Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, NY
F. W. Beers & Co. 36 Vesey Street, 1878




The situation of the Mohawk valley was such that it was liable at any time to be further desolated by hordes of savages. Shortly after the irrup tion of Sir John, General Clinton ordered Col. Gansevoort to repair with his regiment to Fort Plain, take charge of a large quantity of stores des tined for Fort Schuyler, and convoy the batteau containing them to its destination. This caution was necessary to save the supplies from capture by the Indians. Most of the local militia accompanied Gansevoort's command. Brant was again on the war-path, watching for a favorable moment to spring upon the unprotected inhabitants, and supplied by the tones with information of movements in the settlements. He was early aware of the departure of the troops for Fort Schuyler, and when they were well on their way, made a descent on Canajoharie with about five hundred Indians and tories, chiefly the former. There were several stockades in the neighborhoods desolated by the invaders, but the principal fortification was that known as Fort Plain, situated on an eminence near the present village of that name, and commanding an extensive view of the valley. The garrison of Fort Plain was insufficient without help from the militia, who were now absent from the neighborhood, to give battle to Brant's force. The approach of the latter was announced to the people, then busy with their harvesting, by a woman firing a cannon at the fort, whither all who were fortunate enough to escape from the savages fled, leaving their property to be destroyed. The Indians advanced to the precincts of the fort and burned the church and parsonage, beside several other buildings. The church spire was adorned with a brass ball, and the savages, believing it to be gold, watched eagerly for its fall. When at last it fell they sprang for ward to seize the prize, but as gladly relinquished their grasp with blistered hands. The columns of smoke rising from the burning buildings were seen at Johnstown, and were the first intimation of this latest incursion. The farmers left their harvest-fields and joined Col. Wemple, marching up the river with the Schenectady and Albany militia; but they were not in time to check the work of destruction or cut off the retreat of the marauders. The Colonel, who has been thought to have been more prudent than valorous on this occasion, only reached the desolated region in time to view the smouldering ruins and rest securely in the fort that night.

The next morning some buildings, which had escaped the torch the day before, were discovered on fire. Col. Wemple, on being notified of the fact, said that if any volunteers were disposed to look into the matter they might do so; whereupon Major Bantlin, with some of the Tryon county militia, set out for the scene of the fire. It proved to have been set by a party of Brant's followers, who, as soon as discovered, fled to rejoin the main body. In a day the fairest portion of the valley had been desolated, sixteen of the inhabitants slain, and more than fifty, chiefly women and children, carried into captivity. Fifty-three dwellings with their barns, a grist-mill, a church and two small forts were burned, more than three hundred cattle and horses driven away, and the implements of husbandry and the standing grain destroyed. The forts which were demolished were not garrisoned, and had been constructed by the people themselves. The inhabitants of the desolated neighborhood had protested against helping the Government to keep open communication with Fort Schuyler while their Own homes were but slightly protected, and the result of their doing so justified their worst apprehensions.

Much as the patriotic inhabitants of the Mohawk valley had already suffered, their afflictions were not yet over. During the autumn of 1780, Sir John Johnson, Brant and the Seneca chief, Cornplanter, led against the Mohawk and Schoharie settlements an expedition designed to sweep away the last vestige of wealth possessed by the adherents to the cause of the colonists. The warriors of the two chiefs named formed a junction at Unadilla with Sir John's forces, which consisted of three companies of the Royal Greens, one company of German Yagers, two hundred of But ler's Rangers, a company of British regulars and a party of Indians. Sir John and his followers came from Montreal by the way of Oswego, bringing with them two small mortars and a brass three three-pounder, mounted on legs instead of wheels, and called from that circumstance a " grass-hopper ;" the artillery was transported on packhorses. The plan of the enemy was, upon reaching the Schoharie, to pass the upper of three-small forts on that stream by night and unobserved; destroy the settlements between it and the Middle Fort, and attack the latter in the morning. This plan was carried out October 16, the homes of all but tories being given to the flames. The Middle Fort was bombarded, but no impression was made upon it, and an assault was not attempted. The enemy moved on toward Fort Hunter, making a feeble attack on the Lower Schoharie fort by the way, not sparing a building or grain stack known to belong to a whig, and killing or driving off the cattle and horses. A hundred thousand bushels of grain were estimated to have been destroyed that day. Nearly one hundred of the peaceable settlers were brutally murdered. The whigs were so exasperated by the ruin wrought among them that their survivors applied the torch to the buildings and stacks of their tory neighbors, and the desolation along the Schoharie was complete.

The invaders remained in the vicinity of Fort Hunter during the day after their appearance, destroying everything in the neighborhood. On the 18th they moved up the Mohawk, a detachment of the Greens and Indians taking the north bank, and all structures left standing in the spring, or since put up, were burned. At night Sir John encamped near the Nose, and next morning crossed to the north side at Keder's Rifts. From this point a detachment was sent against the stockade in Stone Arabia, called Fort Paris, and the main body shortly followed, after keep ing to the river bank about two miles further.

As soon as intelligence of this irruption reached Albany, Gen. Van Rensselaer, with the Albany militia, accompanied by Gov. Clinton, marched to the assistance of the people of Tryon county. Van Rensselaer reached Caughnawaga on the 18th, and learning that Fort Paris was to be attacked on the following day, sent orders to Col. Brown, who was in command of that post, to sally out next morning and engage the enemy while he him self would make a diversion in his favor. Col. Brown obeyed, going out to confront the enemy with his little force at the appointed time. Van Rensselaer was so unpardonably slow in his movements, that before he arrived within reach of the enemy, Brown's little band had been over whelmed. The Colonel himself was slain while gallantly fighting at the head of his men, and about forty of his followers met the same fate, the remainder seeking safety in flight. Having routed Brown's little com pany, Sir John dispersed his own force in small detachments, which, burn ing and pillaging in every direction, left Stone Arabia in ruins. In the afternoon, Johnson's guerillas reunited and moved westward to a place called Klock's Field, where, wearied with their exertions and burdened with plunder, they halted to rest.

On the morning of the 19th, Van Rensselaer renewed his march, keep ing along the south side of the river, and was joined by Capt. McKean with about eighty volunteers and a strong body of Oneida warriors, under their principal chief, Louis Atayataroughta, who had been commissioned a lieutenant-colonel by Congress. This accession made Van Rensselaer's force entirely superior to Johnson's. Sir John had taken the precaution to station a guard of forty men at the ford by which he crossed the Mohawk, and Van Rensselaer on reaching this point, not attempting to force a passage, halted until the guard was withdrawn, and even then proceeded without crossing; thus remaining idle and useless on the south side of the river while the enemy were annihilating everything combustible on the north side. Before noon Van Rensselaer arrived opposite the point where Johnson's men were completing the destruction of Brown's party, the firing being still audible. Here the colonial force was halted, and was immediately joined by some of Brown's fleeing soldiers, who had forded the river without difficulty. One of the latter, a militia officer named Van Allen, promptly reported to Gen. Van Rensselaer the state of affairs, and inquired if he was not going over. In reply the General said he was not acquainted with the fording place. He was told there was no difficulty in fording, and Van Allen offered to act as pilot. Thereupon Captain McKean and the Oneida chief led their bands across, expecting the main army to follow without delay. Instead of supporting his advance party in the promised co-operation with Col. Brown, Van Rensselaer now accom panied Col. Dubois to Fort Plain, to dine with Gov. Clinton. Returning about four o'clock, he found that the remainder of his army had crossed the river on a rude bridge built upon baggage wagons driven into the stream. He was at length stung to something like activity by his officers remonstrating against his inertness, and the Oneida chief denounced him to his face as a tory; and the provincials advanced with due expedition.

Sir John seeing that he could not avoid an attack, prepared to meet it by throwing up slight breastworks and arranging his forces in order of battle. The tories and Butler's Rangers occupied a small plain partly pro tected by a bend in the river, while Brant with his Indians, concealed in a thicket on a slight elevation further north, were supported by a detach ment of. German Yagers. It was near evening when the battle began. Van Rensselaer's extreme right was commanded by Col. Dubois. Next to him was Capt. McKean with his volunteers, and then came the Oneidas, while the left was led by Col. Cuyler. The Indians in ambush constituted the left of the enemy. As the provincials approached, Brant raised the war-whoop, to which the Oneidas quickly responded, and the engagement soon became general. The Oneida warriors rushed upon their Iroquois kindred, followed by McKean; the latter supported by Col. Dubois, whose wing of the line of battle was too extended to match the enemy's disposi tions. Brant's savage legion resisted for a time the impetuous charge, but eventually fled toward a ford about two miles up the river. Brant was wounded in the heel, but effected his escape.

The victorious troops were eager to pursue the scattered and demoraliz ed enemy, but it was now twilight, and Van Rensselaer once more inter posed for the preservation of the foe, by ordering the patriot army to fall back two or three miles, and encamp for the night. This order was a grievous disappointment to the troops, and was obeyed with reluctance, and but in part, as Louis the Oneida chief, Captain McKean and Col. Clyde still harassed the flying enemy, capturing one of their field pieces, and taking some prisoners. The patriots were the more exasperated at being withheld from pursuit on learning from one of their captives that the raiders were on the point of surrendering when Van Rensselaer gave the order to retreat.

Early the next morning, the Oneidas and McKean with his volunteers moved up the river, only to find, as was to be expected, that under cover of the night the enemy had escaped, fleeing toward Onondaga Lake, where their boats were concealed. Van Rensselaer followed moderately as far as Fort Herkimer, from which point he sent forward McKean and the Oneidas to harass the fugitives, promising to advance with the main body immedi ately. Coming next morning upon the still burning camp fires of the marauders, the advance party of the pursuers halted, the Oneida chief fearing an ambuscade, and refusing to proceed until Gen. Van Rensselaer came up. Instead of that active and valiant officer, came a messenger re porting that the pursuit was abandoned, and the army on its return march. Van Rensselaer has been universally censured for his mismanagement of this expedition, especially his shameful negligence in allowing Stone Arabia to be desolated in his presence, and Johnson to escape with his army only defeated when it might have been annihilated.

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