Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Mohawk Valley
Its Legends and its History
by Max Reid
New York and London G. P. Putman's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press, 1901
with illustrations from photographs by J. Arthur Maney

Chapter XIII Some Accounts of the Notorious Butler Family

Shakespeare says:
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.

Perhaps there is no name in American history that is more abhorred throughout the length and breadth of the Mohawk Valley than the name of Butler, through the evil deeds of Col. John Butler and Lieut. Walter N. Butler, father and son. Colonel John for his connection with the massacre of Wyoming, and Lieutenant Walter as the leader of the Cherry Valley massacre. And still their evil deeds were apparently confined to about four years of their life. In history, nothing is spoken of but the evil they have done, and their early lives are wrapped in comparative obscurity. We do not know when they were born, and the histories of the Revolution do not mention their ancestors.

On account of a recent visit to the old Butler place on Switzer Hill I have become interested in the subject, and have taken the time and trouble to gather together facts about this family that appear in different documents relating to the early history of the Mohawk Valley and the province of New York. Lossing's Cyclopedia merely states that John Butler was born in Connecticut, and died at Niagara in 1796, and makes no mention of the date of his birth or the name of his father. Among the colonial documents, however, we find the name of a Walter Butler, who was appointed lieutenant August 16, 1726, by Governor Burnett of New York. He was probably connected with the family of the Irish dukes of Ormond and Arran, who were patrons of the Burnett family. On May 6, 1728, Lieut. Walter Butler was assigned to Capt. Holland's company at Albany.

In 1733 the Crown granted to Walter Butler and forty-two others a tract of land near the Schoharie Creek, running south to Schoharie, and then following the line of Schenectady County to the Mohawk river. In 1735 fourteen thousand acres of this land extending from Fort Hunter along the Mohawk to Phillip's lock, came into the possession of Sir Peter Warren, the uncle of Sir William Johnson.

On December 31, 1735, the Crown also granted Walter Butler and three others a tract of land in the towns of Johnstown and Mohawk, comprising four thousand acres. On the Tryon map of 1779 this grant is shown as lying between Trips (Tribes) Hill and Johnstown. This seems to connect Walter Butler, senior, with the Butler place near Switzer Hill.

(Bear in mind that this Walter Butler was the grandfather of Walter N. Butler, of the Cherry Valley massacre notoriety.)

In 1733 he was a witness to a deed at Fort Hunter. In 1747 Sir William Johnson sent Lieut. Walter Butler on a mission to Crown Point. A little later Captain Walter Butler (have been promoted) was sent to Oswego with his son, John, as interpreter. Between 1756 and 1765 Captain John Butler was frequently in attendance at conferences of the Indians and Sir William Johnson at Fort Johnson, sometimes as one of the interpreters. We know that Captain John Butler was afterward made a colonel, and his son, Walter, a lieutenant of the British troops. In 1743 Walter Butler, Sr., erected a frame house on his grant on Switzer Hills, which afterwards became the home of his son, Colonel John, and grandson, Lieut. Walter N. Butler, and was confiscated when Colonel John fled to Canada, during the war of the Revolution, with Sir John Johnson and his Tories.

The Rev. Gideon Hawley, in his journey to Broome County, in 1753, records that Lieutenant (John) Butler was in charge of a sergeant and a few privates at Fort Hunter, where he resided with his family. Some time previous to 1753 he is said to have been one of the Connecticut colony that located in the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. This, I think, is a mistake, as he is known to have been located in the Mohawk Valley at the time of the local troubles between the colony from Connecticut and the Pennsylvanians.

It is recorded that "the valley (Wyoming) was purchased of the Six Nations in 1754, by an association formed in Connecticut, and called the Connecticut Susquehanna Company; but no permanent settlement was attempted till 1762. The next year the settlers were dispersed by the Indians." In 1769 a body of forty Connecticut pioneers was sent thither by the Susquehanna Company, but found themselves forestalled by some Pennsylvanians, the Six Nations having in the preceding year again sold the territory to the proprietaries of Pennsylvania, and for the next six years Wyoming was the scene of numerous conflict between settlers from the two colonies, both of which under their charters, as well as by purchase, claimed possession of the soil. This contest was at its height at the time of the Revolution, and undoubtedly was one of the causes that led to the attack and massacre of the settlers of the Wyoming Valley, July 3, 1778, or at least for some of the atrocities that were committed by former neighbors and acquaintances.

That Major John Butler was in command of the Rangers and Indians at Wyoming is a well-authenticated fact, as we have it from his own report to Lieutenant-Colonel Bolton, dated July 8, 1778. He says, "In this action were taken two hundred and twenty-seven scalps, and only five prisoners." This report alone is enough to brand him as an incarnate fiend. No doubt the Senecas were responsible for most of the atrocities, but Butler know what to expect from this savage allies, and made no attempt to restrain them. The Senecas were in command of a noted chief, Gi-on-gwah-tuh, and a half-breed called Queen Esther, probably a daughter of Catherine Montour. She is said to have killed fourteen of the inhabitants of the valley with her own hand.

It is said that sixteen of the prisoners were arranged in a circle around a large stone, and held there by a large number of Indians. This little party had been assigned to Queen Esther. Striking up a chant, she passed from one victim to the next, and with a death-maul dashed out the brains of fourteen of her victims. Two escaped, by making a sudden dash through the lines, and fled to the woods and finally escaped in safety. Catherine Montour, the elder, is an interesting character in Indian history. According to tradition, and her own story, her father was a governor of Canada, probably Frontenac, and her mother a Huron woman. Until about ten years of age she had been carefully reared and educated. During the war between the Six Nations and the French and Hurons, she was captured and adopted by the Senecas.

Lord Cornbury, in a letter to the Lords of the Board of Trade (in London) August 20, 1708, says: There is come to Albany one Montour, who is a son of a French gentleman who came about forty years ago to settle in Canada. He had to do with an Indian woman, by whom he had a son and two daughters. The man I mention is the son. He had lived all along like an Indian. Sometime ago the elder Montour had left the French, and had lived among the far Indians (Senecas), and it is chiefly by his means that I have prevailed with those far nations to come to Albany.

In 1694 Mr. Montour was wounded by two Mohawk Indians near Fort LaMotte. A letter dated Quebec, Nov. 14, 1706, and written by M. De Vandreuil, says: "He was devoted to the English, and in their pay; lived with the Senecas." He was killed by Lieut. Sieur de Joncaire, by order of M. De Vandreuil.

Captain Andrew Montour, the son spoken of above, acted as an interpreter for the Indian Commissioners in 1756; also sang Indian war-songs before Sir William Johnson at Fort Johnson, and presented scalps to Sir William at Johnson Hall in 1764. There is also a record of Mrs. Montour as an interpreter in 1711, at Albany. Stone, in his life of Sir William Johnson, speaks of Mrs. Montour, and describes her as she appeared at a council of the Indian Commissioners and delegates from the Six Nations, at Lancaster, Pa., in 1744:

Although so young when made a prisoner, she had nevertheless preserved her language; and being in youth and middle age very handsome and of good address, she had been greatly caressed by the gentlewomen of Philadelphia during her occasional visits to that city with her people on business. Indeed she was always held in great esteem by the white people, invited to their houses, and entertained with marked civility.

It is pretty hard to believe that the woman described above should in her old age have become a fiend incarnate. It is said of her, after the battle of Wyoming: "Catherine Montour, who might well be termed a fury, acted a conspicuous part in this tragedy. She followed in the train of the victorious army, ransacking the heap of slain, and with her arms covered with gore, barbarously murdered the wounded, who in vain supplicated for their lives" (Campbell).

The Court-House, Johnstown, 1772

Among the Indians that were driven out of the Seneca country by General Sullivan was Catherine Montour. This creature was with considerable attention by some of the British officers. It is said that she had two sons, who were leaders of bands at the massacre of Wyoming, which fact consequently imparted additional consequence to her. One of Catherine Montour's sons took at Mr. Cannon prisoner at Cherry Valley. He was an aged man and had been severely wounded by a musket ball. On their arrival in the Indian country, Catherine addressed her son in English in the presence of Mr. Cannon, saying: "Why did you bring that old man prisoner? Why did you not kill him when you took him prisoner?" (I am indebted to William Campbell's Annals of Tryon County for the above incident).

A John Montour is found among Lieutenant Walter N. Butler's forces, after the massacre of Cherry Valley, in command of a party of Senecas, and Rowland Montour defeated Colonel Cairns near Catawisse, during General Sullivan's raid, and was wounded in the arm and died a week later. These men were probably sons or grandsons of Catherine Montour.

In E. Cruikshank's Butler's Rangers,published at Fort Erie in 1893, we find the following account of the Butler family: Lieut. Walter Butler, a young Irish sabaltern, claiming descent from the illustrious family of Ormonde, came with his regiment to America in the early part of the 18th century, from which he was exchanged into one of the 18th century, from which he was exchanged into one of the independent companies formed for service in the colonies, and afterward incorporated as the Royal American or 60th. In the course of his service he made himself useful to Sir William Johnson, who in return exerted himself for the advancement of the Butler family. . . . . He had two sons: John, the eldest, was born at New London, Conn., in 1725, and educated in the same province, and Walter, junior, who was killed Crown Point, on September 8, 1755, at the same time that Farrel Wade, Johnson's brother-in-law, and the celebrated Mohawk chief, Hendrick, were killed.

Walter Butler, Sr., died in 1760, at the age of ninety, having been a lieutenant in the British army for seventy years. Lieutenant Walter, the brother of Colonel John Butler, who is spoken of as having been killed at Crown Point in 1755, was undoubtedly a son-in-law of Jan Wemp (Wemple) of Fort Hunter, who died in 1749, as in his will he bequeaths a portion of his estate to "my daughter, Maria Butler, wife of Lieutenant Walter Butler, Jr."

Cruikshank, speaking again of Captain John Butler, says: He went in 1760 with General Amherst to Montreal, as second in command of the Indians. During Pontiac's was he was actively employed in the difficult task of restraining the Six Nations from joining the hostile Indians. Owing to his intimate knowledge of several Indian languages, he was constantly employed by Sir William Johnson, up to the hour of his death, as interpreter at the most important councils. He then resided at his fine estate at Butlersburg (Switzer Hill), near Caughnawaga, and was one of the judges of the county court, and lieutenant-colonel of Guy Johnson's militia. Sir William Johnson had nominated him an executor of his will; but from some unknown cause he had incurred the pronounced dislike, if not the positive enmity of Sir John Johnson. Besides his wife, his family consisted of Walter N., the eldest son, lately admitted to the bar, "a youth of spirit, sense and ability"; Thomas, still under twenty, two younger sons, and a daughter.

It may be said that Colonel John Butler appears to have been a close friend of Sir William Johnson, and associated with him in many of the political and military schemes of those early days. In 1772 the first court of general quarter sessions was held at Johnstown, and the judges were Guy Johnson, John Butler, and Peter Conyne. After the death of Sir William Johnson, on July 11, 1774, John Butler and his son Walter N., are said to have been in close official and social relations with Sir John Johnson, and the elder Butler is spoken of as being a wealthy and influential resident of Tryon country. Of Walter N. Butler, we know that he was about the age of Sir John Johnson and that he was his playmate in boyhood, and the comrade and friend of his manhood. The only description we have seen of Walter N. Butler is found in Harold Frederic's charming book, In the Valley. In this book his descriptions have been so true to history that it is safe to assume that his researches have enabled him to give a pretty correct account of Walter N. Butler's person and character. He speaks of him at the age of twenty-three, and says: He was a handsome youth, with features cut as in a cameo, and pale-brown, smooth skin, and large, deep eyes; he was not tall, but formed with perfect delicacy. He dressed too, with remarkable taste, contriving always to appear the gentleman, yet not out fro place in the wilderness. He wore his own black hair, carelessly tied or flowing, and with no thought of powder.

He speaks of him as being "of a solemn and meditative nature, and filled to his nostrils with pride about his ancestors, the Dukes of Ormonds." He was, however, of excitable nature, and his being a constant companion of the Johnsons in their dissipations, undoubtedly changed his nature somewhat during the next trying six years. He studied law, and is spoken of as a pretty able young lawyer. Both father and son were at the siege of Fort Schuyler in 1777, with Colonel St. Leger, Sir John Johnson, and Joseph Brant, as we read of Colonel John Butler and two others entering the fort under a white flag with a bombastic demand for its surrender, which was indignantly refused by the commanding officer, Colonel Gansevoort. We also read of Colonel John Butler at the battle of Oriskany, where he caused the Royal Greens to turn their coats in order to deceive Herkimer's men, by pretending that they were friends from the fort. The ruse was discovered, and the Royal Greens were put to rout. After the battle of Oriskany, Lieutenant Walter secretly came to the house of one Shoemaker, near Fort Clayton, on a secret mission from Sir John Johnson, and together with Han Yost Schuyler and others, were captured at Shoemaker's house, tried by order of General Benedict Arnold, and condemned to death as a spy. Owing to the solicitation of some of the American officers, the sentence of death was remitted, and Walter N. Butler was sent to Albany and placed in prison. Feigning sickness, and through the clemency of Lafayette, he was removed to a private house from which he managed, with the help of friends, to escape, and returned to the British army burning with indignation at what he termed the outrage of having his sacred person confined in a rebel prison.

He made his way direct to Niagara, and requested an obtained command of a detachment of his father's rangers, called the Butler Rangers, which permission to employ the force of Indians under Captain Joseph Brant.

On his way from Niagara, Butler met Brant, who was displeased at the idea of being assigned to a subordinate station under a man he disliked. However, he finally turned back with his force of five hundred Indians. This expedition culminated in the massacre of Cherry Valley, November 11, 1778, with all of its heartrending atrocities, undertaken by Walter N. Butler in a spirit of revenge on innocent men, women and children, to wipe out the disgrace (?) of having been confined in prison as a spy. Campbell says that: "Thirty-two inhabitants, principally women and children, were killed, and sixteen Continental soldiers, and all of the houses, barns, and outbuildings were burned, many of the barns being filled with hay and grain."

Campbell also says: Whatever may have been the motives or the conduct of Brant and his Indians, it will not wipe away the stain from the character of Walter N. Butler. The night previous to the massacre, some of his rangers who were acquainted in Cherry Valley, requested permission to go secretly into the settlement and apprise his and their friends of their approach, that they might escape the fury of the Indians. This he peremptorily refused, saying that there were so many families connected that the one would inform the others and all would escape. He thus sacrificed his friends for the sake of punishing his enemies.

After this massacre, Walter N. Butler returned to Niagara with his forces and prisoners. On July 31, 1779, General Sullivan's expedition against the Senecas was organized, which succeeded in driving the main body of Indians to Fort Niagara and Canada. During his raid he destroyed the crops and buildings of the Senecas, and, with the help of the friendly Oneidas, did not fail to kill and scalp many of the Indian men, women, and children, for which acts he has been severely condemned.

In May, 1780, Sir John Johnson and the Butlers made their first raid through the Mohawk Valley proper, killing and plundering in every direction,and finally returned to Canada without being molested.

In the autumn of 1781 another raid of Indians and Tories under Major Ross and Walter N. Butler met with a different reception. They first appeared at Currytown, near Canajoharie, October 24th of that year, and passed rapidly on to the vicinity of Fort Hunter and Warrensbush, killing and capturing all that they met; then crossed the river and directed their course to Johnstown, with colonel Willett and 416 men in hot pursuit. In the vicinity of Johnson Hall, Willett overtook the enemy and at once prepared for battle, notwithstanding the fact that Major Ross's force was greatly superior in numbers. (In a recent visit to Johnstown the battlefield was pointed out to me by Mr. Edward Wells, a son of Eleazer Wells, and a brother of the late John S. Wells, whose family now own and occupy Johnson Hall. The chief object of our late visit to Johnstown was for the purpose of visiting the old battlefield.)

William Campbell, in his Annals of Tryon County, published in 1831, says: Major Ross and Walter Butler's force was encamped on the elevated ground a little north of Johnson Hall. The edifice, erected by Sir William Johnson, and in which he resided at the time of his death, is situated about one mile distant from the courthouse in the center of the village, and upon ground descending gradually from the northwest to the south and southeast. The village plot descends to the north, thus forming a small valley between the Hall and the village. To a person in the village Johnson Hall appears to be situated on a lawn, beyond which no prospect opens to the sight. When arrived at the Hall, he perceives in a easterly direction the range of Mayfield hills or mountains, while to the south are seen Anthony's Nose on the Mohawk, beyond that Charleston, and still further on, the hills between Canajoharie and Cherry Valley; and at a distance of between thirty to forty miles, the blue, cloud-like mountains leading to the Catskills and Delaware.

Colonel Willett with his inferior force was compelled to resort to strategy in attacking. Accordingly, he detached one hundred men under Colonel Harper to gain the rear of the enemy by a circuitous march around the hill to the west and north of the Hall and fall upon them in the rear, while colonel Willett attacked them in front. A short distance above the Hall, Colonel Willett was met by Ross with all his force, and his men gave way at the first fire and retreated. Willett endeavored to rally them at the Hall, but failed. At the stone church (old St. John's) in the village he at last induced them to make a stand, and being joined by two hundred militia who had just arrived, again advanced to the attack. The detachment under Colonel Harper, having gained the rear, opened a vigorous fire on the enemy, and obstinately maintained an unequal contest, which gave Willett time to form his men anew and again attack the enemy in front.

At nightfall, after a severe struggle, Major Ross's force, overcome and harassed on all sides, fled in confusion to the woods, not haling to encamp until they had gone several miles. In this engagement the Americans lost about forty; the enemy about the same number killed and fifty taken prisoners.

Major Ross retreated up the north side of the Mohawk, marching all night, after the battle. In the morning he was pursued by Colonel Willett, but was not overtaken. It was in this retreat that Walter N. Butler was killed. He was pursued by a small party of Oneida Indians. When he arrived at West Canada Creek, about fifteen miles above Herkimer, he swam his horse across the stream, and then, turning around, defied his pursuers, who were on the opposite side. An Oneida Indians immediately discharged his rifle and wounded him, and he fell. Throwing down his rifle and blanket, the Indian plunged in to the creek and swam across. As soon as he gained the opposite bank, he raised his tomahawk, and with a yell sprang like a tiger upon his fallen foe. Butler supplicated, through in vain, for mercy; the Oneida, with uplifted axe, shouted in his broken English, "Sherry Valley! Remember Sherry Valley?" and then buried it in his brains. He tore the scalp from his victim still quivering in the agonies of death, and when the remainder of the Oneidas joined him, the spirit of Walter N. Butler had gone. The body was left unburied where he fell. The place where he crossed is called Butler's Ford to this day.

The following story is told by Dawson in his Battles of the United States. It occurred in Sullivan's expedition against the Senecas. Lieutenant Boyd and Sergeant Parker were taken prisoners by the Indians: Knowing the certainty of his fate unless immediate relief was afforded, Lieut. Boyd asked for Joseph Brant, who commanded the Indians who had captured him. On being taken before Brant he gave the Masonic sign of distress and claimed from him the protection of "a brother," and was assured by the chief that he should suffer no harm. The prisoners were conducted to Little Beardstown, and Boyd was well treated; but during a short absence of Joseph Brant, Col. John Butler--the infamous Tory chief--called on the prisoners for information respecting the American army. Declining to answer, they were threatened with torture, but still refused; and with fiend-like cruelty--such as none but Butler and his kind could invent, and none but savages execute--the threat was enforced, and Boyd and Parker fell, martyrs in the cause of their country.

The Drumm House, Johnstown, 1763

The remains of these brave soldiers were found two days afterward by their comrades and buried at Little Beardstown.

In August, 1842, their bodies were disinterred and buried with appropriate ceremonies in Mount Hope Cemetery, near Rochester, NY.

When I began this record with a quotation from Shakespeare, I expected to be able to prove its truth by showing that although the evil these men did lives after their death, there must have been some inherent goodness in their lives that was overshadowed by their acts and "buried with their bones." But I have searched in vain for a single kindly act or generous impulse of Captain Butler and his infamous son, Walter N. When their acts are compared with those of Joseph Brant, their deed are the deeds of savages, and Brant's the acts of a noble, generous man.

The Butlers appear to have been not only arrogant and supercilious in a high degree, but barbarous, treacherous, revengeful, ferocious, merciless, brutal, diabolically wicked and cruel; with the spirit of fiends they committed cruelties worthy of the dungeons of the Inquisition. No wonder their lives are not attractive to historians. In a statement addressed to the New York Legislature, December 20, 1780, I find an account of some of the work done by the quartette consisting of Sir John Johnson, Joseph Brant, Colonel John Butler, and his son, Lieutenant Walter N. Butler:

It is estimated that seven hundred buildings had been burned in Tryon County; six hundred and thirteen person had deserted to the enemy; three hundred and fifty-four families had abandoned their dwellings; one hundred and ninety-seven lives had been lost; one hundred and twenty-one persons had been carried into captivity; and twelve thousand farms lay uncultivated by reason of the enemy.

Truly those were the times that tried men's souls.

Robert Campbell says of the Butlers: Col. John Butler had some good traits of character and in his calm moments would regret the ravages committed by the Indians and Tories, but Walter N. Butler was distinguished from youth for his severe, acrimonious disposition. After the massacre at Cherry Valley, he went to Quebec, but General Haldiman, governor of Canada, gave out that he did not wish to see him. When Col. John Butler went to Canada he left his wife and children in Montgomery County. The committee of safety refused permission for them to join him. Walter N. Butler wrote to the committee proposing an exchange of Mrs. Campbell and her children (who had been taken prisoners at Cherry Valley) for his mother and brother. This exchange was finally agreed to and the family were reunited at Niagara.

A Canadian, E. Cruikshank, in a book called Butler's Rangers, has given a short history of the Johnsons and the raids of Butler's Rangers, from the English or Canadian standpoint. Of course he assumes that Sir William, if he had lived and taken part in the stirring scenes of the Revolution, would have been loyal to King George, and that his influence would have made Tories of a large number of the residents of the Mohawk Valley, who were afterward bitter opponents to his unpopular son, Sir John Johnson.

It is quite interesting to note his reasons and cause for the Revolution, in the province of New York, some of them no doubt will be new to many of my readers. He says: The power of the loyalist (Tory) party was probably greater in New York than in any other province, but their leaders lacked the courage needful to turn it to the best advantage. The wealthy merchants, the proprietors of the great feudal manors, the adherents to the Church of England, the Dutch farmers and the recent German immigrants were generally disposed to be loyal or absolutely neutral. In the city of New York, two-thirds of the property was owned by Loyalists, and outside there was scarcely a symptom of disaffection, but there was a small party of violent revolutionists prepared to go to any length, and they dangled before the eyes of many discontented, lawless men almost irresistible temptations to join them. Loyalists which might be parceled out among their followers; there was, too, a debt of eight or nine millions of pounds due to British merchants which might be repudiated. There was, besides, illimitable liberty to gratify their passions and do whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

Rather a sordid view to take of the causes that produced the birth of our glorious Republic. Nothing said about the injustice and oppression of rulers, nothing about love of country and the desire for political and religious freedom and hatred of monarchical government which had been simmering and boiling in the hearts of the provincials ever since the murder of the martyred Lieutenant-Governor Jacob Leisler, who was executed in New York City on May 16, 1691.

After speaking of the apathy of the people in New York and the fact that "the inhabitants of Tryon County were, to all appearance, among the most loyal and contented," he says: The great proprietors and wealthy families here were Loyalists (Tories) to a man. Besides the Johnson family, the Brandts, Freys, Hares, Herkimers, Thompsons and Youngs, John Butler, Joseph Dease, Robert Litridge, Hendrick Nelles, Peter Ten Broeck, Alexander White, and many others, imperiled handsome estates, which in the end were confiscated. Large tracts of land were owned by absentee Loyalists, such as the Cosbys, Delanceys, De Paysters, Waltons, and Gov. Tryon himself, and these eventually shared the same fate.

Despite the influence of all these men the spirit of discontent continued to make headway.

Sir William Johnson's latest project for improving his estates and peopling the country (in 1773, one year before his death), which was being vigorously carried out by his son Sir John, filled the minds of many of the original settlers with vague suspicions and alarm. For the most part they were descendants of sturdy Palatines that had suffered the extremity of ill for conscience' sake, and to whom the very name of Papist was abominable. For once Sire William failed to fathom the intensity of their religious prejudice. Though born in Ireland and bearing an Anglicized name, he traced his descent in the direct line from the Mac Ian branch of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. A feeling of kinship prompted him to enter into a correspondence which led to the immigration in 1773 of the MacDonalds of Auchallander, Collachie, Leek, and Scottus in Glengarry, with many of their relatives and dependents, forming a body of more than 600 persons.

They were all Roman Catholics. A few of the leaders purchased land; the remainder were established as tenants on the Johnson estates, and were supplied by Sir John with food, cattle, and agricultural implements valued by him at 2,000 pounds during the next two years. To the peaceful German farmers around them they seemed a rude, fierce, quarrelsome race, constantly wearing dirk and broadsword, and much given over to superstition and idolatrous practices. According, when Sire John Johnson fortified the hall at Johnstown and surrounded himself with a body of Highland Roman Catholics for its defence, they could not have appealed to the inhabitants in a more effective way. They had already learned to dislike the Highlanders, and they detested their religion.

On January 20, 1776, Sir John and about three hundred of his Scotch Highlanders surrendered their arms to General Schuyler, and were dismissed with assurance of protection while they remained peaceable. In May, 1776, they and their dependents fled to Canada with Sir John and settled on lands in what is known as the county of Gengarry in the province of Ontario, named after their home in Scotland. Although some of these Highlanders returned to the Mohawk Valley with Sir John Johnson's Rangers under Captain John MacDonald and participated in the battle of Oriskany and the raids on Cherry Valley, Wyoming, and the skirmish at Johnstown, it is probable that none of them on their descendants ever remained in the Mohawk Valley.

In 1737, the year before Sir William Johnson made his advent in the Mohawk Valley, it was proposed to people the upper Mohawk Valley with Scotch Highlanders. Captain Campbell, a Highland chief, came over to view the land offered, which, to the amount of thirty thousand acres, it is said, Governor Clark promised to grant free of charge, except the cost of survey and the King's quit-rent. Satisfied with the land and the assurances given him, Captain Campbell transported, at his own expense, from Scotland more than four hundred adults with their children; but on their arrival they were prevented by the intrigues of interested officers from settling on the tract indicated, and after suffering many hardships settled in and about Saratoga, becoming the pioneers in that locality as the Palatines were on the Mohawk. On November 17, 1745, France and England being at war, this Scotch settlement was surprised by over six hundred French and Indians and completely destroyed, almost the whole population being killed or carried into captivity. It is said that thirty families were massacred.

The settlement of Saratoga mentioned above was not located on the site of the Saratoga of the present day, but was situated on the bank of the Hudson near the mouth of Fish Creek, the outlet of Saratoga Lake. The surrender of Burgoyne also took place on the plains near this old village in 1777. This post was established about 1689, while it is said that the present village had for its first settler Derick Scowton, who built the first log cabin in 1773.

The medicinal properties of the "High Rock" spring are said to have been known to the Iroquois at the period of Jacques Cartier's visit to the St. Lawrence in 1535. It is believed that Sir William Johnson was the first white man to visit this spring, being carried there by the Mohawks on a litter in 1767. It is said that the name Saratoga (Mohawk Sa-rag-ho-go) signified the "place of herrings", "which formerly passed up the Hudson and Fish Creek into Saratoga Lake." This I hardly think is true, as it is said that herrings do not run up rivers the same as the shad and other fish, and that they are always found in salt water.

About the period of the Revolution many Scots came to the valley of the Mohawk and settled on land north of the present city of Amsterdam in the towns of Galway, Perth, Broadalbin (Breadalbane), and Johnstown. Many who settled in Perth came from Breadalbane and gave that name to their new home.

It seems "the irony of fate" that the descendants of the three principal actors in one of the most tragic events in the history of Scotland should choose the valley of the Mohawk for their future home,--the MacDonalds of Glencoe, the Campbells of Argule, the clansmen of the Earl of Breadalbane, and, in later years, a descendant of Sir John Dalrymple, the Earl of Stairs, in the person of Mrs. Edward Reid, the godmother of the writer. The following story of the massacre of Glencoe is taken from Macaulay's History of England and the Tales of a Grandfather by Sir Walter Scott:

In the year 1690 all of Scotland had submitted to the rule of King William and Queen Mary except a few of the warlike clans of the Highlands, among whom were the Camerons, Macleans, MacGregors, and MacDonalds. The duty of subjugating the above Highlanders was entrusted to the Earl of Stairs and the Earl of Breadalbane and an order was issued requiring the clans to submit to King William and Queen Mary, and offering pardon to every rebel who on or before the thirty-first of December, 1691, should swear to live peacefully under the government of their majesties. It was proclaimed that all who should hold out after that day would be treated as enemies and traitors. The Highlanders became alarmed and most of the chiefs and clansmen came forward and gave the pledge demanded.

In the mouth of a ravine situated not far from the southern shore of Lochleven, an arm of the sea which separates Argyleshire from Inverness-shire, dwelt the MacDonalds of Glencose, whose chief was known as MacIan of the MacDonalds, one of the fiercest and most rebellious chiefs of the mountains. Near his house were tow or three small hamlets inhabited by his tribe, the whole population not exceeding two hundred adults. In the neighborhood of the villages was some copsewood and a little pasture land while the hills and crags were bleak and barren. To the north towered the peak of Ben Nevis, and somewhat farther to the east flowed the Cona, on whose bank in the third century was born the poet Ossian. In the Gaelic tongue, Glencoe signified the Glen of Weeping. Mists and storms brood over it through the greater part of the finest summer and even in the brightest sunshine the impression is sad and awful. The path lies along a stream which issues from the most sullen and gloomy of mountain pools. Huge precipices of naked stone frown on both sides. Even in July streaks of snow are often seen in the rifts near the summits. All along the sides of the crags, heaps of ruin mark the headlong paths of the torrents. Mile after mile the only sound that indicates life is the faint cry of a bird of prey from some storm-beaten pinnacle of rock. All the science and industry of a peaceful age can extract nothing valuable from that wilderness; but in an age of violence and rapine, the wilderness itself was valued on account of the shelter it afforded to the plunderer and his plunder. Nothing could be more natural than that the clan to which this rugged desert belonged should have been noted for predatory habits. Successive governments had tried to punish this wild race, but to no purpose, as a small force could be easily resisted or eluded by men familiar with every cavern and every outlet of the natural fortress in which they had been born and bred. It is said that the people of Glencoe would probably have been less troublesome neighbors if they had lived among their own kindred. They were Papists and separated from every other branch of their family and almost surrounded by hostile tribes and were impelled by enmity as well as want to live at the expense of the Campbells and Breadalbanes.

When the thirty-first of December arrived, the MacDonalds of Glencoe had not come in, but on that day MacIan and his principal vassals offered to take the oaths, but could find no person competent to administer them. In great distress he set out over the mountain to Inverary, but owing to snowstorms and the natural obstructions of the route he was not able to present himself before the sheriff of Inverary until the sixth of January, 1692. After considerable hesitation on the part of the sheriff, because the prescribed time had elapsed, he at last agreed to administer the oath, and issued a certificate which was transmitted to the council at Edinburgh. It is charged that King William was not informed that MacIan had taken the oath, and that the papers were suppressed by Argyle, Star, and Breadalbane for the purpose of destroying their enemy. The king was induced to sign the following order to the commander of the forces in Scotland: "As for MacIan and his tribe, if they can well be distinguished from the other Highlanders, it will be proper, for the vindication of public justice, to extirpate that set of thieves."

The extirpation planned by the Earl of Stair was of a different kind from that intended by the King. Stair's design was to "butcher the whole race of thieves, the whole damnable race." The pass of Rannach must be secured. The Laird of Weems must be told that if he harbors outlaws, he does so at his peril. Breadalbane promised to cut off the retreat on one side, MacCallum More on another. In due time a strong detachment was placed in command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, and it was determined that the Glencoe men should perish, not by military execution, but by the most perfidious and dastardly form of assassination.

On the 1st of February 120 men of Argyle's regiment, commanded by Captain Campbell, marched to Glencoe. Campbell was one of the few men who were likely to be trusted by the MacDonalds, as his niece was married to Alexander, the second son of MacIan. At the sight of the redcoats, John, the eldest son of the chief, advanced to meet them with twenty clansmen, and asked what the visit meant, and was told that the soldiers came as friends, and wanted nothing but quarters. They were kindly received, and were lodged under the thatched roofs of the little community. Provisions were liberally supplied; there was no want of beef; nor was payment demanded.

During twelve days the soldiers lived familiarly with the people of the glen, waiting for the time agreed upon when Colonel Hamilton, Breadalbane, and others would have secured all the passes and cut off all chance of escape. The officers spent much of their time with old MacIan and his family, and the long evenings were cheerfully spent with the help of some packs and a little French brandy. Captain Campbell appeared to be warmly attached to his niece and her husband, and came every day to their house to take his morning draught, and all the while observed all of the avenues of escape from the glen, and reported the result to Colonel Hamilton.

Hamilton fixed five o'clock in the morning of the 13th of February for the deed, as he hoped to arrive at Glencoe before that time with four hundred men and have stopped all avenues of escape for the doomed chef and his clansmen. But at five precisely Captain Campbell was to fall on and sly every MacDonld under seventy.

The night was rough and Hamilton was not able to reach the pass on time, and while they were contending with wind and snow Campbell was supping and playing cards with those he meant to butcher before daybreak. In fact, he and Lieutenant Lindsay had engaged themselves to dine with the old chief on the morrow.

It was five in the morning. Hamilton and his men were still some miles off and the avenues which they were to secure were open, but the orders which they were to secure were open, but the orders which Campbell had received were precise, and he began to execute them at the little village where he himself quartered.

His host and nine other MacDonalds were dragged out of their beds, bound hand and foot, and murdered. A boy twelve years old clung round the Captain's legs, and begged hard for his life, but a ruffian named Drummond shot the child dead. At another house a Highlander was up early that morning and was sitting with eight of his family round the fire, when a volley of musketry laid him and seven of his companions dead or dying on the floor. His brother, who alone escaped unhurt, called to Sergeant Barbour, who commanded the slayers, and asked as a favor to be allowed to die in the open air. "Well," said the sergeant, "I will do you the favor for the sake of your meat which I have eaten." The mountaineer, bold, athletic, and favored by the darkness, came forth, rushed on the soldiers who were leveling their pieces at him, flung his plaid over their faces and was gone in a moment.

Meanwhile Lindsay had knocked at the door of the old chief and had asked admission in friendly language. The door was opened. MacIan, while putting on his clothes, and calling to his servants to bring refreshments for his visitors, was shot through the head. Two of his attendants were slain with him. His wife was already up and dressed in such finery as the princesses of the rude Highland glens were accustomed to wear. The assassin pulled off her clothes and trinkets and tore her rings from her fingers with his teeth. She died on the following day.

Campbell and his men committed the error of dispatching their hosts with firearms instead of using cold steel. The peal and flash of fun after fun from three different parts of the valley gave notice at once that murder was doing. The sons of the old chief escaped,and from fifty cottages the half-naked men, women, and children fled under cover of the darkness to caverns in the glen, and when Hamilton arrived in broad daylight the work of destruction, as he said, had not been half performed. Thirty-two corpses lay wallowing in blood on the snow before the doors; one or two women and the tiny hand of an infant, lopped off, were seen among the heaps of slain. One aged MacDonald, over seventy, was found alive, probably too inform to fly. Hamilton murdered the old man in cold blood. The hamlets were burned and the troops departed driving away with them over a thousand head of cattle. How many old men and delicate women and children perished in the snow of the mountains on that fearful night can never be known; probably as many as were slain by the assassins.

When the troops had retired, the MacDonalds crept out of the caverns of Glencoe, ventured back to the spots where their rude dwellings had been, and performed some rude rites of sepulture for their murdered kinsmen.

Was it fate or retribution that brought about four hundred of the kinsmen of these murderers to the valley of the Mohawk a half a century later? The settlement at Saratoga was composed of clansmen of the Campbells, and in 1745 met with precisely the same fate from the Canadian Indians that they had inflicted upon the MacDonalds of Glencoe in 1692.

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.

Contents Introduction Links Home