History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Page 480, Volune II
Schell's Defense of his Castle--Schellsbush,
so called after Christian Schell, its principal settler, was in the town
of Herkimer, at that period three or four miles from Fort Dayton. Schell had erected a block house
on his farm early in the war, in which he continued to reside, with his family,
undisturbed, until the afternoon of Aug. 6, 1780, when the enemy, 66 strong,
under Lieut. McDonald, attempted to storm the little fort. Campbell
first mentioned this invasion in note “J” of his Annals, but
the note seems to have no text elsewhere. The note shows, in doggerel
verse, that this invasion occurred Aug. 6, but does not state the years. The
verse says of the invaders—“The Indians were 48, and tories full
16.” Col. Stone places the transaction in 1781; and Benton copies
the date from Stone. As stated by Campbell, the Indians stole the march
on Schell the next year and compassed his death; which I am satisfied
occurred in 1781. Hence, I place the attack on the block-house in 1780;
at the same time in which Brant struck the Canajoharie settlements.
Schell was fortunately in his house with his wife and three grown up sons. His two youngest boys, eight or ten years of age, had been sent to a neighbor’s to borrow a fan in which to clean grain, and were taken by the enemy while returning. McDonald’s party surrounded the house and made great efforts to force an entrance, two of them getting a rail, with which they attempted to open the door. Schell and his sons from loop holes kept firing upon the invaders with telling effect, while Mrs. Schell, with an axe and good execution by striking down the guns thrust through the crannies to fire on the inmates; thus bending the barrels and rendering them useless. One of the Schell’s sons making an opening in the roof, drew a bead upon the feathered head of an Indian and shouted: “Take care of your eyes!” The Indians looked up as a bullet crashed through his brain. After the battle had lasted some timed, McDonald came to the door and demanded a surrender, promising good usage, etc.; but exposing himself to the fire of an inmate, a ball shattered his leg. Quickly Schell unbarred the door before the astonished crew could prevent it. With McDonald a prisoner, the inmates no longer feared the burning of the fort, which had been threatened.
A Successful Ruse.—Twilight was gathering when Schell, apprehending some desperate effort of his foes, adopted a successful ruse. An outside cellar door had an underground entrance toward Fort Dayton; and from this, Schell, unobserved, gained a little distance from the fort, when, at the top of his voice, and the great dismay of his foes, he shouted--”Capt. Small, advance upon the right; and you, Capt. Harter, take the left, and surround the enemy.” In the next moment the latter fled precipitately, not doubting but two companies of rangers were surely approaching. The Schell family, leaving their prisoner well cared for, lost no time in making their flight to Fort Dayton.
The next morning a strong party from that fort visited Fort Schell, and learned from McDonald that his followers returned, surprised to find him alone, and still more, perhaps, to learn that the two companies of rangers had not wheeled into line. They found he could not be removed with safety, and left him, with a promise of kind treatment to the Schell boys, if their commander was properly cared for. The loss of the enemy was severe. Col. Stone says they had 11 killed and six wounded. Benton copies this and adds that, “nine out of 12 wounded, which the enemy started with, died before they reached Canada.” It is believed that their loss, in killed and wounded, was at least 20—a pretty dear attempt to capture or destroy one family. Lieut. McDonald was born to Fort Dayton on a litter, made of two poles and a blanket; and on the way, Adam Hartman, fixing his bayonet, with a feint movement said he would help carry him. He would, no doubt, have killed him had he not been a prisoner. Dr. William Petrie amputated McDonald’s leg, but could not staunch the wound, and he bled to death. A rumor was current that the old doctor had purposely let him; bleed. This was not generally believed. The captive Schell boys came back at the end of the war. They were treated kindly on their way to Canada. The enemy were pursued by troops from Fort Dayton to their camp fires, but they succeeded in making their escape to Canada. John Dockstader and Adam Hartman were of the pursuing party, was the former assured the writer in September, 1849, at which time he was 93 years old, with a clear, intellect, and very retentive memory.
Schell Removed to Fort Dayton.—He at once abandoned his back-woods farm and occupied a hut in the Fort Dayton inclosure. The following summer (1781) he, with Adam Hartman, of whom I have elsewhere to speak, cultivated land together. Hartman lived just outside the pickets. They were hoeing corn on the flats near where the bridge now crosses the river, between the villages of Herkimer and Mohawk, June 24; and when Schell and his four sons, Christian, Demas, Frederick and Marks, were ready, after dinner, to go to work, Hartman said, “You go on, I will soon come along.” On their arrival at the field the father started to go round it to see if everything was right. Oats were growing upon one side of the corn, and in the oats, Indians were concealed, with wild lilies over their heads. As Schell came near to the oats he was fired upon and fell, with a bullet through his stomach. Seeing his sons about to flee, he called to them not to let his scalp go to Canada; when they halted, and one of them shot down his father’s murderer. Two Indians sprang to catch their falling comrade, when Demas, with his gun loaded with buck-shot, drew up to fire, as a bullet passed through his own breast. His blood wet the priming of his gun, which prevented its discharge. His son Frederick also received a bullet through his thigh which laid him up for months. The firing hastened Hartman and others on the way, who were soon on the ground. The firing also drew troops from the fort, and the Indians abandoned further attempts to procure scalps and fled across the river.
Schell and his wounded sons were taken to the fort and properly cared for, but he and Demas both died on the following day, greatly lamented. Mr. Schell was an ardent Christian, honoring his profession. A short time before his death his neighbor, Hartman, left his praying fervently for his enemies. Some one met him soon after and inquired the condition of the sufferer. In no very good humor he replied much as follows: “There’s Schell in there; he’s going to die, and he’s praying for the ‘poor Indians!’ It’s well worth while for him to pray for them d----d Indians, as came here to kill him.”
The account of the Schell family was obtained at interviews with Lodowick Moyer and John Dockstader, corroborated by other old people of Herkimer county: they were mainly from Dockstader. He was a son of George Dockstader, and at our interview was living a mile above Herkimer Village. He was in the Oriskany battle under Capt. Henry Harter, and was near Gen. Herkimer when he fell. He said that at New Germantown, opposite Frankfort, Herkimer proposed to wait for tidings from Fort Stanwix; when some of his officers told him that his family was nearly all in Canada, and taunted him beyond endurance. This staunch old patriot died within two years of our interview. I was surprised to learn that Gen. Herkimer’s wife at the beginning of difficulties, went to Canada and remained there. This fact should increase our veneration for the old hero’s memory.
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