History From America's Most Famous Valleys
or a BIOGRAPHY of NICHOLAS STONER & NATHANIEL FOSTER;
TOGETHER WITH ANECDOTES OF OTHER CELEBRATED HUNTERS,
AND SOME ACCOUNT OF SIR WILLIAM JOHNSON AND HIS STYLE OF LIVING
by Jeptha R. Simms
A Reprint with New Supplementary Matter
Printed by Enterprise and News
St. Johnsville, N.Y. 1935
Albany: J. Munsell, 82 State Street. 1850
CHAPTER V.: BAKER FOR JOHNSTOWN FORT
Singular incident at his house, and dangerous situation of Stoner-Residence of Jeremiah Mason-His daughter Anna- The Browse family-Stoner pigeon hunting-Browse family remove to Canada-Maj. Andre's gallows how constructed- Stoner eats pie near it-How he got two floggings-How the British Army surrendered at Yorktown -Errors In pictures-- Stoner's first day at the siege-First fire an the British works- Nicholas Hill finds many friends-Henry Stoner leaves the army-Is murdered by the Indians-Treachery of Andrew Bowman-His treatment at Johnstown fort-Prisoners made at Johnson Hall.
Conrad Reed, a baker in New York city, married Miss Barbary Stoner, a second sister of Henry Stoner, and removed to Johnstown just before the Revolution. He dwelt some distance from the fort, but was employed to bake for the garrison. When on duty at Johnstown, the Stoner boys not unfrequently took occasion to visit their uncle's family, but those visits were not approved by their father; who knew that his kinsman was tinctured with royalty, and he often cautioned them against going there. Nicholas called there one evening, and had been but a short time in the house, when he heard a slight tap upon the window. Mr. Reed instantly disappeared through a trapdoor into the cellar without a candle, and his wife went out of the house. There seemed a sprinkling of mystery in the affair, but it did not excite Stoner's fears, and he awaited in silence the issue. After a few minutes' absence, his aunt came in having in her hand several gaudy handkerchiefs. She appeared rather reserved after the singular interruption of the family, and he soon returned to the fort.
Stoner learned subsequently, that a small party of the enemy, one of whom was John Howell, who dwelt between Johnstown and Sacondaga, had visited the settlement as spies: that they had seen him through the window, and by a tap on a pane of glass, a signal she well understood, had called out Mrs. Reed, to consult her about making him a prisoner. She told them if he was captured there, it would be the ruin of their family; for her husband would certainly lose his employ as baker for the garrison, if in fact he was not imprisoned. They reluctantly withdrew, although Howell could hardly consent to let so favorable an opportunity pass for securing certain evidence of having accomplished their mission. The young fifer did not know until long after, how near he had been to a Canadian prison. The handkerchiefs left with Mrs. Reed were presents, to adorn the necks of several Tory ladies, whose husbands or lovers were in Canada.
About a mile from the Johnstown fort (the jail enclosed by strong palisades), dwelt Jeremiah Mason, whose family was numbered among those in the vicinity, as friendly to the cause of liberty. This Mason had a daughter named Anna, about the same age as our hero; who was a maiden very fair to look upon. Nature had given her charming proportions; a stature seemly, gracefully jutting out where swellings were most becoming, and bewitchingly tapering where diminution is sought in female form. Her skin was clear and fair, and her hair and eyes black, the latter shaded by raven lashes under the control of muscle, that gave to the organs of love a most melting expression.
Some distance farther from the fort, and on the same road as Mason, dwelt a family named Browse; the male members of which were in the camp of the enemy. At home were Mrs. Browse and two beautiful daughters. They, too, were in their teens, and like Anna Mason, they had sparkling black eyes, ruby lips and cherry cheeks. The war of the Revolution won rendered neighboring families distant and formal, where they looked with diverse favor upon the acts of the contending parties, even though they had been intimate before. The resolutions of vigilance committees often tended to such a result.
The female and infant part of many families in the border settlements of New York, whose male members were foes of the country, removed about this period to Canada, among which was this Browse family; and such others as did not go voluntarily, were compelled to by an act of the state legislature soon after.
In the summer and autumn of 1780, Nicholas Stoner was on duty in the valley of the Hudson. He was a fifer of the guard at Tappan, which attended Major Andre from his prison to his gallows; and witnessed the execution of that unfortunate man. The gallows was constructed, as he says, by the erection of two white oak crotches, with a crosspiece of the same kind of timber, all with the bark on. Not far from the gallows was an old woman selling pies, to whom Stoner directed his steps. He met at her stand Elijah Cheadle, then a stranger to him. They paid this huckstress $100 in continental money, for either an apple pie, or pumpkin pie, which at first she declined receiving: she finally concluded to take it, observing as she did so, "My children, the pie is worth more than the money, but I will take it that I may be able to say, I sold a pie for one hundred dollars." Mr. Cheadle settled at Kingsborough after the war, where he resided at the time of his death, Sept. 23, 1849.
While stationed at Snake Hill, near the Hudson, young Stoner's inclination to mischief procured for him a duplicate flogging. There was daily about the camp a boy named Albright, who had been so unfortunate as to lose an eye. Stoner, inclined to be waggist with all, procured the eye of a beef butchered in the neighborhood, and offering it to Albright, said to him, "Here, take this and you will then have two eyes and be somebody." The boy complained to his mother, an Irish woman, who, stating the matter to the commanding officer, had the satisfaction of knowing that he was punished for treating her son so unkindly. Stoner did not relish the interference of the mother, as the boy was about his own age, and began to puzzle his wits for some method of retaliation. A soldier's agent is powder, although he may be a fifer, and loading an ugly looking bone with the dangerous dust, he watched a favorable opportunity when she was near his tent, and applied the match to it. The explosion was greater than he had anticipated, and the scattering fragments not only tore the old woman's petticoats, but severely wounded her arm. Although he had improved a most promising occasion to avoid detection, yet some trivial incident betrayed Stoner as the artillerist, and he was very severely whipped for the act. He was served rightly no doubt.
In the fall of 1781, Nicholas Stoner was on duty at Yorktown, and when the siege of that place closed, he saw Gen. O'Hara surrender his sword to Gen. Lincoln (7).
A part of the time while at Yorktown, our hero was a fifer under the noble-hearted Lafayette. One Darby, a fifer, having been killed, Stoner was sent as a substitute to Gen. Lafayette's troops.
Mr. Nicholas Hill, a worthy and intelligent citizen of Florida, N. Y., was also at Yorktown during its siege, as a young musician. He informed the writer, at an interview in the summer of 1846, that the firing on the British works did not take place until the Americans had completed a line of redoubts and bomb batteries, so as to play on the greater part of the enemy's fortifications at once. The allied army had raised a liberty pole, and the signal to commence an assault was given in the evening, by a hand-grenade sent up near the liberty pole, attached to a sky rocket. The gunners stood ready with linstocks on fire, and as soon as the grenade exploded in the air, they were applied to the cannon. (Dr. Thatcher, in his Military journal, says Gen. Washington applied the first match.) The simultaneous discharge of such an array of ordnance, was perhaps never heard before; and nothing could in the night exceed the sublimity of the concussion. To use the language of' Mr. Hill, "It seemed as though the world was at an end-or that the heavens and the earth were coming together!" It must have been the most magnificent salute ever before given in America. After the first discharge the firing continued as fast as the pieces could be loaded.
At some period of this siege, Mr. Hill was so fortunate as to obtain eleven guineas from the pocket of a dead Briton. "While this money lasted," says Stoner, "we who were so fortunate as to have the pleasure of his acquaintance, lived like fighting cocks."
The British prisoners made at Yorktown, were sent to interior military posts; and Col. Cortlandt's regiment, to which Nicholas Stoner belonged, on its return march took five hundred prisoners, destined for Fredericksburg, in charge for some distance. While the troops were crossing at a ferry, probably York or Rappahannoc river, Stoner saw a French officer drop his purse, and lost no time in restoring it to the owner. The officer grateful for its recovery, although he had not missed it, rewarded him with a half doubloon ($8), numerous bows, and not a few expressions of regard, such as-"You pe a grand poy! You pe bon honest American! You pe a ver fine soldier, be gar!" and the like. The reception of this money, obtained through the generosity of a kind hearted stranger, for an evidence of commendable integrity, afforded young Stoner more pleasure, as he assured the writer, than could possibly the whole amount the purse contained, had he dishonestly kept it; for to retain that which we know another has lost, is almost as great a crime as to purloin it either by stealth or force; and a "conscience void of offense," allows its possessor to sleep soundly and have pleasant dreams. The young musician had many friends while his eight dollars lasted, for come easy, go easy, was the soldier's motto.
Henry Stoner, as elsewhere stated, enlisted for a term of three years, in the American army. At the expiration of that time he received his discharge at Verplanck's point, soon after which he re-enlisted at Groton, for three months, to fill another man's place. After the time of his second military engagement was up, he returned home. For about one year he lived on the farm of Col. John Butler, on Switzer hill, not far distant from Fort Johnson. The farm to which he removed from Butler's, is now in the town of Amsterdam, and was long known as the Dr. Quilhot place: the late John Putman, if we mistake not, was residing on this farm at the time of his death.
In the summer of 1782, a party of seven Indians traversed the forest from Canada to the Mohawk valley, the ostensible object of whose mission was to capture or destroy William Harper, afterwards judge (he resided for some years in Queen Anne's chapel parsonage), John Littel, afterwards sheriff, and such others as chance might throw in their way. Arriving at the house of Dries (8) Bowman, to the eastward of Johnstown, the hostile scout learned that Henry Stoner was a Whig of the times; that he had two sons then in the American army, and that he was living in a situation from its retirement, exposed to their mercenary designs. Thwarted in their original plan, they directed their steps, piloted by Bowman, to the dwelling of Stoner, and on their way captured a man by the name of Palmatier.
Unsuspicious of danger, Mr. Stoner accompanied by a nephew named Michael Reed (son of Conrad Reed) went early one morning to a field to hoe corn; it was the first hoeing for the season. Mrs. Stoner having prepared breakfast, blew a horn to call her friends, and they were about to leave the cornfield, as young Reed, a lad then in his teens, discovered two Indians armed with hatchets approaching them from adjoining woods, and directed the attention of his kinsman that way. The latter, who kept a loaded gun in his house, attempted to gain it by flight, seeing which, one of his foes ran so as to cut off his retreat. While making an angle in the road, the savage headed him, by crossing a piece of growing flax.
Whether the victim offered to surrender himself a prisoner to the British scalper, is not known; it is very probable he did; but the cry of mercy was unheeded, and the assassin's keen edged tomahawk descended with a crash, through an old fashioned beaver hat and what resistance the skull offered, and penetrated the brain. The scalping knife was quickly unsheathed, and several fingers of a hand the stricken patriot had laid imploringly upon his aching forehead, were nearly cut off with the scalp lock the merchandise that would then most readily command British Vld. Some of the Indians now ran to the dwelling, which was soon rifled of its most valuable contents, and set on fire. As they approached, Mrs. Stoner discovered them near the door, and snatching up a frock, threw it out of a back window which was open. The enemy lingered sufficiently long to secure what plunder they desired, and see the house so effectually on fire as to ensure its destruction, and then directed their course towards Canada. No personal injury was offered Mrs. Stoner, and soon after the destructives had retired, she obtained the dress cast from the window, the only article she was enabled to save, and went to the house of John Harman, a neighbor, supposing her husband and young Reed were prisoners.
Bowman aided the prisoners in carrying their plunder to a secret hiding place, near the Sacondaga, where, beside a log, they had concealed food. Palmatier effected his escape on the first night after his capture, to the great joy of his friends; and the feigned prisoner, Bowman, was allowed to return home the night following. From their secret rendezvous, near the present village of Northville, the party journeyed with their captive Reed, by the northerly route to Canada, where he became a drummer in Butler's Rangers and remained until the war closed.
Harman, after the arrival of Mrs. Stoner at his house, suspected Bowman of treachery, and made known his suspicions to some of his neighbors, who went with him to Stoner's premises. Going from the ruins of his house to the corn field, they found him where he had been cut down, in or near the road. He was still alive, and although unable to speak, signified by signs, his desire for water, which was procured in a hat as soon as possible; but on drinking a draught he expired immediately. He was buried beneath a hemlock tree, near which he had been slain. Thus ignobly perished a brave man, who with scores of other citizens on the frontiers, of all ages, sexes, and conditions, found an untimely grave, because the evidence of their destruction would command a liberal price in the camp of the enemy. English freemen, where is thy blush? Where is thy shame for the deeds of hellish cruelty inflicted by thy hirelings, not only on brave men, but on unoffending mothers and smiling infants? LIBERTY purchased at such a price, oh, with what jealousy should it be guarded.
When Palmatier returned and made it known that Bowman had aided the Indians in carrying their stolen goods, the latter was arrested by patriots and confined in the Johnstown jail, then fortified. A party of Whigs, among whom were Godfrey Shew and his son Henry, John Harman, James Dunn and Benjamin Define (9), assembled, fully determined to make Bowman confess his evil deeds. Among other devices resorted to, to make the Tory disclose the information desired, a rope was thrown round some fastening overhead with a noose upon his neck; and he was required to mount a barrel. But he was interrogated and threatened in vain; and after the patience of his accusers was well nigh exhausted, Dunn, who partook largely of the patriotic spirit of the times, swore he should hang; and kicking the barrel from under him he did hang----or rather stood very uncomfortably upon air for a little time; but was finally taken down, and with various warnings about his future conduct, was again allowed his freedom.
At the time of his father's death, Nicholas Stoner was on duty at King's Ferry.
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