History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, NY
F. W. Beers & Co. 36 Vesey Street, 1878
THE HISTORY OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY
PEACE ON THE MOHAWK--RESULTS OF THE WAR--THE NAMING AND SUCCESSIVE BOUNDARIES OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY.
The foray of Ross and Butler was the last serious incursion that afflicted the Mohawk valley during the Revolution. The unhappy inhabitants were not, however, permitted to relax their anxious vigilance, for small scalping parties still hovered about the more exposed settlements. As late as the summer of 1782, a band of seven Indians came down through the northern wilderness to kill or capture any prominent whigs they might be able to surprise. Henry Stoner's name was mentioned to them by Andreas Bowman, a tory, living east of Johnstown, and taking Bowman with them, ostensibly as a prisoner, but really as a guide, the savages repaired to Stoner's place, at Fonda's Bush. The old patriot was hoeing corn when the Indians were discovered by him, and he tried to reach his house where his rifle was kept ; but he was overtaken, and in his defenceless condition fell an easy prey to the tomahawk. Securing his scalp the savages went to his house, which they plundered and burned. Mrs, Stoner escaped injury, and saved one of her dresses by throwing it from a window. The house having been destroyed, she sought shelter at that of a neighbor named Harman. He with several others went to Stoner's farm, and searching the fields, found the owner still alive, though near death. On taking a draught of water he expired. The Indians had taken prisoners Stoner's nephew, Michael Reed, and a man named Palmatier. The former, a mere lad, was taken to Canada, where he became a drummer for Butler's Rangers, but Palmatier escaped the first night after his capture. On his return to his friends he reported the course of Bowman, who had also returned after helping the savages carry off their plunder to a hiding place near the Sacondaga. The tory was seized and thrown into the Johnstown jail. There he was visited by a party of whigs, who by way of making him confess his share in Stoner's murder, hung him by the neck for a very brief period. Nothing was learned from him, however, and after some emphatic warnings, he was released. How Stoner's famous son Nicholas, the trapper, avenged his father's death, is narrated on another page.
Reference having been made to the Johnstown jail, another affair with which it was connected may be here related. Among the tory refugees in Canada was John Helmer, a son of Philip Helmer, who lived at Fonda's Bush. Having returned to that settlement, he was arrested and imprisoned at Johnstown. The sentinel at the jail one day allowed Helmer to take his gun in hand to look at, as the prisoner seemed much pleased with it. The inevitable consequence is thus stated by Mr. Simms : " The piece had hardly passed out of the young guard's possession ere his authority was set at defiance, and its new owner took it to a place of retirement to inspect its merits, which were not fully decided upon until he had safely arrived in Canada." Helmer had gotten off so easily that he was emboldened to venture again into the neighborhood of his home on a recruiting mission. His presence becoming known, he was captured by Benjamin De Line, Solomon Woodworth and Henry Shew, and committed to the Johnstown jail. Fortunately for the venturesome tory, a sister of his had a lover among the garrison stationed at the jail, which was then also a fort ; and he, more true to his sweetheart than to his country, not only released Helmer, but together with another soldier, set out with him for Canada. Swift justice fell upon the deserters, who were both shot dead by a pursuing party. Helmer, severely wounded by a bayonet thrust, escaped for a time, but being subsequently found half dead in the woods, was returned once more to the jail. His wound having healed he again escaped, and this time reached Canada, having undergone almost incredible sufferings, which he related in an interview with Nicholas Stoner, who met him after the war in Canada, where he remained.
We have said that the raid of Ross and Butler was the last serious invasion of the Mohawk valley. There was little left to tempt further incursions. The patriots of Tryon county had passed through a terrible ordeal. Those who now live in peace and plenty on the lands once so often trodden by relentless foes, cannot comprehend the sufferings of their forefathers, and their brave and patient endurance. Especially difficult would it be to realize the amount of painful anxiety, hardship and self-denial, to which the wives and daughters of the Revolutionary heroes were subjected, while fathers, husbands, and brothers were away fighting for their country's freedom. All through the long struggle the lives of these brave women were made burdensome by incessant toil and watchi ng. Not only had they household duties to perform, but it fell to their lot to cultivate the farms for their subsistence. The slow and toilsome reaping with the sickle having been accomplished, and the grain garnered, they had to carry it miles, often on foot, to mill, exposed to the attack of the wily Indian or the treacherous tory ; or if the mill wa.s too distant, had to pound the grain in a wooden mortar at home. Those who had live stock were under the necessity of watching it night and day. The housewife and daughters had to weave the cloth from which the garments of their family were made, for few could afford to buy, even had well stocked stores been always at hand. But severe toil was a less hardship than the constant exposure to being attacked by the Indians, which made it part of their daily work to be on the look-out for the lurking foe, familiar with all the footpaths and liable to appear when least expected, seldom sparing the innocent and helpless, but leaving blood and flame as the evidence of his stealthy visit. The terrible experiences of the Revolution were impartially shared by the wives and daughters of the patriot soldiers, and their trials and endurance can never be fully portrayed.
Toward the close of the war, Col. Willett sent to Gen. Washington a lengthy statement of the condition of affairs in Tryon county, from which it appears that, whereas at the opening of the struggle the enrolled militia of the county numbered not less than 2,500, there were then not more than 800 men liable to bear arms, and not more than 1,200 who could be taxed or assessed for the raising of men for the public service. To account for so large a reduction of the population, it was estimated that one-third had been killed or made prisoners ; one-third had gone over to the enemy ; and one-third for the time being had abandoned the country. No other part of America of the same extent had suffered so much; no where else had the patriot population been so nearly at the mercy of the Indians and tories. Overrun again and again by savage hordes bent on murder, booty and ruin, this region presented at the close of the war a heart-sickening desolation.
The sufferings of the unfortunate inhabitants of the Mohawk valley were the measure of the delight with which they hailed the return of peace. The dispersed population returned to the blackened ruins of their former habitations, rebuilt their houses and again brought their farms under cultivation. With astonishing audacity the tories now began to sneak back and claim place and property among those whom they had impoverished and bereaved. It was not to be expected that this would be tolerated. The outraged feelings of the community found the following expression at a meeting of the principal inhabitants of the Mohawk district, May 9, 1783:
" Taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of this county relating to its situation, and the numbers that joined the enemy from among us, whose brutal barbarities in their frequent visits to their old neighbors are too shocking to humanity to relate:
" They have murdered the peaceful husbandman, and his lovely boys about him unarmed and defenseless in the field. They have, with a malicious pleasure, butchered the aged and infirm; they have wantonly sported with the lives of helpless women and children, numbers they have scalped alive, shut them up in their houses and burnt them to death. Several children, by the vigilance of their friends, have been snatched from naming buildings; and though tomahawked and scalped, are still living among us; they have made more than three hundred widows and above two thousand orphans in this county; they have killed thousands of cattle and horses that rotted in the field; they have burnt more than two millions of bushels of grain, many hundreds of buildings, and vast stores of forage; and now these merciless fiends are creeping in among us again to claim the privilege of fellow-citizens, and demand a restitution of their forfeited estates; but can they leave their infernal tempers behind them and be safe or peaceable neighbors ? Or can the disconsolate widow and the bereaved mother reconcile her tender feelings to a free and cheerful neighborhood with those who so inhumanly made her such ? Impossible! It is contrary to nature, the first principle of which is self-preservation. It is contrary to the law of nations, especially that nation which, for numberless reasons, we should be thought to pattern after; since the accession of the House of Hanover to the British throne five hundred and twenty peerages in Scotland have been sunk, the peers executed or fled, and their estates confiscated to the crown for adhering to their former administration after a new one was established by law. It is contrary to the eternal rule of reason and rectitude. If Britain employed them, let Britain pay them" We will not; therefore,
" RESOLVED, unanimously, that all those who have gone off to the enemy or have been banished by any law of this State, or those, who we shall find, tarried as spies or tools of the enemy, and encouraged and harbored those who went away, shall not live in this district on any pretence whatever; and as for those who have washed their faces from Indian paint and their hands from the innocent blood of our dear ones, and have returned, either openly or covertly, we hereby warn them to leave this district before the twentieth of June next, or they may expect to feel the just resentment of an injured and determined people.
" We likewise unanimously desire our brethren in the other districts in this county to join with us to instruct our representatives not to consent to the repealing any laws made for the safety of the State against treason, or confiscation of traitor's estates, or to passing any new acts for the return or restitution of tories.
" By order of the meeting,
" JOSIAH THROOP, Chairman."
In the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States no provisions were made by the former power in behalf of its Indian allies. At the beginning of the war the Mohawks were still in possession of a large extent of territory, and were induced to abandon it and take up the hatchet for the king, under a promise from the Governor of Canada that when the contest was over they should be restored to the same position as before it at the expense of the English government. The extinction of the British power throughout most of the country was not dreamed of. Such being the result of the war, the Mohawks could have no more hope of regaining their lands than the tories with whom they had fought, and scalped, and plundered and burned. At their urgent solicitation, a tract of land in Canada was finally granted to them, and such others of the Six Nations as chose to remove to it. The Oneidas and Tuscaroras, having remained friendly to the Americans, were secured in the possession of their lands. All the other members of the confederacy having taken up the hatchet against the United States, might, as conquered peoples, have them dispossessed, and driven over the established boundary into the domains of their British employers; but after considerable negotiation the United States gave them peace on their relinquishing a large share of their territory.
During the Revolution, the English official in honor of whom Tryon county was named rendered his name odious by a series of infamous acts in the service of the Crown ; and the Legislature on the 2nd of April, 1784, voted that the county should be called MONTGOMERY, in honor of General Richard Montgomery, who fell in the attack on Quebec, early in the war. At the beginning of the Revolution, the population of the county was estimated at about ten thousand. At the close of the war it had probably been reduced to one third of that number, but so inviting were the fertile lands of the county that in three years after the return of peace 1786 it had a population of fifteen thousand.
The boundaries of the several counties in the State were more minutely defined, March 7, 1788, and Montgomery was declared to contain all that part of the State bounded east by the counties of Ulster, Albany, Washington and Clinton, and south by the State of Pennsylvania. What had been districts in Tryon county were, with the exception of Old England, made towns ol Montgomery county, the Mohawk district forming two towns, Caughnawaga, north of the river, and Mohawk south of it. The Palatine 'originally, Stone Arabi-i, and Canajoharie districts were organized as towns, retaining those names.
The war of the Revolution had made the people of the other States familiar with New York. Sullivan's campaign, in particular, had revealed the fertility of the western part of the State, and a tide of emigration thither set in at the close of the war. This led to the formation from Montgomery, January 27, 1789, of Ontario county, which originally included all of the State west of a line running due north from the " 82nd milestone " on the Pennsylvania boundary, through Seneca Lake to Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario. On the i6th of February, 1791, the county of Montgomery was still further reduced by the formation of Tioga, Otsego and Herkimer, The latter joined Montgomery on the north as well as the west, the present east and west line between Fulton and Hamilton, continued westward, being part of their common boundary, and another part of it a line running north and south from Little Falls, and intersecting the former " at a place called Jersey-fields." Of the region thus taken from Montgomery county on the north, the present territory of Hamilton was restored in 1797, only to be set apart under its present name, February 12, 1816. April 7, 1817, the western boundary of Montgomery was moved eastward from the meridian of Little Falls to East Canada Creek and a line running south from its mouth, where it remains. The line between Montgomery and Schenectady has always been part of the boundary of the former, having originally separated it from Albany county. The form ation of Otsego county, February 16, 1791, established the line which now separates it and Schoharie from Montgomery. The latter took its northern boundary and entire present outline on the formation of Fulton county in 1838.
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