History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of Tryon County;
Border Warfare of New York,
During the Revolution.
By William W. Campbell
New York; Printed and Published by J. & J. Harper 1831
The removal of Guy Johnson to Canada excited no surprise; but while hovering upon the frontier, reports were circulated which caused considerable alarm. It was said that he intended to attack Little Falls, with eight or nine hundred Indians, and to proceed thence down the river, and ravage the whole County below. Measures were taken to make a vigorous resistance, in case the report should prove true. The militia were ordered to arm, and to be ready to march on the first notice, and expresses were sent for assistance to Albany and Schenectady. Whether the rumor was unfounded, or whether the invasion was contemplated, but was abandoned in consequence of the preparations made to resist him, is not known. Col. Johnson withdrew, as before stated, without committing any acts of hostility.
The Committee, freed from immediate danger in that direction, turned their attention to the internal regulation of the County. They determined civil causes--officered and organized the militia--arrested and tried suspicious persons, some of whom they fined,and others they imprisoned--ordered that no person should come into or go out of the county without a pass from some acknowledged public body,either a Congress or a Committee; and in short, exercised such powers as the exigencies of the times demanded, and which were necessary to secure tranquillity within, and guard against danger from without.
Though these committees generally exercised powers which were not delegated to them when first appointed, their regulations were submitted to, and their resolves obeyed cheerfully by their constituents, who perceived the necessity of concentrating as much power as possible in that body. The discordant and disorganizing materials thrown together by such strifes, required the control of a strong arm. The rash are to be checked, the vicious are to be punished, and the irresolute and wavering, encouraged and confirmed. The exposed situation of Tryon County, with the great number of open and avowed enemies, furnished an additional reason why the committee should exercise an almost absolute authority.
Brant and the Butlers had accompanied Guy Johnson, but the loyalists were still numerous in the County. They found a willing and active leader in Sir John Johnson, whose house now became their principal place of rendezvous.
They strove to weaken the confidence of the people in the committee. At one time they called meetings in some of the districts, and chose new Committees. At another they ridiculed their proceedings. Sometimes they asserted that their acts were illegal, and at other times that they were tyrannical. Under such circumstances,and with the feelings which such strifes are apt to engender, it is not singular that the proceedings of the Committee against those men were characterized by considerable severity. It is worthy of remark, however, that no sacrifice was required of their constituents, which they themselves were unwilling to make; no dangers to be encountered which they were unwilling to share. Several of the Committee were killed in battle, and there were few of those who escaped with their lives, who did not sustain a total loss of property, during the subsequent Indian ravages.
Christopher P. Yates,the first Chairman, went a volunteer to Ticonderoga, and into Canada with Gen. Montgomery. During the latter part of the summer of 1775, he raised a company of rangers, and in the following summer was commissioned a major. He was succeeded by Nicholas Herkimer, afterward Brigadier General of the militia, and he by Isaac Paris.
The following extract is from a letter of the state Committee of Safety under date of December, 1775, signed by John McKesson, Clerk of the provincial Congress. "I was directed by this congress to assure you of the high esteem and respect they have for your vigilant, noble-spirited county committee." The following was from Gen. Schuyler in the summer of '76. "The propriety of your conduct,and your generous exertions in the cause of your country, entitle you to the thanks of every one of its friends--please to accept of mine most sincerely."
Among the loyalists of Tryon County, was Alexander White, sheriff of the County. He had assisted in his official capacity in dispersing the people assembled in the Mohawk district to appoint a committee, and had uttered violent threats against them. The Committee refused to acknowledge him as such officer, and procured the election of John Frey in his place. They write a letter to the provincial Congress soliciting their interference in procuring a commission for Mr. Frey.
In a subsequent letter they say, "We must further hear that Gov. Tryon shall have granted again a commission to the great villain, Alexander White, for high sheriff in our county: but we shall never suffer any exercise of such office in our county, by the said White." He left the county soon after, but returned the following summer; was arrested and confined, though afterward suffered to go at large upon parole.
The following is from a letter of the Committee to provincial Congress of New York, Sept. 7, 1775. "There is a great number of proved enemies against our association and regulations thereof, proceeding in and about Johnstown at Kingsborough, under the direction and order of Sir John Johnson, being Highlanders, amounting to 200 men, according to intelligence. We are daily scandalized by them, provoked and threatened, and we must surely expect a havoc of them upon our families if we should be required and called elsewhere for the defense of our country's cause. The people on our side are not willing that the Committee should proceed so indulgently any longer. We have great suspicions, and are almost assured, that Sir John has a continual correspondence with Col. Guy Johnson and his party."
It was afterward ascertained that such a correspondence was carried on through the Indians, who conveyed letters to the heads of their tomahawks and in the ornaments worn about their persons. The Indians also brought powder across from Canada.
On the 26th of October the Committee wrote to Sir. John the following letter. "Tryon County Committee Chamber, Oct. 26th, 1775. Honorable Sir. As we find particular reason to be convinced of your opinion in the questions hereafter expressed, we request you that you'll oblige us with your sentiments thereupon in a few lines by our messengers the bearers hereof, Messrs. Ebenezer Cox, James M'Master, and John J. Clock, members of our Committee. We wish to know whether you will allow the inhabitants of Johnstown and Kingsborough to form themselves into companies, according to the regulations of our continental Congress, for the defense of our country's cause; and whether your Honor would be ready himself to give his personal assistance to the same purpose; also whether you pretend a prerogative to our country court house and gaol, and would hinder or interrupt the Committee making use of the same to our want and service in the common cause.
"We do not doubt you will comply with our reasonable request, and thereby oblige," &c.
To this letter Sir John replied, "That as to embodying his tenants, he never did or should forbid them; but they might save themselves further trouble, as he knew his tenants would not consent. Concerning himself, sooner than lift his hand against his king, or sign any association, he would suffer his head to be cut off. As to the courthouse, and gaol, he would not deny the use of it for the purpose for which it was built, but that they were his property until he should be refunded seven hundred pounds. He further said he had been informed that two-thirds of Canajoharie and German Flatts people had been forced to sign the association. The deputies replied, that his authority spared the truth, for it appeared of itself ridiculous that one third should have forced two thirds to sign."
The provincial Congress, to whom a letter containing the proceedings of the Committee had been sent, returned an answer as follows: "Dec. 9th. The Congress have this day entered into the consideration of your letter of the 28th of October, and are of opinion that your application to Sir John Johnson, requesting an answer from him whether he would allow his tenants to form themselves into companies and associate with their brethren of your county according to the resolves of the continental Congress, for the defense of our liberties, was improper with respect to him, and too condescending on your part, as it was a matter that came properly within your province; and to which we doubt not but you are competent, as you have a line of conduct prescribed to you by Congress. With respect to your second question, whether he would take any active part in the controversy at present existing between Great Britain and her colonies, we conceive it to be very proper, and than you for your information on that head.
"As to the third question, we conceive that he has no claim nor title to the court hours and gaol in your County, as we are credibly told that his father, Sir William Johnson, did in his lifetime convey the same to two gentlemen, in trust for the use of your county. However, as an attempt to use the same for the purpose of confining persons inimical to our county, may be productive of bad consequences, we beg leave to recommend to you, to procure some other place which may answer the end of a gaol. And give you our advice not to molest Sir John as long as he shall continue inactive, and not impede the measures necessary to be carried into execution from being completed." This advice was followed and a private house was procured for that purpose, while some of the prisoners were sent to Albany and Hartford.
The fears of the people were again excited, during the subsequent winter, by preparations made by Sir John for the erection of a fortifications around Johnson Hall. The number of armed dependents which he retained around him gave credit to a report that, when the fortification should be completed, it would be garrisoned by three hundred Indians in addition of his own men, and that from thence they would sally out and ravage the surrounding country.
Gen. Schuyler had been informed of the movements of Sir John, and in Jan 1776, in the dead of winter, together with Gen. Ten Broeck, and Col. Varick, and a few others, with a small detachment of soldiers, came into Tryon County. General Herkimer ordered out all the militia. They were paraded on the ice on the Mohawk river. The place of meeting was Major Fonda's a few miles from Johnson Hall. Major Fonda was sent a messenger to Sir John. An answer was returned, and a correspondence carried on which was continued two or three days. The precise nature of it is not known. It resulted in Sir John surrendering himself a prisoner, and disarming his dependents and tenants. He was sent down to Fishkill, where he was liberated upon his parole. This surrender removed the fears of the inhabitants during the remainder of the winter. In the following May, however, Sir John, regardless of his promises, broke his parole, and accompanied by a large number of his tenants, went north from Johnstown, by the way of Sacandaga, to Montreal. Sir William Johnson would have frowned with indignation upon this unmanly and disgraceful conduct of his son. The provincial Congress of New York immediately wrote a letter to Gen. Washington, "We apprehend no doubt can exist, whether the affair of Sir John Johnson is within your immediate cognizance. He held a commission as Brig. General of the militia, and it is said another commission as Major General. That he hath shamefully broken his parole is evident, but whether it would be more proper to have him returned or exchanged is entirely in your excellency's prudence." It is believed that neither the one nor the other was ever done. He left much valuable property, which was confiscated by Congress, and sold under the direction of the Committee. During the war he commanded a regiment of refugees, known in the predatory border warfare of this Province by the name of "Johnson's Greens."
The first delegates to the provincial Congress were, John Marlatt, and John Moore. Afterward William Wills, Benj. Newkirk, Volkert Veeder,and William Harper were appointed. The tow latter were for a long time members of the state Committee of Safety. A new county Committee was this spring elected, of which John Frey, Esq. was chosen chairman. At a meeting in May, it was unanimously resolved to instruct the delegates from this county in the provincial Congress to vote for the entire independence of the Colonies.
The Declaration of Independence of the 4th of July following, was hailed by them with joy, and they were willing to maintain it "with their lives and fortunes."
Tryon County, during this summer, was comparatively tranquil and secure. Scouts were sent out upon the borders, who with the continental troops kept at a distance the few detached parties of Indians and Tories. The following winter the Indians collected in considerable numbers at Oquago on the Susquehanna. Col. John Harper, of Harpersfield, was sent by the Provincial Congress with a letter to them, to ascertain their feelings toward the country and their intentions. Col. Harper having given private orders to the captains of his regiment of militia to hold themselves in readiness in case their services should be required, went to Oquago accompanied by one Indian and one white man. He arrived there the 27th of February. He soon ascertained that the report of a contemplated invasion was untrue. He cause an ox to be roasted, and invited the Indians to the entertainment thus provided. The letter was received in a friendly manner, and the Indians expressed their sorrow, on account of the troubles of the country, and declared that they would take no active part against it.
<--Joseph Brant, having had some disagreement with Guy Johnson, came to Oquago after the visit of Col. Harper. In June following, 1777, he went up to Unadilla with a party of seventy or eighty Indians, and sent for the officers of the militia company and the Rev. Mr. Johnstone. Brant informed them that the Indians were in want of provisions. That if they could not get them by consent they must by force; that their agreement with the king was very strong, and that they were not such villains as to break their convent with him; that they were natural warriors, and could not bear to be threatened by Gen. Schuyler. They were informed that the Mohawks were confined -- (that is, probably, the few who remained behind,) and had not liberty to pass and repass as formerly. That they were determined to be free, as they were a free people, and desired to have their friends removed from the Mohawk river, lest, if the western Indians should come down, their friends might suffer with the rest, as they would pay no respect to person. The inhabitants let them have provisions. After staying two days they returned, taking with them cattle, sheep, &c. The inhabitants friendly to the country, immediately removed their families and effects to places of greater security.
Information having been given, Gen. Herkimer in July marched to Unadilla with 380 militia. He was met here by Brant at the head of 130 warriors. Brant complained of the same grievances as above set forth. To the question whether he would remain at peace if these things were rectified, he replied; "The Indians were in concert with the king, as their fathers and grandfathers had been. That the king's belt were yet lodged with them,and they could not falsify their pledge --That Gen. Herkimer and the rest had joined the Boston people against their king -- That Boston people were resolute, but the king would humble them -- That Mr. Schuyler, or General, or what you please to call him, was very smart on the Indians at the treaty at German Flatts; but was not at the same time able to afford them the smallest article of clothing -- That the Indians had formerly made war on the white people all united; and now they were divided, the Indians were not frightened."
After Brant had declared his determination to espouse the cause of the king, Col. Cox said, if such was his resolution the matter was ended. Brant turned and spoke to his warriors, who shouted and ran to their camp about a mile distant, when seizing their arms, they fired a number of guns, and raised the Indian war shop. They returned immediately, when Gen. Herkimer addressing Brant, told him he had not come to fight. Brant motioned to his followers to remain in their places. Then assuming a threatening attitude, he said, if their purpose was war, he was ready for them. He then proposed the Mr. Stewart, the missionary among the Mohawks (who was supposed friendly to the English) and the wife of Col. Butler should be permitted to pass from the lower to the upper Mohawk castle.
Gen. Herkimer assented, but demanded that the Tories and deserters should be given up to him. This was refused by Brant, who after some farther remarks, added that he would go to Oswego, and hold a treaty with Col. Butler This singular conference was singularly terminated. It was early in July, and the sun shone forth without a cloud to obscure it, and as its rays gilded the tops of the forest trees; or were reflected from the waters of the Susquehanna, imparted a rich tint to the wild scenery with which they were surrounded. The echo of the war whoop had scarcely died away before the heavens became black, and a violent storm of hail and rain obliged each party to withdraw and seek the nearest shelter. Men less superstitious than many of the unlettered yeomen who, leaning upon their arms, were witnesses of the events of this day, could not have failed in after times to have looked back upon the, if not as an omen, at least as an emblem of those dreadful massacres with which these Indians and their associates afterward visited the inhabitants of this unfortunate frontier.
Gen. Herkimer appears to have been unwilling to urge matters to extreme, though he had sufficient power to have defeated the Indians. He no doubt entertained hopes that some amicable arrangements would eventually be made with them.
This is believed to have been the last conference held with any of the Six Nations, except the Oneidas, in which an effort was made to prevent the Indians engaging in the war. In the remarks of Brant will be found what was no doubt one of the principal reasons of the Indians joining the English, and which liberal gifts on our part might probably have prevented. As before remarked, they had been accustomed to receive most of their clothing and other necessaries from the English agents and superintendent. And now when they received from the Americans little save professions of friendship, they were left to conclude that they were either poor or penurious, and therefore continued an alliance coupled with more immediate and substantial benefits. Col. Guy Johnson is said to have address the Indians at one of their councils as follows, "Are they (the Americans) able to give you any thing more than a piece of bread and a glass of rum? Are you willing to go with them, and suffer them to make horses and oxen for you, to put you into wheel barrows, and to bring us all into slavery?"
Copyright © 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.