History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of the Sammons Monument, August 26, 1899
Mohawk Valley Democrat
Fonda, N. Y. August 31, 1899.
Address of William L. Stone
What song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions are not beyond conjecture. What time the persons of these ossuaries entered the famous nations of the dead, and slept with princes and counselors might admit a wide solution. But who are the proprietors of these bones, or what bodies these ashes made up were a question not to be resolved by man, nor easily, perhaps, by spirits."
Thus discoursed Sir Thomas Browne--who has been called "The laureate of the King of Terrors"--in his sublime and fearful essay upon "Urn Burial" which he was led to write by the discovery of the celebrated urns in a field of "Old Walhsingham" two hundred and 50 years ago. Fortunately for this day and this occasion, no such mystery hangs over the graves of those whose clustering memories we are here this day to recall. This spot nevertheless, as Mr. Starin had said is consecrated ground. We may here figuratively at least, tread upon the ashes of kings.
I have said that we were treading upon the ashes of kings. It is true that the royal title was unknown to those who, in the words of Gray, "Now among the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep." But in their patriotic rank, their order of descent from the early settlers of the Mohawk Valley, they were in truth sovereigns. Patriotic kinds they indeed were: kings who reveled not in voluptuousness, nor wasted their time among the delights of the Harem, nor yet degraded their manhood by plying the distaff like Sardanapolis; nor yet were they of those who sought immorality by rearing cities and palaces and solemn temples like those of Thebes and Babylon and Tyre. They affected not the graves of giants, nor yet sought to mark the age of their glory by the stupendous pyramid of the costly mausoleum. They were not of the common order of men, but of a race self reliant and whose powers and characteristics were of mingled moral grandeur and primitive simplicity, and who like the Gnomes and Fates of Grecian Mythology, seemed born amid the convulsions of terrible border warfare in cloud and in storm. It is to this patriotic race that we owe the present celebration. Help me then with reverent hands to lift the veil which has too long shrouded these patriots from the ken of the present generation.
The Starin and Sammons families (closely related by marriage) were, from their first settlement in the Mohawk Valley in 1705 inseparably connected with every movement having for its object the public weal. They were ever to be found on the side of the right, and in whatever constitutes good citizenship, and this--too--at a period when such conduct meant more than can be conceived of at the present day, when mere professions is too apt to take the place of action. Hence, they are found among the most prominent participants both in Queen Anne's and the old French and Indian Wars. In this connection and as illustrating the above remark, may be mentioned as one among many of a similar character, the following incident in the life of the great grandfather of John H. Starin, vix: Philip Frederick Adam Starin. He was by trade a machinist, and for many years, was the sole reliance of the settlers for the repair of their agricultural implements and their rifles.
One day as he was at work at his forge three Indians came in and peremptorily commanded him to drop at once the work upon which he was then engaged and attend to some job for them. Upon his not immediately complying with their demand one of the Indians plunged a knife into his abdomen, letting out a portion of his bowels. Notwithstanding, however, this terrible wound, he pulled out from the fire a red hot iron bar he was mending at the time, and with one blow laid the savage dead at his feet, whereupon the other two Indians fled in the direst consternation. Starin recovered from this wound, and lived many years after wards.
Mr. Starin -- the great-grandson of Philip--has (among many other precious family relics) a wrought iron sconce for holding candles, the same plan as the new-fashioned piano lamp which was designed and manufactured by him. It is a very ingenious piece of work and demonstrates that the design of the present piano or banquet lamp is by no means of modern origin.
Then there was Nicholas Starin who died at German Flatts in 1802, having attained the patriarchal age of 95. During his life time he passed successively through Queen Anne's war, 1702-1713; the French war, 1754-63; and the Revolutionary war, dying almost on the threshold of the war of 1812. In some of these wars, moreover, he took an active part, fighting at the age of 65 side by side with his nephew Heinrich and Nicholas, at the battle of Oriskany. His business was that of an Indian trader, and he often made journeys among the Indian settlements far beyond the frontiers. During these trips he endured hardships of the severest kind, which at the present day would be deemed simply incredible, for at that time the northwestern part of that which is now New York State was a primeval wilderness, whose silence was unbroken save by the hooting of the owl or the scream of the panther; and whose solitude was undisturbed except by savage beasts or still more savage tribes; with here and there a trading post or fort.
He was, also, a warm personal friend of Sir William Johnson whom he often accompanied on his fishing trips tot he fish house on the Sacandaga, and was frequently his companion on his many journeys from Fort Johnson to Schenectady and back. Regarding on of these trips the following story is still told in the Mohawk Valley at the expense of the Baronet. There were numerous little swamps along the road, and Sir William once upon a time returning to Fort Johnson accompanied by Nicholas passed a marsh in which he heard, as he believed, the voice of a new animal. Turning to Starin he enquired: "What animal are those making such a strange noise?" His companion replied with a grin that they were bull frogs. Whereupon the Baronet spurred up his horse, not a little chagrined to think that he had but first learned, as his Irish countrymen would say "what a toad or a frog was."
And here if time and your patience permitted I could also dwell upon the marvelous escapes from the Indians of his nephew Judge Heinich Starin, the hero of the celebrated "Yankee Pass." Especially on one of the many similar occasions the fear of the faggot and it accompanying torture furnishing, a stimulus to his flight, he was forced to take refuge in a tree, so close were his pursuers upon him. The tree was a hemlock, the thick foliage of which effectually concealed his person. The Indians came in numbers past his hiding place, but although their dogs had lost the scent they suspected, not the place of his concealment. After they had passed, Starin descended from his perch, and took to the channel of a brook close by, continuing his course in its bed until he should reach a path which led from Oneida to Old Fort Schuyler, a mud fort built on the present site of Utica, during the old French war. Starin discovering a canoe lodged in the willows growing on the edge of the bank, took possession of it, and by a rigorous use of its paddle finally succeeded in reaching his home. In fact a narrative of these hairbreadth escapes would alone easily fill a small volume. The curious reader, however, will find all of his adventures succinctly given in my father's life of Brant, and in Judge Tracy's address.
Again when the Seven Years war broke out, and the scene of conflict was transferred from the battlefields of the Old World to those of the New, the Starins and Sammons took an active part in all of the skirmishes on the northern frontier, and some of both families were present, under Sir William Johnson when that General defeated Baron Dieskau at the battle of Lake George in 1755. Coming down to the Revolutionary War, the same warm zeal, mingled with similar patriotic impulses, is found in the two families. And now, as illustrative of these preliminary remarks, let me first summes(?) before you the forms of John Starin and Jane his wife, whose mortal remains lie within our vision across the valley.
John Starin, the grandfather of John H. Starin, was an Indian interpreter, a confidential friend of General Washington; fought throughout the war for American Independence; and was one of the forty members of the Starin family who served in the Continental army directly under Washington himself. After the war he kept an Inn in the present village of Fultonville, which was a kind of halting place for bands of western Indians, who were on--their way east to visit their great father at Philadelphia, and often at night the hall of the Inn would be so thickly filled with sleeping red men that "Mine host" could hardly pick his way among them. There was also a permanent encampment of Mohawks just beyond the Inn, while directly in its front there were several eel wiers that the Indians had built in the river, one of which is still plainly to be seen.
Jane Starin, his wife, whose maiden name was Wemple, shared with her husband all the vicissitudes and perils of a border warfare and often by her advice and encouragement, when times looked dark, aided him in matters of grave moment. She was a very neat old lady, and her grandchildren still recall the short gown (spun and woven by herself) that she wore, and its pockets fastened by a string around her waist, and worn underneath the gown, which had to be pulled up whenever she wished to reach its contents. She always carried in it some tidbit for "the boys." She had long survived the frightful perils and numerous atrocities which she had been compelled to witness, and being a keen observer with a remarkable retentive memory, she had in store a thousand legends of that stirring period. Often, on a winter's night, while the flames when roaring up the huge chimney, and the firelight merrily played among the flitches of the bacon handing from the smoked rafters overhead, she would--as she was knitting--for she was never idle--recount to her grandchildren fathered around her many adventures in a newly settled country, and the sufferings endured by herself and kindred when forced to fly on the approach of the savage hordes of Sir John Johnson and Col. St. Leger.
At the breaking out of the Revolutionary War the Wemples at once ranged themselves on the side of the Colonists, becoming the staunchest and most ardent Whigs in the Valley of the Mohawk. They were, together with Henreich Staring, of whom I have previously spoken, in the bloody fight at Oriskany, and as a consequence of their zeal were among those marked out by Sir John Johnson and Captain Walter Butler for the tomahawk and the firebrand. Indeed, while writing this I have before me an old manuscript (handed down to me by my father) yellow with age and almost crumbling to pieces, on which--written more than a century ago-- are inscribed in its now fading ink the names of those who suffered for their patriotism during the raid of St. Leger and among those names are those of the Starin and Wemple families.
I see again rising before me the form of Sampson Sammons to who belongs the high honor of having had fired at him in 1775, by Johnson's Rangers, the first shot in the American Revolution west of the Hudson. The occasion was as follows: A Tory sheriff had on some trifling pretext arrested a Whig by the name of John Fonda and committed him to prison. His friends under the conduct of Sampson Sammons whet to the jail at night, and released him by force. From the prison they proceeded the lodgings of the sheriff and demanded his surrender. While the sheriff looked out from the second story window and inquired "Is that you Sammons?" Yes, was the prompt reply, upon which White discharged a pistol at the sturdy Whig. This, as we have stated was the first shot in the American Revolution west of the Hudson. Sampson Sammons served with great credit throughout the war, and distinguished himself especially at the battle of Klock's Field. He was moreover an active member of the Committee of Safety for Tryon County--a county which at this time included all of the present state of New York, west of Albany.
When the Revolution began he was appointed to take charge of the confiscated property in Tryon county, and in that capacity he resided for a time at Johnson Hall. Nor was the part played by his son, Jacob Sammons in these troublous times of less moment. At a public meeting of the Whigs called to erect a liberty pole, the most hateful object at that time in the eyes of the loyalists, and to sympathize with those slain at the battle of Lexington, Sampson Sammons and his two sons Jacob and Frederick were present. Before, however, they had accomplished their purpose of raising the emblem of the rebellion, the proceedings were interrupted by the arrival of Sir John Johnson, accompanied by his brothers-in-law, Cols. Claus and Guy Johnson together with Col. John Butler and a large number of their retained, armed with swords and pistols. Guy Johnson mounted a high stoops and harangued the people at length and with great vehemence. He dwelt upon the strength and power of the King and subsequent folly of revolting against the authority of the 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 all under his majesty's control. He was very virulent in his language toward 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 interrupted Johnson's tirade by pronouncing him a liar and a villain. Guy Johnson thereupon seized Sammons by the throat and called him a damned 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, he sprang to his feet, threw off his coat and prepared to fight. Two pistols were at once presented to his breast, but not discharged and on recovering from his stupor he perceived that this Whig friends with the exception of the Fondas, Veeders and Vischers had all decamped. Sir John Johnson also retreated with his Loyalists, and Jacob Sammons returned to his father's house bearing upon his body, as I have said, the first scars of the revolutionary contest in the country of Tryon. Jacob afterwards became a lieutenant in the New York lines, and rendered much valuable assistance to Col. Marinus Willet, the hero of Oriskany, in his forays against the Indians, who in the pay of the British constantly menaced the northern border. His son Jacob, Jr., was in the war of 1812, under Genl Wool and did much hard fighting.
And yet again there appears the form of
Major Thomas Sammons, like his father Sampson, and his brother, Jacob and Frederick also took part in the perils of the war. He was apparently a favorite of Sir John Johnson, for when himself and his brothers Jacob and Frederick, also took part in the pero;s perils of the war. He was apparently a favorite of Sir John Johnson, for when himself and his brothers Jacob and Frederick had begun their march as prisoners into Canada, he chanced to see Sir John who was witnessing their departure from the roadside, he immediately feigning to have a lame foot appealed to Johnson to be liberated, fortifying his appeal by saying: "I was your friend in the Committee of Safey, and exerted myself to save your person from injury, and how am I requited." Your Indians have murdered and scalped old Mr. Fonda at the age of eighty years, a man, who I have heard your father say, was like a father to him when he settled at Johnstown and Kingsborough. You cannot succeed, Sir John in such a warfare, and you will never enjoy your property more.
A most true prophecy, since all of Sir John's vast estates in the Mohawk Valley were afterwards confiscated, and he himself died a poor man at Montreal in the early part of this century. Whether Sir John was moved by this reminiscence or not he replied in jovial mood, "Well, Thomas you are no good anyway, go home." Thus was Thomas saved from the terrible sufferings which, as we shall see was the lot of his brothers. Douw Fonda, here referred to, moved from Schenectady to Caughnawaga in 1757, and built a large stone house on the banks of the Mohawk. In this raid of Sir John Johnson, not only was his house burned, but he was killed as he was going to his spring for water, by a one-armed Indian. He left three sons, Douw, Jelles and Adam. The latter was a famous captain in the Tryon County Militia Regiment, commanded by General Herkimer. He died in 1808.
Thomas Sammons, who lived to be a very old man, and who related to may father in person most of the anecdotes I have presented in this address, was likewise a warm personal friend of Gov.George Clinton, that distinguished man constantly relying upon him whenever rigorous measures and sagacious councils were required. He was also a member of the Council of appointment and represented the Montgomery county district to congress from 1809 to 1811, while fourteen of his descendants bore arms in the union army during the late civil war.
like his brothers, Thomas and Jacob, also did yeomen service for the cause of freedom. He served under Gen. Gates at the battle of Saratoga, and bore himself throughout that campaign as a brave and gallant soldier. He was--moreover--at the side of Gen. Arnold when that officer was wounded at the "Brunswick Redoubt." In 1780, he with his brother Jacob, was carried a prisoner into Canada whence after experiencing the most romantic adventures and suffering; untold privations and cruelties from his captors, he finally escaped in a canoe, which becoming entangled in a submerged treetop was upset. Regaining the shore of the St. Lawrence he plunged directly into the unbroken forest, extending from the St. Lawrence to the Sacandaga, and after a journey of twelve days of excessive hardship emerged from the woods within six miles of the point for which, without chart or compass, Sammons had laid his course. His provisions lasted but a few days, but his only subsequent food consisted of roots and herbs and a rattlesnake which he had killed. The whole journey was made almost in a state of nudity, he being destitute of pantaloons. Having worn out his shoes, the last few days he was compelled to travel barefooted, and long before his journey was completed his feet were dreadfully lacerated and swollen. On his arrival at Schenectady, the inhabitants were alarmed at his wild and savage appearance, half naked, with unkempt beard and matted hair. The people at length gathered around him with strange curiosity; but on his being recognized, the welcome fugitive was forthwith supplied with food and raiment and sent on his way to his family at Johnstown, who received him as one almost literally risen from the dead.
Then there was
who followed the business of farming until the breaking out of the Revolution, when, like so many others of the Starin family he enlisted as a private in the second Ulster County Regiment, Col. Bellinger commanding. His death was particularly sad. Upon the 17th of July, 1782, a party of six hundred Indians and Tories entered the town of German Flatts and destroyed nearly the entire settlement, tomahawking all of the inhabitants who had not the good fortune to escape to the fort or blockhouse. Among the latter was Valentine Starin, who was captured and tortured to death, within the hearing of the garrison of the fort, who were too feeble to attempt his rescue.
Next we see
the father of our Mr. Starin, who distinguished himself in the contest of 1812, when that war was declared against Great Britain. Although seriously ill at that time of the draft, he refused exemption on that ground and enlisted and served bravely during that contest. He was at the battle of Plattsburg, as a Captain of Infantry and took part also during the vicissitudes of the campaign on the Niagara Frontier. At the close of that contest he received an honorable discharge, Major General Scott, then in ocmmand complimented him highlin in "general orders" on his good and efficient service. He was also the first regular mail carrier West of Albany, and like his son Mr. John H. Starin, at an early age engaged in the passenger and transportation line, owning several row boats built expressly to carry some twenty passengers each from Utica to Schenectady. These boats which were tastefully fitted up and curtained were in use on the Mohawk River from 1810 to 1815. They were called "River packets" and three of them were named respectively, the "Myndert Starin", "Jacob Lasher" and "Rob Roy:. Upon the completion of the Erie Canal, in which project he was of much assistance to his personel friends Gov. DeWitt Clinton, its originator, and to my father, Col. William L. Stone, Gov. Clinton's right hand man in the project, he became one of the most prominent men in the Mohawk Valley. He also took great interest in church matters and some of the old residents even of today, doubtless among my hearers, kindly remember Myndert Starin leading the singing in the old Caughnawaga Stone church in the German and Dutch languages in the morning, and in English in the evening.
And finally; I see before me, one, that many of my audience must still remember in affectionate remembrance, viz:
Col. Simeon Sammons, son of Thos., who, during the late Civil War, equipped; put in marching order, and conducted to Harpers Ferry his regiment, the 115th N. Y. vol. of eleven hundred men in the amazing time of twenty-nine days. When Col. Sammons reached Washington and was asked the usual question, "What he had come for?" Instead of expressing as many did a desire for easy quarters near the Capitol, he answered in his bluff manner, "To fight, by God," and as evidence of the sincerity of this purpose, and that these were not mere empty words, he brought home after the war, two bullets in his body. Again at the springing of a mine in front of Petersburgh, Va., he leaped over the parapet, and though his foot was shattered by a minnie-ball, he caught up the standard from the hands of one who had fallen, and planted it in triumph over the works of the enemy.
MAJOR STEPHEN SAMMONS
of the 153rd regiment, was a younger brother of Col. Simeon Sammons. He was a lawyer by profession, and had been an editor in New York. He went through the campaigns of the Civil War with great honor, and died in Fonda soon after his brother, the Colonel.
From these brief sketches it will be seen that it is a mistake to suppose that either Lexington or Bunker Hill was the first school in which the Colonists were taught their ability to struggle with veteran soldiers. It was in the Mohawk Valley that this lesson was fast learned, and it is very doubtful if the Colonists would have dared to take the stand they did had it not been for the lessons of the old French war, in which as we have seen, the Starin family were the leaders. In the Mohawk valley provincial prowess signalized its selfrelying capabilities; and Putnam and Stark, the Starins and the Sammonses came into the old French war, as to a military academy to acquire the art of warfare which they all exercised at Bunker Hill. George Washington himself, as a military man, was nurtured for himself and America and the world amid the forests of the Alleghenies, and in view of the rifles and tomahawks of these French and Indian fighters led by the Starin and Sammons families.
"Lake George,", "Saratoga" and the "Mohawk Valley" are contiguous not merely in territory, but in historic associations. As these conflicts in the Mohawk Valley were certainly, in a measure at least, a source of our present national life, so should the name of those who took such a prominent part deserve to be commemorated not only in story and in song, but in enduring granite and bronze; One, in fact is but the correlative of the other, sana mens in corpore Sano is as true of the body politic as of the body physical, and if our existence as a united nation is to be preserved, it will be by keeping intact the mental and physical energies of the people.
"Soldiers," said Napoleon, on the eve of one of his greatest battles, and in one of those bulletins with which he was wont to electrify all Europe, "Soldier," from yonder pyramids forty centuries are looking down on you. But during the American Revolution, far nobler and grander heights, the Providence of God was looking down upon that little band of patriots in the Mohawk Valley, molding and shaping their deliberations; so that their influence upon American civilization should endure not for this world only, but throughout the Ages.
Address of Hon. John H. Starin.
My Friends--To those of you who know me best, and I cherish(?) the belief that there are some of you who know me well, it is needless to say that in the erection of this memorial I was actnated (?) by no motives of self-glorification nor of self-aggrandizement. My one desire, in its construction has been to perpetuate not only the memory of noble ancestors, but in lasting and enduring form to keep alive the memory of heroic deeds.
We stand here upon consecrated ground. Looking backward through the dim vistas of the past, it is easy for even the most commonplace and prosaic mind to picture the struggles the trials, the sufferings,and at last the triumphs of the men who fought and bled in the fight to establish the American Republic.
The applause of admiring multitudes was not theirs.
They struggled isolated and alone. No hope of personal reward was in their hearts. They fought, they bled, they died for a principle. For that, and for that alone.
The history of the world furnishes no grander example of disinterested, unselfish and devoted patriotism. And so, my friends, I say we stand upon ground sacred and consecrated because it contains the dust of such men as I describe. And though we are here to honor especially the family of Sammons who were participants in the war of Queen Anne, the old French war, the Indian wars, the Revolutionary war, the war of 1812, and the Great Rebellion, we do not honor them only as individuals or as a family, but we honor and revere in them the grand type of American yeomanry, which they represent.
It is in this view, and with these motives that I have caused to be erected the memorial which we are dedicating today.
I am not one of those who believe in the degeneracy of our time, on the contrary I hold that the world grows better as the years go on, every trial, every danger which may come to this beloved land of ours will call to the front new men, strong, high hearted and fresh for the right. It was so in the war with Spain just closed. It will be so for all time. From my point of view it were as well to try to stop the tides of the sea, as to retard or impede the progress of the American Republic, and with this faith strong within me, I dedicate this monument of granite and of bronze to the memory of the heroes who have gone, steadfast in the faith that when my country calls there will be loud and quick response from countless heroes yet to come.
Remarks of W. Frothingham.
Mr. Frothingham humorously said that his speech would be like the old saying "a short horse, soon curried." In other words he intended to be brief. He opened by an allusion to the marshal of the day, General O'Bierne, who had won his rank by the hardest fighting, having served under General Kearney in the terrible slaughter at Chancellerville where he was severely wounded and lay three days on the battlefield, also fought at Malvern and other bloody fields. The speaker also alluded to the great pleasure which the General must feel in meeting so many of the Grand Army, fellow soldiers with himself in that terrific struggle for the preservation of the Union. Mr. F. then referred to the resemblance which the General bore to Colonel Sammons which others had noticed as well as himself and which rendered the General doubly welcome. He then spoke of the felicity of Commodore Starin's address and added that the Commodore was a man of deeds rather than words as shown by what he has done for the public both in Fultonville and Fonda and his free excursions in New York. Next the speaker alluded to the representatives of the old Revolutionary families, the Fondas and the Vischers, heroes of Oriskany whose descendants were present. He also referred appropriately to the orator of the day, William L. Stone, son of an eminent New York editor, and himself an editor and an historian and the author of the Life of Sir William Johnson the pioneer and patriot of a former age. Mr. F. also said that the importance of that occasion was increased by the fact that never again would that spot witness such a gathering of the heroism intelligence and beneficence of the Mohawk Valley. He was glad to see so many ladies present and then alluded specially to one of the number who had done so much for the public weal and had so faithfully cooperated with her husband in his beneficent work and he closed by calling for three cheers for Mrs. John H. Starin which were given with unbound enthusiasm.
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