History From America's Most Famous Valleys
in Revolutionary War
Article in bunch of papers from early 1900s
Place of Patriots to Plan Capture of Sheriff White.
Other Circumstances of Local Interest Which Followed the Firing of the First Shot of the Revolution West of the Hudson.
That Caughnawaga was an important meeting place of patriots during the early part of the Revolutionary was is well set forth in a recent article in the New York Sunday Herald which is herewith appended:
When the news that the British had been beaten at Bunker Hill spread westward from New England across the Hudson and up the valley of the Mohawk it threw the settlers into a fever of excitement. Everybody knew at last that there must be war between the American colonies and the mother country, and the men of the valley felt that it was time to take measures for their defense.
There had already been meetings and discussions, beginning early in the year 1775. The people all through the valley knew that they would stand in great danger from the Indian tribes of the Five Nations if the Indians should side against them and with England. While Sir William Johnson lived there had been peace, and even the fierce Mohawks had been held in check by his moderation and wisdom; but Sir William was dead; and he had been succeeded at the Hall by his son, Sir John and his two sons in law, Colonel Guy Johnson and Colonel Daniel Claus. To advise them and to aid them in retaining their influence over the warlike tribes they had Brant, a sachem and one of the most artful and eloquent of all the Indian leaders.
It was no wonder that the settlers who were resolved to submit no longer to the wrongs at the hands of the Ministers of King George were uneasy. Sir John, it is well known, had fortified the Hall, planting cannon upon its defenses and holding in readiness a strong company of Scotch soldiers to overawe the surrounding country. He pretended that he took these precautions to prevent being surprised and carried away by the Boston patriots, saying that he had received a warning.
In spite of Sir John, however, the settlers of Tryon county, over which he held sway as the representative of the King, were determined to assert themselves. They formed a Committee of safety and proceeded to organize themselves in companies so as to be ready for action in case of need. Their most serious concern was of the Indians, and they were constantly on the watch to learn what they were doing. Among them was nobody of more service in this than Lightfoot, who had been captured by the Mohawks in one of their raids on the white settlements before peace had been declared and brought up by them as an Indian boy until his father at last discovered him and brought him home when he was fifteen years old. Lightfoot not only knew the habits and customs of the Indians from having lived so long among them, but he was skilled in all their knowledge of woodcraft. So the settlers depended upon him,and he was admitted to all the secrets of the leaders of the patriot forces.
Of all the loyalists who sided with Sir John the man who was hated most by the patriots was Alexander White, sheriff of the county. White, representing the authority of the royal Governor, had attacked them with the Johnsons when they tried to raise a liberty pole at German Flatts, and had compelled them to disperse. To make matters worse he used his power to throw into jail every patriot against whom any kind of a pretended charge could be brought of having broken the law. Finally he went so far as to imprison John Fonda, one the most respected farmers of the whole region, pretending that he had disturbed the peace.
On this news the Committee of Safety met and declared that he was no longer Sheriff. They named Colonel John Frey to take his place and immediately started, armed with guns and pistols, to set Fonda free from prison and to capture White.
They set out, fifty men in all, with great caution and secrecy, and proceeded in silence to the house of the Sheriff. The moon was full and the night was cloudless, but the Tories were expecting nothing and they had all gone to bed. The Sheriff's house stood close to the Hall, and it was necessary above all else not to give the alarm to the soldiers stationed there, as there were five hundred of them,and the patriots knew that it would be foolish to try to resist them.
Lightfoot was sent on in advance to warn them of any danger. He slipped from shadow to shadow so noiselessly that you could not have been sure, unless you had been watching carefully, whether any person had passed or not. At intervals he stopped and sent back a cry like the hooting of an owl, which was the signal by which the others were to know that all was well.
He arrived without accident at the Sheriff's house, which was surrounded by well grown trees. The windows ere in darkness, but to make certain that the coast was clear he slipped around the building, looking carefully on every side of it. Then he concealed his body behind the trunk of a tree, and Sampson Sammons, the leader of the patriot party, heard the hooting of an owl twice repeated.
"Forward!" he said in a low voice.
As softly and rapidly as possible the company advanced to the house. Then suddenly they rushed at the front door and began to beat upon it with their muskets in the hope of breaking it down.
White, aroused from his slumbers, threw up the window of the second story room and put his head out.
"Who are you and what do you want" he demanded.
"We want you!" Sammons replied. "Come down and give yourself up. You are no longer Sheriff in this county!"
By way of answer White thrust his arm out of the window and a pistol flashed in the darkness. Luckily he missed his aim and the bullet whistled past Sammons' head.
Close upon the report of the pistol came another and louder report from the hall.
"What is the signal of Sir John to the soldier!" Sammons shouted. "Disperse! We cannot fight them now!"
Realizing that their attempt had been defeated and that concealment was useless, a dozen of the patriots leveled their guns at White's window and fired. There was a crashing of glass and splintering of wood, but the Sheriff had prudently withdrawn, after his shot and none of the bullets reached him him, although one of them came so near as to graze his neck.
Behind the palisades which surrounded the hall, Lightfoot could hear the words of the command as the troops came tumbling out of their quarters in response to Sir John's summons.
"Come boy!" Sammons said, catching him by the arm. "You have heard the first shots fired in the Revolution west of the Hudson,and they will not be the last!"
Most of the patriots had already disappeared, scattering each to his home. Next day, according to agreement, they met at Caugh-na-wa-ga and sent a committee to Sir John to demand the surrender of the Sheriff. Of course the demand was refused, but the feeling was so bitter against him that White who was a coward, as such bullies usually are, made up his mind to flee to Canada, where many of the Tories were already taking refuge. He stole away the next night, escorted by Peter Bone, a white man who knew the forest trail, and three Indians supplied by the Sachem Brant.
Lightfoot, who was on the lookout, discovered the flight, and he led the patriot party that immediately started in pursuit. The fugitives used many means to conceal their tracks, but they could not deceive the white boy who had been brought up an Indian. He followed them through swamps and the thickest woods until finally when they thought themselves in safety, they were overtaken at Jessup's Landing, on the banks of the Hudson, and this time White was captured.
He was led trembling to Albany and delivered to General Schuyler. While awaiting his sentence in the Albany jail he had plenty of time to regret his arrogance and harshness to his old neighbors in the valley. The patriots, meanwhile, returned to their homes, where they told many times the story of how Lightfoot tracked the Sheriff through the wilderness.
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