History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume II, Page 372 A Modest Retrospect.-- The following pretty sketch of the juvenile recollections of a "Grandmother's childhood tales," is from the facile pen of one of Albany's most accomplished and gifted ladies, Mrs. W. W. Cannell. And I am confident her admiring friends will be gratified that this "backward shadow" of her memory here finds a place, as it will give the reader some idea of frontier life to the women at the period to which it refers.
Life Scenes.-- Seventeen miles from my own home, in the county of Herkimer, was situated the old homestead in which my mother was born. With the exception of Santa Claus, there was nothing looked forward to so eagerly, or from which we anticipated so much pleasure, and the semiannual visit to this old homestead. After we left the main road we drove along a private road, or lane, that made its way from one main road to another; a sort of short cut of two or three miles, through the lands of several farmers whose houses were built, as the farmhouses of that period were wont to be, in the center of the farm. When we reached the door yard, we unbarred the gate and drove through a flock of hissing geese and quacking ducks, up to the back or porch door. The noise of the geese would call grandmother to the door, and her bright, cheery face, crowned with its wealth of snowy white hair, would appear at the upper half of the door, which was flung open, while her trembling hands were unfastening the lower half. How well I remember the old house, with its porch, or "stoop," through which we passed into the "living room." The red beams over head were filled with pegs, upon which were hung braided ears of corn, strings of dried apples, or other homely articles which had not been put in winter quarters yet. And then the fireplace, such corn and potatoes as we roasted in its ashes! How often we sat before its cheerful blaze and drank sweet cider and ate apples, while we listened to our elders' tales, until morpheus wooed us to his embrace. And what fun it was to climb into bed. First to pull the curtains back and then throw down the blue and white spread, the flannel and linen sheets, all homespun. If it was cold, the warming pan was placed between the sheets, and then, getting upon a chair, we stepped upon the chest near the bed, and with the aid of mother and a "one, two, three," in we went, down, down, down in the soft, warm, feather beds. Did we ever sleep such a sleep as that in after years?
But I digress: this is not what I set out to relate. When mother and aunts were out visiting the neighbors, then grandmother (Nancy Keller), taking her knitting, would sit down beside the fire and talk of her girlhood.
Revolutionary Scenes.--"Those were hard times and dreadful scenes," she would say; "some of them I do not remember, as I was a baby when they transpired, but my mother (Moyer) told me that often she would wake up in the middle of the night at the sound of a horn, and a man's voice crying out, 'To arms! to arms!' Father would run for his musket, and mother would take me in her arms and, with my two brothers clinging to her dress, start for her shelter in the wood. All the farmers had some place of safety for their families to run to in case of an alarm. Ours was a hollow place in the woods, between some trees. It was just big enough or us to lie down in, and the boughs and underbrush at the sides had been arranged to hide it from the savage eye. One night we had gained the place in safety, our way to the woods being lighted by fires, from burning hay stacks and buildings. I had been ill, and I moaned and cried, while my brothers lay down as close to mother's side as possible. All at once we heard soft footfalls on the leafy ground; then an Indian passed quickly with a lighted torch; then another and another; how many, was never known, for we could see them so plainly through the boughs placed over us, that we closed our eyes in fear and scarcely breathed; yes, we, for I ceased crying and nestled close on mother's breast. How long did we lie there? We never knew. Measured by what we endured, it was ages before we heard father's voice calling, "All right, come out." And what must mother have suffered? Every gun shot might be the death call of her husband; every soft footfall and quick passing shadow, be death personified for her. And when the footfall ceased near her hiding place, and the shadow remained stationary, when one cry of the baby in her arms or the children at her side were messengers of instant and horrible death; when at last the shadow started and the feet gave a headlong bound, and a fearful whoop rang out upon the stillness about her; what wonderful control of her nerves she must have had, not to betray her presence by the least movement, and how well we had learned, even to the baby, to sustain a rigid silence."
There were witches in grandmother's day too; most horrible stories of witchcraft we heard from the younger members of the family, who had listened to the stories told by their parents. One woman in particular seemed to haunt the old home until grandfather, who had no belief in the black art, offended her, and was punished in this wise: Every day she came begging to the door, but it was forbidden to give her aught, yet one day grandmother's heart was filled with compassion for her and she gave her a skein of woolen yarn. The eye of the witch gleamed with joy, as she went from the door to the pasture nearby. In this pasture was a stump of a tree lately cut down. She moved the yard about over this stump and next day a valuable black horse of grandfather's was found dead, with his head on this stump.
This is one of the many stories that used to make it anything but pleasant for us when we went to bed, but the early morning always found us safe and sound and ready for our morning "douche" in the water running from the penstock opposite the double door.
Other Doings of the Enemy in Freysbush.-- The patriotic families in Freysbush who found safety, when attainable, at Fort Clyde, which stood on the present Nellis farm opposite John P. Dunkel's place, were those of Nellis, Yerdon, Garlock, Radnour, Dunkel, Wormuth, Miller, Lintner, Walrath, Lewis, Wolfe, Schreiber, Failing, Ehle, Knouts, Westerman, Brookman, Young, Yates and a few others. From the house of Knouts, the same party proceeded to that of Johan Steffanis Schreiber, who discovered them approaching and made his escape. They made prisoners of his wife and two or three small children, and led them into captivity; a fact recorded on a large powderhorn.--Dr. G. A. Lintner. This horn is in the State Cabinet.
Capture of Mrs. Pletts and Maria Strobeck.-- Nancy, a daughter of John Casper Yerdon, who lived on the farm now owned by Philip Failing, had a few years before the war married George Pletts. She had several children, and a few months before the event narrated, she had a pair of twins, one of which had died. It would seem as though Pletts and his family were living at his wife's father's for, on the eventful August 2d, 1780, her nursing child was left in a cradle there, and she went some distance from the house to the vicinity of a spring to dig potatoes for dinners. An Indian made her his prisoner there, and hurried her away to some place where other captives were gathered. The Yerdon house, for some cause, was not approached. After the assembling of several small parties, there came up a shower, and the party gained what shelter a hay stack afforded. The enemy then declared if they were pursued, they would kill their prisoners before they would abandon them. Mrs. Pletts, as the weather was warm, was clad only in an undergarment and a skirt, not even having on the accustomed short gown of the period; and thus scantily clad, was compelled to travel all the way to Canada. The infant she left in the cradle was named Elizabeth, which grew up and married Henry Hurdick.*
*His is remembered as a jockey race horse rider, and was distinguished for that only. He died poor, and at his funeral, Rev. John Jacob Wack officiated. A collection of several dollars was taken up in the crowd to pay the Dominie for his services: who, with commendable grace, told his friends to give it to the poor widow, which was done.
Maria Strobeck, sprightly girl just entering her teens, was also captured with her father at a clearing where they had gone to save some ashes, near the Failing farm in the vicinity of Mrs. Pletts, and went with the party she did, to Canada.
Mrs. Dyoniscius Miller was made a prisoner in the Freysbush settlement, but the circumstances attending her capture are not now remembered. She was probably taken at her own home, as she had with her a nursing child. She was placed on a horse,which was led by an Indian to Canada. Although the enemy came down in large bodies, they usually returned in small parties; and prisoners taken near together, often journeyed with different captors, some of them not meeting again until their return. As the party having Mrs. Miller grew straitened for food, she had but little nourishment for her infant child, and as it cried from weariness and hunger, and Indian more than once came back hatchet in hand to kill it, but pressing it to her breast, she would not afford him the desired opportunity. Indians never fancy the song of a crying child. To save her darling, Mrs. Miller kept almost constantly nursing, or in a fruitless attempt to nurse, until her breasts became very sore and blistered from the heat; but she saved the child to bring it safely back again. It grew up and married William Dygert, who, years after, died in a prayer meeting.
John Peter Dunckle, a remarkably strong man, was also made a prisoner on the fatal August 2d, 1780, in Freysbush. He was working with his brother Francis and Nicholas Yerdon. They were getting out staves, when approached by a small party of Indians. As they turned to flee toward Fort Clyde, a quarter of a mile or more distant, they were fired upon and Hon. Peter was wounded and captured, but his brother escaped to the fort, although pursued to within gunshot of it. Yerdon fell under a large tree unobserved by the Indians who ran over it. The captive was taken to Canada, sharing in the prisoner's general suffering. As we hear of not inconvenience from his wound we suppose it to have been a slight one. The party having Dunckel were much straitened for food, and a hedgehog they had shot and hung up on their way down, although it was covered with skippers, they threw it into a pot, cooked and ate it. Hunger don't stand upon trifles.
On their way to Canada, Mrs. Pletts and Miss Strobeck, toward whom the former acted as foster mother, were scantily fed, and on her return Mrs. P. told friends that on their weary journey they came to a brook in which they caught several small fish which they ate raw, and although they were wriggling in their mouths, they proved a great luxury. On arriving in the Indian country, they were taken into separate Indian families; and finding many unclean dishes, Mrs. Pletts, who was a tidy woman, voluntarily scoured them clean and kept them so. This act very much pleased the Indians, who treated her afterward with marked kindness. She felt it her duty still to keep a parental eye upon Miss Storbeck, and finding her romping with the young Indians, she tried to persuade her to leave them, but she was so happy with them, she would give no heed tot he counsel of Mrs. Pletts. Indeed, she became so infatuated with the novelty of Indian life, that she could not be persuaded to be included in the exchange of prisoners, and did not return with Mrs. Pletts when she might. Some six or eight years after the war, her father made the journey to Canada and found her, but she could not then be prevailed upon to return home with him; and it was supposed she subsequently took an Indian husband and remained there.
Trifles are not always highly esteemed. While among the Indians, Mrs. Pletts was given a sewing needle, which she boasted of using for years after her return, and which she prized very highly.
Quite a number of prisoners taken in Tryon county, were liberated at one time and came back together, and among them were John Peter Dunckel and Mrs. George Pletts; and sometime after when they were well stricken in years, he having lost his wife, who was Nancy Countryman, and she her husband--they concluded to unite their fortunes, and came on foot to the house of Dominie Gros, who then lived in Freysbush, and he untied them in wedlock. At this time the groom had two sons, Peter and Adam, and the bride had seven or eight children, but they were all grown up, and none of them ever designated this as a runaway match. It was an agreeable past time for the young to hear this old couple relate stories of the war, their own perils included. --Facts from William H. Seeber and his wife, Dr. Lintner, Peter G. Dunckel, and others.
Escape of Henry Nellis and Son -- One of the early settlers claiming protection at Fort Clyde, was Henry Nellis, upon whose lands its palisades were cut. In fleeing to this fort about the time Adam Garlock reached it, Henry Nellis and his son George H. Nellis, a man of some prominence and a General of militia after the war, the following incident occurred: Pursued by several Indians, as they neared the fort, the son caught his foot in some fastening and fell, just as the Indian fired upon him. Seeing him fall, his father called to know if he was hurt, and springing to his feet with the exclamation, "I guess not," he entered the fort in safety just behind his father; when, to his surprise, he found a bullet hole through his hat. His fall, no doubt, saved his life. --Family recollection.
Escape of Adam Garlock from the Indians. -- On the day so fatal to the Freysbush settlement, Adam Garlock, a well to do farmer (called old Adam after the war to distinguish him from a younger namesake), was proceeding on horseback westerly in the road as it then ran across the William H. Seeber farm when his horse, a spirited animal, sniffed the wind and tossed his head and mane in fright. Looking for a cause, the rider saw a party of over a dozen Indians approaching. Horses not infrequently disclosed evidence of the nearness of Indians when not in sight. They scented them as wild animals often do the hunter when to the windward of them. He discovered the cause of his horse's fear just as the animal whirled around to take the back track which, with a free rein, he gave him a chance to do so, when a volley of bullets whistled about his head. Those with guns still loaded pursued, and at sever turns in the road they continued to fire at him. Riding to a path which turned off at his left toward Fort Clyde, he dashed down that path unobserved by his foes, and gained the fort in safety. The instinct of his horse, no doubt, prevented his death or captivity. This circumstance is said to have aided him in procuring a $40 pension, of which bounty he felt quite proud. -- William H. Seeber.
At this same invasion of the enemy, as believed, Elizabeth Garlock was scalped and left on the river road above Fort Plain. She supposed the act was done by one Countryman, who had gone from the neighborhood, but he was painted as an Indian. Tories were often called blue-eyed Indians. She recovered, married Nicholas Philips, removed to Vernon and died there at the age of about 90. --Elias Garlock, a relative.
Captivity of John Casler.-- John, son of Thomas Casler, an early resident of Freysbush, was captured by the enemy, believed in the invasion of August, 1780. On the way to Canada, the prisoners were bound to trees nights, and on one occasion when thus bound, the carelessness of the Indians set the leaves on fire, and as the flames approached Casler, he called on his captors to loosen him that he might escape the element. Bernard Frey, to whom the prisoner was well known was with the enemy, and on his hearing his petition, unfeelingly said to the Indians: "Let the d--d rebel burn up." The dusky warriors were more humane, and removed him from danger. Only a night or two after, Casler succeeded in making his escape. He rightly conjectured the enemy would search for him on the back track, and proceeding a short distance, he secured a safe covert a little one side of the route and remained there a whole day, and until he saw his foes return; when he took the back track and reached the ashes of his home in safety. Whenever he afterwards spoke of his captivity, he was sure to add, that if he ever again saw Bernard Frey, he would shoot him at night. Such was the feeling engendered in that terrible war of neighbor against neighbor. Casler entertained no love for the Indians after the war, and he had credit for bringing home a pack of dressed deer skins, and leaving a dead Indian hunter on a Schoharie mountain where he obtained them. --William H. Seeber.
This Casler, was the father Abram Casler, who was hung in Schoharie county, in May 1817. The latter, who was a small, bur well formed man, was intimate with a Mrs. Houghkirk, of Palatine, whose husband was a drunkard, and who met a sudden death, whose nature some thought had been given a sudden jog. Casler poisoned his wife that he might marry Mrs. Houghkirk. --Nicholas Stellar.
The Enemy Approach very near to Fort Plain, but it was too feebly garrisoned to afford a sally. Indeed, to make a show of force for its defense, not a few women, with hats on, holding poles as dummy guns, were in position to be seen by the enemy, scarcely one fourth of a mile distant. It was at this general invasion that John Abeel was made a prisoner, within sight of Fort Plain; and was liberated by his son, the celebrated Cornplanter, as narrated in the first volume of this work. Abeel's house, that of Major Seeber, and others in the neighborhood, were then burned, together with the R. D. church ont he hill above Abeel's. Some one has said the church was fired by a Tory. This need confirmation, although probable, as most of the men worshiping in it were staunch Whigs: thus affording a pretext for its destruction.
Fate of Warner Dygert.-- This substantial citizen, whose sister Gen. Herkimer had married, kept a tavern at the foot of Fall hill, not far from the residence of Gen. Herkimer, before the war; and going to his place, as believed, on the destructive day of 1780, with his son, Suffrenas, a lad of some 10 years of age, to make a corn crib, his movements were watched by four Indians. Everybody then carried a gun where their duty called them. From their concealment they saw him set down his gun, and, with a tinder box and flint, light his pipe, at which moment he was shot down; and, running up, they dispatched and scalped him. The little son was made a prisoner and taken to Canada. He returned to his surviving friends, at the end of his captivity, in company with Mr. Dunckel and Mrs. Pletts, and other captives from the Canajoharie district. The widow of Warner Dygert married a Snell, and at his death she married John Roorback, who outlived her. Sufferenas Dygert went to live in Canada after the war, and some years after came back and made a unsuccessful attempt to get a pension from our government; went back to Canada and remained there.--William H. Seeber and wife.
An Incident at Fort Herkimer.-- In the summer of 1780, believed at the August invasion, four white men and a Negro were hoeing corn on the farm of Henry Olendorf, who made one of the party, half a mile to the eastward of Fort Herkimer. The party had been thus engaged but a short time after breakfast, when about a dozen Indians appeared in close proximity, evidently intent on their capture, as, at that time, they could easily have shot them. The yeomen fled toward the fort, hotly pursued by their foes, who did not fire on the fugitives until they were brought within range of American rifles; when they let fly a volley of balls,and the poor Negro was killed. The race was witnessed with great excitement by the inmates of the fort, fearful that its issue might be fatal to all of the pursued.
When brought to a stand by a shower of balls from the fort, the pursuing party all fell back, except one, partially sheltered by a small barn which contained a valuable stud horse, which fact, it was believed, he knew. He gained access to the barn, although within gunshot of the fort. He soon made his appearance, leading the gay animal, which he vainly endeavored to make a shelter for his own person, as the prancing of the steed prevented. From the moment he left the barn, a sharp shooter in the fort had his rifle poised to gain an exposure, which was rendered by the waltzing of the animal, and a rifle ball pierced the Indian's head, and he fell near the carcass of the Negro, whose death was so soon revenged. The noble animal, which would have served a Ringold or a Sheridan for a charger, ran across the field, but, unfortunately, in the direction of the retiring foemen, who drew up and shot him.
It became known at the fort, soon after the above event transpired, that the enemy were in large numbers on the hill back of it, ready, if the fort should be weakened by a sallying party, to attempt its capture. Among the anxious inmates of the fort, who witnessed this Herkimer county foot race, was Conrad Hess, who was brought up in the vicinity of the fort. Facts from Volkert Fox, who had them from the lips of Hess and Olendorf. The latter died about the year 1837. Fox died March 12, 1879, aged 79 years.
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