Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

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of Brant, notwithstanding he commanded what we are
pleased to term savages.

When we consider that the Indians had no written
records, and that all that has been written concerning them
has come through channels marked by the white man's
prejudices, and in many instances furnished wholly by bitter
enemies, it becomes apparent that a fair and candid judg-
ment would assign the Mohawk chief the qualities of a
most remarkable man, who certainly exhibited distinguished
skill as a military leader, and, under the circumstances by
which he was surrounded, preserved to a remarkable degree
the character of a humane and generous leader.

Colonel Stone, in his life of the chieftain, has done him-
self great credit by the manner in which he has handled
the subject, and though it is possible that he may at times
have slightly overdrawn his conclusions, yet, on the whole,
the work is undoubtedly reliable and non-partisan, and must
remain the standard for a true estimation of the character
of the great chieftain. When the troubles between Great
Britain and her American colonies culminated in a resort
to arms, it is not strange that Brant followed the fortunes
of the Crown, for the Six Nations had ever been firm allies

(with the exception of here and there a wild, ungovernable
band) since the English succeeded the Dutch in the occu-
pation of the valley of the Hudson. From the English
they had received their supplies, and with them exchanged
their furs and peltries to the mutual advantage of both
parties. In short, the relations had been exceedingly ad-
vantageous to the Indians, and they saw no good reason for
breaking the ancient covenant chain of friendship between
them. Their conclusions were thoroughly logical, and at
this day, with all the facts before us, we cannot blame them
for the course they pursued. Could all the consequences
of the war have been foreseen, it is probable the Indians
might have acted differently; but to their comprehension
there seemed little prospect of success for the colonies, and
they very naturally took up arms on the side which promised
the least risk and the greatest possible gain to themselves.

The Tory element of the colony was a prominent one,
and had for leaders such men as Sir John and Colonel Guy
Johnson, Colonel John Butler and his son Walter, Colonel
Daniel Clans (or Claesse), Major Watts, Captain Herkimer,
and others.

With the possible exception of Colonel Barry St. Leger,
who was undoubtedly a good officer, and Thay-en-dan-e-gea,
however, the Whigs of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys
had by far the ablest and most determined leaders, and this
fact alone was undoubtedly the salvation of the colony ; for
during the advance of Burgoyne from Lake Champlain,
the inhabitants of Tryon County seemed to have lost all
heart, and it appeared as if they were willing to sit quietly
and allow the enemy to overrun the whole region. But
such men as General Philip Schuyler, General Nicholas
Herkimer, Colonel Peter Gansevoort, Colonel Marinus Wil-
lett, Colonel John Harper, the gallant Colonel Brown, and
Colonel Van Schaick, among military men ; and Yates,
Paris, Frey, Fink, McDougal, Campbell, Klock, Van Slyck,
Moore, Petry, Helmer, and scores of others in the civil
walks of life, were more than a match for the three ele-
ments, British, Tory, and Indian, combined, and eventually
triumphed in the contest, though many of them laid down
their lives for the cause.

Sir William Johnson died very suddenly, at Johnson
Hall, on the 24th of June, 1774, and was succeeded in his
titles and estates by his son, John Johnson. The position
of Superintendent of Indian Affairs was, for some reason
not explained, bestowed upon his son-in-law. Colonel Guy
Johnson.* What course Sir William would have pursued
during the War of the Revolution we have no means of
knowing, but into whichever scale he might have thrown
his influence it would have had a marked bearing upon the
issues of the conflict. He visited England in the autumn
of 1773, and returned with his loyalty considerably
strengthened, no doubt ; but the baronet was too sagacious
not to perceive that the cause of the colonies was a just one,
and quite likely to emerge victorious i'rom a conflict which
would be most expensive and disastrous to Great Britain,
even when considered in the most favorable light. It was
true he had been loaded with favors by the English govern-

"^ Colonel Guy Johnson had long been asiistant, or secretary, to Sir



ment ; but he realizsd at the same time that titles and lands
are only bestowed upon those who have already rendered
their full equivalent, in duties well performed, to the p;ov-
ernment which lavishes them. On the other hand, he had
accumulated a handsome property in the course of a quarter
of a century spent among the colonists, and all his interests
were here. If the British government succeeded in putting
down the rebellion, he would be safe in adhering to its
cause ; but if the reverse should happen, his losses would
include everything but an empty title. His influence would
no doubt have controlled the Six Nations in either direction,
and their weight thrown into the scale in favor of the colo-
nies would have been ruinous to any attempt at a British
invasion from the Canadas.

His sudden death, at the thi'eshold of the Revolution,
left his titles and estates in the hands of his son and sons-
in-law. Sir John and Colonel Guy Johnson, and Colonel
Daniel Glaus, who speedily demonstrated their loyalty by
stirring up the Loyalists of the valley, and four of the Six
Nations, against the uprising of the colonies ; and who
subsequently disgraced their father's memory and the hon-
ored name of soldier by their destructive inroads into and
inhuman massacres in the beautiful valley of the Jlohawk.
The ultimate result of the war eradicated the Johnson
family from the colony, and completely disintegrated and
scattered those members of the great Indian confederacy who
ranged themselves on the side of tyranny and oppressicjn.

The situation immediately subsequent to the death of
Sir William is clearly set forth by Colonel Stone, from
whom we quote the following paragraphs :

" The successors of Sir William Johnson did not, how-
ever, possess the same degree of moral power over the
population of Tryon County, Indian or white, as had been
exercised by him. But they, nevertheless, derived essential
aid from ' ^liss Molly,'* who was a woman of talent as
well as tact, and possessed great influence among the-In-
dians, who were her own people. jNIolly was in turn aided
by the counsels and exertions of her brother, Joseph
Tkay-eii-dwi-e-gea, who had been much in the service of
Sir William during the latter years of his life, and who,
on the death of the baronet, was advanced to the post of
secretary of Guy Johnson. These gentlemen, however (Sir
John Johnson, Colonel Guy Johnson, and Colonel Claus),
living in great splendor, at and in the neighborhood of
Johnstown, and thus allied with the family of a powerful
llnliawh sachem, were still enabled to exert a decided influ-
ence, especially among the Indians. Tliey were likewise in
close ofiioial and political alliance with Colonel John Butler,
an opulent and influential gentleman of that county, and
his son, Walter N. Butler — names rendered memorable, if
nothing worse, by association with certain bloody transac-
tions, which will be developed in the progress of the present

" But notwithstanding all their influence, — and no family
in America had ev.T been regarded with greater deference
by the surrounding population than that of the John.sons, —
they were not long in discovering that the principles now
openly avowed in Massachusetts could not be confined

' Sir William's Indian wife.

within the limits of that colony, or oven of New England.
Though less openly proclaimed, yet, as the waters of a
fountain ooze through the earth unseen until they have
gathered force enough to break the surface and gush forth,
so was it with the principles of Liberty, sent abroad by the
' Boston rebels,' as they worked their way up the valley of
the Mohawk ; and the successors of Sir William Johnson
were not long in discovering that, although they could still
count among their retainers a large number of adherents,
the leaven of civil liberty had nevertheless been more deeply
at work than they had desired or probably supposed. The
celebrated ' Boston Port Bill,' enacted in consequence of
the destruction of the tea in that harbor in 1773, had gone
into operation only a month preceding the death of Sir
William ; and in the next month subsequent to his decease,
a public meeting was held in the Palatine district, warmly
seconding the proposition of Massachusetts for the assemb-
ling of a general Congress for mutual consultation and coun-
sel in the existing posture of the political affairs of the
colonies. The original draft of the proceedings of that
meeting is yet in existence, in the handwriting of Colonel
Christopher P. Yates, — a patriot who embarked early in
the struggle, and served to the end. They breathed the
genuine spirit of freedom, and, as a declaration of rights,
are well entitled to a place among the fervid papers of that
day, which were so powerful in their operation upon the pub-
lic mind. After setting forth the concern and sorrow felt by
the meeting at the shutting up of the port of Boston and
the tendency of the acts of Parliament for raising a revenue
in the American colonies, which they held to be an abridg-
ment of the liberties of the people, the meeting resolved :

" 1st. That they recognize the king as their lawful sov-
ereign, would bear true faith and allegiance to him, and
would, with their lives and fortunes, support and maintain
him on the throne of his ancestors ; and th&just dependence
of the colonies upon the crown of Great Britain. 2d.
That they considered it their greate'st happiness to be gov-
erned by British laws, and would pay cheerful submission
to them as far as they could do so, consistently with the
security of the constitutional rights of English subjects,
' which were so sacred that they couhl not permit them to he
violated.' 3d. That all taxes without their own consent,
or the consent of their representatives, were unjust and un-
constitutional ; and the acts of Parliament upon the subject
were denounced as obvious encroachments upon the rights
and liberties of British subjects. 4th. That the act closing
the port of Boston was arbitrary and oppressive to the in-
habitants, whom they considered to be suft'ering in the com-
mon cause. 5th. That they would unite with their brethren
elsewhere in relieving the neces.^t ies of the suffering poor
in Boston, and in ' anything tending to support our rights
and liberties.' 6th. Approving the calling of a general
Congress, and of the five members who had already been
appointed by their brethren of New York. 7th. That they
would abide by such regulations as might be agreed upon
by the said Congress. 8th. Appointing a committee of
correspondence for that district,'|' and recommending the
other districts of the county to do the same.

t Tliis committee was composed of Christopher P. Yatts, Isaac
Paris, and John Frey.




" The Congress mot in Philadelphia, in September, 1774,
and after adopting a declaration of rights, and setting forth
wherein those rights had been violated, they agreed upon
an address to the king, exhibiting the grievances of the
colonies, and praying for his majesty's interposition for their
removal. An address to the people of British America
was likewise adopted, together with an appeal to the people
of Great Britain, as also a letter to the people of Canada.*
The Congress then adjourned to meet again in May, 1775.
The papers put forth from that assembly had a powerful
eifect upon the public miTid. They were highly extolled
by Lord Chatham, in the House of Peers, who declared,
that ' in all his reading and obseiTation, — and it had been
his favorite study, for he had read Thucydides, and had
studied and admired the master states of the world, — for
solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of con-
clusion under such complication of circumstances, no nation
or body of men could stand in preference to the General
Congress at Philadelphia.'

" The Provincial Assembly of New York was the only
legislature in the colonies that withheld its approbation from
the proceedings of the Congress, the loyalists of that colony
being, from a variety of causes, more numerous and influ-
ential than in any other of the provinces. In the valley
of the Mohawk they were particularly zealous and active,
and the Johnson family, with their associates, were cease-
less in their efforts to divert the revolutionary spirit which
was but too obviously abroad."

But notwithstanding the petitions and remonstrances of
the colonies, the home government did not relilx the heavy
pressure bi'ought to bear upon them. The people of
America were not wanting in able advocates and powerful
friends in the British Parliament; but notwithstanding the
generous efforts and ringing words of Lord Chatham and
other far-seeing men, the king and his ministers brought
forward new and still more stringent measures for compelling
the colonies to obedience. Lord Chatham's address to the
king for the removal of British troops from Boston was
rejected by a large majority, and his " Conciliatory Bill"
shared the same fate. The petition of the American Con-
gress for a redress of grievances was, after an angry debate,
denied the privilege of being presented to the House of

Bills were rapidly framed and passed by the headstrong
majority, restraining all the thirteen colonies, except New
York, Delaware, and North Carolina, from trading with any
nation except Great Britain and her dependencies, and the
Eastern States were excluded from the valuable fisheries of
Newfoundland. Discontent in consequence of these op-
pressive measures grew every hour more widespread and
outspoken ; and notwithstanding the government's apparent
favors shown a portion of the colonies, its action against
the others united them all in a general determination to
secure release or perish in the attempt.

At the very time when these tyrannical measures were
being proposed in England, the Legislature of the colony of
New York was engaged in preparing a memorial to the

- Mr. R. H. Lee wrote the address to the American people, and Mr.
Jay that to the people of Great Britain.

Crown praying for a redress of the general grievances. This
address, while reiterating the loyalty of the petitioners to
the Crown, at the same time denounced in the strongest
terms the oppressive measures of the government. It goes
on to say, " We feel the most ardent desire to promote a
cordial reconciliation with the parent state, which can be
rendered permanent and solid only by ascertaining the line
of parliamentary authority and American freedom on just,
equitable, and constitutional grounds. . . . From the year
1683 till the close of the late war they had enjoyed a Legis-
lature consisting of three distinct branches, — a Governor,
Council, and General Assembly, under which political frame
the representatives had uniformly exercised the right of
their own civil government, and the administration of jus-
tice in the colony. It is, therefore, with inexpressible grief
that we have of late years seen measures adopted by the
British Parliament subversive of that constitution under
which the good people of this colony have always enjoyed
the same rights and privileges so highly and deservedly
prized by their fellow-subjects of Great Britain." In speak-
ing of the privileges of trial by juiy, they " view with horror
the construction of the statute of Henry VIII., as held up
by the joint address of both houses of Parliament in 1769,
advising his majesty to send for persons guilty of treasons
and misprisions of treasons in the colony of Massachusetts
Bay, in order to be tried in England."

They complained of the act of George III., requiring
the Legislature of this colony to make provision for the
expense of the troops quartered among them, of the act
suspending their legislative powers till they should have
complied, and of the Quebec act. They also considered
themselves interested in whatever might affect their sister-
colonies, and could not help feeling for the distresses of their
brethren in Massachusetts, resulting from the enforcement
of the several acts of Parliament relating to that province,
and earnestly remonstrated in their behalf. The memorial
closes with the following words : " We claim but a resto-
ration of those rights which we enjoyed by general consent
before the close of the late war ; we desire no more than a
continuance of that ancient government to which we are
entitled by the principles of the British constitution, and
by which alone can be secured to us the rights of English-
men.'' This dignified and manly address was presented in
the House of Commons by Mr. Burke; but that body, in
the narrowest spirit of partisanship, did not deign even to
take it into consideration."]"

The political condition of the country grew from bad to
worse, until finally the attempt of General Gage to seize a
collection of military stores at Lexington and Concord,
Mass , precipitated the conflict, and on the 19th of April,
1775, was shed the first blood, in a regular military en-
counter, of the great Revolution which severed the colonies
from the mother-country, and set in motion causes which
are still active in the complex political evolutions of the
world. Upon the British government rested the responsi-
bility of having discharged the first hostile shot, whether

t It is proper here to remark, that the experience of the British
government with Itie " thirteen colonies" was afterwards turned to
good account in the treatment of other colonies, hy which they have
been preserved as portions of the Empire.


the primary act of war be dated from the " Boston Mas-
sacre" of March, 1770, or from the deadly inilndlle at Lex-
ington, five years later. The former quieted down like the
premonitory mutterings of the thunder-storm, but the latter
was followed instantly by the earthquake-shock and the
overwhelming storm which heralded the outbreak of the
terrible volcano.

While the exciting scenes whioli marked the opening of
the war were transpiring in Massachusetts, and while the
Continental Congress was assembling, the Tories of Tryon
County very unwisely undertook to make a demonstration
in opposition to the proceedings of the Congress of the
previous year. At that date Tryon County included all
that portion of the State of New York lying west of a
north and south line drawn through the centre of the present
county of Schoharie. Its county-seat was at Johnstown.

The court was then in session, and a declaration in oppo-
sition to the Congress was drawn up, and advantage taken
of the presence of the people at court to obtain signatures;
and a majority of the names of the magistrates and the
grand jury were affixed to the declaration.

This proceeding stirred up the Whigs, who called meet-
ings and appointed committees in every district. The first
public meeting was held at the house of John Veeder, in
Caughnawaga. About three hundred persons were present,
who assembled, unarmed, for the purpose of deliberating
upon the situation, and also with the intention of raising a
" liberty pole," then just becoming popular with the Whigs,
but an object of bitter hate among the Loyalists.

The leaders of this gathering were a wealthy farmer,
Sampson Sammons, and his two sons, Jacob and Frederick.
In the mean time Sir John Johnson, who had heard of the
gathering and its probable objects, hastily collected a large
number of the Scotch Loyalists of Johnstown and vicinity,
all armed' with swords and pistols, and accompanied by his
brothers-in-law, Colonel Guy Johnson and Colonel Daniel
Claus and the no less noted Colonel John Butler, proceeded
to the place of gathering and interrupted the proceedings.
High words ensued, and Sir John harangued the assembly
of Whigs, threatening the terrible vengeance of the king,
and the dire calamities of an Indian war, if the colonies
persisted in their resistance to the government. He used
intemperate and most insulting language, and it is probable
that the want of arms among the Whigs alone prevented a
bloody encounter. His language became so aggravating at
length that Jacob Sammons openly called him a liar and a
villain. Upon this interruption of his harangue Johnson
came down and seized Sammons by the throat, calling him
a d — d villain in return. A scuffle ensued, during which
Sammons was quite severely injured by the whips and clubs
of the Loyalists. He showed fight, but his friends finally
drew him ofiF, being in no condition for an armed encounter.
Among those who were conspicuous on the side of the
Whigs in this first encounter of the Mohawk Valley were
the families of the Fondas, Veeders, and Vissohers. Sam-
mons returned to his father's house bearing the first scars
of the Revolutionary contest received in the Mohawk

"But this slight discontent, men say,
Cost blood upon another day.''

One of the largest and most enthusiastic meetings assem-
bled at Cherry Valley in May of that year. It was held
in the church, and men, women, and even children came in
great numbers to hear and give enthusiasm to the occasion.
Thomas Spencer, a noted half-breed Oneida Indian and
interpreter, subsequently killed at Oriskany, was the prin-
cipal speaker, and his oratory on tills occasion is said to
have been of the highest order, producing unbounded among his hearers, and so indelibly fixing itself
in the minds of the assembly that tradition has preserved it
to the present day. At this meeting a series of strong
resolutions, condemnatory of the proceedings of the Loyal-
ists at Johnstown above mentioned, and approbative of
the action of the Continental Congress, were unanimously

The results of a meeting hold in the Palatine district,
on the 18th of 3Iay, were less satisfactory. It would ap-
pear that the influence of the Johnsons and their retainers
overawed the people of this western district, and prevented
any definite action being taken. In speaking with reference
to this matter, the Palatine committee use the following
language : " This county has for a series of years been
ruled by one family, the several branches of which are
still strenuous in dissuading the people from coming into
congressional measures, and have even last week, at a
numerous meeting of the Mohawk district, appeared with
all their dependents armed to oppose the people consid-
ering of their grievances ; their number being so large,
and the people unarmed, struck terror into most of them,
and they dispersed."

The Palatine committee also notified their friends in the
valley that Sir John Johnson was fortifying the Baronial
Hall by mounting swivels or light guns around it, and had
paraded a part of his regiment of militia for purposes of
intimidation. It was likewise rumored that the Scotch
Highlanders settled around Johnstown, to the number of
one hundred and fifty, were armed, and ready to suppress
any movements in favor of popular liberty.

The Johnsons, Butler.s, and Colonel Claus used every
art to stir up the Indians against the colonies, and in this
they were materially assisted by the Moliawlc chief Tltay-
eii-dan-e-gea, who was now the secretary of Colonel Guy
Johnson. But for the influence of a few worthy men
there is little doubt that the Six Nations would have es-
poused the king's cause. Among these were Rev. Mr.
Kirkland and James Dean. The influence of the former
was so marked and eifeotual among the Oneidas and Tasca-
roras that Brant labored assiduously to have him removed ;
and though the missionary defended himself valiantly
against the charges brought forward, he was finally ordered
by Colonel Guy Johnson to desist from his labors some
time in the early part of 1775.

There is no doubt, however, that both Johnson and Brant
had good and sufiicient reasons for distrusting Mr. Kirkland,
for the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts had early
realized the advantages of an alliance with the powerful
confederacy of the Six Nations, and, with a view to obtain-
ing so desirable an object, had already opened a corre-

Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 19 of 192)