Jeptha Root Simms.

Trappers of New York; online

. (page 5 of 17)
Online LibraryJeptha Root SimmsTrappers of New York; → online text (page 5 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ment was not as cruel as that meted to most prisoners,
and he lived to return home, to the great joy of his


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 em-
ployed 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 a window.
Mr. Reed instantly disappeared through a trap-door
into the cellar without a candle, and his wife went
out of the house. There seemed a sprinkling of mys-
tery 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
more 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 dwel+
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 con-
sult her about making him a prisoner. She told them
that 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 in-
closed 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 swell-
ings 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


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 beauti-
ful 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
soon 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 com-
mittees often tended to such a result.

I have remarked elsew^here, that young Stoner, when
on duty at Johnstown, went hunting in the proper
season. His pigeon hunting often gave him an inter-
view with the young ladies named, and not unfre-
quently did Anna, as the hunter was about to proceed
farther from the garrison, with some anxiety and a
reproving look, cast a caution in his path from her
father's door, such as " Nicholas, you'll be surprised
yet at that tory house and taken off to Canada: you
had belter not go there." If the maiden had not con-
ceived some attachment for the young fifer, the reader
will agree with me, that she was possessed of sisterly
feelings. He was then quite partial to Anna, as he
admits, and we think he must have promised her to
limit his future excursions to a nearer range, else why
the caution observed in another visit.

As the young musician usually hunted in the same


direction, it was suspected by more than one at the
station that he went sky-larking, and James Dunn,
who was possibly in the secret of his destination, one
day told Capt. Pell that " if he did not look out he
would lose his fifer, as he not only went upon danger-
j ous grounds, but hunted two kinds of pigeons. ^^ The
j captain, whose inclinations led him to follow all the
fortunes of w^ar, took occasion secretly to catechise
the young hunter; and the latter, with his usual can-
dor, owned up. The consequence was, the commander
of the garrison concluded the hunting oi pigeons must
be rare sport, especially if they were not too lean, and
soon obtained a promise from young Nimrod to take
him where he could find one nestled.

Arrangements having been made for a hunt, secretly
of course, a garment was thrown over the back of an
old white mare belonging to the w^idow Shutting,
which sought its living around the fort; and selecting.
a propitious evening, the hunter and his pupil — under
cover of a cluster of trees a little distance from the
garrison, mounted their Rozinante and set off. The
reader may be surprised that they started on a pigeon
hunt in the evening, and still more when informed
that they left their shooting-irons behind; but this is
all owing to his ignorance of the policy of w^ar, for
he should know that game is easier taken on the roost
than on the wing.

It was the wish of the master hunter to avoid pass-
ing on their way the house of Jeremiah Mason, and


why, possibly the reader may infer; he says himself,
however, it was from fear a watch-dog might betray
the nature of their errand and thus startle the best
game : consequently a blind and circuitous route was
chosen, some distance from the public highway.
Whether the animal was too heavily loaded or not, we
can not judge any better than the reader (sin is said
to be weighty), but sure it is that in threading an
intricate footpath carpeted by a web of briars and un-
derbrush along a ravine, the mare stumbled and weni^
heels over head, sending her riders far from her, if not
pell-mell, certainly Pell and Nick. Bestowing some
harsh epithets upon the poor beast, which probably
had the worst of the bargain, they'did not attempt to
remount; but leaving the old mare to her fate, they
proceeded on foot.

On arriving near the hunting-grounds, Stoner went
forward to reconnoitre, and finding the coast clear,
returned and conducted his captain into a neat little
cottage, with two rooms below, and possibly as many
above. The ceremony of an introduction once passed,
the captain soon found himself quite at home. The
time for retiring to rest at length arrived, and as the
old hen roosted in the room they were in, it became
necessary for the hunters to leave it: consequently the
hunter most familiar with the premises, followed the
pullet in its flight to a chamber. The other bird soon
after fluttered past the captain into an adjoining room,
v.'hithor he pursued possibly to capture it.


I do not consider it important to the present narra-
tive to stop and inquire of an ornithologist,

'■'• If birds confabulate or no:

•Tis clear that they were always able

To hold discourse, at least in fable;"

and that the genus columba,

Soon are cooing when together
If they meet in coolish weather,

is a fact so well established, it must be obvious to the
reader that 'pigeon hunting may be rare sport. Some
time after the beautiful birds under consideration had
flown to separate rooms, into which we can not think
of introducing the reader, as the cooing was done
agreeably to the most approved style then in vogue in
western New York, the loud barking of Mason's dog
fell upon the ears of the hunter closeted above. His
apprehension was in a moment on tiptoe; for to be
surprised by a party of the enemy and either slain or
captured with his captain in such a place and at such
an hour, without their having the least means of de-
fence, he readily saw must bring scandal if not dis-
honor upon the American arms; and he descended
(although his bird attempted with a delicate little
claw to prevent) to take a midnight observation.

It turned out that Mason's sentinel was barking at
the old mare the hunters had abandoned. Having
collected her scattered limbs, she too had concluded to
go browsing, and was, as the reader will perceive, on
the right track. On the return of his pioneer, the


captain was gratified to learn that there was no real
cause of alarm, and pigeon hunting soon prospered
again. Towards the dawn of day the sportsmen re-
turned to the garrison; Capt. Pell exacting from his
musician the most solemn assurances of secresy re-
specting his successful and only attempt at fowling
among the Browse, until he should meet with me.

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
filer 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, w^ith a cross-piece 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 w^orth more
than the money, but I will take it that I may be able


to say, I sold a pie for 07ie 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
3amp a boy named Albright, who had been so un-
fortunate as to lose an eye. Stoner, inclined to be
waggish 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 w^oman, who, stating the matter to
the commanding officer, had the satisfaction of know-
ing that he was punished for treating her son so un-
kindly. 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 w^as served rightly no doubt


In the fall of 1781, Nicholas Stoner was on dut}^ at
Yorktown, and when the seige of that place closed, he
saw Gen. O'Hara surrender his sword to Gen. Lincoln *

A part of the time while at Yorktown, our hero
was a fifer under the noble-hearted Lafayette. One

* Several errors have crept into history about this ceremony.
The facts w^ere as follow^s: In May, 1780, Gen. Lincoln, then in
command at Charleston, S. C, was compelled to surrender his
sword to Cornwallis. When his lordship found himself obliged to
yield to the allied army, he knew that Lincoln, who was his
equal in rank, was with the conquerors, and as the terms now
meted to him were precisely like those dictated to Lincoln, he
possibly may have conjectured that that officer would be designated
by the great American commander to receive his own polished
blade. Be that as it may, certain it is that instead of appearing
on the occasion, as a man of real courage and generosity would
have done (for that officer lacks moral courage who can not share
defeat with his men), he feigned illness and sent Gen. O'Hara to
do the disagreeable honors ; and that officer very handsomely per-
formed the ceremony of tendering his sword to Gen. Lincoln, who
was appointed by Washington to receive it. Capt. Eben Wil-
liams^* who was present assured the writer, that Lincoln received,
reversed, and again restored the hilt of the weapon to its owner,
with a dignity and grace of gesture he could never forget, for he
had never seen it equalled. Several persons who witnessed this
ceremony have corroborated what I have here stated, and an old
soldier (James Williamson) , who received half the British stand-
ards, to the question, why did not Cornwallis surrender his own
sword? replied, " / guess he was a little sick at his siomachP''

In a picture intended to represent this scene, and but recently
got up, Gen. Washington erroneously appears in the act of re-
ceiving the resignation from O'Hara, the latter being on foot. The

* This hero died at his residence in Schoharie, July 1, 1847, aged nearly 98
years. He was beloved by all who knew him.


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
seige, 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 ene-
my'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 Jour-
nal, says Gen. Washington applied the first match.)
The simultaneous discharge of such an array of ord-
nance, was perhaps never heard before ; and nothing

general officers present, American, French and British, as several
witnesses have assured the writer, were all mounted. The pic-
ture of this scene by Trumbull, a beautiful steel copy of which is
made the fontispiece of Howe's Historical Collections of Virginia.
although painted soon after, presents the British general trudging
along on foot, and without side arms; while Dr. Thatcher, in his
Military Journal, made at the time and published long since,
stated that he was elegantly mounted. Col. Abercrombie, who
commanded the left wing of the British army on this occasion,
was also on horseback. It is to be regretted that more care is not
taken in preparing historical pictures, lest truth be violated, and
the young taught popular errors never to be corrected.


could in the night exceed the sublimity of the con-
cussion. To use the language of Mr. Hill, "i^ 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 con-
tinued as fast as the pieces could be loaded.

At some period of this seige, Mr. Hill was so for-
tunate 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 regi-
ment, to which Nicholas Stoner belonged, on its re-
turn 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 yet missed it, rewarded him with a half doubloon
(S8), numerous bows, and not a few expressions of re-
gard, 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 "con-
science void of offence," allows its possessor to sleep
soundly and have pleasant dreams. The young musi-
cian 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 reenlisted 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, from
which he went to reside near Tribe's hill, not far dis-
tant from Fort Johnson. The farm to which he re-
moved from Butler's, is now in the town of Amster-
dam, and was long known as the Dr. Quilhott place:
the late John Putman, if we mistake not, was residing
or this farm at the time of his death.

(n the summer of 1782, a party of seven Indians
traversed the forest from Canada to the Mohawk val-
ley, 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* 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 direct-
ed 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),w"ent 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 corn-field,
as young Reed, a lad then in his teens, discovered
two Indians armed with hatchets approaching them
from adjoining w^oods, and directed the attention of
his kinsman that way. The latter, w^ho kept a loaded
gun in his house, attempted to gain it by flight, seeing
which, one of his foes ran so as to cut oif 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 un-
heeded, and the assassin's keen edged tomahawk de-
scended with a crash, through an old fashioned beaver

* Dries is an abbreviation for Andreas, the German of Andrew.


hat and what resistance the skull offered, and pene-
trated 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 merchan-
dise that w^ould then most readily command British
gold. 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 dis-
covered 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 plun-
der they desired, and see the house so efifectually 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 win-
dow, the only article she was enabled to save, and
went to the house of John Harman, a neighbor, sup-
posing her husband and young Reed were prisoners.

Bowman aided the prisoners in carrying their plun-
der to a secret hiding place, near the Sacondaga,
where, beside a log, they had concealed food. Pal-
matier eflfected his escape on the first night after his
capture, to the great joy of his friends; and the feigned
prisoner. Bowman, was allowed to retiun 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 Ran-
gers 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, sig-
nified by signs, his desire for water, which was pro-
cured in a hat as soon as possible; but on drinking a
draught he expired immediately. He was buried be-
neath 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 w^ere Godfrey Shew and his son
Henry, John Harman, James Dunn and Benjamin


DeLine,* 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 threat-
ened 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 Stoaer
was on duty at King's Ferry.

* At the time of Sir John Johnson's invasion of Johnstown and
its vicinity in the summer of J 780, DeLine and Joseph Scott were
living in Johnson Hall. When Johnson visited there to procure
his concealed property, DeLine and Scott were made prisoners

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryJeptha Root SimmsTrappers of New York; → online text (page 5 of 17)