Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

of the American Revolution

by William L. Stone. Volume I

New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843.


THE parent government did not relax its coercive measures, notwithstanding the efforts of the Earl of Chatham, now venerable for his years, who, after a long retirement, returned into public life, to interpose his eloquence and the influence of his great name in behalf of the colonies. His lordship's address to the king for the removal of the troops from Boston was rejected by a large majority. His conciliatory bill was also rejected. On the 26th of January, Messrs. Bolland, Franklin, and Lee, the committee from the colonies charged with presenting the petition of the Continental Congress for a redress of grievances, brought the subject before the House of Commons, and after an angry debate, they refused to receive it by a decisive vote. Meantime, bills were passed, by large majorities, restraining all the thirteen colonies, excepting only New-York, Delaware, and North Carolina, from the prosecution of any foreign commerce other than with Great Britain and her dependances. The Eastern States were likewise excluded from the fisheries of Newfoundland. But notwithstanding that, from motives of policy, New-York had been thus excepted from the restraining law, its local legislature was at the same time engaged in preparing a memorial to the crown for a redress of grievances : a fact which the ministers soon learned, and not without mortification. The New York address was a strong denunciation of the measures of the government towards the colonies, and an energetic appeal for redress. The address was presented to the House of Commons by Mr. Burke, but was never called up.

A new Provincial Congress was assembled in Massachusetts in February, which, anticipating that the parent government was preparing to strike the first blow at that colony, adopted farther means of precaution and defence, but, with great wisdom, avoiding anything like an overt act of resistance. Hostilities had well nigh been commenced, on the 26th of February, between Salem and Danvers, by the opposition of Colonel Timothy Pickering and others to Colonel Leslie, who had been sent to Salem by General Gage to seize some military stores which he had been informed were collecting at the former place. The interposition of Mr. Barnard, the minister of Salem, prevented the effusion of blood, and Leslie returned to Boston from a bootless errand.

The ill-starred expedition, by the direction of General Gage, to Concord, and the battle of Lexington on the l9th of April, gave the signal of a general rush to arms throughout most of the colonies. True, it was not admitted to be a formal commencement of hostilities, and the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts despatched an account of that affair to Great Britain, with depositions establishing the fact, indisputably, that both at Concord and Lexington the firing had been commenced by the king's troops, Major Pitcairn himself discharging the first shot at the former place. But although this message was accompanied by an address to the people of Great Britain with continued professions of loyalty, those professions were sent, hand in hand, with a declaration that they would " not tamely submit to the persecution and tyranny" of the existing ministry, and with an appeal to Heaven for the justice of a cause in which they were determined to die or conquer. It was very evident, therefore, that reconciliation was out of the question, and that a trial of arms was near at hand. Of course, the exasperation of the public mind was now at its height, and those who had not taken sides could no longer stand neutral.

It was at this moment, just as the Continental Congress was about to reassemble, that, most unwisely for themselves, the influential Loyalists of Tryon county undertook to make a demonstration against the proceedings of the Congress of the preceding autumn. A declaration in opposition to those proceedings was drawn up, and advantage taken of the gathering of the people at a court holden in Johnstown, to obtain signatures. The discussions ran high upon the subject, but the movers in the affair succeeded in obtaining the names of a majority of the grand-jurors, and the greater portion of the magistracy of the county.

The Whigs in attendance at the court were indignant at this procedure, and, on returning to their respective homes, communicated their feelings to those of their neighbours who had embraced kindred principles. Public meetings were called, and committees appointed in every district, and sub-committees in almost every hamlet in the county.* The first of these public meetings was held at the house of John Veeder, in Caughnawaga. It was attended by about three hundred people, who assembled, unarmed, for the purpose of deliberation, and also to erect a liberty-pole-the most hateful object of that day in the eyes of the Loyalists. Among the leaders of the Whigs on that occasion were SAMPSON SAMMONS, an opulent farmer residing in the neighbourhood, and two of his sons, JACOB and FREDERIC. Before they had accomplished their purpose of raising the emblem of rebellion, the proceedings were interrupted by the arrival of Sir John Johnson, accompanied by his brothers-in-law, Colonels Claus and Guy Johnson, Colonel John Butler, and a large number of their retainers, armed with swords and pistols. Guy Johnson mounted a high stoop and harangued the people at length, and with great vehemence. He dwelt upon the strength and power of the king, and attempted to show the folly of opposing his officers or revolting against the authority of his crown. A single ship, he said, would be sufficient to capture all the navy which could be set afloat by the colonies ; while on the frontiers, the Indians were under his majesty's control, and his arms were sustained

* The county of Tryon then included all the colonial settlements west and south-west of Schenectady. It was taken from Albany county in 1772, and named in honour of William Tryon, then governor of the province. In 1784 the name was changed to Montgomery. When formed, it embraced all that part, of the state lying west of a line running north and south, nearly through the centre of the present county of Schoharie.

by a chain of fortified, posts, extending from the Gulf of the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi. He was very virulent in his language towards the disaffected, causing their blood to boil with indignation. But they "were unarmed, and for the most part unprepared, if not indisposed, to proceed to any act of violence. The orator at length became so abusive, that Jacob Sammons, no longer able to restrain himself, imprudently interrupted his discourse by pronouncing him a liar and a villain. Johnson thereupon seized Sammons by the throat, and called him a d-d villain in return. A scuffle ensued between them, during which Sammons was struck down with a loaded whip. On recovering from the momentary stupor of the blow, Sammons found one of Johnson's servants sitting astride of his body. A well-directed blow relieved him of that encumbrance, and, springing upon his feet, he threw off his coat and prepared for fight. Two pistols were immediately presented to his breast, but not discharged, as Sammons was again knocked down by the clubs of the Loyalists, and severely beaten. On recovering his feet once more, he perceived that his Whig friends had all decamped, with the exception of the families of the Fondas, Veeders, and Visschers.* The Loyalists also drew off, and Jacob Sammons returned to his father's house, bearing upon his body the first scars of the revolutionary contest in the county of Tryon.

One of the largest and most spirited of these meetings took place in Cherry Valley. It was held in the church, and the people entered into the subject with so much enthusiasm, that they took their children to the assembly, that they might imbibe lessons of patriotism, as it were, at the altar-thus hallowing the cause in which they were about to engage with the impressive sanctions of religion. The orator of the occasion was an Indian interpret-

* Narratives of Jacob and Frederic Sammons, furnished to the author repeated references to both of which will be made hereafter.

er named Thomas Spencer; he was rude of speech, but forcible ; and, warming with his theme, spoke with such power and effect, that the story of his eloquence yet lives in the annals of tradition. The result of this meeting was the adoption of a strong counter-declaration, condemning the proceedings of the Loyalists at Johnstown, and approving, in the most unequivocal and solemn terms, of the proceedings of the Continental Congress.

These proceedings took place early in May. But from a letter addressed to the Committee of Safety of Albany, by the Committee of the Palatine District, on the 18th of that month, it appears that the Johnsons, and their powerful confederates in the Mohawk District, succeeded, by threats, intimidation, and an array of military strength, in preventing the adoption of a corresponding declaration by the Whigs. The committee farther notified their friends in Albany, that Sir John Johnson was fortifying the Baronial Hall, by planting several swivels around it; and he had paraded parts of the regiment of militia which he commanded, on the day previous, for the purpose of intimidation, as it was conjectured. It was likewise reported that the Scotch Highlanders, settled in large numbers in and about Johnstown, who were Roman Catholics, had armed themselves to the number of one hundred and fifty, ready to aid in the suppression of any popular outbreaks in favour of the growing cause of liberty.

Strong suspicions were early entertained that the Johnsons, Butlers, and Colonel Claus, were endeavouring to alienate the good-will of the Indians from the colonists, and prepare them, in the event of open hostilities, to take up the hatchet against them. Thayendanegea, alias Joseph Brant, as heretofore mentioned, was now the secretary of Colonel Guy Johnson, the superintendent, and his activity was ceaseless. Notwithstanding his former friendship for Mr. Kirkland, the faithful missionary to the One-


idas, Thayendanegea was apprehensive that his influence would be exerted to alienate the Indians from the interests of the crown, and attach them to those of the colonists. The wily chief, accordingly, attempted to obtain the removal of Mr. Kirkland from his station; and at his instigation a dissolute sachem of the Oneidas preferred charges against the minister to Guy Johnson, the superintendent. A correspondence took place between Johnson and Mr. Kirkland upon the subject, in which the latter sustained himself with force and dignity. The Oneida nation, moreover, rallied to his support, almost to a man; so that the superintendent was obliged, for the time, to relinquish the idea of his forcible removal.

Justice, however, both to Brant and Guy Johnson, requires it to be stated, that the vigilant eyes of the Bostonians had already been directed to the importance of securing an interest among the Indians of the Six Nations, in anticipation of whatever events were to happen. To this end, a correspondence was opened through Mr. Kirkland, even with the Mohawks, by the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, before the affair of Lexington and Concord. There were at that time dwelling at Stockbridge, in the western part of Massachusetts, a remnant of the Mohickanders, or " River Indians," as they were usually called during the greater portion of the last century, but latterly Stockbridge Indians, from their locality. These Indians were the remains of the Muhhekaneew* of the Hudson River, at the time of

* This is the orthography of Dr. Edwards, who was long a missionary among them at Stockbridge. Heckewelder says their proper name was Mahicfinni. It is one of the most difficult things in the world to arrive at anything like system or certainty in regard to Indian names of persons, places, or things. For instance, the author has papers before him at the time of writing, in which the River Indians are called Moheagans, Mourigans, or Mahingans (French), Mahickanders, (Dutch), Mohiccons (English), Mohuccans, Machickinders, Schaticooks, Wabingas, Muhheakunnuks, and the Moheakouncks, indeed, it has been the practice of writers of different, and of even the same nations, to spell more by the ear

the discovery. They came originally, according to their own traditions, from the far West-even beyond the great lakes. That such was their original location is supported by the fact, that their language was radically different from that of the Narragansetts and New-England Indians generally, and also from the language of the Five Nations. Its affinities were allied to the Shawanese and Chippewa, affording farther evidence that they had emigrated from the West, crossing the country of the Delawares, and establishing themselves on the banks of the Hudson, or Mohickannittuck, as the North River was called. They were a powerful tribe at the time of the discovery, numbering a thousand warriors, and inhabiting the country between the Upper Delaware and the Hudson, together with portions of territory now included in Massachusetts and Vermont. They dwelt mostly in little towns and villages, their chief seat being the site of the present city of Albany, called by them Pempotowwuthut-Muhhecanneuw, or the Fireplace of the Nation. Becoming feeble and dispersed as the white population increased around and among them-although their numbers had been partially recruited by refugees from the Narragansetts and Pequods, on the conquest of those nations-the Muhhekaneew were collected together at Stockbridge, in 1736, under the care of the Rev. John Sergeant, who, and his son after him, were long the spiritual guides of the tribe. They were ever faithful to the English, having been actively employed by General Shirley to range the country between Lake George and Montreal, during the French war ending in the conquest of Canada.

The relations of the Stockbridge Indians with the Oneidas had become intimate, and it is very possible that the negotiations had even then commenced than by rule, until our Indian names have been involved in almost inextricable confusion.

between the two tribes, which a few years afterward resulted in the removal of the Stockbridge Indians to the Oneida. Be that, however, as it may, when the troubles began to thicken, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts sent a message to the Stockbridge Indians, apprizing them of the gathering tempest, and expressing a desire to cultivate a good understanding between them. The Indians, in return, despatched Captain Solomon Ahhaunnauwaumut, their chief sachem, to the Congress, to make a reply, and on the 11th of April he delivered the following speech:

" BROTHERS-"We have heard you speak by your letter-we thank you for it: we now make answer.

" BROTHERS-You remember, when you first came over the great waters, I was great, and you was little, very small. I then took you in for a friend, and kept you under my arms, so that no one might injure you; since that time we have ever been true friends; there has never been any quarrel between us. But now our conditions are changed. You are become great and tall. You reach to the clouds. You are seen all around the world, and I am become small, very little. I am not so high as your heel. Now you take care of me, and I look to you for protection.

" BROTHERS-I am sorry to hear of this great quarrel between you and Old England. It appears that blood must soon be shed to end this quarrel. We never till this day understood the foundation of this quarrel between you and the country you came from.

" BROTHERS-Whenever I see your blood running, you will soon find me about to revenge my brother's blood. Although I am low and very small, I will gripe hold of your enemy's heel, that he cannot run so fast, and so light, as if he had nothing at his heels.

" BROTHERS-You know I am not so wise as you are; therefore I ask your advice in what I am now going to say. I have been thinking, before you come to action, to take a run to the westward, and feel the mind of my Indian brethren, the Six Nations, and know how they stand-whether they are on your side, or for your enemies. If I find they are against you, I will try to turn their minds. I think they will listen to me, for they have always looked this way for advice concerning all important news that comes from the rising of the sun. If they hearken to me, you will not be afraid of any danger behind you. However their minds are affected, you shall soon know by me. Now I think I can do you more service in this way than by marching off immediately to Boston, and staying there; it may be a great while before blood runs.* Now, as I said, you are wiser than I; I leave this for your consideration, whether I come down immediately, or wait till I hear some blood is spilled.

" BROTHERS-I would not have you think, by this, that we are falling back from our engagements. We are ready to do anything for your relief, and shall be guided by your counsel.

" BROTHERS-One thing I ask of you: if you send for me to fight, that you will let me fight in my own Indian way. I am not used to fight English fashion, therefore you must not expect I can train like your men. Only point out to me where your enemies keep, and that is all I shall want to know." These facts are introduced, not only as being connected with the main history, and interesting in themselves, but in justice to Guy Johnson ; since, in regard to his own measures of defensive preparation, he is entitled to the benefit of all the facts, going to warrant his suspicions that an extraneous

* A company of minute-men, composed of the Stockbridge Indians, was organized by the Massachusetts Congress before the battle of Lexington. They were retained in service some time after the war began, and came down and joined the camp at Cambridge.-Sparks.

influence was exerting over the subjects of his general superintendence ; and it can hardly be supposed that he was kept altogether in ignorance, either of the correspondence with Mr. Kirkland or of that with the Stockbridge Indians, through whom, probably, the Bostonians were at the same time holding intercourse with the Six Nations. These circumstances could not but awaken a lively jealousy in regard to the movements of the white people among the Indians under his charge, and especially in regard to Mr. Kirkland. Accordingly, although in the month of February the superintendent had not been able to effect the removal of Mr. Kirkland from his station among the Oneidas, he accomplished that object in the course of the spring, as appears by a letter from the missionary himself, addressed from Cherry Valley to the Albany Committee.

The influence of Mr. Kirkland was great among the Oneidas, and deservedly so. Hence, had he undertaken the task, he might, beyond all doubt, and easily, have persuaded the Indians of his forest charge to espouse the cause of the colonies. But he did no such thing; or, at least, he avoided the exertion of any farther influence than to persuade them to the adoption of a neutral policy. This determination, probably, was an act of their own volition, after listening to the interpretation of the proceedings of Congress. It was made known to the people of New-England by the following address, transmitted by the Oneidas to Governor Trumbull, of Connecticut, with a request that he would cause it to be communicated to the four New-England colonies :


" As my younger brothers of the New-England Indians, who have settled in our vicinity, are now going down to visit their friends, and to move up parts of their families that were left behind--with this belt by them, I open the road wide, clearing it of all obstacles, that they may visit their friends and return to their settlements here in peace.

" Now we more immediately address you, our brother, the governor, and the chiefs of New-England.

" BROTHERS-We have heard of the unhappy differences and great contention between you and Old England. We wonder greatly, and are troubled in our minds.

" BROTHERS-Possess your minds in peace respecting us Indians. We cannot intermeddle in this dispute between two brothers. The quarrel seems to be unnatural. You are two brothers of one blood. We are unwilling to join on either side in such a contest, for we bear an equal affection to both you Old and New England. Should the great King of England apply to us for aid, we shall deny him ; if the colonies apply, we shall refuse. The present situation of you two brothers is new and strange to us. We Indians cannot find, nor recollect in the traditions of our ancestors, the like case, or a similar instance.

" BROTHERS-For these reasons possess your minds in peace, and take no umbrage that we Indians refuse joining in the contest. We are for peace.

" BROTHERS-As we have declared for peace, we desire you will not apply to our Indian brethren in New-England for their assistance. Let us Indians be all of one mind, and live with one another; and you white people settle your own disputes between yourselves."

Of an Indian foe the inhabitants of Tryon county entertained a special dread. In the communication of the Palatine Committee to that of Albany, therefore, cited a few pages back, it was suggested whether it would not be expedient to prevent the sending of powder and ammunition into the Mohawk Valley, unless consigned to the committee, to be sold under their inspection. In conclusion, the committee declared that, although few in number, they were determined to let the world see who were, and who were not, attached to the cause of American liberty ; and they closed by avowing their fixed determination " to carry into execution everything recommended by the Continental Congress, and to be free or die."

Three days after making this communication to their Albany brethren, that is to say, on the 31st of May, the question whether Guy, Johnson was or was not tampering with the Indians in anticipation of hostilities, was solved by an intercepted communication from Thayendanegea to the chiefs of the Oneida tribe. The letter, written in the Mohawk language, was found in an Indian path, and was supposed to have been lost by one of their runners. The following is a translation, being the earliest specimen extant of the composition of Brant:

"Written at Guy Johnson's, May, 1775.

" This is your letter, you great ones or sachems. Guy Johnson says he will be glad if you get this intelligence, you Oneidas, how it goes with him now ; and he is now more certain concerning the intention of the Boston people. Guy Johnson is in great fear of being taken prisoner by the Bostonians. We Mohawks are obliged to watch him constantly. Therefore we send you this intelligence, that you shall know it; and Guy Johnson assures himself, and depends upon your coming to his assistance, and that you will, without fail, be of that opinion. He believes not that you will assent to let him suffer. We therefore expect you in a couple of days' time. So much at present. We send but so far as to you Oneidas, but afterward, perhaps, to all the other nations. We conclude, and expect that you will have concern about our ruler, Guy Johnson, because we are all united.

" Guy Johnson's Interpreter."

The surface of this intercepted despatch discloses nothing more than a desire on the part of Guy John son to strengthen his domestic forces for the protection of his person, in the event of any attempt to seize and carry him away. But the inhabitants allowed him no credit for sincerity. Information had been received from Canada, through the emissaries sent thither by the revolutionary leaders in Massachusetts, that secret agents of the crown had been sent among the Six Nations to stir them up against the colonies. Hence the correspondence of the Massachusetts Congress with Mr. Kirkland and the Indians; and hence, also, the increasing apprehension of the people that the Indians were to be inflamed and let loose upon them. Such, consequently, was their distrust of Johnson, that they neither believed there was any design against his person, nor that he was labouring under any apprehension of the kind. There is no reason to doubt, however, that Guy Johnson did feel his position to be critical. General Schuyler had his eye upon him; and, beyond question, his every motion was so closely watched as to make him feel very uncomfortable.* In addition to the before-mentioned intercepted letter, it was ascertained that already expresses had actually been sent to the upper tribes of the Six Na-

* " Watch, the movements of the Indian agent, Colonel Guy Johnson, and prevent, so far as you can, the effect of his influence, to our prejudice, with the Indians."- Letter from Washington to General Schuyler, June, 1775.

tions, to invite them down to Guy Johnson's house. His own domestic army amounted to five hundred men, and he had now cut off all free communication between the upper Mohawk settlements and Albany. And although the districts of Palatine, Canajoharie, and the German Flatts were sanctioning the proceedings of the Continental Congress with much unanimity, they were in a great measure unarmed and destitute of ammunition, not having more than fifty pounds of powder in the districts. Under these circumstances, the committee wrote an urgent letter to Albany, representing their situation, and suggesting whether it might not be expedient to open the communication through the lower districts of the valley by force. They also advised the sending of two trusty messengers, well acquainted with the Indian language, to the upper nations, to dissuade them, if possible, from obeying the summons of Guy Johnson, and to enlighten them in respect of the true nature and causes of the quarrel with the king's government.

This letter was despatched by express, and the Albany Committee replied on the following day, advising their friends of the upper districts that they had no ammunition to spare, and dissuading them from any attempt to reopen the communication by force. That project was, accordingly, abandoned ; but the committee sent four of its members to Albany, to gain information as to the condition of the country generally, and with instructions to procure a quantity of powder and lead, the committee holding itself responsible for the purchase money. Meantime, they pushed their measures of internal organization with great energy and success, establishing sub-committees wherever it was expedient, and assuming the exercise of legislative, judicial, and executive powers. Secret articles for mutual succour and defence were prepared, and very generally signed by the Whigs ; and threats having been uttered by Guy Johnson, that unless the committees desisted from the course they were pursuing, he would seize and imprison certain of their number, they solemnly bound themselves to rescue any who might thus be arrested by force, " unless such persons should be confined by legal process, issued upon a legal ground, and executed in a legal manner."

It is here worthy, not only of special note, but of all admiration, how completely and entirely these border-men held themselves amenable, in the most trying exigencies, to the just execution of the laws. Throughout all their proceedings, the history of the Tryon Committees will show that they were governed by the purest dictates of patriotism, and the highest regard to moral principle. Unlike the rude inhabitants of most frontier settlements, especially under circumstances when the magistracy are, from necessity, almost powerless, the frontier patriots of Tryon county were scrupulous in their devotion to the supremacy of the laws. Their leading men were likewise distinguished for their intelligence; and while North Carolina is disputing whether she did not, in fact, utter a declaration of independence before it was done by Congress, the example may almost be said to have proceeded from the Valley of the Mohawk.

On the whole, there is no good reason to doubt that Guy Johnson was, in reality, apprehensive of a clandestine visit from the Yankees, and possibly of an abduction. The great influence of his official station, and his equivocal conduct, had created universal distrust; and the affair of the " Tea Party" had taught the Loyalists that the Bostonians were as adroit and fearless in stratagem as in deeds of open daring and bold emprise. It was well understood that he had arrested and searched the persons of two New-Englanders, suspicious, as it was inferred, and probably not without reason, that they had been despatched on a mission to the Indians, with whom it was policy to prevent any communication, save through his own interposition. Nor could he be ignorant of the fact, that at that critical conjuncture, the possession of his person might be of as much consequence to those who were on the verge of rebellion as of detriment to the service in which his predilections would probably induce him to engage.

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