History From America's Most Famous Valleys
by J.E.A. Smith, Pittsfield Mass. (2 vols) Boston, Lee and Shepard, 1869
Donated by Willis Barshied, Jr.
Volume I, p. 310.
In the autumn of 1779, Gen. Sullivan, by the orders of Gen. Washington, had inflicted a terrible chastisement upon the Mohawks, and other hostile tribes of the Six Nations; burning their villages, destroying their orchards, and laying waste their fields,- a devastation whose record shows that those tribes had sufficiently advanced in civilization to feel keenly the severity of their punishment.
During the ensuing winter, this visitation was bitterly retaliated upon the friendly Oneidas, whose homes were desolated, and their families driven in upon the Americans for protection and support. Not content with this, the Indians and the Tories, impelled by a common resentment, banded together under Sir John Johnson and the chiefs Brant and Corn-Planter, prepared to pursue their schemes of vengeance in the valley of the Mohawk, a luxuriant farming-country, in whose population there was a convenient infusion of Tories, although the great majority of its inhabitants were ardently patriotic.
The hostile league was formidable; and the alarm was general, although, until fall, apprehension of its nature and designs was vague. The horrors of Indian warfare, under British instigation, had exceeded the atrocities incited by the French foe. The massacre at Wyoming in 1778 was still fresh in the memory of the people; and, in the summer of 1780, the danger became apparent, that similar scenes, and even more dreadful, might be witnessed in the valley of the Mohawk,-the fair home from which Sir John Johnson and many Tories had been driven, and where, moreover, " harvest of unusual abundance was ripening, upon which Washington's commissariat was known to place much dependence. Policy and exasperated feeling alike devoted this lovely region.
Prominent among the troops which rallied to its defence was a Berkshire regiment, commanded by Col. John Brown; in which there was a company of seventy-nine Pittsfield and Richmond men under Capt. William Ford, the same who, as lieutenant, had led the Pittsfield detachment at Bennington, The regiment was composed of levies from the three, into which the militia of Berkshire was divided. John Ashley, who commanded in the southern part of the county, was the senior officer. John Brown had commanded the middle regiment until 1778, when he resigned, and was succeeded by Lieut.-Col. Rossiter. In 1780, the new State Constitution went into operation; and, in accordance with it, the choice of regimental officers was intrusted to the captains and subalterns, who, in their turn, were elected by the privates of their respective companies. At the first election under this law, Col. Brown was restored to his old position.
About the same time, the levy for the Mohawk was made, and Ashley was assigned to the command, and proceeded to Albany. There he was seized with an illness which afterwards proved fatal; and Col. Brown, being in the city upon private business, consented to relieve him, being assured by his senior and friend, that the Berkshire troops, especially since his recent success at Lake George, would follow him more readily than any other man.(1)
Col. Brown accepted the position probably with the more readiness, because his old home, Caughnawaga, where he commenced the practice of the law, was in the district he was called to defend. The other regimental officers were Major Oliver Root, Adjutant James Easton, son of the colonel of the same name, Quartermaster Elias Willard, and Surgeon Oliver Brewster. All were from Pittsfield, except Dr. Brewster, who was from Partridgefield, now Peru, but was the ancestor of two prominent Pittsfield physicians.(2)
Col. Brown assumed the command on the 14th of July. We learn nothing more of the regiment, until, on the 18th of October, we find it posted at Fort Paris, a small blockhouse about three miles north of the Mohawk River, and in that part of the district of Stone Arabia which now forms the town of Palatine. Four days previous, Sir John Johnson's hordes had set out upon a grand mission of destruction through the fine valleys of the Schoharie and
(1) It is related in connection with this change of commanders, that Col. Brown, being without his pistols, borrowed, and gave his receipt for, those of Ashley; which, when he fell, became the booty of some plundering savage. Ashley dying soon after, the receipt was found among his papers, and his administrators collected payment from the estate of the man who was killed in his place.
(2) Surgeon Brewster was born in Lebanon, Conn., in 1760. He was reputed n excellent physician, and a man of marked piety. He was grandfather of the late Dr. Oliver E. Brewster, of Pittsfield, surgeon of the Fortieth Massachusetts Regiment in the civil war of 1861-5.
Mohawk; and, wherever they had passed, the devastation was complete. The destroyers left unburned not one house, barn, or stack of grain, which was known to belong to a Whig; and hundreds of the patriotic inhabitants-men, women, and children-were pitilessly murdered while flying, or begging for mercy.
On the 18th, Gen. Robert Van Rensselaer, an exceedingly sluggish and incompetent commander, coming tardily, with a considerable body of militia, to the relief of the distressed region, reached Caughnawaga, which nourishing village he found still in flames. Learning here that Fort Paris, which is about, twelve miles distant, was to be attacked the next day, he sent orders to Col. Brown to march out in the morning, and form a junction with his own force at an appointed rendezvous, in order to anticipate the enemy's plans by a joint attack.(1)
Many of the garrison seem to have considered the movement a dangerous one; and some of the officers even counselled disobedience of the order. The same feelings of distrust extended to the
* The reason assigned for Van Rensselaer's order is not so clear as one could wish ; and it, is not bettered by adopting the other version, that it directed Brown to attack the rear while Van Rensselaer assailed, the front of the enemy,-which is inconsistent with the story of the ambuscade. The whole account leaves the impression that neither officer supposed that any body of the Indians lay between them.
men. One of them,-Giles Parker of South Adams, - whose courage had often been tried by the severest tests, came to the colonel in the morning, and warned him to forego his march; relating, at the same time, an ominous dream of the previous night, which depressed his spirits. " What !" exclaimed his commander, "are you afraid to march with me? Then stay behind." The soldier indignantly protested "that he had fought by his side many a time; that it was not for himself he feared, but his colonel." Finding him fully impressed with the belief that evil would attend the march, Col. Browns seriously advised him to remain in the fort; but the noble fellow claimed his right to share the danger of his comrades, and was among the first to fall under the murderous fire of the savages.
The one thing that Col. Brown feared was, that a battle in which he had a right to take part would be fought without him.
Early on the morning of the 19th of October,-his thirty-fifth birthday,-he therefore left Fort Paris, with about three hundred men, to form a junction, in obedience to his orders, with Gen. Van Rensselaer. The detachment had marched perhaps two miles, when a house was discovered, at a distance of perhaps a quarter of a mile upon the right, before which was a family group, surrounding a man just mounting his horse. That person rode directly to Major Root, who was in advance, and inquired if he commanded the party ; Col. Brown, who was in the rear, was pointed out; and, riding up to him, the stranger stated that he was directed by Gen. Van Rensselaer, to inform him, that by proceeding down a road which turned to the left, instead of that he was then pursuing, he would reach the general's army.
The proposed route seemed to be a convenient detour around the region where the presence of the enemy began to be indicated by the smoke of burning buildings; and, the well-arranged family scene doubtless helping to ward off suspicion, unfortunate credence was given to the stranger, without demanding further guaranties, and without detaining him as a surety for his good faith.
The route was changed in accordance with his directions, and soon led into a long and narrow clearing, extending to the river,- near a ruined work called Fort Keyzer,-- and surrounded by heavy woods. The detachment had well advanced into this treacherous cul-de-sac, - the colonel and major both being at the head of the column,-when a sergeant near them exclaimed, "See that damned Indian !" and immediately discharged his musket. At, once the woods resounded with savage yells; and a thousand , muskets, gleaming from behind sheltering trees, poured in a rapid and murderous cross-fire upon the entrapped and bewildered troops. Col. Brown, who was conspicuous by his fine person and his official sash, was shot through the heart at the first fire, and fell upon his face without a word or a struggle.(1)
Any attempt to restore order among the panic-stricken troops would have been worse than futile; and officers, as well as men, fled precipitately towards the fort. There was no lack of vigor in the pursuit; but the irresistible, impulse to tomahawk and scalp the wounded delayed the Ravages, and enabled a large portion of the fugitives to escape. Major Root saw one man crawl into the woods and conceal himself, while his over-eager pursuers passed on without heeding him ; but he thought almost every man of the seriously injured was killed and scalped. Forty were reported slain.
The fort was filled with women and children, who, upon the approach of the savages, had fled to it from the neighboring country ; and their shrieks and meanings added to the confusion, as the flying soldiers crowded in disorder into the gates. Fortunately, Major Root had been trained in a school -which rendered him familiar with such scenes, as well as with the character of the enemy with whom he had to deal. The fort, he knew, was not at all competent to sustain an assault from the forces which now thronged into the edges of the clearing around it, and were evidently eager for an attack. But he was well aware of the terror with which " big guns " inspired the savages, and was convinced, by the temerity with which they exposed themselves, that they believed him unsupplied with artillery. The wretched little fortress, however, was, by chance, supplied with one poor dwarf of a four-pounder; although its ammunition was limited to a solitary ball and three charges of powder.
With this the major determined to make a demonstration; and,
(1) Lossing relates the following anecdote: " On his way to the Mohawk country, Col. Brown called upon upon Ann Lee, the founder of the sect of Shaking Quakers. He assured her, by way of pleasantry, that, on his return, he should join here society. A fortnight after his death, two members of the society waited upon his widow, told her that her husband, in spirit, had joined 'Mother Ann', and that he had given express orders for her to become a member. She was not to be duped, and bade them begone."
wheeling his gun to the gateway, he sent the lonely missile bowling among, or at least towards, the astonished groups. A charge of horse-chains next went singing through the air. But in the mean while, by order of the major, a huge old cast-iron dinner-pot had been broken up; and, when its fragments came shrieking and screaming among the besiegers, it completed their dismay, and they withdrew rapidly within the shelter of the woods. Even the Tory officer who commanded them does not seem to have noticed the scarcity of ammunition which the strangeness of the missiles would have indicated to one of more shrewdness or experience; for he gave over his purposed attack, remarking, that "he had a mind to take that fort by storm; but it would cost too many lives."
The militia rallied to he support of Gen. Van Rensselaer in such numbers, that, there being no longer need of the services of the Berkshire regiment, it returned home at the expiration of its term of three months, on the 21st of October.
The affair of Stone Arabia was the only occasion, subsequent to 1777, when the Pittsfield militia met the enemy in actual conflict. It responded promptly, however, when called upon in various alarms.
While Johnson was invading the Mohawk Valley, Lieut. Joel Stevens led a small detachment to Fort Edward, where signs of danger appeared ; and, at the same time,Capt. Rufus Allen, with twenty-six men, "marched forty miles," probably to the same point.
When Connecticut was invaded by Gov. Tryon in the summer of 1779, Lieut. Stevens went with fourteen men to New Haven. In October, 1781, the same officer, having been promoted to a captaincy, repaired, with Lieuts. Lebbeus Backus and Nathan Warner, to Saratoga upon an alarm in that quarter.
There may have been other occasions when the militia of the town were called out in the closing year of the war; but, if so, they were unrecorded, and probably bloodless, campaigns, and with no remembered adventure.
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