoga of Fort Stanwix.
These wise leaders estimated the battle better than writers life Irving," who intimates that "it does not appear that either party was entitled to the victory," or Dr. Thacher, who can only claim that "St. Leger's victory over our militia was purchased at a dear price," or Lossing, who bluntly speaks of "the defeat of Herkimer." The patriots held the ground, and carried off their wounded at leisure. Of the Tory wounded Major Watts lay two days uncared for. By the battle St. Leger was bottled up in his camp; by it, the forces ordered with Arnold, and probably also, the Massachusetts troops who too part in Willett's sortie, were able to join in the operations against Burgoyne, and were in the first battle of Stillwater. The whole valley of the Mohawk cast itself into the scales for the victory of Saratoga.
Herkimer started for Fort Stanwix, and his force, except a few scouts, did not reach it. His little army was broken up. But its sacrifice, costly as it was, saved the valley. The frightful slaughter of their leaders at first paralyzed the settlers, but they rallied without delay and joined Arnold's relief army in large numbers. The battle penned St. Leger and Johnson and Brant before Fort Stanwix. It raised the spirits of the beleaguered garrison to a high pitch. With Bennington which came afterward, the Americans felt it gave them "great and glorious victories," and "nothing exceeded their exultation" over the; and the "northern militia began now to look high, and to forget all distinctions between themselves and regular troops." This confidence was worth armies. Congress voted a monument to Herkimer, not yet erected save in the hearts of the people, and no one questioned that the gallant chief had earned the distinction. To Colonel Willett a sword was presented by Congress for his noble exploit, and Colonel Gansevoort received the tanks of Congress, a colonel's commission, and a special designation as commandant of the fort which he had so bravely defended.
AIMS AND ESTIMATES ON BOTH SIDES.
The Battle of Oriskany and the defense of Fort Stanwix are Siamese twins. Separate events, they are so conjoined that they must be treated as inseparable in fact. The battle so paralyzed St. Leger and demoralized his army, that the siege became a failure. It is notable that British historians nearest to the event give to Oriskany a degree of prominence which our own writers have hardly equaled. The defeat of St. Leger's expedition British writers of that day recognize as one of the pivots on which Saratoga was lost and won, and British sentiment agrees that "Saratoga was indeed the turning point of the American struggle." The British Annual Register, noteworthy because established by Edmund Burke, and because its historical articles were still revised if not written by him, in the volume for 1777, published the next year, clearly indicates that the valley of the Mohawk was the very eye of the campaign. This judgment is the more important because the identical text is embodied in the History of the War printed in Dublin, 1779, and has become standard in England. In the Impartial History, after Burgoyne's arrival at Ticonderoga, the author says: "It is not to be wondered at, if both officers and private men (in Burgoyne's army) were highly elated with their fortune, and deemed that their prowess to be irresistible; if they regarded their enemy with the greatest contempt, and considered their own toils to be nearly at an end; Albany to be already in their hands, and the reduction of the northern provinces to be rather a matter of some time, than an arduous task full of difficulty and danger." Erroneously referring to Bennington, the same author uses words justly applicable to Oriskany: "This was the first instance in the present campaign, in which fortune seemed even wavering, much less that she for a moment quitted the royal standard. The exultation was accordingly great on the one side; nor could the other avoid feeling some damp to that eagerness of hope, and receiving some check to that assured confidence of success, which an unmixed series of fortunate events must naturally excite." The shield had been fully reversed, within a single month.
Se. Leger claimed that Johnson won "the completest victory," but this was on the assumption "that the militia would never rally." He miscalculated the blow; it was not fatal to the patriots; its consequences were fatal to his plans. The check which he received at Oriskany, and its consequent delay, forced Burgoyne to take the risk which brought on him the defeat at Bennington. Although second in importance as well as in order of time, Stedman, one of the best British authorities, names the Vermont fight first in order, as does the British Impartial History (London, 1780), fixing Bennington properly on August 16th, but for the affair on the Mohawk, naming no date until St. Leger's flight on the twenty-second of August. The "History of the War," published in Dublin, 1779, places the Battle of Oriskany on the sixteenth of August, on the same day as that of Bennington. In spite of this reversal of the order of time, all these authorities concede to the affair at Oriskany a measure of importance which the occupants of the historic field only begin to assert. As the first blow of the campaign, Oriskany has, to the campaign of 1777, the primacy which Lexington has to the whole war.
The failure of St. Leger cut off the right arm of Burgoyne. Burgoyne, still clinging to his hopes, believed if Sir Henry Clinton had reached the Highlands earlier, as he did when too late, he "should have had his way." But his own detailed statement proves that he felt that the grave of his campaign was dug when a royalist rising was prevented in the Mohawk valley; and that was the achievement of Herkimer and the heroes of Oriskany.
The success of St. Leger at Oriskany and Fort Stanwix would have been fatal. The Mohawk valley would have been overrun by the Tories. Albany would have fallen, and Gates been overpowered. Defeat, decided and prompt, would have turned St. Leger back to Oswego, and enabled him with the remnant of his corps, to open a retreat for Burgoyne, as the latter intimates had been contingently concerted. For the emergency of a defeat which closed the Mohawk valley, and of a siege which held him for three weeks before Fort Stanwix, no calculation had been made. It was this combination which proved so fortunate for the republic.
DIVISIONS IN THE VALLEY: DANGERS AVERTED.
The dangers to the American cause in the valley were peculiar. To the German settlers King George had always been a foreign king. They owed him neither affection nor allegiance. It was easy for them to sustain Congress and to fight for independence. They had been jealous of the influence of the Johnsons over the Indians, and over the valley, and that pique was fully reciprocated. Besides the ties of family favor and apparent interest, the Johnsons clung all the more closely to the royal cause, because the Germans took the other part. Something of religious feeling entered into the division, for the Johnsons stood for the Church of England,and Kirkland and other dissenting ministers had been pressing for independence in faith and practice. The interior of New York had felt little or nothing of the burden of taxes which had stirred the other colonies. No royal charter had ever been in force over the State. The settlers who came from Britain hither lacked the causes for separation which stirred New England and the South, and when the immigrants from other lands enlisted for Congress, the Tory leaders confidently trusted that they could carry the British colonists for King George. Many causes prevented. The patriot leaders were shrewd and diligent, and they were on the soil, while the Tory chiefs were absent. For no long time is it possible that New York shall be alien from New England and the States on our southern borders. But the fight at Oriskany came at the right time to kindle the patriot fires, to draw the lines between the belligerents, to merge old world antagonisms into American patriotism. In the blood shed in that historic field, New York was baptised as a State, and as a State in an enduring republic, in a united nation.
SIGNIFICANCE FROM LOCATION.
The battle of Oriskany was the more significant because it was fought near the center of the Long House of the Iroquois. Indian phrase had so styled the valley, for which they placed the western door at the opening of the waters at Niagara, and the eastern door where the Mohawk seeks the Hudson. It was held with its approaches, when the white men came, by the Six Nations, the master tribes among the Indians. They had discovered its fitness for the path of empire and the seat of dominion. Cadwallader Colden, in 1738, in an official report, notes the peculiar feature that here "some branches of the largest rivers of North America, and which run contrary courses, take their rise within two or three miles of each other;" the Mohawk flowing into the Hudson, the St. Lawrence finding affluents to carry northward, the Susquehanna to add to Chesapeake bay; and from the western wall of the Long House, water seek the Mississippi and the Gulf. This configuration gave, naturally, political and military significance to what is now the center of New York. The Iroquois from it became little less than lords of the continent. Into it the French missionaries early came to spy out the land, with that devotion which led Father Jogues to "write the name of Jesus on the barks of trees in the Mohawk Valley," in 1642, and that foresight which for generations prompted the French Governors of Canada to aim to expel the English by the instrumentality of the Iroquois. In critical periods the British found the Iroquois, by their fidelity and prowess, a sufficient bulwark against French encroachments. From Manhattan the Dutch had reached out and planted Fort Orange at Albany, and had made friends and kept friends with the Iroquois. Over from the New England settlements the English crowded into lands whose advantages they clearly saw, and the English Governors at Manhattan were glad to frame treaties to grant to the Iroquois the same advantages which they had enjoyed from the Dutch. Yet the first permanent settlers in a portion of the valley were Germans from the Palatinate, who came hither in 1712-13, after stopping on the Hudson. Sir William Johnson, himself an Irishman, took great pains to gather British colonists about him, and was in large measure successful, and the Scotch colony was influential and self asserting. As from the Long House of the Iroquois waters flow in all directions, so into it tended currents of population from all directions. The Dutch proprietors could not stop this cosmopolitan drift. The German immigration prevented tendencies so distinctively British as prevailed in other colonies. The large share of northern New York in the Anglo-French wars continued its traditional importance.
Here between Ontario and Champlain, it was decided that the nascent State should be cosmopolitan and not Dutch. Here in large part is was decided, if not that the political relations of the State should be British and not French, that the language, the civilization, the social tendencies should be case in the mold of Hampden and Milton and Shakespeare, rather than in those of Paris and Versailles. This whole region had indeed been included in New France. Louis XVI and his ministers watched events here with especial interest, and naturally desired that Britain should not continue to possess what France had lost. If St. Leger was beaten where Frontenac and Montcalm had swept in victory, the infant republic, with French aid, might stand and grow a rival to British power. Here large impetus was given to the decision that this continent should be American and not British.
The location of Oriskany rendered the battle controlling in determining the attitude of the Mohawk valley, and in putting an end to British hopes of royalist uprising there. It shattered and rendered useless the British alliance with the Indians. It helped to insure French cooperation with the colonies, and brought us the fleet of D'Estaing the next summer. It paved the way to the victory over Burgoyne. Without Oriskany, there could have been no Saratoga. Herkimer laid in blood the corner stone of that temple of unwinged victory, which was completed on the heights where Burgoyne surrendered. Afterward through the long contest, although local raids and savage butcheries were perpetrated, no operations of grand war were attempted in these historic regions. While nominally British purposes were unchanged, the colonies north and east of New York bay escaped the ravages of broad conflict, and entered upon their career of national growth and prosperity.
Extravagant eulogy never honors its object. Persistent neglect of events which have molded history is not creditable to those who inherit the golden fruits. We do not blush to grow warm over the courage which at Plataea saved Greece forever from Persian invasion. Calm men praise the determination which at Lepanto set limits to Turkish conquests in Europe. Waterloo is the favorite of rhetoric among English speaking people. But history no less exalts the Spartan three hundred who died at Thermopylae, and poetry immortalizes the six hundred whose leader blundered at Balaklava. Signally negligent have the people of Central New York been to the men and the deeds that on the soil we daily tread have controlled the tides of nations, and fashioned the channels of civilization. After a hundred years we begin to know what the invasion of St. Leger meant. A century lifts up Nicholas Herkimer, if not into a consummate general, to the plane of sturdy manliness and of unselfish, devoted patriotism, of a hero who knew how to fight and how to die. History begins to appreciate the difficulties which surrounded Philip Schuyler, and to see that he appeared slow in bringing out the strength of a patriot State, because the scales of destiny were weighted to hand New York over to Johnson and Burgoyne and Clinton and King George. His eulogy is, that when popular impatience,and jealousies in other colonies, and ambitions in the army, and cliques in Congress, superseded him in the command of the northern armies of the United States, he had already stirred up the Mohawk valley to the war blaze at Oriskany; he had relieved Fort Stanwix and sent St. Leger in disgraceful retreat; Bennington had been fought and won; he had thus shattered the British alliance with the Indians, and had trampled out the Tory embers in the Mohawk valley; he had gathered above Albany and army flushed with victory, and greatly superior to Burgoyne's forces in numbers, and it was well led and adequate to the task before it.
Oriskany, the Indians interpret as the Place of Nettles. Out of that nettle danger Herkimer plucked for the Mohawk valley, and through it for the republic, the flower safety. In that Place of Nettles, Central New York may find much to stir it to deeper knowledge of its history and its relations, to greater anxiety to be just to those who have served it worthily, to keener appreciation of the continental elevation which nature has reared for us, and upon which we may build a structure more symmetrical and more beneficent that the Parthenon, -- a free State based on equal justice, strong in the virtue of its citizens devoted to all that is best and most beautiful in mankind, inspired by the noblest achievements in history, manfully meeting the humblest duties, and struggling upward to the highest ideals. Names and deeds that live a hundred years, change hills and valleys into classic ground. The century which runs backward is only the dawn of those which look into the future. Central New York must have a worthy career before it to justify the traditions of the Long House of the Iroquois; of the real statesmanship of the League of the Six Nations, and of the eloquence of their chief men; of the Jesuit missionaries and the Samuel Kirklands and the Lutheran clergymen, who consecrated its waters and its soil and its trees; of those who saved it from French occupation; of those who kept out the Stuarts and drove out King George.
At the conclusion of Mr. Roberts' speech, Mr. Seymour exhibited the revolutionary relics. Among those was the brass snare drum, sent up from Albany by Mrs. Lansing. On the brass coat of the drum was the following inscription:
by Peter Gansevoort, of the city of Albany, counsellor-at-law, to the Republican Artillery Company on the 22d February, 1832."
"Taken from the enemy on the 22d Aug., 1777, when the British army under Gen. St. Leger, raised the siege of Fort Stanwix, which fortress had been valiantly defended by the garrison under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort for 21 days."
A powder horn which had come down from the old days was exhibited, also an English musket taken from the enemy on that self same field, now the property of Dr. J. D. Clyde, of Cherry Valley. A card attached related that with that musket Colonel Clyde was knocked down at the battle of Oriskany. These relics, or mementos, were viewed with curious interest by the people, as many as possible pressing up to make personal examination of them.
The chairman introduced Major Douglass Campbell, of New York, a great-grandson of Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Campbell, of Cherry Valley, who was second in command of Colonel Cox' regiment, which bore the brunt of the fight. After the wounding of Gen. Herkimer and the death of Colonel Cox, Colonel Campbell was left in command, and led off the victorious American forces from the battle ground.
ADDRESS OF MAJOR DOUGLASS CAMPBELL
More than two thousand years ago the mountain fastnesses of Greece witnessed a battle which history has made immortal. The force engaged upon the Grecian side numbered but those hundred, and yet while history shall be read and poetry sung, fame will perpetuate the memory of the little band that held the passes of Thermopylae. Leonidas was defeated, but in defeat he taught his enemy that while a drop of Grecian blood coursed through a Grecian heart, the hordes of the Persian invader could gain no foothold on the sacred soil.
We meet today to celebrate a victory won by eight hundred men, eight hundred gallant yeomen of New York, a victory as creditable to the valor of the men who won it as any recorded in history, and withal a victory the most important in its results, of any gained in the revolutionary struggle.
I do not propose, Mr. President, again to rehearse the events of that summer day a century ago. The gentleman who has just sat down, and the music of whose voice still lingers in our ears, has drawn for us a picture which would be only weakened by any further touches. Besides this, I came to listen and not to speak. But a soldier, the descendant of soldiers should know how to obey orders, and when an hour since you told me for the first time that I must make a speech, I regretted your selection, but at once cast about to think what I should say.
Fortunately my inspiration was before me in a sea of upturned faces. As I saw this audience drinking in with eager ears the tale before unknown to most of them, of what their heroic ancestors did here a hundred years ago; I could but think of the great wrong which has been done to our State by way in which our common histories are written.
How strange and inexcusable has been the neglect of this battle of Oriskany you have already hears, but this is only a specimen of the mode in which our whole colonial record has been penned. All this is coming to an end, and my greatest pleasure in such gatherings as this is found in the fact that here I see the earnest of the righting of this wrong. The presence of this countless multitude shows that at length the people of New York are waking up to realize the grandeur of the history of their native State. I have read some histories of the United States,which I have laid down after a perusal, with the question in my mind, was there any such colony as New York, were there any colonies of the Revolution except Massachusetts and Virginia, Virginia the mother of Presidents, Massachusetts, the maker of our school books? As Governor Seymour has eloquently said today, the history of New York has yet to be written, and when that history is written, the world will see that in the struggle for the rights of freemen, extending over more than a hundred years prior to the Declaration of Independence, New York led the van of the thirteen colonies.
The first fact which gave to New York her vast importance in colonial times was that which has largely led to her present greatness, namely, her geographical position. On this I need not swell you before me, who in your time have seen untold thousands pouring through this valley for the peaceful conquest of the west, can readily understand the importance of the Mohawk and the Hudson before the days of canals and railroads. They gave to New York the key to the continent, a costly honor, however, for it involved her in endless wars.
The next marked feature of the colony was the character of her population. In this she differed from all her neighbors. They for the most part were settled by a homogeneous people, but New York was always cosmopolitan. Her population in the colonial days was composed of as diverse elements as now make up the people of this great city.
First in time stand the Dutch -- heroic men who came in an heroic age. We never can overrate their influence in the history of American liberty. Their New England neighbors sometimes sneered at the Dutchmen, but an American historian has taught the whole world to do them honor. While Henry Hudson was on his memorable voyage, the inhabitants of the United Netherlands took their place among the nations of the earth as an independent people. For forty long years they had carried on a war with Spain and had grown great in the struggle. At the outset they only demanded religious liberty as subjects. For answer their country was overrun by Alva and his Spanish butchers, the Council of Blood covered the land with gibbets and the inquisition sacrificed its victims by thousands. Then they became a nation of warriors worthy of their Batavian ancestors whom Tacitus has immortalized. "Other nations," said he, "go to battle -- they go to war." In the open field they defeated the trained legions of Philip; besieged in their cities they surrendered only to famine, and at times, to sweep the invader from their soil, they cut their dykes and gave the land back to the sea from which it had been rescued. In 1581, thirteen years after the outbreak, they proclaimed their independence of Philip, and thenceforth fought for civil as well as religious liberty. On the 9th of April, 1609, while the Half Moon, Hudson's vessel, was on the ocean after forty years of continuous war, Philip the Third signed a twelve years' truce at Antwerp, by which he recognized the United Netherlands as "free countries, provinces and states." It is to this people, restless and undaunted, successful by the land and by the sea, whose motto was "Taxation only by consent," who founded the first great republic and who informed the doctrine of universal religious toleration, that the Empire State of New York owes its origin.
Next in point of numbers and of time came another race, who, however, need no eulogy, for history has always done them justice. They were the men who chanted psalms as they went into the battle of Ivry with Henry of Navarre, who for years had by their virtues kept France from sinking into unutterable depths of public and private vice.
Then came accessions from New England of the more liberal thinkers, who fled from that new hierarchy to find a home where they could be free to worship God as they saw fit. Later on came Protestants, driven out of the Palatinate by the cruelties of Louis the Fourteenth, Scotch-Irish who had borne the horrors of the siege of Londonderry, Catholic Highlanders who had fought with the Pretender.
Thus the people were gathered from all nations, Dutch, French, English, German, Irish and Scotch, and yet they had one bond of union.
They had all suffered for their religion, and all had a keen sense, not only of their religious, but of their civil rights. Is it any wonder that a people so composed should have loved liberty as they loved their lives?
They obtained their first Legislature in 1683, and they wrung it from the reluctant Duke of York, by refusing any longer to pay taxes unless imposed by their own consent. The Duke's collector of revenue attempting to levy duties was arrested, thrown into prison, and tried for treason by the indignant populace.
When the assembly came together a majority of its members were found to be men of Dutch descent. The fact is noteworthy, for their first act was one which should endear their memory to every native of this state. They passed a bill of rights, entitled a "Charter of Liberties and Privileges," which, by the way, was imitated eight years afterward by Massachusetts, although her historians overlook the fact. In bold, unmistakable language, it asserted that the "supreme legislative power should forever be and reside in the Governor, council and people, met in general assembly," and then went on to enumerate the other rights to which they were entitled; among these were trial by jury, freedom from taxation, except by their own consent, exemption from martial law, and the quartering of soldiers upon citizens, and perfect toleration of all persons professing faith in Christ. Of his noble document, issued in 1683, it may be said that it is surpassed by nothing in American history, no, not by the Declaration of Independence itself, for the boldness and force of language with which it declares the people of New York entitled to all the right of freemen.
But this act was only an enactment on the statute books; it showed what the Colonists desired; what they did is of more importance. They established the right of petition, freedom of religious worship and freedom of the press. These were established by the great State trials in the colonies, and the sister provinces shared the fruits. In establishing freedom of religious worship in the trial of McKemie, in 1707, they also settled another question, which, so far as I can learn, has been substantially overlooked. McKemie, a Presbyterian clergyman, was arrested for preaching without a license from the Governor, the Governor's instructions providing that no minister should preach in the province without his license. McKemie too the position, in which he was sustained by his three counsel, the ablest lawyers in New York, and all Episcopalians, that the royal instructions had no force as law. Heretofore the royal prerogative had been supreme in the colonies, but when the jury acquitted the prisoner its death knell was sounded.
Then the colonists refused to raise money by taxation, unless it could be disbursed by a treasurer of their own; they they refused to permit amendment to their money bills, and then to make any but annual appropriations for the expenses of government. In all these struggles the New Yorkers were successful, but they fought out the fight alone.
At length the English government saw that nothing could be done with such a refractory people, and resolved that Parliament itself should tax the colonies. This resolution, proclaimed in respect to New York as early as 1711, was not practically enforced, however, till fifty years thereafter. Then the famous stamp act was passed, and the continent was all aflame -- still, however, New York led the van of opposition. The first organized resistance by the non-importation agreement among the merchants was started in New York, next followed Philadelphia and last came Boston. This effected the repeal of the detested act. Then came the tea bill and the revolution, and how well New York did its part therein seems to be known to few. If you would know what I mean turn to the common histories of the revolution, written by men who photographs the breakers on the shore, and call their work the mighty ocean. There you will read that New York had a large Tory element among her population, and you will find little else besides. Well, this is true, but it is only a fraction of the truth.
We have seen already some of the peculiarities of New York's geographical position, but glance at them again, and you will wonder that she was not hopelessly impotent before the enemy. The rebellious colonies had no navy, England was mistress of the seas. Her fleet swept up our harbor without resistance, the city was captured, it was surrounded by no commanding heights from which the foe could be dislodged, and, until the close of the war, it remained in possession of the enemy. The influence of this can readily be imagined; the venal were purchased, the timid were overawed. Nor was the English occupation confined to the capital alone. They held the whole of Staten Island, and Long Island, and their fleets gave them control of the Sound, and the Hudson river, almost to West Point.
New York had the most powerful aristocracy of any of the colonies -- her vast estates, larger than counties, were owned by men, some of them, allied by birth and marriage to the nobility of England. When these men sided with the crown, they carried with them an army of retainers. But, now, carry your mind away from the capital, left in possession of the enemy, and glance here at the center of the State. Almost from Albany to Niagara stretched the wigwams of the relentless Six Nations, the allies of Great Britain. They were the Romans of the Indian race -- sage in council, wily in diplomacy and fearless in battle. In their midst, owning an estate as large as a principality, dwelt the great Sir William Johnson, one of the most remarkable men in American history. The dispenser of official patronage, the commander of the militia of his county, numbering fourteen hundred men, he was looked up to by the whites, but revered by the red men, as vicegerent to the king. Dying in 1774, he sons and sons-in-law succeeded to his influence with the Indian tribes, and hated American independence with the bitterest hatred. Brandt and his savage warriors, Butler and his still more savage Tory rangers, swept the Mohawk Valley and its adjacent hillsides as with the besom of destruction; farms were laid waste, whole towns were blotted out, and the wolf howled again where before had curled the smoke of happy homesteads.
And now, would it appear strange if New York had failed to send her full quota of soldiers to the continental army? Look at the Tories swarming in her midst, her capital ground under the heel of the invader, her populous districts cowering under the guns of a British fleet, and her borders, where the father, when he left his home, never hoped to see his wife or children more, would it be strange, I say, if, upon the rolls of the regular army, New York had been found deficient?
The fact is that out of the thirteen States only three furnished their full quota of troops to the continental army; of these New York was one; out of the thirteen only two furnished their full quota of money and supplies, and of these New York was one. She was the only one of the thirteen that furnished her full quota of men, money and supplies. In the light of these facts it seems to me that when the historians talk so much about New York's Tories, they might add a word or two about her soldiers. It would be but justice, although we take no discredit from the one, and we claim no especial honor from the other. As Hamilton pointed out long ago, the preponderance of our soldiers was due simply to our geographical position. Some of the outlying Colonies which never felt the foot of the invader, took no interest in the war, save as a sentiment. But New York was the Flanders of America. To her the war was a bitter, stern reality. During the year 1777, when the colony became the State, there was not a county within her borders that did not reecho to the tread of British troops, and yet this year ushered in by misfortune was the turning point of the Revolution. And here just at the turning point stands the battle which we commemorate today.
The war thus far had brought a series of disasters, to the armies of the rebellious colonists. The English cabinet determined to make a grand effort and terminate the struggle. New York was then as always the key of the continent. It was resolved to send out three expeditions for its capture; one under the commander-in-chief, to start from New York and follow the Hudson, one under Burgoyne, to march from the North by the way of Lake Camplain, and the third under St. Leger, to start from Oswego and go down the Mohawk Valley. The three armies were to unite at Albany when their work was done. None of them ever reached their destination. When the news was sounded through these valleys that St. Leger with a force of British troops, Tories and Indian Allies was on the march, the whole population were at once aroused. On the way from Oswego stood Fort Schuyler (the old Fort Stanwix of the French and Indians war). St. Leger saw that he must take this fort or nothing could be gained. When he encamped before it a summons went out to the loyal men of New York to hasten to its aid.
How they obeyed the summons you have already heard. Here along this valley lived the men whom the Tories had counted on for allies. They were not loud talkers, but in 1775 early in the struggle they had said with quiet determination, "It is our fixed resolution to be free or die." Now the time had come for them to redeem the pledge, and nobly was it done. Each farmer seized his old trusty musket and hastened to the place of meeting. The need was urgent and the time was so brief that the Scot-Irish of Cherry Valley, always foremost in patriotic work, almost lost the honor of sharing in the battle. Two of their number, however, Colonel Samuel Campbell, and Major, afterward Colonel Samuel Clyde, were in attendance at a meeting of the Committee of Safety held at Palatine. Lieutenant Robert Campbell, a brother of the Colonel, lived half way up the Cherry Valley hills. At the first summons he hurried to the Mohawk and was just in time to join his brother and Major Clyde. Together they fought in the regiment of Colonel Cox, which crossed the ravine before the attack and there bore the brunt of the battle. Lieutenant Campbell was left dead upon the field, the other two lived to render good service in the coming years when Brant and his Tory allies so cruelly avenged the disaster of Oriskany.
Of the events of the battle I need not speak; you have heard them already. Officers and privates fought together, each handles the rifle, and from behind a friendly tree, picked off the savage Indians or the still more savage Tories. When the day closed, the expedition of St. Leger had received its death blow. His Indian allies faded into thin air, the Mohawk Valley was saved, its patriotic soldiers flocked to Saratoga, and the grip around the throat of Burgoyne was tightened, till his army dropped like a lifeless corpse. Then came assistance from France, in money, soldiers and supplies, and the fortunes of war were turned.
Have we not the right to say that New York should be proud of its record in the revolutionary struggle? Have not the descendants of these men who fought at Oriskany a right to be proud as they tread the soil made sacred by the blood of their fathers?
But gatherings like this serve a higher purpose than merely to foster local pride. A people, like and individual, may live so entirely in the past as to be useless in the present, as a man may expend all his energies in nursing his ancestral fame -- but we have swung to the opposite extreme.
"History," says Bacon, "Makes men wise;" but it does much more, it makes them patriotic. The Greeks fought more bravely as they thought of Thermopylae and Marathon. We shall live more nobly as we think of our heroic ancestors, who by a contest extending over nearly two centuries, laid broad and deep the foundations of our freedom.
At the close of Major Campbell's address, Mr. Seymour called upon Mr. Frederick Pfeiffer, drummer of the Old Utica Band, to show what the captured snare drum above alluded to was capable of. Mr. Pfeiffer came on the platform and made the old drum show to the best possible advantage.
On the stand, among the veterans of the War of 1812, was Philo White, a grandson of Hugh White, the founder of Whitestown, who made the following address:
ADDRESS OF PHILO WHITE
Mr. President:--I may seem presuming for an humble individual to obtrude his voice upon the attention of the immense assemblage of our fellow countrymen by whom we are now surrounded, especially in the presence of so many of the eminent men of our Empire State, illustrious alike for their talents, their virtues, and their expansive patriotism. But, honored as a comrade of the conscript veterans of our second War of Independence, and standing here as the sole representative of my town and my lineage among them, I may crave the privilege of reverently offering my aspirations to heaven for having been mercifully spared with life and health to witness, and to participate in, this magnificent and impressive American jubilee, so appropriately inaugurated on this the one hundredth anniversary of the ever glorious battle of Oriskany.
And I am sure I correctly interpret the sentiment of all my fellow townsmen, in giving expression to their grateful emotions for the distinguished honor this day's impressively grand demonstration imparts to our good old town of Whitestown, whose territorial expansion having been held at the Cayuga Ferry. She was the primeval town of all Western New York, and the nucleus of the earliest permanent civilized community within that broad region of our now Empire State. It was within the area of Whitestown's present circumscribed limits, that the memorable battle of Oriskany was fought, and her sons have been the nursing custodians of that ensanguined field. The soil of that battle ground was enriched by a suffusion of the blood of the patriot heroes who fell thereon; and to their indomitable prowess the primal liberties of our common country are essentially indebted. The fame of their courageous achievements consequently fills a notable page in Whitestown's historic annals.
Animated by the recital of these inspiring reminiscences, re-exhilarated by inhaling the patriot atmosphere that pervades the vast concourse of a grateful people who have today come up to this consecrated battlefield, to honor the heroism, and to embalm a remembrance of the thrice glorious deeds of their ancestors, I may be pardoned as a journalist of "auld land syne," for proposing that all the essential proceedings connected with this great Centennial Anniversary Jubilee, including the very masterly address of ex-Governor Seymour, the president of the day, and the inspiringly eloquent speeches of the other distinguished gentlemen who have addressed this vast auditory, be printed in pamphlet or book form, so as to impart to the battle of Oriskany, in an enduring shape, that prominence in the calendar of the ever living achievements incident to our first War of Independence, to which its universally conceded importance entitles it; and whereby the rectitude of history may be vindicated,and the name of Oriskany be ranged alongside of those of Saratoga and Yorkstown, as theaters of the most momentous events in the great revolutionary struggle of our grandsires, that gave birth to ours, the empire republic of the American hemisphere.
With these discursive remarks, Mr. President, I beg to submit my proposition to the consideration of this meeting, or the general Permanent Committee, deferring the manner and form of disposing of the matter to those who are younger and more expert in modern journalism than myself.
The exercises were closed by the reading, by Mr. Seymour, of the following poem, prepared for the occasion by Rev. Dr. Charles D. Helmer, D. D. of Chicago:
PAEAN TO ORISKANY.
Poem by Rev. Charles Helmer, D. D.
Beleaguered men of Stanwix, brave as those
Who faced a million of their foes
At old Thermopylae;
Good cheer to you upon the wild frontier!
For citizens in arms draw near
But hark! amidst the forest shades the crash
Of arms, the savage yell -- with flash
Of gory tomahawk;
For Johnson' Royal-Greens, and Leger's men,
And Brant's red Fiends, are in that glen
Of dark Oriskany.
From down the valley, where the Mohawk flows,
Were hurrying on to meet their foes
The patriot yeomanry;
For Gansevoort within his fortress lay,
In peril and besieged that day,
As men who fight for home and child and wife,
As men oblivious of life
In holy martyrdom,
The Yeomen of the Valley fought that day,
Throughout thy fierce and deadly fray--
From rock and tree and clump of twisted brush
The hissing gusts of battle rush--
Hot breathed and horrible!
The roar, and smoke, like mist on stormy seas,
Sweep through they splintered trees--
Heroes are born in such a chosen hour;
From common men they rise and tower,
Like thee, brave Herkimer!
Who wounded, steedless, still beside the beech
Cheered on they men, with sword and speech,
In grim Oriskany.
Now burst the clouds above the battle roar,
And from the pitying skies down pour
Swift floods tumultuous;
Then fires of strife unquenched flame out again,
Drenching with hot and bloody rain
Thy soil, Oriskany.
But ere the sun went toward the tardy night,
The Valley then behold the light
Of freedom's victory;
And wooded Tryon snatched from British arms
The empire of a million farms--
On bright Oriskany.
The guns of Stanwix thundered to the skies;
The rescued wilderness replies;
Forth dash the garrison!
And routed Tories, with their savage aids,
Sink reddening through the sullied shades--
From lost Oriskany.
Behold Burgoyne! with hot and hating eyes,
The New World's flag at last o'erflies
Your ancient Heraldry;
For over Stanwix floats triumphantly
The rising Banner of the Free--
A hundred years have passed since then;
And hosts now rally there again--
To crown the century;
The proud posterity of noble men
Who conquered in the bloody glen
Of famed Oriskany.
AT THE LAST STAND
The amphitheatre in which this platform was situated rises from the ravine where the contest took place. The stand faces the east, the brook flowing immediately in front of it. On the other side of the brook a goodly number of seats were placed, and directly beyond them rises the steep side of the hill, curving around to the right. The sun shone brightly, and umbrellas were about as numerous as the ladies. The uniforms of the soldiery, and the red jackets of the fire laddies, served to add variety and brilliancy to the scene.
At 2:30 P.M. the meeting at the east stand was called to order by Hon. James Stevens, Mayor of Rome, chairman. A number of the veterans of the was of 1812 occupied chairs directly in the rear of the speakers. Mr. Stevens first introduced to the audience Hon. Clarkson N. Potter, of New York.
ADDRESS OF HON. CLARKSON N. POTTER.
I was born in the Mohawk Valley, and feel therefore a natural interest in this celebration of an event upon which the peace and preservations of that valley depended; in which the men of the valley bore such noble part; and from which resulted so largely the success of the American revolution. And yet I confess that it was only within the last few years that I was at all aware of the importance of the battle of Oriskany. One day at dinner in Washington some reference was made to the battle of Saratoga as one of the fifteen decisive battles of the world, when my friend, Judge Campbell, called attention to the importance of the battle of Oriskany, and its effect upon the result at Saratoga.
Then for the first time I properly understood how the third of the great movements which comprised the British plan for separating and subjugating the colonies -- a plan ably conceived, and so far triumphantly executed -- had been frustrated by the courage and tenacity and devotion of the men of the Mohawk valley.
I subsequently sought -- as Judge Campbell had sought some years before -- to obtain from Congress a suitable appropriation to carry into effect the resolution of the Continental Congress directing the erection of a monument to the memory of General Herkimer. I regret that my effort was not successful. I trust that your celebration of that important engagement will furnish the occasion for another and more successful movement in that regard.
When we recall the power and influence, the wealth and numbers of New York -- when we remember that she has a population of over five millions of people, that she stands far away the first of all the States in her capital, in her commerce, in her exchanges, and is even first in the value of her manufactures, and in the value of her agricultural products as well, it is, indeed, difficult to realize that within a period but little more than the life time of some now here, she was a poor colony of less than 200,000 people, inferior in numbers and important to Virginia, or Pennsylvania, or Massachusetts, or North Carolina.
This prodigious growth she owes in part to her possession of the only great water way between the ocean and the lakes, and in part to her great seaport and to her central position between New England and the South, which have given her people a vast commerce and developed in them a great activity, and at the same time a large liberality of thought and opinion.
But holding this great natural way within her borders it was early foreseen what greatness was in store for her. She might have kept aloof from the revolutionary struggle to which many of her people were opposed, and seated upon this highway she might have levied tolls upon the rising traffic between the seaboard and the West, until she had amassed riches beyond the tales of the Orient. But she preferred -- with a liberality which Sparks, the historian, has said was almost without precedent in history -- rather to cast in her lot with her sister colonies, and bear her share in the common struggle and the common rise. And although her commissioners had no authority to join in the Declaration of Independence, it was no sooner communicated to her provincial Legislature then assembled at White Plains, than they at once adopted and proclaimed it.
How large a share in the struggles, the burdens, and the trials of this nation since then New York has had we all know. Is it too much to say that no one of the great crises to which the republic has been exposed would have been successfully and triumphantly passed had not New York been on the side that prevailed? Today, while she is first of all the States in wealth, in prosperity, and in financial power, if she is not first in her influence in the councils of the nation, it is, I think, because her representatives have failed to appreciate the necessity and the advantage of combination and of union there. One of the most prominent statesmen of the time -- himself from New England -- said to me not long ago, that "if New York only sent her best men to the national councils and kept them there, and they were untied, she might dictate the policy of the United States; that lying as she did between the extremities of the country, in territory and opinion, and with her all reaching traffic and capital, she might, by proper concert among her people, control ideas as well as trade, and give directions to the legislation of the country."
For myself, then, I welcome every occasion which recalls the sufferings and sacrifices, and the dignity and prosperity of this State. I have, perhaps, overmuch pride in her character and history. There has always been, as it seems to me, a high purpose and a noble liberality in the conduct of New York. Hers were among the first declarations for individual liberty and for the right of the colonies to regulate their local affairs; hers has been always a most earnest devotion to national unity; hers the justest and most catholic course, whether in her treatment of her own people, of strangers coming within her borders, or of her sister States; hers indeed always a large and generous spirit which, it seems to me, may well be emulated.
We do well, then, to renew the memory of our fathers' days -- days of want and trial, of courage and devotion, to recall, in these times of luxury and extravagance and speculation, their steadiness, and thrift, and economy, and industry; here upon the field of one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution to remember their courage and sacrifices, as only a few days since at Kingston we had occasion to recall their wisdom and judgment and State craft. We do well also to realize how largely and wisely they builded, and how great and noble has become the State which they founded; and, grateful for her past prosperity and worthy history, to resolve to carry forward her greatness, to foster the well being of her people, and their pride in and devotion to the State; so that she may always be found in the van of this great nation -- first in numbers, in wealth, in power and in virtue.
At the close of his speech three cheers were proposed for Mr. Porter, and were given with a hearty good will. Rev. Dr. Haven, Chancellor of Syracuse University, was then introduced.
ADDRESS OF REV. DR. HAVEN.
One hundred years ago today on these grounds was fought a desperate contest. It requires some power of imagination to reproduce the scene. The population of the United States was not then much more than half as great as the present population of the State of New York. The population of New York then was not equal to a single country now. The region round about this spot was mostly a wilderness and a swamp. A few hardy adventurers had found their way to these regions. North of us, along Lake George and by the tributaries of the Hudson, was General Burgoyne, with a thoroughly disciplined army of about 8,000 men, accompanied with thousands of Indians and a few American Tories.
West of us, making their way from Oswego toward Fort Stanwix, were Colonel St. Leger and a company of infantry and some eight hundred Indians, and a number of Tories, and some regular British soldiery. General Herkimer and about eight hundred American militia hastily armed, were on their way to aid the Americans in Fort Stanwix. All at once, without a moment's warning, they were attacked by the British and Indian foes and a desperate hand to hand conflict followed. Nearly half the Americans fell. General Herkimer himself was wounded, and leaning against a stump sheered on his men. They sold their lives dearly. In the meantime Colonel Willet sallied out of the Fort with two hundred men and destroyed the Indian camp. The darkness of night ended the conflict.
It looked like a success to the British, but it was really a success to the Americans. The British and Indians were both disheartened. They stormed Fort Stanwix but failed, and within two weeks retreated from this part of the State, and in a short time the whole of Burgoyne's army, wearied by failures and beaten on the battlefield, surrendered their arms.
The battle of Oriskany was really one, and a most important one, in the many stubborn conflicts which led to the surrender of Burgoyne, and the discomfiture of the British in the general plan to sweep down from the north, and meet their forces under Hoe and Clinton, in New York city, and thus hold the entire country.
The sun has witnessed on this planet many battles. This earth has drunk the blood, and this air has dissolved the corpses of more men and women and children slain by the red hand of war, than now walk or breather on it surface. Yes, enough, were they resurrected, to populate the earth far more densely than now, to fill every city and to break the silence of every desert with the hum of conversation and the noise of busy life. If men should celebrate only the centennials of all the battles as great as Oriskany, all mankind would have nothing else to do -- except, perhaps, occasionally to break into a new fight to keep up the supply. Why, then celebrate the centennial of Oriskany?
The value of battles is not to be estimated by their magnitude. There have been contests of large armies, ending in the carnage and death of uncounted thousands, when the object of neither party rose higher than plunder, and when to a wise and impartial observer in the leavens, it would have been a matter of perfect indifference which should gain the victory. All through the days of ancient history a great of majority of wars have been waged on the principle that might makes right, and that the physically strong need make no apology for enslaving the weak. The walls of Babylon were cemented with human blood. The Macedonian empire was a hasty conglomerate structure, thrown up by an invading army. Rome sent her standards to the ends of the earth that all provinces might furnish fields for plunder to the chief families of the city. The wars of modern Europe have been struggles to prevent despotism by maintaining a balance of power.
War without just cause is wholesale murder. War that could well have been avoided is criminal manslaughter.
But there have been times when men have been compelled to die -- to become slaves -- or to arm themselves, submit to discipline and smite down the opposers at the risk of their own lives -- and then war becomes just and noble, and the men who show wisdom and bravery and perseverance deserve the plaudits of their fellows, and the eulogy of posterity.
Such was the war of the Israelites for the defense of their country against Rome; such was the war of Great Britain when invaded by France and Spain, and such was the war of our fathers when an attempt was made by the most powerful nation of the earth to rob them of their ancestral privileges and reduce them to vassalage and shame. The battle of Oriskany was not a great battle; but a small sharp blow, well directed between the eyes of an unjust foe, well deserves to be remembered.
For what did our fathers fight? For what did our mothers run the bullets in their homely molds, take down the muskets and putting them into the hands of their husbands and sons, say with tears in their eyes, but courage in their hearts -- "Go and drive away the invading foe?"
Did our fathers fight for wages, for bounty, for plunder? Their wages would not meet their immediate wants. Their uniform was rages. There was nothing to plunder in their own half wilderness home.
They fought for principle. They fought for self-defense. They fought for the freedom which their own ancestors had obtained by immigration to the new world, and had transmitted to them.
It has been asserted by some loose thinkers that the American Revolution was a rebellion, and that Washington was only a successful rebel. This is a libel on history. It is less than half a truth, and, therefore, in effect a total lie. In the beginning of the contest Great Britain rebelled. A solemn compact had been made with the thirteen colonies, one by one, when they were founded, that they should have the right of self government. This contract was broken by Great Britain. She annulled the charters under which our fathers had been allured into the wilderness. Great Britain and France had waged a fierce contest in this France lost her American colonies, and then the English colonies in America were unjustly called upon to pay a part of the expense. They declined, unless their own representatives could determine what should be paid and how it should be collected. Their rights were sacrificed. An irrepealable contract was annulled. They were treated as slaves, not as Englishmen. Foreign armies were hired to fight against them. The Indian savages were bribed and coaxed to attack them, and the feeble thirteen colonies found themselves alone in the world, unprotected, unaided. France had not yet come to their help.
Then there was but one alternative -- submission, which meant slavery; or resistance, which was called rebellion, but which was really a war for original rights.
Let us not think harshly of the cousins of our grandparents, who lived across the Atlantic ocean. There was a much wider gulf between the government and the people of Great Britain in 1777, than now in 1877. Then the government was a small aristocracy and the mass of the people were unrepresented. The great body of the intelligent people of Great Britain sympathized with the American Colonists. Since that time the English people have passed through a greater revolution at home than the American people did in the war of 1776. Why, even fifty years after the American Revolution the people were in a state of semi-servitude. As a proof of it, let me quote only one sentence from an interesting book just published: The Life and Letter of Lord Macaulay, by his nephew, G. Otto Trevelyan. M.P., p. 150: "At that time (1830), the press was gagged in England and throttled in Scotland. Every speech or sermon or pamphlet, from the substance of which a crown lawyer could torture a semblance of sedition, sent its author to the jail, the hulks or the pillory."
Fifty years before this time, that is in 1777, the French people, the German people, the Italian people, as well as the Russian people were serfs, and the English people but little better.
That series of little battles, of which Oriskany was one, was fought not merely for American, but for all mankind. It was to maintain the compact of England with the people, for the advantage of the people. Hitherto, sovereigns when in danger would make great promises to the people, but when in safety forget them. The American people were determined that the old compact should be kept. It is an oft quoted proverb:
the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be,
But when the devil was well, the devil a monk was he!"
So when the kings were sick, the kings very kind would be; but when the kings got well -- there was a new reckoning!
War is usually founded on an awful mistake. So was it in this case. Great Britain did not know her own colonists. She undervalued them. She practically despised them. She thought them half civilized or less. She expected with a small, compact, and a well trained army to walk through America from Canada to South Caroline, like a housewife sweeping a kitchen.
Burgoyne was a scholar, and a gentleman, and a brave soldier. He did splended service for his country before he came to America and afterward. Americans can respect him. But his proclamation made while in command of the British army in America, which surrendered to Gates, was so inflated and bombastic as to remind us of the military bulletins of Turkey or Mexico, or the declaration made by the king of Dahomey with a trumpet after his dinner, that all the rest of the world may now eat, their master having dined!
Let me quote a few words to verify my criticism:
"At the head of troops in the full powers of health, discipline and valor, determined to strike when necessary," etc.
"Let not people be led to disregard it by considering their distance from the immediate situation of my camp. I have but to give stretch to the Indian forces under my direction, and they amount to thousands, to overtake the hardened enemies of Great Britain," etc.
But again I say, friends, let us have no hard words for the British people of that day. They and our fathers were of one bone and of one flesh. It was simply the lot of our fathers to fight the battle for the whole of their race, and for all mankind. Had they fallen, the hands on the dial of human story would have stopped -- nay, been thrust backward more than a century. They succeeded, and all Europe lifted herself up from her abasement, and a many tongued shout of exultation arose from her people. The star spangled banner took its place among the flags of the nations -- representing not despotism, but freedom and a country, first in liberty, and first in progress among the nations of the earth. It is the flag of hope and the flag of promise. It is the ensign of freedom and universal suffrage. Thank God it does not float over a slave, nor over a man not permitted to vote -- except he be a violator of the law.
Who were the people upon whom God had imposed this responsibility? By a sifting process the strongest and best specimens of European people were selected and brought to these shores. The religious, the freedom loving, the adventurous, the strong. They were poor. They lived in log houses and ate from wooden dishes, and their food was primitive and coarsely cooked. They were clad in homespun and with little variety. Pianos were unknown. Spinning wheels were universal. Mowing machines had never been heard of, but sickles were in common use. Wooden ploughs and hand flails helped develop the muscles of the men, and the only sewing machines were vitalized by good human souls, and the men particularly liked to call them their own.
But beneath the rustic simplicity of those days might be seen the truest manhood and womanhood on earth. The men governed the State and the women presided in the family.
A township is the mother of the State, and the family is the primordial element or nucleus of the township.
In 1777, the American people were undoubtedly the best educated and the most religious population on the face of the round earth. One who could not read and write was as rare as an idiot -- and indeed, the two were regarded about as one. The school house and the meeting house were as universal as the fireplace or the table or any other essential thing. It was a Bible respecting people. It was a self respecting people. Such a people cannot consent to yield the God given privileges of their fathers.
But, friends, the battles were fought and the victory won before we came on the stage of action. Some of us can remember the stories we heard in our childhood from the lips of the old veterans, who seemed to tour eyes and ears to belong to another race of men -- among us, but not of us. Some of them were poorly clad; some of them, I am sorry to say, did not seem to be wholly ignorant of the nature and effects of hard cider and New England rum. But whether poor or rich, privates or officers, how we used to venerate them, and love to gather around them to hear their thousand time told tales! They were regarded not merely as soldiers, but as saviors; not merely as conquerors, but creators of liberty and life.
It seems so reasonable that a people should choose their own rulers and make their own laws, that it may be fancied that it would have been brought about had Americans not declared and earned their independence. But it surpasses human sagacity to see how it could have been done. After the American Revolution came the fierce and original French Revolution, which shattered the most terrible despotism of earth into fragments that can never be gathered; the quiet English Revolution that has made the limited monarchy of Great Britain almost as free as a republic; revolutions in Italy and Austria and in other lands -- and today, everywhere the peoples are maintaining that all governments proceed from them and are established for their welfare.
But have we not a work at home to do? What mean these thunder murmurings of a contest, not between labor and capital, but between laborers and the employers of laborers? Statesmen must not quietly assume that "whatever is, is right." The strongest government in the the world is a republic, but no government on earth can always suppress disorder if the great majority believe that they are wronged. It is a time then for sober thought.
Every generation has its own work. We cannot live by eulogizing our fathers and mothers. Our eyes are not in the backs of our heads. Let us build the monuments of the dead, but let us be quick about it, and spend the most of the time and the most of our money in building houses for the living. "A living dog is better than a dead lion." But let us raise living lions. The intellect of our statesmen should be employed, not in defending the past, but in devising means whereby the present can be improved. Let the American Republic be alive and progressive alike in every part, so that the Bunker Hills and Benningtons and Oriskanies and Saratogas of all time may tell the same story of devotion to principle, to freedom and to right.
At the close of Dr. Haven's address, three rousing cheers were given for the speaker, and cries of "good, capital," were heard on every side.
Hon. Samuel Earl, of Herkimer, was the next speaker introduced. He prefaced his speech by the remark that in order to be heard well and properly, he would need a voice voice equal to that of all the Indians and artillery here congregated one hundred years ago.
ADDRESS OF HON. SAMUEL EARL
We have assembled here today, upon this historic ground, to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Oriskany battle; and to do honor, also, to the memory of the patriots of the Mohawk Valley, by whose valor and indomitable courage the battle was won. And as a descendant of one of the prominent actors in that fierce and terrible struggle, I take especial pride in joining with you in doing honor to the memory and brave achievements of our patriotic ancestors, who met upon these grounds the cruel and merciless invaders of their soil, and drove them back. To many of you it must be especially interesting, as I confess it is to me, to view the grounds where, amid the horrid din of savage warfare and savage butchery, your ancestors and mine fought undismayed one of the most important battles in the War of the Revolution.
It was here, upon this spot, that the first great blow was struck, and check given to the grand scheme, inaugurated by the Tory ministry of Great Britain for the campaign of 1777, which was intended and expected to accomplish the complete and final subjugation of the American colonies. The scheme was a grand one, and well planned, and it appeared to those planning it and to those entrusted to carry it out, that it would certainly succeed. It was confidently expected that the means set in motion for the campaign of that year would be fully adequate to the task of successfully crushing out the rebellion of the colonies. The plan, in short, was to put in motion a large and overpowering force, well equipped and supplied with materials of war, from different points, under different leaders, and all destined to meet at the same point, which was Albany. St. Leger and his forces were to proceed by way of Oswego to the Mohawk Valley, and thence to Albany, while at the same time General Burgoyne and his army were to proceed by way of Lake Champlain, and join St. Leger at Albany, and to meet there also Sir Henry Clinton, who was to arrive with his forces from New York, by way of the Hudson river. The plan was, by this campaign, to divide the colonies -- to cut off New York and New England from the colonies south, and by that means to crush out the spirit of liberty at the north, and finally overpower the colonies south. The success of the campaign would most likely have changed the tide of our affairs. But the expeditions all failed, and the first great blow to that well planned campaign was given upon the spot where we are assembled today. That blow was struck by the patriotic militia of Tryon county, under their brave General, Nicholas Herkimer.
It will be remembered that the year 1777 found the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley desponding and despairing of success. Many of the hitherto ardent supporters of the patriot cause favored giving up the contest. They had endured the struggle for two years, and their first ardor for the cause of liberty had, in a measure, died out; and in all parts of the valley there were disaffected persons. Many had laid down their arms and renewed their allegiance to the crown, and become loyalists. While many other had taken their arms and gone over to the enemy, and become the cruel Tories of the Revolution. This defection to the cause of liberty was confined to no particular locality; it divided neighborhoods and even families -- brothers and parents often took different sides, and throughout Tryon county there were more of less of Tory adherents -- of Tory sympathy,and of Tory hopes and expectations. All this led to frequent outbursts of passion and exasperated feelings between the inhabitants, entertaining different political views and opposing sympathies -- and as well may be supposed, in intense feeling of hatred and animosity soon grew up between the inhabitants thus situated, and ties of former friendships, and of consanguinity even, were obliterated and lost amid the savage feeling, suspicions and want of charity engendered between the inhabitants thus situated, and ties of former friendships, and of consanguinity even, were obliterated and lost amid the savage feeling, suspicions and want of charity engendered between the parties. Just at this time, and when the feeling to which I have referred was at its height, and when many of the bravest men in the valley of the Mohawk began to feel that it was useless to prolong the struggle, St. Leger made his appearance at Oswego, with the motley forces under his command, amounting to about two thousand. The appearance of this formidable force at Oswego, and its destination were no sooner made know to General Herkimer, and to the Committee of Safety of Tryon county, than he issued a stirring proclamation to the people of the county, well calculated to arouse their faltering patriotism, and to dismay the disaffected. It concluded in these well chose words: "Not doubting that the Almighty power, upon our humble prayers and sincere trust in Him, will then generously succor our arms in battle for our just cause; and victory cannot fail on our side." It had its intended effect and was responded to by the militia of Tryon county in the same patriotic spirit in which it was issued by their brave and patriotic general. But it must not be understood that all to whom it was addressed obeyed its call or flew to his standard -- far from it. Many, and some even of the brave general's own family relatives sought the standard of St. Leger. It is certain that one brother at least had gone over to the enemy, and that an influential brother-in-law was then with St. Leger, and that other near and influential relatives were then open enemies of the patriot cause. But by his exertions, and at his command there assembled at Fort Dayton, now Herkimer village, by the fourth of August, 1777, about eight hundred militia, with their officers, taken from the whole body of the county, from Schenectady westward; and there also the Committee of Safety for Tryon county met and joined the militia. That was their appointed place of rendezvous, and there they met for the well understood purpose of marching at once to the relief of Fort Stanwix -- which, as they were informed, was then invested by St. Leger, with a superior force. They understood that unless relief came,and came quickly, the beleaguered garrison would surrender, and that with its surrender their homes would be sacked by a ruthless and savage enemy, in a victorious march down the Mohawk Valley. This the brave militia and their officers, and the members of the Committee of Safety, who volunteered to accompany them, well understood. And they felt and understood also the supreme urgency of immediately marching to the relief of the fort. The stirring proclamation which had been issued to them, and the appeals of the Committee of safety, all meant haste to go to the relief of the fort -- and in haste they marched from their place of rendezvous on the fourth of August. They marched with alacrity and with resolute hearts, yearning to drive back the enemy and save their homes from pillage and fire. Their route lay on the north side of the river as far as Utica, where they crossed, and on the night of the fifth they encamped at or near the present site of Whitestown -- and there, on the morning of the sixth, occurred the scene between the brave General and some of his officers and members of the Committee of safety, which is so well known to history. And we do well today, as we look back to that period when so many and so great dangers threatened the lives and the homes of our patriotic ancestors, to consider, as well as we can, the situation just as it was, and as it appeared to them,and then to say in our hearts whether they were not right, as they saw the situation, in demanding that they should be led on to meet the enemy. Their general, who had up to this time been urging haste, now proposed to wait for reinforcements; and a counsel of officers and of the members of the Committee of Safety was held, at which the question of delay was vehemently discussed. None can say that the advice of General Herkimer was not, to say the least, prudent; and none ought to say that it was prompted by anything less than a proper regard for the safety of his neighbors and friends who so promptly answered to his call; and none can say that it was through cowardice or treachery that he preferred to wait for reinforcements. It was seemingly well to do so, as Arnold was at that moment on his way with ample force to join him. But the brave men who disagreed with him, and insisted in such strong language that the onward movement should be made at once, acted in good faith, and from what appeared to them a necessity. They started out to relieve a sort greatly imperiled, and to them it seemed that they should not halt until they had accomplished their purpose. They could not understand why they should wait for reinforcements. They felt and believed they were fully able to successfully cope with the enemy, and were ready to do it. It was unjust, however, to assail the motives of their General because he felt it prudent to wait to be reinforced; and yet when we consider that there were assembled the very best men of the valley, the safest and most intelligent advisers, fathers, sons and brothers who had left their homes and their families unprotected in the rear, we can well see, that as they looked upon themselves, they saw no need of reinforcements. They felt strong enough, and they were strong enough to drive back the enemy, and they were ready to do it, and to do it at once. The subject of delaying was a surprise to them, and they could not understand it in their impatience to save the fort, so important in the defense of their homes. The intelligent members of the Committee of safety, and the officers there assembled, doubtless knew of the defection of many of the brave General's near relatives, and the fact that some of them were then with St. Leger. To them, in view of all the circumstances, the proposed delay seemed unwise and cowardly. Their impatience could not be restrained by the General, and he gave the command to march, which was instantly obeyed, not by cowards, but by brave, determined and earnest men. In my judgment there was no mistake made in giving the command. It was proper to do so. The mistake made was that the line of march was not formed with such precautions against surprises of the enemy as should have been taken. Who was to blame for this, it is now impossible to tell. We cannot and dare not charge the blame upon the brave General, for we do not know what his orders were upon this subject. But this is certain, that the necessary military precautions against a surprise were for some cause omitted, and to this must we attribute the fearful havoc and loss of life, which that eventful day witnessed upon these historic grounds, That nothing was lost or omitted through cowardice or treachery on the part of the brave General or the officers under him, is equally certain. They were all brave.
The misfortune to the rear guard under Colonel Visscher could not have been prevented by any exertions within his power. They could not, from their position, be looking for surprises, except from the rear. They were the rear guard behind the baggage and ammunition wagons -- upon the first assault he and his brave men were cut off from the main body, and between him and the rest of the little army the road, a narrow causeway, was completely blocked up and made impassable, in consequence of the teams and wagons being thrown into inextricable confusion. Thus situated the rear guard was assailed with a superior force upon disadvantageous ground,and routed. No bravery could have prevented the misfortune. The trap set for General Herkimer's forces was spring, and it struck with terrific force the rear, which was soon thrown into confusion and driven back in disorder. This, under the circumstances, it would seem was inevitable.
I do not believe, and I cannot believe, as has been asserted, that General Herkimer was apprised in advance of the ambuscade which awaited him, and that he expected it here upon this spot on his way to the fort. This is incredible, as it cannot be supposed that the general would have neglected to make ample provision for it. It would have been discreditable in him not to have provided for any emergency of that kind of which he had notice, even though he were forced by his turbulent officers to give the order to march on against his better judgment. But he had no notice. It was a surprise, planned by St. Leger, and the execution of it placed mainly in the hands of Sir John Johnson, and of that cunning and savage Indian warrior, Joseph Brant. But the question here occurs, how did St. Leger know (for he did know) of the march of the force under General Herkimer for the relief of Fort Stanwix? He knew just when the relieving force left Fort Dayton, and what its strength was. Molly Brant, who had been the faithful Indian wife of Sir William Johnson, was the person who sent the intelligence to St. Leger's camp of General Herkimer's approach. She was the sister of Joseph Brant, the celebrated Indian chief who had command of the Indians. She was a remarkable woman, Indian though she was. It was through her sagacity and influence that Sir William Johnson, with whom she had lived, as his wife, for upward of twenty years, acquired and maintained, to the time of his death, such a controlling influence over the Six Nations. Upon his death she was obliged to leave Johnson Hall, where she had been so long mistress, and returned to live with her own tribe, at the Indian castle on the south side of the Mohawk, about two miles below the residence of General Herkimer. Her keen eye saw everything that was going on, and she secretly sent an Indian in advance to apprise St. Leger of General Herkimer and his forces going to the relief of Fort Stanwix. By this timely information Sir John Johnson and the Indians had leisure to prepare the ambuscade which here took place. But she paid dearly, as subsequent events proved, for giving the information which cost so many lives of the best men in the upper valley of the Mohawk.
General Herkimer could not have known -- and did not know that his march was to be intercepted at this place, otherwise he would have prevented the surprise which led to so great a slaughter of his neighbors and cost him his own life. Colonel Claus, the son-in-law of Sir William Johnson, and who was with St. Leger's forces, wrote to the British Secretary of War under date of October 16, 1777, as follows:
"The 5th of August, in the afternoon, accounts were brought by Indians sent by Joseph's sister (Molly) from Canajoharie, that a body of revels were on their way and would be within ten or twelve miles of our camp that night. A detachment of about 400 Indians was ordered to reconnoiter the enemy. Sir John Johnson asked leave to join his company of light infantry and head the whole, which was granted. Colonel Butler and other Indian officers were ordered with the Indians."
On November 6, 1777, Colonel Claus wrote to the Secretary as follows:
"The Indian action near Fort Stanwix, happening near a settlement of Oneida Indians in the rebel's interest, who were at the same time in arms against our party, the Six Nations Indians, after the action, burnt their houses, destroyed their field-crops and killed and carried away their cattle. This the rebel Oneidas, after our retreat, revenged upon Joseph's sister and her family (living in the upper Mohawk town) on Joseph's account, robbing them of cash, clothes, cattle, &c., and driving them from their home; then proceeded to the Mohawk's town and dealt in the same manner with the poor women and children whose husbands were in the king's service. Joseph's sister and family fled to Onondaga, the council place of the Six Nations, laying her grievances before that body. The Six Nations, with whom she had always had a great sway during the late Sir William Johnson's life time, and even now -- and I understand the Six Nations to render her satisfaction by committing hostilities upon that tribe of Oneida rebels that committed the outrages. '
It will be seen by the testimony here furnished just how the intelligence of Herkimer's advance reached St. Leger's camp before Fort Stanwix, and that the result of that intelligence was the ambuscade by the Indians under Brant, and by the British regulars and Tories under Sir John Johnson. Here the blow was struck, which, while it was at the sacrifice of many lives of the wisest and best men in the valley of the Mohawk, staid the enemy in their progress, and finally resulted in their hasty flight to Canada. It was a terrible blow to the enemy, and while the check here given to them was cause of great thankfulness on the part of the liberty loving people of the valley, yet it brought sadness to many a heart by the loss of parents, sons and brothers. The noble and brave hearted General Herkimer was among those who made upon these fields at that time the sacrifice of their lives. His life went out nobly and bravely for his country's cause.
General Nicholas Herkimer was the oldes son of John Jost Herkimer, who was among the first to settle upon the German Flats. Her was a German, as were all the first settlers. They emigrated from a district of country in Germans, called the Lower Palatinate, on the Rhine, and were called Palatines. The story of their coming to America, and of their wanderings until they settled down on the patent which was granted to them in 1725, is an interesting one, but not important to be given here. They styled themselves high Germans, and were Lutherans. The patent of land granted to them extended on both sides of the river from the Little Falls, westward as far as Frankfort, and was divided into narrow lots facing the river. John Jost Herkimer drew and first lived upon lot No. 36, on the south side of the river. This lot is now owned by James H. Steele, Esq. and George H. Orendorf, and is distant about one half a mile below the old stone church. Here General Herkimer was doubtless born soon after his father had established his home upon the lot. And upon that lot, and in that vicinity, he spent the days of his childhood and of his youth, following the vocation of a farmer's boy. The house in which he was reared survived the revolution, and was the only house to which the torch was not applied when the destruction of the settlement in that vicinity took place in the War of the Revolution. This house stood on the easterly side of a knoll projecting beyond the foot of the hill, and near a small rivulet of pure water. The old house, built in primitive style, remained standing until about twenty-five years ago, and there is nothing now to indicate where it stood, save the cavity of the cellar, and that is nearly obliterated. The time will soon come when there will be nothing left to indicate the spot where the brave hero sported when a child and grew to manhood. As early at least as 1730 there was a school house in which there was a school kept upon or near the site of the old church, which is distant about half a mile from where this house stood. And it is a notable fact that upon the same spot there has been a school house and a public school kept from that time down to the present. It is altogether probably that upon the same spot there has been a school house and a public school kept at this place the young patriot received all the education he ever got in school -- which is known to have been limited, and was in German. The only language spoken at the German Flats at that time, or heard from the pulpit, was the German, and in this he was instructed, as I have been his writing in the German language. At the church, near by his father's residence, he was instructed in the catechism, and there he was taught in the Holy Scriptures,with which he showed himself so familiar in his dying hour. His father was a prominent and influential man among the German settlers. In the church, which was erected upon the site of the present old stone church, he was a leading spirit, as appears from records still in existence. In 1751, when it was proposed to erect a new edifice in the place of the old one, we find him addressing, as sole petitioner, the Colonial Governor, the following petition for a license to circulate a subscription in aid of the church:
To his Excellency, the Honorable George Clinton, Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the province of New York and Territories thereon depending in America, Vice-Admiral of the same, and Admiral of the White Squadron of his Majesty's Fleet:
The humble petition of Johan Joost Hercheimer, of Burnet's Field, in the County of Albany, yeoman, in behalf of himself and the rest of the inhabitants, High Germans living there, humbly sheweth:
That your petitioner and sundry other High Germans, to the number of one hundred families and upwards, at present resident at Burnet's Field, in this province, propose, with your Excellency's permission, to erect a Stone church on the South side of the River, upon a convenient spot of ground already purchased by the Inhabitants, for the Worship of Almighty God, according to the discipline of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. But finding themselves unable alone to finish and complete the same, your petitioner, therefore, in behalf of the said Inhabitants, humbly prays your Excellency will be favourably pleased to grant a Brief or Lycense to crave the voluntary assistance and contribution of all well disposed persons within this province, for completing the said structure, altogether intended for Divine Worship.
And your petitioner, as in duty bound, shall every pray, &c.
JOHAN JOOST HERCHEIMER.
October 6, 1751.
Be it so,
And at a later day, the building of the church having been interrupted by the French and Indian war, we find him chosen as one of the committee to circulate the subscription, but in consequence of infirmities of age he declined and deputed another in his place. The original appeal is in the following language:
To All Christian People to whom this shall come, Whereas, the inhabitants on the south side of the River of Burnet's Field, on the German Flatts, whereas, we are about to erect a Church wherein the High Dutch Language in the Protestant way should be preached. Before the late war, and when the war begun, we was obliged to leave off building, and in the war everything was discharged, as we were desirous to have a place of worship, we have begun to build a church, but we found ourselfs not able to finish the same, occasioned by the troubles we had in the war, that is to say, all our Houses and Barns, with all we had in them, were burnt, and our Horses and Cattles were killed and taken away, and a great many of our People taken Prisoners by the Enemy, which has unabled us to finish the Church. For them Reasons we have desired two of our members, that is to say, Johan Jost Herkemer and Hendrick Bell to try to collect some money of all good people to enable us to have our Church finished, and we hope all good people will take our cause in considerations, as we have no place of Worship now but a small Log House.
We are, in behalf of the congregation and ourselves, Gentlemen,
Your Most Humble Servants,
N. B. -- I, being old and unable, I therefore send Peter Vols to do the business of collecting for me. JOHANN JOST HERCHHEIMER. Just.
John Jost Herkimer, the father of our hero, was then old. He had become wealthy, and was possessed of various large tracts of land, and had numerous chattels, including Negro slaves. He had a large family of children, five sons and eight daughter. At an early day, and before the French and Indian war, and while his children were yet young, he built a stone mansion about three-fourths of a mile west of his first location. This was built a little distance above the old stone church, and it was afterward, and before the year 1756, included within the fort called "Fort Herkimer." It was finely and eligibly located upon the bank of the river, overlooking it and the beautiful valley for some distance both above and below. At that time, and until long after the revolution, the river was the great thoroughfare for trade and commerce, and often presented a gay and lively appearance, with its batteaux floating upon its surface, laden with merchandise. To the west of the mansion stood "Fort Dayton," about a mile and a half distant, on the opposite side of the river. Between these forts, and diagonally across the flats, ran a road then and still called the "King's road," and almost in a straight line. This road was the only direct line of communication between the forts, and it was then and for a long time afterward used as a public highway.
A plan of the fort surrounding the Herkimer Mansion, as made in 1756, may be seen in 2d. vol. of Doc. Hist. of New York, at page 732, and in Benton's History at page 52. Here it is altogether probable the General Lived until his father conveyed to him the five hundred acres whereon he built his find residence on the south bank of the river, below the Little Falls. This conveyance was made in 1760. The Herkimer Mansion was originally built for a store, and was used as a depot for supplies to Oswego. We may infer from this fact that the General was engaged in traffic at Fort Herkimer, prior to the French was, with his father, and that the wealth and early prosperity of the family may be thus accounted for. And to this, also, may be attributed the fact that he became so generally and favorably known throughout the colony.
This fort was garrisoned, and served as a protection to the inhabitants on the south side of the river, at the time of the French and Indian invasion, and also during the War of the Revolution. It is supposed that the General was in command of the fort in 1758, as senior officer, under his commission as lieutenant in Captain Wormwood's company.
The house continued to be occupied by the Herkimer family until some time after the Revolution, when it, and so far as I can ascertain, all the Herkimer property at the German Flats fell into other hands. The house began soon to show signs of neglect and decay; and, as I remember it, it was an old, neglected and dilapidated stone house, which looked as if it had gone through several wars. It was taken down to make way for the enlarged Erie canal about 1841, and not a vestige of it is left to indicate its sight or its former splendor.
John Jost Herkimer, as I have said, was a prominent and prosperous man. He had great influence over the German population in the upper valley of the Mohawk, and his sons, and particularly the General, shared his influence over his German neighbors. And I hazard nothing in saying that there was not a Palatine descent in the valley who possessed the confidence and respect of the German inhabitants equal to that possessed by General Herkimer. It is quite certain, also, that next to the family of Sir William Johnson, the Herkimer family was the most prosperous and influential in the valley. The eight daughters of the old patriot were all married, and their husbands were all leading and influential men. Among them I may mention Rev. Abraham Rosencrants, Hendrick Frey, colonel Peter Bellinger and George Henry Bell, names for a long time potent in the valley. The father of this large family, and of our brave hero, died at his residence August, 1775, and was doubtless buried in the churchyard near by. He made his will April 5, 1771, which I find to have been witnessed by my grandfather, Doctor William Petry, who was his family physician. His will shows that he was possessed of a large estate, and the first bequest in it is to the General, in the following language: "I give unto my eldest son, Nicholas Herkimer, the sum of ten shillings in right of primogeniture."
In the next clause of his will he makes ample provision for his wife, and he declares it is in his pleasure that his beloved wife, Catharine, shall remain sole and absolute mistress of whatever estate he may die possessed of, real and persona, during her natural life. He then makes a liberal provision for his son John, who is supposed to have been feeble in body and mind, giving him the farm upon which was the family residence, and one hundred acres of land adjoining in addition thereto -- two of his best Negroes and a good outfit of stock and utensils for the farm -- to take possession on the death of his wife. And he provided that in case this son should die unmarried or without issue, the estate given him should go to his next heir by the name of Herkimer; and he provided that John also should not sell any part of the estate given him without the consent of his executors. The only other provision of the will which I deem it important to notice is contained in the following clause: "I give and devise unto my loving son, George, and his heirs forever, that lot whereon he now lives, commonly known and distinguished by the name Lot No. 36." And here I will recall the fact that Lot. No. 36 is the same upon which the old patriarch first settled, and where he resided until he built the stone house, and where, in all probability, all his children were born. He, doubtless, left this son to enjoy his old farm when he removed to his stone mansion in the fort. This son was a true patriot, and next to his brother, the General, was the most conspicuous of the family in the revolutionary contest. He was a leading member of the Tryon county Committee of Safety, and was present with his heroic brother in the battle at this place. He died in 1768, leaving seven children, among whom as the Hon. John Herkimer, who became an active politician and was a member of Congress, elected in 1822. the second son of John Jost Herkimer was Henry, or Hendrick, as he was called. He resided with his father until a few years before the Revolution, when he removed with his family to lands given him by his father at the foot of Schuyler Lake, in Croghan's patent. He came back at the outbreak of the war, and at first went to Stone Arabia and remained with his brother-in-law, Rev. Abraham Rosecrants, a short time and then came to the Herkimer Mansion, where he died before the close of the Revolution. One of his sons, the eldest, it is said, went over to the enemy. He too was possessed of a large estate. He was a joint proprietor with his father, of the Fall Hill patent of 2,234 acres, granted in 1752. I have seen a copy of this son's will, made August 17, 1778, and I deem it important, for any present purpose, to call attention to the following extract only:
"I give and bequeath unto my eldest son, Hon. Yost Herkimer, the sum of twenty shillings, New York currency, in right of primogeniture, and in case it should so happen that he becomes the heir to the estate of my father, Han Jost Herkimer, which is now in the possession of my brother, John Herkimer, in that case only his is to have one hundred acres of bush land left me by my father's will along with the said estate, but of his not becoming heir to the said estate then he is to have an equal third part of one thousand acres of land at the Lake Cananderago; part of a patent granted to George Croghan along with his two brothers, George and Abraham, to him and his heirs forever."
It will be seen by this extract of the will of Henry, that he supposed that a contingency might happen, whereby his eldest son should become the next heir by the name Herkimer, and take the estate under his father's will, which was given to his brother Joh. Descendants of Henry still reside on the ancestral lands at the foot of Schuyler Lake, and one of them, the venerable Timothy Herkimer, is here today to help celebrate the event which has made the name of Herkimer renowned in the annals of our local history. John, the brother of the General, who enjoyed the Herkimer Mansion and lands connected with it, under the will of his father, died in 1817 without issue; and then the question arose who was entitled to the property under the will as the next heir of the testator by the name of Herkimer. This question went to the courts, and was determined is the case of Jackson v. Bellinger, reported in 18 Johnson's Report, at page 369. It was decided that the property, on the death of John, descended to his heirs-at-law according to the statute regulating descents. Upon this decision being rendered, all controversy as to the title was ended, and the property passed out of the name of Herkimer.
The remaining brother of the General, John Jost Herkimer, gave up the contest, went to Canada and took up arms against the colonies. He was attained under the act of October 22, 1779, together with Sir John Johnson, and other leading Tories of Tryon county, and lost his estate.
As to the eight daughters of the old patriarch it is sufficient to say that they were all respectably married, though the husbands of several of them became ardent Tories in the Revolution, and by their influence and example did much to bring distress upon the patriotic inhabitants of the valley. I will not name them here. I will say, however, that among the descendants of the Tory branches of the family are very many respected and highly honored citizens in our State.
But as to General Herkimer he had no descendants. He never had any children to inherit his virtues, or his good name and fame. Here upon these grounds he exhibited his true character and such virtues, that if he had left descendants worthy of his name, they would be proud to be here today, and witness the honor paid to his memory, and to the memory and achievements of the brave men who fought and died by his side.
The General was a kind hearted and benevolent man and a good Christian neighbor. He was just such a character as would make him beloved by those who knew him. He was without guile or deceit, generous, brave and honest. Among his neighbors and where he was familiarly known he was called " Hannicol" Herkimer. He is called by that name in several places in the will of Sir William Johnson. The name "Hannicol," as is well known, is a nickname for Nicholas among the Germans in the Mohawk Valley, and was at once time quite common. The General was popular among the German people. The mothers delighted in naming their sons after him, and he stood godfather at many a baptism of children, and in his will he does not overlook the little ones to whom he stood in that responsible and Christian relation.
It must be admitted that he was neither a great nor a skillful General. He had no education or experience for that accomplishment. He had, however, courage and calmness in the midst of the greatest danger. Such was his nature, that amidst the deafening yells of the savages, and while his friends and neighbors were falling around him like autumn leaves, he could remain cool and self possessed. He was well known through out the valley and was highly esteemed for the purity and unselfishness of his character. And he was prosperous and rich. His landed estate was large. He had a tenantry and slaves and money. His residence was the most costly and imposing in the upper Mohawk Valley, and is still standing. I should, perhaps, have stated before, that after the battle was ended, here on that ever memorable day one hundred years ago, Dr. Petry, one of the few survivors of the Committee of Safety, who were in that battle, although severely wounded himself, dressed the General's shattered leg on the field and saw him placed on a litter and leave on his way home. This was the last time Dr. Petry saw him. He did not consider his wound necessarily dangerous, and had no thought of his dying. He often declared to his family and friends that the General's life was sacrificed by an unnecessary and unskillful amputation. Doctor Petry was one of the committee of safety, who at the consultation, on the fifth of August, strongly urged the onward movement; and I have no doubt, from what I have heard said of him, he did it in strong language. But I have no reason to doubt that the relations between him and the General remained friendly, and he doubtless would have gone home with the wounded General, had he not been himself disabled by a painful wound. The General was attended by a young surgeon who followed General Arnold up the valley,and who amputated his leg so unskillfully that he bled to death. I cannot prove this, than by the following account, given by the surgeon who performed the operation:
Dear Doctor -- Yesterday morning I amputated General Harcomer's leg, there not being left the prospect of recovery without it. But alas, the patriotic hero died in the evening -- the cause of his death God only knows. About three house before his departure he complained of pain. I gave him thirty drops of laudanum liquid and went to dress Mr. Pettery. I left him in as good a way as I could wish with Dr. Hastings to take care of him. When I returned I found him taking his last gasp, free from spasm and sensible. Nothing more surprised me, but we cannot always parry death, so there is an end of it.
General Arnold left yesterday morning with positive orders to follow him this evening or tomorrow morning. I sent for Shull to take care of the General and Pettery. He is just now arrived. I propose to have Pettery removed to Palatine, where scull and two regimental mates will take care of him and the other wounded. This evening I will pursue General Arnold, and I suppose will overtake him at Fort Dayton.
The Place and hour of glory drawn night. No news from Fort Schuyler. I am, dear doctor, your most obedient and humble servant, ROBERT JOHNSON.
This letter was addressed to Dr. Jonathan Potts, director of the general hospital for the northern department. (See New England Historical and General Register (1864) vol. 18, p. 31.)
In his last moments the dying General showed himself to be, as he was, a Christian hero. Not a murmur or a word of complaint seems to have escaped his lips. He turned to his Bible, a familiar book to him, and sought therein consolation of a dying Christian. He gave up his noble life to his country when he was yet in full vigor of health and strength. He was about fifty-five years of age, not older, at the time of his death.
His will, which is dated February 7, 1777, is on file in the office of the clerk of the Court of Appeals. The provisions in it are are numerous, and some of them quite interesting as well as characteristic of the brave and kind hearted man. I will her give only that portion of it relating to his widow, which is in the following language:
Item. I give unto my said beloved wife for her sole property and disposal one of the young Negro wenches, named Mya, about one and a half years old. And also I bequeath unto her, her heirs and assigns forever, a certain tract of land in George Clock's patent, containing one hundred acres of woodland, formerly conveyed by release by Severinus Tygert of Stonearaby dec'd unto my first married wife dec'd her heirs and assigns.
(Item. I give unto my said beloved wife Maria, upon this express condition and proviso, that she shall and will during her widowhood of me behave and conduct herself in chastity and other Christian manners, becoming to a decent and religious widow, further, the following devices in the following manner: That is to say, during the natural life of my said beloved wife, she shall have, posses, and enjoy, upon the performance of the heretofore reserved condition and proviso, the room in the north east corner of my present dwelling house, with all the furniture therein being at my disease, and one quarter of one acre in one of the gardens near the house to her choice, and also four apple trees to her choice, free pass and repassing unmolested to the said room, garden and apple trees,and free wood and water upon my said tenements to her use, one of the Negro wenches to her choice, besides the above mentioned already devised unto her, her heirs and assigns. Also to her choice, one horse and one mare, two cows, six sheep, six hogs, three silver spoons, and four silver tea spoons, one half dozen China teacups and saucers, two pots, one copper kettle, two dishes, six pewter plates, four pewter spoons, two bowles, two pewter teapots, one trammel, one pair of andirons, one dozen knives and forks, one half dozen chairs, one table. The moiety of my linen and homespun store, and the other half to be divided by her among my black servants for their clothing, and all the women clothes left at my decease having been her wearing as well as of my first wife deceased; all these to be and to hold for the use of her, her heirs and assigns upon the performance of the above express proviso and condition.)
But upon the true proof of her conduct against it, all these devices included in the circumflex, shall be void, and then appertain unto the hereafter named possessor of my present dwelling tenement, and to his heirs and assigns.
But during the widowhood of her, my said wife, on the same condition and proviso as aforesaid, she shall have, occupy and enjoy the half of my present dwelling house, and of all the issues and profits of the tenement of five hundred acres of land, whereon I now live, and also of all the issues of my wenches, horses and other cattle, but she shall equally pay the half of all the expenses in behalf of the said issues, which must be extra paid besides the work of my servants and cattle; but upon non performance of the said proviso, this device shall also be void. Further, it is my express will and order, that if by the providence of God my present beloved wife, and future widow after my decease, should lawfully marry one of my brother's sons, that then they shall have and enjoy the interests and rents of all my lands lying in the patent granted to Edward Holland, now leased to the respective tenants thereof and also one lot of woodland in the same patent not leased, which is adjacent to the Fallbergh patent, to them, their heirs and assigns forever. But if in case she my said wife should after my decease marry with one of my sisters' sons, then the said interests and rents of the said leased lands together with the said one hundred acres of woodland shall be and appertain to them, their heirs and assigns, during both their lives.
Without attempting any explanation of the reasons of the General for contemplating, as he seems to have done, the possibility of the marriage of his widow to one of his nephews, I will say that this event never took place. She did not remain at the homestead of the General long after his death; and it is altogether probable she gave up most, if not all, of the provisions made for her in the will. She soon married and went to Canada, and but little is known of her subsequent history. This is known, however, that the man she married was poor, and far beneath her in social position. She gave up the comforts of a good home for a hard life, and the remainder of her days, which were probably few, it is said, were spent in poverty and want.
During the speech of Mr. Earl and oil portrait of General Herkimer was exhibited to the audience. Also the sword of Major House, which was used upon this battlefield. At the close of Mrs. Earls' address three more cheers were given in compliment to the speaker.
M. M. Jones, Esq., of Utica, having been requested to read the commission of General Herkimer, prefaced it with the following sketch:
ADDRESS OF M.M. JONES, ESQ.
You will notice that the commission I am about to read to you is in the name of, and issued by the "convention of the Representatives of the State of New York," a body of patriots, anomalous in its election and organization, and seldom heard of except by those who have searched its records, or read slight memorials of it upon the pages of our State history. At the commencement of the Revolution, all branches of government in the Colony of New York, the Governor, Council and General Assembly were loyal to George III and his crown. In the assembly were a few patriotic men like George Clinton, Philip Schuyler, Simon Boerum, Robert R. Livingston, Jr., Abraham Ten Broeck, Nathaniel Woodhull, but they were too few to accomplish more than keeping the people advised of the designs of the British Government.
The incipient machinery for beginning a government in this State was, from the necessity of the case, an emanation from the people. It had no law for its basis, except that natural law which gives man the right of self-government.
The first and subsequent Colonial Congresses of New York were elected as we at this day elect our political convention. They made laws and passed resolutions, and enforced them. They assumed all the powers and duties of a State government. The men who composed them were patriots, and many of them were statesmen. Several of them became members of the Continental Congress and others became officers and soldiers in the field.
The second Continental Congress was to meet at Philadelphia, May 10, 1775. As the General Assembly of New York had refused to appoint delegates to that body, the Committee of the Sons of Liberty for the city and county of New York, in March, 1775, issued a call to the several counties of the colony, asking them to send delegates to meet in new York City, April 20, to elect such delegates. This body, designated a Provincial Convention, was composed of fifty of the leading men of New York, among whom were Governors George Clinton and John Jay, Messrs. Floyd, Lewis, Livingston and Morris, signers of the Declaration of Independence, Generals Schuyler and McDougal. It met April 20, 1775, and it s powers being exhausted by the election of delegates to Congress, dissolved itself, April 22. The next day, Sunday, the news of the battle of Lexington arrived at New York. Electrified by the intelligence the people began the work of revolution with a high hand. The general committee, increased in numbers and powers, called upon the counties to send delegates to a "Provincial Congress," to be held in New York on the 22d of May, 1775.
This first Provincial Congress elected Peter Van Brugh Livingston its first president, and James McKesson, secretary. It held three sessions, May 22, July 26, October 4, and dissolved November 4, 1775.
The second Provincial Congress was elected May 7, 1775, and held three sessions, commencing December 6, 1775, February 12 and May 8,1776.
The third Provincial Congress was elected in April, 1776, convened in new York May 18, and remained in session until June 30, when it dissolved, as the British troops were about taking possession of the city.
The fourth Provincial Congress assembled at White Plains, July 9, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was read and unanimously adopted. As the colonies had now become States, the style of the Provincial Congress of the Colony of New York, was changed to "the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York." This was the body, under its new name, and with new powers and aspirations, which granted the commission of brigadier-general to the patriot hero of Oriskany.
This convention removed to Harlem, July 29, to Fishkill, August 29, where it held various short sessions until February 11, 1777, when it adjourned to Kingston. It met at the latter place, March 6, and having formed a State Constitution, the convention was finally dissolved May 13, 1777. The convention had established a temporary government by electing a Council of Safety, with power to act in all cases under the new constitution until the new government should be elected.
During the recesses of the colonial Congress, its powers, or those assumed by it, were exercised by Committees of Safety. These bodies took upon themselves all the powers and duties inherent in the people. They raised troops and issued commissions to their officers, they collected and disbursed the taxes, they defined and punished offenses against the government, including treason; they, by resolutions, defined offenses against society and their punishment. The members of these Colonial Congresses were in the main great and good men, and they conscientiously executed the trusts conferred upon them by the people.
In the summer of 1777, the people elected their governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Senate and assembly, and then the government of the Empire State was set in motion. That good man, George Clinton, who was then in the field at the head of the New York militia, found himself elected both Governor and Lieutenant-Governor. After due consideration he chose the former, and was in office from 1777 to 1795, and 1801 to 1804, and died while vice-president of the United States.
Abraham Yates, Jr. who signed General Herkimer's commission, was a delegate from Albany in the four Colonial Congresses. At several times in 1775 and 1776 he was president, pro tem., and was president of the convention from August 28, to September 26, 1776.
John McKesson was secretary until after the adoption of the Constitution of 1777. More than forty years afterward the son of Mr. McKesson was enabled, from his father's memoranda and minutes, to furnish to our State its only authenticated official copy of our Constitution of 1777, and two pages of that copy were supplied from a printed edition.
GENERAL HERKIMER'S COMMISSION.
In Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York.
To Nicholas Herkimer, Esquire, Greeting:
We resposing Especial trust and Confidence in your Patriotism, Valor, Conduct and Fidelity, Do by these presents Constitute and appoint you the said Nicholas Herkermer Brigadier General of the Brigade of Militia of the County of Tryon Embodied for the defence of American Liberty and for repelling every Hostile Invasion thereof, you are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the duty of Brigadier General by doing the performing all manner of things thereunto belonging, and we do strictly charge and require all officers and Privates under your Command to be Obedient to your orders as Brigadier General.
you are to observe and follow such orders and directions from time to time
as you shall receive from the present or any future Congress of the United
States of America, or from this or any future Convention of the Representatives,
or future Executive authority of this State, or from the Commander-in-Chief
for the time being of the Army of the United States, or any other your superior
officer, according to the Rules and Discipline of War, in pursuance of the
Trust Reposed in you. Provided such orders and directions of the said
Commander-in Chief, or of such superior officer be grounded on the Authority
of the present or any future Congress of the United American States, or the
present or any future Convention of the Representatives, or other executive
Authority of this State, or their Respective Committees of Safety. The commission
to Continue of force until Revoked by this or at a future Convention of this
at Fish Kills the Fifth day of September in the year of our Lord One thousand
Seven hundred and Seventy-six.
ABM. YATES, Junr., President
Attest. John McKesson, Secretary.
The exercises of this stand were closed by the reading of the poem, written for the occasion by General DePeyster of New York:
POEM BY GENERAL J. WATTS DE PEYSTER.
Seventeen hundred and Seventy-seven,
Of Liberty's throes, was the crown and the leaven.
Just a century since, August Sixth, was the day
When Great Britain's control was first stricken away.
Let us sing then the field where the Yeomen of York
Met the Lion and Wolf on their slaughterous stalk;
When Oriskany's ripples were crimson'd with blood;
And when strife fratricidal polluted its flood.
Oh, glorious collision, forever renowned!
While America lives should its praises resound,
And stout Harkeimer's name be the theme of the song,
Who with Mohawk's brave sons broke the strength of the strong.
relief of Fort Stanwix New Yorkers drew nigh,
To succor stout Gansevoort, conquer or die;
And if unwise the counsels that brought on the fight,
In the battle was shown that their hearts were all right,
If their Chief seemed so prudent that "subs" looked askance,
Still one shout proved their feeling, their courage -- "Advance!"
unfortunate counsel! The ambush was set,
Leaving one passage in, but non out of the net, --
Of outlets, not one, unless 'twas made by the sword
Through encompassing ranks of the pitiless horde.
Sure never was column so terribly caught,
Nor ever has column more fearlessly fought: --
Thus Harkeimer's Mohawkers made victory theirs,
For St. Leger was foiled in spite of his snares.
loud braggarts who had taunted Harkeimer so free,
Ere the fight had begun, were from fight first to flee;
While the stalwart old Chief, who a father had proved,
And his life offered up for the cause that he loved,
'Mid the war-whirl of Death still directed each move,
'Mid the rain from the clouds and from more fatal groove
Of the deadlier rifle, -- and object assured,
To him Palm, both as victor and martyr, inured.
the annals of War and examine with care
If a parallel fight can discovered be, there,
When eight hundred green soldiers beset in a wood
Their assailants, as numerous, boldly withstood;
And while Death sleeted in from environing screens
Of the forest and underbrush, Indians and "Greens"--
'Gainst the circle without, took to cover within,
Formed a circle as deadly -- which as it grew thin
Into still smaller circles then broke, until each
Presented a round that no foeman could breach,
Neither boldest of savage nor disciplined troops: --
Thus they fought and they fell in heroical groups --
But though falling still fighting they wrench'd from the foe
The great object they marched to attain, and altho'
The whole vale of the Mohawk was shrouded in woe,
Fort Stanwix was saved by Oriskany's throe.
New Birth, no advance in the Progress of Man,
Has occurred since the tale of his sufferings began,
Without anguish unspeakable, deluge of blood.
The Past's buried deep 'neath incarnadine flood.
So, when, at Oriskany, slaughter had done
Its fell work with the tomahawk, hunting knife, gun;
From the earth soaked with blood, and the whirlwind of fire
Rose the living's reward and the fallen's desire.
For there on Oriskany's shore,
Was fought out the death-wrestle deciding the war!
our country is free and its flag, first displayed
On the ramparts of Stanwix, in glories arrayed;
If the old "Thirteen Colonies" won the renown
"Sic semper tyrannis;" beat Tyranny down;
There, there, at Oriskany, the wedge first was driven,
by which British invasions was splintered and riven,
Though at Hoosic and "Saratog" the work was completed,
The end was made clear with St. Leger defeated;
Nor can boast be disproved, on Oriskany's shore
Was worked out the grim problem involved in the war.
Copyright © 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.