Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Annals of Tryon County;
or, the
Border Warfare of New York,
During the Revolution.
By William W. Campbell
New York; Printed and Published by J. & J. Harper 1831

Chapter VIII.

"Here too, those warrior sires with honor rest,
Who braved in freedom's cause the valiant breast,
Sprang from their half drawn furrow, as they cry
Of threaten'd liberty came thrilling by,
Look'd to their God, and reared in bulwark round
Breasts free from guile, and hands with toil embown'd,
And bade a monarch's thousand banners yield--
Firm at the plough, and glorious in the field;
Lo! have they rest, who every danger braved,
Unmarked, untrophied, 'mid the soil they saved."

In 1768 William, John, Alexander, and Joseph Harper, with eighteen other individuals, obtained a patent for twenty-two thousand acres of land lying in the now country of Delaware. The Harpers removed from Cherry Valley soon after, and made a settlement there which was called Harpersfield. This settlement had begun to flourish at the commencement of the war. Col. John Harper, who had been often mentioned in the foregoing chapters, had the command of one of the forts in Schoharie.

The following account of a successful enterprise of Col. Harper, was also furnished by the Rev. Mr. Fenn, who received the information from him. "He informed me that in the year 1777, he had the command of the fort in Schoharie, and of all the frontier stations in this region. He left the fort in Schoharie, and came out through the woods to Harpersfield in the time of making sugar, and from thence laid his course for Cherry Valley to investigate the state of things there; and as he was pursuing a blind kind of the Indian trail, and was ascending what are now called Decatur Hills, he cast his eye forward and saw a company of men coming directly toward him, who had the appearance of Indians. He knew that if he attempted to flee from them they would shoot him down; he resolved to advance right up to them, and make the best shift for himself he could. As soon as he came near enough to discern the white of their eyes, he knew the head man and several others; the head man's name was Peter; an Indian with whom Col. Harper had often traded at Oquago before the revolution began. The colonel had his great coat on, so that his regimentals were concealed, and he was not recognized; the first word of address on Col. Harper's part was, "How do you do, brothers?" the reply was, "Well--how do you do brother? which way are you bound, brother?" "On a secret expedition--and which way are you bound, brothers?" "Down the Susquehanna to cut off the Johnstone settlement." (Parson Johnstone, and a number of Scotch families, had settled down the Susquehanna, at what is now called Sidney Plains, and these where the people whom they were about to destroy." Says the colonel, "Where do you lodge tonight?" "At the mouth of Scheneva's creek," was the reply. Then shaking hands with them, he bid them good speed,and proceeded on his journey.

"He had gone but a little way from them before he took a circuit through the woods, a distance of eight or ten miles, on to the head of Charlotte river, where were a number of men making sugar; ordered them to take their arms, two days' provisions, a canteen of rum, and a rope, and meet him down the Charlotte, at a small clearing called Evans's place, at a certain hour that afternoon; then rode with all speed through the woods to Harpersfield; collected all the men who were there making sugar, and being armed and victualled with each man his rope, laid his course for Charlotte; when he arrived at Evans's place, he found the Charlotte men there in good spirits; and when he mustered his men, there were fifteen, including himself, exactly the same number as there were of the enemy; then the colonel made his men acquainted with his enterprise.

"They marched down the river a little distance, and then bent their course across the hill to the mouth of Schenevas creek; when they arrived at the brow of the hill where they could overlook the valley where the Schenevas flows, they cast their eyes down upon the flatt, and discovered the fire around which the enemy lay encamped--"They they are," said Col. Harper. They descended with great stillness, forded the creek, which was breast high to a man; after advancing a few hundred yards, they took some refreshment and then prepared for the contest--daylight was just beginning to appear in the east. When they came to the enemy, they lay in a circle, with their feet, toward the fire, in a deep sleep; their arms, and all their implements of death, were all stacked up according to the Indian custom when they lay themselves down for the night: these the colonel secured by carrying them off a distance, and laying them down; then each man taking his rope in his hand, placed himself by his fellow; the colonel rapped his man softly, and said, "Come, it is time for men of business to be on their way;" and then each one sprung upon his man, and after a most severe struggle they secured the whole number of the enemy.

"After they were all safely bound, and the morning had so far advanced that they could discover objects distinctly, says the Indian Peter--"Ha! Col. Harper! now I know thee--why did I not know thee yesterday?" "Some policy in war, Peter." "Ah, me find em so now." The colonel marched the men to Albany, delivered them up to the commanding officer there, and by this bold and well executed feat of valor, he saved the whole Scotch settlement from a wanton destruction."

Early in the spring of 1780 a party of Tories and Indians, under the command of Brant, destroyed Harpersfield. The inhabitants had generally left the place;--but a few of the men were at the time engaged in making maple sugar. Nineteen were taken prisoners, and several were killed. A consultation was held in the Indian language in presence of the prisoners, relative to a contemplated attack upon the Upper Fort in Schoharie; the Indians, satisfied with the booty and prisoners already obtained, were unwilling to risk anything in an uncertain expedition; some of the Tories represented the plan as promising success, and advised the Indians to kill the prisoners, that they might not be encumbered with them. Brant came up to Captain Alexander Harper, one of the prisoners, and drawing his sword, asked him if there were any troops in the fort; saying his life should be taken if he did not inform him correctly. Harper knew enough of the Indian language to have learned the subject of the foregoing conversation, and immediately answered, that it was well garrisoned, believing that they would all be killed should he answer differently. Another prisoner, not knowing the determination of the Indians, and fearing their vengeance should the falsehood be detected, stated truly that there were few if any troops in the fort. Harper insisted that his statement was true; he was believed, and they returned to Niagara. The last night of their journey they encamped a short distance from the fort. In the morning the prisoners were to run the gantlet. Harper, knowing the hostility of the Indians toward him, and fearing they might take his life, requested Brant to interfere and protect him, which he promised to do. The Indians arranged themselves in two parallel lines, facing inwards, with clubs and whips in their hands.

Harper was selected first; he was a tall, athletic man, and on the first signal sprang from the mark with extraordinary swiftness. An Indian near the end of the line, fearing he might escape with little injury, stepped before him; Harper struck him a blow with his fist, and then springing over him ran toward the fort; the Indians, enraged, broke their ranks, and followed him. The garrison, who had been apprised of the movements of the Indians, were upon the walls; when they saw Harper approaching, they threw open the gate, and he rushed in, when they immediately closed it. It was with difficulty they could keep the Indians back. The other prisoners took different courses, and got into the fort without passing through this, if not fiery, yet bloody ordeal.

William Harper was an active member of the Provincial Congress, and after the war, was several times a member of the State Legislature. When Otsego County was formed, he was appointed one of the assistant judges, William Cooper, Esq. being first judge. He lived to a great age, and died a few years since at Milford, in Otsego County, retaining to the last that strong desire for information which had characterized his public life. Col. John Harper died in Harpersfield, and Alexander and Joseph, soon after the war, obtained a grant of some land in the western part of the State of Ohio, whither they removed. The quiet of the country, and the approach of civilization, was not congenial to them; they preferred the life of a borderer, and sought it amid the boundless forests which then covered that beautiful State.

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