Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

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




Gloomy indeed was the prospect at this time in the Mohawk valley. Desolation and destitution were on every side. Of an abundant harvest, almost nothing remained. The Cherry Valley, Harpersfield, and all other settlements toward the head waters of the Susquehanna, had been entirely deserted for localities of greater safety. Some idea of the lamentable condition of other communities in Tryon county may be obtained from a statement addressed to the Legislature, December 20, 1780, by the supervisors of the county. In that document it was estimated that seven hundred buildings had been burned in the county ; six hundred and thirteen persons 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. Nor were the terrible sufferings indicated by these statistics mitigated by a brighter prospect. Before the winter was past, Brant was again hovering about with predatory bands to destroy what little property remained. Since the Oneidas had been driven from their country, the path of the enemy into the valley was almost unobstructed. It was with difficulty that supplies could be conveyed to Forts Plain and Dayton without being captured, and transportation to Fort Schuyler was of course far more hazardous. The militia had been greatly diminished and the people dispirited by repeated invasions, and the destruction of their property ; and yet what information could be obtained, indicated that another incursion might be looked for to sweep perhaps the whole extent of the valley, con temporaneously with a movement from the north toward Albany. Fort Schuyler was so much injured by flood and fire in the spring of 1781, that it was abandoned, the garrison retiring to the lower posts ; and all the upper part of the valley was left open to the savages.

Governor Clinton was greatly pained by the gloomy outlook, and knowing that Col. Willett was exceedingly popular in the valley, earnestly solicited his services in this (quarter. Willett had just been appointed to the command of one of the two new regiments formed by the consolidation of the remnants of five New York regiments, and it was with reluctance that he left the main army for so difficult and harassing an undertaking as the defence of the Mohawk region. The spirit of the people, at this time lower than at any other during the long struggle, began to revive when Col. Willett appeared among them. It was in June that he repaired to Tryon county to take charge of the militia levies and State troops that he might be able to collect. The former did not now exceed a hundred men, and in a letter to Governor Clinton making known the weakness of his command) Colonel Willett said : " I confess myself not a little disappointed in having such a trifling force for such extensive business as I have on my hands ; and also that nothing is done to enable me to avail myself of the militia. The prospect of a suffering county hurts me. Upon my own account I am not uneasy. Everything I can do shall be done, and more cannot be looked for. If it is, the reflection that I have done my duty must fix my own tranquillity."

It was not long before Col. Willett had to repel an invasion. On the 9th of July the settlement of Currytown was attacked by some three hun dred Indians and a few loyalists led by a rank tory, named John Doxtader. The inhabitants were at work in the fields when the enemy darted from the surrounding forest, and the now familiar scene of murder and destruction was re-enacted. Part of the settlers escaped to a small picketed block-house, but nine were carried away prisoners, and all the buildings in the settlement were fired before the marauders retired, save one belonging to a tory.

Col. Willett was at Fort Plain at the time of this foray and saw the smoke rising from the burning buildings. A scouting and foraging party of thirty or forty men under Captain Gross being on the march toward New Dorlach, came upon the trail of the enemy, and later upon their camp, where a slight guard remained, while the body of the raiders were attacking Cur rytown. Captain Gross immediately reported with all possible dispatch to Col. Willet at Fort Plain, and himself repaired to Bowman's creek to await orders. Col. Willett, on seeing the smoke of the conflagration at Currytown, sent Captain McKean in that direction with sixteen of the militia and orders to collect as many more as possible on the way. The party moved so rapidly as to reach Currytown shortly after it was deserted by the enemy, and in time to assist in saving some buildings but partly consumed.

Col. Willett, after despatching McKean to Currytown, promptly collected what force he could and followed, joining the detachments of Gross and McKean that evening, when the whole effective force did not exceed one hundred and fifty men. They encamped in a cedar swamp near the present Sharon Springs, intending to surprise the enemy's camp by night. In attempting this movement, however, the guide lost his way in the dense forest, and when the point of attack was reached about six o'clock in the morning, the savages and tories, having been warned of their danger, had taken a more defensible position and were prepared for battle. It was at once resolved to attack them, but, if possible, to draw them from their advantageous post, For this purpose a small detachment was ordered forward under Lieut. Jacob Sammons, with orders to retreat at the proper time and decoy the enemy within a semi-circle formed by the rest of Col. Willet's force. The Indians having repulsed Sammons' willing party, rushed, yelling, in hot pursuit, and were thus brought into contact with Col. Willett's force of one hundred men, while Captain McKean fell upon their right. Thus entrapped they broke and took refuge behind trees, which they soon relinquished in precipitate flight, leaving their camp and booty behind. About forty of them were found dead on the field. Col. Willett lost in killed five men, and five wounded and missing. Most unfortunately among the wounded was Captain McKean, who died the next day at Fort Plain, greatly lamented.

Col. Willett returned hurriedly from the battle field to Fort Plain with out burying his dead, which service was performed by Col. Veeder, who arrived at the spot soon after with a detachment of militia. Beside the fallen soldiers there were discovered upon the ground seven of the Currytown prisoners, whom the Indians, on finding they must retreat, had scalped and, as they supposed, killed. Two of them, however, were found alive-Jacob Dievendorff, aged eleven, and a little girl named Mary Miller. The latter died on the way to Fort Plain, but the boy recovered, as did also his brother, Frederick, who had a similar terrible experience at Currytown the day before.

Soon after the Currytown affair, a party of Indians and tones, led by a son of Col. Jacob Klock, who had cast in his lot with the refugees in Canada, attempted an attack upon Palatine. They encamped one night in the vicinity, but Philip Helmer, one of their number, learning that a family of his relatives, named Bellinger, were among the doomed, deserted and informed the threatened settlers. A force of twenty-five patriots hastily gathered, and led by Jacob Sammons went in search of the enemy. The latter, on finding their presence discovered, had retreated, but they were overtaken, and in a skirmish which ensued were routed, with the loss of their provisions and some of their arms. An Indian, wounded and captured, was killed by Helmer, who joined in the pursuit of his late associates. Three who escaped died from their wounds on their way to Canada.

Small guerrilla parties continued to lurk around the frontier settlements during the remainder of the summer and early autumn of 1781, but the vigilance of Col. Willett's scouts prevented their doing any great damage. The tories, however, had lost none of their animosity against their former neighbors in the Mohawk valley, and in the autumn of this year they executed one more of their murderous and ruinous forays. The expedition, which was led by Major Ross and Walter Butler, of Cherry Valley infamy, consisted of British regulars, tories and Indians to the number of about a thousand. Their stealthily approach to the settlements was undiscovered until they appeared at Currytown, October 24th. There, for once, they caused no conflagration, not wishing as yet to announce their arrival to the neighboring communities, but passed rapidly on to Warrensbush and the vicinity of Fort Hunter, killing or capturing all whom they met. In the neighborhood of the fort they were able to destroy the dwellings and plunder the people on the south side of the river before any force could be collected to oppose them.

As soon as the news reached Col. Willett he started to the rescue with what men he could hastily collect. Marching through the night he reached Fort Hunter the next morning (October 25th), but the enemy had already crossed the river and directed their course toward Johnstown, plundering and burning right and left. Willett's force lost some time in passing the stream, which was not fordable at this point, but this accomplished, the pursuit was vigorously prosecuted and the enemy were overtaken at Johnstown. Col. Willett had but four hundred and sixteen men, and his inferiority of force compelled a resort to strategy in attacking. Accordingly Col. Rowley, of Massachusetts, was detached with about sixty of his men and some of the Tryon county militia to gain the rear of the enemy by a circuitous march and fall upon them, while Col. Willett attacked them in front. The invaders were met by Col. Willett near Johnson Hall, and the battle immediately began. It was for a time hotly contested, but at length the militia, under Col. Willett, suddenly gave way, and fled precipitately to the stone church in the village before their commander could induce them to make a stand. The enemy would have won an easy and complete victory had not Col. Rowley at this moment fallen vigorously upon their rear and obstinately maintained an unequal contest. This gave Col. Willett time to rally his men, who again pressed forward. At nightfall, after a severe struggle, the enemy, overcome and harassed on all sides, fled in confusion to the woods, not halting to encamp until they had gone several miles. In the engagement the Americans lost about forty ; the enemy had about the same number killed and fifty taken prisoners. A young Johnstown patriot named William Scarborough, who was among the garrison at the fort at the time of this action, left it with another soldier named Crosset, to join Willett's force. They fell in with the enemy on the way, and Crosset, after shooting one or two of the latter, was himself killed. Scarborough was surrounded and captured by a company of Highlanders under Capt. McDonald, formerly living near Johnstown. Scarborough and the Scotch officer had been neighbors before the war, and had got into a political wrangle which resulted in a fight and the beating of the Highland chief. Henceforward he cherished a bitter hatred toward his adversary, and finding him now in his power, ordered him shot at once. His men refusing the butcherly office, McDonald took it upon himself, and cut the prisoner to pieces with his sword.

McDonald was not the only one with whom Scarborough quarreled about the political situation. He once so abused an old man whom he met at a grist-mill in Johnstown that the miller called a number of soldiers from the fort to witness their comrade's conduct. They rebuked Scarborough for misusing the poor old man, whereupon he turned his attention to them, and having provoked a fight, got a severe drubbing. A man named Yockum Follock, who lived in the neighborhood of Johnstown, and was killed at the battle near the Hall, "was found with a piece of meat placed at his mouth, as supposed, by the Indians in derision." Be side these incidents connected with the engagement, Mr. Simms relates the following:

" In the Revolution a hedge fence ran eastward from Johnson Hall, and the men under Willett were upon one side of it and those under Ross the other. After a few shots the Americans retreated in confusion, but were rallied, returned to the field, and acting in concert with troops in the enemy's rear, gained a signal victory. When the Americans first retreated, Wagner [Joseph, who told the story,] was the last man to leave the ground. Seeing an officer genteelly clad spring over the fence near, he fired and brought him down. In an instant a hundred guns were leveled at his own person, and he fled in safety amid their discharge. After the battle was over and Willett's men had encamped, Wagner, attended by several of his friends, visited the field to learn the fate of the handsome officer he had fired at. He found him on the ground near where he had fallen and addressed him much as follows: ' My dear sir, I am the man who shot you in the afternoon, but I have a fellow feeling for you; permit me and I will take you to our camp, where you shall receive kind treatment and good care.' 'I would rather die on this spot,' was his emphatic reply, 'than leave it with a d-d rebel!' The young officer, who was very good-look ing, with long black hair, was left to his fate. By dawn of day the Ameri cans were put in motion, and Wagner saw no more of the warrior named; but on the approach of several Oneidas in the morning, he observed in the hands of one a scalp, the hair of which resembled that of his.

" Capt. Andrew Fink, a native of the Mohawk valley, who possessed a spirit suited for the times, was also in the Johnstown battle. * * * During the action near the Hall the British took from the Americans a field-piece, which Col. Willett was anxious to recover. He sent Capt. Fink with a party of volunteers to reconnoitre the enemy, and if possible get the lost cannon. Three of the volunteers were Christian and Myndert Fink, brothers of the Captain, and George Stansell. While observing the movement of the enemy from the covert of a fallen tree, Stansell was shot down beside his brave leader, with a bullet through his lungs, and was borne from the woods by Hanyost Fink. Strengthening his party of volunteers, Capt. Fink again entered the forest, soon after which he picked up a British knapsack containing a bottle of French brandy and a cocked hat. The cannon was soon after recaptured, and it being near night Willett drew off his men and quartered them in the old Episcopal church in Johnstown, gaining entrance by breaking in a window.

" Most of the Scotch settlers in and around Johnstown either went to Canada with the Johnsons at the beginning of difficulties, or if they remained were more the friends of the British than the American government, Duncan McGregor, who resided several miles north of Johnson Hall, was an exception. At the time of Ross' invasion several Indians and a tory entered this pioneer's house in the evening, who left it as they were approaching, unobserved by them. He gained the rear of his log dwelling, and through a cranny, watched the motions of the party. He was armed with a gun and a sword, and resolved if any injury or insult was offered to his wife, to shoot the offender and flee to the woods. Mrs. McGregor detected a tory in one of the party by observing his white skin, where the paint had worn off. This white Indian inquired of her if she could not give them something to eat. She replied that she had some johnny-cake and milk. ' That will do,' said he, and soon they were eating. As they rose from the table one of them espied a handsomely-painted chest in one corner of the room, and asked what it contained. ' It contains books,' said she, 'and other articles belonging to a relative in Albany.' 'Ah,' said the speaker, ' he belongs to the rebel army, I suppose ?' She replied that he did, and her countenance indicated no little anxiety as he exclaimed, with a menacing gesture, 'Be careful you do not deceive us !' One of the intruders with a tomahawk instantly split the cover, and the books and sundry articles of clothing were thrown upon the floor. The clothing was added to their stock of plunder, and soon after the warriors departed."

The morning after the battle, Colonel Willett started in pursuit of the invaders, halting at Stone Arabia, and sending forward a detachment, with orders to proceed by forced marches to Oneida Lake and destroy the enemys boats, which he was informed had been left there. Willett remained for a day at Stone Arabia, thinking the guerrillas might attempt to plunder that neighborhood, and then renewed the pursuit, meeting on the way his advanced party returning from Oneida Lake, without having accomplished anything. The enemy, having taken the direction of west Canada Creek, Col. Willett followed them thither, his force being increased by the arrival of about sixty Oneida warriors and some white troops. Several of the marauders were killed, and others captured in skirmishes with their rear guard before the creek was reached. Having crossed the stream, Walter Butler tried to rally his followers and contest the passage of the Ameri cans. While thus engaged he was recognized and shot down by an Oneida Indian. His men thereupon fled, and the Oneida marksmen crossing the creek with tomahawk and scalping knife, made a fitting end of the blood-thirsty tory who directed the Cherry Valley massacre.

The pursuit was shortly after relinquished, and Col. Willett returned to Fort Dayton, having lost but one man since the Johnstown engage ment, while the loss of the enemy in their flight was considerable. Col. Willett, reporting to Governor Clinton said, that the number of British and savages killed in the several encounters, " the fields of Johnstown, the brooks and rivers, the hills and mountains, the deep and gloomy marshes through which they had to pass, they alone can tell, and perhaps the officer who detached them on the expedition."

The body of Butler was left unburied where he fell. He was one of the greatest scourges of his native county. Of him, Lossing thus speaks :

" Tender charity may seek to cloak his crimes with the plea that partisan warfare justified his deeds ; and lapse of time, which mellows such crimson tints in the picture of a man's character, may temper the asperity with which a shocked humanity views his conduct ; yet a just judgment founded upon observation of his brief career, must pronounce it a stain upon the generation in which he lived."

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